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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368 Comments

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I am a professional photgrapher of 40 years and although i respect your opinion i cant agree on your comments re video and dials v buttons. The reason retro is returning is because simple is best and for us of the old school dials work better than menus and by the way iso (or asa as it was back when) was always set by dial. I dont know one photographer in my peer group who would seriously consider overlooking a good camera because it didnt have video. I think if a piece of equipment helps the user reach their goals then I 'm very thankful we have so many choices.

RUSS T.'s picture

i kinda miss the dials. :)

RUSS T.'s picture

hmmmm,
As for this thing, I am not hating it, nor am I loving it.
If it takes good pictures, and is priced right, could be worth owning. :)
ANYWHO, i am gonna wait and see what it does and how it does it before being my usual judgmental self :D

KEEP SMILING, ALL!

EDIT: just saw the price... not impressed at all..
Unless it takes amazingly better photographs as a comparable priced camera like the D800 or the canon 5D-MKIII. I'd pass on this camera body and go for one of those other mentioned beauties.:) THEY, look awesome!
( and i still want a 1dx... and a Nikon f4,, and now my wife's coming toward the computer room......so i gotta stop talkin bout new cameras....)

Did anyone pay respect for the italic comic sans? :-D Other than that, I think you missed the point on a few things. I am really excited about the upcoming announcement and I think the trend to the nostalgic is nothing new.

Mac users are still up in arms about comic sans. They hate it because it was an MS creation that took off. If Steve Jobs had introduced it first on a Mac it would have one of the greatest fonts ever.

I love this camera design. If you like, you can choose from any of the other Nikon range of camera for your needs. From D4 to compact. From dry land to water sealing. If none is for you, then try Hasselblad or GoPro. This camera isnt for u.

Jason Joseph's picture

My final thought on the preponderance of pontification that is going to inevitably continue to circle this Nikon like a buzzard:
If you can build a better camera yourself.. perhaps you should.
That is all.. now back to more creative endeavors.

=)

digital DSLR is redundant. I'll be the first in line for that $5000 pinhole camera, I just need to be told when.

What's wrong with photography today is websites and reviewers who think they know what's wrong with photography. You don't. Photography is a broad and democratic field. Get over yourselves..

Very well said Shawn.

"I’ve never heard a professional photographer complain that a camera was too big or too heavy."
Haven't been on the sidelines of NFL games, have you?
Or with a location shooter using a Sinar 8x10 for autos on the Salt Flats.
Doesn't mean we don't love the gear, but some of it IS too big and too damn heavy.

I agree with this article totally.

I have nothing against the three dials simplicity of the old Nikon FM/FE etc. but this camera does not return you to that simplicity of operation, while preserving the improvements in ergonomics made in the decades since. A top deck shutter speed dial is inferior to a thumb-wheel control. Regarding aperture control on lens or at your thumb, it's a wash. In modern DSLRs smooth and easy changing of ISO on the fly is a must, which a top deck, left-side wheel accomplishes only clumsily.

If it uses dials, it should have taken us back to 4 (or 5) dials simplicity of operation while dispensing of several of the buttons. This camera has almost all the buttons of Nikon's other full-frame DLSRs while simply bolting on a couple of dials, for ISO and exposure compensation, rather pointlessly.

Also not addressed in the cursed problem of weight and bulk which afflicts all modern DSLRs that are full frame. The old FM/FE were revolutionary because they gave you all the features of the F2 (and more, in the case of the FE) while substantially removing bulk and weight with little sacrifice of durability, and at 1/2 the price of a pro F camera. This is a 765 gramme camera body, getting closer to 900 g, nearly a kilo, with a battery. The FM/FE were 400 odd grammes. It also costs as much, almost, as most of the top end cameras, such as the D800, rather than being priced at a pleasantly low price point, as the FM/FE were in 1977.

As for bulk, the top deck view gives away the styling trick. The very top is the outline of an FM/FE top shell, accentuated in chrome, with the bulk in black, making it to appear thinner. Nikon needs to master at least some of Sony's legendary tricks of miniaturization after 15 years of manufacturing DSLRs.

This is a lazy effort by Nikon, an ugly hybrid beast, created hurriedly.

I was looking at it to replace my D700 with its D4 sensor. But at nearly 3k USD with D600's AF system, I'll bite the bullet and go with a D800 no doubt.

Funny reaction. I think your assumption about what is a "better picture" seems pretty limited. It doesn't not depend on camera, as we all know because amazing and important pictures are being made with any kind of camera since it's invention.
What is happening in the industry is a new level of segmentation and the new products are being made for specific consumers, each time smaller and smaller.
But, above all, addict camera buyers need to understand that not all cameras are made with his personal preferences in mind. It's just another camera. Don't get personally offended. :/

I guess you're jealous Nikon beat Canon to the retro DSLR punch. As soon as Canon releases one you can then wax poetically about how great the Canon retro camera is.

I wonder how many people are actually reaching the end of my article... I honestly don't hate this camera and I am a huge Nikon fan and owner. I have 3, D800s and a D600. I'm simply making a point about photography being trendy these days.

OK, fair enough. It's obvious however that this camera isn't meant to be like all the others. This is Nikon's X100. It's primarily aimed at people like myself who shot with manual cameras for decades. Most modern photographers probaly won't warm up too much to this camera, but I'm sure they'll be exceptions. Most modern photographers are used to one-handed operation shooting with little wheels to control aperture and shutter, which this body also gives you the option of shooting as such. I will be right at home with a camera like. Hopefully it has the option to use an optical focusing screen and it will be complete.

The only truly bogus thing about this new camera is that lame lens. If they had put an F-stop ring on it I would have said, OK, totally cool! But that lens is totally lame.

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.

You just lost all credibility when you wrote this. For the majority of people who shoot film, thisnis just insulting and childish. A bit like this article. Grow up.

Have you "gone out and bought film cameras recently because you are “too artistic” to use digital". No? then I wasn't talking about you. I'm talking about this person:

http://verybadfrog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Hipster-series-Photogr...

This is just a half naked girl holding a prop. What's this got to do with your flimsy argument?

She is holding a camera as a fashion statement

This is such a terrible example to back up your argument. If she was holding a paintbrush, would you insult all artists who still use paint and a canvas when they could do their work on an iPad?

You need to be careful when you go off on a rant, tarnishing people who still love shooting film, for whatever those reasons maybe. If that wasn't your intention, then that's fine. But it certinaly didn't come across that way.

I'm not attacking people who shoot film. I'm attacking people who shoot film because it makes them feel cool. After writing this article and then reading the comments I realize that I don't like controversy very much. I think I'll go back to writing How Tos :)

Patrick Hall's picture

Isn't one of our assistants now part of this shoot film cause it's cool group? Personally I prefer knowing my images are out of focus or over exposed rather than blowing a whole shoot.

a photographer trained and practiced in their craft never needed to see his images to know they were in focus and properly exposed in the past... (there were polaroid backs for extreme situations). i'm just confused that today's "professionals" need this extra reassurance...

Don't give up stating what you believe because hordes disagree with you.

Patrick Hall's picture

I just watched the promo video of the older guy walking around a castle saying "every frame is meaningful again." I think that's the point....every frame is already meaningful if you want it to be. Nikon is simply selling you a new look and nothing else. If image quality and price are important, there really isn't a reason not to just buy a D800 which tests have shown out perform the D4 sensor.

I would purchase this camera in a heartbeat if it had the auto focus system like the D4 - that is the only deal breaker here.

Eric Adeleye's picture

Thank you Lee for saying what need to be said. I couldn't agree more with his article. This camera is a let down in more than one way to me. It is nothing more that a D610 repackaged in a retro body with a 16MP sensor. The Nikon DF brings nothing new to my camera bag that I can't get done with my D800. No justification for this camera to cost $2746.95. I'd be better off spending the money on glass or buying a D610.

I am in agreement with Lee also ... sad to say.

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