Initially released in the fall of 2013, the Nikon DF, or Digital Fusion, is Nikon’s attempt to meld both digital and film photography into a single unified body. And it’s Nikon’s first full-frame camera with a twist. At first glance, it resembles the original Nikon FE and F3 film cameras. It features several analog references and takes the retro design from these cameras, creating quite an interesting model in Nikon’s lineup. While it looks antiquated and resembles cameras from days gone by, under the hood is a very modern and compelling feature set. And despite its nostalgic appeal, Nikon has equipped the camera with features from the flagship D4.
During its release phase, it quickly rose to popularity as a controversial camera, with critiques left and right. And to date, it remains Nikon’s first and only retro-styled SLR that pays homage to their traditional film cameras. Ultimately, this camera was so unique that it still has no real competitors on the market today, as no other camera manufacturer currently creates a retro offering with a full-frame sensor. Thus, it stands alone in its class. In today’s post, we dust off this seemingly forgotten SLR and see whether or not it lives up to today’s expectations.
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- What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon DF?
- Image Quality
- Low Light Performance
- Focusing Performance
- Battery Performance
- Display & Viewfinder
- User Interface
- Physical Layout & Ergonomics
- Niche Features/Extras
- Video Capabilities
- Autofocus Performance
- Lacking Features
- Is this a good beginner camera?
- Is this a good camera for you?
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon DF?
It inherits the same 16.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor and EXPEED 3 image processor from the D4. With that, it provides some of the best image quality on the market to date. Images are beautiful, crisp with plenty of detail, and excellent color rendition. The 14-bit RAW files the camera delivers also provide an exceptional dynamic range.
It features a redesigned shutter mechanism that reduces vibrations, creating a more stable platform. However, it has also made the camera quite as well, a nice touch.
It provides continuous shooting speeds of up to 5.5 fps, not the faster 10 fps rate from the D4. However, for most routine activities, it remains plenty quick. And it also supplies a 50 shot JPEG and 29 RAW buffer.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance is another resounding strength of this camera. It provides a native ISO range from 100 to 12,800, further expandable to 204,800, the same setup as the D4. Overall, it remains as one of the best performing low light cameras available. It can easily deliver usable images up to 12,800. It outcompetes the D4, D4S, and Canon 1DX, all without their price.
The camera inherits the same Multi-Cam 4800 autofocusing system with TTL phase-detection as the D600, D610, and D7100. This system features 39-points along with 3D-tracking. While it’s not the higher-end 51-point system found in the D810 and D4S, autofocusing performance is excellent. Focusing is quick, accurate, and confident.
Battery life and the camera’s longevity are excellent. It uses the same EN-EL14 battery as the D5000 series cameras. However, Nikon rates the battery to deliver 1,400 shots per charge, far surpassing the 1,200 shot industry-standard expected for SLRs in this class.
Display & Viewfinder
It features a rear 3.2-inch TFT LCD with a resolution of 921K dots. Overall, the display resolves plenty of detail, excellent viewing angles, and doesn’t suffer from reflections when composing outdoors.
As it’s an SLR, it offers an optical viewfinder as well. In this case, it inherits the viewfinder from the D4, which offers a 0.7x magnification and 100% coverage of the sensor, plus grid display overlays. Overall, it’s large, bright, and clear. And it is well suited for use when manually focusing.
It also features a top-deck status LCD, which displays critical shooting parameters. It is particularly helpful when shooting at waist level.
The camera maintains the traditional Nikon menus. And the user interface is mostly the same as the D4 and D810 cameras. Nevertheless, they remain well-organized, clear, and quite intuitive. And existing Nikon users will be immediately familiar with navigating this camera, and newcomers will find it quickly mastered.
The camera features three customizable buttons and also offers an extensive in-camera retouching menu to trim images, apply effects, to name a few. It also inherits the customizable My Menu, for added customization over the main menus. And, lastly, it provides four customizable shooting banks, for preset shooting configurations. Overall, the customization and interface offered along with its physical layout deliver excellent versatility.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Physically, the body design takes many notable cues from the Nikon FE and F3 film cameras. And the camera provides adequate physical controls and dials, creating a responsive and tactile approach to shooting. All of the buttons have satisfying mechanical robustness and clicky detents to them, creating quite a sensational experience. All of the buttons also provide locks to prevent accidental changes. And the camera supplies a control scheme in line with vintage cameras, but with the added benefit of modern electronics. And all of the controls we expect for a fully-fledged DSLR in today’s age, most notably the D610 and D7100.
For those who prefer a more modern approach, you’ll be pleased to know it features dual command dials and a multi-selector. The command also dials in a nice cleaver position. For a more tactile approach, it provides a stacked dial design, for exposure compensation and ISO. And the ISO dial features the full gamut of settings, to include the extended ranges as well.
Additionally, it has a shutter speed dial, with settings for bulb and flash sync. Overall, despite its nostalgic appeal, the physical layout remains quite familiar and similar to Nikon’s other recent SLR. The button placement is well-executed, strategic, and everything falls nicely in hand. And the layout is functional and not distracting. And we’re glad to see Nikon hasn’t sacrificed ergonomic appeal for functionality.
Body only, the camera weighs only 710 g, making it among the lightest Nikon SLR ever manufactured and even 100 g lighter than the entry-level D610. Nevertheless, the camera maintains a rugged and robust build. And it still provides a similar level of weather sealing as the D800.
It features a customizable FN button.
It features the I-button, inherited from the D7100. This button calls up the Info Menu, allowing quick settings changes to the customizable menu it offers.
It features a metering coupling lever, which increases the camera’s compatibility across Nikon’s full suite of lenses, now including older non-AI/non-CPU lenses. Users having the ability to adapt these lenses helps match the camera retro design and create quite an interesting complement.
The shutter button is center threaded, allowing the camera to accept old-school shutter release cables.
It offers built-in HDR, though this feature doesn’t support RAW.
It inherits Nikon’s Active D-Lighting, allowing the camera to automatically bring out details in highlights and shadows when shooting in high-contrast scenes.
It features a built-in time-lapse.
It features a built-in multiple exposure mode, which is also entirely customizable.
It features flicker reduction to reduce changes in color and exposure when shooting under fluorescent lights.
The camera lacks video recording altogether. Though understandable, considering Nikon aims this as a photography-centric camera and they want to keep the camera in alignment with the unifying design principles and philosophy behind its creation. Nevertheless, it remains a strange choice as this is now the first Nikon SLR in recent years to remove this feature.
Since the camera inherits the autofocusing system from the Nikon D600, it simultaneously obtains its slow low-light autofocusing performance. And while it delivers exceptional images in low-light, autofocusing isn’t great. The camera doesn’t feature an autofocus assist beam for use during continuous AF. With that, using continuous AF in low-light is virtually useless, as the camera hunts as it struggles to find focus. Nikon only provides the AF assist beam for use with single-shot AF. Thus, it’s your best option when shooting in low light unless you choose to add additional light to help the infrared beam.
The rear LCD doesn’t articulate, nor is it a touchscreen.
The viewfinder doesn’t supply the same viewing angles as some of its siblings. With this design, users must view it straight on to be able to see the grid overlays. If you compose at an angle, you risk not being able to see the critical information displayed on the interface.
For some odd reason, the top status LCD doesn’t display the ISO value.
Unfortunately, the camera offers very little in the form of a grip. It doesn’t provide any rubber coating to increase comfort, either. Instead, the grip is only plastic and is rather shallow considering the camera’s size. From an ergonomics standpoint, the camera is quite awkward.
There’s a lock on the On-Off switch, which is entirely unnecessary as it makes turning on the camera an uncomfortable two-handed affair. The same applies to the Mode dial, which also requires a two-fingered approach, and it’s small, making it difficult to reach. Overall, neither of the buttons are ones you’d use quickly.
With the redesigned shutter mechanism, the camera only offers a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 second, not 1/8000 like the D800 or D4. With that, it will be challenging to shoot fast primes wide open outdoors in bright conditions. You will have to resort to neutral density filters or stop down if you want to shoot wide open.
It only features a single SD card slot. Thus, negating the camera as a choice for those who require redundancy while shooting. And therefore, relegating the camera towards enthusiasts or pro’s content with shooting with a single SD card.
It lacks a built-in flash.
It doesn’t offer microphone or headphone inputs, as it lacks video recording.
It lacks any fully automatic options or scene selection modes. Instead, it only offers shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual.
It lacks built-in wireless connectivity. If you desire this feature, you will need to purchase Nikon’s adapters.
Is this a good beginner camera?
This camera is not the right choice for beginner’s. Look at Nikon’s D5600, or D7500 cameras instead. Not only is it pricey, but it also doesn’t provide any automatic or scene modes. You can get far more value as a beginner by looking elsewhere in Nikon’s lineup, as this is not a camera aimed at the beginner audience.
Is this a good camera for you?
For those looking for a video or hybrid camera, well, this camera lacks video recording, so it’s undoubtedly not a good choice for these applications.
For those looking for a capable sports, wildlife, and journalistic tool, know it’s competent, but it’s not the greatest option here either. It only provides continuous shooting speeds of 5.5 fps, which is not particularly fast. But, it will be sufficient, however, for moderate sports.
For those looking for the best possible image quality and resolving power, look at the Nikon D810 instead. This camera isn’t about high-resolution and maximum fine details.
But, where this camera does excel is for those looking for a strong low light camera. It offers similar performance to the flagships, without their price. From a capabilities standpoint, it melds the best features from the D4, D610, and D810. But, with the controls and personality that makes it decidedly different. And not only does it provide excellent low light performance that outperforms the D4 and D4S, but it does so with a classic approach to digital photography.
In the end, the Nikon DF makes an exceptional alternative for those looking for Nikon’s best imaging performance and low-light capabilities, who felt the price of the D4 was too high. It inherits the same sensor, processor, and ISO capabilities at a fraction of its price. While it’s not the most affordable full-frame shooter around, it does provide much of the performance of the flagship heritage and top-end Nikon. And it represents an attractive way to get the best from the D4, at a bargain, creating quite an interesting value proposition. Users now have a more affordable option to get the same performance and superior low-light capabilities, where the difference comes down to form factor and aesthetic appeal.
In many respects, this camera is really the amalgamation of other current Nikon cameras in technology, but it still creates quite an interesting mashup. On the outside, it looks retro and dated, but inside houses a high-performing setup that’s in line with today’s advancements. It’s not perfect, though. It does have several key weaknesses over the Nikon’s top of the line flagship. Nevertheless, with its D4 chip, tactile manual dials, and small size, the whole package adds up to be greater than its flaws and creates a unique entry into their lineup. Not to mention, it provides an exciting shooting experience and delivers a feeling of nostalgia, which we take for granted in today’s age. It delivers the immediacy and discretion of a film camera, but couples the modern creature comforts of today’s SLRs. The DF is all about the feeling and experience of using an old-school analog piece of equipment. And this creates a visceral experience with a personality that most cameras in today’s market lack. And, despite its appeal, it still manages to beautifully fuses past and present. Whether you’re interested in this camera for its looks or its imaging performance, you won’t’ be disappointed either way.
The Nikon DF is a fully-featured full-frame SLR that will please both enthusiasts and pros like with its beautiful retro-styling. It’s not perfect, though. And it’s a camera that will be most appealing to buyers looking for an aesthetically pleasing option with modern features. Or those who want the D4 sensor in a smaller and more affordable body. While you are paying a premium primarily for its locks, it remains an excellent camera for the price.