Understanding the Nikon Df, amazing jpegs & other things

Started Dec 28, 2013 | Discussions thread
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gabriel foto
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Understanding the Nikon Df, amazing jpegs & other things
Dec 28, 2013

A case for Df?

I have been a little intrigued by the Nikon Df. I guess some of you have been too, judging by the combustible debate on this forum and others.

One can be interested for different reasons, I guess. Size. Retro wheels. Retro looks. That D4 sensor.

Me, I was caught mostly by its compactness. But there is one thing I bet you didn't know about the Df:

The Df is not Nikon's smallest and lightest full-frame DSLR.

What?

No, this is the smallest and lightest full-frame DSLR ever, from any manufacturer.

Most people have not yet realised this - not even the reviewers at DpR. It is even smaller than my Nikon D600. I like that.

Which is best, the Nikon Df or the D600 / D610?

I was surprised by the DpR review because it was mentioned in detail how you can use old manual Nikkor lenses. Like this was a new feature of the Df worth particular mention.

Using mostly old manual focus Nikkor Ai and AiS lenses, the D600 can of course do anything the Df can. If I had any pre-Ai lenses, the Df would be able to use them as well, but I don't. I have a dozen old mechanical Nikkor Ai and AiS and use all the 9 presets in the memory bank.

I assign U1 for manual lenses, because these lenses require a slightly different Auto-ISO setting (slowest allowable shutter speed works differently) I use U2 for VR lenses. These, too, require a slightly different setting than the ones without VR. I love U1 and U2. They never forget. No matter how much you fiddle with your settings, every time you return to U1 or U2, they are unchanged. The Df does not have this feature.

Twin memory cards is very useful, and safe.

The D600 has a built-in flash. The grip feels a little better in my hand.

Movie is fine I guess, but haven't used it.

And I love the D600 sensor.

Autofocus, aperture in live view, shutter speed...

People seem upset that the Nikon Df does not offer the right AF module, or for that matter, an 1/8000 second, or continuous aperture setting in live view.

At that outrageous price point, we have the right to expect something back, don't we? Nikon should know better. Dumbing-down a new camera like that. Just using cheap parts from their parts bin. Greed, that's what it is.

Right?

I am not sure whether anyone (including DpR) has realised that the 51-point AF module of the D800 or D4 takes up a lot more space at the bottom of the camera body than the 39-point module of the Df, or the D600 / D610.

For the very compact Df, the 39-point module is the only option.

What, you are probably saying, even the little D7100 has 51-point AF? Yes, and there is a reason for this: Dx cameras have a smaller sensor, smaller shutter module and smaller mirror. This leaves more space under the mirror housing for the big AF modules.

The same reasoning goes for the aperture control in live view (with G lenses) Nikon's lens bayonet requires a spring-loaded lever on the lens which opens and closes the aperture. In order to move this to correct settings when using live view, a step motor is necessary. There is no room for this in the Df, just like on the D600 / D610.

I don't know about the choice of shutter mechanism in the Df and D610. They are not only slightly slower, but also quieter. What other differences are there? Vibration? Cost? Power consumtion? Or is it simply that they take up less space in a compact body?

Nikon does not issue press releases to explain these things to us. Instead, the internet forums fills with steamed up voices.

Is the AF system capable enough?

I can only speak for the D600, which for all I know is identical to the Df. Personally, I use the centrepoint, focus and recompose. The AF is excellent and finds focus quickly and accurately in all situations, including near-complete darkness.

I don't use the AF assist lamp, I find it disturbing. You cannot aim that towards someone in a dark room.

For other shooters, the 51-point module would have been better. If there was room for it. But there are other options for these people, bigger cameras.

Manual Controls

The exposure compensation wheel is a thing I would have liked to see on any camera. I find the lock ok. You can turn it with three fingers, the index pressing the lock, the thumb and next finger turning the dial.

A manual wheel for ISO is less motivated in my book. I use auto ISO, which is brilliant on the newest Nikons (do you know how it has changed from the D3, D300 or D700?). Turning Auto ISO on or off by a simple switch would be good, though, when I occasionally wish to use a tripod and longer shutter speeds.

I guess the Df is targeted at people who shoot with all manual settings. For somebody who wishes to set ISO, shutter speed and aperture manually, it seems reasonably well laid out.

If this is the case, in the interest of logical consequence, the kit lens should have had an aperture ring. If it did, I would have bought one to replace my 50/1.8G.

Using Nikkor Ai or AiS lenses (or AF / AF-D lenses), this is the one manual control I need more than anything. The aperture ring. But, as you know, this particular ring happens to sit on the lens so no need to buy another body for that. (I mostly use 'A' setting)

Viewfinder

The viewfinder of my D600 is ok for manual focusing, and the Df, just like the D800, is identical. The size, that is. The Df may have a subtly different screen, nobody seems to know exactly. I have not seen any difference.

However, these viewfinders are not like my old F2, FA or FE/FM finders - the newer FX finders are considerably smaller. I have checked. Combined with a screen which is not really optimal for manually focusing bright lenses, the new finders are far from perfect.

Many have pointed out that Nikon should have provided interchangeable screens for the Df. I am sorry to say, this is really a stupid omission on their part. They would even have made money selling these screens. Hopefully they will realise this and offer to change screens at their service centres at a later date.

The remedy?

First, install a DK-17 magnifier. The Df is ready for it. It can even be done on the D600 / D610 (if someone politely asks, I can show you how). Some lenses are more difficult to focus than others. For example, I had huge difficulties focusing my 24/2,0 AiS until I got the magnifier for my D600.

Secondly, there are alternative screens for the D600 / D610, same as the D800. I am sure these can be fitted in the Df as well. Although you may opt to have a camera technician do it for you and it may void your warranty, at least partly.

Design

People (men) who drive huge trucks, well-fed, with fat wallets, using a D4 with the Holy Trinity (plus maybe a couple of 'the big guns') will probably not understand this:

Sometimes small and unassuming is the key to getting a photo. There are 130 facial muscles, and we can differ between thousands of expressions. Whenever we haul up a big camera and aim that huge lens at them, our motif is gone, in fact our reason for taking a photo in the first place is no longer there. The person freezes.

This is the most attractive thing about the Nikon Df, I think, apart from size and weight. The Nikon Df is the most unassuming full frame DSLR ever. It looks a little like the old camera your dad used for his Kodachrome. Well done, Nikon.

In reality, it is not so small. But if used with two hands, supporting a small lens with the palm of your left hand, it is fine to use.

Build Quality

In their review, DpR (and, I am sure, a few others) came to one particularly remarkable conclusion.

Reviewers have a difficult task. If you want to review a performance at the opera, you would be better off to know something about opera. A reviewer needs to know something, and show respect for what he or she doesn't fully understand.

I believe I have a balanced idea about the Nikon Df, I am not a fan, probably not buying one, but I find this part of DpR's review pathetic.

If someone thinks he can judge the "build quality" of a camera (how do you define that?) put together from thousands of precision-made metal parts, glass, composites and amazingly complex electronics by holding it and turning a few knobs, he has surely missed something very fundamental.

Ming Thein even had the nerve to question if the chrome version was in fact made from chromed plastic.

What is the possible explanation? I can only guess:

- At a distance, the Df looks like it would be rather small

- In your hand, it surprisingly turns out to be bigger than you thought

- Still, rather light weight

- Must be more or less empty inside

- I know nothing about the technology behind camera making but I have the right to trust my feelings, and it feels hollow. Cheap.

I am sure that the Df, just like the D600 / D610, is extremely well made. There are a lot of contemtuous remarks about the D610 or Df or D7100 cameras being 'prosumer'. Maybe they should have been made of cast iron instead of magnesium alloy and composite, and they would have instilled the respect they deserve.

Image quality

I don't own a Df but I was curious whether its jpegs are as good, clean and malleable as those from my D600. If they are, I may perhaps get a Df sometime.

I realise this forum is (mostly) inhabited by people who believe very seriously in doing things by the book, like using Manual, shooting raw and processing every picture in the latest version of the preferred software. Pictures are often judged by their histogram and pixel sharpness, not by visual impact. Please allow me challenge you.

Thing is, I shoot jpeg exclusively with my D600. With previous cameras like the D40, D90, D7000 or D700 I had to use RAW, at least sometimes. This all changed with the D600. I doubt I could get RAW look as good as jpegs from the D600.

At the same time, I get ADL (great!), near-perfect and automatic control of contrast, colours and sharpening, high ISO noise, correction of CA, distortion, vignetting, HDR... what did I miss? I don't spend any time at my computer other than for sorting pictures, and perhaps cropping.

Still, sometimes a picture comes out with less than perfect light and clarity. This, too, can be fixed with the D600 jpegs. So how about the Df? If the Df jpegs cannot be tweaked, I would never buy one.

This is one of the sample shots from DpR, with shadows lifted. I hope I am not bending any rules by using this picture as a test bench. The software I used? Well, one of the best turns out to be Nikon View NX2 (yes, the free software that comes with your camera). LR5 is just as good, and better at highlight recovery, but has other drawbacks, so I use View.

From DpR, jpeg sooc. Df + AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D, 1/125s, F8, ISO 400

Same jpeg picture, Shadow Protection 100, Brightness -5 or so, using Nikon View NX2

Please be sure to zoom in to see the differences in trees and bushes, and inside the black windows. Looks ok to me, and exactly what I sometimes do with my D600 files. And which was never possible with previous cameras.

Cheers, Gabriel

 gabriel foto's gear list:gabriel foto's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix X100 Nikon D5100 Nikon D600 +5 more
Nikon D3 Nikon D300 Nikon D4 Nikon D40 Nikon D600 Nikon D610 Nikon D700 Nikon D7000 Nikon D7100 Nikon D800 Nikon D90 Nikon Df
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