While the design of the Fujifilm X-T1 and Nikon Df hark back to an age when 35mm film was king and SLRs had few knobs and dials, do these digital models fulfil the desire of many photographers to return to that time?
Image: Compared to the Nikon FE2 (back), it is clear to see the influence of 1970s SLR cameras on the Fujifilm X-T1 (right) and Nikon DF (left)
This is not a straight X vs Y head-to-head contest between the Fujifilm X-T1 and the Nikon Df. Both of these cameras have already been tested (in AP 15 March and 18 January respectively) and each scored highly, producing excellent images. Both models also have their own quirks when it comes to how they handle.
What is more interesting is that Fujifilm and Nikon have created cameras to meet the demand for a digital model that handles like a film SLR. Both have a different answer to the same question, with each a pastiche of a 1970s film SLR. On the one side is a retro-looking DSLR with a full-frame sensor and a large optical viewfinder, and on the other is a smaller and lighter CSC with an APS-C-sized sensor and an EVF. Each offers an array of buttons and dials.
Also, I am not seeking to prod the hornets nest of the film vs digital debate. Trying to get the two sides of that argument to agree is like asking cats and dogs to be friends. Film and digital cameras have their own needs, and it isn’t simply a case of transposing the controls of a film model onto a digital version.
How features affect design
When I look back at past tests that my predecessors have carried out on film cameras, I do so with great envy. They picked up the camera, stocked up on a few films of their choice and went out to take pictures. The tests involved assessing the handling of the camera, the light metering options and accuracy. Although electronic film cameras had other features that needed testing, it was a simpler process than testing a DSLR. Film SLRs don’t have colour or luminance noise. Neither do they have different white balance and colour modes, or a dynamic range, or raw-file compression. In fact, during the first 90 years of Amateur Photographer, autofocus did not exist.
Cameras have become more complicated. Having worked in retail, I can say that the most frequent request from customers walking into a shop is for a camera that is simple to use. In fact, that is what most photographers would really like. We want to spend more time out exploring and taking great photographs, but we don’t want to waste time adjusting settings and modes. It is this need that drives the ‘I want a digital camera that behaves like film a film camera’ ethos.
All the functions that we now have available to us on a digital camera need to be controlled, be it through a button, a dial or an on-screen menu. This adds to the complexity of a camera’s operation, and it can make it intimidating to use. Three of my favourite film cameras that I have owned are the Canon AE-1, Pentax ME Super and Nikon F80. All were high-end enthusiast models in their time, but now they seem so simple to operate.