Nikon Df build quality

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by eric_m|4, Sep 28, 2016.

  1. I see the Nikon Df on their site listed in the "enthusiasts" or "prosumer" category but the old retro look makes it appear like it has a tougher build quality. I haven't tried the D500 but all the other cameras in that category have great features but they all have that toy-ish feel to them. Does the Df have the same feel or is it as tough as it looks? Thanks.
  2. D500 is tougher, Df is a lot of plastic
  3. I don't think there are big differences in the build quality between the mid-tier Nikon DSLR cameras (including the Df); they have a partly metal, partly some kind of advanced plastic inner construction. This is to reduce weight. The following is for the D500:
    If you drop the Df (or D810, or D500) with a heavy lens attached from a significant height, chances are that the mount comes off (due to plastic threads). I think it's safest not to drop cameras. ;-)
  4. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I am sure Df fans would like to think otherwise, but the Df is a D600/D750-class camera. They all use a shutter rated to 150K actuations, have a 1/4000 sec top shutter speed and 1/200 sec flash sync speed. Having said that, I have had a D750 since December 2014. Other than a GPS connection that was defective from day 1, and Nikon fixed it under warranty, I have had no problems. I only had a Df test sample for a few weeks for review, but I am sure it would be fine as long as you don't abuse it. A D800/D810 would be somewhat better built while the single-digit D3/D4/D5 are the most solid.
    A decade ago I used a D2X and a 17-55mm/f2.8 DX AF-S; both are solidly built and I still own them today. That lens was mounted onto the D2X and I had them inside a well padded camera bag. Somehow the bag strap came loose and the bag fell onto a concrete floor from my waist level. Since the camera is heavy and solid, I think it contributed to bending the lens mount. If I had something like a D7000 series in that same situation, there probably would have been no damage. Therefore, a solid body can cut both ways.
    I think it's safest not to drop cameras. ;-)​
    Totally agree, it is best not to get into any automobile accidents too. :)
  5. I was a bit dismayed on handling a Df at a photo
    expo. It felt very lightweight and controls felt flimsy
    - not at all what I was expecting after Nikon's hype.
    After using a D700 and D800 previously, the Df was
    the camera that felt like a toy.
  6. The DF is a pretty light weight body, as already stated by other in the same category as the D600 and D750
    Definitely not in the same league as the D1/2/3 series (obviousy) or D800/810
    But it IMO is strong enough for normal/daily/professional use (although in my experience modern DSLR's can't stand the kind of abuse the old flm bodies could handle)
    Only 'real' weak point is the battery door (that one really feels plasticky), which much like the one on the SB800 speedlight, comes of pretty easiy. But contrary to the one on the SB800 that doesn't hamper the functioning of the camera as the battery stays in place.
    For the rest, like any other DSLR, the AF risks getting misaligned when the camera is dropped or bumped (had that on my D3 and D800's), and the body/lensmount can be damaged when the camera is handled rough (had the lens mount on my D2X bent/misalligned after someone stepped on the body with lens when I had it lying on the floor. Only was a problem when I wanted to sell it, in practical use I never, in the several years after it got bent, had any issues due while using it to that)
    As far as the D500 is concerned, although it's about the same dimensions as the D800/810, it's, at least in my experience, much lighter then the D800. Which is as to be expected, as it, similar to the DF, has much more 'plastic' in the body then e.g. the D800, let alone D1/2/3
    (I'm a D800 user, and did. as I considered getting one, extensive research, including physical handling and testing, on the D500 shortly after its introduction - I'm a NPS member so access to it was pretty easy then - )
    Also the D500 has' like the D810, its lensmount/ring is attached to a carbon/polyplasticsomething mirror housing, unlike the DF and D800, which in real world use can risk it to rip of completely from the camera like eg happened with this D810,3605.0.html (Admittedly with the metal mirror housing, chances are things will get bent rather then ripped off, which in both cases boils down to serious, possibly fatal damage)
    That said, I think the whole camera built issue get's blown out of proportions nowadays. Just compare the DF/D600/D750 with similar class mirrorless camera's, really not much better there (IMO sometimes even much worse).
    Also, much like many all terrain cars used, most 'pro level' camera's never get used under conditions which really test the built quality, water resistance, shock resistance etc. and just get used for taking pictures when on holidays, during family outings and similar innocent activities
    I for several years shot surf (shore to sea) with my D2X and D3 (with a.o. a 4/200-400VR), which meant getting exposed for prolonged periods to salt water spray, sand and rain (I'm Dutch based, so no sunny Californian conditions)
    Only issue I after a couple of years ended up with was that the salt somehow had eroded the contacts of the VR system (which I didn't use anyway). Problem got solved after NPS disassembled (and reassembled) the lens for inspection prior to a possible repair (never had that repair since, after the lens was reassembled, the contact got cleaned and the lens was working tiptop again)
    Sure, I wouldn't risk using my DF that way, but that's what prolevel bodies are for after all.
    But for normal day to day use it, like eg the similarly non pro/consumer D70S or D7100, can easily stand 'abuse' that comes with that kind of use.
  7. As far as the D500 is concerned, although it's about the same dimensions as the D800/810, it's, at least in my experience, much lighter then the D800. Which is as to be expected, as it, similar to the DF, has much more 'plastic' in the body then e.g. the D800 . . .​
    Compared to the FX D800, the DX D500 has a smaller sensor, a smaller pentaprism, a smaller shutter mechanism, a smaller mirror, a smaller mirror box, etc. These differences are more likely to account for the 140 gram weight difference between the two cameras than the amount of plastic used.
    It's a mistake to assume that weight invariably correlates with durability, or to assume that plastic always makes for a weaker construction than metal. The most reliable way to measure durability is to smash statistically significant numbers of each camera model in different ways: dropping on concrete at varying angles, striking with a tripod leg, etc. This isn't practical, so we weigh cameras in a fruitless attempt to guess how sturdy they are.
  8. I wouldn't know about tougness or durabilty
    but IMO the Df is much 'better' build than the
    other prosumer cameras in that the buttons
    and dials have a much nicer 'feel' to them.
    Also the shutter 'feels' and sounds quite
    different (better IMO) than a D750. It definitely
    feel less plastic and more 'quality' than a
    D750, despite it's light weight.
    I hink it's a very well build camera and never
    had any problem with the battery door.
    Enjoying the camera very much!
  9. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    The DF is made in Japan. It has the quality feel of my old film Nikons and is not an anonymous black plastic blob. It is quite sturdy. It was snatched out of my hand by one of my large dogs running through the strap. Only time in my life I have dropped a camera -- 24-120 lens first down on the concrete. The only consequences were a broken lens hood, and two small nicks on the mode dial. The DF performs excellently under all circumstances, and I usually reach for it before my D 750. If as rumored, the DF 2 is available next summer, if they haven't wrecked it by adding a lot of useless (to me) junk, I'll buy one. Otherwise, I will certainly plan on getting another DF before they are gone.
  10. Very shortly. Don't be clumsy, learn to hold you camera safe in your hand. Any camera or lens suffer when you drop them on the concrete. Out of my Dig cameras, D3s, D4, Df, I like my Df the most. Build, and quality of images the camera producing.
  11. Whether metal or polycarbonate (plastic) cuts both ways. I think if you drop either from a significant height you are likely to suffer damage, though it may be different. The weather sealing is more important to me in the "durability" of the camera in the field. I may be able to prevent the catastrophic drop, but I would like to frequently take the camera into damp or wet conditions.
  12. While Df is mainly made of some sort of re-enforced plastic it has nice tool grade touch and robust dimensioning in it. I have trust in Df in ordinary wear.
  13. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    To me, in this digital era, by far the primary durability issue is due to the internal electronics getting out of date. It doesn't matter at all how good the buttons and the mechanical parts are, electronics that are over 3, 4 years old tend to be greatly surpassed by newer ones.
  14. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    The F Photomic Tn was surpassed by the Photomic FTN which was surpassed by the F 2 which was surpassed by the F 3. The first will take as good photos as the last, and though I haven't used them, probably the subsequent F 4, 5,or 6 as well. Electronics and batteries are the weak point of the new cameras, not to mention software. As long as the DF works and can be used it will be excellent. The M 3 my Dad left me, 1957 or so, will still take as good a photo as nearly anything, consideration given to the film format. So much of "Obsolescence" is marketing driven -- the "need" to have the best and newest, though having that newest device rarely produces a better photo.
  15. Sandy. There is not much different in image quality from the Nikon F and the F6 because they didn't come with the film. If there is any improvement with the film you always have the latest.
    Shun. Newer sensor technology will deliver sensors that can yield better images in the near future but I would be happy if my camera works the same way and deliver the same kind of images the day I bought it then I won't upgrade. Once I have a camera that is good enough for me I don't care if there are better out there. For me the only improvement that is desirable is image quality of the sensor but I am happy with what I have. Other improvement like AF, fps, metering etc.. mean nothing to me.
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    The F Photomic Tn was surpassed by the Photomic FTN which was surpassed by the F 2 which was surpassed by the F 3.​
    Sandy, Nikon introduced the F in 1959, the F2 in 1971 and the F3 in 1980. It was almost a decade before a totally new model appeared. Back then, you had plenty of time to wear out an old camera before a new model appears (unless you buy towards the end of the production cycle). I bought my F4 in 1990 (2 years after its introduction), and I didn't get my F5 until late 1997 (a year after its introduction).
    Today, at least I can see a distinct disadvantage from anything older than 3, 4 years. Take the D810 as an example, it is a bit over 2 years old, but its AF system is old, it is not compatible with Nikon's latest radio flash trigger, it has no 4K video ....
  17. Sandy, to be fair, a film camera has almost nothing to do with the image quality it captures - the advances were all in handling, speed, exposure accuracy and focus. An M3 in 2016 will take (somewhat) better photos than one in 1957 because better film is available - although arguable not to the extent that it was a decade ago. Certainly better glass is available, and a lot of us who bought into the "lenses are forever" philosophy are looking at older glass without a rose-tinted eye. Digital sensors - the new "film" - are of course still improving. A D810 can absolutely capture better image quality than a D1 - though part of the reason that camera sales are falling is likely that improvements are much smaller than they used to be. Any camera can take a good photo in ideal conditions; all we've been doing for the last couple of centuries is being able to expand the conditions under which a camera still produces an acceptable image, and modern cameras are pretty good most of the time. Improvements are real, but decreasing - now, more than ever, the limiting factor in taking a good photograph is the photographer. Especially in my case.

    Frankly the Df feels so weird to me (being used to the F5/D700/D800/D810) that its toy-ishness didn't really register. It's certainly much lighter than those bodies (compared with which a D750 feels like a toy too - and I usually have an L-plate on the body, which makes the comparison worse). In use, once there's a hefty lump of glass on the front, I'd trust it just fine - if anything I was more worried about the reports of some D800 bodies cracking when they took a whack, and as others have said I'd be far more likely to expect my plastic Eos 500 and 50mm f/1.8 to survive being dropped on concrete than my D810 and 200 f/2 - and I'm not going to try it. Other than the dials, the "lumps" that the buttons come out of feel weird to me on the Df.

    But I only tried one in a shop in front of someone who wasn't very keen to let me play (seemed harsh, I was buying an expensive bag...) and I'm sure I could get used to it - if I was after something with the Df's unique dial interface. I maintain that interface appears to work best in a small set of shooting styles that don't match the way I work: I keep my eye to the finder and a big G lens on the body rather than with the camera around my neck and with dials set before shooting. No other Nikon handles like it, and there's a reason that the mainstream Nikon design is "F5-like" (dials with variable meaning under the fingers, feedback in the finder) rather than "F4-like" (dials with fixed meanings on top of the camera). Short of Nikon launching a Df2 or you switching to some of Fuji's cameras, if your shooting suits the interface of the Df, the Df is the only thing that'll offer it. If you want something that handles like the rest of Nikon's range, don't get a Df, no matter how solid or otherwise it feels.

    It took me a long time to understand what the Df design was trying to achieve (despite quite liking the Fuji X100 and having a Bessa R) and, while we could debate how successfully it achieves even that, it absolutely compromises the camera for other uses. I'm not saying it's incapable in any scenario, just that 99% of the time I'd rather have any other Nikon - which is why I don't own one. I completely accept that others may find it fits their style much better than I do and have reasons to love the Df - I'd just advise any buyer to make really sure they're in that category.
  18. I guess the reason I was concerned about the build quality was because the main selling feature of the Df was nostalgia and part of that old film camera nostalgia was having a more solid, heavier feel than today's modern plastic bodies. I wouldn't use it as a battering ram but I'm sure its built good enough for most uses, even pro use assuming you're not a war correspondent.
  19. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Shun -- as to video, I have no use for or interest in it. I had a series of video cameras when my children were small, and though the resultant movies were rarely watched, will likely get another video camera if my children ever get around to producing grand children. That a camera lacks video is to me, a strength. At least on the D 750 video is a separate menu -- good oh! Radio trigger? A small remote or even a cable release fills all my needs. GPS, WiFi, superfluous to me. An amateur -- photography for my own pleasure.
    Andrew -- for quite a while now I have been working with old lenses alongside modern ones. I find many of the old lenses produce digital images that I prefer considerably. Of course those old lenses were largely top of the line primes or zooms. With any of them I never have to worry about slow "autofocus" since I still focus by reflex rather quickly. Due to price (and duplication) I only have two gold ring modern lenses, both zooms. As to "toy like" well, the D 750 is as far as I care to venture into clunky plastic globs. I most often carry a smallish shoulder bag -- it will hold two cameras with lenses mounted, an extra lens, batteries, filters, etc. one of the cameras in hand. I don't care to drag a cart behind me, which I might find necessary with the heavy cameras you prefer. I never carry a camera around my neck, and completely understand why you wouldn't want would to hang one of your preferred cameras around your neck like an albatross. As to shooting styles, with the exception of a couple of very large old lenses that are nearly always monopod or tripod mounted, I raise the camera, focus, compose, fine tune, and shoot -- usually fairly quickly, and never with burst function.
    Additionally I have a variety of film gear, and also a very capable mirrorless kit. The former used on occasion, the latter to have cameras along when I don't plan to take photos. I believe I use them reasonably capably.
    I don't believe you do understand the DF. Virtually everyone who owns and uses one loves the camera and does.
  20. Shun, while I greatly enjoy and respect your comments, the newness of the gadgetry does not make my gear less effective, unless it fits a need, deficiency or stimulates some creativity. Giving me another stop in low light is of no benefit unless I have some use for it.
  21. For me the Df isn't a tough camera. It's too big and too light. The materials used have a lot to be desired. I must say the craftsmanship is excellent. I feel that the people who put them together did a careful job.
  22. To me built quality is a lot more than "toughness". If you really need a tough Nikon digital camera, you know what to take, not the Df. The Df does not look very attractive mainly because it is a little too thick. I don't really care about the "retro" look and I do prefer the (monochrome) LCD to display the shooting info, instead of looking at the dials, ..., except that the LCD are (usually) dead when the camera is off. Many times, I set my camera before the subject appears, and I want to know exactly how my camera is set (even when it is off) and what will it be when I turn it on. That is why I want the dials, knobs, and switches.
    However, some cameras (including the Df) disappointed me when they are not really designed the way it seemed to be. For example, the speed dial may be set to 1/2000 but the real speed is 1/200.
  23. I don't believe you do understand the DF.​
    I could absolutely believe that, although a thread of hundreds of posts around launch time vouches for my best efforts at trying - I won't subject people to that kind of pain again (although apologies for this essay...) It bugs me, because I don't like failing to understand things.

    That said, it sounds like you and John both use the way I eventually worked out the Df was intended to be used: hang it round your neck, look at the settings with the camera in your hands, raise it to your eye, and take a shot. I do understand that dials with obvious meanings that you can see when the camera is off and you eye isn't at the finder have some merit for this scenario, and that there are limitations in trying to do the same thing using the top LCD on another DSLR, so I get why people who shoot like this might find the Df better than other DSLRs.

    It's just not how I shoot - while I can vaguely eyeball exposure, I prefer to set exposure based on exactly what I'm pointing at, which means I can't really do so unless the viewfinder's to my eye and I'm aiming the meter; fortunately, the twin dial approach of normal Nikons is designed to allow you to do this while keeping your finger on the shutter. I'm usually tracking a subject and waiting for a "perfect moment" anyway, so this doesn't bother me - but I don't do street photography (mostly because I'm too introverted) or the kinds of photography for which looking like you're waving a camera around is a disadvantage. And, as you say, I've usually got the camera in both hands with one supporting a heavy lens; if I was using a light lens I'd be more inclined to let the camera dangle on its strap and make the kind of two-handed changes to ISO and aperture that the Df seems to be designed for. So it comes down to how you shoot as to which approach makes sense, and neither is less valid - I was just worried that Eric was thinking of picking a Df based mostly on robustness rather than this handling difference.

    In summary, I believe conventional Nikons are designed to stay at the eye for multiple shots and allow easy configuration changes in the shooting position; I believe the Df is designed to be configured (for exposure etc.) before it's raised to the eye, and that improving its ability to be used like this compromised its ability to be used like the other Nikons. There'll be people who love the Df because this is how they shoot. There are people like me (but usually less prone to ranting) who took one look at a Df and decided not to touch it with a bargepole because it would be so compromised at their style of shooting. Neither group has to be "wrong", just as there are people who still have good reasons to use a rangefinder or a TLR.

    And to be clear, I was quoting Eric on his "toy-ish" feel - I don't intend to disparage the Df. It's just not for me.

    Now it's true that, if I'm right about how people use the Df and how it's intended to be used, I still wouldn't have ended up with something that quite looked like the Df - and that's part of why it took me so long to work out what the Df was for. I'd have made stop-down metering work so you didn't have to set aperture in two places for non-AI lenses. (Aside: If you use exposure preview in live view on a Df, does that still need you to set the aperture manually? You're technically stop-down metering...) I'd not have been so fixated on the tiny FM-like grip that the front dial was compromised. I'd have stuck in something to read the AI aperture tab, if not a bunny-ear detector on the finder. I'd make AI-S lenses work with camera aperture control (I still don't understand why other bodies can't do this). I'd have thought about third stops for the shutter dial and made it easier to change ISO and exposure compensation right-handed. I'd possibly have used e-ink for the dials so they could still change meaning but still be read while the camera is off (not that the LCD normally turns off completely). I'd have stuck to the standard Nikon way of illuminating the LCD so that there was room for the LCD to contain useful information rather than having a pointless extra button. I'd not have completely removed video, because even for those of us who shoot stills 99.9% of the time it's still sometimes the case that a video would be useful, and it's the camera you've got with you or your phone - it can still be hidden in the UI. I'd really not have gone with that kind of mode dial. There are reports that the Df looks almost exactly how a senior Nikon person doodled it on a napkin, which suggests that it was more of a vanity project than anything that had iterative research. This doesn't mean that thee Df doesn't solve a genuine usability problem for conventional DSLRs, at least better than other DSLRs solve that problem, I just believe it's not as refined a solution as it might have been.

    But that's me bitterly trying to understand the Df without Nikon ever clearly stating what they were trying to achieve with it - and when someone changes a user interface feature I do prefer it if someone is kind enough to explain why the change was a good thing, because nobody likes change for change's sake. I appreciate Nikon did something different (vaguely Fuji-like) with the Df, even if it took me a while to work out any reason for why (and I appreciate I may still be wrong about that). If there's a Df2, I hope they do the same a little "better", and I'll appreciate that too, but that doesn't stop the Df being the right DSLR for some to use today.

    And yes, there are good, old lenses. There are certainly ones whose rendering people may prefer to modern glass, since all optical design is a trade-off and the choice of rendering is an aesthetic one. There are certainly people who prefer reduced contrast as a way of hiding unwanted detail in portraits, for example. And there are modern lenses that aren't really very good (like the variable aperture 24-120, famously). But there's also old glass designed to be "good enough" at the time, and modern glass designed with modern techniques that can hand quite a large spanking to its predecessors in some areas. For example, I historically avoided 50mm and 85mm f/1.4 lenses because the older designs degraded heavily at the image edges at wide apertures (which many don't care about but I do); the Sigma 50mm Art is in a different league (as is the Otus, obviously), and I'm awaiting reviews of the 85mm Art with interest. Nikon's revamps of the f/1.4 lenses were significant improvements too, although the price/performance didn't tempt me.

    A good old lens is still a good lens, but it's much easier to see the optical limits on a modern sensor in lenses that once may have seemed perfect - my 28-200 was "good enough" on my D700, but it went from being one of my most-used lenses on a D700 to never being used on a D800 or D810, and I suspect others have had the same experience with the DX 18-200 lenses. Not that the lens makes the photo. Besides, people have used the original 43-86mm zoom's horrible flare performance as an artistic feature, and I've actually just picked up a Lomography Petzval to use its field curvature and astigmatism creatively.
  24. I guess the reason I was concerned about the build quality was because the main selling feature of the Df was nostalgia and part of that old film camera nostalgia was having a more solid, heavier feel than today's modern plastic bodies. I wouldn't use it as a battering ram but I'm sure its built good enough for most uses, even pro use assuming you're not a war correspondent.​
    I bought my FM about a year after it came out, and it was my main camera for many years.
    More recently, I bought both an FT3 and EL2 (from Goodwill). The FT3 is the predecessor to the FM, and the EL2 the predecessor to the FE. Both are much heavier. (Both use AI coupling, unlike most earlier Nikon models.)

    As I understand it, starting with the FM, they use a copper-aluminum alloy, so strong but light. The FT3 and EL2 are more like cameras had been for years before. I never thought the FM felt too light, but the FT3 and EL2 definitely feel heavier.

    I haven't tried dropping any of them.
  25. Eric, the Df is a nice camera to use if you treat it like a camera and not a sledge hammer. It is tough enough, and not a toy. Rent one to see for yourself. It is a camera where there is not much middle ground. You will like it or not like it. I like it a lot. But you may not. Only one way to find out........
  26. Oh to me the Df is much more of a toy than a tool. I have the Df and it's my only DSLR because I don't have tools in photography but toys. I don't make money in photography so I don't have tools. Now if I were to work in the field of photography I think my tools would be difference.
    I treat it like a toy (that is with tender loving care) and not as a tool.

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