Nikon Df Is A Small, Retro, Full-Frame DSLR - First Look


Nikon Df


In a major product announcement early this morning, the Nikon Df was announced: A retro-styled DSLR (yes, a real DSLR with an optical viewfinder), the Df features the kinds of knurled knobs, ribbed dials and buttons that would make a film-photographer drool and a retromaniac crazy with envy, but under the hood the Nikon Df is a state-of-the-art, 35mm-sensor digital camera. Other camera makers, notably Sony and Olympus, have rolled out DSLR-like mirrorless compacts recently (in the case of Sony, with a full frame sensor), but the Nikon Df is the first bonafide 35mm DSLR to get a retro makeover based on popular classic film SLRs of yore.


A strong family resemblance: The Nikon FE, left, is one of several classic film-era Nikons that inspired the design of the Nikon Df. Photo of Nikon FE courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The Nikon Df and new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens can be pre-ordered now from Adorama. It is expected to ship in late November. Orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Credit cards will not be charged until orders are shipped.



Nikon Df: Key Features

  • 16.2MP 36x32.9mm (FX) CMOS Sensor
  • ISO range 100-12,800; expandable to ISO 204,800
  • Accepts Nikon F-mount lenses
  • Shoots JPEG, RAW and TIFF still images files
  • Eye-level pentaprism SLR viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • Quick-return Reflex Mirror
  • Fully compatible with AF-S, AF, G, E, and D lenses.
  • Shutter speeds 1/4000-4 seconds; 1/200 sec sync
  • Up to 5.5 fps burst rate
  • Metering via 2016-pixel RGB sensor
  • TTL phase detect AF with 39 focus points
  • Compatible with Nikon iTTL flash system
  • Magnesium Alloy Body
  • No video!

Nikon Df vs. Nikon D610 vs. Nikon D800 vs. Nikon D4: Compare and Contrast

The first difference is obvious, and striking: The Nikon Df's exterior controls and overall look is an homage to the great film Nikons of the last 30 years: The FE, FM, F3 and the classic Nikon F. And when it comes to designing a DSLR that appeals to the retromaina crowd and to those who pine for the simple but elegant design of film SLRs, Nikon has nailed it. The D610, D800, and D4 lack the knurled knobs and ribbed rings of older SLRs but the Df has 'em, in droves.

Looking at the spec sheets, the Nikon Df is an amalgym of old and new, even within Nikon's full-frame DSLR range. Like the $5,999 Nikon D4, the $2,749.95 Nikon Df features a 16MP sensor—a step down from the more recent D610 (24MP) and D800 (36MP), but it features the same astounding ISO range of 50-204,800 (factoring in ISO expansion options). The good news? At a lower resolution each sensor can be larger, letting in more light and reducing the likelihood of digital noise.

The Df is the only full-frame Nikon DSLR to not offer a video option; Nikon apparently feels the core audience for this camera has no interest in using the camera to shoot video and indeed, one comment heard repeatedly among many photo enthusiasts is that video is an unnecessary bauble that they would happily do without. Another surprising but deliberate omission? Scene modes! There are none. Nikon assumes the user knows what he or she is doing, and won't need them.


Video #1:Joe McNally talks about the Nikon Df

Video courtesy Nikon

While some of the Nikon Df's specs are comparable to the pro-level D4, the Df is clearly a semi-pro/enthusiast-oriented camera. Its 5.5fps burst rate is just below that of the D600 and is half the speed of the D4, and the shutter speeds top out at 1/4000 second while the D800 and D4 top out at 1/8000 second. It has 39 AF points, just like the D610, but less than the D4 and D800's 51 points

The Df shares the same 3.2-inch, 921k dot resolution LCD monitor as all the other models, and like the D4, has a pentaprism viewfinder (the others have mirror-prism finders). Surprisingly, the Nikon Df is the only full-frame Nikon DSLR to record in TIFF format.


The Nikon Df In Depth

A stills-only camera: In the Df, Nikon deliberately deleted the ability to shoot videos; they say this enabled them to add more advanced functions and improve reliability while making the camera the thinnest, lightest FX-format Nikon to date. It has dedicated dials for shutter speed, ISO, EV, exposure mode and release mode, rather than unmarked and assignable dials more commonly found on digital cameras.

High-quality images: Complementing the 16MP 35mm sensor's native ISO range of 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 50-204,8000) is an Expeed 3 processor, which Nikon says will provide an optimal balance of resolution, image quality, and shooting speed.

AF System: The Nikon Df incorporates Nikon's 39-point AF system, with 9 cross-type sensors that work down to f/8. Users can choose from 9, 21 or 39-point dynamic area AF as well as auto area AF and single-point autofocus. This is backed up by a 3-D tracking system using 2016-pixel RGB sensor to recognize and follow objects and keep them in focus as they move throughout the frame. Nikon's Scene Recognition System analyzes each shooting situation and compares it to an onboard database of thousands of scenes to help it determine the right exposure, white balance and AF settings as well as i-TTL flash exposure when using a Nikon Speedlight.

Dynamic Range: Nikon has always been a leader in dynamic range and the Df is no exception. It has built-in HDR and active D-lighting, and an intriguing new feature, subject-based Active D-Lighting, which Nikon says automatically brightens shadowy areas on your subjects. We're looking forward to learning more about this feature.


Video #2: Bob Krist talks about the Nikon Df
Video courtesy Nikon

The F-Mount is Back! Actually, it never really left, but the variations are confusing. Photographers are still using Nikkor lenses 30 or more years old, and as Nikon put it in its marketing material, the Nikon Df wouldn't be a true classic camera if it couldn't work with those lenses. The company developed a mounts system that works with all current AF-S, AF-D and AF Nikkor lenses. Additionally, a metering coupling lever makes it possible to use both AI (Aperture Index) or non-AI lenses.

More compatibility: Use i-TTL compatible Speedlights, the AR-3 threaded cable release, Nikon’s new WR Remote System and even Nikon’s WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter for instant Wi-Fi photo sharing to your compatible smartphone or tablet.


A new Special Edition 50mm Nikkor Lens

To celebrate the release of the Nikon Df, Nikon has also announced the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition lens. While it has such modern amenities as a Silent Wave Motor for fast, nearly silent focusing, the lens also allows for smooth manual focus as well as autofocus, and has been re-styled to pair visually with the retro theme of the Df.


Video #3: Lynn Goldsmith Talks about the Nikon Df
Video courtesy Nikon.



Conclusion and recommendation

The Nikon Df is a camera that will appeal to older photographers whose hearts beat faster when they see a traditional DSLR, and to younger photographers who are eager to jump on the retro bandwagon, especially when the prize is top-notch, nearly noise-free images and compatibility with an expansive line of lenses going back decades. The Nikon Df is an instant classic. It will be available by the end of November, for $2,749.95 in silver or black, and in a kit with the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition Lens for $2,999.95 in silver or black.


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