Nikon Df at a glance:

  • 16.2-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor
  • Manual exposure control dials
  • 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
  • ISO 50-204,800 (extended)
  • 5.5fps shooting rate
  • 2016-pixel RGB metering sensor
  • 39 AF points, with nine cross-type points
  • Street price around £2,749, including 50mm f/1.8G lens
  • See sample images shot with the Nikon Df

Nikon Df review – Introduction

One of the most common complaints I hear about DSLRs comes from enthusiast photographers who want a camera that operates in the same way that their old film SLR did. This is usually followed with a plea for a DSLR that doesn’t shoot video. And it is exactly this photographer at which Nikon has targeted the Nikon Df.

The Nikon Df bears more than a striking resemblance to some of the iconic Nikon F-mount SLRs of years past, notably the FM. Nikon has even adopted the older, non-italicised version of its branding, positioned on the camera’s prism. However, it isn’t just the design that nods to the past, as on the top-plate is a range of dials intended to replicate the experience of shooting on a film SLR. Should you want to change the shutter speed, sensitivity or exposure compensation, there’s no need to scroll through on-screen settings – simply use the dials on top of the camera.

At this stage it would be easy to dismiss the Df as something of a gimmick, designed to tug at the heartstrings of those yearning for the past. Yet beneath the retro exterior is one of the best full-frame sensors we have seen in a digital camera – the same 16.2-million-pixel unit that is used in Nikon’s flagship DSLR, the D4.

While some of the initial reviews of the Df that have appeared online have been critical of the camera’s price, it should be remembered that, in theory, the Df is capable of the same image quality as the D4, which at £4,250 body only is £1,500 more than the Df. With those figures in mind, the Df actually appears to be reasonably priced.

Nikon Df review – Features

However, it wasn’t just the price tag that raised a few eyebrows at the Df’s launch, as there was also some discussion over Nikon’s decision to use its 16.2 million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor. The company has two other full-frame sensors that it currently employs in its cameras – the 24.3-million-pixel unit in the Nikon D610, and the 36.3-million-pixel sensor in the D800, both of which are made by Sony. While the 16.2-million-pixel sensor is arguably one of the best on the market in terms of low-light and high-sensitivity performance, the Sony 24.3 and 36.3-million-pixel units offer excellent dynamic range and obviously higher-resolution images.

The Nikon Df could arguably have been a little cheaper, as the D610, with its 24.3-million-pixel sensor, is around £1,500 body only – a saving of over £1,000 over the Df kit, which includes a redesigned Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens that complements the Df’s design. And while using the 36.3-million-pixel sensor would have created far larger files, and possibly have needed increased processing power, it would have allowed the Df to resolve a class-leading amount of detail. The argument that the 16.2-million-pixel sensor performs better in low light falls a little flat when you consider that downsizing 36.3-million-pixel images to 16.2 million pixels helps to significantly reduce any noise associated with high ISO images.

Given that the Nikon Df uses the same sensor as that found in the Nikon D4, the sensitivity range is also exactly the same, with an extended range of ISO 50-204,800. However, the metering system of the Df differs from both the Nikon D4 and D800. Instead of the 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor used in the latter two cameras, the Df features a 2016-pixel RGB metering sensor, which is the same as that used in the Nikon D610. While this may seem to be a dramatic difference in metering specification, I have often found that it makes little difference in practice – but more on this later.

The Nikon Df also shares its autofocus system with the D610, offering 39 AF points, including nine-cross type sensors, seven of which are still available when used with lenses that have effective apertures of f/8 or larger. This is good news for photographers who like to use 2x teleconverters to give their lenses extra reach.

Just as interesting as what is included in the Df is what has been omitted. To emphasise the Df’s status as a camera purely for photography, it has no video-capture function. Wi-Fi is also absent, although it is of course available via the standard Nikon WU-1a wireless mobile adapter, which simply plugs into the side of the camera. However, as the WU-1a sticks out of the side of the camera when in use, I think a better solution is to use an Eye-Fi card to transfer images from the Df to a smartphone. During this test I used an 8GB Eye-Fi Mobi card and found that it worked very well. At around £42 for the 8GB card and £52 for the 16GB version, these cards should be considered serious alternatives to the WU-1a adapter, which costs around £50

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