DF-initely retro

The styling is clas­sic, but in­side, it’s all mod­ern...

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY - Bytz@thes­tar.com.my Re­viewu­nit­cour­tesy­ofNikon (Malaysia)Sd­nBhd, (03)7809-3 88

AS I’VE men­tioned be­fore nu­mer­ous times, I’m a big fan of retro-styled cam­eras and while com­pa­nies like Fuji and Olym­pus have been rid­ing high on ret­rostyled cam­eras, nei­ther Nikon nor Canon have pro­duced a retro-styled dig­i­tal cam­era. Un­til now.

With the Df (or Dig­i­tal Fu­sion as it ap­par­ently stands for), Nikon is mak­ing its first foray into retro cam­eras and has pro­duced a cam­era which brings to mind clas­sic SLRs in the com­pany’s proud his­tory, namely the Nikon FE2 and Nikon FM2.

Styling aside, the Nikon Df is ac­tu­ally a DSLR through and through, with a full-frame 16-megapixel im­age sen­sor taken right from the Nikon D4 pro­fes­sional DSLR, mixed with the in­nards of cam­eras like the Nikon D600 and D7000.

Since so much of the Nikon Df is all about emo­tional re­sponse, this re­view will in­evitably stray to­wards how it feels to use the Df as op­posed to its per­for­mance (which is ac­tu­ally re­ally good).

Par­tial retro

The Df is avail­able in a choice of two colours — the ba­sic black, and a sil­ver and black ver­sion.

Now while I gen­er­ally like my retro cam­eras in sil­ver and black leatherette, to my eyes, the Df ac­tu­ally looks bet­ter in black. Most users may find the sil­ver ver­sion nicer.

Any­way, the whole in­tent of the Nikon Df is bring back the clas­sic con­trol scheme found in film SLRs and in this cam­era, it’s suc­cess­ful — up to a point.

In terms of weight, the Nikon Df is ap­par­ently lighter than most DSLRs in the com­pany’s range and in size, it’s ac­tu­ally smaller than the D600.

When com­pared to its film an­ces­tor the Nikon FM2, how­ever, the Df is a lot larger in ev­ery di­men­sion — it’s taller, fat­ter and wider.

On the top of the cam­era is where most of the retro con­trols go — you get a full shut­ter speed dial with all the speeds you’d ex­pect in full stops as well as Bulb (shut­ter opens as long as shut­ter but­ton is held down), Timed (shut­ter opens on first press and closes on sec­ond press of shut­ter re­lease) and X-sync (flash sync) op­tions.

Ad­di­tion­ally, if you’d pre­fer to have a mod­ern con­trol sys­tem, the shut­ter dial has a “1/3 step in­cre­ments” op­tion — when set to this po­si­tion, you can use the com­mand dial on the back of the cam­era to ad­just your shut­ter speeds, the same as a mod­ern Nikon DSLR.

On the other side of the top plate are two di­als stacked on top of each other — the larger dial at the bot­tom is the ISO set­ting dial while the smaller one on top is an ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion dial.

Both di­als have sep­a­rate locks to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal switch­ing, but I per­son­ally would have pre­ferred the di­als with­out locks — I feel they’re al­ready stiff enough to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal switch­ing.

Pre­sen­ta­tion is key

One rather weird con­ces­sion to mod­ern DSLR de­sign is that the Df has a tiny LCD dis­play on the top and a P,S,A,M mode dial. Now I feel that the tiny LCD — which shows shut­ter, aper­ture, bat­tery life and ex­po­sure count — is com­pletely un­nec­es­sary since you can get that same in­for­ma­tion in the viewfinder and on the back LCD.

As for the P,S,A,M mode dial, while I can un­der­stand why Nikon put it there, a more el­e­gant so­lu­tion would have been to sim­ply put an “Auto” on the shut­ter dial and a switch near the lens bay­o­net mount with an “A” sim­i­lar to how Fuji does it in the X100S.

The way Fuji has set up the X100S is how old cam­eras used to work — with both switches set to “A” you get full Pro­grammed auto, while mov­ing the shut­ter dial out of A will give you shut­ter pri­or­ity auto, while mov­ing both switches out of A would give you full man­ual con­trol. Nev­er­the­less Nikon’s P,S,A,M mode dial on the Df works al­right — you just have to lift it and twist the tiny dial to change modes.

One in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of the Df is that it’s com­pat­i­ble with mod­ern as well as old man­ual fo­cus Nikon lenses made be­fore 1977, mak­ing it the first Nikon DSLR to sup­port such a wide va­ri­ety of lenses in the Nikon range.

Most mod­ern Nikon DSLRs have some com­pat­i­bil­ity with older non-aut­o­fo­cus Nikon lenses but the Df goes fur­ther and of­fers com­pat­i­bil­ity with non-AIS lenses made be­tween 1959 and 1977.

How­ever, us­ing th­ese non-AIS lenses — which have no aper­ture cou­plings to tell the cam­era what aper­ture is set on the lens — you get me­ter­ing, but you need to man­u­ally set the aper­ture based on the cam­era’s rec­om­men­da­tion ob­tained from the ex­po­sure me­ter.

On the back of the Nikon Df, it’s all mod­ern DSLR — you get a con­trol scheme that should be fa­mil­iar to any mod­ern Nikon DSLR user, in­clud­ing a Live View but­ton on the back and a 3.2in LCD screen.

What you don’t get is video record­ing — that’s right, the Df doesn’t have a video record­ing op­tion and does not have a built in mi­cro­phone nor a port to add an ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phone.

Oh yes, my one real gripe with the Nikon Df is that Nikon has re­lo­cated the front com­mand dial to an area that ac­tu­ally makes it a lit­tle hard to use — I found the po­si­tion­ing of the front dial awk­ward and a lit­tle hard to spin with my fore­fin­ger.

In use

Af­ter a cou­ple of weeks us­ing the Nikon Df, I found that de­spite not be­ing as retro as I would have liked it to be, it was still a joy to shoot with it. The cam­era feels good in the hands and is rea­son­ably speedy.

Some peo­ple may ob­ject to Nikon’s choice of in­te­grat­ing a 16-megapixel im­age sen­sor into the Df in­stead of the 24-megapixel one from the D600/610, but in use, the Df’s sen­sor per­formed very well — cou­pled with a good lens, im­ages were pin sharp and ISO per­for­mance was sim­ply amaz­ing.

If any­thing, the Df’s im­age sen­sor out­per­forms the pro­fes­sional D4 in terms of noise and pro­duced per­fectly us­able re­sults from ISO100 to ISO6400. Al­though there is ob­vi­ous noise re­duc­tion at ISO12,800,

the re­sults were ac­tu­ally

Fi­nal shot

Pros:

Cons:

quite us­able at a pinch. All in all, very im­pres­sive ISO per­for­mance from the Nikon Df.

Also par­tic­u­larly no­table is that the white bal­ance on the Df is nearly per­fect — pro­duc­ing cor­rectly colour-bal­anced shots in al­most ev­ery type of light­ing con­di­tion that I could throw at it.

De­spite hav­ing a smaller 1,230 mAh lithium ion bat­tery than pro­fes­sional and semi-pro­fes­sional sib­lings, the Df ac­tu­ally had very good bat­tery life — I charged it once and went through many days of rea­son­ably heavy shoot­ing be­fore I had to recharge again.

Un­for­tu­nately the sin­gle SD card slot is also lo­cated in­side the bat­tery com­part­ment — if you have the cam­era mounted on a larger tri­pod plate, the door may not be ac­ces­si­ble while the cam­era is mounted on the tri­pod.

That said, I per­son­ally didn’t have any prob­lems with this as my tri­pod mount­ing plate is pretty small.

All in all, I re­ally liked the Nikon Df as a cam­era — where it mat­ters most, i.e. in im­age qual­ity, the cam­era con­sis­tently pro­duced ac­cu­rately ex­posed and sharp im­ages.

ISO per­for­mance is also top notch — this cam­era will re­ally al­low you to shoot hand­held in lower light­ing than ever be­fore and still pro­duce us­able im­ages.

In terms of han­dling, while it doesn’t hold you back when shoot­ing, I feel Nikon could have gone even more retro with the Df — the whole point of a retro cam­era is to min­imise the num­ber of but­tons and yet re­tain the con­trol that ad­vanced users need.

With the Df, there’s still a plethora of but­tons and di­als, some of which I could have done with­out.

That be­ing said, the Df is a nice cam­era to use — I re­ally did en­joy shoot­ing with it and cer­tainly used my test unit long af­ter I was done with the re­view.

Rel­a­tively light for a Nikon DSLR; retro styling is quite nice, es­pe­cially in black; ex­cel­lent im­age qual­ity and ISO per­for­mance.

Nikon needs to go more retro with the de­sign; front com­mand dial a lit­tle hard to use.

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