The Nikon DF Represents Everything Wrong With Photography

The Nikon DF Represents Everything Wrong With Photography

Tonight Nikon will announce announced the "revolutionary" Nikon DF Camera. By "revolutionary" I mean that they have taken a full frame sensor from a current digital DSLR and put it into a non-ergonomic retro body and removed many features, including video. Are we excited about this camera because of the photography we will be able to capture with it or are we excited because we will look trendy and fashionable holding it?

Due to the fact that many people are not finishing this article before attacking me for "Hating Nikon" I want to make it clear that I love Nikon and I honestly do not hate this camera. I look forward to reviewing it in the near future and I might even eventually own one. In this post I simply want to highlight that it's becoming trendy to be a photographer and cameras like this may be appealing to us as photographers for the wrong reasons. 

Let's first talk about ergonomics. Cameras look the way they do today because they have been made to fit comfortably in your hand. I've never heard a professional photographer complain that a camera was too big or too heavy. It has always been really strange to me that this whole micro 4/3 explosion has happened because I feel like I have a pretty decent camera built into my cell phone. If I want to take a professional picture, then I'm going to grab my professional camera. If I want to take a snap shot I'm going to pull out my phone. This of course does not apply to those of us who are travel photographers and who need a great camera that is easy to wear all day or throw in a back pack. The thing that you have to remember about the DF is that it is a full frame 35mm camera meaning that it is going to take the same massive lenses that a D4 takes. So please don't try to tell me you need a DF because it's so easy to travel with and then strap a 70-200mm to it. There is also no way that holding this camera with your fingers will ever be more comfortable than a full-handed grip on today's cameras.

Buttons: Digital vs Mechanical
I personally hate the button layout on prosumer Nikon cameras because they combine incredibly important buttons like ISO or White Balance with other functions. These layouts force you to hold one button on one side of the camera and rotate a knob on the other side. You'll notice that on the DF the white balance button is being shared by the "lock" function. The one thing that does intrigue me about the Nikon DF layout is that ISO and shutter speed are on physical rotater knobs.
You could make the argument that these physical knobs are easier and faster to deal with than a digital LCD and I might agree with you. Obviously I won't know until I try it but I still have to imagine that the Nikon D4's buttons were chosen with speed in mind. If physical knobs were faster, they would be in use today right? Due to the fact that current lenses do not have manual apertures anymore, the digital thumb knob will be in charge of changing your F-stop. That being said I wish that they could have made all 4 of the major settings (SS, F-Stop, ISO, and WB) all physical knobs to continue the theme of the camera as well as allow the user to know all of the settings at a glance, even when the camera was off. I think it's safe to say that this camera's buttons were not chosen with ergonomics or speed in mind, they were chosen to make it look like an old camera.

The Manual Shutter Release Cable
Do you know why older cameras had a mechanical shutter release cables? Because they hadn't invented better technology like self timer, infrared, or radio triggers.


When I saw a picture of this camera being used with a physical shutter release cable it was proof that my theory was correct: so many people don't care about pictures anymore, they just want to be "photographers." Using an outdated/obsolete device to take a picture makes you more of an artist today. This product exists to appeal to the same people who have gone out and bought film cameras recently because they are "too artistic" to use digital like everyone else. Instead of its intended purpose (to help with camera shake), a simple shutter release cable has now become the next trendy thing to use to look fashionable.

It Doesn't Shoot Video
You may not shoot video, you may not care about video, you may hate that still photography and video are merging. It doesn't matter what your opinion on video is, the fact is that removing features from a product does not make a product "revolutionary." If Nikon had a logical reason why this camera couldn't shoot video then I would be fine with it but we all know with a simple software update the camera could shoot amazing video like every other DSLR. I can guarantee you that version 2 of this camera will have video and it will make the resale value of the first camera go down and it will make the next one worth buying. Video is the future and I think that every still camera (aside from ultra high end cameras) from now on should have at least some sort of video option. If we keep moving in this direction we'll have a $5000 digital pinhole camera in a few years.

Why Is This Camera Exciting To You
When I first saw this camera I have to admit that I was excited, and for many reasons I still am. But I had to ask myself why? Is this camera going to help me take better pictures? Is my photography business going to improve if I buy it? Am I only excited because this camera looks different than other current cameras, or does this product only appeal to me because it reminds me of the first camera I ever owned?

I don't want to be too harsh on the DF because I have no doubt it's going to take great images. This article wasn't written to bash the camera but rather the state of photography today. Maybe I will fall in love with this little guy once I get to use it. I could see it becoming ideal for traveling (with prime lenses) and I hope to be able to bring one with me to our workshop in the Bahamas. I'm honestly really excited that Nikon is doing something "different" but at the same time I would hate to see this camera, which I believe in many ways is a massive step backwards, become the best selling "pro" camera simply because it looks cool. We buy things every day because of the way they make us feel and that's fine. I believe this camera will bring a lot of people a lot of joy. I just don't want you to forget that we are supposed to enjoy photography, and not just being fashionable photographers.

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Jeremy Sale's picture

The only thing this has going for it is the shutter sound, and... umm... somethin' else, I think.

Edward Porter's picture

That was a low blow on micro 4/3... The GH3 provides a decent entry point for hybrid photographers and is in no way is comparable to a cell phone. Just because your gear is better doesn't mean it has no value for others that can't afford a $2k+ body.

Lee Morris's picture

It was not meant as a blow on "cheaper" gear. I honestly never even considered that people would get micro 4/3rds over a canon rebel to save money (being that rebels are so cheap now). I assumed everyone bought it because they liked smaller gear. Everyone that I know that owns a micro also owns a DSLR.

Edward Porter's picture

The majority of GH2/3 owners purchase the camera because of its video capabilities. The Canon 70D and especially the Nikon D6100 don't come close to matching the video features (the GH3 even outperforms the 70D by Dx0 standards). The only other option videographers have are the black magic pocket cinema (which has horrible photography capabilities) and a hacked 5D Mark III (again $2k+ body).

The core principle that makes m43 popular though is the market is less stagnant than Canikon, as this article has demonstrated. Not cannibalizing existing cameras seems to be their #1 priority, not innovation. You also pay a hefty fee for those logos.

Edward Porter's picture

It wasn't a camera debate as much as to point out that m43 has a strong market for < $2k bodies. The 5dmkiii would be a better choice clearly -- except that you could buy almost three GH3s with that money -- so it's not fair to compare the two. I also wouldn't be so hasty to trash the GH3 over the GH2 as it does provide 70mbps All-I codec and clearly beats the GH2's IQ by Dx0's measurements (and from personal experience deals with low lighting a lot better). But please feel free to continue on with your passionate opinion.

Louis Dallara's picture

I'm selling my D800, because i have switch m43 OMD mainly because of weight and ergonomics and features. I got tired of menus and chipping watch caused to to miss shots...

David Dvir's picture

I think he was referring to pros that are using it. It's not a professional body and it's kind of a dumb choice as there are such limits with connectivity to other gear. I agree with lee on the Micro 4/3 and mirrorless nonsense. I think as a consumer, they're great! Lots of fun and make perfect sense. But as a pro they just don't belong, and neither does this thing.

Michael Comeau's picture

It's like Nikon looked at the Fuji X100 and said we need one of those, but MOAR.

Mok MH's picture

Fuji camera is plain stupid, the range finder like viewfinder doesn't even make sense. nothing works like the rangefinder camera

yopyop's picture

"[...] Everything Wrong With Photography" : please, why does it have to be sooo dramatic ? This title represents everything wrong with articles on internet ;-)

Adam Ottke's picture

I agree with the title. Why? Because I'm a Nikon shooter. And I rely on Nikon. And I want Nikon concentrating on and investing in creating the best tools around. To think of how much time they wasted on putting a d800 in a retro shell, removing video, and slashing the price a few hundred dollars (the d800 will come down that much in a few more months anyway...let's see what Black Friday says about that) is extremely depressing. Personally, I want my d800 (or d800e) and a full-frame 12-16-megapixel, 10+ fps low-light beast as my "news/sports" camera more around the same price range as the d800. That way, for the price of the d4, I could get the best of both worlds. But that's just my dream. I can only hope that they didn't waste too much time in borrowing so heavily from the d800, since they already had all that experience behind them. We'll see what the next move is. But so far, Lee is 100% right. It does represent everything that's wrong. Fuji's x-pro1/x100 cameras were revolutionary. Looking "cool" was an added bonus for many. But they at least did something new. This doesn't. I was really hoping this would be my lean and nimble press machine. But alas, I am disappointed.

Carlos Henrique's picture

What is wrong is think that photography rely on cameras. This is a very limited view of photography.

Charles Coleman's picture

Because you can be a photographer without a camera

Carlos Henrique's picture

Because, of course, u are a photographer if u have a camera, right?

Robin Edgar's picture

Correct. Sometimes when I have a lot of camera gear on me people come up to me and ask me if I am a photographer. I like to answer them by saying,

"No, I'm a lawyer, I just don't want people to recognize me." ;-)

Some people have even asked me what area of law I practice after I have provided that waggish answer to their "less than bright" question.

Carlos Henrique's picture

Yes. Exactly what I thought. I know those "photographers" that think they can'f photograph without a "a lot of camera gear". And specially, those "photographs" that think they can't photograph without the last camera released. They are, in fact, addicted to buying gear, photoconsumists, not necessarily photographers.
Good luck! Have the last word if you want, Mr. lawyer.

Robin Edgar's picture

Just to be clear. I am NOT one those "photographers" that think they can't take photographs without a "a lot of camera gear". On occasion however I DO carry a lot of camera gear when it is warranted, and I find it hilarious that people actually ask me if I am a photographer when I am carrying so much gear. Obviously what they mean is am I a professional photographer, as opposed to an amateur photographer. I used to say I am both when I was working as a freelance professional photographer.

Give me a 110 camera and a roll of film and I can and will take some very good photos. I am very much an "f8 and be there" kind of guy,

pahill's picture

Photographers make a living from photography, everyone else is just an enthusiast. Photographers have real needs from the products they make a living from and the brand they use to make that living. This camera is for enthusiasts with money to burn, it solve no needs...

Tom Varden's picture

If you own a fishing rod and use it, youre a fisherman, why should photography be any different. If you own a car and drive it, you're a driver/motorist. If you own a bicycle, you're a cyclist. If you own a plane and fly it, you're a pilot. Why is photography different? Why must you take a billion photographs and pay all of your bills with a camera before you're allowed t call yourself a photographer? If you use a camera, you are a photographer. If you make your living with a camera, you're a professional photographer. Shouldn't it be that simple?

pahill's picture

If you don't make a living from it, it's a hobby, it's what you do on your spare time. Owning a d4 doesn't make you a photographer, it makes you a d4 owner. Owning fishing rod doesn't make you a fisherman, it makes you a fishing rod owner, if you use it on your spare time it makes you an enthusiast, if you make a living from it you are a fisherman. Just because I have basic knowle of dental hygiene, of course I brush my teeth every day, and being able to afford the tools (whatever they are) doesn't make me a dentist.

Tom Varden's picture

I've known total beginners that have taken photos I wish I did. I guarantee you there's a hobbyist out there that beats all of us on this page. Perhaps an amateur photographer should say 'no' when asked by an admirer of their gear if they are "a photographer," but I think saying these or those people aren't photographers sounds like elitist nonsense to me. The definition of hobbyist is that the practice isn't your occupation, Ill concede that, but to diminish their importance is ridiculous. It feels funny to say Niepce (the guy who took the first photo ever), Daguerre or Diane Arbus was a hobbyist not to mention Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Da Vinci? I don't take pictures, I make them. I know all about that, I haul strobes all over, even weddings with no assistant, but you'll never hear me say anyone isn't a photographer. Everyone starts somewhere. Kodachrome, was created by two musicians. Photoshop was a grad student's project. Damn enthusiasts.

pahill's picture

I`m not diminishing their importance their sole existence is what helps finance any research and development for new products, and Im sure their market share is far more important than pro dslr's , but by your definition you diminish me as a full time working photographer.

If what you say is true, then there is no point in hiring someone like me and paying for my services. Hell anyone with an Iphone can do it...

Tom Varden's picture

I'm a working pro too and nothing I said means a client shouldn't hire myself or you over an amateur. Unless your work us only as good as the amateur. If your work doesn't obviously trump the other choices, that's your fault. I get hired because my photographs are better than the cheaper folks. Calling beginners in photography hobbyists, enthusiasts or novices will never change that, but it does bring snobbery into the equation. Pros are important and often set the bar, but photography is more accessible to the beginner than any other art form save maybe punk rock. Can you hit the ground running in panting, sculpture or opera? No. Can you with photography? Yes. I love that this art form is can be so easily be attempted by any Instagrammer. Photography is the most important and relevant art form today 'because' it's so easy to take a picture. If we all pretend to be wizards with secret magic, we look like idiots. The California Modernists knew that cameras are best at accurately renderng the scene before you, everyone knows that; it just seems like pros are the first to forget. Should anyone with an iPhone ever decide not to click because they're not "a real photographer?"

pahill's picture

Dude, just because you can click a camera doesn't make it art, at all, its a snapshot. And please, don't get me started on Instagram, filters wont make a crappy picture better...

Michael Leonard's picture

I hate to disagree, but you are only partially right, IMHO.

There is a vast difference between those people who bought a camera yesterday and call themselves photographers and those people who have been shooting for years, sell their work, get published yet still have full time jobs.

By using the standpoint that "if you aren't making a living on it, it's just a hobby" basically reduces the title of "photographer" to very few people. I have seen work done by many people who have full time jobs and take phenomenal photos, won awards, sell prints and conduct workshops yet still have jobs. Photography to them is a passion but doesn't mean they are making a living from it. It doesn't mean they aren't photographers.

That being said, I have seen and know people who have very limited experience with photography and post very unprofessional looking work yet call themselves professional or pass themselves off as professional. These people wouldn't pass a basic photography test yet they are advertising for people to hire them.

There is a difference between these two types of people. They cannot all be clumped into the "it's only a hobby" category.

jniz22's picture

THAT sir is a bit of absolute non-sense.

I WILL agree that there is a difference between taking pictures and making pictures but really this is sort of a BS semantic argument. If you are taking a photo, you in that moment are a photographer.

Rajiv Dhinakaran's picture

Guys, if you think the Df is not for you, or does not cut the mustard for you professional photographers, just bugger off and get the D4 or anything else that suits you. Nikon is not holding a gun to your head and forcing you to buy the Df - its all about choice. The Df is NOT intended for the Pro market.

I for one would prefer the Df (don't have one yet) as I have captured some of the best photos of my life with an ancient Nikon EM - it just has focus, aperture and 36 exposures which forced me to take a good picture. With my later cameras (D80, D90) it was all just spray & pray.

So go ahead and spray away with your 11fps D4 and I'm sure you'll find a good picture in there somewhere. I for one will be using my old light MF lenses with the Df which will force me to look at the picture before I click.

Steven Bradshaw's picture

Tom, I own a flute, I can't play it, does that make me a Flautist? No. Same with Photography. Just because you own a DSLR it doesn't make you a photographer. Some of us earn a living taking pictures and Nikon have lost the plot with this new Df. What we actually need is a pro spec 12-16mp smaller lighter DSLR, with 5-10 fps and a 40 frame plus buffer. Unless you earn a living shooting Weddings or run a studio then you wont understand this requirement.

Tom Varden's picture

Well, awesome! I'm glad I finally found the council that decides who should be called photographers and which cameras Nikon should release. To any of the newbs that read this: don't let anyone tell you that you aren't legit. Call yourself a photographer, master of the universe or the president of the United States and watch old pros squirm.

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