It’s been about 6 months since I purchased my Nikon Df. I have had a blast with it in those span of months, reconnected with photography and created many pleasing photos for my own enjoyment.
This is one of my longer posts on this blog, so reader beware and and also sure to grab a beverage of choice before settling in to read through this.
It’s worth saying quickly, originally I wanted a D810 and merely stumbled into a Df the second time I tried one at my local shop. You should know that the looks of the camera were not the driver for me looking at one or eventually getting one.. In fact, early on I was a little puzzled by the Df.
The first look was out of curiosity and after reading a lot of forum chatter. The second look came a few weeks later after more forum chatter and then looking at a lot of images and reviews. In a few of the reviews I started noticing the quality of the images and its pleasing colors. I’ll confess boredom and the polarizing views over the Df in part is what made me curious. And then it happened, I got one while I waited for the D810.
In preparing for the D810 I wanted to straighten out my lens portfolio as over the years I had sold my better glass and replaced it with average glass. Also the D810 resolution and potential awesomeness edged me on even further.
After playing with several lenses at the camera stores I decided to go with the Tamron VC F/2.8’s, the 24-70 and the 70-200. This got me where I wanted to be for both the D810 and Df for a wedding I will shoot later this year. I will likely add to that collection with the newer 15-30 Tamron as well. I also added a Samyang 14mm F2.8 Manual and the new legendary Sigma Art 35.
This set of better glass as I call it will be all I need for the future. My point in mentioning these lenses is that the Df loves great glass and using them is not lost on the Df. Balancing doesn’t seem to be an issue either, even with a 50-500 or 70-200.
Somewhere along the way though, I built up an older collection of Nikon AI-s lenses. I had inherited an 18 F/3.5 and 24 F/2.8 from my father and started playing with them on a trip to Omaha. Much to my surprise I really liked the 18 and started researching AI-s lenses.
That research led to me finding a nicely priced 28 F/2.8 AI-s.. The bokeh on the 28 Ai-s is fun and can be pleasing at times.
The story gets a little complicated because when I got the D810 I got a really sweet deal on some older D lenses, a 50 F/1.4 and a 85 F/1.8. They were both nice, but didn’t really wow me.
My D810 just didn’t wow me as much as I had expected it to and I found myself preferring to use the Df over the D810. After about 4 months of the D810 I decided to see what I could get in the way of a CCD camera and offered my D810 and D Lenses as a trade.
I never imagined anyone would take me up on the deal but someone did, they wanted out of Astronomy, wanted a D810 and we made a massive series of trades that netted me a few high caliber CCD cameras and accessories, a Nikon 50 1.2 AI-s for my D810, D lenses, and my Nikon 28-300 VR. This deal hasn’t resulted in any regrets as far as the gear I traded away and the 50 F/1.2 is so spectacular, even though it’s manual focus, it’s just razor sharp like my 14mm Samyang and Art 35. More Ai-s research ensued along with other conversations with fellow photographers and I got interested in a 105 F/2.5 and a 135 F/2.8 AI-s and found some nice deals on eBay and acquired them along with a F/2.8 180.
The 105 and 135 arrived ahead of the 180 and on a wild hair I took them to my girls basketball game and tried some action with them.
The results stunned me and I used what know how I have obtained over the years and used a zone focusing technique to get some cool action shots. The high auto ISO capability and performance of the Df are absolutely awesome and the nice smooth Focus rings of these old lenses and Df green dot make focus pretty predictable. After a while I kind of got a feel for where to turn the focus ring for each end of the court. I took all the AI-s collection along and used the 28 & 50 a few times as well, and the only thing I felt lacking during the game was a 85 AI-s. I would absolutely do this again!
Needless to say I found a deal on a F/2 85. I will have it but not have had time to use it by the time I publish this post, so more on that lens later excpet to say that I will be interested in its color remdering, my 85D F/1.8 seemed to have an almost distinct yellowish cast in its pictures.
The 180 ED AI-s arrived, not in as nice of conditions as the others, however, the glass seems to perform wonderfully! I took a few indoor dog portraits and was blown away by the results.
There is something about the photos from the 180 that make me understand why it became a legendary lens and I actually look forward to using it to make some portraits of our girls. It may well become my favorite acquisition, although I have yet to try the 85 as of this post being written.
All this begins to get to the purpose of this long post. Some find it annoying when photographers use words like magical. The 50, 105, and 180 are magical for me. The reason I spoke of new and old lenses in this post is because it seems to me that the newer Nikon glass with VR is not quite what it could and should be. Having tried their 70-200 F/4 and F/2.8 VR II I walked away a it disappointed. It’s why I ended up with the Tamrons that I did.
These older AI-s lenses though, wow, something about the way lenses were made back in those days that strikes you when you look at the images. The 180 ED really impressed me! I like my Tamron lenses, so don’t get me wrong, they perform really well, nice sharp images. This image below was made with the Tamron 70-200.
And while these lenses have been a huge part of my Df fun, the camera itself has been simply awesome. Leading up to writing my review I watched a few video reviews of the DF on youtube and found Matt Grangers to have captured some sense of why someone would like the Df.
He offers a fairly pragmatic view of pros and cons from his view and usage. The fact it sports the D4 sensor at half the cost gets a lot of play with reviewers as it rightly should.
*The Df was created to appease those who were moving to Fuji and Leica, not for the average Nikon FX owner, not as a D700 replacement. The sensor choice was also deliberately aimed at those users to provide the very best image avaialble on any retro camera. The pricing is based on the sensor. The features muddied deliberately not to muck too much with flagship D4 & D4s sales.
You have some people that buy the Df because its the same D4 sensor at half the cost and its small and light. Folks, its really that simple. People buy the Df and like the Df and forgive any shortcommings for two simple reasons. Its the very best retro money can buy with more super lenses avaialble to it thany any of its competitors and it has a D4 sensor at half the cost of a D4s. The images it produces are easily worth the discount and more limited feature set for the person that buys and keeps it and absolutely not for the person that is spec and feature/value driven and thinking it should be a more modern DSLR. If your confused, go back up to *the Df was created and start again. If your not that buyer profile, DO NOT buy a Df, its not for you.
There are a few twists on the Df that people seem to miss though. I have thought about it all lately wondering how my resurgence and passion for photography has been rekindled.
The last time I experienced my passion at this level was with the Nikon D2X and Fuji S3. The D2X had incredible color and accuity at the time and the S3 had lush color and deep dynamic range that resulted in rich creamy tones.
What I realized in the end is that the Fuji S5 and D700, D7100 and D810 all failed to spark my fire. In terms of specifications they were fairly solid with the D810 being one of the most capable competent cameras on tje market currently.
In 2008 the D700 value proposition and ISO performance really captivated me, but the photos left me wanting and at one point I tried to buy an old Fuji S3 and then ended up with a grey Fuji S5 trying to capture the magic via nostalgia..
The used S3 was returned because it was just too beaten up and I kept the grey market S5. Fuji screwed up the color with the F5 by using Nikons color processing and an emulation of what was so attractive to me about Fuji S3 colors. Truth be told though I liked the S5 color more than the D700.
The D810 was this awesome high resolution machine and again an awesome value equation, however, the images just didn’t quite have that magic and there that word is again that so many hate when used to describe anything photographic.. In full disclosure, if there were not a Df then I would have the D810. They can also complement each other, however, since I am an amatuer and don’t plan on doing pro-level work again, I found the Df meeting all my current needs and above all providing me images with high personal appeal.
But that is a huge part of the X-factor for me amd the Nikon Df.. Images like the stunning black beach above are what really gets me stoked about the Df, while it is awesome in low light, its simply amazing i. great light like the Nikon D2X and Fuji S5.
I missed the D3 lineup, I was pretty much out of the game at that point as I kept the D700 for 6 years and still have the Fuji S5 due to nostalgia.
It is why I look past the specs, I probably too easily forgive some of its quirkyness and foxused on learning and trying to master its little nuances. With the controls as they are and me taking more time to learn what I wanted to change definitely is a part of my reconnecting experience though. Perhaps that thought and deliberateness is why I am also liking my images more. I am a bitten taken with the fact that thinking out basketball photos using old manual lenses resulted in what I think were better pictures than I made with the stabelized higher end zoom lens.. There still is no substitute for skill and experience in photography, even with a $7K camera, one needs to know what they are doing to make truly great photos.
I also relate to those that find the Df a nostalgic purchase because of my own nostalgia for trying to find a camera that possessed magic again. While some call the ergonomics a disaster, the controls complicated and unuseable, and the hundred other gripes, one can not buy a more capable retro digital camera, particularly with the lens base Nikon has from any other source. IE reviewers fail misserably to understand and convey this aspect of the Df.
While Fuji is doing an admirable job and likely in part why Nikon created the Df to stop the migration, the IQ while being very good, is just not there compared to the Df. I am going to also bet that this is in part inparticular why the Df was built around the D4 sensor which in turn then caused Nikon to have to sell the camera at a higher price. One has to understand Nikon models verses features pricing and marketing scheme to understand the Df price pount.
And of course once you start to experience the magic of a camera and it happens to have a connection to ones past, for me the Nikon FG which was my first real SLR, it becomes easier to understand that one might buy a nice strap or case for the camera as well or buy some manual lenses.
To start wrapping this 6 month review up I’ll share the highlights.
Simply awesome IQ if you are not trying to compare resolution to 36mps. ISO performance is top notch!
Standard Nikon menus, a D600 level of feature implementation minus AF assist a d Popup flash. The controls while a bit difficult to readapt to are actually quite nice amd pretty failsafe with locking.
Autofocus is competent, but dont be suprised if you find yourself wanting to try some MF lenses. With a Nikon flash unit attached this camera will run with some of the best. Nikon, just add an AF assist light on the D2f.
The battery lasts forever!
Nikon has room to change and improve the controls implementation. They can also give us a better power button, side loading SD card and Aperature control and last but not least click on/off dial locks.
I echo the comments of some reviewers in tnat if the Df inteigues you be it for its stunning D4 like images or hamdsome retro looks, this is a camera you should try before you buy.
I am simply amazed though that I ended up with a Df and then a set of older lenses. The Df was never in my original plans, it was to be an D800e and then the D810 as soon as I learned it was real and on the way. Never did I ever imagine I would be craving to use these old manual focus lenses either. And all this with killer out of the camera images that process fast and easy on the computer is while I find the Df and classic lenses so magical.
Until next time, peace and happy clicks!