The Nikon Df

3 April, 2014

The camera body that has divided Nikon lovers and haters of this world like no other…

The Nikon Df.

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Much has been said in the internet world about the specs (or non specs), the inclusions and the exclusions.  Questions have been raised of the direction Nikon was taking with this line.  One thing is for certain though… they need to be applauded.

Not for technical abilities beyond which they merely just recycled existing parts from various other lines, but for forward thinking (ironically, thinking like Sony).  Like Leica, this segment is a niche market.  A ‘retro’ look and feel, with today’s technology wrapped into one.

A marriage from the FM body days to a modern day construction of what that would look like in today’s world.

Did they succeed?  Well success measurements can be skewed whichever way you flip the data but this is my personal account in the real world, shooting real work.

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It’s a bit ‘pointless’ showcasing images shot with the Df in this review as really, it’s the lenses that I use that give it predominately the look that you see.

What I would like to share with you is the Haptics of the Df – the ‘essence’ of what it is and certainly what it isn’t.  What it is great for and what I found it lacked.

I am convinced when Nikon built the Df from the ground up, the production of the new 58mm f1.4 tagged alongside it for the ride.  I had the 58mm f1.2 Noct and to this day am still upset at myself for letting that one go…

In the Nikon G lens world, there is no lens other than the 58 that feels like it ‘fits’ the Df in balance and feel.  Given the nature of the Df body to feel plasticky, light and bulbous… the 58 complements that superbly.

The 24, 35 and 85 AFS’s feel terrible, the camera becomes top heavy.  Not an ideal quality to have if you are shooting 16 hour weddings with it.

The weight of the Body is a double edge sword, it is light, very light… almost too light.  Some will say this is a blessing, but it also is a curse.  If a camera body is too light, you get an opposite effect in hand-holdability shutter speeds.

The weight also leads to a feel of ‘cheapness’ (something which it is not).

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As a one lens setup with the 58, the lightness becomes brilliant.  Easy to sling over the shoulder at a moments notice and fire away.

My personal BIGGEST pet hate on the body is the right shoulder lug strap placement.  Whoever decided to put it here is NOT a photographer.  It is singularly the worst place to place it.  Your index finger has to do a special dance to get to the shutter… this may not sound like much of a pain, but considering a camera  NEEDS to get out of my way.  This and the ‘lesser’ AF system is the 2 reasons why you wouldn’t look at purchasing this body over say the D610 or D800/E or keeping your D700.

There is no need to talk about the sensor as it is the sensor from the now legendary D4.  Enough said there.  Exquisite.

Now to the AF system…

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The AF system comes directly from the D610/D7000 line.  The 39 point system.  Not the awesome 51 point system in the D700/D3/D800/D4 system.

It is not even close to the performance of the 51 point system.  It has been said that Nikon had to cut costs somewhere, if they shoehorned the 51 point system in as well as the D4, well, that would encroach on the D4 sales.  I call bullocks to that.

Someone who is interested in the D4 is NOT going to consider the Df and vice-versa, they are completely different animals.  You will not see the Df body out in the pubic sporting arena with a 200-400mm clacking away.  It can be done, but mostly this would be the wrong tool for the job.

My guess is that Nikon has heaps of parts remaining in the parts bin and decided to go with the 39 point system because of cost savings to THEM, not the consumer.

The system itself is very adequate PROVIDED you stick to centre point and have a strong contrast point that it can detect.  In low light (and I mean reception halls, churches)… it becomes very hard to nail critical focus.  Manual Focusing in those conditions is the only way to go.

I have the MK17 1.2 enlarger on the viewfinder and find that if your lenses are AF tuned brilliantly, the green dot focus confirmation is very very good.

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The Battery life is brilliant, although I always carry spares, even shooting a full wedding, it just needs to be replaced towards the middle of a reception.

It’s that good.  Roughly 1200 shots I can get out of it and I don’t chimp at all.  I dislike that there is only 1 SD card and it has been placed in the battery chamber.  The battery chamber door is a bit flimsy too.

On top of the camera, to mimmick film cameras of the past… the Df has ALOT of dials.  Unfortunately, a lot of LOCKs as well.It is incredible to me that there is an exposure compensation dial on your left hand side and also a lock on the left as well.

Which makes it a 2 hand adjustment.  A bit of a cumbersome move on the fly when your shooting in the real world.

The loss of a movie feature is neither here nor there for me as I have D800s/D4 and the Canon C100 for video, but for someone who is looking to buy this as a single body, it makes no sense.

Lesser camera’s have it, so you might as well include it.  It’s not like they saved size of the body by not having it, see D610 or D800

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So who does this camera body suit and why do I have it in the bag?  I’m very astute when it comes to upgrading, so the Df, out of ALL my additions, was the hardest to fathom for me.

I appreciate what it isn’t.  It isn’t the perfect camera, there is no such thing.  It of course, isn’t the D4.  It feels ‘cheap’ up against the D800 even though they are similarly priced.  The D610 looks like a bargain compared to it.  And yes, my favourite D700, is still taking wonderful wonderful captures.

Should you upgrade from D700 to Df?  It’s not really a technical answer to that question.  Only if you like the feel of the Df body.  You don’t need the extra stops on the top end like I do.  Most people don’t.

Most people don’t shoot wide open and NEED the precision that that entails.  So the AF system on the Df is ‘fine’.  If you travel a lot and a simple and light solution is best, then yes, the Df is for you.

I got it for 1 major reason… the sensor.  In my workflow, the time saved for me to have matching sensors is worth it’s weight in gold.  I can compensate on the useability stakes easily (although I feel I shouldn’t have to).

So the lesser AF system is not a problem for me and the feel of the Df attached to the 58 to me is a similar feeling to my Leica M when I have the Noctilux on it.

It makes me smile.

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So there you have it, my thoughts on the Df.

Well done to Nikon but I make it a slow clap applause, it COULD have been a home run…

but as it stands it is more than an acceptable ‘difference’ from the monotony of DSLR’s on the market today.

What many of you will be wondering is ‘this review is cool and all and thanks Van for writing it up… but what I’m more interested in is the review of the 58mm f1.4′…

Don’t worry… it’s coming.

:)

If you have any questions on anything related to photography… email me and hopefully I can shed some light on your thoughts.

V

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