A Wedding Photographer’s Nikon Df Review

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).

Nikon Df Review on Shotkit

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.

Top view of the Nikon Df - Shotkit review

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.

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.

THE CONS:

– 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 PROS

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.

IMAGE QUALITY

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

DYNAMIC RANGE

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.

AUTOFOCUS

Its Autofocus 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.

MEMORY

The 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.

VIDEO

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 DESIGN

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. 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.

Nikon Df with Gariz Half Leather Case and ONA “The Lima” Camera strap

THE WEIGHT

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

My Nikon D800E compared to my Nikon Df

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.

If you liked this review, please support Shotkit by clicking one of the links to purchase the Nikon Df from Amazon.

Guest Review by New Jersey Wedding Photographer Jay Cassario | www.jaycassariophoto.com

Nikon Df with Gariz Half Leather Case and ONA “The Lima” Camera strap
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @F/1.4 – ISO2000
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @f/2.8 – ISO3200
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @f/1.4 – ISO320
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @f/1.4 – ISO640
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @f/1.4 – ISO120
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G - @f/1.4 ISO640
Nikon 58mm f/1.4G – @f/1.4 ISO640

NikonDf_Best_Price

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8 BUILD QUALITY

7 ERGONOMICS & HANDLING

9 VIEWFINDER/SCREEN QUALITY

8 FEATURES

8 METERING & FOCUS

10 HIGH ISO PERFORMANCE

10 IMAGE QUALITY

9 VALUE

8.6

32 Comments

  • Good review. Don’t forget that the Df is the only alternative for us that need fully manual controls with our manual Nikkors. I have compared the focusing screen of my Df with both the D800 and D600 and the Df screen is both contrastier and snappier. This is immediately apparent if you regularly use manual focus and have trained eyes.
    I don’t understand the comment on the ISO dial being hard to operate. It’s totally one hand. Press button with left thumb while adjusting the dial with left index finger.

    The sensor is quite far down the list on why I love it. It’s a fantastic sensor, but this is much less important that the haptics offered by the audible shutter dial (who looks at their camera) and tactile aperture dials on the Nikkor lenses.

    The same manual Nikkors which are perfect for Black Magic cameras – offering professional video quality that crushes any DSLR.

    The Df has soul and is already cult.

    • Thanks,
      You have suddenly made change the ISO so easy.
      In fact, using the thumb to press a button and index to manipulate the dial works very well for the exposure compensation dial as well.

  • Great article Jay and I couldn’t agree more. I’m an amateur photographer and I absolutely love my Df for all the reasons mentioned. I also help administer a Df Facebook page and I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve met who have traded their D800/D800E for a Df AND who are absolutely delighted with their decision. I’m yet to meet a single person who owns a Df who doesn’t love it. The critics bothered me at first, now it’s like water off a ducks back. I understand the camera is not for everyone but for me, it’s everything I want in a camera.

  • The Df is going to be my first move into full frame, and your review confirmed everything I had already considered. There are so many people against this camera purely cause it falls out on some specs, mainly speed and ergonomics. For a non professional enthuasist like myself who just takes images for the enjoyment off it but appreciates image quality, I don’t think there is a better camera on the market. Great Review and I love the editing on your sample images.

  • dear, can you tell me which camera did you use to take the photos of the nikon df camera?
    like the first photo of this webpage as example.
    all the best and thanks in advice.
    felipe

  • Great review! Enjoyed this. Thanks for putting the time to it, Jay, that’s a very concise speaking you have here. When the Df came out, I was like, love at first sight. Looks beatiful, awesome sensor, and for my lenses… Some old including a manual 85mm Ais, that would be a charm!

    But being a wedding photographer, currently shooting with two bodies, D3 and D3s, I’ve invested so much money, and for now that Df baby comes at a high expense, considering just personal projects, or some sessions… I don’t know. Maybe in 2015, time will tell.. :)

    Great images also, love the fact being a 58mm.

  • Thank you Helio, I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed the review. I completely understand your skepticism when it comes to your wedding photography coming from a D3 and D3S. To be completely honest, I love the Df for my wedding work, and like I mentioned in the review there are a couple draw backs like the single card slot and the smaller AF area. What I can tell you is that the AF is fine for me because I do a lot of manual focusing and the single card slot does bother me a little, but it’s fine. My suggestion to you Helio…is keep an eye out for my D750 review which should be going up on here in a few days, I think that is the camera for you to upgrade to. The D750 is a game changer and I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I do, but I fell in love with it, and it has become my favorite camera I have ever shot with. I won’t go any further than to say that if you like my Df review, my D750 review is very similar, and if I needed the money I would be selling my Df to fund the D750…it’s that good. Thank you for commenting and I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the D750 review.

  • Jay,

    What a thorough and great review! I am a Canon 5diii wedding shooter and was wondering your thoughts on the 50 1.8 lens that ships with the DF VS the 58 1.4. I shoot 90% on the Canon 50mm 1.2 and read some reviews about the Nikkor 58 not being very crisp wide open. I shoot wide open all the time so this is critical for me. Thanks for your time!

  • Brilliant review Jay and the pictures too. I am still hesitating to buy this as I got my eyes on A7 ii. However, wherever I see pictures taken with Df they always look good.

    Could you tell me what filters did you use to process most of these pictures? Was it VSCO? They look lovely.

  • I almost never comment anywhere, but just wanted to say I loved this review, as well as the photos in the article. Ive been researching into this camera for a couple months now, and this has to be my favorite review I’ve came across yet! Im currently shooting most all of my work with my D800, but cannot wait to add this DF to my arsenal. Thanks! – Darin.

  • It sure looks like a nice camera. That said, I’ve been looking and looking and looking at image samples on the Internet, and I don’t see anything that I really, really like. Take the samples here, for instance. I understand that the author likes this particular look, but how can we judge the sensor’s ability to capture and reproduce colors when the samples are, essentially, 4-color images? You can obtain that look from any camera with an appropriate post-processing. Personally, I prefer images with a wider palette, and from the image samples I see on the Internet, this camera’s sensor cannot do that very well. The Nikon D700, for instance, still does it much better. So, I may still buy the Df for the looks, but at that price a little more than four-color “workable” palette would be nice to have too.

  • I bough the Df after using a friend of mine Df on a recent wildlife trip to Etosha in Namibia, Yes he use his for wildlife especially in low light at the waterholes. fixed to a Nikon 300mmf4 lens. I have a D810 and my D4 got stolen from my car a few months ago and I was in 2 minds about replacing the D4 as I am very happy with the D810 using it with a 300 f2.8 vrii and often shooting in 1.2 crop to reduce file size and getting a bid more in Camera Crop. I bought a 70 -200 f4 lens that now is the lens of choice on the Df. I also use it with a 18-35 Nikon for landscape and travel. The more I use it the more I love this camera. As you stated, those who dont like it has never used it.

  • It’s not the best camera, but it is certainly the prettiest. Output is phenomenal. I’ve the 58 1.4 too, but the 50 1.8 special edition its great too and the 85 1.8 and 1.4 its killing.

  • Nice pictures!
    I also have the df and 58mm.
    But looking to trade it for an M9 and voigt 35mm 1.4…
    Not sure if its a good move.

  • Good read and has answered a few of my questions before making the purchase. I shoot all day long with a D3 at the moment and it’s killing me, light weight with a step up in performance sounds ideal. Got to love the retro looks as well, takes me back to my college days.

  • 2 years after it’s release I have it and couldn’t hide my excitement! Thanks for the thorough review..gave me the nicest feeling of owning this beast and beauty ..cheers

  • Finally a good review and some great comments about the Df. I took a memory card along to my local camera store and tried just about every camera over the course of 3 weeks. Olympus, Canon, Pentax, Fuji, Sony and the latest from Nikon but none of them made me feel like parting with 2 grand, especially as the results weren’t as good as I’m getting from my old D3. I’d read so many bad reviews about the Df I didn’t even want to try it. I was on my way out of the door but I thought I’d have a quick play with one they had sitting on the shelf. Even the salesman told me nah you don’t want that mate it’s crap but within 5 minutes I was hooked. All this cry baby nonsense about bad low light autofocus and dials that need 2 hands. Balderdash. The Df is a proper tool I’d take anywhere and it works like a dream. I wonder why so many people knock it. Have they actually tried it? I think people are forgetting why Nikon built this camera. The Df is a statement to remind everyone about the love of photography. No Mickey Mouse video or a body that feels so heavy you can’t be bothered to take it for a walk. The Df makes you want to go out and take pictures. I think that’s lost on so many of these pros who’ve come to see photography as a job they do with a pair or D4s. I ordered a Nikon grip from Japan. It arrived 6 days later and the eBay seller put in a few little extras as a gift. Along with a hand written thank you note he put in an origami sample. I must admit at first I didn’t know what it was, this funny looking paper thing, I thought perhaps I should unwrap it maybe there was something inside. Just as I was about to pull it apart to take a look, I realised – it is what it is. Something nice made in Japan with exquisite attention to detail. The Df is the same. It is what it is and it’s a shame to hear so many photographers moaning because it’s not a D5. Nikon and the people of Japan must be given more credit. As we all know they’ve had some issues with what seems like a never ending list of recalls for almost every camera in the last 6 years but they didn’t take any chances with the Df. It’s pure class. Get one if you can.

    • What an awesome story, Jeff. I think your origami analogy sums up the Df perfectly. I also agree that it’s an often overlooked camera, and one that I don’t see in nearly enough camera bags. Thanks for the great comment and I wish you many happy years of shooting with your Df!

  • I enjoyed reading this review and as a Df owner can certainly relate to your viewpoint. I’m not a pro, but gave bee shooting with SLRs since the 80s. I cut my teeth on an AE-1, then moved to Nikon sometime in the 90s. I’ve owned several DSLRs (D70, D300, D700, D610), but never connected with the primarily menu-driven controls. When the Df came out, I was skeptical due to some of the negative reviews, but after renting it for a weekend, I was hooked. Finally a DSLR with intuitive (to me) controls. I typically shoot with MF primes which give me fast glass without the bulk. As for the ISO knob, I rarely use it. I set it at 100 and use auto ISO maxed out at 12800 and shoot in manual mode. It’s like having my old AE-1 (or FM2a) that automatically changes the film for me. A wonderful shooting experience.

  • Nikon Df is best camera at present time for real photographers! I have both of Canon 5D m3, Nikon D810, Nikon D700, Nikon D90, but after 2 month experience now I use Df in 95%. Its a lightest Ultra-wide system with Nikon 18-35G – just 1150g! You can walk full day without tired! Also nobody afraid you, people think you are retro amateur, not professional photographer and then they became very familiar to you, also they sometimes very interesting what is this? He have one of the real largest viewfinder! Images are absolutely fine until ISO 25600, but also can use them at 102k! Just D4, D4s and D5 can do same job! Dynamic range at highest ISO’s is best in the world! During the processing of photos you can get a lot of shadows without noise or banding, at any ISOs! Just one moment – impossible to reveal the lightest areas if files are overexposed! But you can get even full detail and color information from dark files, underexposed files – then in bright situation don’t forget to set correction of exposition at –1-2EV! Second little weakness is a middle size grip! Silver version look better but not practical, black is much more effective and invisible at street! About auto focus – at daylight I don’t see any significant difference between DF and my Canon 5Diii, and also at low light I see the same situation, because the sensitive of auto focus at both of camera are same – –1EV!

  • I pre-ordered my Df and have had it since I received it. It’s a great camera.

    I use it with a 50 mm f1.2 AIs mostly, and occasionally with an 85 mm f1.4 AFD.

    Regarding your comment “It’s almost impossible to make an ISO adjustment with just your left hand”.

    Not so for me. I press the lock button with my left thumb and roll the dial with my left fore-finger.

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