It's flashy, fake retro and a little bit silly, but I love it. The Nikon Df

I've been using my Nikon Df a lot lately. Mostly as a reaction to messing around with apps, video, wi-fi and various other complications of the digital photography world. Though as a digital camera it's hardly a back to basics old-school machine like the film SLR's it's presumably based on, it's refreshingly free of many of the frustrating, over elaborate fluff that inhabits many a modern mirrorless / CSC / E.V.I.L camera. And the lenses I use with it, apart from my 20mm f/1.8G, are all from Nikon and Voigtlander's back catalogue. Nothing with VR stabilisation and only the 20mm with an AF motor onboard. It's about as retro as I get these days, even though faux retro might be a more accurate description. 

It does have a somewhat extravagant, elaborate design and if you want to work unnoticed, this isn't the camera for that. It's a serious knobfest, with controls for just about everything and to squeeze all this mechanical type adjustment in (though much of that just triggers the electronics) many of the controls have to double up. Consequently this isn't a camera for making fast adjustments as you go along, particularly as some of the dials aren't that user friendly. It's much more a case of setting it up as I want before I start shooting and pretty much leaving it at that.

Nikon Df Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Ultron SL II lens at f/2.2 1/1350th. sec. ISO 200

Nikon Df Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G lens @ f/13 1/640th. sec. ISO 200

Nikon Df Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G lens at f/7.1 1/320th. sec. ISO 50

The images the camera produces are noticeable for three things. Low noise at high ISO's, high dynamic range and colour depth. And while the Sony A7s may have slightly cleaner high ISO results, I always found it somewhat disappointing in terms of the quality of the still images it produced. Those who followed my adventures with that camera will remember I kept it a very short time, as I quickly discovered that I much preferred the images I got from the Df.

And more importantly, the Df is a much more pleasurable camera to use. For those who have only seen pictures and not encountered one in the flesh, it's not a small camera. When it was first announced, many assumed it would something like a digital FM2. And while there is obviously some FM2 DNA in the Df, the film camera is smaller, lighter and a lot simpler.

The Df is in fact, somewhat unique. My suspicion is that Nikon put it out to keep those who were clamouring for a 'retro revival' camera quiet, while they got on with the important business of creating their new cameras. To 'sweeten the deal' they included the remarkable sensor from the D4 series to produce an old-school camera aesthetically with lots of supposed manual control, when in fact it's nothing of the sort. Most of the dials change what's going on in the camera electronically, so they are in fact little more than switches. And for me that's not the important part of what this camera offers. Primarily it's the image quality, which is outstanding and the handling.

Much has been written about the DSLR v MCE (*Mirrorless, Compact System Camera, Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable lenses > E.V.I.L) supposed competition and differences. My contention is and always has been, that these are minimal and greatly exaggerated. But I'm going to leave that for further discussion in an article I'm preparing called 'The Myth of Mirrorless' However one thing is for sure. Getting the shot is still quicker with a DSLR.

It's simple really, a DSLR has to focus, open the shutter, flip the mirror up and set the aperture of the lens and the shutter speed. All of these, being separate can be done instantly and at the same time. A MCE* camera, because it's running the EVF and the Live view screen has to close the shutter first before setting the shutter speed and the aperture as well and open the shutter. So every time you take a picture with a MCE camera the shutter closes, opens, closes again when the image is captured and then opens again to reinstate the EVF and Live View screen. Which explains that sensation of a double click and the slight delay when taking a picture. DSLR's have the mirror lock up and down, the aperture opening and closing and the shutter opening and closing every time the shutter button is pressed. Sounds more complicated, but in fact after years of producing cameras like this, Canon and Nikon have got the whole thing happening in a fraction of a second and as I indicated all these functions are controlled separately and can and do happen virtually simultaneously, the mirror obviously having to move out of the way first.

The consequence of all this is that the Df is incredibly quick to capture the image. And it also starts up very quickly as well. From the camera being turned off, I can switch it on, bring it to my eye, compose and have the image captured in less than a second. And none of my MCE cameras are even up and running in that time. So it's a fast camera. And I have to say I do love that positive 'clunk' when it takes a picture and even allowing for that it is still quieter than the Sony A7, A7r or A7 II.

There is also the fact that there is an incredible lens range available to the Df. Pretty much the entire Nikon range. There is the rangefinder dot system for MF, which for me is easily the best and simplest way to manually focus a lens and has none of the screen clutter and occasional glitches of focus peaking, nor the need to magnify the image. There is the extended battery life, achieved because there is no EVF or Live View screen running all the time (unless of course you choose to work with the screen on, though since the camera doesn't shoot video and performs much slower, there's not a lot a point in that unless you take everything on a tripod) So a selection of DSLR 'advantages' and I have to say all of this is a factor in me buying the camera that arrived today. All will revealed in my next post.