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Nikon Df review

Ben Pitt
3 Feb 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2,750
inc VAT

Top marks for style and image quality, but ergonomics could be better and autofocus performance really should be

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Specifications

36x23.9mm 16.2-megapixel sensor, 1.0x zoom (50mm equivalent), 970g

Price, specs and rating based on 50mm f/1.8G kit

There's an emerging trend for digital cameras with modern internal components and a distinctly retro exterior. With the Df, Nikon has certainly got the retro part of that equation right. The angular magnesium alloy body takes its design cues from Nikon F series film cameras dating back to the 1950s. It even revives Nikon's old logo from that era.

Nikon Df

It's not just about looks, though. The Df supports virtually every Nikon F Mount lens ever made, including old manual focus (known as non-Ai) models that won't fit on other digital SLRs. It's also littered with sturdy metal dials and levers.

Nikon Df Controls

The dials on the top plate cover shutter speed, ISO speed and exposure compensation. They're not necessarily quicker to use than conventional command dials and buttons, but they're certainly more satisfying. They also provide an at-a-glance readout of the camera's current settings. The accompanying lock buttons to prevent accidental changes make these dials a little fiddly to adjust, but we got used to it during the course of the review.

The front command dial is mounted vertically rather than protruding from the camera. We found it comfortable but others have been less impressed. There are further switches for drive and metering mode, plus a curious little PASM exposure mode dial that must be lifted to unlock it. There's a generous smattering of single-function buttons, including bracket and AF-On. The latter allows the autofocus and shutter release to be invoked independently. The dedicated ISO speed dial means there's no direct access to the Auto ISO function, but we were able to assign this to the Fn button on the front of the camera.

This is the first SLR we've seen in a long time that can't record video. We can only assume that this is by design rather than necessity, as the camera has all the hardware in place to do so. The message is clear: this is a photographer's camera, and people who want to mess around with video can look elsewhere. Nikon hasn't gone so far as to exclude live view, though. There's a dedicated button to activate it, and the view can be magnified to fine-tune manual focus.

The other main thrust to the design is an attempt to cut down on the bulk and weight normally associated with a full frame camera. The handgrip is much smaller than usual, and as a result the shutter release button has been relocated to the main top plate. For us, it's a significant setback for ergonomics compared to the Nikon D610.

Nikon Df

The relocated shutter release and the various dials mean there's only room for a small LCD screen on the top of the camera. It can show the current card and battery capacities, shutter speed and aperture, but it lacks the D610's ability to display the JPEG/RAW, white balance, metering, Active D-Lighting and autofocus settings. As with various other upmarket Nikon SLRs, adjusting the white balance and JPEG/RAW quality settings involves holding down the relevant button with the left thumb and spinning the command dials. However, the Df relies on the main screen to relay these settings. It's hardly a great setback but it doesn't feel as neat as its siblings with larger LCD screens on their top plates.

Nikon Df

Nikon Df Battery

The smaller grip means less room for a battery, so the Df uses the 1230mAh battery from the Nikon D5300 rather than the D610's chunkier 1900mAh cell. Thankfully, it still manages to take 1,400 shots from a single charge – considerably more than the D610's 900 shots. There's no room for a dedicated card compartment, though. A single SDXC slot resides beside the battery compartment, which could be a pain when using a tripod. The Df also lacks an integrated flash. It's unclear whether this was done to reduce its size and weight or more for the retro design ethos.

Despite all these nips and tucks, the Df is only 85g lighter than the D610. It's 3mm shorter but 2mm wider, and while the stubby handgrip has reduced its depth by 15mm, attaching a lens cancels out this benefit. It's about the same weight as a premium cropped-sensor SLR, and certainly no featherweight model.

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