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

Well said!

I agree. I have a 2005 Triumph Bonneville. Modern components in a retro looking package. I love that bike. And it happens to be one of Triumphs best selling models for over ten years. It has great looks and great performance. Not the fastest, and it doesn't use all the tip top technology of current motorcycling, but it is a hell of a lot of fun!
That said......
I love my modern dSLRs, but I embrace options..

Well said! Would it be amazing to just have direct control of the 3 main settings and nothing else?!

Nikon DF, Fujifilm X-Pro1, Leica M240 just to name a few that bring you back to the roots of photography and not into the gear heaven.

I want them to squeeze every option they have or might ever think of in the future into my camera. It's all just tricks with software these days, things that were developed for other purposes, so if you're going to charge premium price for a camera, justify the price by throwing this stuff in. Otherwise, sell me the castrated Df for an appropriate $1500.. Movie mode? I don't use it, but some day I might. Go ahead and throw those fancy tricks in, so I can use them if I need them.

Then, second, give me a front-page personal menu. I don't care if the camera has just two dials and a button to please you Luddites (why are you even buying a digital camera, I ask?), but please give the rest of us the option of setting up the camera totally personalized to our own needs. You other guys, set that menu up blank if it keeps you happy. I won't complain about your crazy needs if you stop bitching about mine.

Some of the software I use is set up this way, with beginner and expert modes (scanners come immediately to mind). I don't know why they can't do the same with a camera. That way everyone could have exactly the camera they want, with the menu system they desire. And I'd pay real money for that, too. You Luddites--you're drooling to pay real money for this pig, so you shouldn't mind if they hide a few things for the rest of us inside it.

You obviously haven't heard of Leica.

Also you missed the point.

That's so funny. I've been using Leicas longer than you've been alive. However, if you're saying the Df is a toy for non-photographers with a lot of money, yeah, maybe we agree on that.


I really don't give two rats if you've been shooting Leica for longer than my life span.

And if you've been shooting Leica for so long you would know that Leica stands for the purist photographer, only the basics, no fancy options or any tricks, and the fun part of it all is its price, it's much higher than most cameras.

Repairs and servicing on a Leica is also stupidly high (I work at a camera service repair agent where we specialise in Leica's among other brands, we also sell them).

well said..i dont even use ISO settings..and i have my cable release all the time instead of extra battery...

But one of the things is that, with this camera, you're paying extra money to not have it. You can buy a camera with the same quality for less, a Nikon one.

The only thing i find awesome in this camera is the use of old lenses, if you have it.

Remembering of course that Nikon (and every other company) are in biz to make money. The end. Not to push photography or anything else. Money. Retro styled camera will sell. Why? Cause it looks cool. Which is the same reason people buy old cars. Mechanically they are awful and inefficient, but they look cool.

Jacob delaRosa's picture

Just a personal comment, but the aesthetics of a camera can have a huge impact on subject/photographer rapport. I own a D700 but for my personal work I carry around an old rangefinder I bought off of evil bay. People have actually walked up to me and started conversations about my camera which is a great way to break down barriers and build a relationship. And this might be just me, but I've found that strangers are a lot more receptive to having their photo taken with the rangefinder than the D700 (Nostalgia FTW?). In fact, I recall a video interview with Gregory Heisler about how gained instant rapport with Yasser Arafat simply due to the fact that his 4X5 camera reminded him of having his picture taken as a young boy.

I'm sorry to say that this post comes across as both snobbish and ignorant. Photographers do not fit into distinct categories of 'pro' and point and shooters. You cannot therefore say that such a product does not meet the needs of certain consumers and is purely for show and it is completely ridiculous that this is 'everything wrong with photography'. It is also stupid to suggest pro's don't complain about the size and weight...they do. Some people (myself included) enjoy using old metal film cameras to take great pictures. I hate the trend for black plastic cheap looking cameras with everything in menu systems. I am delighted by this camera NOT because of the aesthetic but because of the potential to enjoy using the tool which is also tactile.

Of course "pros" complain about size and weight. They complain and get serious back problems because years handling with heavy equipments. Here in Brazil, photojournalists are demanding legislation to protect or secure those photographers that get movement limitations because back problems derived from carrying heavy equipments for decades. :/

<i>"I am delighted by this camera NOT because of the aesthetic but because
of the potential to enjoy using the tool which is also tactile."</i>

So basically, you proved him right. As you are still in denial about there being any tactile advantage to this retro looking camera compared to any other modern DSLR.

During the entire time it took me to read this article, all I could think was "Jeeezzz... lighten up!" Why can't photography be fun, and why can't cameras be both good ànd pretty? Why does Fstoppers have to take everything and themselves so seriously? I for one would love this camera if I were not quite so ambitious in my job, since as it is I have problems enough to be taken seriously by the people I take portraits of, on account of my babyface and clumsiness. But if people want to take this piece of show on a professional shoot, well by all means let them.

Couldn't agree more, don't get this retro mania and major ergonomic step backwards. Looking at you too Fuji...

The ergonomics on the X100s are better than my 5dii, the 5diii's that I rent and my Phase one... The ergonomics on the fujis are amazing. If you haven't shot with one, go rent one for a week and see. It's amazing. These dslrs that haven't changed anything for years need to make a camera based on feel, which fuji has done for a few years now. It's not about the look of the camera it's about the feel.

Frederic Dupoux's picture

If you held and shot with a Nikon F2 or F3 before you'll know why this camera will be revolutionary. Nowadays DSLRs have so many buttons, features and gimmicks, it tends to take away what PHOTOGRAPHY really is. You can easily find yourself doing everything but in a mediocre way.

@RLMorrisPhoto:disqus Video is not "the future" photography and video can cohabit it's not one or the other, they can both be the same but at the same time be two different things. A Camera can be just for photography and I think that's what Nikon is pushing because nowadays no other Company is focusing on ONE thing but instead of EVERYTHING in one body.

As for specs, if killing video and other gimmicks will make this camera faster/more responding and have the same kind of focusing capabilities then a D4 or D800 then nikon will really revolutionise photography.

I just hope it's not another marketing strategy like Canon, Fuji, and Sony are doing with those retro looking camera bodies they have with either a nice sensor or a nice lens or just a nice body but overall a crappy tool.

Sometimes less is more...

Tyler Brown's picture

Well said if you want really profession video. Get a RED Epic or something of that caliber. I don't shoot video and don't plan too. I would totally rock this camera for fun and work.

Nikon made a camera without their newest technologies, and without any new ones. It has the old D4 sensor. It has Expeed 3 whereas the D5300 has Expeed 4. It has the D600 39-point AF system and not the D4's or D800's. It's old technology in an old style body. I don't mind that it doesn't have video, but I do mind that they didn't do anything new with their stills technology. This camera is a technological flop in a retro styled body.

Btw, that 39-point AF system is actually the same system that plagues my otherwise wonderful d7000 which is three years old now.

Jake Brown's picture

While I agree with a lot of your points, there is something I find interesting about returning to a more "pure" form of photography. You say:

"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."

Yes, there are tons of people buying old film cameras without the slightest idea of how they work just to look like a hipster. And this camera seems to perpetuate that stereotype... But for real "photographers," it's not about the technology or the camera, it's about the photographer holding the camera and their knowledge of lighting. The same is true for any artist. Jack White is one of the greatest guitarists alive, yet he intentionally uses broken and old guitars. He could buy any guitar he wants, but he doesn't. he relies on his musical skill and talent. I assisted at an incredbile studio this summer and we used old shutter release cables on every shoot.

I love my Canon 5D Mark III, but there is something that is interesting to me about minimizing gear and expenses and focusing on talent. This could be a great camera for someone that is entering the full-frame market and just wants photos (yeah it's pricey and there are other options, whatever) every camera has it's different pro/cons for different people. Will I get it? Nope, but I am looking at other camera systems besides my Canon. I'm excited that other companies are trying new things, and I'm sick of carrying 25 pounds of gear all day.

I don't know if there's something wrong with photography, but rather with Nikon.

Lee Morris's picture

Nikon is only creating products that are going to sell. I haven't seen this much excitement for a camera in a long time.

Good point.

Tyler Brown's picture

Everyone is going to hate. People hated the Fuji X-Trans sensor too!

paris hilton gets lot of PR too.......

Jason Ranalli's picture

Exactly. People don't understand that Nikon marketing isn't always about pleasing the enthusiast market with the latest whiz-bang features like many here want.

Nikon marketing is about selling cameras and staying in business...period. This camera isn't necessarily aimed at those people wanting a D4 in a D800 body to replace their D700...and what is so wrong with that?

This makes a niche market for them that caters to people with relatively loose pockets and a sense for retro hipster what. More power to them.

As much as I would love a D700 replacement if Nikon listened to everyone one of these folks complaining on the internet boards they would promptly be out of business. Nobody here knows anything about marketing.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Putting a 70-200 on this would be stupid, but a 35mm and an 85mm? What's wrong with that? I don't need video, I need a great travel camera that let's me shoot awesome full frame images. I love the manual controls, I love the aesthetics. Stop being contrary just to be a contrarian and generate clicks

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