Nikon Z fc is lying

Despite my bold claim, it is not as bad as it seems, at least for the end-users! Nikon Zfc (yes, I know, there’s a space between Z and fc, but it looks awful in the body text, so I’ll ignore it from now on) is a very interesting camera, it looks gorgeous, but Nikon went just a step too far replicating retro dials from mechanical film cameras, and made them lie to you, at least sometimes.

What am I talking about are two dials found on the top plate, shutter speed dial on the right side and ISO dial on the left side:

Photo from Optyczne.pl

Both dials cover all needed values, and there is nothing inherently wrong with those dials, but, the existence of one other switch turns both those dials into liars – and that’s the mode switch on the far left side, just below the ISO dial.

There are no problems when the mode dial is in Manual mode, both dials show selected value. But, what happens when the mode dial is in any semi-automatic mode, or maybe in fully automatic Program mode? It is entirely possible to have the camera choose both the shutter speed and the ISO value, totally ignoring what dials are showing, making it impossible to check what’s the camera doing at a glance, without looking at the rear screen or through the EVF.

Although that’s not really a ground-breaking problem – one can always take a look at the screen or through the EVF to see what the camera is doing – it introduces a level of friction or even mistrust between the camera and its user. It is more significant since the solution for that problem is trivial, Nikon could have solved all user interface problems by simply omitting the mode switch, and adding Auto to the ISO dial. I’m not sure if 1/3 Step position on the shutter dial works like Auto on automatic modes, but if it does not, there’s a place for an Auto position there as well. Fortunately, there are no aperture rings on Z-mount lenses, so there’s no friction point with the aperture setting.

With Auto positions on all three settings (Aperture, Shutter, ISO), all the modes present on the mode switch can be easily simulated – set the aperture to a numeric value, all other to Auto, and you’re in Aperture priority (A) mode. Set the shutter dial to a numeric value, all other to Auto, you’re in Shutter priority (S) mode. You even get Sensitivity priority mode when the ISO dial is set to a numeric value, and all others on Auto. When everything is in Auto, you get full Program mode.

Why did Nikon decide to not use Auto positions on Zfc dials, then? Probably out of user familiarity with mode dials on previous Nikon consumer-grade digital cameras. Or maybe because Fujifilm is using exactly the same Auto position on X-T, X-E, X-Pro series cameras, the main competitors to Zfc. Or Nikon decided to follow the same setup from the Df, the previous retro-digital camera. Or maybe the issue turned out to be totally insignificant in user testing!
We will never know, but it remains one key friction point of a very interesting camera.