I want to try and review some equipment that is new to me and talk about why I decided on it. Sadly, while I have reviewed Mathematics and statistics as well as Film academic books and papers, and I am still a reviewer for a couple of journals, I have not reviewed a piece of equipment before, except, in the dim and distant past, doing some measurements for HiFi reviews, so please bear with me.
The Nikon Df is a camera that Nikon produced to attract a different sort of user. It is not cheap, at £2089 from Jessops Photographic for example. Nikon label it as a Pro camera on their UK website, along with the D5, D850, D500, D810, D810A, D750 and, surprisingly the F6.
On the Nikon website it is described in glowing terms:
"Experience the power of pure photography with the Nikon Df.
Boasting a retro-styled body and the same 16.2-megapixel FX-format sensor as Nikon’s flagship D4, this camera expresses a passion for photography in both form and function.
Richly detailed photographs with smooth tonal gradations are achievable in any light, thanks to a wide dynamic range and light sensitivity that is extendable up to an incredible ISO 204,800 (equivalent). Together with the highly sensitive AF system, flawless metering, and fast performance, the Nikon Df may look like a classic Nikon 35mm film camera, but it’s packed with the latest technologies."
So, basically it is an F3 with the D4 sensor and something like the D610 focusing system.
Perhaps, this is a camera for someone who still owns an F3 or an FE (the film camera that Ken Rockwell thinks is most like the Df)? But, the sensor and associated electronics are from the D4, a top of range pro camera that has just been replaced by the D5. It is a small body not the massive D4 body. It can take pictures in near darkness (max ISO 204,800!). It produces some of the nicest looking images I have ever seen. Images from the Df seem to pop without much post processing, in face the jpegs from it are some of the best I have seen.
Ken Rockwell likes it1, he compares it to the Nikon FE. Jared Polin doesn't know who it is for.
Pros and Cons
So £2k for a 16MP sensor DSLR with no video and some other peculiarities.
The Pros column
Most of these are self evident. The ability to use old lenses was the reason that I moved to Nikon when I finally got fed up with the way Olympus were treating their customers. The only companies that still allow you to use virtually every lens that they have ever made on digital cameras are Nikon and Pentax. At the time the Nikon digital offering (the D100) was way ahead of every one else's. Incidentally, I am not sure why but the viewfinder in the Df seems to be easier to use with manual focus.
The Cons column
I am used to both my main cameras, D810 and D600, using the same battery. The Df has a battery in common with a whole pile of non-Pro cameras (D3100, D3200, D3300, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500, Cameras & Coolpix P7800) and yes I know that the camera is good at making a battery last a long time (no movies, focus assist lamp or built in flash, but, don' leave it connected to a computer for very long!). However, another battery charger is a pain!
Having a single SD slot is annoying, SD cards are old and there are faster cards available, also it is nice to have a backup for when a card fails. Due to the small file size the fast transfer rate and large size is not as necessary, but, the backup feature? That is going to come back and bite me one day.
The focusing screen is excellent and, as mentioned above, it is easy to manual focus with. However, I use long lenses and macro lenses and when I used film I was used to having alternative screens for different uses, I owned about 8 different ones for my OM cameras and have about 7 for my F2 / F3. So far I haven't had a problem with long lenses and I use the live view screen or CamRanger for macro focusing (the live view screen has the ability to magnify and using it locks up the mirror reducing vibration) so I am not sure this should be in the Cons column at all.
The ? column
This is an extra column in the Pros/Cons table (it might become a feature), demonstrating that there are some things about this camera that are just different! Some of these may be a deal breaker for you, obviously they were not a problem for me.
16 MP is enough if you want to post on line or make moderate sized prints (16.4x10.9 inches at 300dpi). If you want to make massive prints or crop the centre 20% out of them this may not be the camera for you.
Other Nikon cameras go to 1/8000s so one stop faster. The slowest speed is 30s, if you want more get a Hahnel Captur.
5.5 frames per second is fast enough, if you want to spray and pray at a sport event get a D5 (12 fps or 14 fps with mirror up) or an F6 (8 fps with optional battery pack).
You can take multiple images automatically up to 9 exposures at intervals of 0.5, 1, 2, or 3 s. If you want something more complex a Hahnel Captur will give you more options than you can possibly use.
The focus system is basically the same as the D610 and so doesnt cover the whole image. If you need to focus right to the edge without reframing you need a D5 not a Df.
The monitor on the back is a 3.2 inch VGA quality monitor, it can be set to zoom straight to 100% for checking focus. The D5 and the D850 have 2359k-dot (XGA).
Touch screens are a pain, as far as I am concerned and swivel/tilt screens are just something else to go wrong, or to put it another way, a way to flex a delicate electronic connection until it snaps, I can do without them. I have access to other cameras that do video, when I am walking about I can only think of one occasion when I took video and my phone would have been adequate, in fact that video got me pushed into doing a research talk that was way out of my area of interest, I wish I had had a Df that day.
Things that I think are worth mentioning.
"Real" cable release socket. This camera can use the AR-2 cable release from my F2. It can also accept my preferred Hahnel Captur system. Usefully the threaded socket in the shutter button also accepts a Leica style soft release button.
Separate dials for shutter speed, ISO, Compensation and exposure mode. Switch for shooting mode. I have a Fuji X-E2 and really like the mechanical feel of the controls, this carries over to the Df. However, auto ISO is strange, mainly because of the interaction between the dial and the menu set maximum ISO.
Small unobtrusive, top plate LCD, I rarely use the large LCD on the D600, D810 or even the D100 that I have converted to IR. Not only are they in a place where I have to take the camera away from my eye to use but I just don't need another information display. I assume that the smaller display uses less battery. If you really want lots of information, the button that lights up the top display can be set to switch on the back panel info display.
No built in flash. The pop up flash on a lot of Nikon cameras is not a lot of use. However, it can be used in Commander mode to trigger remote lighting systems. It cannot trigger HSS flash guns but, it is sometimes useful. Perhaps this should have been in the Cons section above.
No dial selectable presets, The U1 and U2 settings on the D600 are much better, in my opinion, than the menu accessed A, B, C and D settings on the D810. I wish they had kept them here.
1400 shots on a battery charge is amazing, the camera will also turn itself off after a set time. I actually, rarely have to change battery unless I forget and leave the camera on after transferring files.
I have had this camera for 3 months month and have taken around 2500 images with it, ranging from portrait to macro, via document copying, landscape and wildlife. I love it. Since it arrived I have taken few non-technical images on my D810 and virtually not used the Fuji X-E2 at all. It also feels like my F3 which is my film camera of choice, I might have to get an FE to see if that feels even better. Highly recommended, but, have a good play with one first because it is idiosyncratic.
Ken Rockwell is a camera reviewer whose site is incredibly useful. However, he admits to having a strange sense of humour. Take everything you read with a pinch of salt, especially if he is talking about the Professional mode setting on a camera.
Nikon UK Df page
Ken Rockwell Df review
Ken Rockwell Nikon FE review
Jared Polin RAWtalk about the Df at about 1 hour 30
Hahnel Captur Pro
Post by Danny