Nikon Df First Impressions - Part Two

Aug 21, 2014

In my last installment, I went over the rationalization I followed that led me to switch from a cutting edge mirrorless camera system to a pricier, retro-styled Frankencamera. In this installment, I will cover actual first impressions now that I have actually used the camera and have adjusted my workflow around it.

Handling

The Nikon Df is loosely based on the Nikon FM film SLR. However, the Df is a bit larger than its ancestor in order to accomodate its digital innards.

However, this size difference will only be an issue for users with very petite hands. As I have stated many times before, I am a bit ham-fisted and always have to do something to make these smaller camera systems fit my grip. In this case, the adjustments were minimal. I added a Gariz leather half-case to fill out the grip a little more and topped the shutter release with a soft release from Artisan Obscura. I later added a matching hot shoe cover.

Operation

There has been a great deal of discussion on the subject of the command dial design that Nikon chose to include on the Df. Retro enthusiasts are infatuated with the the dials while purists decry them as a marketing decision gone horribly wrong. The vertical dial on the front took a little getting used to, but my hands are big enough to allow me to reach the dial by just moving my index finger. Now, I dig retro designed cameras, but the design aesthetic of the Df is a little forced. Yes, you have dedicated dials for ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, but all of them have locks which makes maniputating them a two-hand operation (worst case scenario) or at the least an act of digital (finger) contortion. Again, it takes getting used to. If you use recent vintage lenses, many will not have aperture rings or will have their aperture rings locked to allow for A mode which kinda kills the retro aspect of the camera. By setting the shutter speed dial to “⅓ Step”, the rear wheel controls the shutter speed. At this point, you are controlling the camera like any other modern Nikon. This, however, has not stopped a lot of people (including me) from going out and getting a Df.

The Df does not come equipped with a built-in flash. It also does not not have an AF assist light. This is quickly rectified by adding a speedlight, but that is one more gewgaw to be dragging around. I tested the Df with my SB-800 and it did a stellar job when I was photographing a retirement party in a dark restaurant. However, I wanted a smaller flashgun to keep in the bag. Nikon recently introduced the SB-300, but that is a teeny-weeny AAA powered unit. I was looking for something along the lines of the discontinued SB-400. I found my answer with a Meike MK-310N flashgun. Roughly the size and shape of the SB-400, the MK-310N is iTTL compatible, supports high-speed sync, and can act as a master for the Creative Lighting System. All for $75 USD.


In usage I found that the NK-310N tended to overexpose the shots. After a little dial twiddling (-1.7EV flash compensation, bumping the ISO to 640, and shutter speed to 200) I got some nice looking flash fill in with the unit. The MK-310N has a USB port so I am hopeful that firmware upgrades can be handled via that port.

Looks

Nikon’s attempt at a retro looking camera was certainly a committee driven design. Unfortunately, it was a committee of Nikon marketers and not working photographers. Still, the camera does turn heads. The inclusion of such details as a threaded cable release (which allows for the use of soft-releases) and other retro touches allows one to make the camera their own. I opted for the all-black version as it makes it a bit more of a street shooter.

In Practice

Enough blather about the camera, how are the pictures? Pretty amazing actually. The Nikon Df sports the same sensor as their former flagship – the Nikon D4. Weighing in at 16 megapixels, this sensor plus some new support hardware made this camera the “high ISO king” over at the photo benchmarking site DxOMark. And they weren’t kidding. I regularly shoot ISO 3200 with little to no noise reduction. The colors are some of the nicest I’ve seen in quite a while. At 16 megapixels, I can afford to shoot at 14-bits per channel and still pack close to 900 raw photos on a a 32Gb SD card.

Here is a link to my Nikon Df album on Flickr. I will be adding to it all the time, so pop in from time to time to check out the new photos.

That’s about it for this installment. Please feel free to share this with your friends. And please leave comments below.

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