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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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