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Nikon Df: Retro DSLR worth the price?

Published on May 5, 2014 6:00 AM
 

Some call it a hipster camera. Others are disappointed by its bulk. But none will say it is not a good-looking DSLR. This is the Nikon Df.

Drawing inspiration from the Nikon FT and FM series of film SLRs of the past, the Df has a classic styling with independent mechanical dials for camera settings such as shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and shooting mode. All the dials are sited at the top of the camera.

Beside the shutter release button is a small dial to switch creative modes - Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Program.

In front, close to where your index finger grips the camera, is a separate dial for changing aperture settings. On the right side of the lens mount is a dedicated depth of field preview button and a customisable function button.

At the back are more levers, dials and dedicated buttons for functions such as Live View and white balance. With such a wealth of controls, handling is superb. But you might take a while to get used to it, as the buttons and dials are not where they usually are in a modern DSLR camera.

While Df is not as compact as the Sony a7, it is the smallest and lightest full-frame Nikon DSLR.

Being bigger allows it to have a prominent contoured grip, which gives plenty of much-needed real estate for your right hand.

The magnesium-alloy chassis, with a band of synthetic leather on the front providing a textured feel, feels solid and sturdy. It is also dust-resistant and weather-resistant.

The camera starts up and shuts down almost instantly, ensuring you will never miss a moment. Shutter lag is negligible too.

Despite its 39-point autofocusing (AF) system, AF performance is mixed. Using the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens, AF is fast and accurate in bright sunlight, but it suffers greatly - at more than 2sec - in dim lighting conditions. In really dark conditions, it may not even be able to focus at all.

Using a SD card with a write speed of 25MB per second, it is able to shoot 25 RAW images in 4.7sec before the buffer runs out. Image quality is fantastic with sharp rendition of pixels, amazing details, vibrant colours and rich dynamic range.

Image noise performance is also stellar. There are no noise artefacts until ISO 3,200. Even at ISO 12,800, where there are visible chromatic noise, images are still usable for small prints or Web. But I will not recommend going beyond ISO 12,800.

There is no need to talk about video because the Df is about "pure photography" and does not take any videos.

Battery life is quite staggering. It can take around 1,400 photos on a single charge.

  • The vintage-looking Nikon Df handles well, takes superb pictures and is certainly a looker. But it is let down by its hefty price tag and less-than-convincing AF performance.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

Background story

TECH SPECS

Price: $3,699 (body only)

Image sensor: 16.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS

Screen: 3.2-inch fixed LCD screen with 921,000 dots; optical viewfinder

Sensitivity: ISO 50 to 204,800

Shooting speed: Up to 5.5 frames per second

Weight: 710g (body with battery and memory card)


RATING

Features 3/5

Design 5/5

Performance 4/5

Value for money 2/5

Battery life 5/5

Overall 4/5