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.
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