Nikon Df and 20mm f/1.8 G lens - The DSLR advantages


Imagine if Panasonic or Olympus released a 10mm f/1.8 m4/3 lens. The users of those cameras would be shouting it from the rooftops for weeks. APS-C mirrorless users wouldn't be able to keep quiet about a 13.5mm f/1.8 lens either. But these are just smaller sensor 'equivalents' of what the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens is. And it's arrived with relatively little fuss, because after all this is the kind of lens that DSLR 'Full-Frame' users expect to have available to them. Add in the fact that it's 355g, so not that heavy, costs around £670 (though you can get it cheaper) and turns in a very impressive optical performance. 

And this lens choice is one of the reasons I'm still using and still enthusiastic about DSLR's. Sure m4/3 and Fuji X have very good lens ranges, but are still in their infancy compared to Nikon. The 20mm f/1.8 is in fact my only lens from the current range. All the other lenses I use for the Df are somewhat older. My 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6, 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 and Series E 100mm f/2.8 haven't been made for years. And my Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 and 56mm f/1.4 were designed for film cameras. And because most of these older lenses were intended for use on film SLR's, they aren't as bulky as some assume 'FF' DSLR lenses to be. No AF or IS motors in any of them. So, I've got a collection of lenses that are probably lighter and smaller than the equivalents would be for the Sony FE system, assuming of course that they made lenses like this, which they don't. None of them.


I have somewhat neglected the Nikon Df up to now. Not that I don't like using it, I do very much. But with a host of mirrorless cameras sitting on my shelf waiting to be used, reviewed and written about, it seemed to have to take a back seat. In fact I think yesterday was only the second time I've used it and the 20mm f/1.8 combination. But now with the gradual reduction in my gear I'm starting to use it more and more. 

A couple of days ago I wrote about using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II in high-res mode for a property shoot. What I didn't mention in that article was that I used the DF + 20mm lens hand held for some detail shots. And very good it was too. 

The sensor in the Df obviously attracted a lot of attention, because it's the same one as Nikon use in their D4's. However, I'm not sure I've ever conveyed just how good this sensor is. It's well known for it's low light and high ISO capability, but with the relatively large pixel size it also produces very detailed low ISO images with amazing dynamic range. The files may only be 16MP, but they are capable of being upsized much higher than that. In fact just as an experiment I upsized a Df file to the same size as the recently announced Canon 50MP 5D's. 

As you can see it's actually pretty good. even more impressive when you consider it was taken with my 28-200mm zoom (at the longest end of the zoom - 200mm) and ISO 400. The picture library I sent it to accepted it without hesitation, illustrating quite successfully I think how the obsession with MP's is somewhat pointless.

I've also come to the conclusion that I do prefer optical viewfinders over EVF's. The one in the Df is bright and clear and refreshingly uncluttered. There is an argument is that you can see what you are getting with an EVF. Well, that's not quite true, since the image in all the EVF's I've used looks nothing like the file that opens up on my monitor. Plus, with Nikons typically on the button exposure, I rarely check the image on my view screen anyway. The OVF works great in bright sunlight as well and I can wear my polarised sunglasses with it which is a bonus for me.

I'm also becoming addicted to the Df's instant AF and shutter. It's not a priority for me, though yesterday I was shooting on a busy street on Saturday afternoon and appreciated being able to get shots of the buildings I was photographing in the short gaps between cars driving past. 

I've written recently about how there seems to be a bit of a DSLR renaissance going on. The Nikon D750 and Canon 50MP 5D's have attracted a lot of positive attention. The D750, for example, has been getting  high approval ratings for it's video options, which is taking on mirrorless cameras in one of their supposed strong areas. Of course it should be remembered that despite those mirrorless advantages in terms of the moving image, DSLR's still seem to be the choice for the majority of broadcast quality stills / video hybrid camera users. 

It's also the case that the Df and the particular oddball selection of lenses I use with it aren't that heavy. The Df is bigger than most people assumed it was going to be, but even so I have no problem carrying it around. So, DSLR's aren't always back breaking machines and DSLR 'FF' lenses don't have to be big and heavy either. It is perfectly possible to put together high quality DSLR outfits that are neither huge, weighty or expensive. And with the overpricing of many mirrorless offerings, the DSLR can still be a good value option. And this ability to have a relatively light and manageable system is an important factor in my 'getting back to DSLR's.' (Not that I ever really left then except for short periods of time)

And finally, it hasn't escaped my attention that top end mirrorless cameras are looking more and more like DSLR's these days. It has crossed my mind that since cameras like the Fuji X-T1, Sony FE series and Olympus OM-D's are very (D)SLR like, I might as well use the 'real thing.' Sure, m4/3 has very significant size and weight advantages, but these days for Fuji and Sony (and of course the Samsung NX1) that's not the case. In real terms, yes they are probably lighter, but certainly my Fuji 16-50mm f/2.8 is a chunky beast. Lighter than a DSLR equivalent yes, but then I'd never use one of those anyway. My Nikon 24-85mm is slower than the Fuji zoom, but suits what I do very well. It's lighter, smaller and cheaper anyway and just as good optically.

So for others mirrorless may well be the 'holy grail' but for me DSLR's and in particular my Df, still have an awful lot to offer and over the last few days I've been thinking I should have used it a lot more. But then, I'm able to remedy that now. And I'm looking forward to that.