NIKON DF REVIEW BY JOHN-HENRY BARTLETT
This is my review of this controversial camera from a wedding/social documentary photographers perspective. My main reason for purchasing this body was that I wanted something compact, robust, intimate, powerful, discreet and efficient. Being a predominantly documentary & portraiture photographer and already owning a Nikon D3s. I needed something as powerful as my D3s but not as intimidating, clunky, noisy and invasive. The Df is small, tough, quiet and the lightest full-frame camera that Nikon offers at just 765 grams (1.6 pounds).
I've been using this body for around 8 months(at the time this article was written) and am very happy with the purchase. For the price I could have gotten another Nikon body which is better performance-wise. But the aesthetics, intimacy & stellar low-light capabilities of the camera is what persuaded me to towards the Df as opposed to the D750, D800, D810 etc.
The Df is not meant for still-life studio or tripod landscape photographer. This body is perfect for the natural light, on-the-go photographer.
The smaller .RAW files greatly enhances the efficiency of the post-processing workflow. Larger files need more storage, which requires more hard drives, cards, etc. When delivering the Hi-Res images to the clients the export is also much faster.
The Df has a unique ability to attach older lenses e.g. non-Ai, Ai as well as current AF lenses (AF, AF-D, AF-S).
There is no video capability nor a secondary memory slot. This means that you cannot backup your images while shooting. The memory card slot is located on the bottom of the camera as opposed to the back. Making it less efficient to remove & replace memory cards on-the-go.
Spending hours shooting with a body similar to that of the d3s has a tendency to detach the photographer from the subject as well as their environment. Your face is hidden behind the body and the extra weight can effect your overall daily energy expenditure. Using the Df is a rejuvenating experience.
The 16 megapixel FX-format CMOS Sensor is the most powerful attribute of the camera. It comes compatible with 2 image sensor formats e.g. FX format (36 x 23.9) and DX format (24 x 16). No 5:4 cropped mode. Pretty much a top of the line Nikon D4 sensor inside a smaller body at half the price.
16 megapixels might sound a bit low but when compared to Nikon's 24 and 36 megapixel cameras, but what it lacks in megapixels it makes up for in ISO performance. With an native ISO sensitivity of 100-12,800 and expandable down to 50 and up to 204,800. Noise only starts becoming a problem at around 6400 ISO. The effective dynamic range also allows you to take an underexposed shot and still recover a lot of detail, especially in lower ISO shots.
BODY & SHUTTER
The Df's magnesium allow body is quite a lot bigger than most retro-styled cameras and that's completely understandable because of what goes on inside a DSLR compared to a film camera. The sensor takes up more space than film components and there's also a heat-sink placed behind the sensor. Although, it is the smallest full-frame camera on the market.
What I find works best is to use the wider lenses on the Df as your backup body and on your main body, use your primes. I suggest the primes on your main body because the shutter speed only goes up to 1/4000th of a second. This restricts your ability to use your lenses on an opened aperture(e.g. F/1.4-F/2.2) setting during the day. The flash sync speed of 1/200 sec is also slower than the D800's 1/250 sec.
The Df is still capable of shooting at a pretty fast 5.5fps, while the shutter has been tested for 150,000 cycles.
The autofocus system is the Df's weakest point. Nikon uses the same AF system as found in the budget D600/D610. The 39 point AF system has no AF sensors close to the corners, top, bottom or left or right sides of the frame. This makes it trickier to compose shots where you're trying to focus closer to the edge of the frame.
Though, this camera is not intended to be a sports or action camera it still does very well in those situations.
The AF is hooked up to the Df’s Scene Recognition System to allow for sophisticated predictive AF tracking in continuous AF, making it easier to keep a lock on moving subjects. The system able to lock on in conditions as poor as -1EV..
The AF-A (auto select) mode is missing. There is the usual AF-S and AF-C modes.
Handling the body takes some getting used to. The grip is a lot smaller compared to other Nikon DSLRs, which makes using heavier lenses for an extended period a bit of a pain. Quickly grabbing the camera, moving with or switching between your main body and the Df is one of the aspects that I truly love. Its not too big(depending on which lens is attached) that it would hinder your movements whilst moving through tight spaces.
Going back to my D100/D70 days, DSLRs have handled and felt very much the same until now.
There are many options for how you want to use the controls. The dual ISO / Exposure Compensation dial is located to the left of the viewfinder. You must use this dial to change the ISO. There is no option in the camera menu, though you can still use the auto-ISO feature. ISO values are always locked, which means you must press the little button on the side of the dial to rotate it.
You don't have to take your eye away from the viewfinder, since the change in ISO settings can be viewed at the bottom of the frame. The one issue I find is that if you want to make bigger jumps, say from 100 to 6400 ISO, you have to turn the dial a few times. If you're not careful, you can accidentally adjust the exposure compensation dial by accidentally pressing down the small button at the top of the dial.
The shutter speed and shooting mode dial is located to the right of the viewfinder. For manual mode, you would have to set the Shutter Speed dial and either rotate the aperture ring on the lens, or rotate the front dial to set a CPU-lens to a certain aperture. Personally, I end up mostly leaving “1/3 STEP” on the Shutter Speed dial (which allows setting the shutter speed manually in 1/3 increments using the rear dial.
The back of the Nikon Df is designed very similarly to a modern DSLR. The playback and trash buttons are to the left of the viewfinder, the right side is occupied by the AE-L/AF-L, AF-ON buttons and a rear function dial. The traditional 5 button layout to the left of the LCD is also there, along with the large rotary dial and “Live View” / “Info” buttons. The back is pretty much the same as on a DSLR.
The rear dial feels exactly the same way as a rear dial on my D3s. It's just the front command dial that has changed into a vertically rotating dial.
Using a speedlight on the camera feels very clunky and off-balanced. This doesn't really bother me as I rarely use my speed flash on my camera, but on the odd occasion where I do use it, I find it uncomfortable as the weight of the speed flash unbalances the overall weight. There is no AF illuminator built into the camera, so you'll have to rely on your speedlgihts built-in AF illuminator to obtain focus in dimly lit environments.