Unless you have been living under a rock this past month, you will have most likely heard of Nikon’s most recent announcement, the Nikon DF. Four years in development, they began by filtering out a bunch of teaser videos, each one showing a little more of the camera than it’s predecessor. (Check out the video above released by Nikon which is an amalgamation of the first 5 vids). On the 5th November, they finally announced the camera to much cheers and boo’s, and released it into the wild on the 30th November.
The DF stands for ‘Digital Fusion’, and in a nutshell they combined the internals of their flagship D4 (sensor) with the AF of their lower cost D600 and put it into a retro styled body paying homage to the FM2 of old, and finished it off with a D800 price tag. So who is this camera marketed at? The pros say there are not enough focus points, and a single SD card slot is a non-runner. As Nikon’s lighted full frame camera, it’s also doesn’t play nice with zoom lenses, with many a reviewer saying that the camera becomes very front heavy.
“I was sent a pre-production model in July to handle and get used to before we actually met up for the shoot. And what was the first thing that I did? I fitted one of Nikons f2.8 zooms, the 24-70mm, and I have to admit was disappointed with the feel of the camera and the weight distribution. It felt very front heavy and my hands didn’t fit in with the ergonomics of it. However, as soon as I attached a prime lens it was a whole different story. The balance felt very good. In my opinion the Df is made for primes, and primes are what we did ninety percent of the shoot with”. Jeremy Walker in an interview with What Digital Camera
So, stick on a small and fast prime to this sucker, and you’re right where Nikon wants you to be. The enthusiasts and prosumers among us are complaining that the price is too high and that Nikon are deliberately cutting them out of the market share, although others point out that you are getting the $6000 D4 sensor for a mere $2800. The truth is, when it comes to camera announcements, regardless of brand – I have seen more passionate debates, arguments and downright name calling than I’ve ever seen during election time. And in fairness, both sides have valid points.
There are those in the ‘no’ camp who claim that this is just Nikon jumping on the retro bandwagon pioneered by Fuji and Olympus, albeit a little too late, but as mentioned at the top of the post, Nikon have been working on this camera for 4 years. One of the biggest debates raging on the web at present is it’s looks, which are definitely a matter of individual taste. For me personally, I like it a lot. Then again, if I could have my 5Dmk3 tech in my AE1 body, I would buy it, so each to their own. The bigger question for me is whether it cuts the mustard when used in anger, and if it could replace my existing gear. As someone who goes from standing on the side of a mountain on a commercial shoot to working a fast paced public relations photocall and finishing off at a music gig, this is no small feat!
After looking at a lot of reviews, YouTube vids, and blog posts, I’ve been able to compile a lot of pros and cons around this camera, which help in making a more informed decision.
*Light as hell (bonus for both the lower back and when travelling)
*D4 sensor – I’m not going to get into a Canon v Nikon thing here but suffice to say the D4 sensor is excellent (as is the 1Dx)
*Retro Styling – I’ve always loved this look. My first camera was an old Pentax, and my first pro body was an F4. It’s also less intimidating to the subject in front of your camera.
*Dials – Force you to slow down (not a bad thing for some jobs – although I totally see myself over-riding this by using the front and rear wheels out of habit and convenience)
*Great selection of Nikon primes to choose from
*MF button beside lens. LOVE this feature. I use mine to switch on the fly to tracking focus mode, for when a subject starts moving.
*Controls in an unfamiliar place, especially the shutter button. Some reviewers felt it ergonomically weird.
*39 Af points, mainly cluttered in the middle. Why? Recomposing is a crap way to work, particularly when working with wide open apertures.
*SD card slot. I just don’t trust the little buggers. Wish they had included a CF slot instead.
*No video. As far as I know, it doesn’t add weight, so why not just include it, and future proof the camera. In fairness, I’m kinda on the fence on this one.
*Doesn’t play nice with big lenses. I would love to ‘just’ use small primes, but it just ain’t my reality right now. My zooms get used as much as my primes, depending on the job at hand.
*Quiet Mode ain’t quiet. My cameras tend to stay on quiet mode all the time for the sake of convenience.
There’s a tendency to disregard this camera a merely a play thing for the rich, the hipsters, and those who want to feel like a war photographer from a bygone era, but I think that’s an over generalization. I think Nikon are going in the right direction with this camera. I’ve met very few seasoned pro’s that don’t have back problems, due to the excessive weight in their camera bags. You only have to look at the popularity of backpacks and rollerbags over the traditional shoulder bags, and the emergence of camera straps of the Black Rapid variety or similar to see how photographers have being trying to keep up with the increasing weight penalties over the last ten years in return for decent gear. Maybe I’m a bit too passionate regarding this element, but after getting on 17 flights this year alone with a fully loaded camera bag and the ensuing arguments at the check-in desk, I for one yearn for the days when all this gear was so much lighter. So maybe what we are seeing here is the start of a new beginning for pro gear (without the sacrifices of micro 4/3rds and others, and no – The Fuji x series and Olympus OMD series are not Pro gear replacements yet).
As part of my search for the best real life reviews on this camera by working professionals, I came across Dave Cheung’s video series, where he compares the DF to the d700 and D4, both of which he uses daily. Of particular interest was the shutter noise compared to the other Nikons and the Fuji X100s (Ohh so quiet!). Another video talks you through the ergonomics of the camera from the POV of a working pro, as well as giving you some great workarounds. Well worth a watch.
I want to like this camera. It offers a lot in terms of how I would prefer to shot. Slinging a lightly weighed bag over my shoulder filled with some small fast primes, complete with something like a Macbook air and a flash or two. In reality though, every time I’m out on assignment, I am constantly reminded of why I use the gear I use. Whilst my preference is towards primes (35L 1.4 & 85L 1.2), I know I couldn’t give up my 24-70 or 70-200 2.8’s. Fact is, they get used a lot more than I would like. In saying that, I’ll be renting a couple of Df’s shortly to see if they can do the job for a working pro. I also shoot video, so the idea of giving up my 5D mk3s seems a bit implausible right now. And Nikon still haven’t put radio receivers into their flashes yet……
I’ll update this post after renting the Df. Who knows, I may be converted yet