Shooting with the Df

Our first concerns, when we were told about the Nikon Df, all hinged around how well Nikon would manage to integrate its traditional control dials with the modern camera that lies underneath. After some firmware tweaks, Fujifilm's X100 and X-Pro1 have shown it's perfectly possible to build a modern camera with traditional controls that's still enjoyable to shoot with. However, whereas these cameras and their lenses were built with a single operational philosophy, the Nikon has to accommodate a family of lenses with a variety of different capabilities and controls. Thankfully, for the most part, we needn't have been too worried.

Control integration

Most of our concerns about the Df were somewhat assuaged once we'd spent time actually shooting with it. If you don't like using the slightly awkward front dial to change aperture, you can push that function onto the rear dial (with the option to do so only in Aperture Priority mode). You also get to choose whether or not to use the lens aperture ring - meaning you can use it if you want, or continue to use a command dial, giving a pleasant consistency if you're switching between AF lenses with and without aperture rings. We've looked in more detail at shooting with older lenses on the next page, but this ability to choose is at the heart of most of what the Df gets right.

We're less convinced by the shutter speed dial, which falls into the same trap as Fujifilm's retro cameras - it's only marked in whole stops, so you need to use the command dial to make changes with any greater precision. At which point, it's probably quicker to just set the shutter speed dial to '1/3 STEP' and use the command dial full-time.

ISO and Auto ISO seem pretty well handled - especially if you're familiar with current Nikons. You can set one of the front buttons on the camera to engage and disengage Auto ISO, so there's only a need to go into menus if you want to change the upper ISO limit or the minimum shutter speed (minimum ISO is always taken from the physical dial on the camera's shoulder). Those people wanting to specify their shutter speed and aperture, then let Auto ISO do all the work will be pleased to find that Auto ISO is available in 'M' mode, and exposure compensation is available to select the image brightness.

The lockable exposure compensation dial on the left shoulder will be a familiar feature to film-era Nikon shooters, but it's not terribly helpful - especially when shooting with large lenses.

The one major shooting annoyance we've found is that the only way of changing exposure compensation is with the locking dial on the top left shoulder of the camera. There's no option to move the function to a command dial, so you have to find and press the central locking nub and simultaneously rotate the dial. It's no more awkward than on a Nikon F3, but anyone who arrived in photography within the last twenty years may find it less fluid than they're used to. The problem is made worse if you're shooting with a big lens - you need to move the hand that's supporting the whole setup, transferring all the weight to your right hand, clutched round the small grip, just so that you can press and turn the dial, before shifting everything back again.

Live View woes

While the dedicated controls of the Df have been pretty well integrated, we were a little disappointed to find that the camera's live view system still feels bolted-on. We don't expect many people buying into the Df's 'Pure Photography' ethos to be using live view but, given its effectiveness for fine focusing, it's something that deserves to be implemented better.

The Df can't control the lens's aperture mechanism while in live view mode, if you're setting the aperture using the camera's control dial. Instead (as with most Nikon DSLRs) the aperture diaphragm stays fixed at the setting specified when you first engage live view. Why is this a problem? Because it means that any attempts to fine-focus aren't necessarily being conducted at the right aperture (usually wide open, although with some lenses you'll get better results slightly stopped down).

For example, if the camera is set to F8 when you enter live view, then the lens will remain at that aperture, even if you then decide to shoot at F2. So if you attempt to set focus in live view, the image you're actually looking at will have much more depth of field than your final shot, meaning you can't focus the lens accurately enough. For proper focusing you therefore have to remember to engage live view every time with the lens set to its maximum aperture (or at least, a larger aperture than you're going to shoot at).

What you see is what you get? Depending on the type of lens you're using (and how you're using it), the Df's live view may not be operating at the aperture you expect - a situation that can easily lead to manual focusing errors.

This isn't a problem if you're manually focusing older lenses, since rotating the aperture ring forces the lens to your chosen F-number, but this means there's another inconsistency of behavior between different types of lenses to be aware of.

The thing that will affect users of older lens, though, is the lack of an exposure scale in live view mode. Instead you'll need to look through the viewfinder to set exposure and then jump to live view to set the best focus. The problem is less acute in aperture priority mode, because you can see how much exposure compensation you've applied by looking at the dial - just as long as the camera is in a position where you can see it easily, which may not be the case when using a tripod. (The amount of exposure compensation you have set is only shown onscreen in live view while you're changing it).