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

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

Yes, it finally is the successor of the D700 (D3 chip), one that I've been waiting for since D4 came out.

I love the look but am worried about the ergonomics too.
Biggest problem: next to my D800 I want a second body like D4 (or D700) that can give me 8 or more fps. I am an allround photographer, and sometimes you really need that the occanional sports- or 'drive-by' car-photography..

Took my D800 to the World Solar Challenge, absolutely loved it, and the 36 Mp is nice, but 4 fps ruined it sometimes. 5,5 fps...
Give it a batterypack and 8 fps and it's sold

I sort of agree with many points raised but otherwise completely disagree. I am a long time Canon shooter with various pro bodies and a full suite of heavy L series glass. Love Canon (sometimes love to hate) and for commercial work it meets a need, it is easy to use, very very good it terms of quality, handling etc. But it is heavy. I recently bought a full suite of Fuji gear, X100s and XPro with all the lenses. Why....I couldn't be bothered and therefore never did take my Canon gear anywhere when I was off the clock. I had lost the romance and love of photography, the very things that set me on this path in the first place. I didn't necessarily buy the Fuji gear for the retro styling alone (although it did have an influence) I saw both as cameras that happen to be electronic gadgets rather than the offerings from others that are very definitely electronic gadgets that happen to be cameras. With the retro styling has come a simplicity that allows picture taking to get back to the basics. The Fujis basically have three dials, aperture ring, LOVE IT, shutter speed, LOVE IT and exp comp , great. Sure there are a lot of other settings and adjusters and hidden IQ but I just love the simplicity of those 3. Sure everything slows down a bit without the infinite ergonomic/button/dial/switch configurability with the pro end DSLR's but for personal work the Fujis are a dream. There is much more of a connection between me, the camera and the subject...why......who knows. This is not about Fuji but it is about the styling of the Nikon and those dials...why dials...they are very very easy to adjust and very very easy to see at a glance where things are at. And obviously intuitive. I won't buy a Nikon anytime soon but I think, hipster retro styling aside, this will be a winner. From personal experience I think users will love the simplicity that comes with using a camera like this, whether that is as a result of the retro styling I'm not sure, I know I enjoy photography a lot more because of the simplicity of the Fuji's. Just enjoy it for what it will hopefully be, a simple to use, good quality full frame DSLR that won't break the bank or the back.

woah, a little negative there. I love this camera, for the exact same reason I love my old fishing rods (and no i'm not old), and for the very reason you mention above, I'm a photographer. I love the process of taking photos, this is why along with my D7100 I still have, use & love my 1958 Rollicord - sometimes the process of taking an image is more important than a pixel war or ergonomic this & that. Personally if I had the spare cash I'd be ordering one the second it went on sale.

yeah well but you are a poor sod...

Interesting article. However, I think that in many ways this camera (and ones like it) do present not just a fashion statement but more so a practical improvement.

How? Well as a big fan and owner of the X100 I know you can easily get away with much more carrying it around then if you had a huge D4 in your hands. Only photographers know the difference at first glance between an old FM3 film camera and one of these. People are less intimidated, you aren't seen as a photographer because it doesn't look like you have an expensive camera, you are maybe seen as a hipster at most.
It is also very useful for situations where you're worried about theft.

I know there is a point where this cameras will get so popular that those two reasons become invalid at some point and I do believe that Nikon is jumping on board a little late, but I'll still be considering getting this camera.

I'll join the chorus and say that the tone of the article, especially the headline, is as overboard as the amount of hype surrounding the camera and the price it looks like it'll bear.

The article, in general, makes sweeping statements about the universal appeal/applicability of the DF, but bases a lot of these sweeping statements upon your personal preferences. And it comes from the perspective that the camera is meant to have mass-market appeal/utility. Think of it as a camera with presumed niche appeal and I think it makes a lot of sense. The camera makes a lot of sense, just not to a lot of people.

A few specifics:
1. You say stuff like "pro" M43 makes no sense to you because you either want maximum pocketability with your phone's camera or highest quality with your pro D-SLR. But a vast bulk of people think there's a multitude of valid compromises in between those two extremes of the size/quality spectrum.
2. Sure, an f/2.8 zoom will be odd on this, but fixed lenses won't. Especially older Nikkors primes. I think the camera is actually aimed at people who have older lenses and who are perfectly happy to manually control them as much as possible, and for them the DF makes a great complement in style and size.
3. You say you would like a dedicated Aperture dial on the body, along with Shutter, ISO, etc. But what camera with interchangeable lenses has such a thing? That's for the lens. And if one uses pre-G lenses, then one will have a dedicated Aperture dial where it's supposed to be.
4. Agree that the use of a mechanical remote shutter release is silly, but: A) having the release thread doesn't mean it won't take an IR or other modern remote release, and B) some people actually prefer the simplicity of the old manual releases.
5. I agree it should be able to shoot video, but only without dedicating any physical controls to the video function, aside from a mode dial setting. But also: A) you would be surprised how many people actually cry out for removal of video, as if detracts from the camera. I think it's odd, but there are a lot of these people. B) What do you mean by "video is the future"? That all cameras will eventually be primarily for video and stills will be secondary? I think most people would disagree strongly. C) Your comment regarding a $5K digital pinhole camera combines the logical fallacies of Slippery Slope and Reductio Ad Absurdum arguments.
I think your general beef is with what many see as retro fashion in a lot of cameras. You seem to think people buy ostensibly retro-looking cameras primarily because of the way they look. But I don't think reality bears that out. I think people who own, use, and love their Oly OM-D and Fuji X-Series love the way their cameras look, but more importantly, they love the overall ergonomics and the photographic output.

I think a lot of DF owners will feel the same about their DF. There won't be a lot of these folks, in comparison to D800 et al owners, but this is the right camera for a lot of people.

Imagine if this camera cost $1,500. How would you feel about it, then? And if your opinion would change, radically, with a radically lower price, then consider what that says about the validity of your non-price criticisms...

"And if your opinion would change, radically, with a radically lower price, then consider what that says about the validity of your non-price criticisms..."

I think you nailed it.

"I think your general beef is with what many see as retro fashion in a lot of cameras."

There it is.

The title of this article should be "I hate people who buy retro looking cameras because it makes them look cool"

Well I liked the article.

this camera looks ugly and cost too much.period.

Great write up, this and the gigundus price point is making me re-think my decision to buy one. The honeymoon is over from the first 'leaked' photos and unless the price drops over 1k I will more than likley be passing...

Here's how I see this. Nikon D4 $6000 Nikon Df $3000... same sensor. When i got back into photography I looked at the D7000 v D5100 same sensor but one was cheeper. Personally I don't need professional features like weather sealing, high fps, etc. All I wanted was a good sensor.
So for those of you that are looking for a good sensor, then here you go.

do you think the sensor makes the price.. how long do you take digital pictures?
get a clue what your talking about.
it´s a 16 MP sensor in a crappy body... you cant compare that to the D4.
but i guess nikon expected the noobs to think exactly that way.....

michael guttman's picture

of course sensor is a big factor in price. Why is a 7100 cheaper than a 610?

apples and oranges.
aps-c is not FF... google the difference!
and the sensor DOES NOT MAKE A 3500-4000$ difference.
really sad that i have to tell you that.

michael guttman's picture

really sad that you missed my point.

And this is why the Df can be sold at half the price of the D4, yet the two have the same sensor and image processor. So if someone wanted the high iso ability of the D4 but does not want to pay 6000, here is a rather idiosyncratic option. Thats the point that was trying to be made.

And why is the D800 $1000 more than the D610? It's not the sensor.

michael guttman's picture

I said big factor, not the only. Besides D800 and D610 use different sensors.

"As a reminder, the most expensive part in a DSLR is the sensor. While
full frame sensors have come down in price, every time they do, a crop
sensor should come down in price by as much as a factor of eight."

Well aren't you a lovely fellow. These two cameras are directly comparable because the two are using the same sensor and image processor [source is, well, everyone]. Rather than insulting people, you could try to engage in conversation. Sadly this takes a certain level of maturity, that judging by your other comments you have a deficit of.
side note:
I happily enjoy taking pictures with my cheep camera, and thats all that really matters. Frankly if nikon wants to keep my business they need to make some more interesting DX lenses, because right now its the 3rd party manufactures that have the most compelling lens options for DX.

i'm not excited at all with this camera, if it were meant to be lighter, than nikon should have lighter FF lenses. This camera has nothing about the pleasure of making a photograph, bla bla bla. This camera is a gimmick. The only thing is the sensor wich i think is perfect balance between MP and low ight performance, then only 5 fps, 1/4000, 39 AF. And this camera for me is FUGLY, D4 and D800 are much more beatifull. If we include the price of this thing in the context, REALLY?
And many nikon ultraloyal (blind) customers will buy it. I use nikon but i'm just about to sell everything and get a fuji combo. Better colors out of the camera, much smaller, very good resolution and lenses. Sorry nikon, but after d7000 fiasco, d600 fiasco, d800 fiasco, in not assuming the problems that was known from everybody. This is a matter of character. And your prices are OUT OF THIS WORLD from the quality perspective and performance perspective
Long live Sigma and the others that you pay a good value for the product.

I like the premise of mechanical controls and quality materials and detailing but I need to read the Df manual before I can be convinced this will be a fluid camera to operate. I would have preferred to have an "A" setting on the shutter speed dial and an aperture control ring around the lens mount with an "A" setting so I could intuitively choose between A,P,S and M settings (and eliminate the separate dial). I also wish the ISO dial could be used to quickly swap to auto ISO. It would be very cool if the ISO dial had a min and max tab that could let you dial in the auto ISO range. I'll wait and see if they got the mechanical ergonomics correct before I judge this camera. I think Nikon is being quite savvy with the Df. It should have the tactile and visual appeal that they've migrated away from over the past decades. In my opinion the F4 was the Nikon pinnacle of logical controls and the F2 was the pinnacle of build quality and design detail. The Df goes a long way toward recapturing those lost qualities. I also like that they are making the camera compatible with pre-Ai lenses - WOW! Maybe this camera will re-energize the used Nikon lens market again.

Amen, brother! I agree with everything you've said, to a fault. This camera is more about the feel of being a photographer than the actual end results. Which is fine if the DF had been priced around $1200.00, but at nearly $3K the DF is a blatant RIPOFF!

Some of the most famous photographers used simple rangefinders and made infamous imagery. The camera is a tool pure and simple. It's the skill and art instilled by the photographer that makes a great image, not the latest wizz-bang gear.

I agree that this article is a bit dramatic. I also believe that someone could just as easily write a similar article about the D800.

Is the D800 because of it's 36 mp's really making professional photographers take better pictures? Is their photography business going to flourish because it has video and 36 mp's? If anyone answered yes to those questions they're in a select few who have a need for 3' tall prints. 99.9% of professional photos sold today can be shot with an 8 year old Nikon D50 pumping out a massive 6 mp's.

I agree, What I need is this sensor on a D800 body

It's a very cool hipster oriented camera. But not if I make a living out of photography.

well said sir. Video is a free feature, why would you not include it?

We are exited because finally nikon is entering the mirrorless market; because we used to shoot whit film, yes just film, not video; we are exited because the body looks small and light so it must feel great to have that sensation again

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