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?

It’s not just the controls that have changed in the design of digital cameras. The two key components of any digital model – the sensor and the LCD screen – affect the physical design of the body. One way to see this is by comparing the location of the focal-plane markers on a camera. Compared to a vintage SLR, the focal-plane markings on the Nikon Df and Fujifilm X-T1 are now further from the rear of the camera. A digital camera’s sensor, sensor-shift mechanism, circuit board and LCD screen all fit behind the focal plane, so require extra space, compared to a film camera’s simple sprung backplate that holds a thin piece of film flat.

When Nikon launched the Df, many people hoped that the size of the camera would be more in keeping with that of the company’s FM or FE film range. Better still, many hoped that the new model would match the 53mm depth of the smallest Nikon F-mount camera, the FG. However, to produce something of this size with current technology is difficult. There is around 1mm difference between the focal plane and the rear of the Nikon Df and Fuji X-T1 digital cameras. What makes these two models so different in size compared to a film SLR is down to what is in front of the sensor.

In the case of the X-T1, there is no mirror mechanism. The back flange distance from the lens mount to the sensor is 17.7mm on the Fujifilm X mount. Compare this to the 46.5mm distance between the mount and focal plane on Nikon F-mount cameras. It is clear to see the difference that the SLR mechanism makes to the size of the camera. In fact, the flange-back distance of the Nikon F is almost the same as the entire 47mm thickness of the X-T1 body. Take the handgrip out of the equation and the X-T1 is around 37mm thick, and it includes an articulated screen.

There was some speculation that the Nikon Df would be a mirrorless F-mount camera, but, as we saw with the mirrorless Pentax K-01 K-mount CSC, the lack of a mirror makes little difference in size. The K-01 just felt like a DSLR without the optical viewfinder, leaving some to cruelly describe
it as being rather like a brick.

  1. 1. How features affect design
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