Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nikon Df - first look at the new retro camera

Let's get this out of the way first: It looks great, especially when surrounded by its ancestors. Like almost everyone, I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Nikon's entry into the retro camera phase that is sweeping the industry.

A new retro Nikon Df surrounded by its ancestors: a Nikon Ftn (the grandaddy "F" that started it all), a 200mm Nikkor telephoto, 80-200mm zoom Nikkor, and a traditional cable release -- all of which still fit and can be used on the new Df camera. Mounted on the Df is an original Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 lens.
There are two parts of "retro" that need to be considered: First is looks, and it wins hands down there.  Second is functionality. It's one thing to introduce a retro design, but it's quite another for the design to actually add something to the digital mix other that a feeling of "coolness" carrying it around. It has to work, especially when it's priced up with proven professional models such as the D800, and D610. So all of this begs the questions: Is it worth it, and where will it fit in a professional camera bag already overloaded with quality digital camera choices?

The Df camera body alone is priced at $2746.95, and with a redesigned 50mm f/1.8 kit lens is $2996.95. This is the same price as a Nikon D800, and $750 more than a D610, both of which have more advanced features.

The Df comes in two colors, all black, or traditional silver and black.
The Df uses the same 16mp sensor and processing as the Nikon D4 camera. This is a great sensor, but one of its chief advantages is that its low megapixels allows the D4 to operate at a very fast frame rate of 10fps. The Df, however, only operates at 5.5fps, a little faster than a D800, and a tad slower than a D610.

I use the D4, D800, and D600 cameras professionally. They are all exceptional for different reasons. One thing I have noticed is that the low noise abilities of both the D800 and D600 are very close to that of the D4.  The low noise of the Df should be the same as the D4, but given my findings that will not be enough of a reason to warrant buying it instead of something like a D610, for instance. Although the Df is rated one stop higher to 12800 ISO, this is not a very practical speed limit. I usually cap out the D4 around 3200 ISO, finding that anything higher produces excessive noise for professional use in a large file.

As the chart below illustrates, dimensions of the Df camera are similar to what you will find in a D610.

The retro feel of manual controls is what this camera is all about. You either like it or you don't. I happen to prefer manual controls, but then I was weaned on early manual Nikons like the Ftn, F2, and F3, which were manual everything.

This camera is all about manual control with a complete layout of dials on top for changing most common functions.  More modern command dials are not forgotten. There is one on the back and front of the body.
From the rear the Df controls look more familiar to typical Nikon digital cameras.
You are either going to like the Df or not, but the real question is whether people will be willing to pay for it. This is an expensive camera for what it is. Typically, I would use a camera like this as a backup to the D4, or as a travel camera when I want to have a smaller kit with me. I would have preferred to have the 24mp sensor, and price range of the D610 for both of these purposes. Nikon is charging a lot for cosmetics delivering nothing but a retro feel. The camera does not do anything new, other than deliver more manual controls and access to really old Nikon lenses. The test question I ask myself is whether I would buy this camera based solely on its features and not on its looks. The answer to that question, at least for me, is "no".  From a practical point of view, a D610 costing $750 less is a much better option...but then there is that really cool retro Df look. Sigh. What's a photographer to do?


  1. Thanks for your interesting blog.
    My feelings on the Df are pretty similar - I was hankering after a lightweight FM2/F3 equivalent - but at this price and set of features - I'll probably pass.

  2. I stay with my D700 ... it is a big Camera und maybe it will be a Legend one day like the FM2.
    For me it is to much money for design!
    Greetings from Germany