Nikon Df 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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