Is the Zfc "Fun"? Is it Selling?

That word—fun—keeps coming up in marketing materials as well as in press coverage of the Zfc camera. Nikon's executives and product designers have used the word many times both as they introduced the product, and now as they provide ongoing support and press responses. As happens with PR, the word has now been picked up and used by a lot of media, as well.

Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, and don't know how to recognize or have fun. 

I had to look up the word "fun" to make sure I wasn't having a senior moment. So let's go to Merriam-Webster: (1) what provides amusement or enjoyment; (2) a mood for finding or making amusement; (3) (a) amusement, enjoyment (b) derisive jest; (4) violent or excited activity or argument.

So:

  • Does the Zfc provide amusement? Well, maybe some of you might laugh when I show up with a pink camera. 
  • Does the Zfc provide enjoyment? Apparently, to many of you having a camera with dials that you don't always use does indeed provide enjoyment. Also apparently, when that dial is no longer active or starts lying to you, that does not appear to take away your enjoyment of the dials.
  • Will a Zfc help you find amusement? Perhaps. I've personally not found that to be the case. Walking around photographing with it I was not amused to have to keep answering "what camera is that?"
  • Should we make fun of a Zfc (derisive jest)? No. It can provide serious results, just as can a Z50.
  • Will you get violent or excited activity using a Zfc? Not likely. Indeed, Nikon keeps talking about slowing down and photographing casually in their words about the camera, which is sort of the opposite.

Okay, let me get my tongue back out of my cheek for a moment. There's a synonym for fun that I think fits best in describing how some (many?) find the Zfc: pleasure (i.e. pleasurable). 

People are having a visceral response to the Zfc, much like comfort food. They find it pleasurable. They find the familiar controls—even if not actually used much—make them more comfortable than having to trust the unmarked dials Nikon has been using for decades. And the Zfc has virtually all the pleasurable aspects of the Z50, other than the hand grip and some customizable buttons.

I was struck by this recent statement from the owner of fujirumors.com: "I can’t really fall in love with cameras that are stupidly easy to use, I prefer those who are FUN to operate." There's that word again. But it speaks to the way people interact with their camera, much like most car aficionados prefer manual transmissions and no automatic drive assist settings. They prefer the visceral sense of directly controlling their equipment even if it makes it more difficult. In essence, the gear commands their attention, not the thing that they're doing with the gear (driving, photographing).

But as I've noted several times, there's a lot more style than substance going on, particularly if we compare the Zfc to the Z50 II that could have been (see below). I'm okay with people buying a product because they find it pleasurable. I'm still going to point out the dissonances between design and function, though. 

Which brings me to this: are people buying the Zfc?

Obviously, many are, but it's very difficult to say for sure this early how well it is selling, as many of the initial sales were pre-orders triggered by Nikon's better-than-usual launch campaign, not sales because someone went into a store and handled a bunch of cameras and decided the Zfc was for them. Nikkei just published what I'd call a soft, Nikon-friendly article that attempts to say that by being the #3 seller in Japan the first week on sale the Zfc constitutes as a "hit." As Hollywood moguls will tell you, it isn't so much the opening night gross that's important to the success of a movie as is the drop-off and on-going tail in attendance. 

I'm on record as predicting that the Zfc will sell well initially, but it likely won't be a long-term best seller. We'll see if I'm right. (For the record, BCN's full August month sales in Japan have the D3500 two-lens kit at #18, the Z50 two-lens kit at #22, and the Zfc one lens kit at #24 [the body only is at #37]. It's difficult to ascribe anything to that as the D3500 and Z50 would have been selling from large built-up inventory stock, while the Zfc sales would have been constrained by first production shipment levels.) 

The Zfc does seem to be selling well in Japan so far, and as long as that doesn't detract Nikon from the real work at hand—re-establishing their high enthusiast and pro tools in the mirrorless realm—I'm happy for them. 

If we're going to use anecdotal, not-apples-versus-applies, early evidence, though, I'll just say this: my Z50 book sold significantly more copies its first week than my Zfc book did. And "hit" cameras generally don't stay in stock at B&H as the Zfc has. The Zfc is a nice camera, it sold decently after initial shipment, but I'm not sure it's a "hit" as Nikkei seems to think it is. Time will tell. I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

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It seems that when I critique anything about the Zfc, a whole host of angry defenders try to come to its rescue, much like happened with the Df before it. My criticisms don't make the Zfc a bad camera, I just feel that there are better cameras, or that the Zfc itself could have been better. More than one person arguing with me (elsewhere or in emails) hasn't even owned a Df or Zfc, let alone used them for any work.

So let me see if I can put a point on things. I own and use a Zfc and a Z50. Which do I use most, and which do I anticipate using most in the future? Well, that would be the Z50. Image quality is identical. Yes, the Zfc has slightly better autofocus characteristics, but that's not enough for me to compensate for the slightly better control configuration abilities on the Z50 and its much better grip, particularly when using the macro lenses and the telephoto zoom handheld. It is a system camera, after all. 

So let me try this out on you. What if Nikon had taken a Z50 and simply added metal Mode and Exposure Compensation dials that had the "look" of the Zfc's dials, dropped the redesigned Zfc viewfinder hump onto the Z50 body (which loses the flash; see above illustration), replaced the tilting display with the articulating one, given us the same panda styling and color options, and launched that as the Z50 II? There'd be plenty of retro on display, just no ISO or shutter speed dial. Heck, add the ISO dial if you really want that (means we'd get another programmable button! ;~). Yeah, I would have liked that camera better, too. 

I like how the Zfc looks. Very classic, with excellent choices for positions, angles, and sizes of things. But none of that really helps me take better photos than I get with the Z50. Plus I don't have as much fast, direct, discrete control, despite the dials. 

To this point I still haven't seen a real statement from Nikon that distinguishes the Z50 and Zfc in marketing. I'm not sure they can, as they're basically the same camera in different dress. Buy the version of these un-identical twins that suits you would be my advice. If you like classic style and dials, then the Zfc should be your choice. If you want to be able to hold telephoto lenses well and have more direct control of things, the Z50 should be your choice.

One thing that is interesting to ponder is this: would Nikon have sold less, the same, or more of the Z50 II as they did the Zfc? In both cases, the Z50 would stay on the market for awhile at a lower price point, thus Z50+Z50 II sales > Z50 sales, and Z50+Zfc sales > Z50 sales. But would there be a significant difference attributable to the Zfc? If yes, then Nikon did the right thing (for themselves). If no, then Nikon did the wrong thing (for customers). 

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