We've been teased with online videos for weeks, but finally the 16.2 million pixel Nikon Df DSLR has been unveiled. Richard Sibley gives his first impressions of the new camera.

 AP’s Technical Editor, Richard Sibley, with the new Nikon DF

UPDATED: Read our news story on the release of the Nikon Df

Described by Nikon as a celebration of photography, the new Nikon DF is designed with as much about the process and experience of taking photographs, as it is the images themselves. With this in mind the new camera harks back to classic Nikon F series SLR cameras, particularly the Nikon FM2. More of a subtle nod to the past is the use of the old style Nikon logo on the front of the cameras prism.

Named the DF, the new camera is a Digital Fusion of a classic SLR style merged with the latest technology, designed to appeal to photography enthusiasts and professionals alike.

 

Features

With the same full frame 16.2-million-pixel CMOS sensor as the Nikon D4, the Df should perform extremely well in low light conditions, especially with a sensitivity range of between ISO 100-12,800, which can be extended to a staggering ISO 50-204,800. The camera employs the latest Expeed 3 image processing, and it has a shutter that has been specifically designed for the camera. This shutter has been tested to have a lifespan of 150k actuations, on par with its premium, professional, status.

The sensor unit of the Nikon Df

Its shooting rate of 5.5fps is reasonable, without being exceptional, but this camera isn’t about action photography. That said the Multicam 48 AF system has 39 AF points, including 9 cross-type points and 7 points that are sensitive down to f/8. As we have seen in other recent Nikon DSLR cameras, the DF has a 2016 metering and white balance sensor, and it also inherits a 921k dot screen, featuring reinforced glass, as featured on other Nikon cameras.

In terms of connectivity the DF has HDMI output that can show a live view from the camera on an external screen. Wifi connectivity is made possible through the use of the Nikon WU-1a wifi accessory, and the hotshoe and flash can be used with Nikon wireless Creative Lighting flash system.

Whilst the feature set of the Nikon DF is important, it will be the build and handling that will be the biggest selling point for many photographers. It is certainly what has led to the DF being one of the most rumoured and anticipated camera of the last few years.

Build and Handling

Built from magnesium alloy and with the same weather and dust sealing as the Nikon D800, the DF is more than just a expensive novelty, retro-styled camera. For documentary and street photographers, even photo-journalists, it is a serious tool with the professional build quality you would expect.


In hand the camera feels solid and well built. There is a light handgrip on the front of the camera, enough to grip, but not enough to really wrap your hand around like you would with more contemporary styled DSLR.

What is perhaps surprising is the size of the camera. Based on the online teaser videos it has been difficult to get a real grasp of the size of the camera, and the truth is that it perhaps isn’t as small as many people have been expecting. It is obviously the smallest and lightest camera in the Nikon range of FX series cameras, but weighing 710g body only, it is only 50g lighter than the Nikon D610, and its footprint isn’t that much smaller.


What is most obvious about the cameras design is of course the number of dials on the cameras top plate. The top LCD panel has been shrunk dramatically and is a mere slither that just shows the exposure settings, current battery life and shot count. In place of a large LCD are an arrangement of dials designed to make changing the key exposure settings as tactile as possible.

There is a shutter speed dial, which also has a 1/3EV setting. Using this setting allows the rear control dial to change the shutter speed at 0.3Ev intervals rather than the full 1EV stops found on the shutter speed dial. On the left of the top plate is a ISO sensitivity dial, with a exposure compensation dial sat above it. These dials really give the feeling of using a film camera, perhaps more than any other DSLR that I have used. The noise of the shutter and clicks of the various exposure setting dials certainly add to the experience of using the DF. However, although the locks on the dials mean that they wont get accidentally nudged, they may hinder the speed at which settings can be adjusted.

With a pentaprism giving the viewfinder a bright, and clear, 100% field of view, I found that manual focusing was as easy with a D4 or D800, and the circular rubber viewfinder eye-piece is also as comfortable.

Lens Compatibility

Firstly, and it may only be a small thing, the DF can be used with pre 1977 Non-Ai lenses. For the unaware, Non-Ai (often referred to as Pre-Ai) lenses don’t have a Meter coupling ridge around the rear of the lens barrel. This ridge pushes against a lens indexing post that can be found around the lens mount of many Nikon SLRs. It tells the camera the maximum aperture of the attached lens for metering purposes. Mounting a Non-Ai lens on to a camera that has a indexing post can cause damage to the post and/or the lens. Ingeniously Nikon have deviced a way that the post can be folded back in to the camera to prevent damage, meaning that those with, unconverted, original Non-Ai lenses can use their lenses freely on the DF.

In fact Nikon claim that all but 2-3 or lenses they have launched will work on the DF. Those that don’t are the scarce lenses that required a Nikon SLRs mirror to be locked-up before mounting the lens. So to all intent and purposes, if you have one of the 80million manual or autofocus Nikkor F mount lenses made since 1959 it should work on the DF.


New Lens

To accompany the DF is a redesigned version of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G lens. The new lens has the same optical design as the existing version, but with slightly retro design befitting the look of the camera, and a larger, knurled, rubberised manual focusing ring to assist manual focusing.

Battery Life

The EN-EL14a battery used by the Nikon DF is capable of powering the camera for 1,400 shots. That is extremely impressive and thanks to the power efficiency of the camera it can shoot more images than the D800. This adds to the portability of the DF, meaning that most people can go out for a day, a long weekend, even a week, without having to take the cameras battery charger. At worst a second battery is probably the only requirement that all but the most eager photographer will need on there travels.  

 

AP’s Technical Editor, Richard Sibley, with the new Nikon DF

Initial Impressions

The Nikon DF looks the part, and from having it in my hands and firing a few shots, it certainly seems to handle well, and the viewfinder is excellent. There are a few questions that need to be answered. For many the choice of the 16.2-million-pixel D4 sensor, rather than the 36.4 million-pixel of the D800, or even the 24-million-pixel sensor used in the D610 is an odd one. Of course it provides superb image quality in low light with excellent noise performance, but in terms of resolution both the Sony Alpha 7 and 7R will potentially be better.

The camera is also a little larger than many were expecting, though it is of course smaller than any other full frame DSLR, the Alpha 7 cameras have full frame sensors and are also smaller.

And finally comes the cost of the camera. Although I have no doubt that the DF will sell exceptionally well, at £2749 it is quite expensive when, once again, it is compared to the body only price of the Alpha 7R – it is around £1000 more expensive.

With all of that said, the Nikon DF looks like it will be the DSLR that ‘works like an old FM2′, as many enthusiast photographers have wished for over the years. I can’t wait to put a few vintage manual focus lenses on it and see just how good it is. It certainly looks though Nikon has ticked all the right boxes.

The Nikon DF is due to go on sale on 28th November priced at £2749.99 with the 50mm f/1.8 lens. At present Nikon have said that there are no plans to release the camera for sale in a body-only version.

  • Andrew Houghton

    Looking at the specs, I’d struggle to see any advantage over the D600/610. You use the thumb and forefinger wheels to do everything the top knobs do, and you can see in camera without feeling on top. Maybe the AF points are more spread out but other than that, is it that the viewfinder is bigger/brighter, because for the life of me, I use a 50mm f1.4 D and that I bought for £50, I use mf lenses back to 1959, and I am not seeing £1400 value here over a D600. Having played with the D800 and used the D700 in anger, yes the interface is different, but if anything the D7000 and D600 with U1 and U2 are a damned sight quicker and easier. If you like pretty retro toys and are crazy enough to spend this sort of money, wouldn’t you rather buy a Leica? A D600/D800 if you are serious about image quality, and a D4 if you need speed (fps). No video admittedly for some is not an issue, but since the DXXX and D4 do it so well, again less doesn’t appear in this case to be more. Maybe the emperor is plain naked!

  • Hugh Barker

    The NIKON Df portrays a good deal of common sense, good photographers do not need a camera which sings and dances. To market this camera is one of the best decisions in years.

  • Richard Berry

    Looks like the icing on the cake would be a focus aid screen for manual lenses – perhaps not beyond the wit of Nikon to recreate the traditional focusing experience (and ‘snap’) with technology?

  • Ian Littlewood

    Absolutely brilliant looking camera. Brings back great memories of the FM2. Great if it has a motor drive/battery drive

  • George Denholm

    Spelling dodgy. See Battery Life, last sentence. “There” travels?

  • Hugh Barker

    Digital photography without the gimmicks is what Nikon have recognised. Serious training in black and white will always be necessary, never let real photography die and then we will be able to see the very best images in the best galleries for ever and a day.

  • Hedgehopper

    I want one!

  • Nik user

    I would like to know how will manual focus work on the manual lenses, if its via the auto-focus system somehow, it seems pointless, it needs a proper focusing screen that is directly optical.

  • Andy Whiteman

    Well I had camera envy having just put my FM2 away then got the Nikon email but blimey £2750, and no body only option, this is a bit over the top. End of envy just happy with my D300…..

  • RichMonster

    16Mp D4 chip is perfect I think. As a D800 user, I actually limit when I use the D800 as 36Mp isn’t ideal for every job I do. This camera looks to be almost perfect for most of my needs except the price! It’s almost £1000 cheaper in the US. What kind of ridiculous strategy is that? Also seems a bit daft to sell this as a body with 50mm only in the UK when the target market photographer is more than likely to already have a 50mm in their kit bag. I’m sure I will purchase one in the near future, but I may be coinciding the purchase with a trip to foreign climes!

  • Roland Jenkins

    Sorry Nikon

    Too expensive!
    + the sort of punters who will buy this already have a 50mm Lens.

    Also: Why no Interchangeable Focus Screen.

    Why not 51 point AF

    Pros:
    D4 sensor
    AF-ON Button
    No Video

    Summary:
    Make BODY ONLY available
    Reduce Price

    Df2 wish list:
    Interchangeable Screen
    51 point AF
    Dual SD slots
    (for same price)
    +additional MD attechment

  • Mike

    This camera might be a hit, or it might not be. Thousands of people have been waiting for a D300 replacement though (the elusive and ethereal D400), so wouldn’t it have made more sense to produce a sure thing?

  • Richard Taylor

    Nice…shame about the price tag.

    Had a body only deal of around £1450 been on the books it’s ability to fit in with current kit (F5, FM2 for compatibility and the Phase One which has F5 software architecture) I may have gone the extra mile for one.

    As it is the OMD5 thing will most likely become our photographic buiness’s digital camera.

    I know it will sound strange to the megapixel monkeys out there but we stick to what we know as a rule!

  • John Langham

    Why is price same in £s in UK as it it in $ for body only at Adorama? And why are therre “no plans to offer body only” when the whole point is to be able to use all of our legacy lenses ?
    Come on Nikon UK, give the customers what they want and at a fair price !

  • Steve Vaughan

    Looks and sounds great but I think too expensive for a 16mb camera.

  • Ivan Strahan

    The Nikon DF. The concept is what we all want. But it is too big, too heavy and much, much too expensive. The final insult is having to but another 50mm lens when all potential purchasers will already have one. So goodbye Nikon, hello Fuji.

  • James Earley

    I think that fact the camera only comes complete with a ‘retro styled’ 50mm lens, uses a relatively low MP sensor, and the marketing shot of it next to fountain pens and pocket watches suggests that this is mostly a novelty/fashion item.

    I personally like the traditional shutter dial, and the ‘retro’ look but rather than looking like a simplified digital body it appears to have more dials and buttons than my Canon DSLR’s. It looks fussier and less likely to be as intuitive in use, despite the ‘retro’ controls.

    Ulitmately, unless you buy a camera purely on looks and you love the old school Nikon styling of this model, I don’t really see the point of it.

  • Fenris

    Beautiful. But the price is ridiculous. £2749 the same as the price in dollars! Doing a £ to $ conversion that makes it $4388 instead of £1729 if converted the other way.