Photography

Eighteen months with the Nikon Df

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.

Nikon Df
Nikon FA, 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak T-Max P3200, HC-110 B, 2022

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.

On Hjelmerstald
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

I sometimes get a blurred foreground, as in this image. So far, I’ve only seen that with my 28-200mm zoom, however.

On Hjelmerstald
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

Sunset over the Toyota dealer
50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Special Edition

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.

At the Car Show
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

Garlic Scapes
28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor

The other way the Df delivers big is in color. The camera just nails it, every single time. It’s extremely satisfying.

Sheer
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

My wife and our granddaughter
28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

1967 Chevrolet Camaro
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

Mourning doves on the deck
70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

West Baden Springs Hotel
28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

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.

Free library, Downtown Indianapolis
50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Special Edition

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.

Sunset over Eagle Creek Reservoir

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.

Citrus fruits
35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor

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.

Purple flowers
55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor

I do enjoy moving in very close. That 55/2.8 is a gem.

Tulips up close
55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor

I use the 55/2.8 on the Df to photograph cameras for reviews now. It’s just right.

Pentax ME SE
55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor

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.

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23 thoughts on “Eighteen months with the Nikon Df

  1. P says:

    The Df does produce nice colors, for sure. Even though I’m a film-only photographer, I can still appreciate the Df’s color rendition. It’s vastly superior to most digitals.

    WordPerfect was way better than Word. To this day I dislike Word.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    I think the “film like” output of the Df is pretty good, and the lens mount is always the lens mount all the Nikons should have had (we all know the “lie” about Nikon lens mounts anyway, they all DON’T fit on all camera bodies, and all bodies don’t take all lenses)…

    I will say tho, that I spent a lot of time early in the digital era with Canon, and appreciated them, but bought a Nikon myself for my first, and was disappointed with the confusion of settings, etc. My first Nikon “pro” had 9 sharpness settings, none of which could be “discerned” on my computer screen, and after taking a picture at each setting and printing it out, the most “film like” one was near the top, not in the middle. Nikon engineers were involved in the “overkill” of features thing, making their cameras non-intuitive. All I wan t out of a camera is to work like a film camera, and the “norm” settings to give me a result exactly like film…if you want anything else, you do it on the RAW file in post…

    • I always think about Ken Rockwell’s Nikon lens compatibility chart. It’s huge.

      Maybe that’s it: I’m not taking to the Nikon menus because they’re needlessly complicated. I remember not having nearly this much trouble learning the Canon menus years ago.

  3. Theron says:

    Complicated menus? Oh please! Get yourself an Olympus M4/3 camera and 18 months will seem like an accelerated learner’s course!

  4. Menus just get worse and worse. Modern (ish) cameras can do amazing things, but I always feel like I’m missing something – especially on the Sony FFs. In film days fast lenses were a must for the low light work I did- but the low noise high ISOs, of digital changed all that. Nevertheless with the Df I use the 85mm 1.4 Nikkor and the Sigma 35mm 1.2 in small clubs, and love the results!

    • In the digital era, the lens you choose is more about its qualities: the DOF you can get, the sharpness, the bokeh, the color rendition, etc., than it is the aperture!

  5. I also don’t want to fall victim to ‘fogeydom’ It took years for me to master film cameras and numerous wok arounds- why should I resent devoting time to figuring out digital units? They look like the cameras we used, but they are a lot different- activating some dormant brain cells may not be fun at first, but worth it..

  6. Greetings
    I totally understand you’re dilemma. I had a similar situation with my Nikon D500. My problems with focus were resolved by selection focus release in one of the myriad menus😳. I really enjoy using it for colour work, but I like my film even more now.
    Andrew

    • Even though I wrote manuals for a living early in my career, I’ve always felt like reading the manual is admitting defeat. I will have to admit defeat with the Df and, as is said in my world, RTFM – read the frigging manual.

  7. Michael says:

    Would love to have a smaller digital that did purples well, but not willing to pay anywhere near 3K for it. :(

  8. Hmmm, very interesting! I am toying with the idea of getting a Panasonic S5 to complement my film gear (my son works for Panasonic so I can get a good deal) and it certainly is capable of amazing things. I have had a play, and the menus did seem straightforward, but it will be a bid learning curve also. The Canon I have now is pretty basic, but at least I know where most controls are and what they do. And I have used the same film camera for nearly forty years, so everything is second nature and the camera becomes invisible. Which I quite like!

    • I think what we all want is for the camera to just be set as we like it so we can pick it up, set focus/aperture/shutter, and make images. That’s the problem with digitals: so much to know to set it up as we want it.

  9. The Df is one of the few digital cameras I’ve considered buying. Mostly because it looks so much like my film FE. In my mind, I fantasized that it would be as simple to use as the FE. I hate those menus. The only serious digital camera I had was my Leica M9. The Leica menus are not overly complicated but I still fumbled around a great deal. That Leica made beautiful pictures, but selling it and the Summicron lens financed a whole lot of film gear. I’ve pretty much decided to stay analog except for my iPhone 12 mini camera that is.

    • The journey I’m on is exploring the camera’s menu settings so I can figure out how I want it set to get the results I want. This is how the Df is different from the FE. With the FE, it’s ISO/aperture/shutter/focus and that’s it. But once I find the right settings on the Df, then I will be able to just set the basic settings for my subject and make good photos.

    • I was a Word user way back, but then long story short I transitioned to WordPerfect for a while. Then I transitioned back to Word, but in the meantime they did away with menus for the dreaded Ribbon. TWO frustrating relearnings of everything.

  10. Df is really nice camera, especially when it comes to battery life during night long exposure photography. Maybe the front wheel a bit stiff to adjust with one finder. Also, lack of accessories. Wasn’t able to find good L-bracket for it.

    Shooting jpeg (or raw) with Standard color profile and talking about color rendition? I don’t know. It only means that Nikon engineers were able to find settings which can please most of people.

    I personally, have disabled all in-camera adjustments to the photos and prefer to work with “raw” raw files.

    Interestingly, kit 24-120mm lens performs really good when attached to Df, but less sharp and has a lot of aberrations when used on D750 for example.

    • I will eventually shoot this camera in raw, but because I shoot in volume it leads to a ton of post processing. JPEG helps me avoid a lot of that, which is why I’m so pleased the color rendition is pleasing.

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