Nov 082013
 
Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Nikon has finally jumped on the bandwagon going retro. When the new Nikon Df will be available for buyers near the end of November,  it will offer a warm-up of well-proven features seen in previous Nikon full-framers – all freshly packaged in a newly designed body reminiscent of the good old seventies.

The “latest” old fashioned looks will not appeal to everyone though, especially considering the back side still remains quite modern looking. In fact there is not much difference to other D-versions here whereas the front and top of the cam sure will look retro enough for many Nikon fans. Personally, I quite like the black version – maybe because this little flaw in design is less conspicuous in black.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Nice are the added control functions. Exposure compensation and ISO can be set with solid metal dials on the top plate. But the latter can not be set to Auto-ISO which is a bit of a shame. But you can have this setting after diving into the menu of course.  The Nikon Df incorporates the same sensor that can be found in the professional Nikon D4 at a much higher price and offers a package that will appeal to professionals and advanced enthusiasts.

The key specs of the Nikon DF:

  • 16 MP full-frame CMOS sensor (first seen in the Nikon D4)
  • 39-point AF system (just like Nikon D610)
  • ISO range from 100-25.600
  • 3.2 ” LCD (921k-dot)
  • single SD card slot
  • Optical viewfinder with 0.70x magnification and 100% coverage (just like Nikon D800)
  • EN-EL14a battery (also compatible with Nikon D 3100, D 3200, D5200, D5200, D5300 and some Coolpix cameras

 

Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Image: Nikon Corp.

Buyers of this retro beast will have to keep one thing in mind. Not all features that can be found in other full-framers from Nikon have found their way into the new Df body. Several things have been omitted on purpose. The most obvious: there is no video function. This is quite a surprise and may put off some potential buyers. In my view this is a huge mistake. Technically it would have been no problem to incorporate this little feature, but it seems to be the Nikon philosophy to keep this camera as pure as possible for the “serious” photographer. But there are also some other features that may be dearly missed by some users:

  • no video function
  • no built-in flash
  • no AF-assist light
  • no preset buttons for U1,U2, U3 (as seen on Nikon D610, D7100)
  • no interchangeable focus screen
  • no EVF
  • no built-in Wi-fi
  • no GPS

The Nikon Df may be an ideal tool for retro fans and does look kind of smug and can probably be handled quite well. Also, decades-old non-Ai lenses are supported, making this camera a dream come true for photography oldtimers with boat loads of ancient glass. But will this be enough to make this a big seller? The price may be lower than a comparable Nikon D4 – but $2749.95 still is quite a big bang. There are other Nikon options to consider for full-frame – the Nikon D610 and Nikon D800 will certainly still be attractive for Nikon fans when comparing prices. And other manufacturers keep pumping out interesting alternatives. The Sony A7/A7R might be just the right recipe to draw away the key customers.

Nikon only recently published their latest financial results which did not sound too exuberant for the future of high-end cameras. A “dramatic fall in demand among photography hobbyists…” usually does not leave much room for positive statements. And accordingly the forecasts for sales and operating income were lowered by ¥30 billion and ¥6 billion, respectively. See the full Nikon statement here.

In my opinion, the Nikon Df is a very nice camera – but only for a very limited number of enthusiasts. The design will probably not appeal to the masses and pros will probably prefer the Nikon D800/D800e for studio work and e.g. the Nikon D6100/D610 for full-frame back-ups to their Nikon D4 or Nikon D3s.

So, this will not help a great deal considering the lack in demand. The Nikon Df is still too large and old-style with mirror box and large lenses nobody really likes to drag around all the time. The Nikon 1 is not doing too well in respect to demand either. It has a nice size and form factor but simply disappoints in sensor dimension. That is the main problem for Nikon in my view. There are no real game changing products for the photo hobbyist any more. No Nikon mirrorless system with APS-C sensors – let alone full-frame solutions with electronic or hybrid viewfinders. Nikon simply does not want to jeopardize their  DSLR sales. This may be a fatal mistake. Mirrorless solutions in smaller and lighter camera bodies are in high demand and will in all probability shape the future of digital photography while leaving DSLRs in the dust. Nikon and Canon respectively will have to adept and deliver some goodies real fast or they may be swept away by Sony and the Micro Four Thirds alliance.

See my relating article “The DLSR is dead, long live mirrorless!”

  One Response to “Camera Opinion: Nikon Df going retro”

  1. No interchangeable focus screens. That is a drag! A retro camera not even fit for manual focussing like in the old days. Looks like a D800 from behind. Nikon : you can do better than that.

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