3 Months With The Nikon Df

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This review is not the type of review that you’d expect to read shortly after a camera is announced, nor is it a review chock-full of specs and technical details.  Instead, this is a real world review of what it has been like using the Nikon Df as my primary camera for the last 3+ months.  If you’re wondering what life with the Nikon Df is like then I’d suggest you read on.

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ISO 800 taken in early morning fog.

Using the Nikon Df has given me an appreciation for the finer things in life, the minute detail if you will.  Taking a photograph with the Df requires visualization and deliberation.  Spray and pray photographers would probably not appreciate this camera and all of the wonderful dials (with their button locks).  To say the camera makes the photographer appreciate photography again is backwards, the photographer who appreciates photography will appreciate this camera.

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Long exposure with the Nikon Df and 10 stop ND filter

Image Quality

A cameras image quality is the single most important factor I consider when purchasing a camera.  Convenience, form-factor, price, and brand are all distant seconds when compared to image quality.  If my toaster oven took better photographs than my Nikon Df then you’d see me lugging it around in my camera bag instead of my Df.  With that being said, the image quality continues to amaze me.

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ISO 5000, 16mm, f/4, 30 sec.

The Df is a superb all around camera when it comes to image quality, but where it has really blown my expectations away is in low light photography (or high ISO photography).  You can easily push your ISO up to 6400 without having to worry about too much noise.

Pushing the ISO to 10,000 still produces usable image, with a little noise reduction you’d have a decent image.  I have not had the need to push the ISO to 10,000 but I would not be afraid to, I feel confident that I can shoot in almost any situation with or without a tripod.

10,000 ISO example of Nikon Df's abilitiesISO 10,000, f/4, 16mm, 30 sec. (slightly out of focus as this was the first shot of the night, my reference shot)

If you do a lot of long exposure photography (think 10 stop nd filter or landscape astrophotography) you’ll be glad to hear that those pesky blue and red dots you get from your sensor on long exposures is non-existent on the Df.  I can remember just about every camera (especially my EM5 and EM1) would leave me with lots of work in post processing removing the red and blue spots (even with long exposure noise reduction).

The dynamic range affords you copious amounts of leeway in post processing, so much so that I don’t think HDR software would make much of a difference unless you wanted an unrealistic look.

Straight out of the camera RAW (converted to JPEG for the internet)

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This photo was processed in Lightroom without any plugins or fancy magic, you won’t find noise in the shadow areas.

If you demand the highest quality of image quality from your camera then you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the Df exceeds your expectations.

Build Quality

It’s still in one piece.  If you remember my first review I mentioned my disdain for the placement of the neck-strap connectors (lugs?)…  It’s still there, I think that was a dumb move.  You’ll be happy to know that you won’t really notice it after about the first week but it is food for thought for the second version (if there is one, and there should be).

The next aspect of the Df that I was worried about was the plastic battery cover door.  I was worried that it would eventually snap off because it didn’t seem as well-built as the rest of the camera.  After 3 months I can happily say that it is just as secure as day one.  The entire camera is built like a brick house…  If a brick house were built out of a combination of plastic and alloy metals.  The best word to describe the build quality is solid.

Usability

The little button that releases the ISO settings sucks.  You’ve got to depress it anytime you want to change your ISO settings and it’s in a slightly awkward position (who is the cluts that accidentally bumps all of their dials so often manufacturers felt the need to have locks on all of them?).  You’ll get over it once you get comfortable with it and unless you have princess fingers you can adjust it without taking your eye away from the viewfinder (contrary to others reviews).  I have not had any issues using the cameras various manual settings wearing gloves in sub-zero degree weather here in the Eastern United States.

One of the first things you’ll appreciate is the cameras long battery life.  I have rarely had to change out the battery during a shoot unless I’m doing long exposure photography with a battery that has already been partially used.  I’ll refrain from giving you a frame count as your mileage will vary depending on the type of photography you’re doing and the temperature you’re shooting in (colder temps will kill the battery more quickly).

The camera is small and light enough that traveling with it is a pleasure.  Toss a prime lens on the body and one in your coat pocket and you’d be set for a day of street photography.  The camera is unassuming and therefore disarming to potential photography subjects.  With that being said, it’s large enough that photographers who believe that larger cameras makes them more professional looking won’t get a complex using it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the retro cool look of the Nikon Df, people will notice.  I get comments all the time about how “cool” the camera looks.  So if you’re into that sort of thing then you’ll enjoy strutting your stuff with the Df.

Is It For You

This is where personal preference trumps anyone’s opinion.  I can’t tell you if this camera is a perfect fit for you, nobody can tell you that but you (and maybe your mom, moms are always right).  The camera is incredibly easy to use if you know how to operate your camera in manual mode.  Settings that are usually buried in the menu have their own dial or button on the Df, you will find yourself rarely delving into the cameras menus.

Some questions I’ll normally ask someone when they ask me if I think they would like the Nikon Df for themselves:

Do you like simplicity?  Then the Df will be a good fit, you’ll love the dials and the small lever under the shutter speed dial that allows you to quickly jump in and out of various settings like mirror lock-up, delayed shutter release, etc..

Do you think larger cameras make you look more professional?  It does not matter.  That is called overcompensation.  Take great photographs and your clients won’t care what you are using.

Want lighter gear?  Great, you’ll love the Df.  If you are coming from a larger Nikon body like the D4, D800, or even the D600 you’ll notice a large difference in size and weight.  The Df is smaller, lighter, and travels more comfortably.

Do you make good money?  The camera is not cheap, the best cameras never are.  Is it worth every penny?  Depends on what every penny is worth to you.  One of the reasons the Df was so controversial was the price.  It’s expensive and people don’t like to be ostracized because of their economic situations.  If the camera was only $1,500 you’d have heard nothing but praise and joy.  If you have discretionary income and want the Df then go for it.

Problems

None.  I’ve not had one problem with the Df in the three months that I’ve owned and used it.

 

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Conclusion

The Nikon Df won’t be one of those cameras that fades into history, the camera already has a small cult following (we meet the third Thursday of every month to drink Kool-Aid and sing songs).  The reception was polarized as most great products are (the iPhone was originally thought to be ridiculous by main stream media after its debut… no keyboard?  Remember thinking that?  I do.).

I stand by the high ratings I gave the Nikon Df in my original full review and recommend it for advanced photographers wanting the best image quality money can buy in a compact, complete package like the Df.  Manual dials aren’t for everyone and I won’t pretend like Nikon nailed it right out of the gate, there are some design improvements I’d love to see, but the camera is a damn pleasure to use.

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8 Comments

  • Dear John,
    First of all, I love your example images. Thanks for posting them, along with a great review. I have read everything there is to read about this bloody camera and I still find myself dithering over whether to take the plunge! I am lucky enough to earn a few quid from my photography in the UK (mainly weddings & events), but only through word of mouth recommendation, so I’m no big-shot and I’m still learning after 30-odd years of practice.

    When I want some fun, I stick my 50mm f1.2 ai-s, the 105 ai-s, or my cheap 24mm AF-D onto the D700 and pretend I’m back in the 1970s messing with my Dad’s FM or Nikkormat. So, you’d think the DF would be perfect for me. But, I handled a black version at a local shop and my first impression was that it felt boxy, hollow, and a bit ‘cheap’ in build quality. It certainly didn’t have the heft of my old FM3A.

    Maybe I need to try the silver version and take along my 50 to convince myself that I was too hasty. And, of course, that D4 sensor is really tempting.

    I badly want to like this camera – and your review is pushing me towards taking another look.

    Thanks & regards,
    Chris Nebard

    • Thanks for the feedback! The Df has become my primary camera and I have shot everything from portraits to commercial to street photography with it and have not wished for a better or different camera once. The weight of the camera compared to many of the D series cameras (in the prosumer category) is going to feel light… It will certaily feel more “hollow” than the FM3A but the build quality is top notch. I have the all black model because I felt the silver one looked a little plasticy for my tastes. I also agree it seems a bit boxy on first touch but i can assure you it doesn’t take long until it just molds to your hand. I shoot with a wrist strap so I carry the camera in one hand everywhere I go (I’m thankful for the light weight). It certainly comes down to your personal preferences but as far as shooting with a non compromising retro shooter there really is no better camera out there.

      Good luck on your decision (you may want to try renting the camera for a week before taking the plunge).

      Take care!

  • Hi John,

    Thanks for your post on this. I have also been using the Df (silver version) now for a good number of months and absolutely love it. I must have read a gazillion reviews on this thing before taking the plunge. I can’t remember a camera being released with so much polarity going around about it. I am only taking a guess here, but I would bet that many of the early reviews were from people that had never even held the darn thing. One of the comments that kept coming up that made me laugh was that people were saying that the only reason it would sell and people would buy it was because it tugged on their heart strings. That, to me, is actually a good thing. If a camera can somehow make me “feel” more artistic, then how in the world is this bad. This camera takes me back to the day of really and truly LOVING photography! When I hold this camera, I just want to go use it. This is so different than any “Black Box” camera I have owned in the digital era. I have not had this type of feeling about a camera since the days of my FM2 and even my Pentax K1000. Heck… if a painter feels more artistic by using a paintbrush that his or her grandmother used, then why is it wrong when I feel more artistic simply because of the design of this camera. The answer is that it isn’t wrong at all; it is nothing shy of right!

    And the image quality… stunning! It has the flagship D4 sensor in it after all.

    Bottom line is that I shoot more with this camera than I have with any other digital camera I have ever owned. So much so that I don’t (at this time) even bother looking at other cameras like I was always doing in the past. I was never 100% satisfied with any of my previous digitals and was always looking for “the next best thing” to waste my money on. Not any longer…

    Cheers!

  • Dear John, I read your above article a bit late, a year after spontaniously buying the Df and it only makes me feel more great on my purchase now. Ofcourse your sample images are great understandably but what makes it more interesting is the way you have expressed and your mild sense of humour.

    I have saved your article in my Add to reading list and will cherish it for a long time. I love this Camera as much as I loved my F3 and FM3A which still rests in my cupboard long after studios stopped processing my favourite Velvias and Provias.

    Pen me if you happen to read my response. It would be a pleasure to hear from you. I live in Dubai but shoot Landscapes more outside, my favourite being parts of California. Not in Your league but still dare to share.
    http://www.photo.net/photos/ravishankar

    Cheers,
    Ravishankar Sharma

    • Ravishankar,

      Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you got the Df, it is still one of my all time favorite cameras (hopefully they come out with a second version). I’m jealous of your location (as most photographers are of others), I imagine Dubai has got some really fascinating landscapes. Really enjoyed your photos as well. Keep up the great work, nice talking with you. Take care.

  • Hi John,

    Love to read your reviews.
    I’m a Df user as well , I’m planing to buy 16-35 f4 but I’m not sure how it will balance on Df.
    I own 24-70 f2.8 with Nikon DF-GR1 attached but still big and heavy, I’m into upcoming Nikon DL18-50 but I’m not sure how good compare to 16-35 f4.

    I think portability is important for travel with kid

    Would you mind share us . photo of Nikon DF with 16-35 attached.
    I really appreciate it.

    Thanks

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