When Bob Vishneski wrote his “In the Nikon Df Crossfire – Heart vs Head” humorous article a couple of days ago, I had a hard time with hitting the publish button, because I knew it would create some controversy (especially from those that like their Nikon Df cameras). In addition, I did not necessarily agree with all of Bob’s points, since I look at the Df differently. But that’s the beautiful thing about our team here at PL – we can differ in opinion, share our thoughts / feelings and we do not have to agree! In this case, the below article is sort of a rebuttal to Bob’s article.
I have been shooting with the Nikon Df for over a month now and I do not see the Df as a huge mistake. In fact, I actually like a lot of things about it and see its place for some photographers. I am not trying to say that I love the Df, since there are some things I strongly dislike about it, like the single SD card slot on the bottom of the camera, some ergonomic issues and other limitations. I think the Df is a very controversial camera and Nikon knew very well that it would be before the release. In fact, I heard something very interesting – Nikon apparently told re-sellers that they expected the sales for the Df to be very low. At the moment, re-sellers are barely catching up with the demand and the number of units sold far exceeded their expectations! I was rather surprised by this, considering how vocal some people got on our site and others regarding the Df.
I think the Df is an interesting release, because it clearly identified two different groups of users in today’s world of Nikon. The first group consists of very technical people that understand technology quite well and invest where it makes sense. This group is huge and it is the same group that happily bought the D800s and the D600s of the world. They obviously hate the Df and find it idiotic that Nikon released it when there are other better choices available at lower price points.
There is also a second group, which is very different from the first one. It might not have the technical knowledge of cameras, sensors and features, but it is the group that often shoots professionally. Portrait, street, wedding photographers and the like. They want a camera that is smaller and lighter than their bulky DSLRs and they want images that look very clean and need less work during post-processing. 16 MP is more than enough for their needs, because most of them still shoot with their D700s. Now for this group, the Df represents something they have been waiting for. A camera with a moderate resolution sensor, lightweight and if there is a style that comes with it, they will take it. My wife is one of them. When she shot with the Df, she did not want her Nikon D3s anymore. It is smaller, lighter and makes beautiful 16 MP images – that’s all she cares about. She does not care for video, super advanced AF or other bells and whistles. Even on her D3s she often resorts to the center focus point if the light conditions are poor using the focus and recompose technique, so the inferior AF turned out to be an non-issue. She will take the Df over anything else Nikon makes any time, as long as she has her primes.
Within this second group, there is also a sub-group of people that make choices that might not make sense for others. Wedding photographers that shoot with film (there are many), shoot with overpriced and under-performing gear that provides a distinct look they are after. Ever seen a person shooting with a Holga? Or old, expired films just to get a different look? For this group, the Df is something new and refreshing, something that connects with them. A lot of people do not get these guys. Just like many could never understand why one would buy a Leica with a $10K lens to shoot portraits using manual focus. And yet, if you look at this group, they will defend their choices to death. The Nikon Df has a huge appeal for this group. Just like it makes no sense to buy a high end Ferrari over a Nissan GT-R and pay 2-3x more for potentially less horse power, for most people, it makes no sense to buy a Nikon Df or a Leica over something like the Nikon D600. But they still do it. And will continue doing so in the future.
That’s why you see these arguments going back and forth between these groups now, who are arguing over things they will not understand. Tell a Ferrari owner that he should have bought a Nissan GT-R and have a look at his face :) Price often has nothing to do with features of a product. What justifies the Nikon D3X $7K price tag, one might ask? And yet many purchased the D3X and some surprisingly continue to do so until the D4X comes out. With the D800 and D600/D610 out, you would think that no one would still spend that kind of money on the D3X! Another good example is the new Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, which is currently sold for $4K. I received a number of comments from our readers regarding this lens and one of the readers asked me “who in their right state of mind would even consider buying this overpriced manual focus lens?”. Well, I know a few people who own this lens and they love it. It is the sharpest 55mm lens in the world and it makes beautiful images, even if it is manual focus only. That’s not to say that there are no ridiculous releases out there. The Hasselblad Lunar would be my #1 candidate for the worst camera of 2013, because it is just a NEX with a different face. But releases like Nikon Df and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 are a whole different ballgame – these products have their place in the market.
The Nikon Df is not necessarily just about the heart – for my wife, the Df does not appeal her because of the retro look. She likes it, because it makes beautiful 16 MP images that look very similar to the images from the D3s and the D700. She does not have to spend a ton of time editing images, since 16 MP files open instantly in Lightroom (and I have a high-end PC with Intel i7, SSD drives and 32 GB of RAM) and take much less time to re-size and export. Even half a second of extra waiting time makes a difference when going through thousands of images. She likes that the Df is so lightweight, especially with her favorite 50mm f/1.8G prime. After 18 hour wedding shoots, she knows what it feels like to lug a D3s around her neck, so cutting that weight by half sounds like a good deal to her. Battery life is amazing, which is also a big deal when she comes back with 1-2K images from a full day of shooting. Looking at her decision to swap the D3s for the Df and listening to her arguments, I understand that others might think similarly. And she made that choice with her head, not her heart!
So there is more to the Df than it might seem. And it is not always just about features. The new Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is similar to the Df in this regard – its sharpness is far worse than one would expect for a $1700 lens. Its field curvature is horrid at close distances. And yet it makes images that have a distinct look to them. For any normal user and for the first group above, the 58mm is a bad release just like the Df. Why would you buy it if you have the 50mm f/1.4G and the f/1.8G that cost a lot less? Same questions, same answers…
Meanwhile, I will continue to use my trusty D800E and D600 to take pictures :)
Any Nikon Df owners out there? Could you share your story and tell us why you bought it?