A rare luxury purchase

61 comments on A rare luxury purchase
4 minutes

I bought a Nikon Df DSLR.

I’ve wanted one since they were introduced in 2013, but the price tag chased me away. But when I started my new job, my wife encouraged me to buy myself something very nice to mark the transition. Not only is my new job exactly the position I’ve wanted for years — being selected felt like a serious validation of what I bring to the table as a leader of software engineers — but it came with a healthy pay increase. I’m not normally given over to extravagant purchases for myself, but I went ahead this time. I could have bought myself any number of other things. For example, for years I’ve wanted a fine Swiss watch. But it appears that Nikon might have recently discontinued the Df. Stock was low everywhere, especially in silver over black. If I wanted a new Df, this was probably my last chance.

My Nikon Df

This purchase was far more emotional than rational, but here are all of the allegedly rational reasons for owning this Df. It looks and operates very much like one of Nikon’s film SLRs from the late ’70s and early ’80s. It also takes all of my manual-focus Nikkor lenses with very little fuss. If I still had any pre-AI lenses, I could mount them on the Df no problem. When you mount a non-AF lens you have to use aperture-priority or manual-exposure modes, but the meter works perfectly. The Df is a smashing fit for the way I like to make photographs.

Even though the Df was first manufactured eight years ago, an eternity in digital-camera history, it’s still modern enough for me. Its full-frame sensor grabs gobs of detail. Newer full-frame sensors have more than this one’s 16 megapixels, but the 4920×3280-pixel images this camera delivers are more than large enough for my purposes. Really, I bought this camera primarily because of how it functions in my hands.

My Df came with a 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Special Edition lens. It has aspherical elements to eliminate lens aberrations, not that my eye is sophisticated enough to see it. Here are a couple shots I made with it.


I mounted my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor for a few photographs. I had to input the focal length and maximum aperture into the Df, but not only was it not hard, but I was also able to assign it to a preset for the next time I use this lens. The viewfinder doesn’t offer a split prism, my favorite way to focus. But the LCD offers a > O < display to show when you’ve locked focus. You keep adjusting focus until the > and < fall away and only the O is lit. It worked smoothly enough.

Citrus fruits

Our granddaughter came over to visit. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-4.5G AF Nikkor, an inexpensive kit lens that came with the N65 I used to own. I’ve always had excellent luck with that kit zoom. I shot 150 photos that morning. This camera is super fast! Hit the button and it’s immediately ready to go again. I was easily able to keep up with our speedy little granddaughter.

My wife and our granddaughter

This purchase relegates my beloved Canon PowerShot S95 to backup camera status. It served well for more than ten years. I hope to get twenty years or more from the Df.

I’m excited to be able to use my manual-focus Nikkor lenses on this camera so easily. But at age 53 my eyes aren’t as good as they were just a few years ago. I feel a slight struggle to focus on fine details, a struggle that didn’t used to be there. I’m sure that at some point, hopefully many years in the future, I’ll find myself unable to see the focus aids in my film SLRs’ viewfinders. At that point I may need to say goodbye to my manual-focus cameras. Thanks to the Df, I won’t have to also say goodbye to the usability I’ve come to be used to with them, or to my small collection of good manual-focus Nikkor lenses.

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61 responses to “A rare luxury purchase”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Congrats! I’ve always coveted this camera, back when I had a bunch of Nikon stuff, all cleaned out now, tho! I have to say, this is the lens mount that should have been available on all Nikon professional equipment, and the one thing that interested me about the camera!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What I like most is the film SLR usability. I’ve never fully taken to the modern DSLR idiom.

  2. brandib1977 Avatar

    I would love to have none of these. Nice results! Also, congrats on that job! I am happy for you!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks on both counts!

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    As you know Jim, I have followed you here for years, through ups and downs and forced frugality. Great to see you finally treating yourself and…nice choice!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you my friend! Had you not started me down the Nikon path, this would never have been a reality. Thanks!

  4. retrocrank Avatar

    Congratulations, Jim – you go around only once and you’ve worked hard to deserve this, I’m very happy for you. But. I have one concern – – – does now having a DSLR that looks and handles like a film camera mean the film photography will be backburnered?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Naw. I might shoot less film at first while I get to know the Df, but I still love my film cameras and the film look and will keep going with film.

  5. Ivan Pilov Avatar

    first of all, congrats on the purchase!
    i remember this camera coming out and i thought it could be my ideal digital/film combo, exactly for the reasons you mention. that was until fuji arrived with their x100 series. now if i ever buy a digital camera it’s going to be fuji.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You can hardly go wrong with an X100.

  6. Christopher May Avatar
    Christopher May

    Congratulations! I tested one of those briefly during a test drive event at the Denver Zoo and really liked it. The low light abilities were wonderful and the camera just felt right in my hands. The ability to use non-AI glass is a real boon, too. I’ve home converted a couple of non-AI lenses to AI. It’s not hard but part of me feels a little twinge of pain every time I do a home conversion. Thankfully, now that I’ve switched to Nikon mirrorless, the non-AI world is available without conversions, too.

    I look forward to seeing what you produce with the camera. It should be a wonderful companion for your journeys!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m very happy with the Df’s low-light performance. At five-digit ISOs there’s noise, but it’s pleasant and not intrusive. My wife and I are taking a long weekend away soon and the Df will be along for that trip!

  7. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Must be the influence of the moon. Or something.
    Nice looking machine; definitely has a film camera appearance.
    A little self-indulgence does you good from time to time.
    I just hope WordPress holds up for my next ‘reveal’.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t indulge myself this heavily very often at all — it’s not my style. But I will never regret owning this camera!

  8. Kurt Ingham Avatar
    Kurt Ingham

    I use Sony mirrorless because I love to play with adapted lenses. But my wife has a Nikon Df and I consider it my very favorite digital camera. Intuitive in a way the Sonys never are

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad to know your impression. Any time you buy something like this you always hope you didn’t miss out on something better. Sounds like I didn’t, as pertains to Sony!

  9. tbm3fan Avatar

    Ah, but the Canon S95 can fit into a shirt pocket. In order to carry this around you’re going to need to buy some cargo pants.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      True. I’m thinking my iPhone 12 might be my pocket camera now, since it’s always in my pocket. We will see.

  10. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    The Df is the only dslr I own currently. I bought mine in 2015, and it was primarily used for street photography. I would love an update but that will probably not occur.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What would you update to?

      1. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

        I am referring to the Df itself. I would want Nikon to entertain the idea of making it the size of an FM3a or any of the original F cameras. It could be mirrorless and include the latest 20-megapixel sensor or the sensor currently in the Nikon Z5 or Z6. It would not have the screen on the back of the camera. Those who want to see their images can do that in the viewfinder.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          That would be wicked cool!

  11. jim Avatar

    I have a D700 and love using my old nikkors on it. Even with maco lenses i found the manual focus confirmation you described to be dead on. I wish Sony had some thing like that, not just focus peaking, because you can adapt any lenses to them! Have fun!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad to know that the focus confirmation works well! I’m looking forward to expanding my AI/AI-s Nikkor collection to use with the Df.

  12. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    Oh wow, the Df! Lucky you! How is it for you as a daily duty walk around, take everywhere kind of camera? I remember when it came out, being interested in that aspect of it, the size of the body, as that was a time when portability and weight started to become a bigger issue for me and I had to make some kind of change from what I’d been using. Can’t recollect about the Df now that it has been a few years. Love the silver and black! My fuji xt2 is silver and black. the big Nikon letters on the front are what really give it a retro look even more than the silver and black, IMHO.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve not taken it on a serious photo walk yet, so my impressions are early. But it’s comfortable slung over the shoulder and the controls are all where my mind wants them to be. My wife and I are taking a long weekend trip soon, and that’s where I’ll put the Df through its paces for real.

  13. thedullchannel Avatar

    When it came out I thought it to be an impractical camera. I still believe so. But then…this is a camera one buys to enjoy…a beautiful object. It is like concept car in a way. Have fun with it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      And I’m enjoying it very much!

  14. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    That looks like a lovely bit of kit. My G.A.S. is being triggered…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When you check the price, you will be un-triggered.

      1. Christopher May Avatar
        Christopher May

        Goodness, you’re not kidding about that! This post kind of triggered my GAS a bit too and I thought it might be fun to pick one of those up to add to the digital arsenal. Good night! That is a digital camera that has kept its value remarkably well. At this stage of its life cycle, I was expecting them to be at D750 level pricing. Both new and used copies are way, way above what I thought they’d be at. I wish my D600 and D800 had kept their value the same way!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I found some used examples for under $2k, and I considered going that way. But I decided to just pay full new price to get a camera fully under warranty. If I were not deliberately treating myself, there’s no way I would bought even a used one.

      2. fishyfisharcade Avatar

        Ha! I’ll put it on my “things to buy when I win the lottery” list. :)

  15. dionyb Avatar

    Nice purchase! Hey man whatever floats your boat!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Df definitely does!

  16. Victor Villaseñor Avatar
    Victor Villaseñor

    Congrats on the digital ! I use a sony A7 first Gen ( the one with the shutter release on the top plate, just like your df) it’s my go to for enjoying the 35mm film lenses I own. With no in body stabilizer i think of it as an endless film camera. I’m sure you’ll have fun with it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure your A7 is terrific! I do kind of wonder if I should have chosen a mirrorless instead. But I’m sure I’ll love the Df for years to come.

      1. Victor Villaseñor Avatar
        Victor Villaseñor

        Well If I were a Nikon shooter and already had the glass.. the DF makes lots of sense, plus look at that thing, it’s gorgeous! I’m really torn on which one I like more, the all black one or the classy silver one you picked. You cant really say that of recent (35mm full frame) mirroless cameras.

        I went with mirrorless as I can use pretty much any lens system on it, I only own
        2 native lenses for it, a 35mm and an 55mm, that eye-AF is a thing to behold, all other uses are covered with adapted glass.

        Evil seedling of an idea: Time to revisit some roads with a far better digital camera than a Canon PowerShot S95?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          The silver one was hard to find. Black ones were much more available. I would have come to be happy with a black one, but the silver one is just so gorgeous.

          Oh yes, definitely time to revisit some roads with the Df! I might borrow my wife’s 28-300 lens for the trips!

  17. Sam Avatar

    Hi Jim! I was so awestruck because I know you usually don’t make these high ticket purchases that I had to comment!

    First of all, congrats! The Nikon DF is certainly a very desirable camera. Second I want to make an admission, first time I’ve mentioned it anywhere, but I picked up one too last summer! Made enough money from working overtime during the pandemic and I saw a great deal. Just like you I’ve always wanted one since 2013!

    Still haven’t really put it through its paces and I’m not doing a review any time soon so I look forward to your impressions.

    For me thus far, I’m not enjoying the dials and using manual lenses on this as much as I thought I would. I think it’s my aging eyes.

    Positives…it’s beautiful and produces superb images!

    Again, happy to see you finally splurge a little and looking forward to your impressions. Congrats!! 😎✊🏻

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam! The dials are working fine for me. We will see how it goes as I try my MF lenses on it — I’ve made only a handful of photos that way so far.

  18. Katie Yang Avatar

    Congratulations on the buy! You make me feel excited at the prospect of one day being excited about owning a digital camera again. :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Someone else I follow owns a Df and for some reason I thought it was you! I can see I am mistaken!

      1. Katie Yang Avatar

        Is this the universe telling me I need to get one…?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          The universe has never spoken to anyone through my blog before, but if this is the first time perhaps you should pay heed!

  19. arhphotographic Avatar

    First there was the three all manual cameras. Then there were the five semi automatic cameras. The force field surrounding my wallet remained intact. But then this, the df, like some kind of Klingon disrupter beam! Shields down to 10% but holding🤨

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hard to starboard! Evasive maneuvers! :-)

  20. arhphotographic Avatar

    Is resistance useless?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  21. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    I thought the Df was butt fugly when it first came out, but the more I see it the less I think so. Is it about the size of an F80 or F100?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s slightly smaller, about 10cm narrower and 3cm shorter. It feels good in the hand.

  22. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Looks like a nice camera :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is!

  23. kevinallan Avatar

    Does it have an adjustable diopter viewfinder ? My entry-level Nikon D3300 has one and it means I don’t have to juggle two pairs of spectacles to use it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It does! Such a helpful feature.

  24. The Leica Shootist Avatar

    Having just read about your purchase, I don’t feel quite so guilty about buying a digital now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      No need to feel guilty about that!

  25. The Leica Shootist Avatar

    I’ve had a lot of doubts whether or not I should have purchased the digital and can’t help feeling that I’m being lazy by using it instead of a film camera.

    1. Christopher May Avatar
      Christopher May

      Maybe on some levels, digital is easier and thereby more lazy than film. Still, getting from the point of capture to a finely executed print takes a large commitment of time both in the minutes to hours of actual processing but also in the months to years of learning how to get the most from the digital tools. It’s not quite as simple as hitting the print button on the Epson.

      I happily shoot both film and digital and use the strengths of each to make me a better photographer in total. If you pick up the digital camera with the mindset that you’re going out to make pictures that allow you to express yourself and/or that you’re going out to use digital’s strengths to learn about light and composition in ways that will benefit your film photography, I don’t think there’s anything lazy about it.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Feh. Shoot whatever camera makes you happy!

      1. The Leica Shootist Avatar

        Feh …thanks Jim.

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