Without a doubt, Nikon has created a lot of hype around the upcoming Nikon Df camera. With five teaser videos that talk about “pure photography”, Nikon has spiked interest among the photography community, including our team at Photography Life. Many of us, especially those that shoot event, wedding and portrait photography have been desperately waiting for a true Nikon D700 replacement. Something with a good number of pixels, but not too many (yes, those D800 files are huge!). Something that can produce very low noise images at high ISOs. Something that is fast with a solid build, but does not come with a huge price tag and a heavy body. Nikon finally answered those calls with the Nikon Df. Read on to find out what we think about this remarkable camera.
What makes the Nikon Df remarkable? I have used this word a few times already, because I think the Nikon Df will be even a bigger hit than the Nikon D800. If you remember from February of 2012, we covered the Nikon D800 release extensively. From what we saw, being world’s first 36 MP full-frame camera, the Nikon D800 created a lot of interest – mostly from landscape, architecture and studio photographers that needed more than the 12 or 16 MP that Nikon was traditionally using on its DSLRs. However, many portrait photographers, especially pros that come back from events with thousands of images felt that the D800 was too much of a camera for them (yes, the D800 files are huge!). From Nikon’s new product positioning, it was pretty clear that the D700 was a mistake never to be repeated again – Nikon did not want to compromise the sales of its high-end line in the future (and the D700 did lower D3 sales significantly). But Nikon knew very well that it left a gap in its high-end DSLR line. Instead of coming up with yet another DSLR, Nikon decided to take a very different route. Why not take the much wanted Nikon D4 sensor, put it in a retro body to appeal portrait photographers (especially the group that loves shooting film), strip it down to a bare minimum without bells and whistles like video that are of no interest to most photographers, and market it as a fusion of DSLR and early SLR/rangefinder Nikon cameras? That’s how the Nikon Df was born.
The Nikon Df is not meant to be a sports or a wildlife photographer’s camera. With its 39 AF point autofocus system that has been used on the Nikon D600 and D610 cameras, it is clearly not targeted at shooting fast action. Its retro-style body gives access to the most important controls through dials on the top of the camera – whether it is the shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation, without having to access the camera menu or pressing different buttons to change settings.
It retains the versatility of the modern DSLRs, but in a much smaller and lighter package. In fact, as of today, the Nikon Df is the lightest full-frame DSLR in the world and the second lightest full-frame camera, next to Leica M series. This alone will attract most portrait photographers out there, especially those that cover 8+ hour long wedding sessions. When lugging a bag with a couple of camera bodies and lenses, every ounce counts – I know that from my personal experience in shooting weddings.
But the best part of the Nikon Df is not its sexy looks or its camera features – it is the image sensor. Those that own the flagship Nikon D4 know what the sensor is truly capable of. In my experience, 16 MP is an excellent balance of RAW file size, resolution and image quality. For a working pro, being able to go through hundreds of RAW images quickly is extremely important. With a native ISO range of 100 to 12800, the 16 MP sensor will deliver practically noise-free images between ISO 100 – 3200 and very acceptable images at ISO 6400 and even at 12800. And just like on the D4, you can boost ISO all the way to insane 204,800! Yes, the images will be very noisy at boosted high ISOs, but it is something that you will never be able to do on any other high-resolution Nikon DSLR.
The Nikon Df is also not targeted at movie shooters – there is no video in this camera. And to be honest, many will be glad that there isn’t. I personally look at video as a “bonus” – I simply don’t do movies and could care less. I think the last time I shot video was when I was on a vacation with my family. And for those needs, smaller mirrorless cameras would do a better job anyway, since you do not have to worry about switching to special live view mode just to shoot videos.
By now, you are probably wondering what the price of the Nikon Df will be. Well, just like I projected, the Nikon Df will sell for less than $3K! The list / MSRP price of the Df will be $2,749 for the body only version. It will come in black and silver (oh yes, the silver version is what you want). There will be another version priced at $2,999, with a special edition Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens that we have been seeing in teaser videos. The lens is exactly the same as the current Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, which as I have previously reported is better than the 50mm f/1.4G version. Nikon knows this very well, which is why they are not bundling the 50mm f/1.4G. For me, the best combination will be the Nikon Df and the new Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G lens!
I know that some people will say that the Df is too expensive. No video, no pop-up flash, 1/4000 shutter speed, 1/200 sync speed. Seems like another D600? Well, it is not. You are getting the sensor from the $5100 D4 on a smaller and almost twice lighter camera body! The imaging sensor and the pipeline are alone worth this price in my opinion. This camera is focused on photography. If you think the price is too high, this camera is probably not for you. Thankfully, there are obviously other, more budget options on the market today. Nikon D600 has already seen its lows at $1500 and the new Sony A7 starts at just $1699.
Speaking of Sony, what about the A7 / A7R? I am very excited about what Sony has in the pipeline as well, with their new full-frame mirrorless options. The pricing on the Sony products is obviously much more compelling than the Nikon Df or the D800. For those that are interested in a new system, the Sony A7 might be a very interesting choice, although with very few lens options at the moment. However, for someone already invested heavily into Nikon, the new Sony system might be too limiting at the moment. Either way, I will be comparing the Nikon Df + D800 to the Sony A7/A7R extensively. Planning to shoot with all these cameras for the next few months and see what I do and do not like.
Stay tuned for a detailed coverage of the Nikon Df tonight. Thank you Nikon. I might be a believer again.
Update: I am still trying to figure out if the Nikon Df will force us to change exposure settings manually, or if there will be Auto settings for things like ISO. Also, considering that there is no front dial on the camera, it looks like the rear dial will be used primarily to change the lens aperture. Now the real question is, will it be possible to quickly change the shutter speed through the real dial when the top dial is set to “1/3 step”. If everything is forced to be manual, it could be problematic for those of us that shoot in quickly changing conditions. Will update on this in a separate post once I have the details.