This week I was in Cincinnati and stopped into a local camera shop to poke around a bit. I noticed that they had a Nikon Df on display, and having read some pretty enthusiastic reviews about it, had to give it a look. (I haven’t posted any pictures as you can find more than plenty already on the internet. Why waste the bandwidth?)
The silver and black Df sample in the display case had the new Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens attached. My first impression was how much larger the Df was than I though it would be. I was picturing something along the lines of the original Nikon F series. Instead, it was every bit as large as the D610 sitting next to it, albeit with lots of retro-looking pointy sharp corners.
When the clerk handed it to me I was first struck by how relatively light and “plasticky” it felt. Compared to a Nikon D610 or a Canon 6D it feels hollow and toy-like. Also, the weight of the 50mm f/1.8 kit lens makes the camera feel unbalanced in the hand. The meager front grip exaggerated the unbalanced weight-forward feel of the camera. I can only imagine how awkward it would feel with something like a 24-70 f2.8 attached.
Playing around with it for a few minutes I didn’t find the top mounted shutter release as annoying as I have on the Olympus OM-D. The top mounted shutter release works OK ergonomically when you hold the camera to your eye, which is pretty much the only way to shoot the Df. Cameras like the OM-D encourage odd angle shooting positions with their tilting LCDs, but not the Df.
The manual control dials, on the other hand were a pure annoyance. I’m sure you would get used to them over time, but I’m pretty sure you’d never be able to make manual setting adjustments of any kind really while holding the camera to your eye. The biggest killer for me was the exposure compensation dial mounted over on the left side of the top plate. That was completely useless for me. The advancements in DSLR design over time have greatly improved ergonomics and usability. The Df harkens back to a time when cameras were clumsy and hard to use. Fuji’s X-series cameras do retro-modern much better.
Overall my impression was that the Df is nothing more than a style camera aimed to draw attention to the brand and take advantage of people who don’t know any better. It may have the same sensor as the Nikon D4, but the body- with all it’s fiddly dials, so-so ergonomics, cheap feeling build quality and faux leather cladding- really feels more like a step backwards than a “retro” spin on a modern camera. Added to that is the fact that Nikon supposedly decontented it to reduce the price, yet it’s still over $2,700 for the body and features all kinds of electronic frou-frou that really just gets in the way of the whole photographic experience they espouse to be a part of the Df concept. If you’re a Nikon fan looking for a full-frame body pick up a D610 for about $900 less. You’ll get 24.3MP instead of 16.2 and can spend the money you saved on what matters most: a new lens or two.
It’s really all quite disappointing and a big part of why I just bought a new Canon 6D. More on that later…