Nikon Df Review

 
Camera Reviews > Nikon Cameras > Nikon D i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Df
Resolution: 16.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
Kit Lens: Non-Zoom
50mm
(50mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 50-204800
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 1.8
Dimensions: 5.6 x 4.3 x 2.6 in.
(144 x 110 x 67 mm)
Weight: 34.7 oz (983 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP: $3,000
Availability: 11/2013
Manufacturer: Nikon
16.20
Megapixels
Nikon F 35mm
size sensor
image of Nikon Df
Front side of Nikon Df digital camera Back side of Nikon Df digital camera Top side of Nikon Df digital camera Left side of Nikon Df digital camera Right side of Nikon Df digital camera

Df Review Summary: The full-frame, FX-format Nikon Df takes the same great sensor and processor pairing of the professional Nikon D4, and places them in a retro-styled body that, while occasionally clumsy, is undeniably handsome. Unfortunately, its autofocus system isn't the greatest, and quite a few features -- including movie capture and an autofocus assist lamp -- are missing from the design. If you're a fan of the retro aesthetic and can justify its pricetag, though, it's arguably the best available-light shooter in its class.

Pros: Same sensor and processor as professional D4; Great image quality; Arguably the best available-light shooter in its class; Handsome, retro styling; Weather-sealed design; Big, clear full-frame viewfinder; Excellent battery life

Cons: Expensive; Bulky, yet handgrip is quite modest; Some controls are clumsy; Plastic body panels don't gel with retro aesthetic; Autofocus isn't in the same league as image quality; No AF assist lamp; No movie capture; No portrait grip; Single card slot

Price and availability: Available since late November 2013 in either silver or black versions, both with black leatherette trim, the Nikon Df is priced at US$2,750 body-only. A kit bundling the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens is priced at US$3,000. The lens itself retails separately for US$280, so you're saving only $30 by purchasing it in a kit. It's optically and functionally identical to the standard 50mm f/1.8G lens, which costs just US$220, however, so if cost is the most important factor you'll want to buy that lens instead.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Nikon Df Review

Overview and Walkaround by , Shooter's Reports by Eamon Hickey
Preview posted: 11/04/2013
Review finalized:

Updates:
11/27/2013: Labmaster Luke's Take
01/20/2014: Shooter's Report Blog Part I: Initial Thoughts
01/24/2014: Shooter's Report Blog Part 2: A Nighttime Stroll
02/23/2014: Shooter's Report Blog Part 3: Icy Rivers and Skating Rinks
03/02/2014: Image Quality / Print Quality comparisons and Conclusion

Nikon DF Review -- Front quarter view

Many of us who've been photographers since the film days still remember our favorite cameras from that time gone by, and often find ourselves reminiscing about them -- the way they felt in our hands, the way they handled. Sure, we look through rose-tinted glasses in our nostalgia, but our film cameras were decidedly different to their digital brethren. They were simple and elegant, with form matching function. Major features had physical controls dedicated to their use; there were no complicated menu systems to hide them. And those film cameras were backed up by some truly great lenses, too -- lenses we no longer use solely because modern digital cameras don't support them.

The Nikon Df is a full-frame DSLR that puts you in a time machine and takes you back to those days of film, merging the control-rich aesthetic of F-series film cameras with modern digital design, and bringing new support for your classic Nikkor lenses. The Df trades on our nostalgia, but it's a lot more than just a throwback to another era. Sure, the weather-sealed, magnesium alloy-bodied camera sports physical controls aplenty, but it will also excite photographers who've never touched a classic film camera, because it's the smallest and lightest full-frame camera Nikon has produced to date.

Nikon DF Review -- Dave Etchells checks out the pentaprism viewfinder

At the heart of the Nikon Df is a 16.2-megapixel, FX-format CMOS image sensor, the same chip used previously in the pro-oriented Nikon D4. As in that camera, it's paired with an EXPEED 3 image processor. Although the Df's 5.5 frames-per-second burst performance lags well behind the 10fps of the D4, it boasts the same exceptionally wide expanded sensitivity range of ISO 50 to 204,800 equivalents.

A key feature of the Nikon Df for fans of the company's F-series film camera will be its 100% pentaprism optical viewfinder. Of course, this is a DSLR, and so there's still a 3.2-inch, 921k dot LCD monitor on the rear panel as well, but we'd imagine the typical Df owner will be spending less time fumbling around in menus than most photographers do today. There's also a small info display on the top deck, again as you'd expect on a modern Nikon DSLR.

The styling and handling of a modern lens might, perhaps, seem out of place on a retro-styled body, but you have two alternatives. First, you can mount your historic Nikon lenses on the Df body, with welcome news if you've been holding onto your favorite film camera lenses: The Nikon Df has fewer limitations on old glass than do other Nikon DSLRs, thanks to a new, collapsible metering coupling lever on the bayonet which supports pre-AI lenses. Second, Nikon is also releasing a retro AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Special Edition) lens alongside the Df body, and this couples modern optical design with classic Nikkor styling.

Nikon DF Review -- In hand front quarter image
The Nikon Df has a weather-sealed body with similar protection to that offered by the Nikon D800.

The Nikon Df uses a 2,016-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II sensor to determine exposures, and features a 39-point autofocus system with nine cross-type points. Seven of those points will work to f/8. Both a hot shoe and flash sync terminal cater to external strobes, and as you'd expect on a retro-styled, enthusiast camera, there's no built-in flash.

The retro design goes beyond simply the aesthetic, with a design decision that may surprise you. Unlike almost all SLRs these days, the Nikon Df doesn't support movie capture. For those looking for a film camera experience, that's likely another check in the plus column, however.

The Df stores its images on Secure Digital cards with support for SDHC/SDXC and faster UHS-I types, and power comes from an EN-EL14a battery pack, rated for 1,400 shots on a charge. Connectivity includes both Type-C Mini HDMI high-def video, plus USB 2.0 High Speed data. You can also connect either a WU-1a Wi-Fi adapter or GP-1 / GP-1a GPS receiver to the Nikon Df.

Nikon DF Review -- In-hand top quarter image
The Nikon Df's top deck is crafted from magnesium alloy. The black version (shown) has a light splatter texture, while the silver version has a bead-blasted, plated finish.

Let's take a look around the Nikon Df's rather handsome body.

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Walkaround. Seen from the front, it's very clear that the Nikon Df is a camera which doesn't hide its controls. Buttons, knobs, and dials sprout in all directions, sometimes stacked wedding cake-style, multiple layers deep. The Df is surprisingly light in hand, and weighs about 1.8 ounces (50g) less than the D600 / D610, previously Nikon's lightest and most compact FX-format models. Retro styling aside, it doesn't feel as substantial as old Nikon film bodies like the F3, but it still feels comfortable. That's in part thanks to the rubbery leatherette coating that overlies many of its panels.

Nikon DF Review -- Front view

In terms of size, the Nikon Df is almost the same height and width as the Nikon D610, but quite a bit slimmer. It's around 0.6 inches (16mm) less deep, a difference that comes largely thanks to a shallower handgrip. The grip lines the right side of the camera body (as seen from the rear), and at its top resides an eyelet for the neckstrap, mirroring one at the left end of the body. Both eyelets are angled forwards to help keep the camera from tipping down on the strap, at least when using lighter lenses.

Moving left a bit, there's the Front dial, adjacent to the silk-screened model number. Unusually, the whole dial is visible, rather than it being mostly hidden inside the camera body. Its front surface is lined with a circle of leatherette trim matching the material that wraps most of the camera body. The design makes for an interesting, retro look, but it's not as easy to turn as the more typical, embedded dial.

Beneath are the DOF Preview and Function buttons. At the top left is the Self-timer lamp and below that, in the body's leatherette portion, is the flash sync terminal. Move down a little further and you get to the Lens Release button.

Nikon DF Review -- Non-AI lens menu

Also worth noting is a small lever at top right of the lens mount. This must be raised when using non-AI lenses, and lowered for AI lenses. Not doing so, says Nikon, could result in damage to camera and lens. When shooting with a non-AI lens, you must first program the camera with information about the lens' focal length and maximum aperture, and select that the lens is a non-AI type. Then you must select that lens for use in the camera's firmware, mount it, and shoot only in Aperture-priority or Manual modes. (The camera can't control aperture with a non-AI lens, so Program and Shutter-priority modes won't work.) And finally, you must dial in your chosen aperture not just on the lens, but also on the camera body.

Nikon DF Review -- Top view

Looking at the top of the Nikon Df, hardly any space goes unused. Starting at left, there are two stacked dials, both with locking buttons. The lower dial controls ISO sensitivity, with its locking button sitting just left of and behind it. The upper dial controls exposure compensation within a +/-3 stop range. It is locked with a button at its center.

Moving right, there's a sharply defined magnesium alloy pentaprism housing, and at its rear, an intelligent flash hot shoe with a hole for a locking pin. The pentaprism housing is, like much of the camera, leatherette wrapped, reinforcing the camera's retro aesthetic.

Finally, at right there are numerous controls. A Shutter Speed dial offers full-stop positions, and includes a 1/3 stop position. When this is dialed in, you can adjust the shutter speed in finer steps using the rear dial. Again, there's a central locking button for the Shutter Speed dial. Beneath is a lever which selects the camera's Drive mode, and a Quiet mode is among the options on offer.

The Shutter button is encircled by a Power switch, and includes a thread at its center for a release cable. It sits just left of a tiny and very simple four-position Mode dial. (No unnecessary "fluff" such as Scene modes on what's clearly an enthusiast-oriented camera.) Unusually, the Mode dial must be pulled upwards before it can be turned; it's spring-loaded to retract again once you let go. This locking function prevents accidental mode changes, but it can take a while to get used to.

Finally, there's a small info display, and an adjacent button with which to activate its backlight.

Nikon DF Review -- Back view

The rear of the Nikon Df, too, is pretty busy. It's fairly similar to the layout seen in recent cameras like the D7100, though, so it shouldn't take long for existing Nikon DSLR shooters to get used to.

The Playback and Delete buttons occupy their traditional positions at top left, above a column of five buttons which line the left side of the 3.2-inch LCD monitor. From top to bottom, these access the Menu system, control white balance and image protection, adjust image quality / zoom in during playback, control the flash / zoom out during playback, and finally, provide configurable access to various functions.

Above the LCD monitor sits a pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage and 0.70x magnification, and this is encircled by a rubber eyecup. Above and to the right is a small diopter correction dial, providing a -3 to +1m-1 corrective range. Continuing right, you'll find the Autoexposure / Autofocus Lock button, the Autofocus On button, and the Rear dial.

The remaining controls line the right side of the LCD, and sit inside a gently sculpted rear thumbgrip. From top to bottom, there's a Metering mode switch, a Four-way controller with central OK button and Lock ring, a small Flash Card Status lamp, and buttons for both Live View and Info functions.

Nikon DF Review -- Left view
Nikon DF Review -- Ports

On the left side of the body, you can find a few more controls and features. The Bracket button sits above the Lens Release button on the side of the lens mount, and further down, there's a Focus Mode selector. The side of the body, meanwhile, plays host to three separate rubber flaps. From top to bottom (left to right in the crop), these cover the USB data port, HDMI high-definition video output, and accessory port for options like a wired or wireless remote release, or a GPS unit. Note that the Nikon Df does not provide a composite A/V output.

Nikon DF Review -- Right view

The right side of the Nikon Df, meanwhile, is almost featureless. The only thing of note is a small rubber flap at the base of the camera, which provides access to the battery compartment if using a dummy battery to provide external power.

Nikon DF Review -- Bottom view
Nikon DF Review -- Battery and card slot

The base of the camera, too, is largely smooth and featureless. There's a 1/4 inch metal tripod socket, placed on the central axis of the lens, but rather close to the rear of the camera at or very near to the focal plane. There's also a locking compartment door at the base of the handgrip, behind which you'll find both the battery compartment and the single Secure Digital card slot. The compartment is opened by raising the metal lock hasp, and then rotating it to release the door lock.

 

Shooting with the Nikon Df

By Eamon Hickey

Shooter's Report Part I -- Initial thoughts
Posted:

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

A great many moons ago, when I was fifteen, my mom and my uncle banded together and bought me the Christmas present I hardly dared hope for: a single-lens reflex camera. It was a lightly-used Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f/1.7 lens, a classic metal all-manual SLR. I loved it. Using its simple controls I learned to make pictures.

A decade or so later, while working in a camera store, I earned a Nikon N8008s -- also known as the F-801S -- as a sales incentive. Here was a different beast, with a slew of automatic capabilities and, more radically, a much different control system centered on push-buttons and a multi-function command dial. This new system was made necessary by the camera's dozens of adjustable settings. I took to the N8008s immediately and soon strongly preferred its controls, which made my photography both faster and more precise.

I mention this to sketch the background I bring to the Nikon Df, which its manufacturer sees not as a retro throwback, but as a new blend of the classic and modern. Is that blend a good idea? I've been a bit dubious ever since the camera was announced. At the same time, I was hoping that Nikon would pull it off.

Handling & controls. Straight out of the box, my first impression of the Nikon Df was -- well, it's thicker and bulkier than most classic film SLRs. But that's partly apples and oranges, because it would really only be true if those SLRs didn't have a motor drive attached, and they'd all require bulky ones to match the Df’s 5.5 frames-per-second burst mode. On the other side of the coin, the Df is a bit smaller than most 35mm full-frame DSLRs, and it's lighter than you'd expect. In my large-ish hands, it feels secure and comfortable to hold.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

My next move was to start spinning the Nikon Df's old-school dials, which, even if I no longer prefer them, are delightful to behold. Although the feel and precision of the controls -- and of the body itself -- are perfectly decent, they don't quite live up to the premium price and intended aura of the Df. This had no effect on my shooting, but it's still mildly disappointing.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

After a quick run through the Nikon Df's menus to set the camera up, I spent some time figuring out how I would interact with its unique control system. My test unit came with the new AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Special Edition), which doesn't have an aperture ring, so I would be using the vertically oriented front command dial to change f-stops. Within a couple of minutes, it was clear to me that I wasn't going to love using the Df -- but, by the same token, that it wasn't going to make me miserable either.

And that's exactly how it turned out when I took the Nikon Df on a walk around my neighborhood. Shooting in Aperture-priority mode, I found the front command dial to be usable, but not as good as more typical dials on other high-end DSLRs. I like to shoot in Aperture-priority and make heavy use of exposure compensation. On the Df, the exposure compensation dial requires you to press a locking button to make a change. It can be done by feel without taking your eye off the viewfinder, but it's still slower and less convenient to use than most exposure compensation controls on modern, advanced DSLRs.

I took my walk with the Nikon Df in the late afternoon of a rainy day. The waning light required some ISO sensitivity adjustments, and this setting, too, is controlled by a locking dial. This dial, however, is a real pain. Because of the position of the locking button, you really have to take the camera away from your eye and do some finger gymnastics to change ISO. I neither love nor hate the Df's other dial controls, but the ISO dial was an actual impediment to my shooting.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

In the hand & initial performance thoughts. My first outing with the Df may have left me lukewarm, at best, about its control design, but I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and trouble-free it was to shoot with once the settings were dialed in. I was using the AF-ON button for activating autofocus, and it, as well as the shutter release, were simple to find by feel. With plenty of room on the body, button spacing is very good, and I had no problems with accidental control activations. The dedicated exposure bracketing button on the front of the camera made it quick and easy to activate and adjust bracketing, a big plus in my book.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

My last impression from that first shoot with the Nikon Df was that it -- like other high end Nikon and Canon DSLRs I've used -- is a very sure picture-taking machine. As I shot images of passers-by, storefronts, and even burgundy couches out on the sidewalk in the rain (in New York one disposes of almost anything, even unwanted furniture, by simply piling it up on the sidewalk), the Df's performance was excellent. Focusing was fast and decisive, and shutter delay was minimal. Control response was instant, and bracketed sequences fired off very quickly. Some of the Df's settings can't be changed quite as quickly as I prefer, but once it's set, this camera is plenty responsive.

 

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

Shooter's Report Part 2 -- A Nighttime Stroll
Posted: 01/24/2013

Performance. Since it's equipped with the same sensor and processor as used by the professional D4 DSLR, one could reasonably expect the Nikon Df to be a great low light camera. I decided to test that with a nighttime stroll up Fifth Avenue a few days before Christmas. In this riot of holiday lights and light shows, trees and decorations, display windows and teaming crowds of sightseers, lighting conditions were changing wildly from shot to shot, so I set the Df for manual exposure mode, auto ISO and 3-shot exposure bracketing with the burst rate set for 5.5 frames per second.

This setup worked exceptionally well on the Nikon Df, letting me quickly grab shots as I went; each 3-shot sequence took just over half a second. At one point, near the entrance to Rockefeller Center, I looked up to see a young boy above the sea of people, riding on his father's shoulders. I raised the camera, autofocused and shot three different exposures. The image with 1/3EV of negative exposure compensation turned out to be the best.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

I made similarly-quick raise-and-shoot images with the Nikon Df all along Fifth Avenue. These included other kids on parents' shoulders, and shots of cars passing the brightly-lit storefronts. I shot the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and several other images of the people and lights around the skating rink in "hail mary" style, holding the Df above my head to shoot over the crowd. In every case the camera focused quickly and decisively, and cranked out bracketed exposures with no delay, fuss or muss.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

The Df's controls also responded immediately to my changes and inputs, and it never kept me waiting. As I said in Part 1 of this report, once the controls are set, the Df is a very sure and responsive picture-taking machine. As I shot with it more, I also learned that its battery life is impressive -- I didn't have to worry if I forgot to charge the battery every night, as I do with the smaller cameras I've been using a lot lately.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Nikon Df image quality test results by clicking here, but be sure
to read further on to see side-by-side comparisons of the Df against its top competitors.

Image Quality. As expected, the Nikon Df makes gorgeous high ISO pictures. The image of the boy on his dad's shoulders was shot at ISO 12,800 equivalent, and it's amazingly good considering that very high sensitivity setting. In the wildly-varying light on my walk, the camera's auto ISO function ended up choosing sensitivity settings from ISO 110 to 12,800 equivalents, and I got several dozen images at ISO 1600 and above. They look great -- very few cameras can approach this level of quality at high sensitivities.

On later walks in Central Park and Washington Square Park, I made some low-ISO shots of buildings and foliage, and these look great, too. They're incredibly smooth and noise free, with plenty of dynamic range and very few artifacts.

Want to know how the Nikon Df deals with image noise at higher sensitivities?
View the IR Lab's comprehensive Df noise reduction series by clicking here.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

 

Shooter's Report Part 3 -- Icy Rivers and Skating Rinks
Posted: 02/23/2013

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

Viewfinder and LCD. All current full-frame DSLRs that I'm aware of provide nice, big viewfinder images. The Nikon Df is no exception. It's one of the pleasures of these cameras, especially because you benefit from it on every shot. The Df doesn't skimp on the viewfinder, which is sharp and bright. The top professional full-frame cameras might be slightly better, but I didn't have one to directly compare, and it would be splitting hairs anyway. On two different days in mid-January, I took the camera out along the Hudson River at dusk to shoot landscapes, and the roomy viewfinder made precise decisions about composition easy despite the waning light. It was equally enjoyable on my night walk up Fifth Avenue.

The Nikon Df's LCD is among the best I've seen, providing a large, very sharp image. It does seem to have a somewhat warm color cast, though, something I didn't notice until I shot some comparisons with another camera one day. That said, color casts in camera LCDs are almost universal. We're in the middle of a long, cold winter in New York, so I almost never had the camera out on a sunny day, but I noticed nothing unusual about the LCD in bright light, compared to other high-end displays.

Want to learn more about the Nikon Df's TTL optical viewfinder?
Click here to see our viewfinder test results.

Shooting action. Nikon is marketing the Df as a tool for a more classical, contemplative style of photography, so I didn't expect it to be optimized for action shooting. In that sense, I can't really criticize the company's choice to use their second-tier autofocus system on the Nikon Df. Still, the camera can shoot at 5.5 frames per second, and does so for 25 raw frames or more without stalling (depending on bit depth and compression). While I wouldn't recommend it for full-time sports shooters, it certainly merits consideration as an all-around, shoot-anything DSLR.

With that in mind, on one Sunday I grabbed the Nikon Df and headed for the ice rink at Bryant Park. It was snowing lightly for most of the time shooting, but I was confident the camera's weather sealing would be up to the task.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

At the rink, I set up at the end of the longest straightaway and shot a few dozen bursts of the fastest skaters I could find. I tried both single-area AF and the 9-point dynamic AF modes, and shot at f/2.8 or wider so that depth-of-field would not hide focus errors. The results were about what I expected: adequate but not spectacular. The Df had a hit rate above 50%, but noticeably behind the best-focusing sports cameras from Nikon and its rivals.

Just how fast is the Nikon Df? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

That said, on my subway ride over to the rink, I shot some quick street-style images of my fellow riders on the trains and in the stations. The Nikon Df focused very decisively and accurately in these low-light conditions, just as it did at night on Fifth Avenue, during the stroll that I wrote about in part two of my Shooter's Report.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

Throughout the time I spent with the Nikon Df, I found its autofocus, control, shutter response to be more than fine for most shooting environments, and I never got close to stalling its generous buffer.

Lens. In the general city shooting I've already mentioned in this report, I found myself liking the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Special Edition) lens. Using it to shoot street images in Central Park and along Fifth Avenue, I was pleased with its near-silent operation and quick focus response. Although it's not a premium-quality optic, it still feels solidly built and has a reasonably well-dampened manual focus ring. I also like its slightly retro look.


Nikon DF review -- AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens.
Nikon DF review -- AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens.
The retro-styled Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G Special Edition lens (left) is optically identical to the standard one (right), but its plastic barrel is just fractionally larger and heavier. Sadly, there's no aperture ring, so handling doesn't match the Nikon Df's retro aesthetic any better than does the standard version.

Early in the year, I got a chance to shoot some landscapes along the banks of the half-frozen Hudson River near Kingston, New York under a cold, dark gray late afternoon sky. When I came across a fallen tree, I decided to shoot it wide open at f/1.8, hoping to cause the background to fade into a blur and evoke the quiet, almost melancholy feel of the day. I was really pleased with the way the lens rendered that scene and other landscapes I shot the same way. Although I'm generally skeptical of subjective impressions, I'll break my rule and say this optic has an unusually nice look to it with very pleasing bokeh when shot at wide apertures.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

My images from the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G (Special Edition) were also quite sharp and low in distortion. I did notice fairly significant light falloff at wider apertures, although the Nikon Df (and other Nikon DSLRs) can automatically compensate for that.

How good is the Nikon Df's AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G kit lens?
Click here to see our kit lens test results of this optional optic.

Summing it up. Over the course of my six weeks with the Nikon Df, I shot a lot of different subjects, from frozen rivers to giant soap bubbles; nieces to novelists. The camera did a pretty good job with all of them, and a couple of the images are downright gorgeous.

Through all that shooting -- more than 1,000 images, all told -- the Nikon Df churned away with unassailable competence and exceptional flexibility, capturing picture after picture quickly and decisively. If you need the absolute best high ISO capability, you'd probably have to spend twice as much to match the Df, and that is perhaps this camera’s biggest advantage.

Nikon DF review -- Sample photo

And yet, in physical terms I don't really think the Df is a successful design. Other than the frustrating ISO dial, there's nothing terribly wrong with the design; it's just that it doesn't feel especially right, either. Trying to intelligently accommodate new and old aperture control regimes -- lens rings vs. body control dials -- has implications that ripple through the design, and it turns out to have been too big a hurdle for Nikon's design team this time around.

Want to see more of my real-world Nikon Df sample photos?
Take a look in the gallery for 24 shots, including several .NEF raw files.

For me, what it comes down to in the end is that all the nice things I said about the Nikon Df's responsiveness are at least as true of other (in some cases, cheaper) full-frame DSLRs with more modern control setups, which make them faster and easier to use. There's just no real benefit to the Df's throwback controls. The blend, like a mediocre coffee, may be perfectly drinkable, but it's not deliciously tasty.

This, then, is a camera that leaves me conflicted. I'm not satisfied with it ergonomically-speaking, but there's no question that it can shoot great photos, and handles low-light shooting with aplomb. Is it right for you? The answer to that question may depend in large part on what you consider most important: the shooting experience, or the final result of your labor.

 

Nikon Df Review -- Labmaster Luke's Take

When we received our test sample of the Nikon Df, the first one of us to actually shoot with it was our senior lab technician Luke Smith. Luke has shot pretty much every significant camera that's been announced in the last ten years or so, so we thought his insights on the Nikon Df would be interesting to our readers. Herewith, then, some handling notes from Luke:

"The Nikon Df focuses nicely, the exposure is consistent and it's reasonably quiet to operate. To my eye, its images look quite like those from the Nikon D4, as expected.

The control dials work well for the most part, especially the ones with the center depress button, but there are two that don't work so well for my tastes. The ISO dial is a bear, and takes two hands -- one to press the lock release and one to turn the dial, which is really frustrating. And the Shutter Speed dial is pointless to me, because in order to achieve precise speeds you have to turn the dial close to where you want it, and then use the common digital scroll wheel to get it precise. But if you just set the dial to 1/3-stop increments then you can do this anyway, and I am guessing most people will set it there and never touch it again, using the more common and easy rear dial instead.

The top shutter speed is only 1/4,000s, where the D4 will go to 1/8,000s. Because of this and the minimum aperture being f/22, I was unable to complete our full series of ISO tests, because as I approached the top sensitivity -- a whopping ISO 204,800, as also found on the D4 -- I was unable to achieve optimal exposure. This is only a small gripe that will not affect many shots, but it is still worth noting.

The viewfinder is very nice and big, like a film SLR, but the overall look of the camera is not to my tastes. The 'silver' edition that we're testing seems to use several different shades of plating for the exterior, making the body somewhat cheap-looking compared to most pro cameras. And the shiny black front caps on several of the front buttons don't help in this respect.

Overall, the Nikon Df is an interesting camera which takes nice images, but has some rather oddball quirks."

 

Nikon Df Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Nikon Df with the Nikon D4, Canon 5D Mark III, Fuji X-T1, Nikon D800 and Sony A7.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Nikon Df versus Nikon D4 at ISO 100

Nikon Df at ISO 100
Nikon D4 at ISO 100

This comparison is almost too close to call. Both perform admirably here at base ISO, as expected. The Df does pull more fine detail from the pink fabric swatch, and perhaps just a slight bit more from the mosaic tiles as well, but the default JPEG sharpening could be as much of a factor here as anything else. Note, of course, that the Df costs roughly half as much as the D4.


Nikon Df versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

Nikon Df at ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

The 5D Mark III has 6.1 megapixels greater resolution than does the Df, and the fine detail is amazing and crisp. Note that the Df does still out-resolve it in the difficult red fabric swatch, an area Nikons are known to excel in more than any other manufacturer.


Nikon Df versus Fuji X-T1 at base ISO

Nikon Df at ISO 100
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 200

Resolutions are almost identical between these two, but the X-T1 has an APS-C sensor and the size difference is clear here, as the Df does a better job with fine detail in the mosaic tiles, and far outperforms the X-T1 in the fabric swatches.


Nikon Df versus Nikon D800 at ISO 100

Nikon Df at ISO 100
Nikon D800 at ISO 100

The D800 has a monstrous 36.3 megapixel resolution, which is more than double that of the Df, and it very clearly out-resolves it in every detail. The tiles and pink fabric are incredibly sharp, but there is a trace of moiré in the red fabric swatch.


Nikon Df versus Sony A7 at ISO 100

Nikon Df at ISO 100
Sony A7 at ISO 100

The A7 has 8.1 megapixels more than the Nikon Df, and is just über-sharp here at default processing settings. The mosaic tiles and the pink fabric swatch are about as sharp and clear as anything we've yet seen from any camera. Note that as with the 5D Mark III, the Df does outperform the A7 here in the red fabric swatch, and has a trace of moiré as well.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Nikon Df versus Nikon D4 at ISO 1600

Nikon Df at ISO 1600
Nikon D4 at ISO 1600

Again, a tight race here between the new Nikon on the block and the storied veteran. At half the price, the Df does produce a slightly crisper image in some areas, especially the mosaic tiles crop and pink fabric swatch.


Nikon Df versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

Nikon Df at ISO 1600
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

The 5D Mark III begins to introduce signs of noise processing artifacts here, seen as mild splotches in the tile crop and pink fabric swatch. They are minor, but the Df does look a bit more natural here, and far superior in the red fabric swatch.


Nikon Df versus Fuji X-T1 at ISO 1600

Nikon Df at ISO 1600
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 1600

The X-T1 and its APS-C sensor start to lose ground here to the full-frame Df, with more noise in the bottle, less detail in the mosaic and far less detail in the fabric.


Nikon Df versus Nikon D800 at ISO 1600

Nikon Df at ISO 1600
Nikon D800 at ISO 1600

Both cameras do an excellent job for ISO 1600, and the resolution differences makes an accurate comparison somewhat difficult. The Df does hold its own though.


Nikon Df versus Sony A7 at ISO 1600

Nikon Df at ISO 1600
Sony A7 at ISO 1600

The A7 outperforms the Df here in every area except for the red fabric swatch. The detail in the mosaic tile is incredible for this ISO. It's odd that it misses the red fabric so badly, but most cameras other than Nikons do as ISO rises.


Today's ISO 3200 is yesterday's ISO 1600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3200.

Nikon Df versus Nikon D4 at ISO 3200

Nikon Df at ISO 3200
Nikon D4 at ISO 3200

Interesting, as the Df has a bit less noise in the shadows behind the bottle crop. Both do exceptionally well for this ISO sensitivity, with a nod to the Df in the mosaic tiles and pink fabric swatch, and to the D4 in the red fabric swatch.


Nikon Df versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

Nikon Df at ISO 3200
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

The 5D Mark III has a bit less noise in the bottle crop shadows, but exhibits more noise processing artifacts as well. The Df's rendering of the fabric swatch is far superior in all respects.


Nikon Df versus Fuji X-T1 at ISO 3200

Nikon Df at ISO 3200
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 3200

Again, the X-T1 loses a lot of ground here, with less detail in the mosaic tiles and almost no detail in the fabric swatch. Higher ISO is where the Df's full-frame sensor really dominates most-all APS-C competitors.


Nikon Df versus Nikon D800 at ISO 3200

Nikon Df at ISO 3200
Nikon D800 at ISO 3200

The Df's reasonably controlled noise levels here are interesting in comparison. The resolution differential makes an accurate comparison difficult, but again the Df certainly belongs in the same league as the highly regarded D800.


Nikon Df versus Sony A7 at ISO 3200

Nikon Df at ISO 3200
Sony A7 at ISO 3200

The A7 finally starts to show some noise processing artifacts here, with minor splotches in the tiles and pink fabric, bit nothing serious. It does lose out in the red fabric, while the Df appears more natural and well-rounded throughout.


Detail: Nikon Df versus Nikon D4, Canon 5D Mark III, Fuji X-T1, Nikon D800 and Sony A7.

Nikon
DF

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D4

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
5D Mk III

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Fuji
X-T1

ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D800

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
A7

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. The A7 virtually leaps off the page here. If sharp, fine detail is your primary concern for something like architectural photography, it will undoubtedly make your short list. The 5D Mark III is also quite nice for fine detail as ISO rises. The Df certainly holds its own though, and none of these cameras look bad, although the X-T1 has a sensor with less than half the surface area of the other cameras, and that certainly shows in the results here.

 

Nikon Df Review -- Print Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints up to ISO 200; a nice 16 x 20 at ISO 3200; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 51,200.

ISO 50 through 200 prints look excellent at 30 x 40 inches, with incredible detail for this size. Wall display prints look great even at 40 x 60 inches, with pixelation only appearing if you get close and squint.

ISO 400 also produces a good 30 x 40-inch print and is super-sharp for this ISO and size. Wall display prints are quite good up to 36 x 48 inches.

ISO 800 yields a very good 24 x 36-inch print, an excellent size for ISO 800, maintaining fine detail even in our tricky target red swatch (which Nikons do particularly well with) and revealing virtually no noise in flatter areas. One of the best ISO 800 prints we have yet seen from any camera, as well as a 20 x 30-inch print here with amazing clarity.

ISO 1600 images begin to show the first trace of minor chroma noise in flatter areas, but this sensitivity still produces a very nice 20 x 30-inch print or a super-tight 16 x 20.

ISO 3200 prints a good 16 x 20, with only a moderate amount of noise in flat and shadowy areas. Our target red swatch is still rendered with an amazing amount of detail, almost unprecedented for this sensitivity.

ISO 6400 produces a 13 x 19-inch print that is usable for less critical applications, or an 11 x 14 that is quite good.

ISO 12,800 yields a rarity in the print department for this sensitivity: a good 8 x 10-inch print!

ISO 25,600 prints a very good 5 x 7, yet again an amazing feat at this ISO.

ISO 51,200 allows for a good 4 x 6-inch print.

ISOs 102,400 and 204,800 do not yield good prints, and are best avoided.

DxOMark awarded the Nikon Df its best low light score to date, and that is certainly supported from our results here. It is simply the low light camera, doing a terrific job yielding good prints all the way to ISO 51,200. Most amazing are the Df's capabilities in the common low light settings of ISO 800 through ISO 6400. Very large prints are still possible at these sensitivities, and a rare 8 x 10-inch print is possible at ISO 12,800.

 

In the Box

The Nikon Df Special Edition Lens kit with 50mm prime lens (as reviewed) contains the following items:

  • Nikon Df body
  • AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens (optically and functionally identical to standard version.)
  • HB-47 bayonet lens hood
  • CL-1013 soft lens case
  • LC-58 lens cap
  • LF-4 rear cap
  • BF-1B body cap
  • EN-EL14a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
  • MH-24 quick charger
  • AN-DC9 shoulder strap
  • UC-E6 USB cable
  • BS-1 accessory shoe cover
  • DK-26 eyepiece cap
  • DK-17 eyepiece
  • NikonView NX2 Software CD-ROM
  • 1-Year Limited Warranty

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 16GB Class 4 should be a minimum.
  • Spare EN-EL14A or EN-EL14 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for extended shooting
  • EH-5b AC adapter and EP-5A power supply connector for studio shooting
  • Additional lenses
  • External Speedlight flash, or other shoe-mount accessory flash
  • DK-17 series dioptric lenses for viewfinder (if built-in diopter adjustment is insufficient for your prescription)
  • DG-2 eyepiece magnifier or DR-5 right-angle viewfinder
  • MC-DC2 remote release cord
  • AR-3 threaded cable release
  • GP-1A GPS unit (for geotagging of images)
  • WU-1a wireless mobile adapter (for Wi-Fi remote control)
  • WR-1, WR-R10 and/or WR-T10 wireless remote controls
  • HTC-100 or other Mini-HDMI cable
  • Small to medium camera case or Nikon's CF-DC6 leather case (available in black or brown)

 

Nikon Df Review -- Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Same sensor and processor pairing as pro-oriented Nikon D4, but at half the price
  • Great image quality with outstanding high ISO performance
  • Arguably the best available-light cam in its class
  • Accurate color reproduction (though some may feel default saturation is a bit dull)
  • Weather-sealed body
  • Extensive external controls
  • Big, clear full-frame viewfinder
  • Retro styling is very handsome
  • Shutter button accepts threaded cable release
  • Supports non-AI lenses for manual shooting
  • In-camera lens corrections
  • Active D-lighting helps with high-contrast scenes
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Low prefocused shutter lag
  • Good single-shot cycle times
  • Decent (though not stellar, considering the resolution) burst speeds
  • Good buffer depths
  • Excellent battery life
  • Pricetag is close to that of impressive Nikon D800 / D800E
  • Bulky, yet handgrip is quite shallow for the size
  • Some physical controls are clumsy, especially ISO dial, front dial, and Mode dial
  • Reliance on Mode dial instead of A positions on other dials feels unintuitive
  • Extensive use of plastic belies retro aesthetic
  • Optical viewfinder accuracy could be better
  • AF point indication in viewfinder is hard to see in bright light with dark background
  • Mediocre autofocus speeds
  • Disappointing low-light AF sensitivity
  • No built-in flash (but target market may see this as a Pro)
  • No built-in AF illuminator
  • No movie mode
  • Single card slot
  • No portrait grip accessory available

The retro-styled, weather-sealed Nikon Df is an undeniably handsome camera, packed with external controls much like the F-series film cameras of days gone by. But perhaps its best attribute is what lies inside -- the very same sensor and processor featured in the professional Nikon D4. It's an undeniably high-end imaging pipeline, and yet the Nikon D4 costs half as much as that camera.

The Df is not without its quirks, though. The extensive use of plastic throughout its design doesn't gel with the retro design aesthetic, and some of its controls feel clumsy in use. The unusual lift-and-turn Mode dial is less intuitive than the Fuji X-T1's simple A-position on each control, but the lack of an aperture ring on many modern lenses paints Nikon into a corner with this interface. The locking ISO dial is also awkward to adjust single-handed, and the front dial uncomfortable as well.

Nor is the Nikon Df's autofocus system the best performer either in terms of speed or low-light sensitivity. And burst performance, while fair, could certainly have been better given the relatively modest sensor resolution by modern SLR standards.

And there are other ways in which the Df feels limited, too. The lack of a built-in flash is understandable for the camera's target market, but the absence of an autofocus assist lamp is a rather strange decision. And if you want to shoot movies, you're going to need to look elsewhere. Nor are enthusiast-friendly features like dual card slots or a portrait / battery grip available, either, despite being offered by significantly more affordable cameras.

But then, you hold the Nikon Df's roomy viewfinder to your eye, do some shooting, take a look at the results, and find yourself willing to overlook some of these shortcomings. Low-light autofocus aside, it makes for a really great available-light shooter. In fact, it's arguably the best we've seen in its class, and that's all thanks to the choice of sensor and processor. The Nikon Df can capture some really great images in conditions where other cameras would be reliant on flash photography, and great images are the most important attribute of any camera.

While we ended up not being huge fans of its ergonomics and design, the pairing of great image quality and the chance to avoid flash altogether for many shots earns the Nikon Df a spot on our Dave's Pick list. More than most, though, the Nikon Df is a camera we recommend trying in person before buying -- its unusual ergonomics may make or break it for you.

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