More Df fun…

This camera is distractingly good. I’m actually struggling to think of a camera where the fun has matched the final results so well. The original X100 and the X100S come close, but they aren’t as consistent, nor as quick to focus.

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The eye catching features of this camera are its high ISO ability (which is simply bonkers) and its 16mp sensor. Just purely as an example of high ISO ability in darkness, see the following photo taken in almost complete darkness at ISO 12800 in a shop window. I couldn’t see the colours of anything in the shop and the only light was from a street lamp down the road:

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ISO 12800 in darkness example

16 mp isn’t that much in this day and age but the camera handles it well and even more amazingly, lenses which felt a bit to lots average on the D800 are actually very good on the Df.

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In any event, this is probably one of the best cameras I’ve come across. I like to think that I could use most cameras given enough time to understand them, but there are always those you want to use more than others. There are also those that are just better for given purposes. For example the D800E is exceptional/mindblowing for landscape work. I’m of the view that the Df is really outstanding for candid and street photography whether AF or MF. I found the same focus system in the D600 more limiting – but the Df has better live view autofocus than the D600, which helps a lot.

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I want to come back to the comparison to the D800/E, because in some ways it isn’t fair at all. I reject entirely the view the Df is intrinsically better than the D800E. Both are superior than the other for particular purposes. The D800E is a defining camera with great handling and stunning resolution. It is THE DSLR for me. The difference between the two is principally the size of the grip, the volume and weight and the modern DSLR dial based controls. I am going to put my hand up and say that while I absolutely prefer the controls of the Df, the controls of the D800E are one of the better implementations of the modern DSLR control paradigm. That said, the dial based controls of the Df are not just my preference, but also uniquely suited to the kind of candid and street photography that the Df excels at.

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So aside from dials and wheels, what’s so great? Well, the sensor for a start. It’s not just a high ISO wonder (as noted above) but also has really lovely colours right out of the camera. It’s not just a wonder of colour detail but has lovely colour transitions too. The results are just very, very attractive.

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Aside from dials, its a smaller DSLR with a handling that is simply perfect for smaller primes. Many have commented on an apparent issue with the positioning of the strap lug near the grip. I think thats a subjective issue because I haven’t experienced it at all.

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So what’s wrong with the camera? Realistically, it isn’t a camera for everyone. Some don’t like the dials I love, some struggle with the smaller grip. A larger proportion of those who don’t get it will be those who think that a Nikon DSLR should always be used with the “holy trinity” of zooms, who never use prime lenses. This camera was never designed to be used for mounting large zooms. It feels unbalanced if you do mount such lenses on it.

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It’s probably the first Nikon that has me thinking more actively about using AF-D lenses. This last generation of lens designed for film SLRs has been (sometimes) unfairly slated for poor external build quality. In reality they are a product of their time and some of those lenses are still great fun if not technically perfect. More importantly, the primes tend to be smaller in size than the G lenses that came later. They balance beautifully on the Df.

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Another thing I think could have been done better is the viewfinder. I do find it improved for manual focus. It isn’t perfect though, and the green dot is still necessary. Optional focus screens could have improved the manual focus experience significantly.

The photographer, distorted

I would also have liked to see the camera use the EN-EL15 battery used in the D800E and have a separate door for SD card removal.

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Honestly though, I can’t get too excited about these notional drawbacks. In my use, I find the camera excites my creativity, in a similar way to my M240. Pairing it with lenses such as the voigtlander pancakes or the Nikon Ai-S primes gives great results, as does mounting the smaller D and G primes. It’s a logical second camera for the owner of a large DSLR who owns many Nikon lenses. Truth be told, it makes as much sense (cost apart) as buying a mirrorless camera.

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I have a feeling that when the price of the Df does drop that the Sony A7/r may be in trouble. There is an intrinsic logic to M43s and APS-C mirrorless that just doesn’t apply to a tiny body/large lens FF mirrorless camera. Faced with a choice between an A7 and a Df, I know which camera I would take every time.

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Comparisons aside, the highest praise I can give this camera is that in use, I kind of forget its there other than the pure enjoyment of composition and setting selection. I have a nice walk, see some fun stuff, and i have some sometimes great photos to show for it. The result is the camera doesn’t get in the way.

Taken with my Nikon Df, 14mm Samyang, 20mm Voigtlander, 24mm AF-D F2.8, 28mm F1.8G, 50mm F1.4G, 50mm F1.8G

6 thoughts

  1. Hi there! Thanks for posting so much info about this camera. I have my sights set on it as well as it does look like a fun camera to use! You may be the best person to ask this question since you shoot–and enjoy–the Fuji cameras… but how would you compare the SOOC colors from the Nikon DF to a Fuji (say X100s or Xpro)? I love the Fuji color palette and never really liked Nikon’s, but I’m seeing great results with the DF and may seriously consider it cause of the AF speed (which I need when photographing kids) compared to the Fuji. I love how Fuji closely resembles film (especially the Fuji Pro400H film) and I’m hoping the DF isn’t too far off. What are your thoughts? How is the DR compared to the Fuji? Do you think one can get similar results with this? I’d really appreciate your feedback. Many thanks in advance!

    • I know what you mean. The standard Nikon palette is a bit more muted blue and green than in your face green and red like Fuji’s. That said, the Df (and D4) have beautiful colour palettes, very delicate, much like the sensor in the Leica M240 at its best. Personally, I’m a sucker for colour detail, not colour blow outs or wash outs, so whether its bright or dull, it needs to be interesting. Certainly the Fuji Cameras have that, but the Df does too.

      I would say the DR isn’t quite as good as the Fuji at base ISO, but it’s not materially worse, and both far exceed Canon FF cameras.

      In summary I’m sure its possible to get similar results, this is a special camera.

  2. Oh my goodness, thank you for your reply! Where I am from, these high end cameras are usually “by-order” basis and stores do not have demo units, so I need to rely on the reviews and suggestions of professionals to know if I really do want what I am getting. I haven’t shot with a Nikon DSLR (or any DSLR) the last two years. I have heard though a lot of complaints abut the colors of Nikon from others. But as I am looking at your photos here, and the ones you post on your Fuji entries, I see little difference. Perhaps it’s your processing too but at least I know I could get comparative results from this camera 🙂 That’s a HUGE relief because I’ve been tossing between a Fuji XE2 and DF for awhile but really did not want to sacrifice AF speed. As I say, it’s easier to correct color and tweak it to your liking than something that’s out of focus! I’m looking forward to more posts…
    Many, many thanks!!

    Bianca

  3. Hi there,

    Nice write up coming from a professional who uses both the DF and the XT1. I recently sold my ancient but beloved D700 and the majority of my lens, with only the AFS24 f1.4 remaining. I’m at a crossroads and would like your advice. I am very excited by the upstart XT1, which is an absolute bargain due to the combination of IQ, build quality and size. However, I’m also an avid fan of available light photography which I think the DF should be superior. In my country, we don’t have a 30 day return policy. The moment you paid for it, there is absolutely no refunds unless its faulty! I am utterly split between the low size and weight, and the jpeg quality of the xt1, and the high ISO performance of the DF. Since I already gave the 24 f1.4, would you go for the DF, or you think the XT1 would be a better choice? The reason I sold my D700 and my fast 2.8 zooms are that they are too big and heavy, sapping the fun out of photography. Would you please share your experience between these two system? What would you choose as a lighter smaller setup, but yet able to tackle any low light.

    Thanks,
    BK

    • Based on my own experience of selling a 35mm DSLR system, going mirrorless, and returning again I always advice people to think hard about what they look for in a camera and what compromises they are prepared to accept. There are a range of things mirrorless cameras have going for them but a range of things each of them doesn’t do well. For example, the Fuji cameras have always had weaker focus than M43s, the M43s cameras have a better lens range than the Sony NEX cameras, the Sony NEX cameras have better high ISO performance than M43s, the Fuji X cameras have a better lens range than the Sony NEX cameras and so on.

      A common fallacy/legend peddled on internet fora is the person who sells a 35mm DSLR and their professional F2.8 zooms and feels the weight difference in moving to a mirrorless system and using it with small primes. Here’s the thing, you can easily get more than half way there by simply ditching the big, heavy zooms and switching to primes on your DSLR.

      To actually answer your question 😉 I would say that the X-T1 isn’t as good a camera as the Nikon Df. The Df has better high ISO, better overall image quality (in particular better colour tonality), better jpegs and (if I’m honest) better controls. The X-T1 has size and weight (though not by as much as you would think, the Df is a small DSLR), wifi (though note you can add this to the Df with a USB dongle), and a limited but exceptional lens range going for it. Put it this way, its the X-T1 I’m currently contemplating selling and about the only thing that stops me is the really wonderful lenses. For me at least, the second generation X cameras improved things like autofocus incrementally, reduced some quirks, but they lost a bit of the magic that kept me coming back to the X-pro1 and X-E1 along the way. Contrast that to my reaction to the E-M1, which seems to improve over time. The M43s cameras aren’t an all round photography solution in my book, but they are a good compliment to my DSLRs.

      The Df is a really amazing camera with some really amazing abilities. I would have no hesitation in recommending it to you. Pair it with lenses like the Sigma 35/50 Art lenses, Nikon 58, Nikon 28 F1.8, Nikon 35 F1.8 FX, Nikon 85 1.4/1.8 and the 18-35 and watch it perform. The Df performs exceptionally well with the 24 F1.4 G lens too. It can also give you magical results with both older and newer manual focus lenses. If a longer zoom is important to you the results from the Df in combination with the 70-200 F4 are magical. Although I commended the performance of the Fuji lenses, there is more out there for the F mount that performs at a higher level (in terms of results) once combined with the 35mm sensor.

      None of that means I consider the X-T1 to be an “inferior” or underperforming camera. It is not, as I said in my impressions of it. However, it’s ultimately not able to outperform a 35mm DSLR, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Whether that matters is subjective.

      All the best

      Simon

      • Thanks Simon,

        I have decided to go for the DF over the XT1, a D4 sensor in a smaller body is too tempting to resist, and the new line of Nikon FX 1.8G lens are a good balance of weight, performance and price ratio.

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