Nikon Df review: Nikon Df

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Compatibility with non-AI lenses. Fantastic shutter sound. D4 image quality without the price tag. Excellent low-light and high ISO performance.

The Bad Doesn't always feel like the film cameras it's trying to imitate. Kit lens doesn't come with an aperture ring. Mode dial is so small. Expensive compared to many other full-frame options.

The Bottom Line The Nikon Df is an excellent camera that delivers stellar image quality. But it's geared towards enthusiast photographers with lots of older lenses who are prepared to pay for the privilege.

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Trying to stand out from the crowd is a difficult task. Camera designers know all too well that inspiration needs to come from as many different places as possible to attract potential buyers. Some have tried outlandish colours or even taking inspiration from shapes in nature. Nikon has decided it will take the path that leads to the cameras of yesteryear.

The Nikon Df is an anomaly in many ways: it's based closely around the flagship D4 but features a completely different body and lacks video-recording capabilities. It's not as expensive as the D4 but still priced out of the range of many aspirational buyers or those enamoured by its style. So who is it for?

Design and features

We've established that the Df is clearly inspired by classic Nikon cameras. Thanks to this overwhelming legacy, you may be slightly underwhelmed when taking it out of the box. Far from the solid all-metal feel of a classic Nikon FE, instead you are greeted with less-expensive finishes, though the internal chassis is magnesium alloy and so are the top and base plates.

The dials are lifted almost verbatim from film models, albeit with slightly different controls. Across the top panel, a double up of exposure compensation and ISO sit on the left while a shutter speed and PASM dial fill the right side. There is also a bulb mode on the shutter dial, a welcome addition. The PASM mode dial is rather delicate, requiring a gentle lift and turn to change modes. Unfortunately, the modes are so tightly packed together on the dial that it can be difficult to differentiate between them when selecting one.

Though the Df is ostensibly designed to be used with lenses other than the kit option, the 50mm f/1.8 G model is provided in the single-bundle configuration available. Curiously, Nikon has decided to supply the G version of this lens — that is, the lens without the manual aperture ring. This means that aperture control is carried out through the body rather than from the lens, a system that seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the classic feel of the camera.

The lens is optically identical to any regular 50mm f/1.8 G lens you can buy on a store shelf, but it has been crafted from aluminium to more closely match the look of the camera.

The dials at the top of the Df are great to use but require you to move your hands (not just a finger) to turn them.
(Credit: Nikon)

Aperture control is performed using the front control dial, which sounds great in theory. In practice, it is a totally different feel from the rear control wheel and dials used on the high-end Nikon SLRs. It's difficult to turn with your index finger, which is the digit that falls most naturally on the control.

Despite these usability quirks, the Df feels excellent in the hand. There is good weight distribution and the body certainly turns heads among those in the know. Fortunately, the internal specifications back up the outward expectation. Inside the chassis sits the same 16-megapixel sensor as the D4, plus the 39-point AF system lifted directly from the D610. A 3.2-inch screen sits around the back with a reasonably high resolution of 921,000 dots.

There are so many customisable and well-thought out options on the Df to fulfil the desires of every photographer. Though there are far too many to mention, a few of the nice additions include the lock switch at the back of the camera as well as the bracketing button that falls right under the thumb as you hold the camera. To top it off, there are a myriad of custom shooting banks within the camera menus.

This may sound like a trivial thing to mention, but the Df has a fantastic shutter release sound. It's a satisfying "thwack" that deserves more credit that we can deliver in this onomatopoeic way. Also worth noting is the bright and large viewfinder, offering 100 per cent coverage and a magnification of 0.7x.

For users coming across to the Df with loads of legacy lenses, you're in luck. The camera is compatible with pretty much all Nikon F-mount lenses, including non-AI lenses made before 1977.

The Df has just one SD card slot, which means it may be unfeasible for professional work. Without the added buffer of redundancy, many pros will probably skip the Df for their paid jobs. As mentioned earlier, the Df does not have a video mode, seemingly to keep the camera in line with the "pure photography" tag that surrounds much of the marketing. Yes, it's true that many SLR owners never play with the video feature, but it's still nice to have it there as an option. Given the D4 produces very nice video footage, it seems almost a waste to not include it on the Df.

Connectivity is provided by a proprietary micro-USB port, mini HDMI and a remote port.

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

Nikon Df
0.3
0.15
0.1

Legend:

Start-up to first shot
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag

Note:

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

Nikon Df
5.5

Note:

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The Df is able to take a burst of 30 RAW files before slowing to process them; the buffer takes around 20 seconds to clear. With JPEG images, the Df hits 100 frames before the buffer fills up. All times were measured using a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC Class 10 card.

Live View performance is still nowhere near as efficient as traditional viewfinder shooting. Though focus and response times are decent, the Df does not automatically reflect the results from your chosen exposure. To see it, you need to press the preview button at the front of the camera.

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Where to Buy

Nikon Df (Body Only)

Part Number: CDSRNKN00024
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Sensor Type FX-format CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.2 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 23.9 x 36mm
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