Someday I’m going to write a review of my Nikon Df, as I’ve done with all of my other digital cameras, and 153 film cameras (so far). That day is not today. Even though I’ve owned the Df for 18 months and have used it heavily, I have used it in program and aperture-priority modes only, shooting JPEGs, with default camera settings. My review would lack depth.
I thought that because the Df’s visible controls are just like those on a film SLR, I’d quickly figure out everything I wanted to do with this camera. I underestimated the Df. It looks like a film SLR, and in many ways it does behave like one. Yet I still haven’t mastered this camera.
At the Df’s core is the Nikon DSLR menu system with its great number of options. It was new to me, and I’m still learning it. I’ve used Canon digitals for going on 15 years now and know just what I’m doing with those menus. I can pick up any Canon digital and set it exactly as I want it. Not so with Nikon. I’m like that WordPerfect user of old who was forced to switch to Microsoft Word — I know what I want to do, but I don’t know what Word calls that function or where to find it in the menus. There may be functions I don’t know about in Word because WordPerfect doesn’t have them.
Until recently I have always set the Df at ISO 200 and turned on Auto ISO. The Df kept biasing toward shallow depth of field. Given how much documentary work I do, buildings and roadscapes and such, I often want everything to be in focus. In this image, depth of field was too shallow to bring the yellow wall into crisp focus. I was experimenting with using aperture-priority mode, and I had dialed in f/8 and ISO 200. Based on my film SLR experience I was sure that would work in this light. It didn’t.
I sometimes get a blurred foreground, as in this image. So far, I’ve only seen that with my 28-200mm zoom, however.
Other times I get what I want, as here. I struggled for a long time to figure out why. First I wondered if lens choice played the primary role. I usually shoot my 28-80 or 28-200 zoom lenses on the Df. But I’ve had this happen even with the kit 50mm f/1.8. So next I wondered whether there’s a menu setting somewhere that controls this. But as I said above, I’ve yet to deeply explore the menus.
Here, f/9 and ISO 200 gave me good sharpness to about where the building begins. You choose aperture with the small wheel on the front of the camera, by the way. You can see the f stop number change in the viewfinder’s LCD display.
What I’ve been trying lately is to set the camera at ISO 800. My film brain resists that because of the grain you get with fast films. But the Df doesn’t start to show noise until ISO 3200.
At least when I want shallow depth of field, the Df delivers big.
The other way the Df delivers big is in color. The camera just nails it, every single time. It’s extremely satisfying.
At default settings, the Df delivers natural saturation and good color fidelity. Sometimes it reminds me of Kodak Portra 400, as in this photo of my wife and our granddaughter.
Other times, the color is rich and punchy, but not overblown, as here. The full-frame sensor, the same as in the Nikon D4 pro camera, brings in gobs of detail.
The Df renders even neutral colors beautifully. No matter what I shoot with the Df, the resulting images’ colors look to me just like how I remember them.
The Df also does well in available light. I’ve yet to put it to a serious test, such as where I’d need a super-high ISO.
The 50mm lens that came with the kit performs best in low light, given its f/1.8 aperture. The Df doesn’t need to select higher ISOs as often.
Shake is a problem in available light, but that’s not unexpected. This photo looks okay at blog size but if you look at it at maximum resolution, you can see that everything’s blurred.
I very much enjoy mounting my manual-focus Nikon lenses to the Df. You do have to choose the lens’s focal length and maximum aperture in the Df, but you can save those settings as a preset.
I use my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens a lot with the Df. They are a marvelous pair. And just look at how well the Df renders purple. The digital cameras I’ve owned in the past have all struggled to get purple right.
I do enjoy moving in very close. That 55/2.8 is a gem.
I use the 55/2.8 on the Df to photograph cameras for reviews now. It’s just right.
I’m disappointed that I have yet to fully bond with this expensive camera. I expected more for my $3,000. Maybe this is one reason I have tended to buy used cameras for no more than $50 — it tempers my disappointment and frustration if don’t like it or struggle to learn it.
Additionally, I find that the Df is mighty large when I’m trying to travel light, as I did when we went to Denmark in August. My venerable Canon PowerShot S95 would have been a ton easier to pack. I was glad to have the 28-200mm zoom in Denmark, though. Tradeoffs.
I’m still on my learning curve with the Df. I will fully bond with it in time.
To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!