Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Quick hands-on with the Nikon Df

I had the chance to play around with the Nikon Df for a but this afternoon. This a just a few of my initial observations.

The first thing that happened when I picked it up was my finger instinctively went to the shutter-release button. And it wasn't there! Yep, the shutter-release is flat on the top deck. This isn't a bad thing. Just muscle memory. I thought it was kind of funny. It only took a few seconds to get acquainted with the new position. My Leicas have the same relative position so it felt "right" to me. If you have been shooting only with Nikons for a long time it may take some getting used to.

The next thing I looked at was the silver. I was afraid it was going to be "plastic sliver" like the N65 or something. Nope it's real metal. Looks to be an aluminum alloy over the magnesium shell. It looks nice, not cheap as I half-expected.

The camera felt well-balanced with the 50mm "kit" lens. It looks a lot heavier than it is. It's not going to weigh down your camera strap (at least with a small prime on it). I suspect that it may be a little unwieldy with a big pro zoom, but this camera is really designed with primes in mind.

Slipping in my SD card I opened up the battery chamber. Instead of the normal plastic clip it has a  "keyed" lock. That's nice touch. I haven't had a battery door pop open on me yet, but those small attentions to detail are a good sign in a camera of this price. Some people are complaining about the placement of the SD card inside the battery chamber, but I like it. I don't leave a tripod quick-release on my camera ever. Only studio photographers should do that and this really isn't a studio camera. It's a camera for the photographer on the move.  No card door is one less moving part on the camera body. (I would have liked to see a CF card though).

The Preview and Function buttons are place on an elevated platform and make them super-easy to access. This is nice as with a lot Nikon DSLR cameras specifically the D600/610 they can be kind of hard to find as they don't naturally lay under your fingers. The Df has them positioned just right.

The PSAM mode dial. Is weird. You have to pull it up to rotate it and it feels kind of cheap. I can see these breaking pretty easily. This setting you will have to pull the camera away from your face to change. I generally stick to one mode, but some people don't.

The shutter speed dial feels great. I love it. It feels "real" to change the shutter speed this way rather than with the dial. The ISO dial is also in a good spot, but the lock release button is in a weird spot, down and to the left. On top of the ISO dial is the exposure compensation dial and the lock release for the EV button is right on top. Every time I wanted to change the ISO my finger went instinctively to the top. This will take some getting used to.

O ne thing that I noticed, due to the manual shutter speed dial and the placing of the shutter-release button is that I felt like I had a real film camera in my hand. So I kept finding myself reaching for the aperture ring. Over and over. (As I mentioned I do use film cameras and Leicas so I am always changing apertures and it may be more hardwired into my brain than some others). That being said the scrolling aperture dial is very cool. I love the way it rotates. It feels much more natural than the horizontal dial ever felt.

Something that has been brought up in forums is the placing of the strap lugs in between the shutter-release button and the aperture dial. This is going to require a new technique for some of us. Generally I use my forefinger to press the shutter-release as well as to operate the front command dial. This new strap design will cause the strap to get in the way of moving the forefinger back and forth between the button and the dial. The ideal way is going to be to use the forefinger for the shutter-release and the middle finger for the command dial (this is probably how Nikon intended it to be done in the first place, but I never caught on. Heck, I may be the only one who does it like that for all I know. In any case the strap will go right between the two fingers. If you use a sling type strap like the Black Rapid there shouldn't be any issues. I've been using a camera holster lately (the Spider Black Widow, review coming soon) so I haven't been using straps at all.

Unfortunately the Df has the STUPID D600/610 small array 39-point AF system. I hated it on the D600 and that's the going to major issue that I'm going to be fighting with when using this camera. WHY Nikon? This camera is practically screaming for the bad-ass 51-point AF system. (Don't wanna steal the D4 sales?). Anyway, that's the big issue for me.

All in all the camera felt solid, yet light, and fit in my hand nicely. I'll admit that the current design of the D800 is by far the most comfortable Nikon camera body design this one feels pretty good. Of course many people are put off by the looks, calling it "hipster" or whatever, but I think it looks good. I like classic designs. Classic designs are classic for a reason. They work. There's no need for your camera to be sleek and aerodynamic. It's not made for flying. It's made to take photos. So, yeah. I dig the look.

I didn't get a chance to do a lot of shooting with the camera, but I managed to snap off a few test  shots which are posted below. I will post a full review when I get a few weeks in shooting with it.
Nikon Dƒ w/50mm f/1.8G Ltd. Edition | 1/100 @ ƒ/2.5, ISO 100 
Nikon Dƒ w/50mm f/1.8G Ltd. Edition | 1/50 @ ƒ/3.5, ISO 400 

Nikon Dƒ w/50mm f/1.8G Ltd. Edition | 1/100 @ ƒ/2.5,  ISO 100

Nikon Dƒ ISO 1600 at 100% with ZERO Noise Reduction


Jim Campbell said...

"So I kept finding myself reaching for the aperture ring." You could always stick on an old "non-AI" lens and adjust away! This is one of the better features of this body in my eyes.

Judging by your comments on the placement of the shutter release, I'd probably find myself trying to advance the film with my thumb, at least for a while.

Thanks for the review.

Good light.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

The unfortunate part is the lack of a good focusing screen. Yeah the "green dot" is nice, but I like a good visual confirmation and my eyes ain't what they used to be!

I didn't try to advance the film though!

J. Dennis Thomas said...

I just noticed the irony of the last photo posted. The salesman is standing in front of a bank of Canon cameras and lenses. D'oh!

Anonymous said...

Interesting review thanks, for sure as owner of an FM2 + a F100 and no DSLR I'm very interested in this camera. I only hope size i s not too large related to my small hands and the menu system isn't too complicated. Not sure when available in Italy...just to try ay least...

J. Dennis Thomas said...

@thequietphotographer: It's close in size to the F100. Maybe a tad fatter. The menu system does have a lot of options, but it's pretty intuitive.

The AF system has seen a lot of refinements since the F100 so there'll be a bit of learning there and there are a lot more buttons that do a lot of different things.

It shouldn't take too long to get the gist of it.

Barry Balderson said...

I had, at one time or other, each model in the FM/FE/FA line and this looks GREAT to me. Can't wait to get one. But I would have liked to see a grid-through-the-viewfinder option like on my D800/D700. I understand that the grid is only available in Live View.

Barry Balderson said...

I had, at one time or another, each model in the FM/FE/FA line, so I love seeing this Df. Can't wait to get one. A little disappointed that there seems to be no option for a grid-screen-through-the-viewfinder, like with my D800 & D700. It seems to only be available in Live View. Is this so?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

@Barry: I've heard the mirror box is the same so that you can put whatever screens are out there in it.

I don't know for sure, this is just what I've seen on forums. I don't use MF lenses on my Nikons very often.