Having just picked up a Nikon DF not too long ago and playing with it a bit, I would venture to say with regards to the stir this camera has caused, what happens on gear forums is we sometimes get very wrapped up in specs. That’s perfectly fine because that’s a lot of people’s thing in having their idea of the best and debating the best specs.
However, there comes a time also where people who make pictures get past the specs and make use of the gear. It’s my belief that great photographers don’t need great cameras to make great images, the cameras are mere tools that can help. It just so happens though that the Nikon DF is a great camera in many ways.
I believe photography is more about the mind’s eye, vision and execution. So long as the camera sits well in ones hands and virtually disappears to the photographer freeing them to focus on making images, the rest shouldn’t be all that relevant. The Nikon DF quickly disappears in your hands after a week of adjustment to its older operating paradigm.
I would like to see more reviews from people that actually go out and make images with these cameras, and I don’t always mean pros, I mean people like you and I who see themselves as hobbyist that buy semi-pro gear for the love and passion of photography.
What I can tell you that I saw in digging deeper into reviews and then looking at real pictures is the D4 sensor rocks! Seriously, its only the sensor in Nikon’s flagship camera right? And as an added benefit, you don’t have to deal with all the pixels of the other semiprofessional offerings if you don’t need them and the DF works perfectly fine for most shooting that people like me would go out and do.
You can compare this shot to the one in Let The Light In and if you are like me, you see that the DF color and finished image looks a little more polished.
Who exactly do I mean when I say me? A family man that records events, who slings a camera with him squeezing in shots when the time and opportunities present themselves. An eclectic shooter of all sorts and perhaps a master at no sort in particular. Someone who experiments but also has learned at a moderate level what most the controls can do and can shoot manually if I want to override programming.
I say this tongue in cheek as I do have a D810 and will be shooting some with it as well. You can already get my initial thoughts here in my BLOG. In writing both posts I have some back and forth reflection between the two.
While my D700 replacement ended up being two cameras, I am going to guess that since I always keep two cameras anyways, I will be just fine. I do realize this is not a possibility for many and so most are forced to choose one camera. More on that in a minute.
It must have been my lucky day when I bought my DF as I got two used primes fresh off the street from a widow of a photographer that the shop sold me with the camera that I had been looking at, a 50 1.4D and 85 1.8D, they looked brand spanking new.
Speaking of lenses and the DF, wow, its so fun to shoot some of the older lenses. I have a Nikkor 28mm F/2.8 AIs that is pictured on the banner image of this post. The lens is crazy sharp and can hang right there and in some cases render more detail at affinity than can the more modern ones. I wish they made a wider lens like this, I would love to have it for compactness. I also have a Nikkor 18mm F/3.5 that the bus stop and hotel shots included here were taken with. These retro lenses and the ultra light weight of the DF make it a very nice traveling camera. Its worth commenting that the travel camera bag is so much lighter than the serious bag due to being able to just pack these smaller lighter primes and the fact that the DF itself is so light.
I sold my D700 now! Yup, the DF in just one day got me over letting go of the D700. It wont work that way for most people, it did for me though.
Incidentally, while a little awkward, if you ever shot an old film body from Nikon, you’ll quickly find your way with a Nikon DF. My own experience goes back to my childhood where in my teens I got a Nikon FG. In the early 2000’s I ended up going through lots of digital bodies, each with an open mind and a focus on image making and not so much specs and gear. In short this is my first retro body and I was shooting pics in minutes after charging the battery.
The rear LCD is very nice and clear with most of the modern Nikon items you would expect. I actually like the fact that the OK button is in the center of the direction buttons! It seems more intuitive there.
I didn’t have any troubles being able to change settings while looking through the view finder as has been reported in several places. The hollering I have read all over the internet seems a bit dramatic in my humble opinion. The menus are all Nikoness so there really isn’t any issues there either. I think many people need to take a week or two with a camera like this to make the adjustment before getting too excited about it being so different.
I dare do say that this little gem of a camera puts the fun and nostalgia back into making photos. Don’t get me wrong, I love the modern cameras as well, this one is just fun in an emotional sense returning me to the 80’s and my FG.
Before I go too far, I got the black mode as I wasn’t into accessorizing it, I wanted it more for its sensor than anything else. No fancy cases, straps, ect. I don’t have anything against dressing up ones camera, I just wanted you to know in my case, that’s not what I was after in my purchase, it was first and foremost access to the D4 sensor and the special look I could see in DF images. Dealing with the fact that it has retro controls was just a byproduct of lusting after its D4 sensor.
The DF seems like a very easy to use camera with a world class sensor in it, so I think its funky wrapper might be swaying people away from trying one. Even the build quality ramblings seem exaggerated to me as the cameras feels light and yet substantial in the hands. It being so light is really nice as compared to my D700 which felt weighty at times. Ironically the D810 feels a bit bulky and weighty when i pick it up as I often shoot the two cameras side by side now alternating between them and experimenting, learning their strengths and weakness as compared to each other.
My advice to D700 owners in search of a replacement is to go try some of these new cameras, I will guess that you won’t be nearly as disappointed as some of the ramblings make it all out. All three are really good, the D610, D810 and DF. If you are having a rough time with the pixel jump, and there is a learning curve as far as that goes, the DF may be perfect for you weighing in at 16MP and super to easy post process files. Heck, even the JPEGs are good for those interested.
I really didn’t want the retro body, had handled one and quickly dismissed it as a viable option when I first looked at one in the shop. As I said, some real digging and review of images what I saw was in the right hands the DF sensor has that magic that some sensors have had in the past. It reminds me of the D2X sensor except for it obviously has evolved in noise performance. There is a crispness and unique color quality to D4 sensor based images that some people find appealing.
Camera manufactures spend more time working with color profiles than I think most imagine. The quality of color and look can be a huge selling point as it was in Fuji’s S Pro series Hey Days! The color on this camera is magical in my humble opinion, it has a spit and polish to it that is hard to define other than its appealing. I might best describe it as if there is almost a back-lit glow to the pictures. Maybe you have been to a gallery where they have both traditional hangings as well as some that are either LCD or back-lit. Whether its the novelty of the pop shock or a continued love affair will remain to be seen as i am known to stretch colors sometimes, particularly on abstracts!
I think I only have a few negative comments so far, the grip is a little strenuous with a heavier lens, but I quickly got over that and it’s transparent now. Another is the battery cover, it seems rather loose and comes off sometimes. The other is the power button, a minor gripe but it’s not an easy flip of a switch, you have to be rather deliberate about it.
Having owned 9 other DSLRs you can get rather flexible about bodies, controls ect. That leaves me taking the rather unpopular view that the DF is a perfectly fine camera. I haven’t needed to tune any of my lenses so far either.
The D4 sensor is king of Nikons low light sensors right now, that fits well with my profile of any photo at any time. Just how flexible is it?
Early on I did what I call a sensor torcher test of a shot into full sun, slow ISO and stopped down with an extra -3EV. This makes the sun a smaller dot and everything else dark. I did this at a rail yard and was amazed at how well the shadows detail recovered. Here are the before and after shots so you can see how much I recovered the shadows.
This is the before:
Here is the after:
You can see one can recover an incredible amount of detail and with a minimal penalty on noise. I have yet to try this test on my new D810, however, despite DXO reporting that camera having almost 15 stops of landscape DR, the files don’t seem to lift as easy, and you definitely see the noise when you do lift them.
These next images are also web reductions obviously, also, in my opinion, the 39 Point AF seems to have worked fine on these which regrettably all had to be hand held with the average Nikon 28-300 VR.
The Heron takes off ..
and then glides down the creek ..
As you can see, the DF 5 FPS and 39 Point Auto Focus did not cause me to miss these images. The only issue here is lower light and an average walk around lens that these were taken with, the Nikon 28-300 VR.
I have taken to morning outings on my way to work to scour up photo opportunities, on this morning I captured a few, this one was fun to capture… This will be better next time, composition needs a little work and I have some ideas for the next go around.
Looks like if I nail focus the Sigma 50-500 can hold up to the DF sensor. Much discussion has occurred around the newer higher resolution sensors and the quality of lenses one should use with them. The DF is a nice compromise here in that it won’t dramatically out perform some of the more average lenses. It also wont swamp your PC or hard drives trying to process huge images.
The DF so far has been a highly fun and capable camera, it pairs well with older lenses as well, I have been using a 18 F/3.5 Manual and a 28 F/2.8 Manual lens and having lots of fun. The 50 F/1.4 and 85 F/1.8 also work very well on this body.
Your not limited to older lenses by any means, I have used newer ones as well like the Tamron SP 24-70 & 70-200 F/2.8 VCs and Nikon 105 F/2.8 VR with wonderful success as well.
The lake shot is with a Sigma 12-24 ED ASP F/4.5-5.6 lens. It perhaps shows the best color from the DF as many of these others were not shot in the best of light!
You can check out this Nikon AF Assit/Controler unit and I promise to report back on its utility once I have tested it.
Also of interest to some may be the AR-11 Soft Release Button and the DK-17 Magnifying Eyepiece which may be of help using the older lenses at a small loss of viewfinder coverage.
I referenced earlier that I would talk about the DF and the D810. The DF is a better low light all purpose camera minus Auto Focus. A nifty gadget I am going to try may help the DF focus better in those really low light situations.
The D810 can capture more detail in better light. It can probably do so in worse light as well, it all depends on what you as the photographer find acceptable. The D810 has obviously better Auto Focus but it is a heavier bulkier camera as compared to the DF. One can argue that the DF is not a D4, and its true, it isn’t as bulky, isn’t as expensive and isin’t as capable. Its its own thing and its own price, and at that price is what probably bothers people mosts, even though I don’t think it should given what one gets in the end!
There is no right or wrong for people making choices unless you make the wrong choice for you! Perhaps the hardest decision is which compromise you want to live with when you buy one of these cameras, and that’s a personal decision that may result in no compromises for some given their choice.
If I could keep but just 1, it would be the DF.
The DF is a very fun and intriguing camera with a truly magic sensor in it and I look forward to many many wonderful pictures with it!