Nikon Df Initial Impressions

Df Jul 25, 2014

My new walkabout camera arrived this week. I sold my Fuji X-T1 kit in favor of a Nikon Df.

Wait! A Df?

Yes, a Nikon Df. The much hyped, controversial, Nikon retro styled kit-bash aimed at hipsters and wanna-be Leica owners.

My Nikon Df

Am I nuts? To be perfectly honest, I have never publicly stated that I am entirely sane. However, there is a convoluted, non-linear method to my madness.

Many moons ago, I heard the siren call of the Leica M8. This was my first (and sadly last) Leica camera. I got a sweet deal on a demo unit and picked up a used Cosina Voigtländer 40mm f/1.4 lens. It had a transforming effect on my photography by forcing me to slow down and think about what I was doing. It got me off the technology treadmill I had been on: blaming the gear for my own inadequacies and upgrading to compensate. It was an epiphany in my photographic career. It was also a reality check when I tried to expand my lens collection.

I ended up selling that camera kit to fund a Nikon D300 kit for pro work that was starting to trickle in. After a while I picked up another lightly used well cared for M8 and a CV 35mm f/1.4 lens. But again, paying jobs demanded I sell that kit to fund other gear and I moved to a D700 kit. Around this point, the mirrorless sector was seeing some real growth and the technology was maturing to the point that I might be able to find an adequate substitute for my beloved M8.

That’s when I began a long courtship with mirrorless cameras. I even sold my D700 kit at one point and got a Sony A99 to go completely mirrorless (the A99 isn’t mirrorless, but it does have a killer EVF and some really great glass) but the lack of professional support from Sony and third party OEMs dragging their feet bringing out products compatible with the latest Sony gear sent me running back home to Nikon for work purposes. But I persisted in my quest to find an excellent small camera for travel and everyday carry. After using and reviewing a Sony NEX-7, an Olympus OM-D E-M5, a Fuji X-E1, an Olympus O-MD E-M1, and a Fuji X-T1, I went with this “thing” from Nikon.

Here’s why:

  • The Sony had a killer EVF and great video capabilities, however the “plate and cylinder” design of the NEX line made it a bit of a turn-off for me. The NEX-7’s sensor was a bit too noisy for my style of shooting and the really good glass in the NEX line is by Zeiss and is very pricey. The A99 was a much better experience ergonomically and high-ISO-wise, but a cohort of mine dropped his Sony/Zeiss lens and when he sent it in to for service, the experience was not very professional (he almost had an aneurysm trying to get Sony to fix the lens).
  • The Olympus cameras had the mini-retro SLR look about them (the OM-D looks like the spitting image of the classic OM film cameras) and are very rugged. Lens selection is the best of the mirrorless segment and the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is the best in the industry. However, the 2x crop of the micro four thirds format makes it not a good fit for landscapes and true shallow DoF with pleasing bokeh can only be achieved with a select few (pricey) lenses.
  • The Fujis use an alternative sensor design. Nothing as radical as the Sigma Foveon sensor, but still non-Bayer and different enough to make raw converter authors have kittens. DxO Labs has stated that they cannot properly test the Fujis and thus will never support them in their raw converters. Beyond that, Fuji offers way better service than the other manufacturers and their “kaizen” (change is good) philosophy means they won’t leave owners of older model x-cameras out to dry. The Fuji X-T1 came closest to the Leica ideal I was searching for, but by this time I had come to realize that I was tired of having to deal with two sets of everything and wanted to consolidate.

And that’s how I ended up deciding on the Nikon Df.

In the next installment, I will go over my opinions of the camera itself, the handling, and the images it captures.

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