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Everything that drew me into Fujifilm X cameras in 2016 seems to be discreetly vanishing in each new camera Fujifilm releases. Nikon Z cameras have been doing the opposite – releasing cameras that echo why I fell in love with the earlier Fujifilm X cameras.
I was intrigued when the Nikon Zfc (link to B&H) was released a couple of years ago, but I didn’t want to be tempted. Now that Nikon has announced the Zf (link to B&H), I’m more seriously pondering a switch in systems.
This is going to be a “stream of consciousness” subjective comparison of the “retro” Nikon Z and Fujifilm X, mostly as clarification for myself, but I hope it helps you, too 🙂 Standby for a more objective comparison of the Zfc and the X-T30 II.
There are generally a few solid reasons why photographers love Fujifilm, and it checked off all of these for me:
- Simple controls
- Straight-Out-Of-Camera (SOOC) JPGs
- Fantastic lenses
- Small size & weight
All of these combined just made the cameras fun. Lately, however, Fujifilm seems to be courting a different photographer.
Not to mention Kaizen is a thing of the past. Fujifilm is complying with the obligatory firmware updates – bug fixes and better autofocus – but no longer offers a laundry list of new features for old cameras with each new firmware version. Gotta buy the newest camera to get the new features. I’m sure they have their reasons, but this doesn’t make the brand stand out like it once did.
Where have Fujifilm’s simple controls gone?
Some people call them retro dials. But they’re more functional than retro.
Fujifilm’s method of controlling exposure has to be the simplest in the world. Click the aperture ring to the aperture you want. Rotate the shutter speed dial to the shutter speed you want. Ditto with the ISO dial. Set any of those to “A” to put the camera in charge of that variable.
It is the easiest, most intuitive way of manipulating the exposure triangle, especially for those of us who learned on film cameras. It has nothing to do with hipster retro fads. It’s function.
To those who say, “But you need to put the camera down to change those top dials; I can more easily change mine with the command dials,” I say, use the camera for more than a day, and you’ll see you can change all exposure controls while still looking through the viewfinder.
But Fujifilm has been putting PSAM dials on more and more of its cameras to attract a larger market. You can’t find a new GFX camera with these basic exposure controls. The X series lines without full dedicated exposure controls now equal those with them. We already saw the X-E4 ditch the controls the X-E3 had; will the other lines eventually follow?
Nikon’s addition of physical exposure control
The Nikon Zfc and Zf cameras oddly have a PSAM switch and shutter speed & ISO dials. Perhaps to make the transition for PSAM-dial users easier?
Nikon’s exposure dials are not functional in the exposure modes that don’t use them, meaning in Aperture Priority (A) mode, when the camera is in charge of shutter speed, you can rotate that shutter speed dial all day long, and it’s not going to do anything.
The ISO dial doesn’t have an automatic ISO selection, unlike Fujifilm. You need to go into the menus to activate Auto ISO. Except the Zf does have a “C” position on the ISO dial which allows you to use a custom control with the command dials to change ISO, including AUTO, like Fujifilm.
The Nikon Zfc and Zf do have a dedicated Exposure Compensation dial like most Fujifilm cameras, with a “C” position allowing you to use the command dial.
And finally, Nikon’s Z-mount lenses don’t have the aperture rings like Fujifilm (yet) – so you’re still using the command dial to adjust the aperture. Many third-party lens manufacturers do offer great lenses with inscribed aperture rings, like these Voigtlander lenses (link to B&H).
So while Nikon’s new cameras do offer physical exposure controls, they operate a bit differently than Fujifilm.
Nikon’s menus – an organizable mess
Nikon’s menus are, compared to Fujifilm, all over the place. Like Sony, they just randomly picked items out of a hat when choosing where and how to place menu items.
Nikon does take it one step further, though. In addition to programming My Menu, you can also put Recent in that menu. It becomes a dynamic, customized menu based on both your preferences and what you recently changed. That’s a time-saver.
Film simulations. One of the main reasons photographers love Fujifilm and why the X100V disappeared from camera stores after influencers discovered them.
It wasn’t just how the camera handled JPGs; it was how you could take any film simulation and further customize them, changing the toning, color, and more. You could save those customizations as a “film recipe,” one of the seven Custom Settings available in the camera.
Why did this matter to photographers? It made photography fun. It made picking up and using the camera more about creativity than the technical aspects of the camera. What’s your mood? How do you want to style your photo? Pick one of your Custom Settings and pre-process the photo so you don’t have to post-process.
Fujifilm Custom Settings aren’t about styling choices anymore, they’re about technical choices. Your choice of Focus and Shooting settings now takes precedence over your image styling settings. Hey John, you can still program the styling settings to a Fujifilm Custom Setting. Yes, but you can’t use them the same way, as I outlined in this article.
Nikon’s Picture Control & Retouching
Nikon doesn’t have film simulations, but they do have Creative Picture Control. In addition to the standard Neutral, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, etc., profiles, they now have filter-ish profiles like Somber, Dramatic, Bleached, Melancholic, and more.
They’re not film simulations, so maybe they’re not as cool. Maybe they’re for the kids or the influencers. But go into the menu to edit these profiles, change the hue, brightness, saturation, clarity, and contrast, and save it as your own preset called Velvia if that makes you feel better.
Fujifilm’s film simulations are not pure film reproductions anyway; they’re about a creative process, not a strict simulation. Add contrast to Nikon’s Bleached profile and call it Eterna Bleach Bypass. There’s no real-world film called Eterna Bleach Bypass, so who’s to say if your version is more “accurate” than Fujifilm’s?
The way Nikon’s styling options are set up is more reminiscent of the older Fujifilm cameras. Take a base pre-loaded “style” and further edit it. Save it as your own named custom style. Refine it as needed for your current situation. Jump to a new styling setting appropriate for the scene or mood, as you would change a roll of film. Save/change just the styles without having to tie focus or shooting settings to it.
In Fujifilm’s newer cameras, if I think my C7 Acros style is more suitable than my C3 Classic Chrome style for a particular scene, and I switch from C3 to C7, it drives me f**king insane that my focus & shooting settings change too. That ruins the whole goddamn experience – and has made me miss many a photo. Sorry for the language; you can see how much of a fun-sponge this has been for me. There are countless Fujifilm photographers across forums and other communities echoing the same sentiments.
There is a vast online library of Nikon “film recipes,” just as there are Fujifilm “film recipes.” Unlike Fujifilm, though, these Nikon simulations are files that can be transferred directly into your camera. Go to nikonpc.com for some ideas (just don’t pay much attention to the preview images; they’re not very accurate). Use Nikon Picture Control Utility 2 to create your own vast library of film simulations on your computer.
Reviewing an image on the camera and wish you had used a different profile? Go into the RAW Retouching menu and adjust various image processing settings, including applying an entire profile simultaneously. Even straighten and apply perspective controls in-camera.
Fujifilm’s small form factor & awesome lenses
This is where I don’t think Nikon will ever be able to touch Fujifilm – at least immediately. The Nikon Zfc, the crop sensor camera, is about the size of a Fujifilm X-T5, even though it’s more in the X-T30 class. The Nikon Zf, the full-frame model, will naturally be even larger.
Nikon’s Z-mount lenses, even the crop sensor versions, are mostly larger than Fujifilm X-mount lenses. And that’s because Z mount is used on both full frame and APS-C cameras. It’s great for compatibility between the two formats but not great if you don’t care to use full-frame. The native lens selection is limited, and so is the quality.
Granted, the Nikon Z system hasn’t had the time to mature as much as the Fujifilm X system. And there will always be – and are – plenty of third-party manufacturers making lenses for both. But as it stands right now, especially when choosing primes, Fujifilm X is the system to be in if this is your priority.
What’s important to you in a camera?
It’s important to not just look at numbers/specs when choosing a camera system. You need to understand how that camera will become a part of you when creating photographs. How will the camera make you feel? If the camera makes you feel frustrated or doesn’t give you a feeling of fun or joy, that will come across in your photographs. And you don’t want that, right?
You’ll create better images with a simple camera you enjoy than a high-end one you don’t.
As far as “image quality”? Countless world-renowned photographers use both the Nikon and Fujifilm systems. That’s good enough for me. I’m familiar with Nikon images (many of my students use Nikon Z), and I do like their colors & quality. At this point, it’s all personal preference.
What matters to me is having a 9-stops-of-dynamic-range camera that’s fun rather than a 10-stops-of-dynamic-range camera that isn’t, if you get me. That’s where my priorities are; I understand yours may be different.
The future of Nikon versus Fujifilm – one photographer’s perspective
What brought me joy in using the Fujifilm system – the simple controls and custom styling options – doesn’t appear to be in the future for Fujifilm cameras. Looking at trends, Fujifilm is falling away from that, while Nikon’s latest offerings are moving toward it.
The small form factor is no longer as much a concern to me as it was in 2016 when I switched to Fujifilm while traveling the world by foot and needed something small and fun that produced excellent images. I’m doing more locally-based documentary work now. My priorities have changed, and that’s fine. You should be okay with changing your tools to suit your job. The Nikon Zf (full-frame “retro”/functional variant) excites me.
Does this mean I’m done with Fujifilm? Of course not. I’m just probably done upgrading. It’ll be a transition period that will likely last years, and I will have to look at the trends to see where that transition is headed. I’m heavily invested in the Fujifilm system in money, knowledge, and community, and I don’t want to spontaneously give that up.
My older Fujifilm cameras are still fun. The lenses are great. But I realistically can’t stick with the same digital camera for the rest of my career. If future Fujifilm cameras won’t be as fun or functional for me, it’s worth looking at another system as a long-term solution. That’s life. And it’s why Nikon has me excited as a potential creative partner with this new line of cameras that feel like cameras.
Has anyone else switched or thought about switching between Fujifilm X and Nikon Z? Please share your experiences!
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