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Nikon Df: First Look


Nikon Df: First Look

Alright, so after all the rumors flying around, and all the images being leaked over the past few weeks, the Nikon Df has finally been announced – officially. We’ve known what it looks like for a few days (or weeks) now – have a look at the images below if you’re still in the dark – but what we didn’t know (and now do) were the specs that make up the innards of this camera, and what it should be capable of. And it’s price. Now we do

To put it simply, the Nikon Df is a full-frame DSLR camera that sports a 16 mega pixel CMOS sensor, identical to the one found on the top-of-the-line Nikon D4 DSLR. It has a rather impressive 39-point AF system, borrowed from the D600/D610; it naturally uses the Nikon F mount; it packs basically all the usual features you would expect from a DSLR; and it looks to be a pretty solid camera overall. With a retro-styled body that is clearly inspired by Nikon’s film SLRs from the past, the Df is a very unique product, quite unlike anything that I can recall seeing before, and I love products like that. It looks like a digitized version of Nikon’s classic FM2, or the FM2n that I love using, and that’s very cool indeed

Nikon Df. Image from Imaging Resource

Nikon Df. Image from Imaging Resource

Packed with loads of manual controls, much like the ones you’d find on an actual film SLR like the FM2, Nikon has really taken the Df seriously into vintage film photography territory. There seems to be very little automatic about this camera – which I am liking, so far – while making manual controls as easy to access, like it should be; and it cannot shoot video. That’s right. No video

So yeah, the Nikon Df, with its old-school design and manual controls and full-frame sensor and stills-only philosophy, is a camera clearly aimed at a certain kind of photographer. The purist. That’s what they said in the pre-release teaser videos, right? The Nikon Df is Pure Photography? Something like that. And it is. If you’re the type who wants to get back to the old days – the simple days of film photography, where it was all about the photograph and nothing else – but keep things digital, this is a very interesting option. The fact that it accepts all Nikkor lenses – even non-AI lenses – makes the Df extremely attractive

At $2749 (body only) and $2999 (with a 50mm f1.8G), it isn’t cheap, but I don’t get the early complaints from people about it being overpriced. It’s a full-frame DSLR, isn’t it? How much would a D600 kit cost? How much would the D4 cost? Not sounding too pricey now, is it?

Pre-ordering/Ordering Links: B&H Photo – Body only (black), Body only (silver), Body & 50mm f1.8G lens (black), Body & 50mm f1.8G kit (silver)

Amazon – Body only (black), Body only (Silver),
Body & 50mm f1.8G lens (Black), Body & 50mm f1.8G lens (Silver)

No, I wasn’t trying to set you up to get you to use my links. I seriously think that if you’re looking at a full-frame DSLR, and you’re looking to step out of the traditional DSLR box, this is a fantastic option. I’d suggest you wait till a full review is out, though. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get one of these to check out any time soon, but a lot of other guys will, so I think you should wait for those before dumping your cash on one just yet. But if you’re convinced, using my links wouldn’t hurt!

Specifications You Would Want To Know

  • Body: Film SLR-style DSLR body, magnesium alloy
  • Lens Mount: Nikon F Mount (accepts pretty much any Nikon lens you can think of)
  • Image Stabilization: No (lens-based IS only)
  • Kit Lens: Comes with a cosmetically modified (but optically unchanged) AF-S 50mm f1.8G
  • Resolution: 16.2 mega pixels
  • Sensor Size: Full-frame (36 x 24mm)
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Processor: Expeed 3
  • Shutter Speeds:  Max 1/4000 sec, Min 30 sec
  • ISO Range: 100-12800
  • White Balance: Auto WB, Custom WB, 12 Presets
  • Video: No video (!)
  • Metering Modes: Multi-Area, Center-Weighted, Spot
  • Exposure Modes: P, A, S, M
  • Built-in Flash: No
  • Hot-shoe: Yes
  • Autofocus: Phase Detect AF system (CDAF available)
  • AF Modes: Center, Multi-area, Single Area, Tracking, Continuous, Face Detect
  • AF Points: 39 (9 cross-type)
  • Manual Focus: Yes
  • Screen: 3.2” LCD (921k dots)
  • Articulation: None
  • Touchscreen: No
  • Viewfinder: Optical (pentaprism), 100% coverage, 0.70x magnification
  • Max Drive Speed: 5.5fps
  • File Formats, JPEG, TIFF, RAW
  • Connections: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, Optional Wi-Fi with wireless adapter (not included)
  • Memory Card: SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Dimensions: 144 x 110 x 76 (body only)
  • Weight: 760g (body, including battery/memory card)

First Thoughts

One of the main reasons why I love the Fujifilm X-series is its manual, old-school control interface. That’s why I was very excited upon seeing the leaked images of the Nikon Df. The film SLR-type designs and controls really look quite inspired, and on closer examination, seems to be very nicely thought out. More on the controls later, but right now I have to say that this is one aspect that defines the Df – an aspect that I’m really liking

As a modern DSLR, it’s pretty powerful. The Nikon D4 is the flagship DSLR, and one of the best you can find on the market – so it’s really quite nice to have that camera’s sensor on the Df. The AF system is not quite as good, but the 39-point system is the same one that the D600/D610 has, so while it’s not quite as ‘flagship’ as the D4’s, it’s still quite impressive, and most users shouldn’t have any issues in the AF department. And all this is packed in a beautiful, weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body, similar in build and seal to the D800

What else? The optical viewfinder looks huge. It uses a good old pentaprism, and has 100% coverage, as expected – with 0.70x magnification. The LCD is a pretty good one – high-res, and large – although it’s not articulated nor is it a touchscreen. Being an retro-inspired camera, I find these perfectly acceptable

What MIGHT be a problem, for many, is the lack of video capabilities. Even myself, a guy who rarely shoots video, would like to have the option on any camera I own. The opportunity just might spring up for a nice video clip, and you might miss this. Having said that, the ‘pure’ photographers among us might not have much of an issue with this – and in practical use, I too would probably not miss this

Lens compatibility is a huge consideration when looking at any camera system – DSLR or mirrorless – so when checking out the Df, it’s great to see compatibility with all Nikon lenses. What’s even nicer, although not all of us would have the opportunity to use this, is its ability to use pre-AI Nikon glass. A little feature, a sort of switch/tab, on the lens mount, along with a setting in the menu (where you choose the particular vintage lens you’re attaching) allows the use of these old lenses, lenses that most other new Nikon’s do not accept. Again, one for the purists

I noticed dpreview had brought this up, and I thought I’d make a little note of this here for you: the focusing screen on the Df is fixed. Most other DSLRs have a removable focusing screen, allowing you to change it so that you could replace it with one that is more suitable for manual focusing, for instance. Since this camera is all about manual photography, this is a bit disappointing, as it would’ve been nice to put a split-prism viewfinder (or something similar) for easy manual focusing. Oh well

Anyway, now let’s get back to the design. I have to talk about this again. It’s really, really nice. I love how the old film SLRs looked back in the day, and being a Nikon film SLR user even today, the Df looks very familiar – I feel that it’d really make me want to take it out and shoot. A sign of a really good camera. I can’t talk much about this until I actually try one, but it’s a good first impression!

The amount of manual controls remind me of Fuji’s wonderful X-series, but being designed to be even more manual and old-school, and being aimed only at a certain (narrow) sub-set of photographers, Nikon has been able to go all-out on making the Df work and feel just like a film camera, and therefore the level of manual dials and buttons on the camera is a level higher than even the Fuji X line. Read the next section for more on that

One slightly disappointing point in terms of controls is that the packaged lens is a G lens – the 50mm f1.8G – a lens that doesn’t have an aperture ring. Having all the manual dials – shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation – it’s a bit of a shame that the aperture ring isn’t there to go along with it, to create that true film SLR feel. Sure, if you’re a veteran Nikon guy with a load of older AF-D lenses that have the aperture ring, this isn’t a problem. But if this is your first Nikon DSLR, and you’re getting the kit, you’ll be using the front command dial to adjust aperture. It’s not a bad interface – maybe you’d like it more than the lens-based aperture control – but it’s not vintage-correct, is it? That’s what I feel. The 50mm lens that comes with the Df kit is a special one, slightly re-designed for the Df, but it’s just in terms of looks. It’s simply being redesigned to match the body visually – nothing else. Adding an aperture ring would’ve been a nice touch

And well, yeah – that’s the Nikon Df in a nutshell. My first thoughts, at least. And I really like most of what I see. A few issues did show up, even at first glance, but what camera doesn’t have any flaws? It looks a solid camera, and a very unique one. Sure, it’s designed for a particular kind of shooter – the pure photographer – but that’s what I love about it. At $2999 (or $2479) it’s not cheap, but as a full-frame DSLR, it’s not ridiculously pricey either

Controls & Handling

Handling is something that you can’t really talk about till you…well, till you handle one. But this design looks so good, I almost know what it will feel like in my hand. I know how the Nikon FM2n feels in my hand, and this, I’m sure, will handle very similarly, even though it’s quite a bit larger. More on this once I’m able to actually handle one

Now to the controls, and wow – there are loads of these. I’ll try to describe them as simply as I can, but it won’t be easy. There are buttons and dials and switches on the top, back, front – and maybe even the sides!

Let’s start with, well – anywhere is a good place to start – but as I always start from the top panel, let’s begin here

Nikon Df Top. Image from Imaging Resource

Nikon Df Top. Image from Imaging Resource

Here you will find no less than three four control dials. On the left side of the hot-shoe/pentaprism hump is an ISO dial, on top of which is a +/- 3 stop exposure compensation dial. On the right of this hump is the shutter speed dial, the old-school shutter button (with the power switch around it) and a mini mode dial. Around the shutter speed dial is another switch-type control that I can’t quite figure out. There’s a mini-LCD that will display your shooting settings – and there’s also a little button right beside it. Again, I’m not quite sure what this button does

On the back, there’s a whole load more. On the left of the viewfinder is a Playback button and a Delete button. On the right of the VF is the AE/AF lock and AF button. Right beside the AF button is a command dial

Nikon Df Rear. Image from Imaging Resource

Nikon Df Rear. Image from Imaging Resource

On the right of the 3.2” LCD, you have four buttons: Menu, WB/Help, Image Quality/Zoom In, Flash/Zoom Out, and an “i” button that’s possibly some sort of quick menu?

On the left of the LCD, there are a few more controls: a three-way switch that sets your metering mode, a four-way directional pad (with a Lock switch around it), an LV (Live View) button and an Info button. And that’s all you have on the back panel of the Nikon Df

Lastly, we’ll move to the front of the camera. First of all, there’s the second command dial – right where your forefinger will be when gripping the camera with your right hand. Right next to the “Df” sign. Typical Nikon, and very nice. You will be using this to control aperture when you’re using a lens without an aperture ring

Nikon Df Front. Image from Imaging Resource

Nikon Df Front. Image from Imaging Resource

Next to the lens, there are two customizable buttons. By default, they act as the DOF Preview and Fn buttons. On the other side of the lens, there’s an AF/MF selector switch and the lens release button

NOTE: ISO and shutter speed can be adjusted via the dedicated dials, or can be set to auto – via the menu. If you set ISO to auto, according to dpreview, the setting you leave your ISO dial at will act as the maximum ISO that the camera will go to. Nice

NOTE: The EV dial and mode dial need to be unlocked (by pulling it upwards) before they can be turned. This prevents the dials from being accidentally moved, but possibly could be a tad annoying if you need to regularly change these dials – especially the EV dial

And that’s about it for the Df’s extensive control set. Phew

Performance

I think, as with all Nikon DSLRs, the Df will be a smooth performer. In every way. The Expeed 3 isn’t a NEW processor anymore, to be honest, but it’s a good one. I don’t recall anyone complaining about the processor performance of the D4 or the D800, which use the same processor, so I think it will do an impressive job here

For the AF system too, I have an idea of how it’ll perform, as it’s the same one used on the D600/D610. With its 39-point AF system, 9 of which are cross-type, this AF system is fast on the D600, and should be equally fast on the Nikon Df. It’s not as fast as the D800 or D4, I guess, but for anything except types of photography that require the fastest of AF systems, the Df will do the job fine

Burst shooting is rated at a max of 5.5fps. Compared to the D800 (4fps) and D4 (11fps), that’s right in the middle. Should be fine for most users. I’m not sure how many shots the Df can buffer, but I think it’d do a pretty good job overall

Yeah – I expect this camera to be a very good performer in every way: AF, burst shooting, and overall operation. Compared to the highest-end DSLRs, it might be a bit slower, but I think it’ll stack up very well against most

Conclusion

Alright, it’s pretty obvious that I like almost everything about this camera. There’s just one main ‘negative’ of sorts, and as I see it, that’s intentional: it’s not a camera for everybody. The other negative could be the price, but considering it’s a full-frame DSLR, I don’t think people have any business complaining about that

Yeah, it’s definitely a camera for the purist. More so than the Fujifilm X-series, in my opinion. It has even more dedicated controls than the X-series, believe it if you will, and it’s also a DSLR. A full-frame one. And it has no video. All this just combines together to form a camera that is as pure as can be. I’ve used that word a lot, but that’s what this camera seems to be all about. The designers have clearly gone all-out to do the classic Nikon SLRs justice – you see their effort clearly in all sorts of little design elements in the Df – and they seem to have succeeded resoundingly. In fact, I feel that they really have succeeded in making a digital FM2. And that’s awesome


There’s not much more to say in this post. I haven’t used it – I haven’t even touched one or been in the same room with one – yet. So all this is based on what I have read about it, and from my experience with cameras. But I think that this is something special. I’m not seeing enough praise being showered upon it just yet, but that’s mainly because people don’t yet know enough about it, and of course for the simple reason that I keep repeating: it’s not a camera for everybody. But that does NOT make it a bad camera. I feel it’s simply wonderful, and I applaud Nikon for this effort

Pre-ordering/Ordering Links: B&H Photo – Body only (black)body only (silver)body & 50mm f1.8G lens (black)body & 50mm f1.8G kit (silver)

Amazon – Body only (black)Body only (Silver)Body & 50mm f1.8G lens (Black)Body & 50mm f1.8G lens (Silver)

Yeah, that’s all for today. I hope you guys enjoyed this post. Like I said earlier, you might want to stick around for more reviews before considering buying one, but if you’re impatient and you want one today, pre-ordering is available already – please use my links! And that’s about it. Until next time

By Heshan Jayakody
All content is my own - all images from Imaging Resource
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Discussion

16 Responses to “Nikon Df: First Look”

  1. wow, i’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. ever since i first saw the rumors. i hear its been around 4 years in the making! an absolute beauty! thanks for sharing this info

    Posted by Ken | November 5, 2013, 21:15
    • Yeah, it’s been in the works for a few years now – and the rumors had been going around for months. It’s good to finally see it, and to see that it does not at all disappoint!

      Posted by pixelogist | November 6, 2013, 06:54
  2. This is a very…different beast. It is certainly not for the average user. Not even for the regular professional. For the street shooter, perhaps – or the real vintage fanatic. I agree, the price isn’t unfair at all

    Posted by Greg | November 6, 2013, 06:41
    • Indeed. It’s a special beast alright. Yeah, it’s for a VERY specific kind of shooter, not even the regular professional, you’re right. As a big fan of vintage gear and vintage designs – a big fan of Fuji’s X-series – I’d really like one of these, but I cannot justify the price right now, for a piece of gear I don’t really need; but that’s not saying it’s overpriced. It’s a fair price for a high-end piece of gear

      Posted by pixelogist | November 6, 2013, 07:04
  3. Awesome post. Exactly my thoughts on this camera. I’m not really a purist, as you say, but I would definiteyl like to add this to my collection. It’s for those specific times when I want to use it, and also I think itll help me improve my photography technique, somehow. Going back to traditional shooting techniques might do wonders to modern shooters and change mindset

    Posted by Brad Henley | November 7, 2013, 16:42
    • Thanks, Brad 🙂 I absolutely agree – much like using a film SLR has helped me a lot as a photographer, using those old-school techniques, the Df has the potential to do exactly that. And while keeping it digital 🙂

      Posted by pixelogist | November 8, 2013, 09:32
  4. It’s quite hard for me to call it on this. The lack of video on a full frame DSLR is shocking; but then again, if you want video and regular stuff, get the D800 or the D4. Even if they’re pricier. But what if you want video AND the classic good looks of the Df? Ahhh

    Posted by Trent | November 7, 2013, 18:54
    • Good point. I guess the Nikon answer would be that you can’t go classic AND have all the modern features. Even though it does pack in a lot of modern features, lacking only the ability to shoot video

      Posted by pixelogist | November 8, 2013, 09:35
  5. Pass for me. Yes it’s a full-frame but not what I want from a DSLR. Not enough, at least, even if it’s good for some. Not a bad price, though. Cheaper or the same price as the D800, much cheaper than the D4. I definitely agree with you about pricing being very fair. The problem is that it looks like a mirrorless system, like the X-series, which isn’t bad but it makes people forget they’re getting a full-frame DSLR

    Posted by Graham Leery | November 7, 2013, 21:33
    • Ah well, to each their own. It’s not a camera for everyone! But you make a good point about the pricing – with its looks, it DOES seem like a mirrorless system – and people forget how much the only full-frame mirrorless camera (Sony’s A7/A7R) is going for

      Posted by pixelogist | November 8, 2013, 09:36
  6. it’s quite impressive as a DSLR. and unique as a product. what’s not to like? haha. good breakdown of the camera, cheers

    Posted by BMX | November 12, 2013, 15:41
  7. Well, I’m excited about this camera. I’ve been waiting for an affordable full-frame camera for a year now, to upgrade, and was about to go for the D610 (didn’t like the D600’s oil issues etc) but this looks even better. Ok so it is not an ‘affordable’ full-frame, but it looks so unique and so ‘me’, a purist like you put it, that i dont’t think I can resist! Hahaha. Thanks for this post. Hope for a full review too!

    Posted by Sergei | November 21, 2013, 15:16
    • Absolutely, it’s a very exciting product! Sure, it’s not cheap, but it’s not a LOT more than the D610, is it? A different beast altogether, but if you’re a purist like you say, it doesn’t get a lot better than this

      Posted by pixelogist | November 21, 2013, 16:43
  8. the early reviews look very promising…it looks good. image quality was always expected to be good with that D4 sensor but its nice to see it performing as expected. usage and handling is a personal call, i guess..

    Posted by Cody | December 5, 2013, 20:19

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