It's been a long time coming, but now Nikon has released a DSLR in the style of its F-series film cameras. Can Nikon's 16.2-million-pixel, full-frame Df really live up to the hype? Read the Nikon Df review...
Nikon Df review – Build and handling
The body of the Nikon Df is made of magnesium alloy, and while this material is typically used to make a camera strong yet lightweight, the Df is deceptively heavy. To ensure that the camera is capable of meeting the demands of everything an enthusiast photographer can throw at it, the Df’s body is weather-sealed to the same standard as the Nikon D800, so it is fine to use if you are caught in the rain.
From both an aesthetic and handling point of view, it is the dials on the top of the camera that dominate the design. These control the shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and exposure mode, while the top-plate also provides a home for the shutter button, power switch and a very small monochrome LCD panel.
Each of the dials on the top of the camera has a lock button that must be pressed before the setting can be changed, and while this prevents the dials from being altered when knocked, it also makes it very difficult to change the settings without removing the camera from your eye. That said, the dials are easy to use and logical in their design and layout.
The tiny LCD panel on the top-plate is a very nice touch, and is reminiscent of the frame counters on film SLRs. Indeed, the small screen displays the number of images remaining on the card and the current battery life.
With so much manual control, the Df feels very tactile to use – although it isn’t perfect. Rather than an actual handgrip, there is only a small mound on the front. Aesthetically, this helps to give the Df the look of a vintage SLR, but there was a reason that SLRs evolved to incorporate these grips – they allow the camera to be carried and supported more easily than a flush surface. As a result, the lack of a grip leaves the camera feeling somewhat unbalanced, and it is awkward to hold comfortably with one hand.
Furthermore, in terms of size, the Df simply isn’t the small, understated SLR that we would have had when we all shot regularly on film. It is a large camera in comparison, and is practically the same size as the Nikon D610, but without the handgrip. When you compare where the film plane is on a Nikon F-series camera to where the sensor plane is on the Df, you can quickly see that there is a difference of almost 1cm in position. There is obviously a lot more going on in the Df, with its LCD screen, electronic sockets, buttons, dials, memory card slots and circuit board, which is why the body has to be larger, but the fact remains that it isn’t as slim and as compact as many would have hoped. It really is a standard DSLR, but in a body that has been designed to look and feel like the cameras many of us grew up using, and for me it just doesn’t quite hit the spot.
The change from the conventional front dial that sits in the handgrip, to a vertically positioned dial on the Df that sits flush to the front of the body, feels a bit like over-design. I found that the dial on the Df was as comfortable to use as the more typical front control dial, and it almost seems that it has been changed to fit in with the design of the camera rather than to improve the handling of the camera. The dial is positioned in the same place as the self-timer release on some Nikon F-series cameras.
There are a few other small things on the Df that don’t quite add up for a DSLR. By default, the Df’s image review setting is switched off. Instinctively, I found myself taking an image or two, and then holding the camera at arm’s length to assess the image I had just taken. Of course, thanks to the default setting, the screen stays blank, offering no preview, so you have to press the play button to display the image. While this setting can be changed in the menu, for all the Df’s intentions of replicating the experience of using a film camera you can’t escape the fact that it is a DSLR, and photographers will instinctively want to check their images. However, with the camera set up in this way it will aid battery life, so perhaps the Df’s EN-EL14a 1,230mAh battery won’t last for the quoted 1,400 images if you choose to review the images after each shot, especially as Nikon only quotes 600 shots for the same battery in the D5300.
The Df is available in a silver or black finish, and I prefer the black version. The silver version quite obviously looks like paint rather than metal when you view it at arm’s length, and it is also easier to read the white markings on the black dials, which is useful when shooting in poor light.
I’m really torn in my feelings for the design of the Df. While I like the manual control dials, the rest of the camera is really just the same as a conventional DSLR but in a different guise. It feels like a halfway house between a fully fledged attempt at creating a retro-style film SLR and being just a limited-edition DSLR with a vintage look – and it never really satisfies either category. Yes, you can use your vintage lenses on it, but how many people have pre-Ai lenses that haven’t been converted? This is surely only a very small market for Nikon. I own two pre-Ai lenses that have both been converted many years ago, and I can use both of them on other Nikon DSLRs without issue. So it will only be a small number of people with unconverted lenses (which are often collector’s pieces) who will have the most to gain from using the Df.