In recent years, both Fuji and Olympus have found success with vintage-skinned, high-end CSCs. Now Nikon have entered the frame with their own old-fashioned D-SLR design. In aesthetic terms, the Df loosely mirrors the Nikon FM3a – a film SLR released as recently as 2001 – which alarmingly is only as far as we now need to travel back in time in order to reach ‘retro’. Nostalgic charm aside, the Df spec sheet is packed full of familiar features synonymous with contemporary D-SLRs, but is this camera greater than the sum of its parts? We got our hands on one to find out...
Features & Build
As the only D-SLR on the market with a retro design, the Df has no peers for comparison. In fact, before we go any further, take a long, hard look at the Df on the right. If you’re frowning at its chunky, old-school knobs and dials and find the whole thing unappealing, then you’re not the target. If however, you’re going a bit weak at the knees and are already checking under the mattress for a spare £2700, then you’ll be further comforted by the fact that the innards aren’t as retro as the casing suggests!
The Df’s anachronistic body houses a full-frame 16.2Mp CMOS sensor; in fact it’s the same as the one found in the flagship D4. While some might think that’s a little small for a contemporary sensor – especially when compared to the behemoth D800 which boasts 36Mp – the size is still ample and will produce files measuring 4928x3280px, easily big enough to be printed at A3. The plus side of not cramming pixels onto a chip means that each photosite is bigger, so it can therefore gather more light and offers an improved lo-light performance.
The ISO range runs from 100-12,800, and up to 204,800 in its extended mode. This sensitivity mirrors the D4 as they share the same EXPEED 3 image processor, too.
A quick glance at the spec sheet reveals familiar components from current Nikon D-SLRs. The AF system used in the Df is the Multi-CAM 4800 with TTL phase detection, also found in the D610. The viewfinder with 100% coverage matches the specs for the D800, the 3.2in 921k dot LCD monitor is the same as the D610 and the EN-EL14a battery is also used in the D3200, an entry level D-SLR.
Unlike the other full-frame D-SLRs in Nikon’s range, this release isn’t capable of shooting video – a curious omission for a contemporary camera, though Nikon stated the Df is dedicated towards ‘pure photography’.
The top plate is occupied by five chunky metallic dials – including a mode dial offering the standard M, A, S, P modes – as well as dials for setting shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation.
The body is constructed from a light magnesium alloy, and weighing 710g, it’s the lightest full-frame Nikon D-SLR to date. It’s also the smallest camera in its class, and the body is weather sealed to the same standard as the D800. It’s available in either a black or silver finish, and the body is cased in a leather-like material to assist with grip.
The centre of the top plate is dominated by the viewfinder’s pentaprism – on top of which rests a hotshoe – for flash or other attachments. There’s no pop-up flash on the Nikon Df.
In the UK, the Df is only available as a bundle paired with the popular Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, which lots of Nikon users may already own. For long-time Nikon fans, those old non-AI manual focus lenses will also work seamlessly on the Df (without AF, of course), as a meter coupling lever has been included on the lens mount.
Performance & Handling
The Df is deceptively light – its chunky vintage design implies a weight which is absent when in the hand. The slender textured grip provides a good purchase, but the shutter button is further back than other Nikons so it may take some getting used to.
The top dials and lever switch rotate with analogue charm, but the cosmetic finishing on some of the other body buttons looked a little unrefined in comparison, and may polarise opinion. That said, there’s no doubting the current popularity of retro-styled cameras, so Nikon may automatically be onto a winner. Adjusting the controls is fairly intuitive, but the process is not as ergonomic as that of a ‘regular’ D-SLR. Perhaps that’s part of the retro charm though; a more physical connection with the act of photography.
Composing shots with the Df is a pleasure, the large bright viewfinder gives 100% coverage and is comfortable at eye level. If you prefer to shoot using Live View, then there’s a 3.2in LCD screen on the back which has various info overlay options including a 3D virtual horizon.
The AF system performed well; it was quick to lock onto subjects, though it’s a shame all of the AF points are so closely grouped together in the middle. The focus hunted occasionally when trying to lock on to subjects lacking contrast, and in low-light situations it would also struggle – not helped by the fact that there’s no AF assist lamp.
The EXPEED 3 processor handled itself well in our tests. Shooting RAW files at the maximum frame rate of 5.5fps, we could rattle off a burst of 28 shots before the buffer filled, with a write time of 10.1secs. A single RAW was saved to the card in just 1sec. When set to capture Large Fine JPEGs at the top burst rate, the Df could capture 75 files before the processor needed to pause proceedings, and these files took 7.4secs to be saved. A single JPEG file took just 0.5sec to be written to our SD card.
Value for Money
The Nikon Df has a launch price of £2749, which includes the 50mm f/1.8 lens, making it the second priciest camera in the Nikon FX line up. It does use the same sensor as the most expensive D-SLR – the D4 – which offers an incredible low-light performance; and the Df will give you access to this same image quality for £1500 less – a bargain to some.
The rest of the performance is essentially matched by the D610, which retails for about £1000 less than the Df, so perhaps this is a more attractive option if the 16Mp sensor isn’t a must-have.
The raison d’être of this camera though, is its looks. In this digital future we still crave something from our analogue past, even if really it’s just a mirage. The Nikon Df offers us an experience using retro mechanical controls – a physical connection with photography – alongside the full imaging benefits of modern sensors and technology. In the current marketplace of D-SLRs, there’s no other choice; so if owning a top-spec camera with vintage charms appeals, then the Nikon Df is the D-SLR for you.
If you’ve been waiting for a retro-styled D-SLR, then the Df is the camera for you. Not only does it embody the vintage charm of days gone by, it also comes with a top-of-the-range sensor with an incredible ISO performance. Although it’s lacking certain contemporary features like video or a touchscreen – and the AF system doesn’t quite mirror the top-notch quality of the sensor – the Df is sure to please large numbers of photographers.
- Body price: £1899 (As of June 2016)
- Resolution: 16.2Mp (4928x3280px)
- Sensor: Full-frame CMOS 36x23.9mm
- Lens mount: Nikon F
- ISO range: 100-204,800
- Shutter range: 30-1/4000sec
- AF system: Nikon Multi-CAM 4800 with TTL phase detection
- AF points: 39 total, 9 cross-type
- Burst rate: 5.5fps
- Monitor: 3.2in, 921k-dot non-tilt TFT LCD
- Flash: None
- Flash sync speed: 1/200sec
- Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: None
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Battery: EN-EL14a
- Connectivity: Hi-Speed USB, HDMI Type C mini
- Weight: 710g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 143.5x110x66.5mm
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the March 2014 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.