Nikon Df Review...

…I didn’t think I’d ever be writing this, even a few short weeks ago.

Surely I’d never forsake my beloved Fuji X-Pro 1…

And the divine XF14mm?

Both gone!

So what went wrong with the love affair that I thought would last forever*?

* Please note: ‘forever’ in digital photography equates to an absolute maximum of three years.

Chipboard Surround

Alas the gallery that sells my work, Redbird Editions, said that my latest images had reached the limits of the cameras capability. They just weren’t clean enough to print. Many of the recent shots I’ve taken were at ISO 3200 - 6400. Even the Prince of low-light, the X-Pro1, couldn’t produce files that were good enough. Feeling emasculated, I was given a firm nudge towards full frame. But I really didn’t want to sell my Fuji gear, we’ve properly bonded over the past two years and grown to love each others quirks.

I can image some of the good folks who read this will be shouting at their computer screens hollering, “Why didn’t he just use a tripod and lower the ISO?!” To get the majority of my images I’m either climbing into a disused factory or traipsing around Northampton until I find something of intrigue. Either way, I need my kit to be as small and light as possible. I’d considered a tripod, long and hard. What’s more, I suggested to Redbird that I could try retaking some of their selections with a tripod, but their answer was clear. For their large, high quality prints the X-Pro comes up short. Gutted.

But what to choose? The realistically priced options then (sorry Leica):

Sony A7R, Canon 5DIII, Nikon D610, D800 and last but clearly not least the Df.

So my priorities were: as lightweight/small as possible and fantastic in low light. Straight away the heavier/larger DSLRs were out for me. Bye bye 5DIII, D800 and the D610. This may seem like a rash move but my back aches enough without any camera gear over my shoulder. The weight of a system is important to me. Just the Df and the Sony in a straight shoot-out then. The Sony came close. Really close. Alas it fell at the final furlong for two reasons:

Lack of glass - Coming from Fuji, it’s my understanding that many NEX users decidedly covet the Fujinon glass despite Sony being the more mature system. Doesn’t bode well for the A7R. 

I could use adapters but from what I have seen wide angles are generally below par on the A7R… Almost all my fine art work is shot at 21mm. Looking at the lens roadmap, I could be happy with the system in 2015 but that’s not now… Bugger.

Retail Park 4

So on to the Df: It’s Nikons lightest and smallest full frame camera - tick. After loving the direct controls of the X-Pro the Df was also the camera that tugged the hardest on my heart strings - tick. Finally, its sensor is rated by DxOMark as the world beating king of low light photography - game over. Of course, it does’t hurt that it looks bloody beautiful as well ;-)

Prior to buying the camera I was aware that the Df has had it’s detractors but knowing how I shoot, I was pretty sure the negatives wouldn’t really affect me.

So lets address some of the criticisms I’ve read about the Df (often, I suspect, from people who haven’t even handled the camera yet):

Sub-standard AF - Errr, I’ve come from the Fuji X-Pro1… With the Fuji** I’d sometimes be stood there waiting to get focus whilst a cup of tea is going cold and another hair on my head is turning grey… I can’t believe people moan about this! “…39 vs 51 blah blah…”

** I should say at this point that the Fuji AF didn’t really bother me for my style of photography, but for others it might be a deal-breaker.

Confused Controls - Once I’d set up the camera I can categorically state that the user interface - the physical dials - are perfect for me. I shoot in either M or A mode usually with Auto ISO on, so the direct dials mean I never have to menu dive. The elements that make up exposure are at my fingertips. Perfect.

One elegant use of the dials is that once the Max ISO is set for Auto ISO, this figure can be overridden using the ISO dial manually. For example, if I have 3200 set as default max ISO but things get dark (as is usual in my photographic world), I can quickly set 6400 or 12800 on the dial and still get the shot. Not a menu in sight. Why do some people not appreciate that such manual control isn’t necessarily a retrograde step. Perhaps getting rid of them was maybe an error in the first place? 

There are also little things that for those who reside in Nikonland will be familiar with, but coming from Fujiville seem like such a luxury… the little dial for metering for example. I usually shoot with spot exposure, but can change to evaluative metering in an instant should the lighting call for it. Again, no menus. Happy days!

Whats even better is that in M mode with Auto ISO on, Nikon allow for the Exposure Comp dials to work by altering the ISO up or down. Brilliant! Are you listening Fuji?

No in-built Flash - Oh wait, best performing high ISO in any camera ever. Who needs flash!? I can understand that for some, they may wish to trigger their speedlights from the on-board flash. If this is your modus operandi then there may be better cameras for you. Should I want to occasionally dabble in a bit of fill flash, the leaf shutter and fantastic built-in flash on board my X100 will cover that with aplomb.

No Video - I’m a stills photographer, not a videographer. Never used video before. Am I about to start any time soon? Very much doubt it…

Only 5.5 frames per second - could be 2 frames per second and I wouldn't care less. I never ever use burst mode as I like to feel that I’ve captured the decisive moment, not the camera.

Max Sutter Speed only 1/4000 - My average shutter speed is probably 1/60. Enough said.

Too expensive - Well the Df is £2749 with kit lens in the UK. This would equate to approx. £2500 body only, but this option isn’t actually available in the UK market yet. There is no doubt that this is a pricey camera! For comparison: the D800 = £2050 body only, D610 = £1500. 

I decided that the grey market option was a no-brainer for this camera… offered a 2 year guarantee for £1790 with the 50mm kit lens. That’s £1000 cheaper than in the UK or to put it another way, over a third off the price off. It’s essentially the same price as the D610. 

So that means I have the sensor of the £4000 flagship D4 for just over £1500. Same price that I paid for my X-Pro1 give or take 50 quid. Doesn’t seem so pricey now…

The commonly made criticisms therefore didn't seem particularly relevant to me, so I took the plunge. If you are thinking of buying the Df  how do the negatives stack up against your requirements?

Retail Park 3

I suspect that by now you can guess that I like this camera… A lot. But is there anything I don’t like about the Df ?

Despite it being the lightest full frame DSLR that Nikon produce, it is still heavier than my Fuji, especially with the Zeiss 21mm attached! That lens weighs about as much as the camera body. That is hardly the fault of the Df however. And this is all forgiven when I look at the files when I get home. Sumptuous.

Edit (9th March 2014): The size and weight of the Zeiss was getting to me, so I compared the Nikon 20mm 2.8D with it. The Zeiss, whilst fabulous to the edge of the frame, is now sold as in the centre they have very similar performace at f2.8 and f4. The 20mm, like Goldilocks' porridge is just right on the Df.

Here is an image taken with the 20mm (as is In And Out 1 below):

1< (Nikon 20mm 2.8D)

Also, I do miss the EVF on the X-Pro1 as a means to assess WB and Exposure. The ‘mini TV’ would fairly accurately replicate the final image in the viewfinder prior to the shot being taken.

Additionally, the EVF would allow me to compose in 1x1 which is my current format of choice. There is a grid overlay in the Nikon OVF which shows 1x1 but it is nowhere near as clear as the square format option in the EVF of the X-Pro1.

Finally, it seems there is an option in other Nikons to double tap a button to format SD card. Please Mr Nikon San can we have this in a firmware update? If that was implemented, I would only need to access the menu during a month of Sundays…

In And Out 1 (Nikon 20mm 2.8D)

The aim of this review is to perhaps coax a few people who are considering the Df towards the camera because it might fit them well too, but also to deter others for whom another option would suit them better.  Essentially what I am trying to say is that the Df isn’t for everyone, or even lots of people… But for those who want it’s standout features, there is nothing else that can match it on the market IMHO.

I wish the forum troll could understand the saying ‘Horses for Courses’ rather than bleating on about statistics that don’t take into account an individuals photographic style. Whoever thought up the expression ‘measurebating’ hit the nail firmly on the head. Certain forums would be much more pleasant places to hang out*** if we could all understand that what works for one, maybe doesn’t work for another. And why all the pent-up aggression about it? Seriously, life is too short. Get into knitting if photography is making your blood boil so readily. And you’ll give yourself piles…

*** Despite this, I am a glutton for punishment as I still seem to come back for more.

So for now, I’ll let the people who don’t get the Nikon Df  troll incessantly about what it doesn’t have, whilst I enjoy taking images that aim to utilise what it does have to the fullest extent…

Retail Park 1

Full disclosure: The image Retail Park 4 is a reshoot from my X-Pro1 images (as are most in this article), but the leaves in the image have been Photoshopped in from the original Fuji file. Autumn has long gone after all…