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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Lee Morris's picture

That's fair but doesn't this have an IR receiver on the front? You could use the $15 IR remote and you could do it without having a 6 inch tether.

Yes, but you're probably limited to using the timer/remote modes, at least if Nikon does that as well. Obviously it's to prevent the camera from being accidentally triggered, but it would be nice to use the shutter and IR remote interchangeably.

To me, that thing at the front looks like the 'self-portrait lamp'. Another useful feature. lol

Tyler Brown's picture

My D700 doesn't have IR sensor either, however I have never been bothered by it and I prefer to stay behind the camera than in front of it.

Zach Ashcraft's picture

"I’ve never heard a professional photographer complain that a camera was too big or too heavy." I'll make it a first - I'm a professional wedding photographer/videographer and my 5d3 is a pain to lug around all day. This is why I stinking love the RX100. Amazing quality, my phone comes nowhere close.

I am a canon shooter, but I own and love a Nikon F3. I agree with your sentiments that this camera would likely not make me a better shooter, however there is something to be said for using tools you enjoy. Photography can be fun and the tools we use can get in the way of that, I think. That being said, I love the look of this camera and would love to have one simply for enjoyment. Sadly thats not a very good reason to justify spending that much money

Lee Morris's picture

That is a very fair rebuttal but doesn't the RX100 have a built in small lens? This camera will still take huge FX lenses. The weight of the body is nothing compared to massive zoom lenses.

I completely agree with you about loving the tools you work with and I have even considered that this little camera could give me a renewed joy in shooting photography for myself again. We shall see.

Zach Ashcraft's picture

Good point on the lenses. The 5D is least fun for me to shoot with when I have my 24-70 attached. With a 50mm 1.4, its much more tolerable. As a compact camera the NIkon DF doesn't appeal to me. I do just like the look of it.

craig john's picture

But going from a D3s to a DF will certainly lighten the load. :)

Zach I'm with you on this man. I carry 2 5dmk3s with primes and zooms, damn do they hurt my arms after hours. I was hoping this Nikon would be an option for me but with how it's looking so far? Nah, I'm going straight to Fuji for those fun times.

Lee I was hoping it would be smaller and that they will bundle it with new smaller primes too, but there you go. Bummer.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

Look. The D4 sensor is good and impressive, but technically, it's old. Its performance is slightly below the D800 and my D600 sensor. So it's plain dumb to praise the DF saying you get the D4 sensor at half the price.

Unless the price tag comes in under $2000, which it won't, this is a bullsh-t camera from a bullsh-t company. I say this, too, as a long-time Nikon user who truly loves some of his old Nikon lenses and thinks their sensors are possibly the best on the market. However, Nikon's recent, bizarre marketing strategy and pricing decisions are absurd to the point of insult. (And I'm not easily offended).

The 58/1.4? The D610? GTFO, Nikon.

So, I'm switching to Canon. Lens adapters are cheap these days, so my old Nikon lenses will live on, and I'll happily do business with a company that offers far more reasonable pricing and better customer service.

You lost me, Nikon, and there will be others to follow.

Sony makes Nikon sensors, FYI.

Some of them, but not all. The D4 sensor, for instance, is fabricated for Nikon by Renesas, one of Nikon's manufacturing partners.

I use 4 settings on a camera. Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO and Focus. All the rest is crap I don't need. I would pay extra not to have any of this. If I'm pressed to find a use for the other stuff, I'll use the screen for histograms. I do not want a feature stuffed camera. Why do you? This thing looks awesome, will handle old lenses and looks like it has a decent chance of feeling good to my 80s SLR trained hands. It's quite exciting to me because it offers the sort of simple interaction with basic *photography* function that I want. Also cable releases don't require batteries or have operating temperature or long exposure issues.

What about white balance? Other than that, I pretty much agree with you.

You don't use white balance?

when you shoot RAW white balance is irrelevant

Unless you don't want to change the white balance of every picture or you are shooting tethered. You'd look rather stupid with the wrong white balance.

Your shooting too many photos than.

exactly!specially in landscape people shoot more than a hundred, but we only need ONE great image...

Setting white balance is post only becomes a problem is you have a VERY large number of images. This camera does not seem to be designed for the 1000+ wedding/sports photographer. It's an "enthusiast's" camera.

enthusiast: a person who is highly interested in a particular activity or subject.

Again an incorrect assumption, I have used the Df in several wedding shoots instead of my D3s, it handles volume shooting very well

What a load of rubbish, setting the correct white balance is essential unless you want to waste time in Lightroom or Photoshop.
This comment shows complete ignorance of the fundamental aspects of photography

You do volume shooting and adjust white balance for each and every shot?

Setting the white balance using the preset option is simple, I use an expo disc and use this each time there is a change in the location where we are shooting.
Another good option is to use Live View and adjust the kelvin value according to what your eye sees in live view.
Setting white balance correctly saves time and gives my clients a better photo.

Why, I use auto and have more control and better imagery setting WB in post.

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