Nikon Df user review

I have owned the Nikon Df for a few months now so I thought I would write a short review of my experience to date in case it was of benefit to anyone considering buying one, particularly in the UK where the price appears to be higher than most other countries.

The Nikon Df has very much been a polarising camera. I think that is a good thing. I remember when the EM5 came out and there were people that loved it, and people that hated it. I got one the month it came out and have loved the images I have got from it in the 2 years since. With the Df, people have had equally strong opinions.

Nikon-Df-with-50mm-f1.8D

Shot with EM5 and Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8

The main points as I see it that bother people are (there are probably others):

  • Price
  • AF system
  • Lack of video
  • Fidgity manual controls

When the Df was announced I really liked the look of it but I remember seeing the price and thinking that was way beyond what I realistically could afford. At £2749.00 in the UK that puts it way above the D800 and D610. So I can completely understand peoples opinion. However after looking at various alternate options, I discovered that buying it from the US or HK could save me a fair bit of cash and might, just might make it affordable. Panamoz in HK are a company I had heard about but never tried. I read a lot of positive reviews and they had it listed at just over £1000 cheaper than the UK list price. So at that cost I worked out if I sold a couple of things I would be able to justify treating myself. So I decided to eBay my Olympus 75mm f1.8 and a Fuji X10 to help fund the purchase as photography is a hobby to me and I couldn’t justify spending the full amount without selling a few things.

So by doing it that way, the price was no longer an issue and when compared within that price range to the competition, for me it really was a no brainer. As for video, I feel I should really try to concentrate on one thing at a time. My EM5 does video for those little videos you occasionally want but I really have little interest. Then the controls, again the EM5 had similar detractors and I have found since using the Df that I really have no issues with the controls. I could understand if you were coming from another Nikon DSLR it might be quite hard to adjust. But coming from the EM5 it was a blank slate of sorts. I found after just a few outings, I was more than comfortable with how it all worked.

The only complaint which to me, has some justification is the lack of AF assist lamp. In really low light situations it would really help and I have absolutely no idea why they wouldn’t include it.

George-Mewes

George Mewes Cheese Shop shot at f1.8, 1/250 second and ISO 1600

Once I had sorted out the cash, I placed my order. The process of buying from Panamoz was faultless. Ordered it on a Tuesday night. Got an instant email confirming the order. This was followed up Wednesday morning (UK time) with a personal email saying that it was ready to be picked up by UPS. From there I could then track it all the way from HK, via UAE and Germany into the UK with it being delivered Friday morning! So that was 2 and a bit days from ordering to delivery, all the way from HK. I was absolutely impressed and would recommend them in any case where you have such a large difference in cost.

George-Mewes-Glasgow

Shot at f2.8 1/125 second and ISO 1600

It arrived well packed and on opening the box (I got the body only kit) I unwrapped the body and my immediate reaction was very positive. It feels absolutely solid. Coming from m43 its definitely at least on par with the build quality of the EM5. It is obviously a far more substantial body but in terms of pure feel, it feels equally solid. As many will have observed, it is still a sizable body. But its not too big and feels great in the hand. I picked up a 50mm f1.8D to get my collection started and with the 50mm attached, it is actually a really nice size. Not too big.

I have to admit, at this point I would like to think I have a reasonable understanding of the workings of a camera, but the Df definitely felt like a bit of a step up in terms of understanding the various controls. Even working out how to change the AF mode took a bit of figuring out. But after a couple of months I feel comfortable with the controls and actually, I recently tried to use my EM5 and found it really difficult to remember without looking where the controls were!

I have been fortunate to have a couple of great opportunities in the last few months to give it a whirl. Namely a friend who is having a “foodies guide” book published and wanted a couple of pics taken around Glasgow of some of the best places to go. I got to meet some great people and take a few pics. My friend was delighted with the output, as was I. The images from the Df look great to me and feel like a step up in IQ from the EM5. Don’t get me wrong, the EM5 still has a use and I still love the sharpness and colours but FX in terms of the feel of the image is definitely different.

The-Gannet-Finnieston-Glasgow

Nikon Df with the Nikon 50mm f1.8D – 1/640 second shutter, f1.8, ISO 3200

I am still learning the specifics of how to get the best from the Df. In particular it takes quite a lot of adjustment getting used to the shallower DOF you can achieve with FX. I need to be far more conscious of this in order not to miss focus, which has happened on a number of occasions and I only really spot it when its too late. Very much a learning curve.

But also the 50mm f1.8D seems to be quite soft wide open so still trying to find the sweet spot. Thankfully the Df’s high ISO capability is astounding, so reducing the aperture still allows fast shutter speeds. You can get absolutely usable shots at ISO 12,800. I have found the noise from FX to have very different characteristics to that of m43. It is interesting to see in real life. The Df’s noise feels more like grain, whereas in m43 the noise has more colour to it and things go a bit ‘mushy’ at times. I realise the Df is a completely different proposition to the EM5 but its worth noting the practical differences. With the EM5 I found ISO 1600 was the sweet spot without losing too much detail. Obviously the Df goes way beyond that.

DSC_1480

Shot at f1.8, 1/4000 second and ISO 1400. Not entirely sure why the camera in A mode chose such a fast shutter speed.

Another event that was a good test for the camera was a friends wedding that took place in Dublin in February. Was a lot of fun using it along with the 50mm f1.8D. Got some really fun pics over the course of the evening that captured wonderfully some of the moments. The camera worked flawlessly and the battery lasted the entire weekend without any trouble. I know some people questioned the battery in the Df but I have found it more than capable.

To round this off, here are a few images I took at a concert in London in Feb. Again with the 50mm f1.8D it worked wonderfully and the high ISO performance plus the speed of focusing is wonderful. I did actually try and use live view occasionally during the gig to get above peoples heads and that particular scenario did show how much slower the camera is to focus in Live View but that is to be expected. It is however, pretty slow and hunts a lot in low light to find focus.

I have also since added the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 VR to my collection and so far have been pretty impressed. More on that to come but it seems like a nice compromise in terms of quality and size. Its not too big, although it is substantially bigger and heavier than the 50mm f1.8D. I attended the Cambridge half marathon today and it worked flawlessly. Was also quite impressed with the tracking af on the DF. At 5.5 fps for my needs is more than enough.

Conclusion

So as you will gather I really have taken to my Df. Its a lot of fun to use, looks great, has wonderful IQ and is light enough that I can throw it in my bag and not worry about it. The AF is very fast and has only failed on the very rare occasion when there really is too little light for it to work out whats happening. That’s probably happened about 3 times since I got it which is a tiny amount. So I can happily live with that for all the other wonderful things it does. It is a complex camera that requires quite a lot of learning coming from a cropped sensor system but its all a lot of fun learning and I hope to improve my technique in the coming weeks and months. Off to South Africa in March so should be another great opportunity to give it a run out.

If you have any questions, please ask!

Cheers

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