This is an in-depth review of the Nikon Df, a retro-style digital SLR camera that was announced in November of 2013. The Df is a very controversial release, I would say perhaps the most controversial one in Nikon’s DSLR history. After Nikon teased the public with its short videos that slowly revealed parts of the camera, many were excited to see something completely different than a traditional DSLR. Videos titled “it is in my hands again” and “no clutter, no distractions”, with constant repetition of “Pure Photography”, hinted at a camera that combines old style Nikon film cameras with a modern digital sensor. Nikon “Df”, a “Digital Fusion” of retro style and modern technology, became an instant hit on the Internet and one of the hottest topics of discussion and speculation on photography sites and forums. As we got closer and closer to the release date, enthusiasts from all over the world started speculating on the features of the yet to be released Nikon Df and pointed at possibilities of seeing a mirrorless camera, electronic viewfinder and a myriad of other technologies we now come to expect from modern mirrorless cameras. Film shooters had their own list of must-have features, including a large bright viewfinder with a split focusing screen for easy focusing with old manual focus lenses. In a very short period of time, the Nikon Df, a fusion of technologies, became an over-hyped camera with very high expectations…
And then it finally arrived. When the dust settled and people realized that the Df is basically a DSLR with a retro design, D4 sensor and D600 guts that came with a $2750 price tag at the time when Nikon was pushing D800 sales in the same price range, all the prior feedback and excitement turned into a bunch of hate. And very rapidly. Nikon had not seen this much hate on a newly launched product in a very long time. Not even in the days when Canon was in the lead with their pro full-frame offers, while Nikon was still sticking to the APS-C format. On one hand, the Nikon Df was laughed at, made fun of, mocked and criticized for its appearance, lack of features and high price. On the other hand, those that actually own and use the camera highly praised its image quality, ergonomics and overall performance. It seems like the particular group that is attracted to this camera knows exactly what to expect from it.
Indeed, the Nikon Df turned out to be a very controversial release. And my personal observation so far is that most of the hate you see on the Internet is coming from those that have never touched the Df and probably never will. And that’s OK, because the Df was not released to be loved by all. Nikon specifically targeted the camera at a small user base and as far as I know, they were quite successful at it. In my Nikon Df Rebuttal that I wrote in response to Bob Vishneski’s Heart vs Head article, I pointed out that the Df actually exceeded Nikon’s expectations in terms of sales. So the group that owns the Df is not as small as one might think, and it includes some of the highly respected photographers in the industry.
Before writing this review, I really wanted to take my time and get to know the Df and get myself more accustomed to it. Compared to Nikon DSLRs that I have been shooting with for the past 7 years, the Nikon Df is very different, especially when it comes to its handling and controls. Having been shooting with different brand cameras and formats for a while now, I realized that some cameras just take more time to get adjusted to. Hence, writing a review a week or two or even a month after handling the camera is something I try to avoid doing. By now, I have had the Df for the past 4 months, so this review is a summary of my overall experience with the camera during this period.
When it comes to pure technical specifications and features, the Nikon Df is a combination of different technologies that are found on existing Nikon DSLRs. In a way, it is also a fusion of existing DSLRs: D600/D610, D800 and D4. It has the same autofocus system as the Nikon D600/D610, its top and back are also of magnesium alloy construction and it has similar limitations as the D600/D610 when it comes to the fastest shutter speed of 1/4000 or flash sync-speed of 1/200. It has the same weather sealing features as the Nikon D800/D800E and also has a dedicated AF-ON focus button on the back of the camera. Its low-noise 16 MP sensor is very similar to the one on the Nikon D4. Just like the D4, it comes with no built-in flash.
Its firmware is also a mix of different DSLRs. For example, the Nikon D600/D610 has no center button instant zoom capability (during playback), while both the D800 and the D4 do. Since the Df has a number of similar features from the D600/D610, one might expect to see similar firmware limitations. However, that’s certainly not the case with the Df – not only does it have the same center button instant zoom capability (Menu -> Custom Setting Menu -> Controls -> OK Button -> Playback Mode -> Zoom on/off), it also has an advanced firmware feature for exposure meter coupling when using old pre-Ai lenses, which is not found on any other current Nikon DSLR.
What sets the Df apart from other Nikon DSLRs, is lack of certain features that have more or less become a standard on advanced / full-frame cameras. First of all, the Df has no video or time lapse video recording capabilities. Nikon decided to market the Df “purely” for photographic needs, so it completely excluded video recording options. A rather interesting and unusual move, considering the popularity of DSLR video. Another omission is a dual card slot – the Df only comes with a single SD slot located underneath the camera (more on this under “Handling“). There is no built-in flash either. Lastly, aside from the flash sync port, the Nikon Df does not have infrared or 10-pin remote connector ports on the front.
At the same time, the Nikon Df tries to compensate for those deficiencies in other areas, and weight with bulk are two huge factors in Df’s favor. At 710 grams, the Df is Nikon’s lightest full-frame camera. And with its comparably short profile and a more compact grip, it is also smaller than the Nikon D600/D610 (although not by a huge margin). Other features borrowed from higher-end DSLRs include a dedicated AF-ON button and a large rotary dial, similar to what one would find on the Nikon D800/D800E cameras. The Df features a usable 1:1 Live View, which is a world better in comparison to the ugly interpolated Live View of the D800/D800E.
The big subject of the debate is the top “retro” navigation of the camera, which obviously looks similar to classic SLRs like Nikon FM and nothing like a modern DSLR. Nikon used different dials for such functions as ISO, Exposure Compensation, Shutter Speed, Shooting Modes, On/Off and Camera Modes, along with the traditional rear dial and a small rotary front dial for setting different exposure parameters, similar to modern DSLRs.
In short, the Nikon Df is a mix of features and limitations mostly borrowed from existing Nikon DSLRs, plus the retro design. How does it all roll into the shooting experience? Read on to find out what we think.
2) Nikon Df Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 16.2 MP FX
- Sensor Size: 36.0 x 23.9mm
- Resolution: 4928 x 3280
- DX Resolution: 3200 x 2128
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-12,800
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 50
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 25,600-204,800
- Processor: EXPEED 3
- Metering System: 3D Color Matrix Meter II
- Dust Reduction: Yes
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Body Build: Top / Rear / Bottom Magnesium Alloy
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Shutter Durability: 150,000 cycles
- Storage: 1x SD slot
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Speed: 5.5 FPS
- Exposure Meter: 2,016 pixel RGB sensor
- Built-in Flash: No
- Autofocus System: Multi-CAM 4800FX AF with 39 focus points and 9 cross-type sensors
- LCD Screen: 3.2 inch diagonal with 921,000 dots
- Movie Recording: N/A
- In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
- GPS: N/A
- WiFi: N/A
- Battery Type: EN-EL14 / EN-EL14a
- Battery Life: 1400 shots
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 710g (body only)
- Price: $2,749.95 MSRP
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at NikonUSA.com.