Review: Nikon Df

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nikon Df is a paean, a song of praise, to Nikon cameras of the past, most notably film SLRs such as the Nikon FM and F3. That’s on the outside, because on the inside, the Df bears more than a passing resemblance to a D4 or D800.

Nikon says the camera is a fusion (is that what the “f” stands for?) of “classic Nikon design” and modern imaging technology.

The Df is a D4- (that’s minus), in that it uses the same sensor, but SD cards rather than CF or XQD, shoots at a max 5.5 fps vs 10 for the D4, has a top shutter speed of 1/4000 rather than 1/8000 sec., 39 vs 51 AF points, and has no video capabilities whatsoever. It’s also a “minus” in weight (710 vs 1180 g, which is a big difference) and exterior dimensions; it is the smallest and lightest full format DSLR in Nikon’s lineup. And one more big minus: price. It is $3,000 less than a D4.

The Df is a still camera and, as such, has everything geared toward making pictures. It has no external video buttons or connections, and no menu selections. That’s kind of strange, in a way, as every digital camera on the market today offers video, but this camera is retro, if not purist.

Df's top plate
Df’s top plate

With the D4 sensor (16.2 megapixels) and Expeed 3 image processing, the Df produces tried and true Nikon picture quality. What’s neat is that it is also able to use all your old Nikon SLR lenses; in addition to being compatible with all current AF, AF-S, DX and AF-D Nikkor lenses, the Df is also compatible with classic Ai and non-Ai Nikkor glass. Of course with early lenses you have to select aperture and focus manually. Full-aperture metering is also supported.

Using a camera for the first time is like going out on a first date. Something has interested you, intrigued you, but until you get to know them a little better, you don’t know if you want to entertain a long-term relationship. It takes a while to get used to all the quirks and foibles, the unique characteristics. If the Nikon family is anything to go by, the lineage is solid, from baby brother D3100 to older brother D4S. The Df bears little family resemblance to its brothers, but go back into the family album and check out the great-greats, such as the FM2 or FM3, and the F3, then you know the Df is, indeed, part of the family. (The force is strong with this one . . .)

This is most obvious when looking at the top plate, with its distinctive (and retro) shutter speed dial, ISO dial and exposure compensation dial. The pentaprism and leatherette most assuredly hearken back to the old days of Nikon SLRs.

In comparison, top plate of a Nikon FM3 film SLR
In comparison, top plate of a Nikon FM3 film SLR

The 50 mm f/1.8G lens that’s part of the kit (imagine that, a prime lens) also adds to the retro look as it is “dressed” (colours, texture and an aluminum mounting ring )like an older Nikkor lens. Back in the film days, cameras were sold with a 50/55/58 mm lens as standard equipment. The Df with that 50 has not only a classic look to it, but also a classic feel . . . in fact the combo “just feels right.”

Those top plate dials have a solid, tactile feel to them, with audible clicks when engaging. The only odd item is the mode dial, but that’s being picky.

The only “clanger” for me was the bottom plate latch on the battery and SD card. Retro, most certainly, in that it look just like the latch on the old film SLRs’ bottom plate, used to open and remove the plate to access the film cannister. The DF’s latch is about half the size of the original and, with my fingers, too small, although perhaps with more use I’d get the hang of it.

The Df I used was all black, but for those wanting an even more retro look, grab the silver one.

The Df was a delight to use. It delivered on picture quality, as expected, and isn’t that number one with any camera? I know some have knocked the styling, but it is not a camera aimed at everyone. For those who revel in the retro, this is a must-have. For those who want many of the D4’s capabilities (minus video) at about half the price, look no further.

(For a review of the camera’s specs, check here.)

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