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The New Nikon Df Review, here's what we think.
The New Nikon Df Review
At first sight you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen this camera before or something very similar. The retro styling of the Df owes much to Nikon’s film camera heritage and in particular the FM / FE models from the late 70s early 80s with a passing nod towards the professional D3 range. Old school Nikon aficionados got excited when the camera was announced as it heralded a return to classic styling with nice chunky dials on the top plate for setting some of the functions. The pentaprism, in particular, sits quite tall on the body thereby resembling the pro film models.
Available in two finishes all black and black & silver it looks good and has the high build quality and finish you would expect from Nikon. The standard of the weatherproof sealing would imply that this is aimed at the semi-pro market; compartment doors and the lens throat are well protected from dust and water. The body is both lightweight and strong, the top and bottom plates and the back being made from a magnesium alloy construction. It is compact though and may not therefore suit those used to a larger form factor. Without a lens it feels too light but balances more happily with a some glass on the front. If I’m honest I wasn’t blown away by it when I had it in my hands somehow it feels a bit last year.
But back to the top plate…
The dials offer the ability to set the ISO, exposure correction in ? stops and the shutter speed, shooting rate and programme mode PASM. These are all nicely made, feel solid in use and possibly best of all lock in position, however this does mean that changing a setting requires two actions, depressing the button and turning the dial. The most awkward is the small programme mode dial that requires lifting to turn, fine if you have nimble fingers but useless if you’re wearing gloves. You will notice there are no user settings, to access these it is necessary to navigate the software menu. One more retro feature, the on / off selector ring is around the shutter release, just like the FM used to be. For your convenience, should you be out after dark, there is the option to illuminate the information window where the shutter speed, f stop and battery charge state are displayed.
Will you use the dials? In practice the answer may well be no, as a large number of photographers set their cameras in aperture priority and leave the electronics to set the shutter speed and ISO. The dial you will probably access most is exposure compensation. However there is something to be said for being able to set shutter speeds in defined steps especially if you’re new to photography and trying to work out the relationships between shutter speed / aperture and ISO settings.
One of the much talked about features is the inclusion of the sensor from the flagship D4 professional unit, but that would appear to be the only similarity. Missing are the AF module and the high speed motorisation, five frames per second rather than ten. But to it’s credit start up times are quick and the AF fast but there is no video… and no built in flash. Does it matter? Video is definitely a bonus so this may dissuade a section of the market but I’m sure Nikon would counter this by saying it is a camera for purists. Other than compacts I’ve never owned a camera with a built in flash so I wouldn’t miss it but many will mark it down for this.
It is supplied with a standard 50mm lens produced specifically for this model. There is no aperture ring so adjustments are made using a small dial mounted vertically just in front of the shutter release on the body of the camera. This is something I’ve not seen before and it will be interesting to see how it works in practise. One of the things I really like is the inclusion of the old AI tab from days gone by, it is possible to use almost all the old Nikkor lenses with this camera. How well they will perform with digital sensors will be interesting to see.
Despite the retro looks and the inclusion of dials, great pictures and good build quality this is a camera of limited appeal. It may be the first of several models in a retro range, Fuji have enjoyed tremendous success with the X series although until recently these have been styled in the form of a rangefinder. The absence of video will deter many people and at around £2700 there is some serious competition. You could buy either the Canon 5D MKIII or the Nikon D800 and a 50mm lens for about the same price. If you’re hoping for a cut price D4 then I think you may be disappointed.