The Nikon Df is, at first appearance, the camera that many people have been asking for, for years – a classically styled DSLR with traditional external controls. But, for all Nikon’s talk of a return to ‘Pure Photography,’ an awful lot of what’s under the Df’s confidently retro skin is pretty familiar. The Df is built around the 16MP full frame sensor from the company’s flagship D4 with the processor and AF system borrowed from the comparatively affordable D610.
The camera’s appearance is inspired by a much earlier generation of film cameras. In fact, from the front the Df looks like an oversized Nikon FM (and not dissimilar to Canon’s F1N). And, as well as the styling and dedicated external controls, the Df’s other nod to the company’s history is the inclusion of a retractable meter coupling tab, allowing the use of pre-1977 non-AI lenses.
For those of us raised on film SLRs the effect is rather intriguing. I understand that the Df has been at least four years in the making, and the glee of its creators is almost palpable in the many specific design cues obviously taken from earlier SLRs including the FM/2 and the long-lived professional-targeted Nikon F3.
Nikon Df key features
- 16 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor (same as D4)
- ISO 100-25,600 (expandable to ISO 50 – 204,800 equiv)
- Maximum 5.5 fps continuous shooting
- 39-point AF system with 9 cross-type AF points (same as D610)
- 3.2-inch, 921k-dot LCD screen
- Physical shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation dials
- Compatible with virtually all Nikon F-mount lenses (including pre-Ai standard)
- Single SD card slot
- EN-EL14a battery (quoted endurance of ~1400 exposures)
According to Nikon, the ‘F’ in Df stands for ‘fusion’ – specifically, fusion of the old and the new. We know all about the old – the ‘retro’ styling – which leaves us with the ‘D’. This of course stands for ‘Digital’. The Nikon Df boasts a full-frame sensor, 39-point AF system and a maximum shooting rate of 5.5 fps. The LCD on the rear of the camera is a 3.2″, 921k-dot display and, despite its ‘fully manual’ pretensions, the Df boasts front and rear electronic control dials alongside the dedicated physical dials on the top-plate. It’s a thoroughly modern DSLR for the most part, but with one major difference.
What, no video?
That major difference is video – the Df cannot shoot it (making it one of only two current DSLRs which don’t – the other being the Sigma SD1 Merrill). In conversation with Nikon engineers, we were told that video was never on the table as an option for the Df, apparently as much a philosophical point as anything else. This is a serious camera for serious people which is to be used for ‘pure photography’, not videos (oddly though, the Df still boasts a full complement of retouch options including the decidedly lightweight fisheye and miniature effects).
While it’s true that many potential Df owners might not care about video, if you can add a function, why not do so? Since it’s based around a video-capable sensor and shares its image processor with a camera that can shoot video, it’s reasonable to assume it could be added via firmware, but the question is probably academic, since the Df has no built-in microphone nor a jack for adding one. Equally, the Df’s relatively low-capacity EN-EL14a battery wouldn’t last terribly long, even if such a feature were enabled.
Df – a D4 in F3 clothing?
If you look beyond the Df’s outward appearance, another aspect of its appeal is the relatively inexpensive access it gives to the image sensor used in the company’s flagship DSLR, the D4. And while that’s true, the omission of video and high-speed frame rates mean you don’t get to take full advantage of its capabilities. Even without those aspects, the well-respected low-light capabilities of the D4’s sensor should lend some appeal to the Df.
The Df’s optical viewfinder is very large – the same size as the D800. The magnification is 0.70x and, naturally, coverage is 100%. We’ve also shown the viewfinder of the film-era F3 here for reference. As you can see, the F3 offered an impressively large finder, and even the high eye-point viewfinder that glasses wearers tended to prefer was still larger than the Df’s. When a DX lens is attached to the Df, the viewfinder shows frame-lines indicating the DX image area. One real shame (although perhaps not a surprise) is the fact that the Df’s focusing screen is fixed. We had hoped for an accessory split-prism focusing screen for manual focus, but it’s likely that the additional cost and incompatibility with modern pattern metering modes ruled that out at the design stage. Instead the Df has Nikon’s standard ‘rangefinder’ display in the viewfinder, which uses the autofocus sensor to indicate when it thinks the lens is correctly focused.