|Nikon enthusiasts who are old enough to remember the 1980s are the main target for Nikon’s latest DSLR, the 16-megapixel Df. Its retro-styled body design bears a reasonably close resemblance to the Nikon FA, which was released in 1983 and billed as Nikon’s most technically advanced manual focus camera. Like the FA, the Df’s top plate bristles with control dials and the new camera also only records stills, even though live view is available for composing shots.
The Df is being offered as a body alone or in a kit that includes the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens, the configuration we have reviewed. The kit is presented in an elegant box-within-box package.
Who’s it for?
Whether they will be happy once they start using the camera is something else. Dial controls and no movie mode haven’t made operating this camera less complicated; it still requires effort and understanding to unravel its intricacies.
Younger photographers will probably be more cynical as this is a pretty pricey camera for what it offers. And retro is nowhere near as exciting as it was a year or two ago when Fujifilm launched the trend. Sony has been moving in that direction as well, with cameras that may have more appeal to Gen-X and Gen-Y buyers.
Nikon has been promoting the Df as a traveller’s camera, which isn’t unreasonable, despite its size and weight. But it’s still a big camera to carry at a time when many people in its target market are moving towards compact system cameras, particularly M4/3 systems since that format now includes cameras with professional-level controls and performance plus a wide range of high-performance lenses.
I wasn’t too concerned about its 16-megapixel resolution because I’ve found that to be adequate for printing at A2 size, which are the largest prints I make. And I don’t rely on cropping to get close to subjects, preferring to use the right lens, compose in the viewfinder and crop only the top and bottom of frames to create the impression I visualised when photographing the scene.
I actually welcomed the removal of movie recording because I’m not particularly interested in shooting video. Still photography is my passion and I find video requires a different mindset to be successful. And I didn’t miss Wi-Fi and GPS, because I seldom need to use them.
What I did miss were the refinements I felt should have come with a camera at this price: a separate card compartment (and maybe dual slots), the latest top-of-the range AF and metering systems and a more generous and comfortable grip. I also felt the allocation of key functions to dial controls could have been better thought out.
Could these omissions result from penny-pinching, rather than addressing the wants and needs of serious photographers? If so, I’m not sure that equates to the “Pure Photography” concept they want me to buy.
These issues aside, Nikon is to be congratulated for developing the Df to suit an often neglected sector of the market, even though it has missed the target a bit, particularly with the timing of its release. While the Df might have set hearts a-flutter had it been introduced a couple of years ago, times have moved on and it will be a hard sell at its asking price today when so many in its target market are seeking out smaller, lighter camera systems to take on their travels.