Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nikon Df Announced

The Nikon Df, a camera that Nikon built up through a series of "Pure Photography" videos released over the past few weeks, has now been announced.

Nikon has built up this camera as being made for photography purists, and users who have clung onto manual film cameras, but one has to wonder if those groups will accept the Df. The front and top plate of the camera are a beautiful example of a design that would be fitting of classic Nikon film cameras. If you only look at the front and top, it is a design that would pull on the emotional strings of any Nikon user from the 1960s-1990s. On the top plate the simple dials for shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation are all there. While there are modern buttons for shooting and drive modes, and a small LCD, those do not take too much away from the simplicity. The back of the camera, on the other hand, is modern and bogged down with buttons, dials, nobs and a big LCD.

The viewfinder is also modern, and believed to be the same prism used in the D800. That is not a big deal, since the D800's viewfinder is good by modern standards. The problem is that while Nikon advertizes the Df as the perfect camera for manual focus Nikkor users (including non-AI lenses), the camera lacks any kind of focusing aids (beyond the standard focus confirmation dot), to help with the use of said lenses. An optional split prism focusing screen would have been welcome, but sadly that is not available.

The highlight feature of the camera is the impressive 16 megapixel sensor, also used in the $5999 Nikon D4, which has a native ISO range of 100-12,800 (expandable to 50-204,800 with Lo and Hi settings). The sensor has impressive dynamic range, and performs extremely well in low light conditions. While it lacks the resolution of the 24MP and 36MP sensors used in the D610 and D800, it makes up for that with smaller file sizes.

Even though the Df uses the 16MP sensor from the D4, it is not a modern sports action camera by any means. The max continuous burst speed is 5.5 FPS, and the camera sports the weaker 39 point AF system from the D610. The real downside of the weaker AF system is that the camera will not perform as well as the D800 or D4 in low light conditions, which leaves some confusion as to why Nikon bothered to put the 16MP sensor in the Df.  

In terms of final build, the Df falls short of the classic cameras in that only the rear and top plates are metal. The front and bottom plates of the camera are plastic, and that includes the area that the mount is attached. Of course the camera is targeted at lighter weight prime lens using photographers, so that may not be an issue. 

The camera uses a mishmash of modern and older accessories. The shutter button features the classic attachment for a screw-in shutter release cable, while it also features the connector from consumer cameras like the D5300 and D7100. That means that the MC-DC2 shutter cable, a Nikon GP-1, or GP-1a GPS unit can be used with the Df. The flash sync connector is covered with the traditional screw on cap (that everyone loses if they use the terminal).

What about the price of this retro, modern hybrid? $3099 Cdn. Nikon Canada is not listing a body only kit, as Nikon USA is, thus a higher list price. Big Canadian retailers are already listing the Df at $2999. The available kit includes the Nikon Df body and the "special edition" AF-S Nikkor 50mm F1.8G. The lens is simply the currently available lens, with a slightly changed external body, made to match the retro design.
If one simply looks at the Df as Nikon's attempt to make a digital F3, then there could very well be a strong sense of disappointment. On the other hand, if one looks at this camera as a lower cost, smaller bodied D4 with retro design then that may not be the feeling at all. However one chooses to look at the specs of the Nikon Df, it is a beautifully designed camera (from the front anyway).

Tech Specs: