Gear Reviews

real world Nikon Df review with quick comparison to Nikon D4

This is my real world review of Nikon’s new Df dSLR retro styled camera. These are my preliminary photos with the camera over thanksgiving with a short comparison to the Nikon D4. Actual paid shoots and real world tests to be added in the coming week.@

The Quick

I’m temporarily breaking my own rules with this camera review. Usually I wait to have a few shoots under my belt before I write up a review, but seeing as it’s Thanksgiving and I have a few days before my next sessions I wanted to post my initial thoughts. The quick? This camera will get you the raw image quality of the D4, but it’ll get you there in totally different ways. This camera is definitely trying to tug on your nostalgic side and it does it extremely well. Note that none of the images from the Df are RAW processed images. Because the Nikon Df is so new it isn’t updated to work with Lightroom yet. So, some of the images are processed JPEGS and others (most) are completely untouched SOOC jpegs.

The Build

Style

The retro design of this camera definitely works to its advantage. There is a black and a silver version. I think the silver looks more interesting. I find myself loving it more and more with every sound of the shutter. It has a very satisfying “crunch” sound to the shutter.

Speaking of which – here is a video sampling the loudness of the shutters. The Df is so much quieter and that makes me SO happy.

The Nikon Df is surprisingly light. A totally different world than the Nikon D4. It should be obvious from this size comparison why Nikon was able to shed some weight:

nikon d4 and df size comparison df and d4 size comparison

That being said… it feels solid. It’ll take a few good hard drops. It’s also weather sealed so you don’t have to worry about a bit of rain.

In my hands it feels very portable but not too small. I think it’s the perfect size camera body for a system that uses F mount lenses. Any smaller and you start to lose a sense of command with your equipment. Any larger and it’s too heavy and D4-like. For subjects of your photographs it’s a lot less intimidating than a giant D4 with big lens pointed at your face. Trust me, I love small camera bodies (example Leica M) but the leica cameras are able to also use smaller lenses. That’s not possible with F mount lenses so in my mind this is as good as it gets in the size category.

The beautiful viewfinder and rear display work a bit better than the D4′s. Perfect for traveling.

Battery

Battery life performs as expected. It’s a different battery type than the D4 or D800, but I got around 1500 photos out of it and heavily used live view.

Memory Card

Another point of contention for some  is the single memory card slot. Yup! It’s only got one and it’s annoying, but I don’t mind. Haven’t ever had a card fail and for a travel/personal use camera that this targeted for it’s much more convenient to have SD than compact flash. The memory card inserts through the button door just next to the battery.

Buttons

It’s an incredibly tactile camera. So MANY BUTTONS! It’s crazy! They’re buttons for nearly everything you could want. Shutter, aperture, iso, focusing, mode changes, on and on and on. You can also set the shutter button button to a 1/3 setting and use the traditional thumb wheel to change shutter if you prefer the “normal” way of doing that. There’s a lot to customize and I’m still learning exactly how I want this camera to operate, but I love all the options.

The Use

So, here we get to what matters! This camera does in fact have the same sensor as the Nikon D4 and its output is virtually the same. Refer to my Nikon D4 review from last year for more info about the sensor.

High ISO

High ISO at 12,800 is not problem. This is a straight out of camera jpeg with absolutely no noise reduction in camera or otherwise:

nikon df high iso 12800 sample

ISO 125:

12 48 04

and here is another at 12,800 in a different environment:

nikon df high iso sample portrait

So, image quality wise it’s definitely on par with the nikon d4. Here are two 12,800 iso photos for a comparison. However keep in mind I am not able to process these images the exact same because I don’t have the ability to use RAW files in lightroom yet with the Nikon Df as it’s too new.

high iso sample nikon d4 portrait high iso sample nikon df portrait

and here is a crop of yet another photo at 12,800 to show you the insane detail it keeps:

14 22 19 14 22 19 2

Autofocus

A big issue some people had with the Df was it’s different auto focus system. It’s 39 points and it’s definitely enough for me. It’s also got 3D tracking which is perfecto. In general I have found the auto focus to be excellent! What better way to test it than on a young bouncy kitten?

real world sample photos and review of nikon df

12,800 ISO SOOC:

cat during nikon df review

Live View

You can see an example of the responsiveness of live view from the video above. Bottom line is that it works really great except that you can’t see what the exposure of the photo will look like without holding the aperture preview button on the front. Kind of annoying, but not a deal breaker for me.

The Experience

This camera is a bit of a new direction for Nikon. They’re really playing towards the feeling of making a photo. The knobs and buttons, the size and portability, the SOUND of making an image… and it works. It feels so very satisfying. More of this in the conclusion, but it’s somewhat similar to what I concluded in my review of the newly released Nikon 58mm f/1.4

(Click images below to view them larger)

The Conclusion

I’ll probably re-write this conclusion after more time with this camera, but my first instincts are that it’s going to be a big hit for nikon fans. I have no doubt Canon users will be drooling for something similar. I think the last time Nikon released a similar spot in their product line – the D700 which had the small form factor with the D3 sensor – they cannibalised their sales of the D3 too much. The Df is purposefully not a replacement for the D4 but it’s not targeted toward the same purposes. It’s lacking professional grade niceties like dual slots, 1/8000 shutter, 12 FPS, bigger battery, video, more focus points, HDMI-out, etc. etc.

Shooting with the Nikon Df is much more about the experience of making the photo, the feel of it, than it is raising the bar on image quality and features… and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve tried many cameras that tout really amazing image quality with very small form factors. The A7 has very little appeal to me because it just doesn’t look like a camera I want to use for very long. When you make a living (or just shoot a bunch!) from making photos it can become hard to get excited about going out and shooting for yourself, but it’s essential to do it. It’s the best way I know how to get the wheels turning in different directions and recharge my creative batteries. Having a camera that makes me feel excited and involved while making an image is important. BUT that’s a really hard thing to explain so I’m going to stop trying and just suggest you try one for yourself. The cost of this camera is really high, but I blame the sensor quality for that one. They could have put in the D800 sensor or perhaps something even less expensive than that, but as I’m spoiled with the versatility and ISO capabilities of the D4… I’m glad they didn’t.

Side note – I also find that when subjects see a camera that looks classic (like my M, M9 or now the Df) they feel a bit more engaged in the process of making a photo, which is a huge advantage. It’s one reason why I love my Leica M so much and why I might find myself using it a bit less now that I’ve got the Nikon Df.

I’ll leave you with a few full resolution JPEG images with no processing what-so-ever in camera, software, or otherwise.

12,800 iso sample jpeg : https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/12%2C800-sample.jpg

1,250 iso sample jpeg: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/low-iso-sample.jpg

low ISO in darkness sample: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/base-iso-nikon-df-sample-2.jpg

12,800 iso in darkness sample: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4854870/never%20delete%20review%20high%20res%20samples/high-sio-nikon-df-sample-3.jpg

nikon df stock photo

Summary

Rating

Light weight, tactile, and satisfying. Perfect for personal, portrait, and travel photography.

  • Price
    $2749 (body only)
  • Uses
    Travel, Portraits
  • In my bag?
    Not after buying the Sony A7s
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. A well thought out review. It’s confirmed a bunch of stuff for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  2. you sir are correct, this canon users is drooling.

  3. Oooh, that shutter sounds DELIGHTFUL!

  4. You could have used Nikon ViewNX 2 to process RAW files from the Df. It allows changing of the settings used in capturing the RAW file and other edits.

  5. Mervin Lee says:

    Hi Sam, have you had any focusing issues with the Df in warm light or noticed any focusing differences in warm & cool light? I really loved the D600 but all 3 D600s I went through suffered some the identical issue of backfocusing in warm light especially with wide angle lenses such as the 14-24. Nikon has told me the Df AF system is “different” from the D600/D610, i’m sure the chip is the same, but perhaps the other related AF array assembly is improved?

  6. Earle Kimel says:

    Very nice summary review. I look forward to your additions.

  7. Aside from retro styling, what’s the point?

  8. @joel d4 sensor at half the price is the biggest reason

  9. Very nicely written, and good real images (who really needs test charts?).
    Got me excited, though I’m really happy with my current gear. Thanks!

  10. Completely in love with this handy gorgeous camera. Loving the classic meets contemporary design. I can’t wait to use it.

  11. Thanks for excellent, timely review. I immediately went to my local Nikon store and purchased the kit. (Didn’t need the kit lens, but that was all they had that wasn’t already spoken-for.) After seeing the silver and black, I changed my mind and went with black. The silver did not look like Nikon chrome, but rather a matte, plastic-looking silver. Silver may be more “collectible” but I bought this to shoot. Black is less attention. I’ll probably even put a piece of black electrician tape over “NIKON.” Before purchasing, I tried out the 50mm F1.8 autofocus kit lens, as well as several of my favorite AI, AI converted, and AI-s lenses.All work fine. I have no problem manual focusing on the screen, and the “green dot” verifies sharp focus. Exactly what I’ve been waiting for since film and processing went South. The dial-in diopter on the viewfinder is a great touch. I can instantly adjust for eyeglasses on or eyeglasses off. Ok, enough BS … off to take some picture.

  12. cosinaphile says:

    i was genuinely curious about what 16 mp full frame at iso 12800 would look like on this Df, and comparing it to my fuji ex2 and that iso but sadly your tiny pictures make assessing its quality pointless…
    still thanks for the review, otherwise i enjoyed it

  13. cosinaphile says:

    oops , didnt see the full res links , to the iso 12800 ooc jpegs thanks you again for a thoughtful intelligent review … ive bookmarked this so i may rrad your later thoughts on the df

  14. Officially in Love… I really really need this camera;)

  15. I see people asking who this camera is for and I saw for me, a Nikon lover that shoots both digital (D2H) and film with an old FE that can now have the best of both worlds. The idea of finally having a camera and if may I quote you,

    “is much more about the experience of making the photo, the feel of it, than it is raising the bar on image quality and features… and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve tried many cameras that tout really amazing image quality with very small form factors. The A7 has very little appeal to me because it just doesn’t look like a camera I want to use for very long.”

    I like shooting with a camera that makes me excited about taking pictures. Its the way I feel about my D2H and when I first read about the Df and its features I finally became excited once again about a camera that seemed perfectly suited for my love of making photographs.

    Thanks for the review and the samples. Now its time to save some pennies and list some stuff around the house for sale :)

  16. Thanks for a great review. I have been shooting with my Df for two days. Ow. I own and shoot a D800 and a D4.

    The Df is lovely to shoot and it seems like it can shoot in the dark with beautiful bokeh and amazingly sharp images. Your conclusion is spot on. I cancelled my A7r order after shooting with the Df. I even took off my 50 1.4g and shot with the sexy kit lens and it really does a great job. It grows on you. It does make you more creative just by its form factor.

    If you are a Nikon shooter with some good primes this experience e gets better. I only use my D4 for wildlife photography so using it as a casual shooter is useful and fun. I think this is a home run for Nikon. Go for it if you can afford it: just cause u can.

  17. Christopher Eden says:

    The most informed and informative review of the Df that I have read to date.

  18. Sam, what are your thoughts on using the Df with the new 58 1.4 lens? I know you really like both; do you think this would be a match made in heaven? The 58 seems like it is a small lens; do you think it would balance nicely on the Df?
    Thanks for all of your insight.

  19. Well thought out review. Too many people have been ragging on the camera without even using it. Many have been posting misinformation about the Df’s controls, the shutter speed for instance. People are complaining about the lock, but it’s only locked when it’s in a mode. They are also complaining about no 1/3 steps with the shutter dial. CSM f11 will allow you to go up or down in 1/3 stops from the speed set on the dial.

    Anyway, it’s good to see someone review it that has taken the time to use it. I posted a quick review on my site, to be updated once I get a few more good shoots done with it.

  20. Hey Sam,

    Thanks for the review and the great pictures. I’m right on the verge of picking up a black Nikon DF. Either today or tomorrow – hope this reaches you in time.
    Just wondering, LR 5 doesn’t yet have profiles for the raw files from the DF. How did you shoot these amazing shots? Did you do them in Jpg mode?

    Regards – Mark S

  21. I genuinely am confused who the Nikon DF is aimed at, can’t see what pros would use it most studio photographers i know wont use it as already have kit (equivalent and better), many landscapers i have spoken to won’t, as an Architectural/interior photographer i know i wouldn’t use it. Its priced too high for amateurs. I can see it being good for travel photography however again how many travel photographers are going to fork out that much? If Canon were to release a similar i would have same issue.

  22. i’m fine waiting for lightroom

  23. This Canon shooter (5D3 and 7D), has one on order! I’m not switching, I’m adding Nikon to my kit and intend to shoot both. And this incredible Df is the Nikon that interests me enough to make the move! It’s the best looking DSLR on the market and has the D4 sensor, at half the cost of the D4. This tells me it’s about the best low light performer available. 1/200 flash sync and 1/4000 shutter, no video (Good), don’t phase me in the least for the type of shooting I’ll do with this camera, (People and Wildlife). For me it’s, run-n-gun, indoor low light, and portraiture, and I can’t wait to use it. Though I agree with the reviewer and believe the camera should have 2 memory card slots, as this lack will keep a lot of pros and enthusiasts from going for it. Mistake? Maybe. All in all, I think that Canon shooters are more jazzed about this camera than the Nikonites. There’s a lot of grumbling on the Nikon sites about the Df and my take on that is that it sounds as if the Nikonites expected Nikon to give them a full featured D4 in a retro body for under $2K. I don’t get it! This camera is destined for Classic status! Go Nikon!!!

  24. Hi I am really interested in how you find manual focus. I have Zeiss ZF.2 manual focus lens and do find it hard to manually focus on my D800E. Does the df seem any easier to manual focus than the D4? Out of interest if you put a fast lens like 1.4 and then press the DOF button, do you see any change in brightness with the DOF pressed from 1.4 to 2.8? I think a lot of modern cameras only display from around f2 making it harder to manually focus fast lenses. In regards to who this camera is aimed for I hope it is for people who own manual focus lenses like Nikon Ais, Zeiss & Voigtlander. I’m sure there are plenty of people who like having manual control of their camera and want a good sensor in a small package.

  25. Hi!

    Thank you so much for your great, honest review.

    I shoot a wide range of works from fashion, portraits, lifestyle, travel, to wedding and events. Currently using D3 and D700 as back up. At the end of the day, (after reading so many reviews since its release, stumbled upon yours) would you say this a good choice for someone like me? I love this Df. It’s just gorgeous. Small. I’d truly appreciate your response.

    Thank you,
    Tawan

  26. Nice review and pics. I miss some of the creative part of photography these days and maybe this one will bring some of that back. Besides it’s gorgeous and I never do video. I grew up with an Ftb and Fe, now Df is on my list…l

  27. Jon Sharman says:

    Really good writeup, thanks for that!

    I’ve shot weddings all year with a D800, and while I love it the 2 issues are obvious – (1) the massive file size, and (2) the critical sharpness needed for that sensor to really shine.

    I’ve been considering dropping it for the Df. My biggest concern is the lack of a secondary memory card slot, but I do backup in the field which helps soften that a little. The lower number of AF points is a little bit of an issue too, but mostly I shoot within the center cluster and recompose anyway, so I don’t think it’ll be a big deal. I shoot with primes only, so I’m not concerned about a weight balance issue with something like a 70-200mm either.

    So, that said, what are your thoughts on it as a primary wedding photography camera?

    Thanks again for a very thorough, honest review!

  28. Sam,
    Picked df and sigma 50 1.4, mainly thanks to your awesome review! loving the combo! however, I cant seem to focus in LV mode. Do you have any issues regarding this?

  29. Great review. How is the balance of the body with zoom lenses like 24-70 or 70-200? Thanks.J

  30. Well done review. I think you expressed exactly what this camera is all about. Those who want a modern DSLR, buy a D610 or D800 – that’s why Nikon makes them. This camera is for those who value the results (photographs) and enjoy being more involved with using the equipment to achieve the result. I compare this to a car with a stick shift versus and automatic.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Hurd has his initial review up. Be sure to check it [...]

  2. [...] still makes pretty images.  I think the D700 is one of those niche segment cameras that Nikon has stopped making. A [...]

  3. [...] Сети уже появился первый обзор Nikon DF, по результатам которого, видно что картинка и [...]

  4. [...] at a department party. Meanwhile, you can google other articles to see what the high ISO is like (here and [...]

  5. [...] I had the opportunity to use the A7R in a real-world low-light situation. I shot a few images using the EVF, manual focus with the Leica Summicron 50 in a dim indoor setting. The results were mixed. I would not use the camera above ISO 3200 and certainly not at ISO 6400. It looks like the Nikon DF would be more suitable for low-light photography. I have no doubts that the DF will outperform the A7R in low-light. Don’t believe me, check this out. [...]

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