Home Opinion Nikon Df: After a year of indecision, the choice is made

Nikon Df: After a year of indecision, the choice is made

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In my never-ending quest to find my next camera, I circled, poked and prodded more models than I care to think about. I love the Leica X (Typ 113), but just occasionally it lacks the image quality that I prefer. Yes, we sometimes have to compromise with what our kit can do with what we see in our mind’s eye. 

The only camera I tried, loved, but didn’t buy this time around was the Leica M10, with the 35mm Summicron. It was a fantastic piece of equipment, with image files so silky you could use endless superlatives. Naturally, though, this is provided you can manage the manual focus. However while I could push myself and afford one, I have concerns about walking around with such an expensive bit of equipment. Such a pricey bit of kit might in the long term reduce the chances of my using it. 

Nikon Df

So in this quest to find the next best alternative I came up with the Nikon Df. Just as with my Leica X Typ 113, some reviewers were less than over-enthusiastic about the retro Nikon, Ming Thein didn’t bother taking pictures with it, and slated it; Ken Rockwell was indifferent, and the only really positive(ish) review was Steve Huff’s. But user reports and feedback took a different view, and clearly many preferred it to Nikon’s other DSLR offerings, “pro” or otherwise. What it lacks in some areas are more than made up for by that fantastic sensor.

The internet led me to a fellow Flickr user, Sunlan Satori, who I had noticed used a Nikon Df, alongside his other favoured gem, the Fuji X100F. He has also owned a Leica X1, and had written about it over on Steve Huff’s site. But it was his Nikon Df experience that grabbed my attention. Sunlan was exceptionally engaging about its ruggedness, its capability and his abiding love for this retro flappy-mirror beast. And he was quite candid about how he had abused it, and that the camera had survived unscathed. 

Flappy quiet

I even found comments by our own David Babsky, written a few years back, beneath an article on a website. He gave the following view:

“(1) very good high-ISO performance; (2) the quietest shutter of Nikon’s big, full-frame cameras; (3) backwards compatibility with just about all of the lenses Nikon’s ever made for their SLRs; (4) excellent battery life (doesn’t run down overnight like the A7-series cameras); (5) all sorts of in-camera processing, including correction for converging verticals (like the Olympus EM-1 and PEN-F cameras); (6) instant shutter speed setting (with a dial on the top); (7) lightest of all the Nikon full-frame SLRs; (8) smallest of all the Nikon full-frame ‘pro’ digital SLRs.”

Another consideration that helped make up my mind was that a used M9 at a reputable Leica dealer with 12,000 actuations costs significantly more than my entire deal for the Nikon Df and 50mm 1.8G kit lens from Grays of Westminster with only 3,500 actuations. Managing to get the original kit lens in the deal helped sway me to making the purchase. Plus, with such a low shutter count, it is almost new and will have plenty of years’ wear and tear in it, without my having to worry. 

I have to say that working the deal through with was a very pleasurable experience. I must give a special thanks to Tabitha at Grays for ensuring to keep me informed of where my camera was, and when it would arrive. 

Digital fusion

So how have I found the camera? 

For those who haven’t heard of the Nikon Df, or used one, or even seen one, it is essentially a Nikon full-frame DSLR, wrapped in a delicious retro body. Nikon called it a digital fusion, a blend of technology and traditional controls. It is that ability to adjust settings on the fly that made me think seriously about this camera. In a similar fashion to the Leica X, I can change the settings as I am watching the world pan out before me. 

Yes, I am having to relearn which settings affect which elements when shooting, but I have been through this phase with every new camera I have had to date. I am in that settling-in period where I get to know how the camera responds in different circumstances, and how to drive the best images from it. 

This camera has a soul — it rocks — and it has everything I couldn’t feel in the Sony A7r3. This is also a camera which produces beautiful images, but I couldn’t feel it inside — in that deep secret place where you tinker with the dials, frame the subject and take the photograph. I have felt it with the M10, a feeling so warm it makes you want to hunt out another image, and then another, and then it grips you inside and forces you to go out and take more and more and more. This camera has something more than soul, it can almost talk to you as you shoot.

In use, the dials feel intuitive, just like those of the Leica. I even find the front dial aperture setup easy to use, and tactile with it. The ISO dial takes a little getting used to in the way it interacts with the auto ISO set up in the menus, but once you get your head around it, this is a fantastic way of controlling the ISO — perhaps one that Leica could mimic in the M range. 

The 50mm 1.8G lens is stunning. I have never used a 50mm prime before other than to pass through this range on one or two Nikkor zooms on my D300s. It is a focal length that is entirely alien to me. I have to say that it is fun for portraits, and it gives super-sharp results. I have found it decent for use in street shots, and also for landscapes. However on a small number of occasions I have switched to the X for a slightly wider view. And that is why I am keeping the X in the Hadley bag alongside the Df. Both cameras offer something a little different, even in the images they produce. 

Zed lure

It would seem sensible to discuss Nikon’s new kid on the block, the Z mirrorless system. If I am honest, I had considered waiting until the Nikon new Nikons were released. The world has now seen the Nikon offering, and I think it looks promising for the future, but I took the view that I would prefer to wait until the second or even third generation at least before taking the plunge. So I am glad that I have made the decision to go with the Df. This will allow time to save for perhaps a Leica M, and the 35mm Summicron I so crave to fill my image capturing tech lust. 

I have to say that Nikon’s output is immaculate, and with plenty of scope for tinkering. The file sizes are slightly smaller than the Leica X, so for a full-frame camera, it is using broadly speaking the same amount of storage space as the Leica images do. 

In conclusion, I am slowly bonding with this camera; it offers a unique experience that is neither entirely Nikon in the digital age nor Leica in the digital age. It falls somewhere between the Nikon DSLRs that many love, and the Leica M that many also love. I happen to like both in equal measure. So now to start saving towards owning both an M and the Df. That would be bliss.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a fan, having always wanted a digital FE. So is Matias, who has a good review backing you up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IPAeJaNJKw

    The at-a-glance knobbery, smaller size and D4 sensor make it special. The 50/1.8G (nicer looking in the Df version) is as good as any Nikon 50 has ever been.

    I always thought this would be the perfect camera to set up for for old AIS, or new Zeiss manual focus lenses. The only missing piece being an easily changed focus screen. There seems to be a work around using the old K3: https://richardhaw.com/2016/09/11/mod-nikon-df-split-prism/

    • I have watched Mattias Burlings reviews and work for sometime, and his view on the Df is certainly an accurate and balanced assessment.

      I am thinking on what lenses or lens to use next on it – and I have a few ideas on manual ones in the coming years, and naturally I will write about what I get up to.

      • Dear [object Object] (who is this "Dave Seargeant"?) one of my favorite Nikon lens is the much maligned 35/2 D.

        The old "D" screw focus lenses have saturated color (coatings), unlike today’s ‘flat’ coatings and it is not the sharpest tool in the box wide open (it’s a razor at f4 and smaller, as nearly all are). Its rendering open is very nice to my eye, though – "traditional saturated Nikon". It’s smaller than the 50/1.8G and I think will complement the D4 sensor "look" (it does my similar D3s).

        They are avoided by the web as one of the worst Nikon lenses, second only to Matias’ 28mmD and are cheap as sand.

  2. Great Photos, Dave. As expected, the Df produces excellent photos, particularly for a good photographer like yourself. There are very few bad cameras out there in the current market and the Df is definitely in the upper echelon of the really good ones. I would have bought one as a digital FE or FM, but, having looked at the size of the one which my dealer had set aside for me, I decided against it. I would have bought one if it had been around the same size as my FM3A rather than being closer to the size of my original Nikon F. Nikon has been making excellent 50mm SLR lenses for almost 60 years now, so the quality of the lens is not surprising. The new Z line which is only just starting out has all the features needed to pack a big punch in a small compact and easy to use package and the new lens mount size also promises a lot in terms of possibilities for future optics. Although the market is contracting, photographers have a very interesting range of models to choose from and more may emerge at Photokina next week.

    William

    • Thank you for the kind words about my images.

      The Df is an amazing camera, and I like its size, shape, functionality and the images are just something else. Its only marginally heavier than the M10 that I enjoyed using.

      I will watch how the Z line develops, it has real potential, and I suspect Nikon will win many fans with it, and there will be many fantastic images as a result.

      The most important thing is that we (as photographers) have options, and can pick a camera, lens and system to suit or budget, circumstances or capability.

  3. So glad you like it Dave! (..Did I write that? I found myself in an old online ‘Radio Times’ from 1983 the other week; apparently I was talking with David Bailey (that one) and Marie Helvin about being the photographer ..and being photographed! ..th-th-that’s thirty-five years ago!..)

    I got a black one, second-hand at ‘Aperture’ in London (..one of Michael’s haunts..) a while ago: I thought the new price wasn’t justifiable, but the 2nd-hand price was (..and certainly is).

    All those opinions you mentioned (above) still hold true, except for "the quietest shutter of Nikon’s big, full-frame cameras", as the Zeds have a really silent electronic shutter. But everything else is still relevant: excellent low-light performance; top-plate manually-set controls, so that you can instantly see your camera’s settings whether it’s on or off; fairly light weight ..etcetera, etcetera.

    Looking forward to seeing many more of your gorgeous photos!

    • They are a lovely piece of equipment, and are good value used – more so when you consider the image quality vs price you’ve paid to get there.

      I accept that the mirrorless Z’s are going to improve on the DSLR’s, and silent shutters are becoming a reality, even the M10-P is getting in on the act.

      The article i found your comments on is on Steve Huffs website, under Sunlan Satori’s article on the Df – I think Sunlan posted under his pseudonym Dj La Vega. I found it while trawling the views in the comments section beneath the article, and it struck a chord with me and my views.

      I post images regularly on my flickr account, and I have a whole series of images we didn’t use for this article – there is only so many that make the final cut, but the others will appear in my Flickr account.

      Dave – will probably appear as object, object.. hilarious.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/daveseargeant/

  4. Thanks David for this very informative posting and lovely images. Greenwich is one of my favourite haunts and you show it at its best.

    • I have gone every week for most of the summer, but only since I picked up the Df have a I decided to walk further around the area. It is really diverse area, with park land, street area and a market – which to me add so much breadth for capturing some exceptional images. I have few to come to my flickr account from the area in the coming days that were shot after I had finished this article with Mike.

      Object – Object – formerly known as Dave Seargeant – tonight… lmao.

  5. Thank you for this missive, ever since I saw you mention the DF a few articles back I was hoping you would share your experiences, I have often thought about this camera w the ‘nifty fifty’ and with that d4 sensor it is a great piece of gear. I hope to aquire one in the next few months, think it would go rather with my 850, see now I can blame you when it gets delivered I will tell the wife you are an influencer on Flickr.HA

    • Hi John,

      This may be the first time in my life where I am blamed for the purchases of another photographer – but heck, if it keeps this amazing bit of kit in the limelight then so be it.

      I went through Grays of Westminster to acquire mine, and a new one is still cheaper than a z6 and the new z’s kit lens. I notice Grays have no more used ones, I took their last by the look of things – but I am sure one of the other reputable local dealers will have one around in London.. If I am about to be blamed for another purchases, I may as well engage in the endeavour a little.. 🙂

      My research did come across numerous 810 owners, who had a Df, and preferred the Df for everything but their professional work – where the 810 stepped in. So I assume it will compliment your 850 well, and give something a little different.

      Dave – no doubt about to be object object again.. lmao.

  6. Thanks for this update on your pursuits Dave.
    That sensor with its monster individual pixels does a great job catching light.
    Looking forward to seeing more in the future.

    • Cheers Wayne, the pixel size and the light sensitivity are amazing, and it’s close to the D3s and the D700, both exceptional low light kings.

      Dave

  7. Excellent report, Dave.

    It’s interesting, I recently decided that if I was to buy a 35mm sensor camera, the DF would likely be it. Precisely for the retro layout and smallish size. It’s up against the Pentax K1 and the Limited prime lenses in my thinking.

    In reality, I’ll probably hold off and see what Panasonic does with its rumoured FF, but the DF remains a great option for my taste.

    Thanks for the article.

    • The camera is well worth it, the lens line up is huge for the Df.

      As for waiting, I considered it but often first generation products are littered with issues and future generations fix the issues.

      Dave

      Mike I think the object object bug is only happening when I comment from my Mac, and not from my phone – interestingly.

      • It seems to be random. This morning I discovered that I cannot upload replies to comments using my phone and the Squarespace app. It just says "upload failed" with no further explanation. But I can upload from the Mac.

        Mike

          • See the postscript on today’s post. Squarespace are working on a solution but seem vague as to when it might be implemented. It did occur to me that they made the mistake an upset the applecart, so all they have to do is retrace their steps. But it doesn’t seem as simple as that.

    • Cheers John, I’ve just read some of his stuff online – nice to know he keeps a Df handy, alongside his other gear. Its interesting how many other Nikon shooters keep a Df for their personal use.

      Dave

  8. I too waited to see what Nikon and Canon did, then also promptly bought a Df, 1300 clicks and a K3 screen, use my Ai 20mm f2.8, 28mm f2, 50mm f1.2 and have discovered the perfect mate for it in my 18-35G off my D810. I have not used my D810 or my M240 since I got the Df. I can even walk around town at night taking photos without a tripod, amazingly liberating. I only paid AU$1500. How ugly would my Ai lens on a Z6 with adapter be, and no open aperture metering, this is like using my F2A!

    • Hi Mark, thats a nice series of lenses to have in your bag for use, and the Df should make good use of them. Your story is a common one I read when researching the camera – many people have other cameras, often considered "better" than the Df in todays world. However its the Df they reach too more often than not. Makes me wonder why Nikon never did a Df2 in all honesty, there must be a decent market out there for one.

      Dave S – no doubt about to be object object again.. lol.

    • Hi Richard,

      Thank you for your comments.

      I had a look at grays website and they do indeed have some more used Df although without the kit lens. I wonder if people are trading in for the new mirrorless cameras.

      I am happy with what I have and see how I enjoy that. I might add a manual focusing lens at some point to see how that performs.

      Dave S

  9. Congratulations Dave. I’m glad to see you have a tool to enjoy. I believe the sensor is the same Sony 16mp sensor in many cameras including the Leica X 113, although Nikon is justly famous for developing it’s own software to make the most of the sensor’s capabilities. The low light and latitude capabilities of the Df are obvious in your pictures. It looks like your well down the path of mastering this new tool. A great set of compositions and I am especially impressed with the shot of the Naval college at Greenwich. Well done! Looking forward to a whole new set of Flickr posts!
    Richard Scott (AKA object Object)

    • Hi Richard,

      Cheers, I’m not sure that the X and Df share the same sensor – could be wrong of course. But I would wonder what Leica did to the low light capabilities of the sensor in their camera.

      I am already pushing new stuff on to Flickr as have a fair number of images to work with at the moment.

      I also have a few Leica images in the background too.

      Dave S aka object object

  10. Bought a used Df late last year. Mainly to use my Ai and Ais lenses (still have a pair of F3) with digital. Didn’t like any of the other Nikon DSLR – I’m still mainly a film user. To have shutter speed on top plate and aperture on a lens fits my photographic methodology – much of it with Leica (M6 and M8), but the Df allows me to use much longer focal lengths for wildlife photography.
    Graham

    • Hi Graham, I am getting interested in manual focus Nikon lenses for my Df, as wanting to add something else to my bag over time – would most likely be a 35mm lens as that is what I miss most with my Df as that is so versatile. I agree about how the Df is set up, and how having the dials at your disposal makes it more intuitive.

      Dave

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