Reviews > Ramblings of the Fierce Bear of the North

Living and working with the new Nikon Df: Under reconstruction

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Bjørn Rørslett:
20 November, 2013:

This will be a day-to-day summary of working with the new Nikon Df camera. I will report on whatever finding observed large or small, plus my thoughts on the entire Df concept. Thus, has Nikon gone crazy or are there underlying plans to this 'retro' design? Or is the Df pure nostalgia for its own sake? I aim to penetrate these enigmas over the coming days of actual usage of the Df.

There is no strict schedule, just rambling along with the Df inserted as the main camera in my usual workflow (in visible light).

For now I'll use a review camera, randomly pulled out of the production series. So the sample is in no way cherry-picked for the occasion. Later I probably purchase one for my own use (or abuse depending on whether I conclude stuff must be rearranged or readjusted with the camera itself).

This is an 'all blacks' model, not the silver 'panda' version of this Df. Nikon Nordic plans on only selling Df kits with the redesigned AFS 50 m f/1.8 Nikkor G included and thus I also got a new lens to test. Common sense dictates you should never test two new items in combination unless you are able to split them up and combine with items of previously known features and quality. Thus for now I'm only using the 50 G to get an insight in the speed and precision of autofocus of the Df, and later of course will verify with known standards such as the 24-70/2.8 AFS or 200/2 AFS.

However, the overall design of Nikon Df indicates it is made to cater for manual lenses, new or old. That in itself is highly interesting and shed light on how the makers' cameras have gradually precipitated towards a world of AF dominance, to the disadvantage of manual lenses. A tell-tale sign has been the evolution of the viewfinders to make them (overly) bright and virtually devoid of any grain structure, so you no longer can rely on them to focus fast lenses manually. The finder aerial image simply isn't broken up sufficiently to indicate precise focus. An overlooked side effect of this is that you cannot really trust the impression of depth of field given by these finders.

The finder of the Df, however, is made to be useful with manual lenses. The screen is a type B, matte adorned with an outline of focus points, and while the entire finder gives a clear, crisp and bright impression as you lift the camera and look into the finder, the view is no longer overly bright. Instead, the focused plane of the image snaps in and out of focus as it should do. Exactly how the Nikon engineers managed this feat of redesign is unclear to me, but the finder surely works well with say 50/1.2 Nikkor or the 58 mm f/1.2 Noct, to name but a few I tested so far. This focusability extends to wide fast lenses such as 24/2 or 35/1.4 as well, and fast and long lenses now is a breeze. It remains to be seen whether the slower lenses are equally well handled. I had no issues with the 25-50/4 zoom though and this has been problematic on the DSLRs earlier. Later I hook up the Df to some of my über-long cannons such as the 800/8 ED, 1000/11 Reflex, or the king of them all, the 360-1200/11. However, on my current trip the longest lens travelling with me is the Voigtländer 180/4 APO again chosen because it has been a difficult-to-focus item.

The finder itself makes a prominent 'hump' on the outline of the Df and reminds eerily of an FM2 or suchlike models. The entire finder image is easily seen corner to corner even with spectacles on. Among the many (flawed) speculations on the finder before actual samples started to appear, is that the finder specified to have an eyepoint of just 15 mm, must give problems in viewing and would vignette for people using prescription glasses. Several undocumented assertions claimed it would be equal to or even worse than the finder of say the D800 (the finder of which has 18 mm eyepoint). Now, with the Df in hand, it is easy to see where errors arose. The finder indeed has an eyepoint of 15 mm, but the bezel around the ocular is much lower than on the other models so the eye sits closer to the rear glass of the finder. That is why Nikon refrained from incorporating an ocular shutter because this would necessitate a higher eyepoint leading in turn to a bigger finder head or lower magnification. Always compare commensurable variables, as my professor in statistics tried to make us mere mortal students understand.

Time for some breakfast coffee so sign off for now.

NOTE: the relevant entries from the humongous thread over at FZ will be extracted and patched into this diary. Do understand this is a massive undertaking so takes time.

I have kept some of the questions asked by FZ members so as to keep the flow of information intact. These questions are presented in italics and tagged with the FZ member nick name, plus original time stamp. As the owner of FZ effectively killed this gargantuan thread by evicting me and removing all my publishing privileges, such a measure of copy/paste is justified by 'force majeure'. After all, the Df material remains in my copyright.

While the reconstruction is underway, the topic remains locked so editing is not disrupted. Later the restriction will be lifted. Just in case you wondered ...

Added note: I decided to break out the lens "porn" sequences from the Df thread. They deserve to have a direct access in their own grouping.

Bjørn Rørslett:

29 Nov 2013 09:36:

Did a random subject AF test just to see how the Df does in AF with the kit lens. As far as AF goes this was a flawless experience. Focus spot on all the time even when I deliberately tried to fool the camera. Even in low light (1/30 at f/1.8 at ISO 6400 which is low) the AFS 50 hooked onto its intended target, but not without a little nervousness. Slighter better lit subject and it homed onto the subject without any sign of hunting. The AF speed of the kit lens might not set a world record, but it surely is pretty much faster than the recent 24/1.4 and 35/1.4. Had I compared it to the new AFS 58/1.4 (no longer in my hands)  it might well have won.

Thus, people may not need to worry about AF. It works. However, to verify with a wider range of lenses, I'll repeat the exercise later when I have again access to my main lens storage home.

Bjørn Rørslett:
29 Nov 2013 09:50:

In my opinion, handling is the forte of the Df and probably the feature of this newcomer that will cause most divided comments. For now, it is prudent to remind what a reorientation in handling and interfacing features we were faced with when the first wave of DSLRs struck nearly 14 years ago. Since then, the DSLR user interface has become the 'norm' to which all new entries are compared.  However, there is no given rule set in stone that the typical DSLR is the pinnacle of interfacing between man and machine. The Nikon Df whisks us back to times and features many of us either have forgotten or never learnt to deal with. Think of it as being "different" and which that comes a need of mastering a learning curve. You have to accept to do things the Df way for the better or worse. I guess many will dismiss that learning experience or never take the time to understand its logic. So, the allure of the Df will remain an enigma to many digital photographers. For those who aren't afraid to learn afresh, or to revive older ingrained habits, the Df has a lot to offer. It rests perfectly balanced in your hands, for once there is a need to bring both hands into activity which makes actual shooting much more relaxed, and you will find the controls are precisely positioned to match your fingers and ensure as little hand movement as possible. You do have to think ahead how you wish the camera to operate, as shifting mode from A to M (or P or S) is not done easily while looking into the finder. The ISO and +- adjustments can be operated whilst shooting, though, if you practice a little first. And given the dynamic range of the sensor of the Df, I saw less than usual need for minor exposure adjustments.

29 Nov 2013 09:51:

(in answer to Sten): LiveView allows precision focusing say with my 25-50/4 or 15/3.5. That's a feat D800 never could have achieved.

Bjørn Rørslett:
Dlighter 29 Nov 2013 10:06

When one wants to change ISO while looking through the finder there is d4 "ISO display" in the custom setting menu, which brings up the ISO instead of the frame count. Not completely new, but nice.

29 Nov 2013 10:20

You must have read the manual? I'll postpone until unavoidable, as flipping through nearly 400 pages in a PDF document is not my idea of an optimum manual. (no printed manual accompanied the camera kit). However, so far no problem as the Df by and large has the same set up facilities as my other Nikons.

One aspect of the handling I shall wait to implement until I come to grips with the ramifications is attaching the camera strap. The first Df I used had the strap in place and I considered its position (on the right-hand side) to be problematic. So I learn after a while how the camera is best operated before I decide to attach a strap. Maybe the position isn't as detrimental as I first thought. Only time and usage of the camera can tell.

Were this my own camera I wouldn't hesitate to drill a new hole in the chassis for a strap lug, but can't do that with a loaner unit. For the same reason I refrain from putting one of my usual Foolography "Unleashed" BT GPS receiver on the camera, because that would necessitate the removal of one of the port flaps on the left-hand side of the camera. I just have confirmed the GPS unit will work on the Df, but pushing it firmly into the port without removing the flap could break the receiver's foot. Again, once I get my own Df, this will be fixed in seconds using a sharp knife of course.

Jyda 29 Nov 2013 10:33

No tongue test on the controls yet?

29 Nov 2013 10:51

Yes, done. Little or no plastic there

Bjørn Rørslett:
29 Nov 2013 12:56

Bjørn, thanks for starting this destined-to-be-long thread!

Could you compare, so long as your time allows, the comfort of MF of f3.5-5.6 class lenses between Df and D600?  I would bet you have a D600 body which should be UV modified but the OVF image should remain the same as that of a stock one.

29 Nov 2013 14:17

It  would be interesting to hear how it handles when wearing thick mittens in the cold. Particularly if there are problems with the locks on the exposure comp. ISO and shutter speed dials.  (On my F4 I had that lock removed on the shutter speed dial, which was much more convenient in an underwater housing, as one could risk getting stuck on the flash sync speed. On the Df one could likewise get "stuck" on the 1/3 stop step if the lock cannot be depressed with thick mittens.)

[ nfoto 29 Nov 2013 14:19 ]

Akira: will certainly do. Most lenses that gave trouble on my D800, in particular in LV, behave slightly better on a D600. However, as my only D600 is UV modified, it will just be general impressions of focusing capability I can relate.
Øivind: should be a camera easy to operate with gloves on. With mittens my experience nothing is easy to handle. Today I used only finger gloves and had no issues of course.
Just returned to my girl friend's apartment after spending an icy cold yet enjoyable shooting day outside. I think I'm slowly coming to grasps with what the Df really is. Apart from being highly enjoyable to work with and a camera that performs as an extension of the human body. I'll mull over this a little longer to see if I can come up with an intelligible analysis. Now, time for some piping hot coffee and processing of today's images.


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