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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Previous comments
Moronerator's picture

You might actually want to skip the President of the United States - in certain circumstances that is actually a felony, heh..

As for anything else, heck yeah! I mean you may only be a amateur photographer, not quite a good photographer, maybe just an accomplished photographer, a great photographer, or maybe even a professional photographer... but in all of those states of photographic existence you would still be a PHOTOGRAPHER.........

Ingemar Smith's picture

God I love these internet beefs!

Fernando A López's picture

WELL SAID SIR! Can I quote you? Thanks! ;)

Moronerator's picture

It is exactly that simple...
Here is a 'for example': If you were standing in a room with 50 people, and the person next to you asks if you see the photographer - what exactly are you going to be looking for as you visually scan the room? Someone handing out business cards, perhaps showing off their portfolio in one of those nifty leather poster binders, checking to see if you recognize a renown face from Modern Photography - or perhaps - the first person you see with a decent dslr........?

Lukas Prochazka's picture

or you are photographer and enthusiasts in one person, if one day you shooting for magazine but other you just shooting people on street, you may have two different cameras

pahill's picture

Actually i have 4, 1 pentax 645 for studio, 2 nikon d700 for weddings, 1 nikon d7000 for video and travel...

Charles Coleman's picture

It's clearly harder to be a photographer without a camera than for someone to be feauxtographer just because they own a camera

Matt Payne's picture

I hate to say it, but I agree with Adam. I'm also a Nikon guy and I find the Df to be pretty stale, innovatively speaking. Cmon' Nikon... how about a Fx mirrorless w/ the features of the d800? How about a 16mp fx that doesnt cost a $5k? Sony is making huge strides. This new camera does nothing to take the brand forward or improve creativity. Remember, a camera is just a tool in the hand of an artist and the features/ease of use/etc allow the creative to expand their craft. I can only think that the old grumpy "film only" folks might take interest in the Df. Maybe I'm wrong.

Kamil Tamiola's picture

Once again I couldn't agree more!

stan chung's picture

creativity happens when people are bored.

i like this camera.
the nostalgic look is yumm. haha
No video, no worries, I will use the D800 for that. It does video so much better.

Lukas Prochazka's picture

its also bussines, I gues they know why they didnt release 16mp fx that doesnt cost 5k...because they will make more money on this

Scott T's picture

It is a 16 MP camera that costs 1/2 of the D4... if you look at the specs, it has comparable ISO performance of the D4 (range wise), yet the D610 only has a max ISO of 6400. If this camera shoots as well at High ISO in low light as the D4 I'm grabbing it. I have a D700, and the Df gets nearly 400 more shots out of it's battery. I do have a MD-10 grip for my D700, but seriously, if I was worried about the battery not lasting though a wedding, I'd have an extra on hand to pop in. Now I do wish it had an extra card slot. People are way overthinking the camera way before it's been put through it's paces. I look forward to it's performance, and do like the simplicity of the dials.

Matt Payne's picture

Fair enough Scott. I look forward to seeing the reviews also.

Kamil Tamiola's picture

The same here, @adamottke:disqus . I am also dissapointed!

joehdodd's picture

But does it really represent "everything" wrong with photography? I think that's what yopyop is getting at. I take issue with the title on the basis of semantics, not whether or not this camera is actually disappointing because it perpetuates an ideology that is detrimental to progress in the world of photography. The title is a bit sensationalist and reveals the author's bias and slant before reading a single line. Of course, it's all his opinion and he's entitled to be as biased toward the retro throwback as he wants. But he cripples himself by qualifying his argument at several points throughout the article. So a better title is in order. Maybe "The Nikon DF Represents Much of What's Holding Photography Back Today".

Adam Ottke's picture

I'm not at all taken back by the title. Exaggeration is a tool that can be used without being sensationalist or alarmist. In this case, "everything" is a hyperbole, obviously. "Photography" obviously doesn't mean the job or hobby or entire field or subject of photography. It obviously is limited in it's use in the title to the photographic equipment industry (and perhaps a bit toward the part of the "photography world" that would support this $3000 camera for it's looks...). So that's why I have no problem there.

On the other hand, I misunderstood the camera at first partially due to rumors. The d4 sensor is amazing. And that's something to think about. But frame-rate is still lacking. And id still rather have an ergonomic body if I'm going to be shooting with it every day. But that's just me. The d800 still beats this out. There's just no way I'd ever need both of these... And I was hoping Nikon was going to make something that did make me want it, too. And that's what's frustrating. I'm begging Nikon to make me WANT to give them another $3-4k! Imagine that!

joehdodd's picture

I see your point. Nikon obviously knows who their market is with this camera. And that's something that does annoy me about people's intentions in using a certain type of equipment.

I don't use Nikon, so I can't actually speak much to this camera's capability. But I can say that I'd rather have a more compact Fuji to compliment my DSLR, rather than just another DSLR that looks "cool". A mirrorless camera--while the Fujis are gorgeous--is just more convenient when I don't need to lug around a DSLR. So right, why buy a retro-looking DSLR just because it's retro-looking?

Daniel Walldorf's picture

The truth is that Nikon, Canon and so on are companies, focussed on making money. If they can make more (or an equal amount of) money from useless fancy stuff, than they can from making pro stuff, they will do it. Of course they could have made something revolutionary and packed it into a pro DSLR body but what would sell more? Apparently the answer is old stuff in a fancy body..

Also keep in mind that making revolutionary stuff costs more money than taking the stuff you already have, removing some features and sell it in a fancy body for $3000.

Also don't forget that they still rely on the pros (or say serious photographers) as well and that the revenues from this toy will also be used for making the next gen pro DSLR. So there is no need to blame, bash or cry. They just do what the people want. With this one it seems like people want to get fooled but that is not Nikons fault.

tyleremt1's picture

They didn't steal from the D800, the sensor came directly from the D4. An older technology than what the D800 currently employs.

Eduardo Frances's picture

They go for shock rather than quality of content, however these over dramatic tones in articles are usually from people spending too much time reading forums and the net, outside the net there's nothing wrong with photography... the only thing wrong with it is the people who write articles with "[...] Everything Wrong With Photography" headlines like he does

Jova's picture

With this camera Nikon have looked back in the past and captured what a camera use
to be. There is nothing wrong here.

This camera is for enthusiasts that want to take photos. Video is not required.

It represents what photography is all about, set your camera, compose and take a photo.

I am sick of reviewers that say it is disappointing the camera
does not have GPS, built in wi-fi, a touch screen, a flip screen, a dedicated
video button ….. Why is disappointing? Does every camera need to have all
features. Do we need all this in a camera if fundamentally we are using it to take
a photo and capture a moment? I say no.

It is not a step backwards for Nikon, it’s a look backwards at what photography use
to be.

Dale Catlett's picture

Exactly, whatever happened to the love people had for photography, now its all about what I want the camera to do more of other than take photos. I picked up my camera to take a photo, not to take video, not to track where I took the photo, not to do anything but take the damn photo. I want this camera but I also need something that will work better under a high stress situation, this camera has done nothing wrong (other than maybe not having back lit dials but im sure if the viewfinder displays enough information I wont care)

Jason Lei's picture

I feel this camera represents pure photography and tries to bring it back to it's roots. It's like with motor cars, Lotus Elise, it's bare basic motoring, no luxuries of air condition, sound system etc.

John Flury's picture

Good article, Lee. Back to one of the most basic principles behind photography: The camera is ONLY a tool. It doesn't make pictures, you do. Still, almost all marketing campaigns for cameras target the "artistic urge", or more precisely "the urge to be special" or "the urge to be admired by others". It's hip to be an artist, so spend money on our equipment and you can be one too. It feels like online diplomas :-D.

Michael's picture

I'm glad you said it. I was pretty excited about the prospect of this new camera, but now seeing it, I've lost a bit of my enthusiasm. I'm pretty damn fast with the front/rear controls for aperture/speed with my right hand, never having to remove my eye from the viewfinder (on just about any higher-end DSLR on the market today or even OMD). With this, I have to use my left hand to change any of those values? Seems like a pretty big step backwards in terms of ergonomics and accessibility.

And you're right - losing the video just to make it "pure" seems odd. I'm no videographer, but I do occasionally use my cameras for their video functionality and enjoy being able to do so with my very nice lenses.

I think this camera will sell really well with hipsters and people who want to look trendy / use old stuff. Nothing wrong with that. But I don't see it as pushing any limits forward (like the D800 did).

Bruce's picture

I was hoping this was the camera to tempt me to upgrade from my D700. But alas, no. The only upgrade I see is the outstanding sensor, and there appear quite a few downgrades (all monor but they all up). I don't really care about cool. Not for £2,500 anyway.

Eric Duminil's picture


Black Light Shoots's picture

Right. Not with that price, and not with that size.

Ian's picture

I agree with you on many points, but I think there's still work to be done on shutter releases, and this retro one has a huge advantage over most current - it screws into the camera. The kludgy, crappy cable ports in modern cameras aren't secure and the release always seems to pop out at the worst possible time. I gave up on releases and use a wireless remote, but with Canon (at least), you have to be in remote mode to use it. I'd welcome a screw in release...

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