Nikon Z System News and Commentary

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It's The Week I Dread (But You Don't)

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are nearly upon us. Many of you are dusting off your credit cards and checking your credit availability in anticipation of a hot holiday harvest.

But what should you really buy? ;~)

Let's start with cameras. If you have a Z6 II, Z7 II, Z8, or Z9, you should stand pat. Yes, you might be able to convince yourself to trade in your Z6 II for a Z8, but you'd be going far upscale doing that. If the Z6 level camera was right for you before, you probably need to wait for the US$2000-2500 camera that replaces it. Those still with DSLRs or lower/older Z cameras have some options, so let me sort through them, from low to high.

Note: these recommendations differ a bit from my reviews because they're based upon current state-of-market and pricing. Once a year I tend to go back and adjust my review ratings, but that won't come for a while yet.

  • Z30 — At US$700 this holiday, the Z30 with the kit lens is about correctly priced for what it is and what it does. It is a highly compact, versatile camera that has just one clear liability: no viewfinder. If you're okay with squinting at the Rear LCD in bright light, this is as close to a great compact camera as Nikon (and most anyone) still comes. Recommended (conditionally)
  • Z50 — At the discount to US$800 for the body only, this camera might be tempting to some. After all, it has the viewfinder the Z30 is missing, though the Z30 has a few minor things the Z50 doesn't. It's in that last bit where the Z50 is showing its age: it's the worst performing autofocus camera in the Z series now. Not terrible, but you can do better. Not recommended this season
  • Zfc — Also with a US$100 discount and coming in at US$1000 with the kit lens you get the answer to both the previous problems (no viewfinder, worst AF), but with a new problem: a completely different UI. I guess the good news is that you can ignore the dials and just use the Zfc like a Z50, or you can embrace the dials and return to the days of yesteryear, where people were constantly staring at the tops of their cameras. One word of caution: with any reasonably sized lens, you're going to want a handgrip with this camera. Recommended
  • Z5 — The D600 of the Z System lineup. It's a price leader at its US$1000 body price, which is Nikon's way of trying to get DX users to commit to FX. Like the D600, I expect the Z5 to be in the lineup for quite some time as Nikon milks dollars out of the R&D investment to create it and uses it as that DX-to-FX lever. Surprisingly, the Z5 is a pretty full-featured camera and it leverages that same well-proven D6xx/D750 style image sensor, which is well-loved. The downside to a Z5 is that it's the slowest focusing FX camera in the lineup, though many don't notice that as long as they use a reasonably fast lens in decent light. Recommended
  • Z6 II — Ah, the most maligned of the current Z cameras. But at US$1600 body only this season, I don't think you'll find anything else that approaches its quality, performance, and feature set at that price. This is a solid camera that I've long pointed out is capable of work most don't believe it can do (e.g. sports, wildlife). It just takes some learning and practice to achieve everything it's capable of. Recommended
  • Zf — No discount at the moment, it's the new kid on the block. I'll just say this (review coming soon): the Zf is a bit of a love/hate camera. Had Nikon just done the internal stuff in the Zf to create a Z6 III, nobody would be complaining. And you can use a Zf exactly like a Z6, though with a few less buttons to customize and no right hand grip (slightly clumsy body). When you do, you see just how much EXPEED7 was the catalyst for the Z8/Z9 features and performance. The Zf is the best performing and feature packed US$2000 camera Nikon has offered, but whether you'll like it or not will all come down to how it feels in your hands. So don't buy it mail order without first seeing it in person. Go see and play with it at your local dealer. 
  • Z7 II — The only real "bargain" of the holiday season so far, with a body-only discount of US$700 (US$2300 price). It matches the Z6 II in everything I just said, except in very, very low light. But it also gives you the ability to "print big." A really solid landscape and travel camera with the right lens set. Highly Recommended (seasonal)
  • Z8 — Nikon's mostly offering trade-in bonuses with this camera, trying to pry some DSLR users over to the mirrorless world. I think the real kicker here is this: would I choose Nikon's best equivalent DSLR (D850) or the Z8? The Z8, every time. There's nothing I miss from the D850, period. Recommended
  • Z9 — No discounts here at the moment, and people are wondering if this camera is actually worth stretching from the Z8 for. The answer is in the sales: yes, plenty are deciding that's exactly the case. The big wins of the Z9 over the Z8 are the vertical grip that provides a battery that lasts forever, the Auto capture and Birds modes, the matching fast CFe card slots, and some miscellany like built-in GPS that works well (and can log). Recommended

Overall, the discounts on the cameras so far are mostly modest, and that's partly because the cameras a that good in the first place. While Nikon gets maligned by the fanboy crowd as "being behind," I don't feel "behind" at all in the FX world, and only at the top end of the DX moon.

Lenses are difficult to make general recommendations about, because what focal length you want or need may not be the one with the best bargain. As I've noted before, there isn't really a dud lens in the Nikkor Z-mount offerings, and any comparison of a Z-mount version to an F-mount version easily skews to the Z-mount version. (Caveat: in varying degrees, and of course, sample variation can be an issue, particularly with the lowest cost lenses.)

So I'm just going to summarize which lenses have which discounts at the moment:

  • US$20 off — 28mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2
  • US$50 off — 50mm f/2.8 MC
  • US$100 off — 20mm f/1.8 S, 24mm f/1.8 S, 50mm f/1.8 S, 85mm f/1.8 S, 100mm f/2.8 MC VR S
  • US$150 off — 35mm f/1.8 S
  • US$200 off — 14-24mm f/2.8 S, 14-30mm f/4 S, 17-28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2 S, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S
  • US$250 off — 400mm f/4.5 VR S
  • US$300 off — 24-70mm f/2.8 S, 28-75mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

The question many are asking me is whether I believe these discounts are "Nikon's final answer." In other words, will there be additional discounts between now and Christmas? 

The answer is "perhaps." Nikon, and particularly NikonUSA, are known to micromanage price to the volume they want to sell. With the dollar so strong against the yen lately, this gives them more flexibility in pricing than usual. However, take a close look at Nikon's most recent financial statements and you'll see that they're performing well above expectations at the moment, so the incentive to push more product out the door is not really there, as it has been at times in the past. My expectations of additional discounts appearing in the next month, therefore, is somewhat tempered. 

The F's Get Updates

Nikon updated the Zfc to firmware 1.50, with the sole change being support for EN-EL25a batteries.

Meanwhile, the Zf got it's first update to version 1.10, adding slow-motion recording and fixing a live view display issue.

Is DX Next?

Updated It appears that Nikon very soon (early December November) will issue a firmware update for the Zfc that provides support for the EN-EL25a battery. Thing is, an EN-EL25a battery doesn't currently exist, though recently I've noted that some third-party batteries are referring to "EN-EL25 and EN-EL25a compatibility" in their ads, so something's afoot.

Most previous "a" releases of a battery have boosted the capacity of the battery, as does this one (the EN-EL25a goes up 100mWh in capacity from the original). Some of the third party batteries already do provide extra capacity, though you have to read the voltage, mAh, and wattage values carefully to assess that.

Still, the fact that we appear about to get a new version of the battery used in the DX bodies—and which requires a firmware update for existing cameras to use—seems to imply that Nikon may be about to release a new DX camera, or at least tweak an existing one (Zfc). In the past, new batteries have tended to be accompanied by new cameras. 

As I've noted elsewhere, the Z50 is a particularly interesting problem for Nikon. In about a year, the EU would not allow sale of a Z50 due to the fact that it doesn't comply with the full set of EU regulations that have been layered up recently. In particular, the "common charger" mandate, which dictates that a digital camera that directly supports recharging must use USB-C Power Delivery. The current Z50 can be charged in camera, but the charger for that is the EH-73P, which is USB-2 to USB microB, which won't be allowed after December 28, 2024 in Europe. (I'll repeat what I've written elsewhere: I originally thought that the "common charger" mandate had grandfather clauses in it that would allow continued sales of product past the regulation going into affect, but it doesn't. Thus a different EU regulation that defines "new" comes into play, and a lot of products are probably going to go off market in Europe in 2025 because of that. It's one reason why Apple was objecting to the "common charger" regulation, for instance, because Apple likes to keep three generations of iPhone on the market, and two of them might still use Lightning connectors.)

We can all speculate what a Z50 II (or Zfc II) might be comprised of, but there's one really simple path that would completely change the experience: stick EXPEED7 and USB-C into the current camera(s). That's it. Suddenly, you'd have better autofocus, better internal video capabilities, and additional potential features, even if the same image sensor, shutter, and viewfinder are used. This is what the Zf did compared to the Z6 II, so why wouldn't Nikon continue that approach? 

I used to really like the Z50. Back when it came out in 2019 it was one of the best US$1000 crop sensor mirrorless options you could get. Things have changed since then, of course. Two years later Nikon provided a few minor tweaks that would have kept the Z50 more current, but they did them in the Zfc model instead of a Z50 II. Fujifilm's recent X-S20 is arguably a better camera now, and Canon's recent R50 and R7 also bracket the Z50/Zfc, putting more competition on those DX models. Adding EXPEED7 on its own probably is enough to hold serve, which is why I mention that simple path of updating Nikon's first DX model.

Nikon's surprised us more than once in the Z System camera sequencing, so without clear inside info—which I currently don't have for the DX models—I can only speculate. It seems clear to me, though, that Nikon needs to do something in the DX space soon or risk just losing traction there. I, for instance, have been using an X-S20 instead of my Z50 since that Fujifilm appeared. The Fujifilm a bit bigger and heavier, but it offers a fair amount of things that I'd have wanted in a Z50 followup at this point.

I Don't Need Global Shutter (Doesn't Mean I Can't Want It)

New camera introductions from competitors often help us realize what things we really want in our cameras.

While a lot of folk are grumbling about "when will Nikon do global shutter," that wasn't actually the thing that the Sony A9 Mark III launch triggered for me in terms of wants.

First up, Sony is promising support for the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI). Recently, Leica introduced the M11-P with CAI. What a lot of folk forget is that Nikon showed off a Z9 with CAI support back at an Adobe conference last year. So where is it? Will we be getting another major Z9 firmware update with CAI? I hope so. Indeed, it could possibly even appear before an A9 Mark III is actually sold to a customer, given that there will be a significant wait for that ;~).

The new feature I want the most that the A9 Mark III introduced, though, is button override of frame rate. I'd love to leave my Z9 set for, say, 10 fps, and have the ability to press a button while I'm taking photos and have the camera instantly and seamlessly switch to 20 fps. I'd actually expand on that: I want a button that will override to pre-capture release too. In other words, I'm at 10 fps normal release ready to photograph, but I press a button and I'm instantly in Pre-capture release (as I've set it in Custom Settings). 

And while we're talking about Pre-capture release, yes, the A9 Mark III can do raw at 120 fps in pre-capture. But why is it we can't do raw in pre-capture, at all? It doesn't have to be 30 fps. I'd be happy with 20 fps, or even 15 fps, and even with switching to High efficiency from Lossless compressed.

Another thing I noted in the A9 Mark III was a priority function added to subject detection. I want that, too. What am I talking about? Well, Subject detection set to Auto has a sort of sequence it follows. Birds is kind of down the list. Why can't we have Auto (Birds priority) and Auto (Humans priority)? In other words, tell the camera to look for a bird first and foremost, but if it doesn't find one, then go through its human, animal, vehicles sequence, too.

Yes, global shutter has some impact on potential flash use, so ultimately I'll want that, too, but Nikon's not quite as far behind as you might think with high-speed flash sync. At least up through 1/8000, Nikon's Auto FP is reasonably competitive with what the Sony flashes can do with the A9 Mark III. 

Meanwhile, why is it that my iPhone 15 Pro Max can record video to an external device through its USB-C port but my much more expensive Z9 can't? 

Add all of these things to my Z9 and I don't need a new camera. 

Reminder: Zf and Nikkor Talk Tonight

I’m giving a talk at Creative Photo Academy this evening (Monday, November 6) with Mark Comon on the latest Nikon Z System gear. We usually do an online even when a new camera comes out, but we were both out of the country when the Zf came out, and several lenses have popped up since our last session, too. Meanwhile, we’ve been using the new camera and lenses in our trips (well, okay, I haven't yet used the 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S yet, as it just shipped and mine is arriving this week). 

Our free talk will begin at 5pm PST. You can sign up for it at As usual, we record the session and make it available (usually the next day) to anyone who signed up and couldn’t be there for it live.

This is an opportunity to ask questions and get them answered by two workshop teachers who use this gear daily.

You Wanted Quick Lens Notes

Well, here they are.

Oh, wait, you’ve forgotten. 

I asked at the end of last year what I should do about all the lenses coming out of China for the Z-mount. A simple (but not large) majority of you said to ignore them. However, enough of you wanted me to look at as many of these lenses as was possible and at least give you some quick “hits” on whether they’re worth exploring or not. 

Well, here are a couple. 

Later I’ll put these in a dedicated page in the Lens section that will grow as I get more experience with these.

There. Here we go with our first two entrants:

Astohori 18mm f/8 Shift

This is a pancake lens, basically, with no aperture ring, but a focus ring and a rotating shift function of +/- 6mm. The rotation is clicked stopped at 90° marks, but you can shift this lens in any direction, if you’re so inclined (see what I did there?). 

The build quality is metal and robust, but…(1) the lens has no electrical contacts so you’re in full manual exposure mode and full on-your-own manual focus; (2) there are no depth of field markings on the focus ring (why not, there only needs to be one set!); (3) the lens cap is one of those slide-on ones that will fall off and get lost at some point; and (4) the lens clearly cuts off the corners (to absolute black) at about a 2.5mm shift.

I suppose the lens could be used as a small 18mm walk-around lens where you’d ignore the shift aspect, but the results out of camera feel a little meh to me on full frame, and there’s clearly lower contrast than I’m used to. Another reviewer claimed it was better than the Funleader 18mm, and I’d agree, non-shifted. At least Non-CPU lens data has an 18mm setting so you can set VR to work correctly. 

The good news is the lens is quite inexpensive, and on DX cameras some of my objections go away (to be replaced by the fact that 28mm effective isn’t very wide). 

Verdict: I’ll Pass. You should, too.

TTArtisans 32mm f/2.8 Autofocus

This is a muffin-sized lens with a mattebox-like lens hood and slide on cap design (the Chinese seem to be thoroughly into sliding, even though those of us with experience with such caps aren't). At least the TTArtisans cap is deep, with a grippy pasted-on ring inside that keeps it on more tightly than most I’ve seen.

Good news is that the lens supports Z-system autofocus, and has full electrical contacts.

The build quality is metal and robust, but…TTArtisans has already updated the firmware for this lens four times, however you can only update the firmware on a Windows computer. I use a Mac and got firmware 1.0. Even though 1.4 was already out. Moreover, I’m pretty sure I want the benefits of the newer firmware given their descriptions of it. 

The problem here is that this lens is up against the pretty decent Nikkor 28mm f/2.8. The TTArtisans isn’t going to win. It doesn’t really win on size/weight, it doesn’t clearly win on optics, it doesn’t win on autofocus speed (though firmware updates might have helped here), and it doesn’t win on filter capability. So I don’t really see the point, though the lens looks pretty good on a Zfc for those of you who care more about how you look while you photograph as opposed to how your photographs look, and you can’t find a 28mm f/2.8 SE at a price you like. 

Verdict: I’ll Pass. Some of you might be interested at the right price.

One Way the Zf is Different

I’m giving a talk at Creative Photo Academy next week with Mark Comon on the latest Nikon Z System gear. We usually do an online even when a new camera comes out, but we were both out of the country when the Zf came out, and several lenses have popped up since our last session, too. Meanwhile, we’ve been using the new camera and lenses in our trips (well, okay, not the 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S yet, as it just shipped). 

bythom cpalogo

Our free talk will be on November 6th, at 5pm PST. You can sign up for it at As usual, we record the session and make it available to anyone who signed up and couldn’t be there for it live.

I mention that talk because I’m starting to get specific Zf questions that get to the heart of buying decisions. 

In particular, there’s the issue of using mirrorless cameras completely silently. This is a key difference between the Zf and the Z8. The Z8 has a stacked image sensor with a 1/270 effective electronic shutter. The Zf is still using the older Z6 image sensor, which is not stacked and has a far slower 1/15 effective electronic shutter. 

What that means is that the rolling shutter artifacts on the Zf can be problematic when the the camera is used in Silent mode. This is not true of the Z8, which operates pretty much like a camera with a mechanical shutter when silent. Moreover, in artificial light, the slower Zf sensor more easily produces banding, and unlike the Z8, it has no way to syncronize the electronic shutter to the light frequency. 

So for people who want a completely silent camera, the Zf probably isn’t the one you want. If you don’t mind the mechanical shutter being used, then the Zf is perfectly fine with motion/action and responds to frequency-based light as you’d expect. Of course, when you use the mechanical shutter, you need to be aware of the difference between Continuous H and Continuous H (extended). Only the former gives you a live viewfinder while your photographing (not quite blackout free like the Z8, but very short blackout between live looks). For raw files, Continuous H (not extended) gives you a maximum frame rate of 6 (full mechanical) to 7.2 (electronic first curtain) fps. 

The reason why this is coming up is because of people thinking the Zf is an inexpensive Z8 for wildlife and sports action. The new autofocus system is in the Zf, after all. But pragmatically, you’ll have to give up significant frame rate to get the same quality images of moving subjects. 


Nikon's established (back into the film SLR days) camera development cycle was: 8 years between pro bodies with completely new technologies. What happened in the ensuing eight years after a pro body varied in the film era.

In the DSLR era, things tightened and became more predictable:

  • 4 years between pro bodies with new technologies, plus sometimes a 2 year minor update
  • 2 years between prosumer/enthusiast body updates
  • 1 year between consumer body updates

The question the Z System users are asking themselves today is "what's the mirrorless cycle?" 

That's difficult to figure out. The Z9 was five years after the D5 (many consider the D6 an intermediary two year update of the D5). The Z6/Z7 prosumer/enthusiast bodies had an initial two year refresh, but are now more than three years without another. The consumer bodies—basically DX—pinged recently with a one year interval (Z30 after Zfc), but that was after a two-year wait from the Z50. Meanwhile, the Z5, which you could consider in either of the two lower categories, hasn't had an update (now three years old). 

Nikon's fairly predictable cycles are no longer predictable. If we were using the past as an indicator, we'd say:

  • Z9 II (minor) in 2023 (oops) and Z9 III in 2025
  • Z6 III and Z7 III in 2022 (oops), Z6 IV and Z7 IV in 2024
  • Z50 II in 2020 (oops), with minor updates every year after
  • The Z5 could be considered the D610 type camera: just leave it as the low cost leader for a long period

Obviously, Nikon is off cycle. Something changed in the development decisions, and we're in new uncharted territory. The Zfc and Zf also show an eagerness to make a different type of camera within the basic lineup, as well. 

Here's what I think about where we're at and what really needs to be addressed at the moment:

  • The Z9 and its MiniMe are essentially state of the art. Continue to roll the firmware updates for things that didn't get into the shipping products and Nikon is fine. I doubt that they need "more camera" at the pro level before the Paris Olympics. There are pending features that didn't roll out yet that would suffice to stay competitive during this Olympics cycle, I believe. Moreover, Auto capture hasn't been equalled yet. Thom's prescription: more firmware updates with significant new performance/features.
  • The Zf took pressure off the Z6 III cycle, the Z8 took it off the Z7 III cycle. Nikon's been very careful lately to milk sales out of each progressive Z model before updating. Can these two newer models let Nikon wait until fall of 2024 for Z6 III and Z7 III updates? That would certainly give them time to make them unique and compelling. Thom's prescription: sell the Zf and Z8 until demand slacks, then lower their prices to keep them moving. Get new sensors into updated Z6/Z7 models to push them forward in the EXPEED7 world. But that has to happen some time in 2024, preferably earlier rather than later.
  • The DX lineup is losing competitiveness. Nikon's most urgent problem. Ironic, since they sort of invented the crop sensor digital camera in the first place. This line—both camera and lenses—is looking weaker with each passing competitor announcement. The Z50 is at the heart of the problem now. Thom's prescription: stick EXPEED7 into the current Z50, add the Zfc/Z30 things, get rid of the Z50's unique LCD buttons, and push it out fast as the Z50 II. This is a band aid over the wound; the lens lineup needs attention, too.

Nikon may be thinking differently, though. It's clear that retirements and shakeups in Tokyo have changed the way they're tackling the Z System from what they did with the DSLRs. The old "trickle down" of technology still applies, but model prioritizations have changed, and the cycles have gotten wobbly (that's being generous). 

Which gets me to this: do I expect another Z System camera in 2023? No. The next logical release point would be CES just after the new year, or near CP+ in February. 

Is the Zf a Z6 Upgrade?

Since a Z6 III is still below the future horizon line and can't yet be seen, the article title is a question that's now popping up among many Z6 owners. It's both an easy and difficult question to answer.

Easy answer: Yes.
Difficult answer: Maybe not.

Let's get a couple of things out the way first:

  1. It's easier for a Z6 owner to consider the Zf an "upgrade" because so much has been added and changed since the original model. A Z6 II owner has a more difficult time with the question.
  2. A number of things "remain the same" in the Z6 to Zf upgrade: shutter, image sensor, and to a large degree viewfinder. If you're looking for upgrades in these areas, you won't find them in the Zf. 

The "clear difference" list is actually lengthier and meatier than you might expect: better VR, better autofocus (subject detection, 3D-tracking), better low-light autofocus, higher non-impacted frame rate, pixel shift capabilities to 96mp, pre-release capture, 10-bit internal video recording, plus a few additional things that the original Z6 couldn't do (e.g. IPTC data, USB charge in camera). Some will also see SD-only cards as a plus, though I'm less sanguine on this. 

It's that long list of inclusions and improvements on the Zf that make for the easy answer: you do indeed get more, and that's very clearly true for the original Z6 owners.

The difficult answer happens because of the thing I complain about on the Zf: it's simplified approach to controlling the camera. You have far fewer programmable/customizable controls in which to surface those additional functions to your fingertips while photographing. You're going to menu dive a lot, even if its via the i button quick menus. 

Moreover, there's a clear loss that many Z6 owners will lament on a Zf: no U# choices. As much as some malign the idiosyncrasies of the U# system, at least a Z6 or Z6 II has the ability to quickly shift the camera settings; a Zf does not.

What these two things mean together is that the Zf is a camera that, unless you always just using one configuration, will cause you to work more slowly and deliberately than you do with a Z6. Which is in a bit of conflict with the things that have been added to the camera. With the Zf we have a subject-detecting autofocus system that can track motion just fine at up to 10 fps and for a couple hundred buffered images, but for which any change of settings you want to make will tend to slow you down and make you miss things.

Can you perform Hybrid Button focus techniques on the Zf? Yes, but this works far better if you have a lens with (an) L-Fn button(s) and other lens controls you can customize. It works well enough I can see a Zf body sitting in my bag as an emergency backup camera. I wouldn't use the Zf as a main camera because I simply can't get enough "configuration" into controls I can use without menu diving, though. To some degree, that's a problem I've had with the Z6/Z7 models from day one. But at least the Zf provides us with things AF-area mode+AF-ON, Switch FX/DX, etc. It's just that I'm out of places to put those things after I count to two ;~).

That said, I can see some folk thinking of the Zf as "most of a Z8" at lower cost, but with the 24mp image sensor. If that's what you've been waiting for, then perhaps your upgrade answer for you is yes. 

Personally, I don't really see the Zf as an upgrade to my Z6 II, though I now wonder what I might consider using my Z6 II for ;~). 

I'm not sure Nikon could have created a better conundrum. As I've pointed out before, there's a school of marketing/sales that preys on confusing the potential buyer and then steering them to what you want to sell them. When our brains get confused over a buying decision, we turn to others for help making the decision. A good sales person can use that confusion to point you wherever they'd like you to go. That feels like help, but is really manipulation.

I have no real skin in the game. I'm happy with whatever decision you make if you're happy with it. 


More Zf observations:

  • The box my orange Zf came in is not the traditional Nikon Z "black," but a subdued, darkish gray. The USB cable that's included is USB-C on both ends for what it's worth.
  • The camera comes from the factory set to not use two of the dials! The ISO dial is set at C and the shutter speed dial is set to 1/3STEP. The Exposure Mode switch is also set to AUTO. My camera did not ask for language or date to be set, but the clock battery icon was flashing. Moreover, the EN-EL15C that was included was at 0%. Expect to have to charge a battery before trying to set up your Zf.
  • The Fn button on the front of the camera is set to White balance. You really only have five buttons that support a great deal of customization: Fn, AE-L/AF-L, DISP, and surprisingly, the playback and red movie buttons. Plus, of course, lens buttons. Strangely, the camera is configured so that C30 as the camera comes out of the box, just gives you 30 fps JPEGs (no pre-release capture is enabled; you have to enable it). 
  • The microSD slot is as bad as you imagine it to be: unless you have incredibly tiny fingers (or perhaps very long fingernails), you'll have to take the battery out to get the microSD card in and out reliably.

More Thoughts on the Nikon Zf

The Zf is now hitting users’ hands, and a lot of questions are coming up again, just as they did with the Zfc. Many of these questions have to do with “ignoring the dials” and “customizing the camera."

Here’s my basic problem with the Zf design: if you don’t want to use the ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation dials, you don’t get a lot of benefit by skipping them. Setting those dials to C and 1/3 step lets you use the button+dial and Front/Rear Command dial approach to things, but the lack of other customizable buttons on the camera means that you still have a “slow working camera.” 

Nikon, of course, will point to the i button as a shortcut to the menus, but this is just a medium speed in setting things, not a fast working speed. Moreover, it can only point to 12 places in the menu (and one that isn't!). Have you counted how many places you might want to go? ;~)

Let me put things a different way. In the Z System, we have two highly configurable cameras: the Z8 and Z9. We have three somewhat crippled cameras in terms of configuring: the Z5, Z6 II, and Z7 II. And we have two cameras with highly limited customization: the Zf and Zfc. (The Z30 and Z50 sort of fall into a different group, as they’re catering to the entry level user, where complexity probably should be avoided.)

Many of you wrote me notes after my brief earlier post about the Zf announcement while I was offline. Those notes fell into basically two camps: (1) agree with Thom; or (2) the Df is not a camera for Thom, thus so what?

As I’ve been trying to point out for awhile now Nikon’s Z System camera lineup has some issues when comparing it to Canon or Sony. Instead of fixing those issues, Nikon has essentially made a camera that caters to a different audience. The “core” of Nikon’s lineup (Z5, Z6 II, and Z7 II) are now all over three years old, which is typically retirement age for digital cameras. Yes, these models are still around, but they're showing their age and can’t do things the younger crowd from the competition can. 

Instead of dealing with its aging core products, Nikon instead did a parts recycling to create what I would call a niche camera. Yes, there is an audience for such a camera, but it’s smaller in size than the core audience, and frankly, not particularly big here in the US (or Europe), thus the Zf appeal is regional as well as niche. My sense of the reaction to the Zf is that we have a modest sized group that loves it for its nicheness, but a larger group that is now in “what about me?” mode. Plus a few tweeners that will reluctantly accept the legacy approach because they want one of the new features buried in the menus.

If one accepts the theory that Sony’s shift from DSLR to mirrorless is what made them leap from a distant third to a strong second in the camera market, then comparing where Nikon is five years in versus where Sony was is interesting. I’d generally say that Sony was doing a better job of iterating its main cameras after five years of mirrorless than Nikon is, but Nikon is doing a better job with introducing lenses. Sony’s full-frame A7 models were already in their third generation and being supplemented (A9) at the five year mark, and their APS-C models were also complete and well iterated, as well. 

Of course Nikon is first and foremost an optics company. Virtually everything they do revolves in some way around lenses and manipulation of light. Thus, it’s not a surprise that they prioritized a complete lens lineup as quickly as possible. Still, five years in the middle of the camera lineup, where the Zf sits, feels soft and not having been given enough attention. It’s a bit as if the operative construct in Nikon R&D for the middle units is waiting for Mr. Goodsensor. 

Those of you who like the Zf for some reason—old school, fun, sexy,—shouldn’t be put off my critical commentary about it. I will state that the Zf is almost certainly not the camera for me, but it very well may be for some of you. If so, then buy it. If not, then don’t. That’s one of the benefits of capitalism: the consumers’ pocket book can change companies’ minds. Early dealer feedback here in the US says that Zf demand is modest, and mostly centered on the Zf+40mm kit. 

One reason why I worry about this is that there will be those that buy the Zf because it’s the only new thing in the lineup that doesn’t cost as much as a Z8 yet gives you some of the same benefits. Nikon could misread the signals and think that this is more than just mere tacit acceptance of a new model in lieu of waiting for the one they wanted. I personally don’t want Nikon spending even more time and effort on these legacy-style designs, as I believe it is ultimately a culdesac with a minimal short term upside, and those that buy the Zf "just because it's new" may feel bad if a "better" Z6 III comes out in six months. 

Then there's this: having just taken well over 10,000 images in three weeks with my two Z8’s, I can point to dozens of button+dial things that need to be added or improved on the Z8. In other words, the top end DSLR-derived design still has much more fleshing out that can be done to create an even better product. Especially at the Z5/Z6/Z7 level.

Ultimately, technology firms have to look forward, not backward. The Zf doesn’t look forward enough for me.


But you wanted some useful commentary ;~)

  • The Zf does not ship with a charger. Nikon's assumption is that you have a wall adapter that you can plug the supplied USB cable into to charge the battery in the camera. Only EN-EL15B and EN-EL15C batteries will charge in the camera. You'll probably want a dedicated charger, but don't buy Nikon's expensive versions, find one of the ubiquitous third-party USB chargers that abound on eBay and Amazon.
  • You need a UHS II Speed Class 3 card. If you want to record 4K video, you absolutely need this. Oh, and you want a card larger than 32GB to avoid your video being split into multiple files. Nikon's buffer figures (186 frames lossless compressed NEF) are achieved with this type of card (SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-II, to be exact). So if you think the Zf is a video or speed camera, consider yourself forewarned ;~).
  • The Zf is surprisingly loaded with "extra" features. Those dials speak of a simple camera, but the menus don't. I was surprised that things like IPTC data, voice memo, split-screen viewfinder, video waveforms, FTP support, Portrait Impression Balance and Skin Softening, Starlight view, series playback, and a host of other advanced features showed up. This makes the Zf a bit of a Trojan Horse: on the outside it looks all legacy and simple, but press the MENU button and be prepared for needing the 879-page reference manual. Add in things like pixel shift shooting, focus-based VR, and subject detection in manual focus, and you end up with quite a menagerie of features to learn and contend with (and set only by menu ;~).
  • It's not as ugly as the prototype I saw. I earlier described the Zf as an ugly duckling. I'll now take that back. The final product shaved off all those rough edges and fixed the fonts. I'm now the owner of an orange version, which actually looks pretty stylish. Of course, I've never tried to look stylish in my long life, and I don't think a Zf is going to fix that now, but still: it attracts attention and I like attention. Hmm. Maybe I should paint parts of my 400mm f/4.5 orange?
  • None of you seemed to notice when I added the Zf to the top header image on this site ;~). I guess that's because the black version doesn't call attention to itself as something different in the Z System lineup.

I'll have much more to say soon, as I start my thorough testing of the Zf.

The iPhone and the Z

Things just changed a bit with the camera/smartphone connection. At least if you have an iPhone 15 Pro model.

With an iPhone 15 Pro Max connected to my Z8 and the right camera settings enabled (NETWORK > USB data connection > iPhone) using an OWC Thunderbolt 4 cable the right things happen immediately with NX MobileAir. Moreover, some changes to NX MobileAir also make for an easier workflow for some: 

  1. Take your images with the camera.
  2. Mark your selects with Protected. (You could also use Ratings.)
  3. Connect the iPhone, grab all the images, then use the Filter in NX MobileAir to select only your Protected images.
  4. Share you Protected images. That might be by email, via X, Instagram, or an FTP server you're working with. 

You can do the IPTC entry either on the camera or the iPhone with the NX MobileAir app, as you see fit. 

Alternatively, you put the camera into NETWORK > USB data connection > MTP/PTP and Photos will now show you the Import choice. Import what you want to pass on and you can use Apple Photos as the hub from which you do your sharing.

Yes, this all sort of worked previously using Lightning-equipped iPhones. However, you needed a special cable or a dongled cable collaboration to make the physical connection, and the Lightning port was dirt slow for data transfer. The iPhone 15 Pro models support up to 10Gbps transfers, though the Z cameras don't achieve full speed. But the transfer is much faster than it was with the Lightning connector. Note that the iPhone 15 non-Pro models use USB 2 at 480Mbps, so are decidedly slower using the above choices.

Another New Nikkor: the 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S

Nikon today announced the 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S lens, their second phase fresnel lens and their third lens that covers 600mm. 

As with all phase fresnel lenses, this new lens is shorter in length and lighter in weight than you'd expect from the focal length and aperture specifications. 11" and just over 3 pounds, to be exact. Moreover, much of that weight is closer to the camera, making for a distinctly handholdable lens. Coupled with the Synchro VR Z8 and Z9 models, you get six stops (CIPA) worth of stabilization. 

Since Nikon is emphasizing telephoto offerings at the moment, I have a separate article today trying to put all the puzzle pieces together for you.

Telephoto Today

I’ve had a series of articles on this site that have stepped through the options in the telephoto realm as Nikon has continuously updated it. It’s time to once again check in with my thoughts on the individual lenses.

Before we get started with the individual lenses, let's summarize the telephoto situation as I write this:

At 70mm you have seven ways to get there.
At 100mm you have six ways to get there.
At 200mm you have five ways to get there.
At 400mm you have four ways to get there.
At 600mm you have three ways to get there.
At 800mm you have one way to get there.

That's all without using teleconverters (and allowing for a bit of focal length rounding). Notice anything about that progression? Yes, this has to be almost a deliberate approach by Nikon: fewer options as you get longer into the telephoto range. However, at anything other than 800mm, you have multiple options (and technically, you have more options if you include the built-in and add-on teleconverters.

So the first thing you need to figure out is exactly how much telephoto focal length you actually need. That's going to define the lens options available to you (again, without teleconverters). 

I'm going leave off lenses such as the 24-120mm f/4 S and 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR from my specific comments, as these are really multi-purpose lenses, not telephoto ones. 

Here's my quick thoughts on the clear telephoto choices currently available:

  • 70-180mm f/2.8 — A lens that isn’t given enough credit because it’s a first generation Tamrikon (e.g. not a G2) and doesn’t have lens-based VR. I don’t care about those two things because, here in safari-land where I’m writing this article, it just works. Yes, at 180mm and f/2.8 vignetting is noticeable by a two-year old who needs glasses. Yes, 180mm is not as well stabilized (by the image sensor) as it could be, but it's still reasonably stable using sensor VR. This lens travels small and light, it makes excellent images, and it even comfortably focuses nearer than you’re likely to need (short of small insects). While I’ve recommended the lens in my review, I’m liking it more the more I use it, and again, it’s very travel friendly.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S — A very sharp lens with virtually no flaw. Well, no flaw other than it’s big and heavy compared to the competitors' offerings. When absolute image quality counts (on a 45mp camera), this lens comes out of the gear closet and pushes the Tamrikon I just mentioned aside like a sumo wrestler challenging a horse jockey. But the penalty you pay for that is significant in terms of price, size, and weight. I’m using this lens less and less as the other options have revealed their benefits.
  • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S — If you’re photographing sports or wildlife and aren’t using one of the above two lenses, I’ll bet this is your “short lens.” It’s really well rounded in its benefits, with no particular downsides (other than perhaps price to some of you). Sharp, takes converters decently, excellent stabilization, all in a lens not significantly larger than the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S (told you the 70-200mm was big and heavy). Of course, you’re at f/4.5 to f/5.6, so edge of day photography means higher ISO values. Still, it’s a solid choice to pair up with your “long” lens. I've never been disappointed with this lens since I first started using it.
  • 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR — The second “consumer” lens in our list (70-180mm was the first; note that focal length handoff). From an image quality standpoint, it simply doesn’t seem very consumerish at all. While my review points out that 300mm is its best (and really great stopped down a third of a stop) focal length, even 600mm is really solid. A bit down in contrast from the exotics, but the edge definitions are very close if you can stop down that third of a stop. If you liked the 200-500mm f/5.6E in the F-mount, you’ll absolutely love the 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR in the Z-mount at f/6.3-7.1. Like the previous lens, though, edge of day starts to be a problem due to the smaller aperture. Don't be too worried about backgrounds, though. At 600mm f/6.3 distant backgrounds fade to full blur. 
  • 400mm f/4.5 VR S — The little lens that could. For a traditional 400mm it’s very compact and light. But it’s also very sharp and contrasty, fast to focus, and takes a teleconverter with aplomb. You’re giving up a stop and a third to the expensive exotic (next lens), but not a heck of a lot else. You’re gaining less money taken from your bank and an easier to handle lens that travels really well too. I like this little powerhouse a lot. It's the everyperson's exotic, for sure. 
  • 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S — OMG. This lens just delivers, period. Tons of control customization (but not always in a hand-friendly place) and the best results you’re going to see from a Nikkor telephoto at 400mm. And clearly so. This lens renders beautifully. The 560mm results with the teleconverter flipped in are pretty darned good, too. The reduced weight (from F-mount versions) makes it surprisingly hand holdable for shorter periods, but your wallet will also feel lighter. Quite a lot lighter. No one that uses this lens complains. Okay, I do, about the position of some controls. But I mean even I feel like maybe I’m a bit on the nit-picky side when I see the images I’m getting from this lens. I thought my F-mount 400mm f/2.8 was great, but this lens is better, and more versatile with that teleconverter built-in.
  • 600mm f/4 TC VR S — A tiny bit less OMG than the 400mm, but if you need this focal length, you’re not going to find a better choice. Really strong optics that aren't really matched at this focal length. Again, Nikon will drain your wallet and max out your credit card before handing you this lens. However, unlike the 400mm TC, you’ll find that the added size and weight of the extra focal reach takes a little away from wow factor. You’re also probably out of hand holdable range, certainly for any length of time. 
  • 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S — The latest Nikkor, for which I have no real experience with yet. Looking at early results and commentary from a few pros I know who've used it, you need to pay attention to it, though. The tricky part to reconcile: it's 1.7" longer than the 400mm f/4.5 (already a small lens), and a few ounces heavier. That combo is going to have a lot of folk questioning which lens to get. Well, you asked for choice. Nikon's now giving it to you, so stop complaining. 
  • 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S — If you need 800mm, this is the best way to achieve it, at least in the optical results. No questions asked about that: 800mm done beautifully. However, 800mm is a tricky focal length by itself. Finding the subject starts to become a real issue due to the narrow angle of view. Personally, I prefer to be at 560mm and flip to DX on my Z8 or Z9 if I need something in the 800mm focal length. That’s because 560mm becomes my wider “finder,” and the Switch FX/DX button customization then snaps me into the subject. Sure, I’m down to 19mp, but I found the subject faster. Also, if I lose it, I flip back out to FX to find it again.

So what two lenses for safari? As it turns out I’ve used most combos except those that involve the 600mm or 800mm prime lenses.

For example, on my most recent Africa trip I took the 70-180mm f/2.8 and 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR with two Z8 bodies. Other than working at higher ISO values at the long end, I didn’t really feel like I was losing out on anything. The images I captured are excellent and certainly up to my standards, particularly after a bit of processing or by stopping down a third of a stop on the long lens. I would travel again with this pair again in a heartbeat, plus a side benefit is that the two lenses and two bodies fit easily in my 19L backpack (with a bunch of batteries and accessories). I repeat: an entire safari outfit with a lot of reach in a 19L pack. That's nearing m4/3 and APS-C territory for travel.

My previous two trips I took two Z9 bodies, the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, and either the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S or the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8. I have to say, the faster apertures all round gave me more choices for what to do with background, helped with low light situations, and all three lenses just render really, really nicely. This makes for a big kit, and barely fits in my 30L pack. 

On this most recent trip my teaching partner Tony Medici took the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and the 400mm f/4.5 VR S, a combination I’ve also used in the past (mostly for sports). That pair travels more friendly than the 70-200mm/400mm f/2.8 combo, for sure, but you sacrifice little other than maximum aperture. Again, the images are well above my standards.

While I haven’t come to Africa yet with the following combo, the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S make an interesting choice, as well. I’ve used these two lenses together in my neighborhood nature preserve, and it produces excellent images; my only concern is framing up subjects at 800mm. That works if the subject isn't moving, but you really need to practice and master narrow angle alignment if the subject is moving. 

Finally, a note: in virtually every case I travel with the 1.4x teleconverter, just in case I’d prefer a bit more reach. All of the above lenses other than the 70-180mm f/2.8 work well with that teleconverter.

All of which pretty much means this: any of the current Nikon options deliver excellent images. Price, travel friendliness, and maximum aperture are probably the way you get to the choice that works for you. 

I don’t think Nikon’s close to done with the telephoto offerings for the Z-mount (witness this week's 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S). That said, what we already have is pretty fantastic. Used well, you should come back with excellent images pretty much no matter which choice you make. 

Yes, I know it’s difficult figuring out which two options you should probably own. Hopefully my words above will help you make the best decision for you.


Bonus #1: Tamron has starting adding telephoto options under their own brand for the Z-mount. We currently have the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 and the 150-500mm f/5-6.7. I'd say the former is a potential solution for the Z5/Zf type user who wants to supplement their 24-70mm f/4 with something that covers a full telephoto range. It's not a bad lens, but it does have a number of compromises to it. The 150-500mm looks more promising, in that its MTF ratings look good and it packs/travels smaller than the Nikkor 100-400mm and especially the 180-600mm. 

Bonus #2: I've noticed many folk asking for 500mm lenses in the Z-mount. I suppose it's possible that one will eventually come, but it's clear to me that Nikon has targeted 400/600/800 in the Z-mount. I expect multiple entries to cover those focal lengths in a variety of ways (already true of 400mm, and starting to be true for 600mm). Some might say there's a "gap" at 500mm, but we're talking about the "gap" between a 6°10' angle of view and a 4°10' angle of view, which is a pretty small gap. I'd argue that 300mm is the more important focal length for Nikon to fill first, and I suspect it will be filled by a fast zoom (e.g. 120-300mm f/2.8 VR S), or perhaps another lens with a built-in teleconverter (e.g. 200mm f/2 TC VR S). That you can use three different 500mm F-mount choices on a Z-mount camera also plays a part in Nikon's decision making, I'm sure. Personally, I like Nikon's choices so far. They seem clear, targeted, and useful.

The Lens Lineup Ahead

Now that the Road Map for lenses is down to one remaining lens—the 35mm f/1.2—the question is what comes next in the Nikkor Z-mount lineup. Nikon has now said that they won't tell us ;~(. No new road map will be published.

Nikon did tell us a quantity: 14 more lenses in the coming two-and-a-half years. Basically one new lens every two months. But as to what those lenses will be, it's now up to our imagination, which I'm sure will be sometimes disappointed with the future reality.

Some obvious holes in the established prime lines (f/1.2, f/1.8, etc.) certainly exist. 

  • For the f/1.2 S-line, for instance, we have nothing outside the 35/50/85 focal length center. Extending that to a 24mm f/1.2 and 105mm f/1.2 seems possible in a future cycle. 
  • At f/1.8 S we are missing anything under 20mm, plus a 28mm and a 105mm. 
  • The pancake and muffin primes are also squeezed between a tight 26mm to 50mm focal length range, so pushing outside those focal lengths would certainly be welcome. 

My guess? Six new primes in those existing lines will come by the end of Nikon’s 2025 fiscal year.

Despite the work already done—and done well as I'll note in another article later this week—the telephoto side is likely to see more entrants. 

  • A shorter PF (phase fresnel) lens is coming, likely 600mm f/6.3 VR S to round out the options at that focal length. 
  • We don’t have an exotic zoom yet, and we had two in the F-mount, so I’d guess that something like a 100-300mm f/2.8 and/or 200-500mm f/4 are being strongly considered. 
  • The most missing telephoto, though is a more modest one, either a 70-200mm f/4 or 70-300mm variable aperture. 

I’d bet we’ll see three new telephoto options in that same future time period as the six primes I predict.

Which leaves us five other possibilities. 

  • Almost certainly we’ll see tilt/shift and more macro optics hit the shelves. 
  • Plus Nikon hasn’t really explored any of the “new” zoom focal lengths (e.g. 20-70mm, 35-150mm).
  • Nor has Nikon filled out some of the asked for other zooms (e.g. 16-35mm). 

So, just in “obvious” line-up fillers we easily have enough possibilities to fill those 14 lenses Nikon said are coming. Unfortunately, we won't see another road map, though, so everything will come when it comes. We’ve apparently transitioned from the “make sure everyone knows we’re committed” phase to the “surprise users with a series of new additional choices” period.

The only crack in wall is DX. The initial two DX lenses were surprises introduced with the also surprise Z50. The three other DX lenses that then made it into the Road Map mostly just reaffirmed some commitment to DX. But without a new lens plan from Nikon, DX goes back to having a completely unknown future. I want to believe that Nikon will produce a Z70/Z90 type camera and surprise announce a couple of new DX lenses with that. Nikon is, after all, a creature of habit. But what I believe and what Nikon does can often be different things.

The problem is that customers abhore a vacuum and start speculating endlessly as to why/whether/what is happening when there's a clear missing set of products. Moreover, customers are making decisions about competitors' APS-C products in lieu of information about Nikon (DX) ones. 

FX cameras and FX lenses are now what I’d consider a “full” lineup, and yes, technically we don’t need more road maps for them. Frankly, I don't mind surprise launches once a lineup is mostly filled in as the FX one is. However, DX does need a road map, lest Nikon simply fumble those customers all to competitors. Sorry Nikon, but you're shooting yourself in the foot by creating more samplers, leakers, and switchers due to the dearth of DX dissemination. 

Bottom line: Nikon has closed their kimono. 

News While I Was Offline

  1. Nikon introduced the 135mm f/1.8 S Plena lens, a fast telephoto lens.
  2. DxOMark labelled the 85mm f/1.2 S as having the highest score of any lens they’ve tested. This, of course, got a lot of friendly replication on the Internet. Personally, I’m not a fan of DxOMark’s overall scores, as they’re hidden behind unclear subjective evaluation. Things that DxOMark does well is to perform objective tests that are replicable. One such thing that didn’t get enough play in the on-going discussion was this: DxOMark measured the 85mm f/1.2 S as t/1.3, which I can confirm (the Canon 85mm f/1.2 EF lens is t/1.6, by comparison). CIPA marketing allows for rounding of both focal lengths and apertures, and this results in a lot of misleading specs, including just how fast a lens is. Both Nikon 85mm’s are relatively close to their stated aperture in actual light transmission. All that said, the 85mm f/1.2 S is a pretty amazing lens, as I’ll be reporting in my upcoming review of it.
  3. TTArtisan introduced the 500mm f/6.3 manual focus lens for the Z mount.
  4. Laowa announced a 10-50x macro lens that provides microscope-like magnification with a fixed 20mm working distance.
  5. The Z9 software was updated to version 4.10, with the primary changes being the addition of bird recognition and airplane recognition. By separating birds from animals, this apparently helps the discrimination against busy backgrounds.
  6. Nikon officials have said that no new Road Map will be published after the 35mm f/1.2 lens appears, so I've taken the road map article off the site.

What happened to older content? Well, it's now in one of the archive pages, below:

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