Nikon Df: the Traveler's Review

Df Nov 24, 2014

I have now had the Nikon Df for several months and have travelled quite a bit with it. The Nikon Df is the simplest full-frame Nikon in terms of features, but the design point of this camera is a retro throwback to the “good old days” when cameras took pictures, period.

Nikon Df + Sigma 24-105 f/4 DG A Lens

As such, the Nikon Df sports old school touches like a threaded cable release which allows for the use of soft-release buttons (aka “softies”). Other customizations I added were a Gordy Strap and a Gariz half-case in black. Why is this important? While the camera is indeed a tool, it is a tool that can inspire and elicit emotions in some owners. Part of the craft of photography is getting comfortable with your gear so that is becomes an extension of your hand and eye. Modern camera designs have done ergonomics to death, so much so that modern cameras all look fairly alike and follow the same design trends. Retro style camera harken back to the days when camera makers wanted to have their cameras distinctive and recognizable on sight. Cases, straps, soft-releases and the like helped make the camera your own and Nikon captured this ethos very well with the Nikon Df.

Unless I am traveling for a photo shoot, I like to keep things simple. A one or two lens kit, a small flash unit (I despise pop-up flashes), a smallish bag (I have medical supplies that have to travel with me all the time) and a device to let me review/upload my photos back home (more on that later). For this review, I selected the Sigma 24-105 f/4 OS DG A lens and Meike 310N flash gun. 

Me and Doc Brown

The Camera

The Nikon Df sports the same sensor as the Nikon D4 pro level body. This is a 16 megapixel full-frame sensor with excellent low-light capabilities. The high ISO is so good, that I never needed to use a tripod, even for the night shots. It’s that good. Here are some samples:

Universal at night

CityWalk

DJ & Hard Rock

London

M.I.B.

This camera excels at street photography and capturing nightlife. The shutter is very quiet even with the camera held up to my eye (which usually sounds like a .38 Special revolver going off). The raw files produced by the camera are very flexible and contain lots of leeway when post processing. Here are some samples that required a bit of massaging:

UM - Campus Life

Chariots of Fire

Belen Hispanic Heritage Festival 2014

Gringotts Bank II

Happy Halloween!

Tarrytown Reservoir

UM - Lake Osceola

Cape Florida

For the record, all of the panoramas are hand stitched using Adobe Photoshop. The Nikon Df lacks any fancy art modes or built-in panoramas. You want to do fancy stuff? You have to do it (new) old-school. 

The Lens

I went with the Sigma 24-105 f/4 DG OS lens for a couple of reasons: it out scored the Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4 G VR lens over at DxOMark (which intrigued me) and Sigma was willing to lend me the lens (as opposed to Nikon). That being said, the lens is a hefty beast, weighing in at 885g (31.2 oz), and feels solid in the hand. Fit and finish are on par with top-of-the-line lenses from the Big Three. Here are the MTF charts and the lens construction diagram (if you are into that stuff):

635 24 105mm f4 angle 150dpi

635 mtf chart

635 mtf chart 2

635 lens construction 0

Suffice it to say that the lens is sharp, sharp, sharp! The relatively slow speed of the lens (f/4) is compensated by the camera’s excellent ISO performance. The optical stabilization system is very good as is evidenced by the night shots I took. At $899 retail, this lens is a steal!

It also makes a sweet portrait lens:

A Class Act

Part of the mystique of the Df (as was heavily promoted by Nikon) is that it is a camera dedicated to photography. I know that sounds a bit stupid, but if you consider that modern cameras always come laden with a zillion scene modes, art filters, panorama functions, as well as video capabilities, the Df is very simplistic. The mode dial has four settings: PASM. That’s it. Yes, it has DRO and some in-camera profiles, but it is a minimalist design (even more so than a Leica M Typ 240 which has video but no AF). The fellow above would probably appreciate that in a digital camera.

The lack of system accessories like battery grips may put off some buyers, but it keeps the camera small.

Conclusion (and Scorecard):

The Nikon Df is the first full-frame camera I have reviewed that would be considered a travel camera. Paired with a pro quality lens like the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS lens and a small flash you have a travel kit that is a tad heavier than the mirrorless systems I have previous tested but provides you with plenty of wide angle performance, great low light/high ISO images, and a camera design that does not get in your way.

Camera System Type Image Quality Carry-ability Overall Score
Sony NEX-7 Mirrorless CSC 5 8 6.5
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mirrorless CSC 5 9 7
Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless CSC 8 9 8.5
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless CSC 7 9 8
Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless CSC 9 9 9
Nikon Df FF DSLR 9 7 8
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