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. 

Ergonomics
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.
Nikon-Df-top-2
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.

Nikon-Df-front

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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Now canon has to come up with a digital F1 and start charging $3500.. someone please give a logical explanation of this camera's potential market? If I'm not wrong, this camera is not focused towards any new Nikon customers but rather people who already own Nikon FX lenses and gears and has a lot of spare money to lavish in a retro looking camera, correct? I suppose Nikon is marketing this more as a collectible for the 'Nikonians' who can afford one. The practicality and the novelty on this will die down soon..

So, are you saying people who captured the amazing masterpieces with the F, F2, FM2, etc in the past were fashionable photographers and they did not care about their pictures? Technology is only a tool, the nature of photography won't change no matter how advance the technology goes.

Tam Nguyen's picture

DAFUQ?

Wait wait wait. I'm hoping that you test one of these out Lee and not go in with a biased opinion about it. If they are tapping into what Fuji has had over the past few years then this is going to be an amazing camera. The feel of a fuji X100/(s), the placement, feel and feedback of the dials is way freakin better than my 5d and Phase. WAY BETTER. =) The EVF/OVF is amazing, showing me the image in the viewfinder for a split second so that I don't have to chimp.... It's awesome, seriously awesome. Who knows if this Nikon will have ironed out all of the details as the fujis have in the past year but if they use Fuji as a stepping stone to create something better, this camera is going to be awesome. It's about feel man, FEEL! =)

Official price is $2,750 for body only, $3,000 with the 50/1.8 lens. Anybody who buys this at this price just wants to waste money.

Looks aren't the most important factor, obviously, but they are still important. I love photography, but sadly my brain likes to chip away at that love by instilling fear of what others may think of me when I'm in a public place. Yeah, I force myself to push past this discomfort, but that takes some focus--focus I could be using to take better pictures. It also makes the experience of taking pictures (something that I'd argue is equally important as the final images, at least for hobbyists), less enjoyable. Anything that makes me look less like a "photographer" and that doesn't compromise image quality is something I'll support.

As for the dials, they probably are slower than dedicated buttons. This is not really a valid argument, but I like using the dials more. I don't know why--just do. I would also like to note that I like them without respect to their making the camera look vintage.

The lack of video does perplex me though. And I guess we'll see about the ergonomics.

This all being said, I can't afford one. And i won't be going out of my way to be able to afford one. I guess my opinions don't matter then lol. Thanks for reading anyway.

Do we actually know for a fact that it doesn't take video? Just asking.

David Arthur's picture

I personally think you went super harsh on this whole thing. What is wrong with making a camera that looks cool? Am I going to buy it solely because it looks cool. No, but some people will and thats why Nikon made it.

But at the same time, I have been looking at fuji and other 4/3 systems because of the size. When I shoot, I like to be up close and personal. And doing that with a d4 and a 24-70 is intimidating to many people. That camera is a beast. And that is often the first thing that people say when they see me with it. The downside is that I would have to buy all new lenses. My hope is that this camera will be less intimidating that a huge d4. It's not going to make the lenses any smaller, but that is why I think I might want it. It changes to a (slightly) smaller form factor and will still provide good images.

This camera isn't about speed or comfort. It's about putting time into each frame, and getting back that photography feeling that's gotten lost within this digital era.

who says it got lost... some kid in front of a webcam?

Because the technology is to blame for the lack of consideration for each frame, and not the photographer?

exactly... and I have amazing video function on my D7100, which I have never or am ever likely to use. I take freaking photos.

freaking bad photos....

and maybe you realize one day that your not the center of the universe.. even when you are fat like a black hole.

It's still digital. What makes you slow down?

Mike Yamin's picture

I wouldn't jump to conclusions before it's even released and you've had a chance to play with it. Still, I've heard plenty of photographers complain about the size and weight of their equipment, and I'm one of them. There's a reason people are excited about the A7R—it's small and light. Even though the DF isn't as small and the available Nikon lenses aren't exactly tiny, people can still choose to carry a small, light kit of primes if they want (a 35 paired with an 85 is common). Some people don't run around with a 70-200 all day.

Lee, I just read this article and I am confused with the content, is it sarcasm? I think its sarcasm.

i guess one thing all nikon user are very happy about is that this camera has NO video.
it is so much cheaper because it has no video features.
imagine what this camera would cost with video features.
hats of to nikon for this bold move!!!

and it shows that 36 MP are just gimmicks for newbies.
when it´s about pure photography then 16 MP are enough.

LoLz and it was going to be my Nikon again after a long while, but no it is too serious for me I guess.

The Df rocks imho. (see my lengthy later post) and so does the D800. For very different reasons.

Tyler Brown's picture

I am sure the Canon guys to would love to have AE-1 styled DSLR with an EOS 1-dX sensor, and I hope you Canon Guys who want such a thing get it. Cheers!!!

no the days are over...
maybe some old geezers who can barely hold a camera still will like the idea.

The AE-1 was my FIRST camera and I hated the ergonomics back then and I will most certainly despise them today. Give me my D4, D800 and D600 and never look back.

It's the price that's deal breaker for me. $2750? If I didn't own a camera, maaaybe I'd consider it, but that's not the case. I'm gonna pass on the DF and wait to see what Fuji does over the next year, especially now that Sony has raised the bar with the A7r. In the meantime, I'll enjoy my X Pro 1 & D800.

Lee... there is only ONE real problem with this camera...
And that is that Nikon went 99% of the way with it and then just quit.
Nikon took this camera back in time.. and then failed to give us the one thing that aside from film separates the old bodies from the new.. and that is one very important thing.. the thumb lever film advance!!!
HOW on Earth did they fail to recognize how much that simple action takes you back.. how it gives poise for the next frame.. how ones technique for advancing can make or break a shot.. how we used to compare the advace lever action of one camera vs. another...
No reason they couldnt have built it in, and made it optional...and yes it wouldnt be advancing anything.. but that feel... oh that feel and the sound...
Missed the boat Nikon.

Im only in my mid 20s, and I love film advance levers. I used to have an old yashica TLR, and the whole advancing the film on that, amazing. Love the clicks. The film advance lever feels like cocking a rifle. And the mechanical shutter sound, joy

It could have been used as a countdown timer perhaps even....
I was saddened to see they didnt include it.

GRATULATION TO THIS GREAT ARTICLE.
i hoped that some bloggers and magazines will say it like it is and not jump on the retro bandwaggon just because it is hip for a year.
you won a lot of respect for saying this.
imho this is a frankenstein dslr.
something i would expect from hasselblad these days.
and 2750$ is a joke.....

Convergence is not a threat to photography.

i dont understand why everyone is flipping out over the price. the D700 was $3300 brand new. its successor, the DF is retailing for $600 less. threaded shutter release makes sense for tripod use. it's instantaneous compared to a 3 second self timer delay. it doesn't need line of site like an IR remote does. someone's hating for the sake of hating, wanting this thing to fail just so they can say they were right. it fills the nitch the D700 left behind, that the D600 and D800 can't, a proper D4-lite.

D800 is a better replacement. This camera hasn't got the AF to match which is what disappoints me. To which point D600 is also better from an ergonomics POV

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