Trying to stand out from the crowd is a difficult task. Camera designers know all too well that inspiration needs to come from as many different places as possible to attract potential buyers. Some have tried outlandish colours or even taking inspiration from shapes in nature. Nikon has decided it will take the path that leads to the cameras of yesteryear.
The Nikon Df is an anomaly in many ways: it's based closely around the flagship D4 but features a completely different body and lacks video-recording capabilities. It's not as expensive as the D4 but still priced out of the range of many aspirational buyers or those enamoured by its style. So who is it for?
Design and features
We've established that the Df is clearly inspired by classic Nikon cameras. Thanks to this overwhelming legacy, you may be slightly underwhelmed when taking it out of the box. Far from the solid all-metal feel of a classic Nikon FE, instead you are greeted with less-expensive finishes, though the internal chassis is magnesium alloy and so are the top and base plates.
The dials are lifted almost verbatim from film models, albeit with slightly different controls. Across the top panel, a double up of exposure compensation and ISO sit on the left while a shutter speed and PASM dial fill the right side. There is also a bulb mode on the shutter dial, a welcome addition. The PASM mode dial is rather delicate, requiring a gentle lift and turn to change modes. Unfortunately, the modes are so tightly packed together on the dial that it can be difficult to differentiate between them when selecting one.
Though the Df is ostensibly designed to be used with lenses other than the kit option, the 50mm f/1.8 G model is provided in the single-bundle configuration available. Curiously, Nikon has decided to supply the G version of this lens — that is, the lens without the manual aperture ring. This means that aperture control is carried out through the body rather than from the lens, a system that seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the classic feel of the camera.
The lens is optically identical to any regular 50mm f/1.8 G lens you can buy on a store shelf, but it has been crafted from aluminium to more closely match the look of the camera.
The dials at the top of the Df are great to use but require you to move your hands (not just a finger) to turn them.
Aperture control is performed using the front control dial, which sounds great in theory. In practice, it is a totally different feel from the rear control wheel and dials used on the high-end Nikon SLRs. It's difficult to turn with your index finger, which is the digit that falls most naturally on the control.
Despite these usability quirks, the Df feels excellent in the hand. There is good weight distribution and the body certainly turns heads among those in the know. Fortunately, the internal specifications back up the outward expectation. Inside the chassis sits the same 16-megapixel sensor as the D4, plus the 39-point AF system lifted directly from the D610. A 3.2-inch screen sits around the back with a reasonably high resolution of 921,000 dots.
There are so many customisable and well-thought out options on the Df to fulfil the desires of every photographer. Though there are far too many to mention, a few of the nice additions include the lock switch at the back of the camera as well as the bracketing button that falls right under the thumb as you hold the camera. To top it off, there are a myriad of custom shooting banks within the camera menus.
This may sound like a trivial thing to mention, but the Df has a fantastic shutter release sound. It's a satisfying "thwack" that deserves more credit that we can deliver in this onomatopoeic way. Also worth noting is the bright and large viewfinder, offering 100 per cent coverage and a magnification of 0.7x.
For users coming across to the Df with loads of legacy lenses, you're in luck. The camera is compatible with pretty much all Nikon F-mount lenses, including non-AI lenses made before 1977.
The Df has just one SD card slot, which means it may be unfeasible for professional work. Without the added buffer of redundancy, many pros will probably skip the Df for their paid jobs. As mentioned earlier, the Df does not have a video mode, seemingly to keep the camera in line with the "pure photography" tag that surrounds much of the marketing. Yes, it's true that many SLR owners never play with the video feature, but it's still nice to have it there as an option. Given the D4 produces very nice video footage, it seems almost a waste to not include it on the Df.
Connectivity is provided by a proprietary micro-USB port, mini HDMI and a remote port.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Df is able to take a burst of 30 RAW files before slowing to process them; the buffer takes around 20 seconds to clear. With JPEG images, the Df hits 100 frames before the buffer fills up. All times were measured using a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC Class 10 card.
Live View performance is still nowhere near as efficient as traditional viewfinder shooting. Though focus and response times are decent, the Df does not automatically reflect the results from your chosen exposure. To see it, you need to press the preview button at the front of the camera.
Autofocus is quick and accurate, with the same AF modes as found on other high-end Nikon SLRs. These include:
Dynamic-area AF with the option to select either 9-, 21- or 39-point area
3D tracking for subjects moving quickly through the frame
Auto-area AF, which adds the ability to detect faces in the frame when using a G, E or D lens.
The Df tops out on maximum shutter speed at 1/4000 second rather than the high-speed 1/8000s found on the D4. Nikon rates the battery at 1400 shots.
Sharing the same sensor as the Nikon D4 means that there are no real surprises when it comes to image quality. Quite simply, you're getting the best image quality from a Nikon SLR and excellent high ISO performance as well.
Like on the D4, the Df produces clean and very attractive JPEG images all the way up to ISO 1600 without a hint of noise. RAW files of course provide more latitude for correction and detail recovery, particularly noticeable in shadow areas where you can pull out a lot of usable information without introducing noise.
The Df delivers incredibly similar results from both RAW and JPEG files. 100 per cent crops inset.
Colour rendition on the standard picture profile is impeccable, while white balance is on the money every time as per previous Nikon models.
Seemingly at odds with the desire to attract photography purists, the Df comes with a range of in-camera filters, including fish-eye, colour outline and colour sketch. Just like the D4, there's an in-camera HDR mode as well, though it is in no way comparable to the sorts of effects you can get by manually blending photos together in post-processing.
Using the selective colour mode on the Df.
Designed to elicit a nostalgic response in its owner thanks to its classic design, the Df also brings the image quality and most of the performance from the D4 to the table to satisfy photographers. However, it's an incredibly expensive package — at least for Australian buyers — who may find it difficult to justify the outlay on a camera that has many usability quirks and is more expensive than some other full-frame options out there.