Full Nikon Df Review – Updated With Sample Images

One of a kind.

9 Build Quality
8 Handling
10 Image Quality
7 Value
10 Ease of Use
8.8

The Nikon Df has created so much controversy in the camera world in the last few weeks that I thought I’d better see for myself what all the fuss was about.  What struck me as odd is so many people had such strong opinions of the camera and none of them had used let alone seen one in person yet.  If you read my initial thoughts you’ll know I wanted to dislike the camera when it was first announced but found I was intrigued by it as time went on.  The following review will be a little different from what you’ve been reading with phrases like “it’s meant to bring photographers back to a simpler era” or “pure photography” left out.

Before using this camera I had a few major concerns for my own personal use as I’m sure others do too.  First, the grip and general handling concerned me.  I wondered if there would be enough of a grip for me to confidently hold without a neck strap as I find that is my preferred way of shooting (don’t panic, I use a wrist strap).  I also wondered if the material where the grip is was tacky or slick like the EM5 and would it sit in my hand comfortably.

Next, I wondered how good the viewfinder would be.  Maybe I’m the minority here but I prefer an electronic viewfinder like the Olympus OMD EM1 over an optical viewfinder every day of the week.  That was actually my biggest disappointment as I thought Nikon could have done something similar to what the X100S did with the option to use either (maybe in next years version if it’s a hit).  My personal experience with the D600 (multiple bodies returned) and it’s inability to obtain correct focus using the diopter adjustment with my perfect vision left a nasty taste in my mouth.

Lastly, I wondered if the camera would have image quality so noticeably better than the OMD EM1 that it would warrant a switch.  I’ve shot with the D800 and D600/610 before and, for my needs, while the image quality was better the size of the camera as well as file sizes of the images were enough to get me to switch back to the M4/3 format.

Why do I compare the obviously superior sensor of the Df with the likes of the X100s or OMD EM1?  The technology in these two cameras are blowing away Nikon and Canon cameras and the only thing that keeps them behind is their lack of a sensor with the dynamic range and image quality of their larger DSLR counterparts.  Sony has shown that it’s possible to pair a full frame sensor with a mirrorless camera and it’s only a matter of time before Olympus, Panasonic, or Fuji puts one into a form factor like the OMD line that has already attracted many pros from Nikon and Canon.

Image Quality

The sensor is the same as the one inside the D4, Nikon’s flagship camera that costs around $6,000.  So for half the cost you can get the same image quality in a smaller, lighter, more travel friendly body.  At least that is how I looked at it.

The Df is an incredibly versatile camera and would make a great primary camera for a large amount of photographers.  The low light capabilities of this camera continues to amaze me, it translates into more photography when I’d otherwise put away my camera because the image quality would suck at such high ISO.

1213_untitled_004ISO 6400 JPEG with minimal processing.

Gallery below all shot at ISO 4000

If you enjoy long exposure as well as astrophotography the Df has a sensor that will deliver time and time again.  There is not a lot to say about the image quality because there is a good chance that you’d never realize its full potential unless you drop 2 or more thousand dollars on the best glass you can buy.  If you plan on using cheap zooms with the Df you will grossly under utilize the capabilities of the sensor.

 

Ease of Use

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 6.13.41 PM

Update (12/7/13): Shot with the Df in 30 degree weather while wearing gloves and did not need to remove the gloves to make any adjustments (thank you big adjustment knobs), the camera performed like a champ.  The snow was really coming down but it was a non issue as the cameras weather sealing is the same as the Nikon’s D800. 

I’ve run into a fair share of people who couldn’t for the life of them figure out how to adjust the shutter and aperture settings on their D####.  The dials on the Df completely solve this issue.  Even if you only have minimal familiarity with terms like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO you will figure out how to adjust them on this camera within seconds of picking it up.  No need to be a tech genius with the Df, I believe that was the point of the camera.

The dials can be easily adjusted with your eye pressed against the viewfinder and one hand, contrary to some of the previews/reviews written by people who either didn’t actually see or touch the camera or those who had only a moment to hold the camera.  The exposure compensation dial is the one that many people will complain about because of the need to press the lock button before each adjustment, admittedly this is a design flaw but it’s easily overcome.  For the Exposure Comp dial use your index finger to depress the button lock and then rotate the actual dial with your thumb or middle finger.  I’ll talk more about the dials and how to hold the camera in the handling section of this review.

Nikon Df

The viewfinder was a pleasure to use, nice and bright.  As you know, my biggest concern was if I would like it compared to the electronic viewfinder of the EM1 which sets the bar as far as I’m concerned (this is obviously subjective) but the Df viewfinder was great.  I have no qualms using this optical viewfinder over an electronic viewfinder.  It’s better than the D600’s that I’ve used and on par with my D800 if not better.  It’s very easy to manually focus lenses using the optical viewfinder even without focus peaking.

I’ll assume that you know your way around a cameras menu since the Df is built with the prothusiast in mind.  With that being said the menu is not much different from the other professional Nikon bodies (minus anything to do with video since the Df is too cool for that).  One of the first things you’ll notice when you put the camera up to your eye for the first time to take that killer shot of your cat licking itself is that you won’t see the ISO in the viewfinder…  The ISO will show in the viewfinder on the right hand side if you adjust the ISO while having your eye to the viewfinder but for those of you who want to see it constantly here is the fix:

Show ISO Setting In The Viewfinder

Hit the Menu button –> Navigate to the Custom Settings Menu (the little pencil) –> Select D (shooting and display) –> Select ISO Display (default is off) –> Select ON and press OK.

The auto focus on the Df is stellar.  While walking around getting some urban photos I saw a bird and a plane overhead and just thought I’d see if I could grab them real quick in single auto focus mode…  I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

1213_untitled_085And now the crop

1213_untitled_085-2

1213_untitled_048-2And for the crop

1213_untitled_048

Build Quality

I was able to handle both the black and the more retro black and silver versions of the camera.  I initially ordered the retro looking camera and after handling them cancelled that order and purchased the black one.  The silver and black one looks and feels a little cheap for an almost $3,000 camera.  I also found the black version more aesthetically pleasing when using some of my newer lenses on the Df.

The camera is solid (it should be, it’s built with magnesium alloy) and it’s environmentally sealed.  It’s light but not so light it feels cheap.  If you’re coming from a D800 you may initially feel it’s a little too light but that wears off in the first 10 or so minutes and you’ll appreciate the cameras lighter feel.  The grip worried me initially and though smaller than I typically like it’s not so small that I’d feel uncomfortable hand holding for an afternoon of shooting.  What helped was that the back juts out a tad for your thumb so you don’t feel like you have to white knuckle the camera while hand holding (I’d still recommend a wrist strap at the least).

The weakest part of most cameras is the battery door…  The Df is no different, it feels cheap and I will be sure to be careful opening and closing this camera in the future so I don’t snap the thing off.  On the plus side, the battery door is securely fastened with a metal twist lock which makes it feel even more secure.

image

The EM1 was the last camera I shot with extensively and the Df does not feel as solid as that but to be fair the Df a few more moving parts inside.

Value

Well, here is the thing, the Df has the same sensor that the $6,000 D4 has.  You may say “that’s old technology!”  If that is the case you may want to give Sony a call and let them know “old technology” is just as good (slightly better at high ISO’s) than their brand new flagship cameras.

With that being said, it is easy to argue that the Df is overpriced for what it is.  It should have had a hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder, focus peaking, the ability to make manual adjustments while in Live View and see the changes, and lots more.  Nikon has made a step in the right direction with the Df but has is either going to get passed up by the likes of Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic or really catch up to the times with the next version of the Df.  Though, there really isn’t anything else like it on the market…

It may be slightly overpriced but it is the perfect camera for some.  Those of you that prefer the optical viewfinder with the smaller lighter size will absolutely love this camera.  If you want incredible image quality without the bulk and file size of the D800 this camera is perfect for you.  If you want the large selection of lenses that Nikon has to offer then this camera is perfect for you.  I purchased the Df and I will be using that as my primary camera for the next few months as I did with the X100S (read about that here) so be sure to bookmark the site if you’d like to keep up with the experience.

Handling

I’d really like to address a concern I had after reading some of the reviews written by folks who had not handled the camera.  There were a few people who stated that the camera “looked silly” or “felt awkward” with an FX zoom lens attached (though they never tried it).  Immediately I thought that sounded a bit odd as it’s basically the same size of the D600 and I never felt as if that looked odd or felt awkward with zoom lenses attached but maybe they had some inside information.  They didn’t, it’s obviously subjective but the camera feels fine with zoom lenses and obviously the larger the zoom the more the weight will be shifted towards the lens of your camera possibly throwing the balance off a bit…  nothing unique to the Df.  Furthermore, if you’ve used the OMD line you’ll know that a number of the zoom lenses are larger than the camera themselves and that’s not really the case here since the Df is almost the same size as the D600 which nobody every complains about using a 70-200mm lens on.

photo 1-2Showing index finger pressing shutter button and adjusting aperture with the strap under my hand.  The shutter button is easily accessible even though the strap connection is poorly placed.

Here is where it get’s interesting, the strap attaches right where your finger needs to be for comfortable maneuverability between the shutter button and your aperture control knob.  It didn’t take me long to find a comfortable work around but the camera lost a point in my book because of the dummy imbecile guy that decided to place it there.

photo 2-2With the poorly placed strap connection I need to press the shutter with my index finger while adjusting aperture with my middle finger, not very natural but it’s easy to get used to.  I’d like to smack the person that thought that was a good idea.

*I’ve been shooting with the Df for a week now and have completely adjusted to the strap location, I can easily reach the aperture or shutter speed with my index finger no matter where the strap is.

The ISO and Exposure compensation dials have two separate locks that need to be depressed each time you want to make an adjustment.  This is stupid.  The shutter speed dial does it right, you can move freely between bulb and 1/4000 sec…  If you place it on 1/3 Step you can use the dial on the back of the camera to adjust your shutter speed in 1/3 steps as I suspect most people will do.  The first time you take the camera out you are going to be re-learning how to move all of your controls as opposed to focusing on “pure photography”.

As for the grip, one of my larger concerns when it came to handling, it feels adequate…  It’s not so large that it gives me warm comfortable feelings in my stomach when I hand hold the camera but with a wrist strap I feel confident enough to hand hold this camera with a prime or small zoom lens attached (think Nikkor 16-35mm f/4).  The leatherish material around the grip is not as tacky as I’d like but I imagine with a little use that new slick will get a little more tacky (otherwise you can take a piece of black hockey tape and place it where your fingers sit and it will give it a nice tacky feel without making the camera look like crap).

The camera’s battery, though small, is rated for around 1400 shots though I have not had the chance to put that to the test as I typically charge the battery at the end of each day.  This means less fumbling around with batteries while traveling and if you carry a spare or two you may make it through an entire vacation without having to plug in a charger.

Who Should Consider This Camera

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Nikon or any camera manufacturer for that matter so I don’t really care if you buy this camera over another.  Everything I review on this website I’ve purchased with my own money.  I take my time with each piece of equipment (sometimes using cameras as my sole shooter for months at a time) because I, just like you, am always on the hunt for the perfect camera, lens, etc… Then I write here on PhotolisticLife to let you know whether or not it’s worth your hard earned cash.

Is it all wrong?  No, it’s just different.  The camera is beautiful with uncompromising image quality.  Though the camera isn’t built as comfortable as the OMD EM1 it is hands down the best alternative if you’d like to have truly professional camera with a full frame sensor and far superior image quality but without the bulk of the D4 or D800*.  So if you’d like a camera that does not compromise image quality (think dynamic range) for size but is still small enough that it’s a comfort to travel with then the Df may be your answer *The Sony a7 Full-Frame 24.3 MP may pop into your head but the lack of lenses limits its usability for now.  I’d say give it a year but in a year Nikon will probably improve upon the Df and you’d still have the mature selection of Nikon lenses to choose from.

I’m continually looking for a camera that will give me the versatility of something like the OMD EM1 and the image quality of a full frame camera.  If the EM1 had the dynamic range of a D800 Nikon would be out of business.  With that being said choosing the perfect camera for YOU is a very personal decision and what is right for one person may be wrong for another.  My opinion is that the Df would be perfect for someone who only wants to own one camera, which is good because the Df isn’t cheap, and do many things with it including professional work.  If you do (or plan on doing) professional travel or landscape photography then the Df is a great choice (the Sony a7 does not have enough lenses at this point).  Serious landscape astrophotography photographers should seriously consider this camera as the D4 sensor that is packed inside of this little camera is the king of low light.

Would I recommend the Nikon Df?

Yes, I would recommend the Df to successful photographers who want a superb camera in a great looking body.  The Df makes perfect sense for me and that is why I purchased it.  Would I have liked it if it were cheaper?  Of course.

If you’d like to compare the image quality of the D600 with the Df you can check out my review of the D600 here.  For a full review of the EM1 you can click here.


Thanks for reading and I hope you found this review helpful.  Comments are open to those of you that would like to ask questions or discuss amongst yourselves the pros and cons of the Nikon Df.  Comments that berate readers, stray off topic, or are generally negative to other readers will be blocked and your IP address blacklisted (in extreme cases).  PhotolisticLife is a positive and encouraging place for photographers of all skill levels to enjoy.  Thanks!

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7 Comments

  • Interesting read – thanks for this review. I’ve been wrestling with the choices between the D800, Df and D610 and this was helpful. I’m a disgruntled D600 owner (body has gone back to Nikon 2 times now and is back for a third) so I’m looking for an alternative. At this point, I’d be happy to exchange it for a D610 but really like the Df …

    Don’t feel comfortable selling my D600 used (even for the pittance I would get for it) since I feel it’s fatally flawed and it’s not ethically right to pass that on to any photographer. Also shoot with a X100S and thinking that maybe it’s time to ditch my Nikon gear and move on …

    • Hey Dave,
      I too had issues with 2 D600 bodies and never did get it fully resolved (the viewfinder was terrible, diopter did not work). I’m working on a follow up article regarding the Nikon Df now that it’s been my primary for about a month… Also, if you do a search for x100s on the site you’ll see I extensively reviewed it too, after using it as my primary for a little over three months. I have used the D800 and it never resonated with me bc of the size of the camera and it’s image size. I travel a lot and even when I’m not I feel like the d800 is just too big… Perfect for carrying from home to studio if that’s what you do (or wherever your shoot happens to be). I digress, the short of it is I’m loving the Df and I’ll write more about that in the coming days. If you have any questions about it feel free to fire away. Thanks for reading, take care.

  • God I love my E-M1, but I yearn, yearn I say for a full-frame Sony competitor from Olympus that can still work with the six awesome pieces of m4/3 glass I have purchased for the E-M1 and E-PL5 before it. (45 f/1.8, 75 f/1.8, 25 f/1.4… Etc.) Do you see Oly doing this potentially, and if so – do you think such a camera could utilize m4/3 glass within the realm of modern physics?

    Thanks for the great blog, bookmarked and I frequent back almost daily.

    • Thanks for the compliment, I’m glad you enjoy the site. I’ll preface this with I have no inside knowledge of what Olympus (or any manufacturer) has in store but here is what I think…

      Olympus has a ton invested in Micro Four thirds, so much so that to create a full frame mirror-less camera could potentially cannibalize their current money maker (M4/3 cameras). M4/3 cameras are getting better every year as technology improves there may be a day (in the distant future) where M4/3 cameras compete with full frame cameras… if they think they are close to that they may continue to develop on the successful platform they have. If you’ve shot with a full frame lately you’ll probably agree that they have quite some distance to come in regards to low light and dynamic range. So the answer is I don’t know, I think they probably have something in the works but I also think they have a good thing going with the likes of the E-M1… not everyone needs a full frame camera and the $1000 price is easier to swallow than the 2000+ for most full frame cameras.

      Using M4/3 lenses on a potential full frame camera from Olympus may be possible but it will most likely crop your image because of the size of the lens, similar to how using a DX lens (crop sensor lens) on an FX (full frame camera) body will crop your image because of the smaller size of the lens on a larger sensor. There is a fancy technical explanation for this but this response is already toooooo long. Short answer is it’s possible but probably not ideal.

      Take care,

      John

  • Thank you for the excellent and positive review. I agree with you on the ISO & Exposure Compensation Dials, but I am getting used to it so it doesn’t bother me. I love using the control dials, except for when I am photographing an event or children moving, it’s much easier to change the shutter speed to the 1/3 step dial and that works well. I prefer to use the neck strap as opposed to a wrist strap. Even though the Df weighs less, it would still be too heavy for me to carry in one hand. I do find though that the Df is very comfortable to carry around my neck. I love it’s low light capabilities, the best I’ve ever used. I had someone ask me what I was going to do about not having two SD card slots. I read your article on the WD Passport with the card reader and eventually I would like to buy one. Overall with a few things that Nikon could have improved on, I am super happy with my Df. I am looking forward to buying another lens or two next year. I bought the kit and for now the 50mm is fine.

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