The Nikon DF arrived on the market at the end of last year, after a successful marketing campaign. Pure Photography. Or the story of a photographer who throws himself headlong into nature, equipped in everything and for everything with a camera worthy of the sacrosanct era of film photography. Sacred theme that is, right?
Sure, but it's not as unusual as you might think. The truth is, most builders are now doing retro. Olympus, Fujifilm and even Panasonic have already taken the plunge and Nikon obviously could not stand idly by.
The Nikon DF is the answer of the yellow mark, and it has been with me for several weeks now. The time has therefore come to take stock of the adventure.
At the beginning of everything, there is the technical sheet.
This obviously applies to any product, and also to the Nikon DF. Like all full-frame SLRs from the firm, the latter is entitled to a nice F mount that will accommodate your pebbles in FX format.
On the sensor side, well we will be entitled to a definition of 16 million pixels . Note also that this is the same sensor as that of the D4 and as much to say that it is rather good news if we consider what the latter is capable of, especially in terms of dynamics and sensitivity. Small flat on the other hand, Nikon “was satisfied” with an EXPEED 3 chip to animate its case.
The shutter speed is between 1/4000 and 4 seconds . With a burst mode of 5 frames per second . Sports photo enthusiasts will undoubtedly be hungry for more, but this is quite normal since it is not Nikon's target. At least not on this segment, and not on the DF. The sensitivity, for its part, is between 100 and 12,800 ISO , with a mode extended to 25,600 ISO.
The autofocus works by phase detection, with no less than 39 points distributed over the central area. Even predictive focus tracking responds present. If you shoot a moving subject, well the camera will be able to focus in record time.
The Nikon DF naturally integrates a viewfinder with pentaprism, for a coverage of 100% in FX , or 97% in DX, and a magnification of 0.7x. The eye relief reaches 15 millimeters. Behind it, it will be possible to fall back on the 3.2-inch (921k pixels) TFT LCD screen to shoot.
Which it will be better to avoid. When you spend 2,000 euros in a box inspired by the worthy era of film, it is not to stick in LiveView.
The photos will be stored on SD / SDHC / SDXC cards. The DF is compatible with UHS-I. Otherwise, for the connection, we will be entitled to a USB port, an HDMI output and a socket for accessories. Socket that can accommodate a wireless remote control, or even a GPS module.
The Nikon DF is powered by an EN-EL14e 1,030mAh / 7.7 Wh Li-Ion battery. It is less powerful than that of the D610 or the D800 but it does well all the same, especially when shooting through the viewfinder.
Design & Ergonomics
The Nikon DF is massive, but light. If it takes the lines of the F boxes a little, it is unfortunately not made of the same materials. It is thus entitled to a magnesium alloy frame, with a number of plastic parts.
Pity ? Yes and no. We were entitled to expect more, it's true, but the design of the DF allows it not to exceed 765 grams with battery and memory card (710 grams alone). Against 980 grams for the D810, or 850 grams for the D610. And that is finally good news for backpackers, and therefore for photographers who do not spend their life in a studio and who have to travel in the field.
Especially since the engineers at Nikon also had the very good idea of sticking a few gaskets in strategic locations. The DF therefore plays the tropicalization card.
Its handle is not prominent, but the grip remains correct thanks to a thumb rest judiciously placed at the back of the case, on the right.
But the real strong point of the Nikon DF is its ergonomics and the profusion of knobs placed on the top of the case for the adjustment of the sensitivity, the correction of the exposure, the shutter speed, the motorization. and the mode of exposure. Nothing for the opening, however. There, well it will be necessary to turn another wheel placed this time at the front of the case.
These wheels are locked and you have to press a small metal button to turn them in one direction or the other. Finally, this is the case for the first two, ie for sensitivity and exposure correction. The dial for adjusting the shutter speed only locks in certain modes, such as 1/3 Step.
These locks have earned the Nikon DF a fair amount of harsh criticism. Some trade magazines have even gone so far as to say that it is impossible to change these settings and turn these dials while keeping an eye in the viewfinder.
I dont share this point of view. In reality, it's just a hit to take. Afterwards, it is also true that the DF is not an easy box to tame. It requires rigor and perseverance. As in the days of film photography.
The shutter-release button proudly sits alongside these dials. With a thread. It will therefore be possible to connect a flexible release. A little further, we also have an LCD screen displaying some common information, with a button to activate or deactivate the backlight.
Always keeping an eye in the viewfinder, I never used it during these few weeks of testing.
The mode selection barrel is a bit special, since it must be lifted to change the setting. As far as I'm concerned, I tend to spend my life in manual work so it didn't bother me more than that but I think it can be quite disabling on a daily basis for photographers who constantly switch to one mode to another.
As indicated above, the dial to adjust the lens aperture is on the front of the camera. It is discreet, but accessible. On the other hand, I do not understand why Nikon did not place a functional ring directly on the lens. Well, there is one, eh, but it's useless and it's just there to decorate. Pity.
Anyway, this famous dial is not alone since we will also find two customizable buttons , a button for bracketing and another button to change the focusing method.
Don't have enough? So much the better, because it's not over yet. About ten buttons are hidden on the back of the device, around the screen – not touch – and the viewfinder. Buttons that will allow you to display the last images captured by the camera, to play with the white balance, to access the menu, to change the measurement method or to activate the LiveView. With another dial on the right, to finely adjust the shutter speed in 1/3 Step mode.
Nikonists will feel rather comfortable, others less.
Is the ergonomics of the Nikon DF perfect? No, of course not and its biggest flaw, ultimately, comes from the location of the SD card slot. The latter is actually placed under the device, in the compartment reserved for the battery.
In other words, it is not possible to change the card when the DF is placed on a tripod. Worse, Nikon has integrated only one housing.
The other detail that left me unsatisfied was the lack of focus peaking. The Japanese firm could have really made an effort on this, especially given the positioning of this device.
And then, of course, there's the lack of a built-in flash. If you need to uncork the shadows, or shoot against the light, well you will have to use other stratagems.
As mentioned above, the Nikon DF inherits the sensor from the D4. Its dynamics are obviously remarkable. Except in extreme cases, it will therefore be able to deliver images of excellent quality.
Taking out pretty photos is good, but they still need to be clear. With sharpness, thank you! And for that, there is no secret, it all depends on the on-board autofocus.
On this ground, the DF is doing quite well. It's not the most responsive on the market, it's true, but at least it has the merit of always getting it right.
Finally, it all depends on the subject. On fixed scenes (landscapes, product photos), he does it with all the honors. The images are crisp and clear. On the other hand, with subjects a little more … mobile (my cats, my daughter), he has a little more trouble keeping the focus in the right place. Afterwards, I may not have used the correct settings either.
But the biggest problem ultimately comes from the location of the collimators . They are all centrally located. If you want to highlight a subject located on the left or on the right, you will have to first focus by sticking it in the center, then move the camera in one direction or the other. It is not necessarily very practical on a daily basis.
Nothing to say about the dynamics and the sharpness, therefore. And on sensitivity? There, well it's simple, the DF is almost magic. The images are clean up to ISO 6400, with a little graininess which then appears and which increases crescendo depending on the settings. A grain that can obviously be reduced in post-processing if necessary.
But whatever. What is certain is that the Nikon DF will delight lovers of beautiful images, whether they are discerning amateurs or professional photographers.
Responsiveness & Autonomy
The Nikon DF is incredibly responsive. It turns on in a few tenths of a second and focus is almost instantaneous. Except when the ambient light leaves something to be desired. There, well, the guy unfortunately has a tendency to skate lightly, which will probably not surprise many people. Nikon could undoubtedly have made a little more effort on this side.
The interval between each shot is quite short, without equaling the excellent D4S. On the other hand, if we compare it with the other boxes located in this price range, it does it with all the honors.
As mentioned above, the battery of the Nikon DF is a little less impressive than that which equips the D610 or the D800. This will not prevent it from accompanying you for long hours, as you travel.
I'm not a professional photographer, so I don't spend all my days in the studio. During these few weeks, I still took a few walks, and I also photographed the family a lot. I did not need to recharge the battery and this is not surprising because it has a range of 1,400 shots , CIPA standard.
However, at the risk of repeating myself, I did not use LiveView mode once, preferring to shoot directly with the viewfinder. This obviously plays a lot on the autonomy of the box.
So far, I haven't mentioned the Nikon DF's video mode and that's not surprising because… there isn't one . Some of you may know this, but my yellow mark deliberately ignored it.
This is by no means a technical limitation, but rather a strategic decision. Nikon effectively started from the fact that photographers don't care about video. They are right, of course, but it's still a shame to restrain such a promising case.
However, despite these limitations, and the few defects of the case, this Nikon DF remains an excellent surprise. It is probably not for everyone, but I think it will have no difficulty in satisfying professional photographers.
Moreover, if some of you have swapped your old boxes for this one, and although they do not hesitate to make themselves known in the comments following this article.
And if not, well we end with a video, and some pictures as a bonus. These have been retouched a bit (except the last four), and their size reduced. You can view them in large format by followingthis link .
Otherwise, in the video you will find some of these images towards the end, but without any editing this time.