During the last few years, the interchangeable lens camera industry has seen massive changes. If only a few years ago, a DSLR was considered to be the only serious photographic tool (not counting film cameras), we now have mirrorless cameras that are no less impressive. They’ve already stolen quite a few APS-C sensor DSLR sales. The full-frame market, on the other hand, has seen a huge increase in offerings. It would seem only yesterday when Nikon had three distinctly different full-frame cameras in its lineup – the D700, D3 and D3x. Now, if you count D800 and D800E as separate models, it has five. The newest sibling has been announced, one surrounded with so much hype and hope, you can only ask – what took Nikon so long? But let’s not dwell on the past, because the digital FM2 – or something as close to it as you might have hoped – is finally here. And just look at it. It has dials, and lots of them!
1) Nikon Df Key Specifications
Before we get all excited, let’s take a quick look at Nikon Df key specifications:
- Solid, magnesium-alloy construction with weather-sealing
- 16.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor (same as the one in Nikon D4)
- ISO sensitivity range of 100-12,800 (boost down to ISO 50 and up to ISO 204,800)
- Shutter speed range of 30-1/4000s, flash sync-speed 1/200s
- 39-point AF system (same as the one in Nikon D610), 9 cross-type sensors, focuses down to f/8
- 2016-pixel RGB image sensor, full non-AI-S lens metering
- EXPEED 3 processor
- Large 3.2″ LCD screen with 921,000 dot resolution
- Pentaprism optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and approximately 0.7x magnification
- SD card slot
- Maximum continuous shooting speed up to 5.5 frames per second
- Measures in at 143.5 x 110 x 66.5mm
- Weighs 760g with battery and memory card
- $2749 body-only, $2999 with the new Special Edition AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens
The camera is obviously capable of producing very high quality images under any lighting conditions thanks to that marvelous 16.2 megapixel sensor from the D4. For those who do not need 24 or 36 megapixels, this resolution is just perfect (something a lot of D700 owners who passed on D800 due to high resolution will appreciate). On the other hand, the 39-point autofocus system also used in D600/D610 will not receive as much praise. It is fast and accurate, yes. As we’ve found out, D600 was even decent for some wildlife photography. However, in the case of this particular camera, I am pretty sure a lot of users would have preferred a simpler autofocus system (with, say, 11 points, all cross-type), but one that covers more of the frame. Another issue is the SD card slot, which, for those who use CF cards, is not very practical. I myself prefer CF mostly due to their chunkier size and stronger build. Speed and storage space is not an issue with SD, but they are a bit too… fragile. And, finally, the shutter speed range is also not great with a maximum of just 1/4000s – for that sort of price, we are used to seeing 1/8000s, a must in daylight if you want to shoot a fast prime lens wide open. On the other hand, for existing D700 owners it is not as much of an issue, because the base ISO sensitivity is now 100, which effectively makes the Df just as usable in bright light as the older D700 was.
What is a little unexpected and very welcome is that the retro body is weather-sealed (similar to D610 in that respect). I guess old-fashioned dials and switches don’t usually imply weather protection, but I am glad Nikon pulled that off. In any case, the analogue controls are not truly analogue – the shutter-speed dial is not physically connected to the shutter mechanism, for example. But it does the trick – the feedback is there. The back of the camera is dominated by a large 3.2″ LCD display for image reviewing. Nikon Df does not feature a video mode (possibly a firmware trick), but Live View is implemented.
If I were to judge the on-paper specifications alone, the new Nikon Df is not only more expensive than the Nikon D610 to which it will be compared to most often (and on which it is based), but is also inferior in several respects. For example, Df accepts only a single SD card at a time and can shoot at 5.5 frames per second – the same as the now-discontinued D600, but half a frame per second slower than D610. It also does not have a built-in flash (for some, it is important) or video mode at all, a feature that has become an obvious must-have ever since the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D Mark II were launched (the first two video-capable DSLRs). All of this for a whopping $750 more? Already, for the average photo enthusiast, Df makes little sense. However, others will find there is more to Df than raw specifications. Something a lot of photographers have been asking for many, many years.
2) What is so Special About It?
Nikon Df is the photographer’s typewriter. Like a typewriter, it clicks. It chatters. It responds. But underneath the retro looks and analogue controls lies a modern sensor, a modern processor, autofocus system – as if that typewriter was a MacBook in disguise. It saves you from having to refill the ink – change film. It lets you fix any mistakes with the screen on the back. For when you want a film camera for the pleasure of it, but digital results for flexibility, Nikon Df is the golden compromise. With all the benefits of digital, it doesn’t scream about it in your face. It is humble. Purposeful. You can do over 5 frames per second with it, but it does not want you to. It can do HDR, but there is no HDR written on it. This is a camera for photography – slow, mindful, artistic. You know what? I think Nikon nailed it. And even if you can argue with that – after all, it is just an opinion – it is hard to argue with the fact that Nikon Df will be loved just as much as it will be hated. But how about we break it down a bit.
2.1) The Looks
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At first, I did not find the Nikon Df to be all that good-looking, at least the front of it. But then it grew on me. The more I look at it, the more I like it. It is dashing. There’s a black/silver and black version available, the first for style-conscious, the second for those who prefer to remain less noticeable. Naturally, plenty will not like it and plenty will not even care about the looks. After all, who cares about the design? But as I’ve already mentioned, it is important for several reasons. First of all, it is just more fun to use a tool you like everything about. Secondly, when dealing with people, they will react to this camera differently than they would when shot with, say, a D800. It’s interesting, curious. The recent return of retro among camera manufacturers is not at all surprising. Such design is classically timeless, no wonder so many people like it, no wonder the Nikon FM2 is remembered so fondly. Nikon Df will be, too.
2.2) The Controls
One of the reasons why Fujifilm X-series are so popular is the analogue-ish control dials of old. Buttons make sense, of course. But there is just no denying the feedback you get when that shutter-speed dial clicks into place. As I’ve already said, it’s like a photographer’s typewriter focused for one thing – photography. With this camera, the less you need to look at an LCD screen, the better. Nikon made sure you could change all the fundamental settings with dials – there’s a tiny M/A/S/P dial, shutter-speed dial, ISO dial and exposure compensation dial. You can change the shooting speed or engage timer with a dedicated switch surrounding the shutter-speed dial, too.
2.3) Spiritual Successor to Nikon F Film Cameras, a Natural Replacement for D700
Nikon Df is unapologetically photography-focused. It has most of the usual digital tricks, such as HDR mode and live-view, but it does not scream about it. In some ways, it reminds of my trusty D700 which, too, is a photographer’s tool, reliable and dependable. Like the D700 in its day, Df features the sensor from current Nikon flagship camera for outstanding image quality in any light and resolution that is enough for most uses. But the Nikon Df builds upon that formula with the aforementioned features and wants you to slow down. Not all photographers will be happy to switch from D700 to Nikon Df – in several ways, it is actually inferior despite being a much newer camera. But plenty have finally received exactly what they have been waiting for – a camera with less features. No video? On paper, a disadvantage. But for those who want less, it is actually an improvement. And as we have pointed out before, the Nikon Df is not targeted at sports and wildlife shooters, so it might not be a true D700 replacement for some.
3) Official Press Release
Here is the official press release by Nikon:
FALL IN LOVE AGAIN: NEW Df D-SLR IS UNDENIABLY A NIKON WITH LEGENDARY PERFORMANCE AND TIMELESS DESIGN
Photo Pros and Enthusiasts Alike Will Embrace the Lightweight FX-Format Df D-SLR, Which Strikes the Ideal Balance of Classic Iconic Style and Advanced Imaging Technology
MELVILLE, NY (November 4, 2013): The new Nikon Df is a modern classic designed for those who have felt a connection to their camera, who revel in the idea of going out to photograph an unfamiliar location, and who know the effort and ultimate satisfaction that is part of getting the shot. Announced today, the Nikon Df is a unique, advanced-level D-SLR that harmonizes Nikon heritage and modern performance in a lightweight and very capable FX-format camera. The new Df pays homage to the enduring style and controls of Nikon’s distinguished “F” series of 35mm film cameras, yet features technology similar to Nikon’s professional flagship D4 D-SLR. Released alongside the similarly styled AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens, Nikon’s newest FX-format D-SLR presents a versatile and reliable option to help passionate photographers truly achieve their creative vision.
“Nikon cameras have played an important role in documenting world history for the better part of 50 years, and have earned their position as a reliable tool that pros and enthusiasts can count on. The Nikon Df represents much more than a storied legacy of cameras; it’s more about giving the user a chance to truly enjoy the experience of taking amazing images,” said Masahiro Horie, Director of Marketing and Planning, Nikon Inc. “The design is unwavering, and the features are the latest in Nikon imaging technology. The Df brings together the best of yesterday and today for advanced full frame photographers.”
A Classically Styled, Thoroughly Modern Masterpiece
From a robust feel, to mechanical dials and finely detailed craftsmanship, the Df embodies the very best of Nikon’s photographic legacy. The classically styled camera recalls design cues such as a recognizable pentaprism and top cover, which is now constructed of durable, lightweight magnesium alloy. The top of the camera features elegant yet sophisticated mechanical controls for settings, letting users feel the tactile reassurance of adjustments, such as a familiar click stop for shutter speed adjustment. Additional dedicated dials also control ISO, exposure compensation, release mode and exposure mode, while modern controls are also easily accessible. The intuitive control layout allows for quick and confident setting adjustment, yet retains a solid operational experience that “feels like a Nikon camera.”
The Df has been designed with an emphasis on familiar intricate details made famous from previous generations, including the leather-textured top and grip, along with the body mounted shutter button with a threaded release port. The design also recalls the slenderness of the previous generation’s cameras, making this the smallest and lightest FX-format camera in Nikon’s lineup.
It isn’t all about good looks though, as this enduring design is coupled with legendary performance to create a very capable and extremely appealing FX-format offering for professionals and enthusiasts. The 16.2-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor of the Df is inherited from Nikon’s professional flagship D-SLR, the D4. The large 36 x 23.9mm CMOS sensor is praised for its ability to produce amazing image quality in a wide variety of lighting conditions. Whether shooting landscapes, wildlife or weddings, the frames captured with the Df exhibit amazing clarity, accurate color and a broad dynamic range. In addition, Nikon’s exclusive EXPEED 3 image processing engine helps propel image quality, yielding images with a natural color and depth, all while enhancing subtle and nuanced tones.
Additionally, like the professional Nikon D4, the Df performs well in a wide variety of challenging lighting conditions with an exceptionally wide ISO range from 100 to 12,800, expandable to a staggering ISO 204,800. The combination of low noise and wide range make this an appealing camera to take on the challenges faced by photojournalists and event photographers, as well as those who enjoy the pursuit of extracting otherwise impossible images using natural light.
A Feature Set for Passionate Photographers
The Nikon Df is engineered to enhance the experience of taking photos and represents a culmination of decades of experience and feedback from photographers in the field, the studio and the sidelines. From its proven AF system to modern connectivity and legacy lens compatibility, the Df contains the century’s best photographic features for an enjoyable all-day shooting experience.
- AF System: The convenience and precision of Nikon’s 39-point AF system is proof-positive of the benefits of modern technology. With 39 selectable AF points throughout the frame for precise focus, the Df also features nine cross-type sensors, and seven AF points capable of working down to f/8. Users can also choose from a variety of AF area modes to match their shooting style: 9-point, 21-point, 39-point, 39-point with 3D Tracking and Auto Area AF.
- Get the shot with 2016-Pixel 3D Matrix Metering and Scene Recognition System: This Nikon system analyzes each shooting scenario and determines proper camera settings, resulting in even exposures, accurate white balance and precise AF. To capture action sports, wildlife and other fast moving subjects, the Df has a continuous burst shooting rate of up to 5.5 frames-per-second (fps).
- Compose with a 3.2-inch LCD Display and Glass Pentaprism Viewfinder: Users can easily compose through the high-resolution LCD screen or the bright optical viewfinder. The LCD screen has 921K-dot resolution, making it easy for users to adjust additional settings, review images or compose using Live View. Using the glass optical viewfinder, users will enjoy 100 percent accuracy and a bright field of view. What’s more, the shooting data presented through the viewfinder has also been updated and digitized.
- Connect and Share Instantly: Another modern touch allows users to connect and share their images instantly using the optional WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter1. By connecting to a mobile device, users can download and share images or remotely fire the camera.
- Features for Creativity: Photographing dramatic monochrome or vivid landscapes is easier with Nikon’s Picture Controls, which allow for the customization of color, saturation and tone. The Df also features built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) to combine multiple shots with enhanced tonal range, and two to five-frame auto-bracketing. For maximum control, images can also be captured in JPEG, TIFF or RAW file formats.
- Support for a Storied NIKKOR Legacy: In addition to being compatible with all current AF, AF-S, DX and AF-D NIKKOR lenses, the Df is also compatible with classic Ai and non-Ai NIKKOR glass. Thanks to a new metering coupling lever located on the bayonet, the user has the ability to once again enjoy their lens collections with renewed functionality. Full-aperture metering is also supported.
- Accessory System Support: The Df is compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS), letting users take advantage of i-TTL exposure or fire multiple units remotely using a Speedlight commander. To remotely trigger the shutter, the camera also supports the new WR remote system, as well as the threaded AR-3 cable release, which screws in to the shutter button in the traditional style.
A Classic FX-Format Special Edition NIKKOR Prime
The new AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens is the result of classic NIKKOR styling combined with today’s optics to create the ideal focal length companion lens for the Df. The design honors original NIKKOR Ai lenses, with colors, texture, and an aluminum mounting ring that is mated to the style of the Df. This lens is ideal for everyday portraiture, landscapes and casual photography, but offers a wide aperture and seven-blade diaphragm for natural image blur and a dramatic depth of field. Despite the timeless design, the 50mm f/1.8G is created with modern AF-S design benefits to give photographers rapid response, quiet operation and excellent sharpness and clarity throughout the frame.
Price and Availability
The Nikon Df will be available in late November 2013, invoking classic Nikon silver and black color schemes. The suggested retail price (SRP) of the Df (body only) will be $2,749.95*, while the Df and 50mm f/1.8 Special Edition lens kit will have a SRP of $2,999.95*. The AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens will be sold separately for a SRP of $279.95*. For an additional flair of nostalgic style, Nikon is also offering black or brown leather carrying cases, the CF-DC6B and CF-DC6S (pricing and availability to be announced).
Official Nikon Df Promotion Video:
Our team at Photography Life is very excited about this announcement. We will be reviewing a Nikon Df as soon as we get our hands on one.