5 Reasons the Nikon Zfc Is the Ultimate Walkaround Camera

5 Reasons the Nikon Zfc Is the Ultimate Walkaround Camera

A new toy brings more joy into my photo workflow.

I bought something a few weeks ago. I’ll say that quietly, as I’ve been doing a very good job of curtailing my gear acquisition syndrome so far this year, and this was definitely an unplanned fall off the wagon. To be fair, it was an item on my scheduled purchases for the year. So, buying it didn’t come completely out of the blue. It’s just that there were far more practical items on the list ahead of it that, objectively speaking, should have been purchased first.

In fact, if we are speaking objectively, this particular purchase falls firmly into the want category instead of the need category. From a professional standpoint, I have all the camera gear I’m going to need for the foreseeable future. And, as someone fortunate enough to own the new Nikon Z9, I feel fully comfortable that my clients are well covered regardless of the brief.

So why, if I already own the camera at the top of the Nikon Z line, did I decide to buy one much closer to the bottom of it? Well, for fun, of course.

I was lucky enough to review the Nikon Z fc when it was first announced last year. Its retro styling brought about waves of nostalgia for Nikon users and took aim at some of the style-conscious camera market dominated by Fuji’s X series in recent years. In terms of the sensor, the image quality was on par with the existing Nikon Z 50, which had been released a year prior, and is still on par with the sensor of the recently released Z 30 entry level social media camera. None of the three are aimed at the high-megapixel, high-pressure, commercial productions which provide my living. Instead, they are alternative versions of entry level cameras which appeal to different Nikon users and take advantage of the brand's burgeoning line of Z mount lenses.

Upon my initial review, I pointed out how hard a time I was having giving back the loaner camera. Although it served no real business purpose to my particular use case, the sheer enjoyment that I gleaned from using the device was enough to give me pangs of remorse when having to return the loaner through UPS. I am a big proponent of thinking of camera purchases as investments rather than as gilded toys. But, I also am a big believer that if you want to develop your eye professionally, one of the best ways to do so is to practice “seeing.” This can take many forms, but, for me, this often takes the shape of my daily afternoon walks or the occasional weekend photo safari. These are not days when I’m looking to come back with fresh material for my portfolio. Rather, these are just times when I go out to really study light, color, and composition. The images are likely never going to make it off my hard drive. But the act of creating them teaches me something and develops my skill set.

Now, it is not at all uncommon for me to go gallivanting through the streets of Los Angeles carrying thousands of dollars and several pounds worth of photo gear just to take street shots. But, when trying to go nonchalant, small is greatly appreciated. So I always like to at least have the option to pack light with a tool that can hang around my neck for hours at a time without giving me back pains by the end of the day. In an effort to simplify, I had recently sold off all my old Fuji X cameras, which had previously served that purpose, choosing instead to centralize my gear around Nikon. But that left a gap for a small camera to fill. And, business related or not, it felt clear that the Z fc could scratch the itch.

So why the Z fc and why now? Well, the “why now” portion of the question is easiest to answer. Having now been out for over a year, I was able to find a used copy of the camera, which made it easier on my bank account to pull the trigger on a purchase. Why the Z fc as opposed to other cameras in the same price range or others in the Nikon line? Well, here are a few reasons.

Style

Yes, I can hear the derisive calls of “hipster” being hurled at me digitally already. But, the simple fact is that the camera is just darn pretty. This has absolutely zero effect on image quality. But there is a practical advantage. Hear me out.

I recently broke up with a woman I’d been seeing. That’s a story for a different type of article. But I brought her up simply because one of the things we enjoyed doing was going on long walks together. Similar to my afternoon solo excursions, there was no particular destination in mind. Rather, it was just a way to spend time together, talk, and grow as a couple. Because I like to always have a camera on me, I would often want to bring along a camera as we went. Combining my “seeing” practice with our leisurely strolls. Part because I wanted to shoot a bit. Part because I wanted her to know that part of me, since photography plays such a big role in my life.

But she was not a photographer. And while you and I might love the idea of traipsing around the city with a flashy full-bodied pro camera around our necks, even I can see that the “tourist look” might be less than appealing for my walking partner. The small form factor and stylish nature of the Z fc, on the other hand, makes it far less conspicuous. Sure, it’s still a camera around your neck or in your bag. But it’s pretty enough that it could be considered a fashion accessory of its own.

Even when I’m out solo, it’s not the kind of thing that puts strangers on guard to see hanging from my neck. It just doesn’t seem as out of place as seeing someone walking down the street with a huge Z9 and a 24-70mm for no apparent reason. Instead, the Z fc just seems like something I put on the same way I would a necklace or a really cool watch.  

Do any of those reasons make it any better at capturing photos? No. But do those reasons make it more likely that I’ll have it with me at all times? Yes.

Price

Speaking of strolling through the city with unconscionable amounts of camera gear on you, there’s a real benefit to lowering your burden, both in terms of weight and liability. As I said, I’m pretty careful when I choose where I do my walkabouts, but you never really know what or who is lurking around the corner. And even though my pro gear is all well insured, I can’t say I particularly relish the idea of having to choose between my gear or my physical wellbeing should someone try to take it from me physically. 

Now, let’s be clear. Your safety is always more important than your gear. Under no circumstances should you take risks with your physical wellbeing to protect an inanimate object. But, of course, that’s a far easier decision to make if the camera someone is trying to steal is on the less expensive side of the spectrum.

The lower price (especially at used rates) also makes it easier for me to use as a knock-around camera. My pro bodies can absolutely absorb massive amounts of punishment. That’s part of the reason why they cost so much. But, there’s something to be said for a camera at a price point where you don’t much care if it absorbs punishment. I can toss my Z fc in a bag, in a glove compartment, under a seat, or wherever else I feel like sticking it between shots. I pick it up and put it down multiple times throughout the day. Its job is to always be on hand to shoot. And, in the process, it takes a licking. But it keeps on ticking and providing exactly what I need it to. A quick and easy portal to help expand my vision as a photographer with a minimal amount of fuss.

Easy to Use

When I was growing up, my father would always spend lots of money on cameras he would rarely use. My mother, on the other hand, would purchase whatever camera in a disposable box might be hanging in the impulse buy section of the grocery store checkout line and was capable of doing everything for the user just short of pressing the shutter button. She would refer to these as PhD cameras, as in, "Push Here, Dummy." The true definition of point-and-shoot.

Now, as I said earlier, one of the main reasons I like to have a walk around camera is to develop my eye. This often includes very intentional manual manipulations to exposure to try new approaches to technique. But sometimes I just want to see and shoot. I do enough mental gymnastics on exposure when shooting professionally. When I’m out on a walkabout, it’s often more important to just “see” rather than burden myself with too many adjustments. Again, this is not to say that I don’t understand what adjustments are being made. Only that sometimes when you go on a nice photo walk, you’re as interested in having a nice peaceful walk as you are in the photos.

The manual dial setup of the Z fc makes it very easy to transition from full manual mode to PhD mode. So, when I want more of a challenge, it’s there. But, when I want to just turn off my brain and feel my way through a scene, that option is there as well.

The Right Specs for the Use Case

As a commercial photographer and director, there are certain specs that are simply non-negotiable. Often these center around resolution, frame rates, delivery formats, and so forth. But, in a personal fun camera, my needs are different.  

Take, for example, the 20.9-megapixel sensor. This would not be nearly enough for the type of work I do professionally. But, when taking a bunch of photos for fun, the smaller file size associated with this megapixel count is actually a blessing. Who needs 102-megapixel images of their dog sleeping? Okay, maybe I do. But that’s just because Archibald is very cute. But the vast majority of shots I take for fun should consume the smallest amount of hard drive space possible.

Likewise, the camera lacks many of the high end video features that I, as a director/cinematographer, find to be absolute necessities. No log formats. No raw video formats. Only certain frame rates available in 4K. But, again, this isn’t the tool I’m likely to choose to shoot my next feature film. It might, however, be the tool I would use to shoot behind the scenes or vlogging content. Footage that I’m not likely going to need to do extensive grading to in post. Rather, it would be the type of footage that I’m going to want to take straight out of camera and edit it into a sequence or stream in its natural state over social media. The specs of the Z fc aren’t going to blow your socks off. But they are the exact level of spec necessary for the use case of the camera.

Access to the Z Mount

Am I likely to attach the same massive wildlife lens I used on my Z9 to my Z fc? Probably not. But it’s nice to know that I can. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve simplified my life and attempted to bring as much of my gear collection as possible inside one brand. Because I have my main professional cameras as Nikons, having a personal camera that utilizes the same camera mount just makes sense. I might not always use the same lenses on each. But I can. And this ability makes packing gear more efficient and sensible. The Z 28mm f/2.8 pretty much lives on my Z fc. And while it doesn’t often find its way onto the Z9, the fact that I can put it on my Z9 gives me that many more options to play with.

There are a number of great entry level cameras on the market these days. The Z fc isn’t even Nikon’s latest entry into the category. But, despite the fact that it was a decidedly personal purchase rather than driven purely by business need, I couldn’t be more happy with my acquisition. It provides me with a great tool for personal shooting. And more important than that, it’s provided me with a great deal of fun.

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16 Comments
Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Modern camera's has becomes way to complex and with way to many options for customization. You can easely lose you way and feel like its the camera that dictate the photographic experience.

This little gem, gives back the feeling of control to the photographer (if you so please).

It is the kind of camera, that put a smile on your face.
The camera equivalent of a Mazda MX-5.

Chris Rogers's picture

Your comment brings the pentax mx-1 to my mind. A great little camera.

winzehnt gates's picture

Your fifth point "Access to the Z Mount" makes the Zfc definitely the right walkaround camera for you.
For all those not invested in Z Mount (and not planning to) there's another option that ticks the first four points: A Fuji X-E4 with the 27mmF2.8. The Fuji X-E4 with 27mmF2.8 is even slightly cheaper, smaller and weighs about 100g less than the Nikon Zfc with 28mmF2.8, .
Still, for people who already own Z Mount gear, the Zfc is probably the better option.

PS: size comparison Zfc&28mm vs X-E4&27mm : https://camerasize.com/compact/#869.963,877.994,ha,t

PPS: My walkaround camera for some years now is the Fuji X70 (18mmF2.8), because I like my walkaround camera to be really small and still have an aps-c sensor.

Ausias March's picture

You can adapt almost any lens mount to Nikon Z (Canon, Sony, Leica, obviously Nikon F…), do I think that point still stands if you are not a Nikon shooter.

winzehnt gates's picture

You can also adapt the same lens mounts to Fuji's X-Mount.
So, this neither favours the Zfc nor the Fuji X-E4.

Olivier LAMBERT's picture

I love the Mx-5 reference !
But Nikon forgot the Aperture ring on its lenses and THAT makes the difference between a gem and a business plan for being trendy.

winzehnt gates's picture

That's why I mentioned Fuji in my post above. If you're not already invested in Z Mount lenses, I think Fuji is the better option for a retro aps-c camera.

Tom Egel's picture

Not necessarily. Old Nikkor MF lenses can easily be adapted to the Zfc and can be found quite cheap. Here’s a photo with the 50mm f/1.2 AIS attached.

winzehnt gates's picture

Sure, but that you can adapt old MF lenses to mirrorless cameras is true for all brands. So, this can't be seen as argument for any mirrorless body from any brand.
Because of that, I think my inital argument is still valid. If you already own Z Mount lenses, buy the Zfc as walkaround camera - if not, and if you want dedicated "classic" dials, check out if Fuji better suits your needs.

Tom Egel's picture

I guess I don’t understand the logic. If the Zfc is only for people who already own Z lenses, why isn't the Fuji only for those who already own Fuji lenses? My point was that if you want retro controls with minimal investment in lenses, the the Zfc shouldn’t be ruled out just because someone doesn’t own Z lenses. For me, while Fuji does a nice job with their external controls and lens selection, but I find their user interface to be a hinderance. I used to have an X-Pro2 then a X-E3 as travel cameras. They took wonderful images, but I became frustrated when trying to use the menu system to make changes while shooting. I switched to the Zfc and couldn't be happier. While I also have a Z6 and some Z lenses, I never have a need to use them on the Zfc as they are a bit large for the body. The kit 16-50 and 50-250 are all that I really need for travel and are both incredibly sharp. If I need something faster, I can add an old MF prime. In my mind, there are also plenty of other reasons to chose the Zfc over Fuji (overall weight, articulating screen, long exposures up to 900s, no worms in LR). I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either Nikon or Fuji as they both can create outstanding images. I made my choice based on the overall shooting experience.

winzehnt gates's picture

First, I didn't say that Fuji was the better choice for everybody. That's why I ended the post you answered to with "...check out if Fuji better suits your needs".
I personally favour the Fuji because it's cheaper, lighter and the native aps-c lens collection is much bigger than the 5 z dx lenses Nikon has. I also like the marked aperture rings on Fuji lenses. But if you are happy with the two lenses you have, I understand that Fuji's lens collection doesn't tempt you.
As for the fully articulated screen, that is also down to personal preferences. For me a fully articulated screen is a show-stopper for others it's a must.
.
All in all, I think you might have got my argument upside down. I never wanted to argue that Fuji was "objectively" the better system. I was rather arguing that if you are looking for an aps-c ILC and you already own z-mount lenses, choosing the Zfc is probably a no-brainer. But if you don't, you should check against e.g. the Fuji X-E4/27mmF2.8, because it might suit your needs better. I never wanted to imply that it was a foregone conclusion

WestEndFoto .'s picture

OK, but you can't adapt Z-mount lenses to the Fuji. If you are into adapting lenses, the Nikon Z mount should be your starting point because with it short flange distance, it is the only universal mount.

Now that said, I might struggle to come up with a Z-mount lens you would want to put on a Fuji with Fuji's lens catalogue.

winzehnt gates's picture

Sure. As I said, if you already own Z-Mount lenses and look for a aps-c ILC body, choosing the Zfc should be a no-brainer.
I like my Fuji gear especially because of the marked aperture ring. But I'm not a professional, just an enthusiast.

Roger Cozine's picture

While this is a great option for those who are already deeply invested into the Nikon ecosystem, I don't think it's the ultimate walk around camera. That mantle is held by Fujifilm. They have been producing affordable cameras with supreme levels of control and top quality glass for decades. They literally have a camera for every budget, size, use scenario and specialty. There are several great options specifically for street photography enthusiasts.

WestEndFoto .'s picture

Given that I own a Z9, Z7ii and an Zfc, I think that they ultimate walk around camera when I want great full frame IQ is one of my Z7ii bodies without the grip. A Z7ii with a 35 1.8 and no grip is almost ideal. And it feels so tiny compared to my Z9 or Z7ii with a grip.

The Zfc is for days out with the family. And even then, if I want great images, I am bringing the Z7ii with a grip or Z9 and a prime.

Nick Ledesma's picture

I use the LEICA D’LUX 109. 25-70 , 1.7. Manual and Auto. The ultimate walk around camera for me.