Handling

The Df is Nikon's smallest full-frame DSLR, but it still feels chunky. It offers the same level of weather-sealing as the D800 but the mixture of materials, combined with an attempt to keep weight down means it doesn't offer the same sense of quality and solidity.

From the top, the Df presents a very 'traditional' control layout. Compared to other current Nikon DSLRs like the D610 and D800, the Df has a minimal grip, but there's enough there to get a firm hold of. Something that will take a little getting used to is the new (or rather old) position of the shutter release, high on the camera's top-plate (obscured by the index finger in this view).

From the rear, the Df is much more consistent with modern conventions - being dominated by a 3.2in LCD screen. Whereas ISO gets a dedicated physical dial on the top-plate, white balance is still set using a button on the rear, as are other image processing parameters.

On the right, below the 4-way controller you'll see a 'Lv' button. There's no movie mode though.

Ergonomically, the Df will probably divide photographers. In the past, cameras were slabby, flat-sided things but not necessarily because manufacturers wanted them to be, but because accurately molding custom curves wasn't economical until the late 1980s. The result is a camera with a rather stubby grip, but one that's much heavier than those cameras that were historically designed that way, which means you really will want it on a neck strap if you're carrying it for long periods.

Arguably then, there is no sensible ergonomic reason to go 'back in time' when it comes to control design and positioning. The obvious counter-argument is that a lot of people will feel immediately comfortable (at least philosophically) with the unashamedly 'traditional' button-and-dial approach. There are those that will claim that physical dials for shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation dials let them see their exposure parameters 'at a glance.' The counter-argument is that LCD screens do that too.

We've already highlighted two potential (and literal) pain-points relating to the Df's design - the relatively small grip (with no option for an additional one) and the positioning of the shutter release button high on the camera's top-plate. Both take some getting used to for a seasoned DSLR user. As explained earlier, the shutter speed and ISO dials are essentially optional (especially if you're using Auto ISO), but exposure compensation and exposure mode can only be set from the dedicated dials and not everyone will appreciate having to press the lock tab to turn them.

We've come to enjoy using external exposure compensation dials in the Sony's RX models and the Fujifilm X-series, but they work well because they can be operated comfortably by your right hand with your eye to the viewfinder. The 'press and rotate' logic of the dials on the Df makes this rather fiddly, and the left-side positioning of the ISO and exposure compensation dials also requires a change of grip from using your left hand to support the lens. The 'lift to unlock' PASM selector dial is especially awkward to operate if you wanted to do so with the camera to your eye, but at least it requires your right hand, rather than your left.

The Df may evoke memories of classic Nikons but it's considerably bigger and doesn't exude the same sense of solidity

Our biggest disappointment, though, is how the camera feels. The body is rather larger than you might expect and pretty heavy - certainly given how small the grip is. Almost paradoxically, Nikon's attempts to keep weight down by using fairly thin grades of magnesium alloy left a couple of us wondering whether it really was made of metal. And we wouldn't rule out the possibility that some external surfaces are plastic. The front dial also exhibits enough movement to prevent it feeling very sturdy. Add to this the distinct difference between the rubber grip on the back and the not-quite-matching faux leather covering on the front and, despite the apparent use of good quality materials, the Df doesn't feel as expensive as it's price tag would suggest it should.