Nikon Announces the Df Camera

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Introducing the Nikon Df, a Retro-Style DSLR

In the last few years, retro-style cameras have gained popularity, such as the Fujifilm X100 and its successor the X100S. For many years, people have been suggesting that Nikon should produce a digital version of the classic FM/FE. Finally, that is now reality in the form of the Nikon Digital Fusion, Df, with a capital D and lower-case f.

The Df Controls

On the outside, the Df is a mix of old and new. On top, there are old-style knobs for shutter speed, ISO, and exposure compensation settings; there is even a separate knob to control the M,A,S,P exposure modes. Conspicuously missing is the film advance crank, of course. Also missing is the red video button since the Df does not capture video. The shutter release button even accepts the old-style, screw-on mechanical shutter release cable.

Controls on the back side are very modern with the latest AF-point selection pad, separate AF-ON and AE-L/AF-L buttons, live view button, image enlarge, reduce, and delete buttons, etc. On the left side, there are modern connections for USB, HDMI, and wifi module.

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The Df has a modern main command dial on the back side. However, there is no sub-command dial in front; instead, in its place is a round dial that is parallel to the camera body. Typically we use the main command dial to set the shutter speed, among other controls, but the Df also has a classic shutter-speed knob. We need to wait until we have a Df in our hands to find out exactly how the retro and modern controls work together.

One feature I am glad to see is that the Df has a small built-in grip on its right side. Therefore, the ergonomics is semi modern, unlike the boxy film SLRs such as the FM/FE and F3 series that are uncomfortable to hold over a long period of time.

The Lens Mount

Obviously the Df has the Nikon F mount that has been around since 1959. It has the electronic contacts for the latest AF, AF-D, and AF-S lenses. It also has the aperture follower tab for AI and AI-S lenses since 1977. On top of those, the aperture follower tab can be flipped up for pre-AI lenses dated all the way back to 1959; that is a feature that we have not seen since the 1988 Nikon F4. (On the F5, that was an optional, after sale modification.)

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The Df Digital Features

Internally, the Df’s electronics are 100% modern. The sensor is a 16.2MP CMOS one similar to that on the D4, but unlike the D4 that has a relatively low pixel count in 2012/2013 standards because it needs to maintain a very fast frame rate and deep memory buffer for sports photography, the Df is more optimized for those who would like to use their older lenses, from even the pre-AI era (1959 to 1977). Modern 36 or even 24MP sensors are going to reveal the drawback of a lot of those old optics. I think that is why Nikon settles on a less-demanding 16MP sensor so that Df users can more comfortably use their antique lenses.

I am a bit disappointed that the Df only has the 39-point Multi-CAM 4800 AF module, which is also on the D600 and D610, instead of the top-of-the-line Multi-CAM 3500 AF module on the D4, D3, D800, and D700. While the Multi-CAM 4800 works very well on the D600 and D7000 I have used, at the Df’s price point, I wish Nikon would give us its best AF capability to date.

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Nikon Df Specifications

  • 16.2 CMOS sensor, similar to the one on the D4, with Expeed 3 electronics
  • ISO range from 100 to 12800, with extended range from Lo 1 (ISO 50 equivalent) to Hi 4 (ISO 204800 equivalent), same as the D4
  • Auto Focus: Mutli-CAM 4800 AF module with 39 AF points; the center 9 are cross type. Nikon uses that same AF module on the D600, D610, D7000, D5200, and D5300.
  • Memory Card: single SD
  • Metering: Spot, Center Weighted, and Matrix with 2016-pixel 3D scene recognition
  • Shutter speed: from 4 seconds to 1/4000 sec plus the B and T modes, maximum 5.5 frames/sec
  • No pop-up flash, Nikon iTTL/CLS compatible
  • Virtual Horizon: 3D
  • LCD: 3.2" and 921K dots
  • Live View: with 4×4 (16 cell) and 3×3 (9 cell) grid lines as well as16:9 and 1:1 crop lines.
  • Battery: Nikon EN-EL14a
  • No video capture capability
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Conclusions

Because Nikon has never changed their F lens mount since they introduced the Nikon F back in 1959, they are in a somewhat unique position to introduce a full-35mm-frame, retro-style DSLR that is compatible with almost all of their SLR lenses from over half a century. There are going to be a few exceptions, and we’ll find out the details later.

The Df is made by Nikon in Japan. Since the retro-style knobs are labor intensive to manufacture and assemble, with the high labor cost in Japan, I expect the Df’s cost to remain high for its entire product cycle. This is essentially a somewhat low volume, boutique camera catered to affluent photographers who prefer the class controls as well as camera collectors. For those Nikon customers, the Df is like a dream come true. As long as Nikon doesn’t over-produce them, the Df’s value is unlikely going to drop over time. Instead, it is more like the FM3a and F6. When Nikon finally discontinued the FM3a in 2006, its value went through the roof in the used market mainly because of collectors. For most working professionals and serious amateurs, the D4, D800, D600/D610, and D7100 remain the better choices because of some combinations of AF speed, higher pixel count, dual memory cards, video capability, and lower cost (in the case of D600/D610).

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Options and Pricing

The Nikon Df will be available in late November, 2013 in two different colors, chrome/silver or black, similar to color options for film SLRs back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When I was a teenager, I used to prefer black SLRs, but after extensive usage, the edges and corners tend to show some wear with the so called “blassing.” Therefore, later on I preferred to get chrome bodies. The 50mm/f1.8 G AF-S kit lens is optional. This new lens is optically identical to the regular 50mm/f1.8 G AF-S we tested two years ago, but this version has a classic finish outside to match the appearance of the Nikon Df. However, it is still an AF-S G lens with no aperture ring and is priced a bit higher than the regular version:

  • Nikon Df, body only, in chrome or black: $2749.95
  • Nikon Df kit with the retro-style 50mm/f1.8 G AF-S lens: $2999.95
  • Retro-style 50mm/f1.8 G AF-S lens only: $279.95

For more information, visit www.nikonusa.com.

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    • Using the pre AI is good, I use D1X but while it will accept all my AIs, my pre AIs will apparently foul the mirror so I have never risked it. Shame no manual focussing aid, the D1x accepts split screen focus screen. 

      All a bit academic as I do not have $2750 lying about, in fact it's worse because in UK it will be £2750. That's a lot of money.

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    • What a beauty.

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    • I would have named it "Nikkorbyte." Why not the 24MP sensor, though? I like it, but not enough to plunk down that much money. Maybe for half that, but it's too expensive.

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    • Certainly a nice looking camera. I think Nikon have done well, at least conceptually. Heritage is important. The viewfinder quality will be the acid test, for manual focussing.

      But from a pro's perspective, it really doesn't advance anything significantly. We're still waiting for some meaningful innovation from Nikon.

      Compatibility with pre-Ai lenses has to be largely gimmick. Most would've been converted to Ai, or succumbed to fungus or stiff focussing by now.

      The exotic ones weren't really good enough, and the regular ones are redundant. Who's going to buy a $3000 camera so they can use a $100 lens?

      And it only takes half an hour with a points file to convert an old lens to Ai anyway.

      But they've made a nice thing, so credit where it's due. Now where's my beat-up old FM2? I'll have to start wearing it as a status symbol!

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    • This is the first digital Nikon camera that I have been so excited about. To really appreciate this camera one must go back to the D3/D3s which was a ground breaking camera. It had amazing low light capability but it was too expensive for the masses. So Nikon put the sensor from the amazing D3 into a camera which was available to the majority of photographers, one of the best digital Nikons ever in many opinions until the D4, the D700. So here we are now and lo and behold Nikon puts the same sensor from their flagship D4 into the new Df. This camera should be a fantastic travel, event and journalistic shooter. Yes, it is expensive but in my opinion it is totally justified with what we are getting. I think this camera will be one which I will want with me most of the time. Thank you Nikon for giving us such unique products such as the FM3a, F6 and now the Df.

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    • When I made the switch to digital.  I was hoping someone would just make a basic manual digital camera.  All the knobs and dials will feel familiar.  And should be quicker to adjust for us from the old school.  I would choose the 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens for the aperture ring.  This would be sweeter if Nikon had preset picture controls for vintage film stock like Kodak Kodachrome, Extachrome, Pan-X, VPS, etc.  I think the hottest accessory for this camera will be a soft touch shutter release button!

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    • Nikon finally gives us a compact FF body with a high-performance sensor, but at a price which seems unjustifiable for its feature set.

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    • Thanks for posting this information -- very interesting. 

      Nikon's price for the Df is high for amateur users. It appears that they are targeting affluent consumers.

      A digital body which can use Nikon's older mechanical lenses would be very useful.  I disagree with the prior comment about mechanical pre-Ai, Ai and AiS lenses.  Their value is not in the price that might be obtained if sold, but in their capability for taking pictures.  While current lenses might be somewhat better optically, Nikon's older mechanical lenses generally offered excellent image quality.  Of equal or greater importance, they were and are much more durable, reliable and repairable than modern autofocus lenses, which have a reputation for dying suddenly and unexpectedly, and being difficult to get repaired.

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    • $3K for a digital camera that looks like a film camera from the front?  Please.  Why not just buy a used Nikon that will accept your real lenses and shoot some film?  Never mind...film is so much trouble, isn't it?  And usually requires some actual knowledge of exposure techniques, not to mention some chemistry when it comes to developing it.  I shoot Canon, Wista, and a couple of other vintage film cameras, so I guess I'll pass on this fake film camera.

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    • I was a pro photographer for some 45 years or so, give or take, and only changed from film Nikon FM2s to a personal present of a D300 on the day I retired, selling off all my old kit. I love the D300, but bemoaned the change of design, even though the new camera was sleeker, more ergonomically made.

      Seeing this new beauty really took me back, but I think the price would be against me ever buying one. I love the old, traditional shape, but at the price, I shall have to admire it from afar.

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    • I think Shun meant 'brassing'

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    • Would love one, but the price is crazy. Don't they know times have changed?

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    • This is how the first digital camera should have looked !

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    • If it had 8-10 more MP's, it would be a fun companion to my 800E and a bunch of old very sharp primes.

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    • Have you tested firing an AK 47 at it to see if it can save the photographer's life like the F-3 and F stories of legend?
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    • Back in the day I really liked the FE-2 camera. I then added the F4 followed by the F5. My 2 favorate lenses were the 105mm and the 85mm. The glass was simply fantastic for when shooting models. Lot's of fun! The F5 was really great, but I have to say that the F4 was a tank. Nothing could break that beast.
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    • Waaaaay overpriced.  Wait a year and I bet you will get it for half that.

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