This guest post is by George X. Lin who recently went on a trip to Turkey and Iceland with the Nikon Df camera (click on images for larger view):
My first Dslr was the Nikon D80 and eventually I move to the full frame D700 in 2008. Since then I’ve had many opportunities to flirt around with Canon and Olympus gears, but ultimately my love for full frame, low light, and handheld photos always pulled me back to the D700.
While I understand that the Nikon Df is not the direct upgrade of the D700, I saw many similarities. They both have the same sensor as their big sisters, less expensive and lighter. The weight of the Df caught me off guard. It was like holding my first (D80) except with none of the weight of the d700. She takes all F mount lens, has more Mp and better low/high ISO performance as my d700 (at least on paper). It seemed like a good match. The image quality is superb and high iso performance allows me to see things in the dark. As you can see in many of the photos of Turkey, the subjects came out very sharp. But with great power comes great responsibilities. With, 16mp, I could no longer handheld at 1/15 on my wide shots (17-35mm) because the slightest movement would show blur at 100%. In Istanbul, I was fighting my camera to take shot with a passerby walking next to a sleeping dog. I can only imagine what it would have been like had a purchased the D800 and have to do with 36mp. Many places in Turkey did not allow tripods. I was forced many times to shoot with my camera in creative positions or tried not bumping the ISO beyond 6400 which makes most shots worthless. Regardless of title “Duke of Low Light” DXo Mark gives this camera, I personally find it more difficult to produce sharp images handheld in low light without severely downsizing the photos. I guess she’s better than the d700, but only marginally. And in the end, an upgrade is an upgrade regardless.
The look and feel of the camera is excellent. I have a thing for the black one because in the old days, they cost more to get it in black. In addition, it's more discrete and I had read Nikon produced a lot more silver versions. I keep an eye out for rare beauty. However, I think Nikon should have made the camera shorter to preserve the look of the fm3 but I guess there's a lot more electronics they need room for. The mini grip is a nice touch as the fm3's didn't have one but after holding her nonstop for 12 hrs a day in Istanbul, I miss the grip of the d700 and her slanted shutter button. While the Df fits my hand decently well, heavier zoom lens tends to put too much torque on my hands. As a result, the muscles in my palm started to ache near the end of the day. The camera is design for light manual prime lens. My 50mm f1.8 g and 85mm f1.4d work great with her, but my 17-35 f2.8d makes me hate her. Another troubling thing is where the right triangular strap ring is located. Every time I turn the aperture dial, I run my fingers against it. I eventually removed them and just use a quick strap. Once again like any relationship, compromise will yield better results.
On my vacation, I started to realize why the "pure photography" Ad didn't present the Df as sporty or street oriented. It's too elegant for that. It belongs in a studio for portraits or out in the wilderness for landscapes. FOR GOD SAKES, the exposure compensation wheel is locked.... And you can't program the back dial to do easy exposure compensation (ec). That makes the Df useless when you need to make quick adjustments. Because the ec wheel is lock, pressing the unlock button on top requires me to stop supporting my lens with my left hand thus contributing to extra strain on my right hand....hence the soreness. Nikon really needs to look at how Olympus on placement of dials. After a while I got smarter. I started to predict the mood swings and plan ahead for each shot. Even before I pick up the camera, I've started to think of where to meter and focus on and approximately how much ec I'd need to properly expose. By thinking ahead and reacting to predictions, the Df has made me a better photographer in general, but I think I may have started taking less shots too…..
I was surprised that even with all these dials and buttons, Nikon managed to put a lot of customization and flexibility in all the other buttons. Except ec I can't think of anything else I missed from the D700. I know many people have complained about the price of the Df. While it initially I agree, I've started to look at her differently. I purchased the d700 at the same price range. I don't remember much backlash then. With inflation between 2008 and now, I think the Df might actually be a bit cheaper. Yes she lacks video and she has the same af as the D600, but what she does have are exceptional. And in the end isn't the images that matter? She helps me create dynamic images. While there are a lot of compromises being made, I am starting to enjoy the thinking process again in creating a photo. Sometimes I wonder if Steve McCurry or Iwan Baan just pick up the camera and shoot, or do they think through about what they want and try to go out to grab it. Is photography really all about being at the right places at the right time and having some skills to capture the moment, or is there is another component where you are constantly designing and rethinking what you want based on what you see and always trying to grasp that image in your head. I think if you are the latter, then the Nikon DF may be camera for you.
I lefties out a few things.....but now I'm nip picking.
A. While advertised for 1400 shots, the battery cannot even get up to 500 shots. I charged it daily on my trip.
B. the viewfinder cap is included but should have been integrated. I ended up just leaving it in my bag.
C. There is no possibly of getting an upgrade/vertical grip.... The base of the camera was not designed with electronic plug-ins.
D. It's too pretty to use as a hammer.......
About the author:
George X. Lin is an Architect and used photography throughout his decade in school to make ends meet. He shoots mainly architecture, but uses his understanding of spatial and tectonic qualities to frame photos for engagements, portraitures and weddings. He acquired his first camera, the Olympus C 2040, when he was 16 and eventually and still shoot film mainly on the seagull Tlr and the Nikon n6006. You can find his work at www.georgexlin.com.