DSLR Hands-On Preview: The New Nikon Df Offers a Full-Frame Sensor and a Distinctly Retro Style But with No Video Capture Mode

November 5, 2013

By Dan Havlik

A few days after the U.S. “fell back” and ended Daylights Saving Time for the year, Nikon turned back the clock in its own way with a new camera announcement: the distinctly retro, 16.2-megapixel, full-frame Nikon Df, which looks more like a classic Nikon film SLR than any digital SLR we’ve seen so far. The camera, which has been widely leaked in the last few days, uses the same FX-format (35mm-sized) sensor as Nikon’s flagship professional D4 DSLR but resembles a Nikon FM or FE film SLR from the 1970s or 80s.

I got some hands-on time with the new Nikon Df at a press briefing, under NDA, during PhotoPlus Expo last month, and found the camera to be an intriguing but slightly befuddling new DSLR for professional photographers and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos of the Nikon Df cameras shown to me during the briefing, so all the product images included here have been provided by Nikon.

On a positive note, I loved the Nikon Df’s classic styling (it comes in black or silver-and-black two-tone) and Nikon’s decision to cover the camera with an array of adjustable knobs and dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO. I also liked that the Nikon Df has a special Ai (automatic indexing)/Non-Ai lens coupling lever on front that makes it compatible with over 400 types of Nikon lenses from the past and present. Easy-to-use options are always good thing on a camera.

On the other hand, the Nikon Df is a camera that forces you to reassess the future of digital imaging. Has it really come to the point where the only thing that will turn heads these days is a DSLR that looks like it was made in the 1980s? And what about Nikon’s decision not to offer any video capture modes on the Df, just modes for capturing still photography? Sure, there are many photographers who have no use for video in a DSLR but do we really want to do away with it completely?

Of course, the Nikon Df, is not designed for everyone. It’s aimed at a particular type of photographer, one who likes to shoot digital photography but wants a camera in a classic, pre-digital and pre-video design. And with all the buzz Nikon has created with its “Pure Photography” video teasers leading up to tonight’s official unveiling of the Df, there appear to be a lot of those types of photographers out there.

The Nikon Df looks like it has a metal build but the camera body is actually made from magnesium alloy, which feels like hard polycarbonate in your hand. Or, in other words, if you were hoping the Df will feel like those hefty film cameras from the past, you might be a bit disappointed. The lighter material and simple box-like design does, however, allow Nikon to call the Df the company’s “thinnest and lightest DSLR,” though it looked a little chunky to me.

The Nikon Df has a classic-looking glass pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage, which came as a welcome relief to me after testing several cameras with fuzzy electronic viewfinders recently. The Df shares a mix of features that first appeared on the Nikon D4 pro camera and the Nikon D600/610, full-frame models for prosumers. It uses the 39-AF point focusing system with 9 points in the middle, which are all cross-type, an AF set-up similar to that on the Nikon D610; the 2016-Pixel 3D Matrix Metering and Scene Recognition System from the D4 and other Nikon cameras; and the 5.5 fps burst mode, like that on the D610.

In a nod to the present/future, the Df has a port for Nikon’s WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter for zapping images wirelessly to computers and social networks; or for remotely triggering the shutter without the need of a cable. It also has a 3.2-inch LCD display on back, and most of the creative features of Nikon’s latest DSLRs including Picture Controls, built-in HDR, and compatibility with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.

The Nikon Df goes on sale on November 28, 2013 for the very un-retro price of $2,749, body only; or $2,999 as a kit with the brand new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition prime lens.

So what say you, PDN readers? Does the throwback Nikon Df light a fire in your classic camera loins, or does it seem more like an overpriced novelty? Let us know in the comments below.