For my own hands on review of the Nikon Df do click here.
The full frame market is now officially heating up for the Christmas season. First we have the Sony A7/R and then the latest from Nikon, the Df. The moniker is pretty easy to understand, especially those who have good memories in the 70s and 80s, shooting film of their lives in University and for this author, his beloved uncle’s trip to Europe was captured with that camera. So it holds a lot of sentimental value when it comes to F series cameras. I do have an inkling of how one should feel as I have a Canon L1 RF and a Canon A1 SLR and when the X100 bursts into the scene, it was very close to 2nd coming to me.
So when Nikon leaks out videos and news bites about the new Df or Digital F series, I was already thinking of ways to make use of the old Nikon Primes that my uncle has generously lend it to me. In my mind, it should be somewhere around the FM2 size, small, portable and the gorgeous 35mm view finder that I grew up with. It should have the similar mechanical control scheme found on the Fujifilm XE1 and X100 that I own.
To me the announcement was plainly the music to one’s ears. After all the years of Nikon trying to find something new but fell down flat (zero D400, Nikon 1 small sensor, D800 MP behemoth and D600 manufacturing defect and the introduction of D610 that shouldn’t even be a model), have they got their mojo back? Despite how I always lament about Nikon I have always been a keen supporter of Nikon when I ditched Canon in the form of D70 through D300 thus replacing the EOS500 that I have used for pleasure and sometimes projects, So Nikon being successful is a good thing to me so i can continue to use the lens and the excellent flash system.
So after the press release this is in essence what would be on the Df.
– 16.2MP D4 CMOS sensor
– Expeed 3 Processor
– ISO 204800 maximum (i guess those who shoot stars would love this to bits). ISO 12800 native.
– The dials let you set ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, exposure mode, and release mode independently, enabling you to access all parameters relevant to still photography without using the camera’s menu.
– maximum shutter speed of 1/4,000 s
– flash synchronization at up to 1/200 s
– When shooting with a non-AI lens in A (Aperture Priority) or M (Manual) mode, the Df allows full-aperture metering equivalent to that of AI lenses. Lens characteristics such as focal length and the widest aperture setting can be easily defined via simple camera settings, enabling the camera to recognize the aperture setting and calculate correct exposure.
– 39 point AF system
– Auto crop mode for DX
– HDR mode
– Retouch menus
– Need wireless devices to control camera and receive images
And then a source shared photo of the Df next to the real FM2
So my news reaction moment: Isn’t that a bit too big to be a F series camera? Another source confirmed that it is slightly smaller than the D7000. Key word is slightly and the FM2 is around the same size of the Canon A1
And then looking through the specifications, it is basically a mid sized DSLR specification so most of the feature set is what i would expect though there are some points to consider:
The Knobs and Dials
The huge positive: the dials. I have been advocating the using of dials for the longest time and I am glad Nikon has done this (perhaps there are lots of people saying the same thing as me, made worst by the fact that Fujifilm has shown it can be done). One thing I have always appreciate about old tech is that they always make it so easy to get things done. We really have to thank Leica for this and by which most post war cameras are engineered with it in mind. So you can see from the picture there are also locks to nearly all the knobs and dials.
My reaction: You mean i have to unlock every time i have to change a setting? I took a quick peek at the XPro1. It also have a lock – uno, one, 1 lock and that is only because you want to get out of Auto shutter otherwise it is free ranging.
And I have another source telling me how it would work: “The ISO dial uses a little button next to it. Exposure comp = pull and turn. Mode dial = pull and turn. Shutter speed dial = press button at the centre of the dial.” All these pulling and pressing only translate to one thing – irritation. I can’t go to the viewfinder and change it without asking my fingers to do a gym work out. It just doesn’t feel right.
According to FE owners, this is how it worked then. My reply: perhaps then there was a way to effectively stop the dial from changing settings accidentally. Forward to X100, the same problem happened with its EV dial but it was solved without resorting to any locks. XPro1 do have a lock but it is something most can do without so it was a huge relief that X-E1 do not have it. In short, we don’t need the locks with the dials. It may look cool, it may look mechanical but it is hell on earth when one needs to change the settings quickly.
You can see how the dials look like up close. Shots are done by a chinese website: http://digiphoto.techbang.com/posts/5570
This leads me to question the presence of the dials and the rear wheel and front wheel and also the relationship between PASM dial and the shutter dial.
As someone pointed out to me with this question “What would happen if I set to Aperture priority mode and yet my shutter dial is set at say 1/60?” A very good question. Which one would get priority? Would that be a big hurdle for the user?
From what i see it was a control mechanism nightmare, hurriedly put together and try to marry the modern DSLR (you can sense by seeing the body) and then with the requirement to add in dials for control. In the end, it doesn’t merge really well. I would instead do this: have a physical/real aperture ring as part of the F Mount on the body.
If Sony A7 and Fujifilm can do it without much hassles, i wonder why Nikon need to reinvent the wheel. Is following traditional mechanism so hard?
Flash Synchro – According to spec sheet the flash sync speed is 1/200s. D300s was 1/250s. A tad slow. Perhaps the Focal Plane flash sync would cover some slack here.
Consumer Features – HDR/Retouch Menu. This is where it also confuses me. Isn’t this a camera with ‘Pure Photography‘ tag line? Yes I have noticed there is NO video function mentioned which is the best news I have heard for the longest time. Yes video has its place and yes, Canon has shown that it is a capable HD videocam on their 5DM2 and M3. But what if I am a photographer and not a videographer? So I am for once glad that not having a video freed up the camera resources for photography.
And then must they have Retouch Menu/HDR? Seriously? OK. Maybe I am a purist here but ain’t this supposed to appeal to the photographers? Or they think that looking retro with consumer touch is all that we want?
Integration with Smart Devices Wirelessly for Social Media Purposes
The Df has no less than 3 devices just to do things wireless with the smartphone. The Sony A7 in comparison needed nothing as everything is built in plus the fact that A7 can shoot tether wireless, a boon for studio shooting without all the big equipment to do that. Is that necessary you ask? Maybe not but it is a nice thing to have especially when one can shoot tethered.
The build – According to the Nikon site it is 143.5 x 110.0 x 66.5 mm (W x H x D) and weighs approximately 710 g making it the smallest and lightest in the history of Nikon FX camera. Actually it is very close to the D70 in terms of size. If you have the D70, you basically will be holding a D70 FX camera with a taller mirror box.
It is also have magnesium alloy for the top, back and bottom covers for the body. However looking at the close ups shots from the Taiwanese website, it is very close to looking like a die-cast camera instead. Yes it is toy like. Perhaps getting the full black version is a better choice.
If Nikon has in some ways tried to do something out of the ordinary in their eyes but yet is so familiar for those who are following the camera market closely. That said at least they are doing something trying to squeeze a Full Frame into a DX body.
Someone has put this very eloquently in one of the forum website that I contribute.
“To sum it up, the Df seems closer to a modern DSLR clad in an old-fashioned shell rather than a svelte film camera updated with digital imaging technology.” And we want a svelte film camera updated with digital imaging technology.
The Competitor (of sorts): Sony A7/R
If Df have came before the Sony A7, perhaps the market perception would be better for the former.
So is it a fair fight given that the Nikon Df is basically a DSLR and the A7 is technically a mirrorless and both carry the Full Frame sensor?
I think it is. The key point is really not about what body format the camera is using but what is the value proposition both cameras are giving at the respective selling price they command. I do have to agree that if given a choice, I will choose the Optical View finder over an Electronic View Finder given any day even when the current EVF is pretty close to instantaneous.
However if the OVF is the huge cost centre for the camera, then I would have to look at how I use the camera to determine if the OVF is necessary. I have the same decision making process when I choose between the XPro1 and the X-E1. In the end the X-E1 won me over despite having EVF. i think EVF is sufficient for majority of shooters there. If you are a sports or event photographer or maybe even a birder, then OVF is something that can never be compromised. That said, I wouldn’t know how the EVF on the A7/R would perform for a sports event. There is also the AF-C tracking system that is also crucial too not to mention the camera may black out when saving files. But if A7 can show it can behave like a DSLR with OVF using EVF instead, then it will take no more convincing to turn the crowd away from DSLRs.
Control wise, the A7 do not come with locks (I have tested it) and the front and rear wheel and menu selection wheel can control Aperture, Shutter and ISO. It is fairly intuitive and is quick. If I were to picture myself using the two cameras, the A7 would win hands down though it would require me to look at the screen.
If you look at the market segment these two are appealing to, the OVF may not be the crucial factor. The price and value proposition will be. The price of Df is confirmed to be USD3000 for a kit (with a special edition 50mm f1.8 G lens…note G – the one without aperture ring). The A7 kit is SGD2399 with a kit lens. The former has 16.2MP using a D4 Sensor and the later is a 24MP sensor. As of now I wouldn’t know what the image quality would be like but i guess it will be quite good given the rough estimate that the pixel pitch will be wider than that of the 24MP. That said, I feel the 24MP is the sweet spot for Full frame sensors though I am leaning towards having a more usable (and sane) file size afforded by the 16MP.
With the type of money I would spend, then spending lesser with a higher MP is the logical choice.
I would end this with a piece from Thom Hogan when he talks about the leak of Nikon cameras: http://www.dslrbodies.com/newsviews/the-nikon-customer-leak.html
It is a very good observation piece that I think all the camera manufacturers should heed. Look after your customers that bought your APS-C/Crop sensor system. The APS-C may not earn as much money as selling a full framer but how many people out there seriously need a full frame camera? Consumers now are questioning the need for full frame, given that APS-C and the image processor are churning out images that are good enough for the users. Note that it is good enough and not absolute image quality that is winning customers.
The main concerns are size and lens availability. In Df case, it has good lens availability if the Df is to appeal to those who has old Nikon legacy lens. But what of other consumers that do not have the legacy lens but tons of DX lenses? what would be their choice? I have waited for the D400 for the longest time. Yes I can get a D610 and allow auto cropping but that is not the point. I appreciate how the D300s operates and D610 is basically D7100 with FX lenses which is not what I want. When Fujifilm or Olympus gives a smaller, lighter package that has image quality that is acceptable with a price that is not astronomical, consumers will bite. They actually did bite and they bite real hard.
This is something camera manufacturers should look into. Sony shouldn’t neglect their NEX customers and so do Nikon with their DX customers. Canon itself has came out with EOS M but i personally feel it was ill placed in the market where adaptor is still needed to support its own product which is not a funny joke.
Fujifilm and Olympus has shown the way the market is heading towards and summarises very eloquently by Thom, “Olympus seems to know well that there’s an opportunity here. Notice that in the last year they moved away from their “sell small cute bodies to women and bloggers” thing to “sell competent DSLR-replacement type cameras to dissatisfied crop sensor camera users.”
Part of the reason why Sony and Nikon is coming out Full Frame cameras is wanting their customers to leak upwards.
I pose this question instead “What if the customers do not need full frame cameras even if those customers are also professional shooters?” and one specifically for Nikon “What if Df can be even smaller by using DX lens?”
2014 will be a very very interesting year indeed. Will it be the year of full framers in small bodies? And yes, XPro2 is yet to be seen. Something’s cooking?
Since then I have done reviews for both cameras.
For more info:
Sony A7/R Press Release: http://presscentre.sony.eu/content/detail.aspx?ReleaseID=9194&NewsAreaId=2