Nikon Df Review
This is a guest review of the Nikon Df by wedding photographer Jay Cassario.
Odds are that by now you already know a little bit about the Nikon Df. Whether you shoot Nikon or Canon, I’m sure you’ve been intrigued at least a little by all the attention it has received and controversy it has had surrounding it.
From the moment it was announced, the Nikon Df has taken heat for its trendy retro looks and its appeal to all the “hipsters” of the photography industry.
If you’re a follower of FSTOPPERS, then you have probably even seen the short video by Lee Morris dressing the role of a hipster walking the streets with a pipe in his mouth mocking the camera as strictly a fashion statement (which was an awesome video).
What I’ve noticed with the Nikon Df is that there are those that love it, those that don’t care for it, and those that are just plain confused by it.
My Nikon DF Story
6 months ago, not too long after it started shipping, I traded in one of my two Nikon D800 ‘s for the Nikon Df. I’ve been shooting it like crazy ever since.
I shoot it for personal work, for weddings, and to be honest I’m considering trading my other Nikon D800 for another one.
I’ve already written a couple of extensive reviews on the Nikon Df, but I wrote them early on. I wanted to write a quick summary of what my thoughts are now on the Nikon Df, why I’m thinking of buying a 2nd, and to hopefully clear up a little confusion about this controversial camera.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Here’s the bottom line – it’s not perfect, no where near it, but for my style of shooting, both personal and professional… it works. Right up front I will tell you, there are definitely a few things I wish Nikon had done differently, but I can say that about every camera I’ve ever used.
I currently have 4 camera bodies that I own and rotate in and out depending on the job. I own a Canon 5D MarkIII, Canon 5D MarkII, Nikon D800E, and the Nikon Df. I would estimate that 95% of the time, no matter what the shoot is, I reach for the Nikon Df now.
It’s light, a joy to shoot, has better image quality than the other 3, and sure… I love the way it looks. It also pairs perfectly with my Nikon 58mm f/1.4, one of the best Nikon lenses for portraits, especially if you’re a fan of some of the creamiest bokeh you’ll ever see.
I’m by no means a Nikon Fanboy. If you follow my work, you know that I shoot both Nikon and Canon. Most of the time I preferred to shoot Canon… until the Nikon Df.
The Nikon Df quickly became my go to camera, and now, over 6 months later, I can do a better job of explaining to everyone what this camera is all about. It definitely has its flaws, but it wears them proud.
I look at it like a new Dodge Charger with a retro body style designed to bring us back to the days of old. It has the looks of the older classic, but under the hood is one of Dodge’s latest and greatest engines.
The problem is, the gas mileage sucks. Some car fanatics will be able to look past that poor gas mileage… others won’t.
For me personally, the sensor that is under the hood is the best Nikon makes, and while it has a few flaws, let me explain to you why I’m able to look past them.
Since it’s the flaws that are talked about the most, lets just get them out of the way first, then we’ll move onto the good stuff.
– No Video (excellent Live View still)
– Time consuming dials (ISO dial is the only difficult one)
– 39 point AF (Same as Nikon D600/Nikon D610)
– Struggles to lock focus in low light
– Single SD card slot
– Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec
The Nikon Df is a camera that you will have to hold in your hands. You have to try the dials, press the shutter, feel its lightweight body. This is a tough camera to truly understand without using it first hand. While some may knock this camera for being nothing but a pretty face, they truly are mistaken. Its sexy body is wrapped around arguably the best sensor Nikon has ever put out to date.
I prefer the images the Nikon Df puts out to those of my Nikon D800E, and at half the file size. It has the image quality of the $6500 Nikon D4s. Yes, obviously there is a lot more to the Nikon D4s than just the sensor, I understand that, but not everyone needs its blazing speed and huge heavy body.
The high ISO capabilities are pretty impressive to say the least, and the best out of all my camera bodies. If DxO scores hold any water with you, it currently has the highest score for low-light ISO which is 200 more points than the new flagship Nikon D4s.
Take it for what it’s worth. It can kick out crisp images at ISO 12,800, still holding great detail and is noticeably better at handling noise starting at ISO 400 then my Nikon D800E and Canon 5D MarkIII.
Here is a test shot with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, shot at f/2.0, ISO 12800 with a 100% CROP
Along with impressive high ISO capabilities, the dynamic range is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. The one downfall to the Canon bodies I own is the dynamic range, and while I thought the Nikon D800 was pretty impressive, the Nikon Df can pull detail out of the darkest underexposed shots.
While I do my best to nail the exposure, there are shots that you take on the fly and sometimes miss the exposure, resulting in a dark image.
As much as I love my Canon 5D MarkIII ‘s, pulling detail out of under exposed images results in a lot of colored noise and those nasty lines resembling burlap known as banding.
The Nikon Df sensor blows my mind with the detail it can preserve, which can come in really handy at times.
Below is an example of an underexposed image that while not severely underexposed, preserving clean detail with little noise is no problem, and producing a useable image is a non-issue.
Its Autofocus on the Nikon Df is excellent. I see tons of complaints about it having the cheaper AF system of the Nikon D600/Nikon D610 with only 39 focus points, rather than the 51 point system of the Nikon D800 and Nikon D4. Sure, it would have been nice, but personally it doesn’t bother me.
I think both systems are limited, and neither have focus points out to the edge of the frame with 100% coverage.
I honestly have no problem shooting with the 9 focus points of the Canon 5D MarkII. Obviously Nikon did this to cut costs, so I’ll take it.
The Nikon Df uses a single SD card, and only one. This is horrible… I know. How could they? This is a pretty popular complaint that I see, and another deal breaker for a lot of photographers. How can you possibly go back to the days of using a single card – what if it fails?
True, the dual cards of my Nikon D800E and Canon 5D Mark III are nice, but I don’t ever write to both cards at the same time. I cascade them, using one until it fills up and then the other. So it doesn’t matter if I’m using a single card in my Df or double cards in my Nikon D800E or Canon 5D Mark III … if a card fails, the data is still lost.
The only downside of the single card slot to me is that I have to physically take out one and replace it with another when it fills up.
I don’t shoot video, so the fact that they left this feature out has no effect on me. The lack of Live view would have bothered me, but the Live view of the Df works great and has better responsiveness than any other camera I’ve used.
The battery life is also pretty impressive, lasting longer than all my other camera bodies. I can easily shoot an entire 12 hour wedding with no problem.
I have 2 backups and have yet to have to replace the one I started with.
The Nikon Df was built with the intentions of pulling at the heart strings of all those photographers who have a love for the classic and vintage look of the SLR cameras of old. Similar looking to the Nikon FE from 1978, its look and feel is simply divine.
(If you’re looking for a mirrorless camera that has the whole ‘retro-camera’ look going for it too, check out our Nikon Z fc review.)
I would say that the handling of the Nikon Df takes a little getting used to, I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but no different than the first time I held a mirrorless camera.
If you’re used to wrapping your hand around the bulkier grip of the larger DSLRs, the Nikon Df will feel a bit awkward, but I’ve grown to love it.
There’s less of a grip and it’s shorter, leaving your pinky finger hanging off at the bottom when you have big hands like myself. I didn’t mind the lack of grip once I learned how beneficial the lighter weight would be for me, especially on long shoots like all-day weddings.
I picked up the Gariz Leather Half Case which adds just the right amount to the bottom giving me enough real estate for my whole hand and all my digits comfortably.
One of the coolest features of the retro design that the Df sports, is the use of all the dedicated external controls, or dials. There is a silver dial or button for just about everything you can think of, with dials stacked on top of dials. Each of the dials has the feel of solid metal, lock nicely into place, with nice ridges for grip.
While these dials are a large part of the vintage look that stay true to Nikon’s film SLR cameras of old, they can easily be bypassed. Almost everything on the Nikon Df can be used like your traditional DSLR.
The only complaint I have with the dial setup is the ISO dial. You have to press and hold down a small button to turn the ISO dial, but both are on the left hand side, making it a two hand adjustment. It’s almost impossible to make an ISO adjustment with just your left hand, but I have been able to make every other adjustment single handedly just fine.
Overall, the manual controls of the Nikon Df don’t slow me down, and while it may take an extra couple seconds to make an ISO adjustment, sometimes slowing down is a good thing. I have no problems at all shooting the Nikon Df in a high paced environment, like a wedding.
One of the biggest benefits that the Nikon Df has over its bigger siblings, is its weight. The lighter weight of the Nikon Df is a huge PRO to me, and believe me, at the end of a 12 hour wedding you can really appreciate it.
(Editor’s note – Jay used to be a body builder, so even super strong guys like him can appreciate the slight weight savings that the Nikon Df affords!!)
Nikon Df – 710g
Nikon D600 – 850g
Nikon D800 – 900g
Canon 5D MarkIII – 950g
Nikon Df Review – Conclusion
The Nikon Df is a unique camera and different to anything that Nikon or Canon has ever released. It feels different, looks different, and even sounds different than anything I’ve ever shot.
I’m lucky enough to be able to shoot with some of the best cameras on the market, and the Nikon Df has been the one I reach for almost all of the time now.
It’s certainly not perfect, but it has some pretty good things going for it. It has character. It has a look that draws more attention than any camera I’ve ever used.
There are obvious gaps in the Nikon DSLR line-up and the Nikon Df fits in there nicely to fill that gap for some of us. While the so-called flaws seem to scare some off, there are those photographers like myself that understand what this camera is and are taking full advantage of it.
The Nikon Df gets ripped apart for its lack of speed, clumsy ergonomics, and cheap AF system, and this leaves it out of most wedding photography gear conversations. However, lately, I have been seeing more and more starting to give it a chance.
Obviously, if the Nikon D4 or Nikon D4s is in your budget and you like the advantages that they offer, the Nikon Df might not be for you. I personally don’t mind buying two Nikon Df ‘s for the price of one Nikon D4, and losing a few features.
Take a look at a few of the Nikon kits here on Shotkit and you will see the Nikon Df starting to make its way into the wedding industry. Two photographers I truly admire, Cole and Jakob of Nordica Photography, both shoot Nikon Df ‘s as their primary bodies.
The funny thing is, I’ve yet to hear of a wedding photographer that hasn’t been happy with the Nikon Df once they put it through the paces.
Hopefully this was helpful – please feel free to leave any questions for me.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.