Today, NikonRumors published a brief story about Nikon's winnings in the 2014 Red Dot awards. Every year the fellows at Red Dot in Essen, Germany select products in various fields with outstanding design. In the past, Nikon has been awarded Red Dots for their D4, 1-series mirrorless system, and various coolpix cameras. This year Nikon took home three Red Dots for their ACULON T51 binoculars, D5300 APS-C DSLR and, surprisingly, the Df.
Nikon's past Red Dot awards have been in both consumer and professional categories — for the purposes of this discussion I am considering the Df a "professional" camera (both because of the quality of the sensor, and the D800-equivalent price tag). Every time a product received a Red Dot it was because it represented a milestone in design. Cameras such as the D4 and D7000 represented real steps by Nikon to move the industry forward. Even consumer-grade cameras such as the mirrorless 1-system had traits that made them favorable to their intended users. Fujifilm took home three Red Dots in 2013 for their X-Pro1, X-E1, and Instax Mini 8, each of which broke new ground in terms of product design. The X-Pro1 brought Leica-like rangefinder functionality to the masses and the X-E1 was one of the first cameras to successfully compete with the Olympus PEN series (another former Red Dot recipient).
Coming from a design perspective, I don't believe the Df is on the same level as the D4 or X-Pro1. If anything, cameras such as the a7, D600, and 6D represented a bigger step forward in the camera industry, bringing full-frame performance to smaller, sub-$2,000 bodies. I feel that the tendency of non-pros to herald the Df and its ilk as revolutionary step forward for photography does more harm than good. A cameras worth is far more complicated than it's aesthetic.
While we've been pretty excited about the Df's performance (it has a D4 sensor after all), the camera's build and handling have left more to be desired. It's this last point that makes the Df's selection for a product design award so surprising. While I have no problems with "retro" styled cameras, physical dials, the whole-nine-yards, I think it's important to consider why most modern professional camera bodies look and function the way they do. They're designed to operate easily, often without taking your eye away from the viewfinder and to be ergonomic, distributing weight and fitting easily in the hands. Recognizing the Df with a product design award seems to be missing the point of what design should mean. It's nice that the camera looks cool and revisits a vintage look, but it isn't making any strives in functionality — and isn't that the whole idea? Or shouldn't it be?
Don't get me wrong, I believe the Df is the closest thing to a D700 successor Nikon has out (flagship sensor in a small, more affordable body), and I've even considered adding one to my bag. But its eccentricities make it far from perfect from a product design standpoint. It's form for form's sake, not form for the betterment of usability.
Be sure to check out our previous Df coverage here.
What do you think about Nikon getting a Red Dot for the Df? Do you think it deserved the win?