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
Jonn Mero's picture

The equipment having problems with the user, by the sound of it!

EvaImage's picture

Great post, don't find it harsh at all, just very honest in my opinion. If Lee had said that he absolutely loved it and saw no flaws in Nikon DF, he would have been accused of having a bias toward Nikon in general. Cannot make everyone happy.

Powerbill's picture

I totally agree. If the df was smaller like an old FE with dials that didn't get confusing intertwined with their digital counterparts , I would love it. I really hate the fact that nikon feels like it is lagging and trying to play catch up to canon. I love my D700, but really can't find nothing to not like (triple negative intended) about the 5D3. Such a great camera in terms of speed, resolution and ISO. I just wish it was made by nikon and called the D700s. I like the D800, but a bit too slow and a tad too many megapixels really for my needs right now as an event photog.

CartierBesson's picture

I heard from many people that whole dial thing is just a gimmick. especially the shutter speed dial because it lacks "Auto" position. doesn't matter which shutter speed you set, if you camera mode is not on S, the actual shutter speed changes. how dumb... thanks for the good and honest review and save bunch of people from buying the false retro camera, aka hipster camera.

bl4ckn4pkins's picture

I find that opinions on either side of the fence are valid, however, I'm seeing so much mention of it's price point as unjustly inflated and no mention of the solid metal construction and weatherproofing (and precision mechanical inputs) that makes this camera a durable, professional tool that is meant to last. Sure, it lacks many features (that are basically exclusively software features) but comparable models are actually made completely of plastic : /

Howie's picture

Funny. I know and have read from multiple professionals that are huge fans of this camera. There are a good many of us that are real honest photographers that prefer the beautiful cameras of yesterday to the lifeless chunks of plastic of tomorrow and today. I've mad wall or a large part of my living as a photographer since I was 16, I have never once heard a photographer say, "Thank God they got rid of all those nice things we loved about the FE2" or whatever they're camera of choice was/is.

"This article wasn’t written to bash the camera but rather the state of photography today."

Then maybe thats the article you should have published, cause this friend, isn't it.

Lars Wright's picture

This video is classic. Its so ridiculously funny. I've watched it probably 10 times so far. That being said, I just bought a nikon DF in black. Im not a pro, and i'm not tweaking all the camera parameters while i'm shooting. I guess pros are playing the camera settings like a pianist while shooting, but i'm not like that and i don't ever want to be. Photography is a hobby for me. I walk around and just shoot stuff, mostly on the same settings ... if the light has changed significantly, I tweak some stuff.

I think the disconnect with this camera comes from the fact that pros review cameras, and pros will probably hate this camera, cause honestly its not that ergonomic. The front dial which modifies aperture is basically impossible to operate with a single finger unless you use your fingernail, and even then it moves past 2 or 3 settings when you only wanted to move 1.

I decided to buy this because I was almost exclusively shooting with my nikon FE film camera. I was tired of using my nikon d7100. I just feel awkward carrying it around. People look at you as if you're a pro photographer, and if you take a camera like that into a casual situation, it becomes somewhat odd.

I like the look of the DF, and that means ill carry it around more, which means ill take more photos. So, who gives a crap about anything but that?

The funny thing is that some of the best jokes of the video, while funny, are actually pinpointing serious reasons for why to buy this camera. It does actually make you slow down and think about your settings (as long as you don't put it into auto). That may not improve a pro photographer because they're already the jesus of photography, but for hobbyists, it can be a great thing.

This is the best camera i've ever used. I cant tell you exactly why, its more emotion than numbers. Just like not all of us need Lance Armstrong's bike in order to ride, I don't think we all need a d810, especially if we don't like the look and feel. As hobbyists, we can make irrational decisions based on emotion instead of how many dollars we will make.

m K's picture

It has the same sensor as the flagship D4 ($6,000) but sells for less than $3,000?!!! ... SOLD!!!

I enjoyed the video but I think the headline for this article is a little harsh. I've owned 4 canon bodies from a t2i to a 60d, 5DMk2, and then a 6D. Literally picked up a Df just 2 days ago and I love this camera more than any other dslr I've had. It 's a little bit of a bummer that it doesn't do video. But if I'm going to shoot anything professional, I much rather prefer my Blackmagic or a RED. And if I really wanna shoot a clip for personal use, I just pull out my iphone 6. Simple.

I think some of the issue is that we've become accustomed to how dslrs have been for the last couple of years. And in that case, this camera stands out like an awkward cousin. Like any other tool out there, this will not be for everybody, but it is a professional tool.

For those of you that made it all the way down this article and are looking at the Df, check out TheSnapChick's (not affiliated in any way) review on youtube. Her review and breakdown of the camera is unbaised and excellent!

To Lee- you are entitled to your opinion (which I enjoyed) but perhaps a less forward title will avoid all the hate. When you lead with bad news, it's all people hear.

Keep up the good work and I love the site.

- Cheers

Jozo Kozen's picture

Looking back on the DF, I agree it is kind of a weird camera. IMO, ALL DSLRs suck for travel (esp in foreign countries) and street photography, even crop sensors are way too protruding, conspicuous, bulky, make people flinch, scream "pro photographer" or "tourist with a lot of money" and are a pain to carry around. I find it funny when people talk about these 24-120 walk around lenses, or even 50mm walk around... the very fact you are shooting with a clunky DSLR is a non-starter. I much prefer the discrete rangefinder style cameras for street photography, always have. Just many of us had to wait years in the digital world before decent ones came out other than Leica (too expensive) became available. To this day, some of my best photos into the 2000's are from an old konica c35 rangefinder. The only time I use my DSLR these days is if I'm doing an event, portrait, landscape, wildlife, etc. I shot with a crop sensor DSLR and a 24 2.8 for awhile, but it was still a pain. It's best to have both style cameras IMO.

Richard Golonka's picture

posting in 2018 as I am looking for a used camera. Articles like this are exactly why I about to get a killer deal on the Df. Its exactly the camera I wanted, and I am so glad that someone other than fuji actually made it. If you want to take 800 pictures an hour with your eye glued to the view finder, buy any other nikon. This one is for the non-pros who just want to walk around and take pictures with a great sensor and actual manual controls. I dont care that it looks retro, I just want a real dials. Thank you Nikon for this amazing camera. Its exactly what photography needs, less focus on the professionals who write blogs like this to get hits and supplement their income, and more focus on the normal people who love photography. Sure this camera has 1 million functions like the rest of them, but if you'd rather just use the dials, you can do that too.

Lightest all metal full frame dslr that is weather sealed with real dials and an amazing sensor? Yes please.

Please write more articles about the df so the price drops even further. I would like a backup.