The Df (where "f" supposedly stands for fusion of old and new, "D") is a full-frame DSLR with 16mp sensor and processing engine of the Nikon D4, coupled with a 39 point AF system taken from the D610. It is housed in a retro style, weather sealed body with a design hearkening back to the earlier film era. To emphasize this point it also comes with an AI (Auto-indexing) lever to sync the camera with older lenses.
|A Nikon Df camera mounted with an original Noct-Nikkor f/1.2 lens. Behind is a Nikon F2 and several older lenses: Nikon 80-200mm f/4 zoom, Nikon 105mm f/4 macro lens, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom, and on the F2 a 105mm f/2 defocus Nikkor.|
That said, this is not the camera I expected and hoped Nikon would build when the first rumors of a retro design surfaced. I had expected more of a 24mp D610 sensor but with some added enhancements, like the 51 autofocus point viewfinder of the D800. I think I am still disappointed that Nikon opted for 16mp and a smaller focus array instead, especially when we consider the high price of this model relative to the rest of their lineup. But it is what it is, and I will judge on that.
The Df has the same sensor and processing engine asNikon's workhorse D4 camera. I do the majority of my professional work with a Nikon D4 so it was easy for me to make comparisons between the two. Aside from image quality, there are some substantial differences. A D4 can shoot at 10fps for what seems an unlimited amount of time in RAW. The Df is going to cap out at 23 RAW images shot at 5.5fps. For normal usage, this is probably sufficient, but it is no D4. The D4 has 51 AF points spread out in a large array making it easier to place one on a point far away from the center of the frame. I spend a lot of my professional time photographing models and like to put the main focus point on one of the model's eyes. Rarely are the eyes anywhere near the center of the frame.
The review of this camera's image performance is going to be a non-review. Why? Because this camera delivers the exact same image results as a Nikon D4, and things don't get much better than that in the realm of high performance digital cameras.
The Df has enough dials and knobs on it to make a fine Swiss watchmaker envious. Dials and their placement has been well thought out, and after a short while the photographer is able to make rapid changes with them and not have to look away from the viewfinder to do it. There is only one small digital window on the top surface of the camera body, but it is sufficient to display essential information such as images remaining, battery condition, shutter speed, aperture, and a few other settings.
Although bristling with knobs and dials, the Df is a true digital camera and can be operated with two control wheels like most Nikon DSLR's. The front wheel has been disguised to blend in with the retro look of the body, but it works similarly to what you would find on other Nikon cameras.
|A new menu option of the Custom Setting Menu allows for command dial override of the manual shutter speed dial setting in 1/3 stop increments.|
The manual shutter speed dial works only in full stops, but can be set to a 1/3 stop setting where it comes under digital control. There is also a special feature under the Custom Setting Menu that allows on/off of "Easy shutter-speed shift". Turning this feature "ON" allows the front command dial to select intermediate shutter settings in 1/3 increment even though the top dial is being used manually. This is very handy for those of us who would like to use the intuitive dial to select shutter speed, but occasionally want to fine tune the speed adjustment. A feature such as this illustrates that a great deal of thought went into the design of this camera. Nikon didn't just slap a shutter dial on top of the camera body for the retro look. They also supplied three methods of adjusting it -- manual only, manual with command dial adjustment, and command dial only.
The body finish is very different than that of other pro Nikon camera bodies. The Df comes in both a silver and black version. Silver is probably more fitting for the retro look, but I prefer the black. The black finish is very flat with a rough texture giving the camera a more rugged, practical, almost military appearance. Obvious care was taken in how this camera looks. Even the shutter sound is completely different.
|Even the DF access door (on right) to the battery and memory card has a latch that hearkens back to earlier Nikon camera models, like that of the F2 on the left.|
The NEF RAW converter was not available for Photoshop when I was preparing this review. So, whenever necessary, I used Nikon's Capture NX2 to process the NEF images. Although I regularly use Photoshop and Bridge for my daily workflow, I have always found that NX2 is the best processing engine for Nikon NEF files, particularly when the images were taken under adverse circumstances of excessive contrast and/or low light where you can deploy Nikon's dynamic range feature.
|This still life setup was photographed with varying ISO's from 100-12800. The most pertinent are listed below along with their links for downloading the high res image. All were shot in jpg with no post-processing.|
One set of buttons that are missing is the double button press to format a memory card. You're going to have to use the menu for this. The camera also uses the smaller EN-14a battery, which is rated to 1400 shots. I obtained far more than that in my tests, but rarely used live view. There is also no built-in flash to drain the batteries.
|The Df is the smallest full frame camera Nikon makes. It has the same sensor and processor as the flagship D4, but in a very compact package.|
Along with the camera Nikon has introduced a special edition of its AF-S Nikkor 50mm F1.8G lens to be sold in kit form with the Df and match its retro looks. The camera with lens lists for $2996.95.
|Personally, I love the reversion to the original, simple, screw-in cable release. It is so much easier to use than the newer electronic models found on modern DSLR's today.|
I have to admit to being prejudiced against this camera before I received one to test for this review. I was disappointed by the specifications and put off by what I thought was an unjustifiably high price. My attitude changed somewhat once I had the camera for awhile and began putting it to use. Nonetheless, I still have mixed reservations about it.
This camera is not for everyone in the same way a retro Fuji X camera is. At such a high price point you are going to have to be very serious about having a use for it. It doesn't quite fill the gap of a D700, and doesn't add any advancements over a D610 or D800 that would make it ideal for travel, scenics, weddings, or fashion. I am not exactly sure where it fits in with the needs of a professional photographer. Its nostalgic experience is something else entirely. You will be buying this camera as much for the experience of using it as for what it can deliver in terms of image quality, and you won't be disappointed with either.
One thing this camera can do better than any other I have tested is shoot in low light. Nikon did something to the sensor or software because this camera even edges out the D4 and D800 -- and that is saying something.
|Nothing like photographing a retro car with a retro camera and Noct-Nikkor lens.|
Long time Nikon users, like me, who have saved many of their old lenses from the film era may find that this camera is for them. Time to dust off that old glass and put it to use again. Mount those lenses on a Df and take it out for a spin around the block, while 50's and 60's music blares from an old AM radio. That, and excellent imagery, is what this camera is all about.
|The Df looks equally at home on the counter of a diner as it does sitting next to a fine Swiss watch.|
|What can I say, this camera even put me in a mood to shoot retro.|
|Old pier girders along the Hudson River, New York. Nikon Df with 24-120mm f/4 zoom.|