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  • Writer's pictureCharles Barker

An evening walk with the Nikon Zf

Nikon cameras have been my trusted workhorse through many years of photography. Even though I’ve really enjoyed the responsive autofocus and image quality of the latest generation of mirrorless cameras, there is a part of me that misses my old film style cameras and the experience of photographing that they provided. There is a certain nostalgic itch that accompanies doing things in a more manual way, forcing me to slow down and be a bit more deliberate on my photo outings.


This takes me to the Nikon Zf, which I recently got my hands on to see if it could scratch that nostalgic itch without losing some of the modern capabilities I've grown used to.


Chuck's - Chagrin Falls. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/50, ISO 1000, 40mm.
Chuck's - Chagrin Falls. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/50, ISO 1000, 40mm.

I'm pleased to report that in my first few strolls the camera did exactly what I hoped it would, brought back some of the manual feel and fun I had craved. Could I get these same photos with one of its larger Nikon brethren, such as the Z8 or Z9? absolutely...and to be clear I don't see this camera as a replacement for them although it is surprisingly capable. My intent for this camera was a fun walkaround device for wandering my local Charleston or urban travel destinations, and in that I'd say I'm extremely happy with the Zf so far.


Park Circle - North Charleston. Final night of the Sparrow. Handheld, f/3.5, 1.3sec, ISO 100, 40mm
Park Circle - North Charleston. Final night of the Sparrow. Handheld, f/3.5, 1.3sec, ISO 100, 40mm

I was honestly surprised by the in-body stabilization. One of my goals was to have a walkabout casual camera that wouldn't have me wishing for my tripod, despite the fact I like to create images at night. I was having fun capturing some of the movement in the picture above at more than 1 second, while still retaining an acceptable level of sharpness in the still parts of the scene.


Park Circle - North Charleston. Arcade Bar. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/80, ISO 800, 40mm
Park Circle - North Charleston. Arcade Bar. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/80, ISO 800, 40mm

Aiding this handhold-ability is the Nikkor Z 40mm f2 pancake lense that the Zf is paired with. I found this to be a great focal length for walkabout/street photography, and the wide aperture was great for allowing subject separation and working in low light. In all of these shots I paired the lens with a cinebloom filter to add some hazy magic to the evening lights.


Park Circle - North Charleston. Commonhouse Aleworks. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/3, ISO 100, 40mm
Park Circle - North Charleston. Commonhouse Aleworks. Handheld, f/2.0, 1/3, ISO 100, 40mm

Also loved the control layout and I found it intuitive enough having such a long history with Nikon. One exciting new addition is the dedicated monochrome switch, which I think is a great addition and will be nice for visualizing black and white in the field without having to mess around in the menu.

The camera itself feels very well built and was glad that it is weather sealed and uses the same batteries from the rest of the mid range Z series.


Park Circle - North Charleston. LoLa. Handheld, f/2.0, 1 sec, ISO 100, 40mm
Park Circle - North Charleston. LoLa. Handheld, f/2.0, 1 sec, ISO 100, 40mm

Only a few minor gripes with the Nikon Zf... For starters I did find it necessary to attach the Smallrig grip to give my hand a little extra purchase to hold and operate the camera. Not a big deal, I anticipated this having read other photographer's comments online, but just confirming that was my experience as well.

I also found myself hoping that Nikon would release a series of lenses that included the old school manual aperture ring. As much I really like the 40mm pancake and think its a great walkabout lens, a few times I did reach for the imaginary aperture ring (having used fuji Xt-3 previously) and missed having it. I've heard this from other Nikon Zf users as well and would be surprised if they don't cash in by creating some lenses with this at some point. There are also more and more third-party options, such as Voightlander, which I've heard good things about but yet to try myself.

Lastly, I'm torn on the flip out screen. Its nice that it can close fully to really give the camera that film feel, but I do think I would've preferred the normal screen from the Z series that just rotates out for waist level street shooting. This is a personal preference, as I know there are many that like the fully articulating flip screen for more versatility.


Chagrin Falls. Popcorn shop. Park Circle - North Charleston. Commonhouse Aleworks. Handheld, f/9.0, 1/15, ISO 3200, 40mm
Chagrin Falls. Popcorn shop. Park Circle - North Charleston. Commonhouse Aleworks. Handheld, f/9.0, 1/15, ISO 3200, 40mm

In conclusion, I found the Nikon Zf and the paired Nikkor 40mm f2 lens to be a great combo for retro styled fun and surprisingly more capable than I anticipated. I'm definitely glad to have this in my toolkit for when I want to enjoy some photography without the larger camera, lenses, and tripods. While any camera is capable these days, I find the fun-factor of theZf means I'm more likely to grab it and go out. While it won't replace my main setups for travel, it likely will find itself a place in the kit as a capable walkaround and backup for my main Z8 or Z9. So if you have similar needs and a retro itch to scratch, I highly recommend giving the Zf a try!

A few more sample shots from my evenings:


Park Circle Photography

Chagrin Falls Photography

Park Circle Photography

Chagrin Falls Photography

Park Circle Photography

Park Circle Photography


Park Circle Photography

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