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Thoughts on Nikon Df

See yesterday’s Nikon Df announcement details. I am glad to see this camera on the market, which is not to say it is one that excites me personally.

Style is style—for example, the Sigma DP Merrill has no style unless a squared off plain black box is to be considered a style (or homely style). But the DP Merrill makes superbly sharp images that can print very large with a three-dimensional look and it’s innocuous as a camera—a plus in its own right.

The Nikon Df has tons of style. Whether it appeals or not is a personal reaction (it looks attractive in its own way to me), but it clearly succeeds in the retro look at least until a lens is attached. And yes, I generally like the look of it.

But would I buy the Nikon Df for this retro look? Assuredly not. Because while it looks nice, it’s still a DSLR with a low-res sensor and the same old issues. It could have been retro in look and groundbreaking in features and performance. That is not the case.

The reactions and questions that come to my mind include:

  • Does it have an EVF so I can manually focus with ease and comfort with accuracy? (incredibly in 2013, no).
  • Can I fit it into a large pocket? (no way).
  • How is it better than the much more compact Sony RX1R with its superb 35mm f/2 lens? (interchangeable lenses and that’s about it).
  • Would I rather carry the Sony RX1R or the Nikon Df? (is that a trick question?)
  • Does it have any special new features, like being able to program 1/2/3/5 minute exposure without a remote, or 4K time lapse, or something cool? (apparently not).
  • Does it have a superior rear LCD, e.g. a Apple Retina style display that would mollify me on the lack of an EVF? Or at least something as good as the Sony A7R? (no).
  • Do its ergonomics actually work more efficiently than my D800E? (to be seen, doubtful).
  • What makes it better than my Nikon D800E? (~nothing, maybe slightly better color at very high ISO values).
  • What makes it better than the Nikon D4? (less expensive, but not a high-speed camera).
  • Where is the built-in flash? (a SpeedLight on top is about as inelegant and awkward as it gets).
  • Does it have a built-in image stabilization in the sensor? (no).
  • Does it have an ultra high performance lens built-in to keep it compact? (no, but that’s a tradeoff for interchangeable).
  • Does it have an ultra high performance lens available from Nikon? (no, and by sticking to interchangeable DSLR lenses, that option is largely precluded. And while the 50/1.8G is a good lens, it is nothing special. Would that a special 28mm f/2.8 ultra high performance lens were the idea, but perhaps the 58/1.4G will serve for bokeh and beauty).
  • Can it make great images in low light? (Almost certainly, but I'd rather have a 36 megapixel sensor 95% of the time and a downsampled 36 is better than 16 most all the time).
Nikon Df

Alfred C writes:

Your comments – spot on! I’d add “too little, too late”

Sadly, this may be the same remarks one can make for Leica soon.

DIGLLOYD: Maybe both companies have something really great waiting in the wings? And maybe Sony will steadily out-innovate. The market is up for grabs. The problem is corporate inertia/culture; if that’s not there even one or two really good products aren’t enough.

James K writes:

I am with you 100% on the DF. I think it is a bomb. I don't like the look one bit. At this stage Nikon should be leading the market with modern designs. I will be surprised if the camera isn't a giant flop.

If they were going to choose a design to copy it should have been the Nikon F.

But for large stills a big sensor is the ticket. I would not use my Olympus E-M1 if I had big prints in mind. I bought a Sony A7r and the 50mm and 35mm lenses.

DIGLLOYD: real elegance means ultra high usability (and that requires EVF for many of us especially since manual focus old Nikkors might be most fitting for this camera!), robust build quality, and ground-breaking features. Good looks come last. I don’t see these priorities with the Nikon Df.

Mark H writes:

In Defense of the Nikon Df and Those Who Will Use It For Reasons Other Than Style

I ordered this camera instantly. It appears the general on line response to the camera is derisive, but your thoughts are diplomatic and well considered for your type of photography. Since I do not participate often in other forums, and yours is the opinion I respect most, I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

My "serious" work is almost entirely in theaters catching ballet dancers at the full extension of their physical lines, very fleeting moments that must be caught in the instant before the movement puts the dancers in transition and into an awkward looking point.

I have found absolutely no substitute for the Nikon D4 (and before it the D3s). On top of the big optical viewfinder and mind reading auto focus, the sensor is superb for low light work. Especially for those of us wanting finished out of camera pictures that do not require post processing or down sampling.

For theater photography, I doubt there will be a substitute for the professional DSLR for years to come. I tried a D600 and D800 and sold them off because neither focussed where I wanted them to easily, often and fast enough, and to get the same quality low light pictures I had to spend time at the computer with the very large files.

I am not suggesting the Df replaces the D4 or will focus better or faster than the D600 or D800, but.....I was on Lake Michigan last weekend with family and had only the D4 in my trunk. A beautiful sunset in the works, my family and pets frolicking, and me lugging a pro DSLR because I can't stand to use anything else. But what a geek I must appear! That is "style" in the wrong direction.

Now my beloved 7.3 pixel size sensor is available in a compact package with the ergonomics I grew up on and appreciate. And a threaded shutter cable release and mechanical ISO dial on top of it all! But all anyone is talking about is it's retro style, low resolution and high price. The D4 sensor is now available for less than half the price of a D4 in the most compact FX body Nikon makes. This has nothing to do with style for some of us. I predict this will be THE #1casual, always with you second camera for those who use Nikon pro DSLR bodies and can't stand anything else.

So, my contention is that Nikon did right. I wish they had used the D4 viewfinder. But I for one am glad they did not put a 36mp sensor and EVF in the Df.

DIGLLOYD: all products appeal to some group of customers, and I’d be the last one to argue against anyone’s targeted shooting interests. In this case, the “D4 substitute” makes perfect sense, though the autofocus system in the D4 is Nikon’s best and the Df is a question mark there with regards to autofocus with the D4 or D610 or D800.

I agree that the 16MP sensor is highly appropriate for very dim conditions, though only ISO 3200 on up really benefit (color), versus downsampling from 36MP where at any lower ISO the 36MP image always wins on total image quality. And theatre often has its subjects very brightly lit, where one might want detail.

On the EVF front I would make two points: first, that the EVF need not be exclusive of the OVF, and 2nd, when working with manual focus lenses, the OVF is a non-starter for reliable focus, especially in low light.

As for “time in the computer”, this is easily made into an automated batch process, so I don’t understand the comment but I grant that smaller files go a little faster.

Lake Michigan: the Ricoh GR and Sony RX1R would get a lot more good images than a Nikon D4 at more angles more reliably with built-in full speed fill flash! The right tool for the job.

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