11.05.2013

I'm not the least bit conflicted about Nikon's new Df camera. I think it will appeal to a huge number of fellow photographers who cut their teeth on dials and external controls.

Whether or not they'll actually trade their cash for it is a whole different story.

  The New Nikon Df.  Old school? 

I haven't touched this camera or seen it in the flesh but I think Nikon will be moderately successful with a certain segment of the camera buying public. I'm pretty sure that a large slice of the camera toting demographic who "grew up" in photography using film cameras from the era referenced by the Df's design notes will be happy to go back to dials that had discrete functions and real, tactile feedback. The real dividing line will be between those who experienced the FMs, FEs and similarly configured cameras from the film age and those whose first brush with photography happened after the introduction of digital. Of course there will be outlier and you'll probably be able to point to a number of younger photographers who like the interface or the nostalgic nod to yesteryear just as you'll find a number of more experience shooters who were happy to leave the old interfaces behind.

In this case I'm ambivalent. I'll admit that I like the three control dials (shutter speeds, exposure comp. and ISO) as separate, easily accessible controls but I've pretty much made my peace since the Nikon F5 and F100 with electronic interfaces. The camera looks like a real camera to me mostly because I am over 50 years old and this product design is so similar to the tools that were around when I initially learned photography. 

I do think that, in the balance, Nikon has gotten a lot of things right. I'm glad they waited until they were firmly into their full frame comfort zone because I am certain that people will want to press some of their old prime lenses into service for this camera and they'll want those focal lengths to match the angle of view they were used to on film cameras. I think it was brilliant to integrate the Nikon D4 sensor into the mix as that sensor is great at low noise performance and, at 16 (big sized) megapixels it creates very beautiful files.

Much as I love EVF's it was the right decision to keep making last century optical finders for a retro camera design like this. That probably helps enhance battery life, which Nikon claims to be about 1400 shots. I'm pretty sure it will focus quickly and accurately as Nikon reportedly is using the same AF system as its latest D610 camera which seems to have fairly bullet proof auto focus.

If I were in the market for a full frame camera I wouldn't consider this camera over the D610 or Canon's 6D because I'm not sure there is any imaging or performance advantage to the Df over those full frame choices. But everyone will have a different opinion depending upon how they use their cameras. For the most part the only five controls I use on a day to day basis are shutter speeds, apertures, ISO, exposure compensation and color balance. Most of the geeky stuff sprayed around most menus is an enigma to me (by choice) and I don't have a very hard time acclimating to different cameras given the small range of controls I'm generally looking to master. In fact, most of my friends who are serious shooters also work within a very tight range of menu items while my friends who collect gear tend to know how to customize their cameras in depth with different buttons revised and re-dedicated to all sorts of new settings.

Where the camera falls down (and these are NOT deal killers if you like the external control design) is in little things. The first for me in having the memory card and battery under the same bottom mounted door. After several years of dealing with that on the Sony Nex cameras it is liberating to once again be using a camera (Panasonic GH3) which has a separate battery chamber on the accessible, righthand side of the camera. It makes for fast and sure card changes. 

Another point, raised by a reviewer at DP Review, is that the camera is clearly aimed at people who might want to use pre-AF Nikon lenses on the camera; and indeed, it is set up for their easy use. Given it's ability to accept and meter older Nikon manual focus lenses it seems almost cruel that Nikon has given users a fixed viewfinder screen.....and to turn the screws a bit it's one with no manual focusing aids! Even if no one ever gets around to actually using it a camera like this should give the user the option to pop in a split image rangefinder screen to quickly focus some of those manual gems that are still floating around.

The rest of the camera seems very well done and I have little doubt that the production values will be quite high. While I don't like to factor price into every camera buying situation I do think the relatively high price points to a collector conception for this camera rather than a user conception. Older, well heeled photographers will, perhaps, embrace it and use it hard, taking advantage of the retro design of the controls and their comfort with that interface but I do think that a younger generation, raised on buttons, menus and won't see the value of spending a thousand dollars more for the same kind of performance they could get from three other full frame products that are (or soon will be) out on the market. 

What would it have taken to get me interested in the Df camera? Oh, just an EVF. Once you've pre-chimped I don't think you'll ever want to go back. That and a price around $1500....

In the end Nikon more or less gave a vocal minority of Nikon users something they've been collectively asking for since the dawn of the digital age; a digital Nikon FM.  They delivered and now it's up to the market to decide whether this implementation is successful or not.... 





One final note: I know color choice is supposedly subjective but....would anyone seriously make the claim that the silver version is anywhere as nice looking at the black one?  





35 comments:

Anonymous said...

An interesting camera, and I'm curious about Nikon's decision to label it as a "Pure Photography" item. I suppose this could hint at a nostalgic marketing tactic, yet I also find it interesting that some anticipate this to be the suitable and long-awaited replacement for the beloved D700, an excellent low-light camera w/o video.

Ananda Sim said...

Cool. Leather jacket. Yes, I'm over 50. DPReview forum members have been saying since 2000, "I would pay X for a camera that has mechanical dials and buttons". Now they have. But is X = USD 3000+?

Jim Tardio said...

Speaking as someone who cut his teeth firstly on the Minolta SRTs and then pretty much the entire FM, FE, FM3a line...the most important thing is missing from the DF. That being the beautiful, crystal clear viewfinder with the decisive split-image in the center.

A real shame they left this out.

Daniel said...

Glad you like Electronic view finders. I have tried a number and they kill the night vision for me. Some are jumpy as heck and almost unusable because of it.

Ron Greer said...

I like knobs and dials but this appears to have too many, and the price is far too close to the price of a D800.

It's a shame Nikon doesn't commit to a A7-like mirror-less camera. It appears they are determined to avoid a new lens series.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ron, Pentax showed very clearly with their mirror less K-01 that there is no need whatsoever to change lens mounts in order to go to a mirror less configuration.

Carlo Santin said...

A few short years ago I would have been foaming at the mouth for this camera. Now, not so much.

Criminal that there is not even an option for a split prism focusing screen, really a mistake on Nikon's part. I'm still shooting film, so when I want the retro experience I take my FE with me...I still use it on a regular basis and I'm quite happy with it. I've only ever wanted shutter, aperture and ISO. If I'm using an autofocus camera then 5 focus points is more than enough, 1 in the center would suffice though. All the other stuff they put into cameras today just hurts my brain.

Bruce Rubenstein said...

As a 60 y.o. guy with several mechanical era Nikons and a set of AI-S lenses, this camera is form over function. The dedicated, top plate camera controls made sense when there weren't many things to be controlled and they were controlled mechanically. Modal control dials are a much more efficient and are easier to operate when looking through the view finder. About the only information these dials convey is how the camera is set when it's turned off. Except for aperture (other than pre AI lenses), shutter speed if you want 1/3 stop control and ISO if you use Auto ISO. It wouldn't have been as cool, but would have been more functional, if it was based on the F100 form (with a flip AI Index tab).

BTW Kirk, did you ever get my email re:Photo Expo?

Craig Yuill said...

I have an FM-2, and appreciate some of what Nikon seems to be trying to do with the Df. But it is too big, too expensive, and too complex to really be a digital FM-2. Nikon's V1, with clean Leica-like lines and curves, and simple controls and interface seems to capture the essence of the FM-2 better in many ways than this Df does. I wish Nikon would instead work on improving and refining their Nikon 1 cameras - fine little cameras that are, sadly, underappreciated.

DanTHEME said...

Nude and portrait photography with an EVF is still not the same as with OVF I'm afraid... I have some more information here from Nikon why no EVF (and no mirrorless and no D800 sensor...)

They basically say EVSs still give people headaches...

The Nikon quotes are in the second part of this hands-on Df preview.

http://www.the.me/hands-on-with-the-retro-nikon-df-f-for-fusion/

Claire said...

This camera release actually makes me angry because I find it cynical and disrespectful of its targeted audience. Nikon seems to take it's older customers for morons, and to count on a hard-on reaction (which it certainly seems to get from some) to overshadow the huge functional shortcomings of this monstruosity. To me it's a whore with a bad boobjob and an extravagant fee. Thom Hogan has some extremely valid points about it, for those of view who might not have read his analysis yet. This thing is insulting a lot of people's intelligence.

Anonymous said...

This DF has been my dream camera for a very long time. A digital nikon FM2 or FE. But then I never thought the decision would be so easy for me when it become a reality. I wholeheartedly agree with you sir, EVF and around $1500...

Andrea said...

Looking at it in a shot next a real Nikon film slr, and thinking of my Olympus OM-1, one thing jumps to my mind: big, cheap and ugly like a Zenit 122...

Govis said...

As far as EVFs go-
I find them extremely difficult if I'm shooting in manual, for flash or silhouette purposes, and I am purposely underexposing the ambient. It becomes difficult to control.

Also- while this camera does have mechanical dials on the top plate, it also pretty clearly has two control dials like other higher end Nikon DSLR. The front control dial looks to be vertical, but I bet it works the same way as the horizontal ones on all the other Nikon DSLRs.

Dave said...

I was moderately enthused for about 10 minutes and then after some thought, not so much.

As someone else said it is a camera I would have had more interest in 2-3 years ago. These days I'm more torn over whether to dump Nikon DX for Micro four thirds and doubt I ever buy a "full frame". Part of it is price/performance. Most of what I what I actually need is in the smaller sensor cameras plus both Sony and Nikon/Canon) are pricing the glass way over what I'm comfortable with. $1,700 for a 58mm prime? Shut the front door.

Fuji's lens/body/price formula hits the sweet spot, MFT delivers nicely. FX is a little too much for the well heeled.

Peter said...

As someone who is 65 and owns an D800E, FM3a, F2, (and even a Nikon S3 w lenses), and finally has the money to buy what I want, there should be a picture of me with a big target on my chest, at Nikon Product Planning. However, most of my pictures over the past 4 years were taken using M43 gear (OMD mostly).

I am quite proud to say i can resist this one. It narrowly misses on all counts: Not small enough with lenses for extensive travel, not high end enough for detailed work, and not good enough for manual focus (no split image screen). It was a close call though.

Mike_C said...

> These days I'm more torn over whether to dump Nikon DX for Micro four thirds

I was in the same boat until last weekend when I had a chance to play extensively with the OM-D E-M1 (and 12-40/2.8) and D7100 at the local camera store. Long story short I finally bailed out of the DX Nikon camp and put my money down (at the local store: buy where you play with the gear) for the E-M1 and 12-40. Nikon have made it quite clear (in part through their local rep) that so far as they're concerned my ilk are undesirable "bitter clingers" (to the D300/s), so I'm finally taking the broad hint.

As to the Df, if it works well for manual focus (not using the RF dot, but visually), fits my hands well and comes down in price to say 2k USD, then I'll strongly consider it, as I would love to shoot my old MF Nikkors at the angle-of-view intended, but I find the D600/610 unappealing and am not interested in wrangling 36 MP, especially with my old MF glass.

@Claire: not sure if I entirely agree with you, but your comment made my day.

Dan Boney said...

Although I also think that the black version is fundamentally preferable/more discreet, I pre-ordered a silver body because I have a 45mm f2.8 silver pancake Nikkor from my FM3a that I intend to use with the Df and the silver lens on the black body might just look too weird?... Black or silver lenses should look just fine on the silver Df and I expect that the silver body will be a nice differentiator form all the other "black blobs" cameras these days. And finally my 24mm f2 Nikkor can get some action again! Still one of my all-time lens favs...

Unknown said...

Wow - that's a lot of effort and money poured into (what I expect) is a very much shrinking target audience. I fear that while Nikon are flogging their 'photography heritage' schtick companies like Sony and Fuji are getting on with modern camera design.

I know the manufacturers still mourn and hanker for the golden age of photography in the 70's, but beats me why any contemporary photographer would.

While I appreciate the history and retro aesthetic it's obvious that this type of thinking is already struggling for relevance. I beleive it simply has no place now or, more importantly, in the future of photography.

C'mon you captains of the photo industry - give us gear worthy of 2014 and onwards, enough with this 'the older I get, the faster I was' type of thinking.
You've already allowed the electronics companies to nearly wipe you out, but there may still be hope if you can stop looking in your rearview rose-tinted mirror.

Gregg Mack said...

"would anyone seriously make the claim that the silver version is anywhere as nice looking at the black one?"

I'm not interested in this camera, but I do like the silver and black version better than the all black version!

Anonymous said...

Wait...all that effort to make a camera with good old fashioned dials, but is there really no aperture ring on that new lens? Ball. Dropped.

Kirk Tuck said...

Gregg, I wonder which one of us is the actual outlier on this?

Old Gray Roy said...

Undoubtedly Nikon wants to sell any of the cameras they make. However, it feels to me that they are more interested in stirring up a hornet's nest of publicity to capture our attention, whatever that leads to, than in Df sales. Then again, Sony is throwing designs at the wall to see what sticks, why not Nikon?

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, it's probably me. It always has been me in the past. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I actually love the look of the silver Df. I still have my old Nikkormat with the silver finish. It still looks great to me.

Mark Clayton said...

It's a camera , Claire. Just a camera

Anonymous said...

It's just a camera ,Claire. Just a camera
Maaku

Vu Le, DDS said...

This is actually a pretty low risk play for Nikon. All the innards are re-purposed from existing cameras. It's pretty much a refaced D610 with a D4 sensor dropped in. That's kind of like the Pontiac Firebird Trans AM*--through a new body on the Camaro, drop in the base corvette engine, and call it a whole new car.

I'm not against parts sharing, but I just don't feel this is priced right for what it is. Remember, the sensor is at most a $300 part. The facing isn't worth more than $50. Since everything else appears to be stock D610, this should command a $350-400 premium at most, but instead, it's priced nearly $1000 higher. I absolutely agree that this is a cynical, condescending play at the nostalgia of greying photographers.

(*The Firebird, in case you didn't know it, is with the Aztek and the entire Pontiac brand in the graveyard of failed GM products)

Olaf Hoyer said...

As stated before, Thom Hogan did have some very valid points considering the Df and the whole mess of the actual Nikon setup.

Nikon has to find some market segment that has the potential to grow- and as DX is saturated, mirrorless market is dominated by other players, FX is the niche, where only a few players are actually active nowadays. And: Step up from DX will mean that new lenses have to be bought...

A Df camera also makes sense- there is a certain segment of older photographers, that still have lots of gear available, are uncomfortable with lots of the entry-level plasticky stuff, and: in most cases have some money...

So to fish in that market segment (and also ride the current retro train) this camera in its basic conception (Especially supporting old pre-AI glass) is cool.
But things that Nikon should have done:
- less buttons on the back, especially the info button
- smaller body, its a bit clunky (sold my F4s some weeks after purchase, because of being too heavy- happy with F100 and FG)
- no split prism available (at least they should have provided interchangeable focusing screens like in old days)
- If you want pre-Ai: Where is the coupling lever for the "rabbit ears"? Would have made it perfect...
- For longer glass: No possibility of battery grip?
- price: when you are expected to pay a premium like for a D800, you can expect a lot. Sorry, but this camera is a mixture of lots of things that came in handy- like a D600 with a different sensor in an attempt of retro packaging...
Priced like a D610, ok- no objections.

As I am doing lots of event and portrait photography at low light levels, and love manual glass, and don't need much MP, this camera could have possible answered lots of questions, including that of an upgrade to my D7000. But with above points- I'd be better off shooting a D800 in crop mode with DX lenses...

Markus said...

Yes, I would prefer the silver over the all-black just because the retro style does not work in black (for me). The all-black looks more like a D610.
Yesterday, I had the Sony A7 in my hands. It feels very solid and perfect for my hands. And as you said, Kirk, once you had used a good EVF, you won't go back. The A7 EVF is just great! I do not know why Nikon is not accepting new concepts? The Df is just a repetition of the past without a clear path to the future of cameras.

Anonymous said...

Silver FTW...sorry, Kirk! ;-)

Alex said...

Yesterday I looked through 120 yards of negative comments at Theonlinephotographer and was quite surprised. Why so much hostility? I guess it's the price. At $1700 it would sell like hot meat cakes at a vegetarian dinner.

It's a very nice camera, and the user interface looks better to me coming from Canon/Sigma than the regular Nikon interface. The ISO/EXP dial (first introduced in Canon G-series) is a very nice idea, the shutter speed dial – not so much. Without the aperture ring it can be used only in 2 modes, and PASM dial is still required.

I very much prefer simple and elegant Fuji/Leica design: aperture & shutter speed rings with "A" points and no PASM. Unfortunately, for Nikon it isn't an option.

I've never owned a silver film camera (I had very good but extremely ugly Mamiya 330), but I like the silver Df design very much. However, I would prefer the silver version of Pentax K-3. It's more elegant, innovative and at much more attractive price.

David said...

I might be the minority but the silver and black colors I find better than all black. But that just might be because it reminds me of my Pen6 camera.

I do like the look, I think the exclusion of video was a big mistake and I hope it shuts people up whom constantly stay "It would be cheaper without video". No it will not be cheaper without video as adding video feature to a camera is almost free. Now we have two cameras without video Sigma SD1m and Nikon DF. The Df is far too high in price to sell well. $2000 might have been the limit. But that just my thought.

Mark Davidson said...

"would anyone seriously make the claim that the silver version is anywhere as nice looking at the black one?"

Nikon should play the other retro card which is a $15 to $35 premium for black.

John Ricard said...

Wow, Love ya, Kirk, but I think you really missed the boat on this one. You wrote, "...Nikon more or less gave...users something they've been collectively asking for since the dawn of the digital age; a digital Nikon FM." What made the FM desirable back in the F5 days wasn't that it had a shutter speed dial (like the Df). It was the fact that the FM was MISSING things like metering modes, TTL flash, excessive body weight, autofocus...I could go on. This new Df is missing NOTHING. It has like 6 flash modes, multiple metering patterns, multiple autofocus modes. If you do a side by side comparison with any modern Nikon body you'll see that in terms of features, the Df is essential the same as a D800, D700 or D600. Adding a shutter speed dial and ISO dial to a fully featured DSLR isn't retro. It's just stupid. It's akin to adding a rotary dial to an iPhone.