Well, it has been a while that I divested myself from Nikon, selling my D800 and many of my lenses to busier (and probably better) photographers who would give them more than a “shelf life”. In the past few months I have been shooting my Olympus OM-D E-M5, and more recently an E-M1, which covered 90% of what I do and are compact enough to be brought along almost anywhere. For full frame imaging, I used a Leica M, with its excellent optics. However I kept my favorite Nikkor lenses, namely the 85 mm AF-S f1.4, 45 mm PC-E and few other primes (105 f2.5 Ai-S and Micro 105 AF-S), as well as a 17-35mm AF-S, the latter to be used with my Full Spectrum converted D7000 for IR-landscapes.
Recently Nikon annouced the Df (Digital fusion, which I think is a misnomer- I think F-D, as in digital F, would have been ore fitting). If you are reading this you probably know already, but the Nikon Df is a “retro styled” full frame camera (FX in Nikon speak). Retro in this case means the top of the camera is reminiscent of the FE and F3 of yonder, with dedicated dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO, as well as a shutter button that accepts – nice but useless tough IMO – a mechanical shutter release cable. The back, and – more important – the innards – of the camera are pretty modern DSLR material built around the excellent 16 MP sensor of Nikon’s flagship D4, which is the best low light sensor available in any camera today (I am not alone in this opinion).
I was looking over a few images I shot with the D800 in the past 1.5 years and started reminiscing of the creamy quality of my favorite portrait lenses, the 85 mm f1.4 and 105 f2.5… I can use them on the D7000, but only with a IR-UV cut filter and giving me less flexibility in terms of depth of field. As I am a ‘leicaphile’ and thus a retro fan (and I still enjoy shooting film now and then), the Df seemed right down my alley. Let’s face it, at $2,800 the camera seems overpriced, even with the D4 sensor. But yet, it evoked and emotional response more than a rational one, and thus this pats Monday, the Df arrived from B&H via UPS.
The camera arrives in a very nicely packaged, classy looking black cardboard box – taking queues from the lie of Apple and Leica. The first impression once i got the camera out was that slight disappointment: it feels somewhat flimsy, just because it is so light. It is almost hard to believe that the body is weather sealed ( and I am not in the mood to test it like others have done for say the E-M1 here).
The camera certainly looks unique, no doubt. I like it but that is obviously a matter of taste. It has been compared to the FE, F3 and others. I think it borrows from various cameras, the back looks definitely like a modern DSLR, the top is the most “retro” and the front is somewhat mixed. Many people seem to prefer the silver version, however I have always had black cameras (with the exception of a used M8) and I feel the Df looks classic that way. Some people have commented on the silver coming in different shades, which makes for a weird appearance (and seems somewhat odd for a camera of this caliber). I have not seen the silver version yet.
If you follow the online discussion, many have condemned the camera before it came out. There are things I like and some that I think could have been solved better. First the pros:
- The camera is light (though first you feel that this is gives it a ‘cheapo feel’, it actually quickly grows on you
- The viewfinder is great, bright, easy to see. Manual focusing is easy and the green indicator light is spot on.
- The buttons feel solid, well made. If you have used Nikon DSLRs before, they are where you expect them to be.
- Despite what other say, I like the fact that the manual controls are lockable. They feel sold, well made and sturdy. The rear wheel is easy to reach with the right hand. See blow for the front wheel
Now for the cons:
- The power switch is hard to turn. I get why it was done this way, a ‘modern’ switch would have been hard to integrate into the design concept, but for me it requires I take the camera away from the eye.
- The grip is too small. The height is nto so much of a problem as the depth. Comparing it to my Olympus OM-D E-M1, the latter actually is better due to maybe hald an inch more depth.
- The battery/SD card door may be sealed, but it is cumbersome to open and close. It is also easy for the battery door to become unhinged – I have some doubts that the weather seal is very good.
- The selector for the metering mode is small and close to the back LCD – not my favorite configuration.
Apart from taking picture of our fridge, the first opportunity to try out out came at Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck, NY, with the 50 mm “Special edition” and I took it on a trip to Las Vegas as my main camera, with an assortment of lenses. In Rhinebeck, the temperature was close to freezing and the only person appropriately dressed was our son, so the shooting it was limited mostly by stiff fingers. I will be posting images from Las Vegas in a separate post.
Handling the camera feels intuitive when one is used to a Nikon DSLR. I took with me to 50 mm, as well we a Fisheye (modified for full frame), a 28 mm Ai-S, my 85 mm AF-S f1.4 and a 105 (the f2.5 Ai-S). I really love the shutter – particularly the Q mode. It is “Leica quiet” – although the mirror obviously stays up and the viewfinder is blacked out until the shutter button is released. For me, 5.5 fps is plenty but I am not shooting action/sports with it.
Autofocus is as expected – the fact that the focus points are clustered in the middle of the viewfinder is not much of a problem for me, as I often focus and recompose (a rangefinder habit). However, I must admit that comparing it to the OM-D E-M1, the speed is similar, maybe with the OM-D sometimes having the edge. I guess that speaks volumes what mirrorless cameras have come to be.
When adjusting the settings, the best procedure is to take the camera away from the eye – the wheels are hard to adjust when having the camera raised to the eye. Some may find that unacceptable. There is still one easily accessible control wheel, which can control the aperture in A and M mode (if set up that way via Menu item f7) and can control the shutter speed in S mode, provided the shutter speed wheel is set at “1/3 STEPS”. This maybe all you need, though it would be nice to change the exposure compensation with ease, too. However there is one neat feature – when you are in Shutter priority or Manual mode, and you have activated the “Easy Shutter Speed Shift” (f11), you can change the Shutter speed by 1/3 and 2/3 up and down. This helps when shooting in Manual mode in particular, to account for changes in light etc.
The viewfinder is bright and despite much furor about the 15mm eye point, I can see fine with glasses on. Manual focus works well with the lenses tested (28mm and 105 mm Ai-S). I am not a fan of manually focusing AF-S lenses, but the Special Edition 50mm focus ring may have been purposefully “stiffened” – I do not have a comparison with the original AF-S 50 mm f1.8, but comparing it to my 85 mm, it definitely feels that way.
While holding the camera with one had is not all that comfortable, using it with two hands presents no issue to me – and that i show I shoot mostly. The OM-D may be better if you are ‘shooting from the hip’ or overhead etc.
I have not used the camera with zoom lenses. It demands to be shot with primes, as larger zooms certainly would feel unbalanced (but if you put it on a tripod, who cares).
Image quality is amazing, It may not be the right camera for fine art photographers, and certainly is not an action shooter, but it is a good companion for travel and I think it makes for a great portrait camera for anything less then billboard sized photos (let’s keep in mind that before the D800, you had to pay good money to get a full frame Nikon over 12 MP and all those cameras did fine in the professional arena).
Overall I like the camera – a lot – though that may be partly an emotional response. As all others, it is a tool, and thus neither perfect nor really bad. I prefer the smaller size and actually like the manual dials. They do make you pause and think a but more rather than just firing away. Ergonomically the camera is not perfect. It costs a lot, though keeping in mind that it is made in Japan and made very well and probably in smaller numbers than the D600 or D800, I am not surprised. I would be astonished f the price dropped a lot in the next few months to years.
Give it’s narrow target audience and slow sales (at least in the US, it seems to sell out in Japan), there may never be a Df2…. in which case this one may just become a cult camera