Using the Nikon DF
By Cosmin Munteanu
Only for a couple of weeks the local Nikon dealer lend me silver/chrome Df in exchange for a short review about it. Well, the time was not a problem, especially because I have the camera for about three weekends. I had previously experience with Nikon AF system already. The F80 was my first camera and the 50mm f:1.8 AF-D. After it came the Nikkor 35mm f:2.0 AF-D and then the D90 followed by a 24mm f:2.8 and an older Sigma AF tele-zoom lens.
I received the Df with its kit lens, the 50mm f:1.8 AF-S G Special Edition. At first, the camera seems big. And it really is, big and bulky. It can not fit in my Tamrac day by day bag (a Explorer 1 5501). That’s the same bag that can accommodate a Pentax ME or MX with two prime lenses and a medium-zoom or a Nikon F80 with 2 prime lenses and a couple of film rolls. So, I had to leave the Tamrac at home and took my girlfriend’s LowePro backpack. Also, I brought with me my favorite Nikkor, the 35mm f:2.0. Well, as bulky as it is, in fact when I grabbed it, surprise! The camera is much lighter than looks like and sits itself in my hands quite well. It’s almost like Minolta’s x-500 or x-700 but of course with at least a measure bigger, and heavier (~750 g vs. Minolta’s 500 g). The grip, or in fact its luck is not at all a problem. It is big enough for me to hold the camera comfortably.
Now, let’s speak about using it in the real world. At first if you come from a classical 35mm film camera, at least the Df’s top seems very familiar. There are dials for exposure time, exposure compensation and ISO but, surprisingly also an exposure mode switch (PASM). Why such a dial when an “A” on the shutter dial would have been enough? Ah, of course, the new G lenses does not have an aperture ring, so the photographer have to tell to the camera in what mode wants to work. The aperture can be adjusted through the main back dial as on other Nikon dSLRs ar the front dial but I would not recommend that. The front dial is very stiff and can not be used comfortably and quickly because of that. I don’t recommend using this one while taking pictures. If one wants to use the aperture ring to change the f value, first has to make a visit in the camera’s menu. In these conditions the user can photograph like with a film camera. As for the shutter dial, I would have wanted an “A” position. Also the same would be great on the ISO dial too. Now, to switch from Manual to auto iso and vice versa I have to consult, again, the menu.
Other then the retro looking and operating cameras’s top, the camera behaves like a “normal” Nikon dSLR. The viewfinder is big and bright but of course not as big as a manual focusing camera. A split screen would have been a good addition if not necessary, especially for the “Pure photography” believers. I don’t know why they didn’t implement it. This feature would have picked up the DF even more from the “big black dSLR” crowd. The AF system is very good, fast, but struggles a little in low light by not locking on the target. In the same light conditions even the older D90 can surpass it with its central AF point. Shutter sound is short and ferm, not too loud but also not silky smooth as F80’s one. Even if the specifications says that the camera is weather resistant, the kit lens is not, and because I don’t have a WR lens for Nikon I didn’t try the camera in rainy conditions.
The battery life is very good but the door of the memory card/battery compartment is very fragile. Yes, both card and battery share the same compartment which door opens and closes in the same way like Nikon F100’s R6 battery holder.
About the sensor what to say more that I don’t need more that it can deliver. The IQ is excellent, ISO performance outstanding, plenty DR. I can not add nothing cons on this matter.
How would I like to see a future Df2 ? Well, I would keep the sensor, make the camera smaller, by about 5-7mm in deep and around ~10-12mm in height. Also I would like a more sturdy construction, keep the weather sealing and with a much less flimsy battery/card door and a better AF system but not by adding more AF points but by making it more reliable. Also i see a better spread of the AF points on the entire focusing screen’s surface unlike in the case of the present Df. In addition, like mentioned previously, a split screen would be nicer or a better suited for manual focusing matte screen. Keeping the 100% viewfinder’s coverage of course is a must and rising the magnification to at least x0.85 would make the Df2 the dSLR with the biggest optical viewfinder. Despite the cons mentioned the Df is simply put, a daily camera, one that I would always carry with me, paired with one, maybe two small, light and fast prime lenses like Nikkors the 50mm f:1.8, 50mm f:1.4, 35mm f:2.0, 35mm f:1.8, 28mm f:2.8, 24mm f:2.8, 20mm f:2.8 are .
I won’t end this short description wishing you “good light”. In the Df’s case this would be outdated. So I wish you just to be there, where the things happen and don’t worry too much about the selected ISO 😉