Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

By David Hume

I remember the immense hype around the Nikon Df just before its release in 2013 – teaser campaigns; leaked specs, mystery mock-ups. Then came a tsunami of derision and disappointment when the Df hit the market. I was one of the disappointed ones; when I saw its bloated form in a camera-shop window I did not even bother to go inside for a closer look.

Here’s how chunky it looks compared to some of my Nikon film cameras:

Oh My Lord. Imagine if you were hoping for the “Digital FM” and you got this.
Here’s an easy way to make any 35mm camera look small – put it next to an F4.
Now this really is not fair. Someone once called the black F2 with prism finder “the best looking 35mm SLR ever made.” That someone would be me.
This puts things into perspective though: The D700 came out in 2008

So why would I buy one in 2022?

Let me explain. Firstly I have a developing obsession with the relationship between film and digital, and I wanted a full-frame dig to work with alongside my 35mm film cameras. I wanted something that was as close I could get to my Nikon SLR film bodies – and that would have to be a Nikon DSLR right?

Some of the gang. Nikon Df, Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Ai 1/6s ISO 100
Nikon F2. Nikkor 50mm f1.8 Ais. Ektachrome 100 (New)
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Nikon F4, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AFD, Ektachrome 100
Ruby and George. Nikon Df, Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Ai

Okay then – how about that D700 I’ve owned since 2008 and which is still a workhorse round-the-house and people camera? The D700 is too big and heavy to carry with me. It is such a lump. I think it’s a really great camera and I love the IQ; I love that sensor, but yeah; the weight is a deal-breaker. Or maybe I should say the weight is the excuse I used to myself for buying a Nikon Df. I also really wanted to try the Df 16MP sensor. For me the 12/16MP sensors in the D3/D4 (and hence D700/Df) are sensors from the Golden Age. I just love what the D700 gives me. I’ve shot it in Raw from the start; the D700 .NEF files are only about 10MB. How about that? The Df’s are 16-20MB – which is still okay.

Nikon Df, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AFD

I have not yet really put the Nikon Df sensor through its paces… AFAIK it’s the last in-house one before Nikon went all Sony in their FF DSLRs. I don’t want to make too much of this though; the info on the net is a bit ambiguous and I don’t want to contribute to that net no-no of repeating rumours til they get traction and become accepted. I do think though, that if you’re working on ways of post-processing it’s best to stick with one sensor. I really don’t (currently) believe that you can have a LR preset that “works for all sensors” as many claim. I like the idea that I can now just work stuff out for the FF Nikons.

Setting of the full moon. Nikon F2, 50mm f1.8 Ais, Portra 160
Setting of the full moon. Nikon Df, 50mm f 1.8 AFD Shot at 1.3s ISO 160. Also shows that you can’t really shoot dig alongside film exactly because one will get the better composition and light. In this one the moon had moved out from behind the cloud and the light was a bit harsh. Both are handheld and a bit shakey, but that does not bother me, but it’s blurrier here and maybe a bit distracting. That’s Okay – the film one is better anyway.

As an aside, I don’t know where this will send me in terms of Fuji-land. I’ve become such a Fuji fan-boy over the past ten years since starting with the original X100 then using an XE-2 for editorial travel work then moving to the X-Pro 3 for fun. I’ll have to say that another reason to try the Df was that I was not really getting what I wanted from my X-Pro 3 for landscapes recently. One reason for this is ISO. I believe you can’t simulate the look and use of film without shooting the same ISO. If you’re going to compare digital to Ektachrome 100 I think you have to shoot at 100. Portra 160 at 160 and so on. I can’t actually shoot my XP3 below 350 or thereabouts to use the Auto DR functions. Another thing is the lenses and the way the lenses play with the sensors. The Fujinon 27mm f2.8 on my XP3 was too bitey and clinically sharp. I wanted something more like my Nikkor 50s and putting a big 35 f1.4 on the XP3 makes it almost DSLR-sized.

The Nikkor 50s are my favourite lenses so why not get a body for them? This is probably a story for another day though – let’s just say I like the Nikon Df sensor and leave it at that. Looking behind the shutter and seeing that nice big sensor makes me happy.

Nikon Df

Time to talk about ergonomics.

In terms of the size and weight, the Nikon Df in the hand is not too different from a film SLR. It’s thicker than an FM or F2 of course, but it’s about the same weight as the F2 and it’s a lightweight if you compare it to an F4. The size/weight thing is really important for me, but it may not be for others. Two years ago I bought a little Billingham bag that is my travel bag. So what goes in that bag is my limit.

Some recent kits that fit this bag have been:
A: Fuji X-E2 with 27mm + Nikon FM2 with 50mm + Agfa Isolette 6×6 folder
B: Blad 503cx with 80mm + Fuji X-Pro 3 with 27mm
C: Nikon F2 with 50mm + Nikon Df with 50mm.

And I really could not take an F4 or a D700 with any other camera in that bag. So the Df works in that regard.

I think the controls of the Df actually make sense if you put them in context.

Shooting along side a 35mm SLR.

I’m currently shooting film alongside dig much of the time, and the controls and ergonomics of the Df actually make a lot of sense to me if you put the camera into an historical context. The Nikon film cameras of the time (F6, but let’s include F100 as well) were sort of like the DSLRs – control wheels and top LCDs. The Df is like a cross between that and an F4, but it also has similarities going back to the F2 and FM.

This is going to sound corny but it’s true: The first time I shot the Nikon Df alongside my F4 when I shot the Df I thought; “hey, that didn’t wind on,” before I remembered, “Oh yeah, no film.” The mirror and shutter is very F4; smooth and classy and I haven’t shot an F6 or F100 so I don’t know about them.

Some would say the top of a camera should look like this.

Controls

I’ll talk about just the specific bits of the controls as they affect me:

Shutter release and On-Off: Yeah I like it. The On-Off is like the lock ring on an F2 and the button is like an FM2. The half-press and the release are both good.

Stutter speed dial: Feels like an FM2 (but a bit rubbery in the bearing). Smoother than an FM and it’s a one-finger flick not a two-finger like the F2, F4 etc. (or you can set to a control wheel if you like).

Top LCD and the PASM dial: I’ll put these together because they’re both too small, but they need to be so they fit in. The LCD on the Nikon Df is actually handy because you can use it as a light-meter for your unmetered film camera which you are using because you’re too cool to have a metered one (coughs).  If the PASM is on A, then giving a half-press will tell you the speed too use for the aperture you’re on. (assuming you’ve set your Df ISO to your film speed)

Metering: It meters the same as my F4 – tick. So while I will expose film and dig differently, at least I have a light meter I can trust. It’s one more safety feature and one less conversion to do in my head.

PASM dial: Sure it’s small and fiddly, but as a concept I actually like it. It got a pasting on reviews of the time, but if you’ve used an F4 you see that doing it this way actually makes sense. Personally I only ever use A or M though, so your mileage may vary.

Remember that this is what Nikon DSLRs looked like at the time, and the film cameras also had control wheels.

Focus/Back-focus button: Using AFD lenses on the Nikon Df is fine, works really well and makes sense to me. I probably would not bother with my zooms though. I don’t think the Df is for people who use zooms. I only ever used back focus on the D700, but on the Df the button is a bit close to the right because the body is smaller. No dramas – I’m used to half-press focus now, so I can use that if I want to. By the way, the AF is another thing that got a pasting at the time – because it was “only” from the D600 and had less points than the D4 but seriously who would care now? It’s fine and it’s nice using the multi-press button on the back of the camera to change the focus points.

Focussing Screen/Viewfinder: It’s smaller than an F2/FM etc, same size as an F4. It’s fine for AF and a bit small for MF and also does not have a split prism. This makes it not so good for MF lenses but I can see why they did this; If you had a prism it would be really strange with all those AF points. I’ve got a split prism on my F4 and yeah, it’s better than the Df for MF lenses, but seriously if I was going to use the Df for people shots I’d probably just buy a couple of AFD primes, which are cheap anyway, and leave it at that. For landscapes or wide angle lenses, bung on your old Ais lenses and all good to go. The viewfinder display is great – like a D700 etc. Easy to read, customisable.

Menus/rear screen: They’re like the D700. I like them, but then I’m used to them. I think any talk of doing without a screen and buttons (The mythic Digital FM – queue trumpets) does not really make sense. Or it certainly did not in 2013. I guess it would now with smartphone apps to change settings on the camera, but wait for a full-frame PIXII for that I reckon. (Don’t expect it from Nikon – just look at what Nikon did with the ZDX – yikes!)

The Df is significantly smaller and lighter than the D700; significant for me, anyway.

Side Grip: Yeah, it’s nice and the Nikon Df is secure in the hand with a one-handed grip. It’s all compromises though; more secure means a bigger grip more like the D700 et all. Flatter means more like the F2 but means you always need two hands.

ISO Dial and Exposure comp: Yeah; they work. I don’t use auto ISO any more so it’s nice to have a dial to change it. Another super thing is base ISO of 100. This means you can simulate shooting 100 ISO films. I can’t see myself using the exposure comp wheel much; I’d probably just change to spot metering if things were not straightforward, but that may change.

Battery/Door: This is about the only thing that annoys me; because with no WiFi you’re always opening it to get the card out, and it’s fiddly and plasticy and feels like you’ll break it if you’re not careful. So unlike the back of the F2 and the battery door of the F4 which are sweet every time you use them; the door of the Df says “cheap!” every time you use it.

OK – what’s the point of all this then?

Ah – to USE the camera I guess…

I don’t think anyone looks at a great photographer’s work and says, “Oh man – that film stock!” Or,” Wow – what a sensor! What a camera!”  Sure, photographers have a style, but crushing the blacks in grainy B+W won’t make anyone into Anton Corbijn. I have the same type of tennis racquet that Federer used in 2001 to beat Sampras at Wimbledon but I can’t even feed a ball properly in a warm-up with it.

It’s something we need to get away from. So I guess I’m walking into a contradiction here; I’m buying a new camera to try to un-camera myself a bit. (In my defence I have now adopted a “one in – two out” rule for cameras and lenses to reduce the clutter, so my total camera numbers are down.)

I guess what it comes down to is that I wanted to simplify my film-dig shooting by removing variables. I now have the same image capture size, the same lenses, and a pretty similar shooting experience. Getting to this point meant I felt I should be using a Nikon DSLR alongside my Nikon film SLRs. The Df is the smallest, lightest FF Nikon, and the only one that is small enough for the way I like to shoot. So currently it’s the best camera for what I want. Is it a good camera? Sure. Do I like it? Jury’s still out on that one…

I love shooting film at the moment, but I don’t want to be reliant on it. A lot of this is also about learning. I think by interrogating the limits of what film can do and what dig can do I can learn to use both better; I can see both in a broader context. I’m getting better at training my eyes to evaluate a scene for how my camera will record it on both film and dig, and work out whether I’ll be able to get something I like out of that.

Nikon Df, Nikkor 50mm f 1.8 Ais 1/10s ISO 160

In the film days I used to be more evaluative of the light; spend more time looking at how the light was falling and forming the scene, and dig made me a bit sloppier in that regard; not so much with landscapes maybe, but certainly with people shots.  I’ve recovered that care in my film photography, and I hope am also getting it back with digital. It’s actually pleasing to go out for an hour looking at landscape and not make a frame at all – film or digital – because the light was not quite right. With dig there’s always the temptation to bang off a shot anyway just in case.

I’m not purist in any way about either film or digital; I happily post-process both, and I’m not trying to make my dig shots into film shots. I’m trying, I think, just to learn from both, and just make shots I like.

Thanks for reading!

If you are looking for a manual for the DF, one can be found here

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About The Author

By David Hume
David Hume is an Australian visual artist and photographer, best known for work depicting the Australian landscape. He also worked as a commercial editorial photographer for over 25 years, and has held a number of photographic exhibitions. He currently exhibits both painting and photography.
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Comments

Mike W. on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 18/05/2023

Nice article! I don't shoot Nikon much any more but I always have in the back of my mind to try a Df as I still have some Nikon lenses. My favourite 50mm was the f/1,2 AIS, brilliant lens. I also loved the last version of the non-AI 50mm f/1,4, converted to AI. I Loved my F "Apollo" in black with plain DE-1 finder (with the rubber seals taken out and replaced with foam). Regarding zoom lenses, I recommend you try the maligned 43-86mm (AI version), really nice within its limitations. Just make sure it's not "wobbly" as some are. Another cheap and great lens (and overlooked) is the 35mm Nikkor-S, which was a favourite, as was the Nikkor-H 28mm. I have a few bits to sell and was looking at another Leica-M lens, but your article has got me looking at a Df again! So maybe this time I'll get one. I agree re. the D700, I had one back along and it stayed around the house because of the size and weight, but I was always impressed by the pics I got from it. Have you had the leatherette peel off your Df? I notice on a lot for sale the leatherette is wrinkly or peeling. Cheers!
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 18/05/2023

Hey Mike - Aha Yes! I just noticed a while ago that the leatherette around the grip is a bit loose. And looking back over shots I took of the camera I think it has been a bit stretched since I got it. One of those things that I totally do not notice in use, but now I know it's there I'm aware of... If I have too much time on my hands maybe I'll look at recovering it in brown crocodile or something. And that sensor... In recent work I'm really loving how that sensor behaves at low ISOs in very low light. Pretty special I think. If you're interested I have a couple recently on my Insta.

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Ani on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 16/05/2023

A Df review, I like to search these from time to time because I've had my Df since its release. I use it weekly, my lens of choice is the 58mm F1.4, the non ai 50mm 1.4 and the 55mm 1.2. Manual focusing on the Df is fantastic and some of my favorite photographs come from my beloved 50mm and 58mm lenses. The sensor is wonderful and the image quality is top notch in my opinion. Thank you for sharing your experience with this gem of a camera, I always enjoy hearing honest reviews and experiences with this camera because so many were quick to dismiss it.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 16/05/2023

Thanks Ani! Yes, oddly enough I was just shooting the Df yesterday in VERY low light - ISO 160 and f2 at 15 seconds handheld and was marvelling at the colours and range - just the feel of the images that came off that sensor. I have not used any sensor I like more. And the manual controls allowed me to use the camera as I wished in the dark without upsetting my night vision by diving into menus. I wish is was as small as an F2 with prism finder, but hey - it's still small for a full frame DSLR. Cheers.

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Joachim Elz-Fianda on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 03/05/2023

Thank you for this passionate overview. I bought an used Df in autumn 2015 because, after using the D700 for some years, I sought for a small and light full-frame DSLR for travel, open air concerts and city shots. The Df was the only one that would fit in the place of my F90X in my compact shoulder bag. I have it in use for concert and low light photography up to now. What made me a bit angry was that the shutter broke just 1 month after ending of the warranty period and that where I waited for an open air concert featuring Patti Smith and I had no reserve camera on this occasion. Not only I missed that opportunity - I had just picked up the foregroups - but the repair was about 400€. I used Nikon cameras since 1989 like the FA, the F-501, the F90x, the FM2, the F3, the D70s and the D700 and had never any trouble with the shutters on those. Today, I use a Nikon 1V3 for travelling which is much more compact. But for low light, for concert events, the Df is really unbeatable up to now. Just a remark about the battery cover - it has the tendency to get loose if opened and to disappear. So I had to buy a new one until I found the original again. The replacements were not cheap but I think they are made from metal, not plastics as you described it.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 03/05/2023

Bad luck about your Shutter! And the battery door Joachim - They do pop off rather easily... Mine is definitely plastic (I think it is designed to pop off instead of breaking) Cheers

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Matt on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 13/03/2023

Dear David, thanks to your wise article and all the other comments on the Df here helped me a lot for the final decision in buying a nice used one in early 2023. With around 6k shutter count and 1.200 € and no signs of usage at all I think I made a good deal looking forward to shoot with. Yes it is quite expensive for a used model but for me, everything on this particular camera makes sense for my work. To share my considerations: For shooting events professionally I came from the d700 (as you and others did) looking for something extra in terms of low light capability lens compatibility and wheight. And yes, shutter sound: when you shoot with d700 everyone knows exactly where you are ;) In terms of IQ and preprocessing 16mp is for me the sweet spot. Even when you get paid for postprocessing I don't want to waste time waiting for huge files to load. So, for shooting digital, 16 MP is the best you can get in my opinion for those jobs. The handling together with smaller primes is very nice, easy to carry around the whole day. The well designed "look" of the Df raise definitely less attention than its chunky brother the d4 or even the d700 with battery grip. In the end, yes, the Df is kind of something for special purposes on one hand (which made it controversial), but on the other it's size and lens compatibility makes it something like the perfect in-between film and digital. I think there is a reason why barely used Dfs are hard to find on second hand market. Maybe you and others made the same experience that there is something like a teaching effect by those dials: using an aperture ring or the iso dial brings the settings not only to your camera but into your tactile memory. Shooting mirrorless with Sony a7iii for my day job or Olympus for Travel I really appreciate this different experience. So, as long as gear matters when it supports your goals I hope you enjoy working with that "tool" as much as I do. - Matt from Germany
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 13/03/2023

Cheers Matt - I'm glad the article was useful and I'm glad you like your Df. I continue to like using mine mine and more. You might like to see the piece I wrote more recently about using the Df with Nikkor 50mm lenses here...

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Matt replied:

Comment posted: 13/03/2023

Dear David, Well, thanks for writing so much about your personal view on both, the Df and your fifties. I really like the colors of your H version, second image and yes, the image of the f2 version is also stunning. Very atmospheric and this is what I like the most. But one question beside aesthetics: how do you decide which one to take for the next walk? For private stuff, I am glad that I do not have so much choice, a 1.8D and a creepy 1.8E, and only between focal lengths which is still enough madness seconds before going out with the kids...o wait, daddy forgot the mighty 28 for scenery shots) Cheers, M.

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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 13/03/2023

I think you're fine with the 1.8E and 1.8D... These days I seem to take the the f2H on the Df if I'm just out looking at landscapes, and then I would probably also have my F2 loaded with film with me as well. If it is an occasion where I want to take photos of the family I think I would use the Df and have the 1.4 AFD on it. I have no plans to sell the other lenses... they just sit in a drawer and don't take up too much space. Cheers.

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Nathan on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 01/08/2022

Great Article David! The DF has always piqued my interest - still does as a thing of beauty! But since getting a Fuji X100F (I sold my Nikon F3 to get that.....weep!) I think I am pretty much sold on mirrorless now as a system, and I'm saving for a GFX 100s. I work in fashion, and I have a Nikon D800 which has never let me down in terms of image quality - with my primes it produces jaw dropping images and ginormous prints. BUT, autofocus when shooting portraits is always the snag with any DSLR. There is simply not enough "focus area" in a DSLR frame where you can attain lock on eyes or faces if you want a composition that is anything other than fairly central. Yes, the massive D800 sensor allows for a lot of cropping - but then what's the point of the big sensor. Yes you can attain focus and recompose, but then you aren't guaranteed sharp focus....certainly if you're shooting with a longer lens on this body, which in and of itself is something you need to master. My biggest gripe however with all DSLR's (albeit I've only ever used Nikon) is having to calibrate my lenses. I don't think I've EVER purchased a lens that didn't require fine tuning in the body, and then retuning probably at least once a year. They are almost always back focusing and whenever you take a shot that doesn't quite hit focus, you're always left wondering if it was YOU or the lens. All these focusing gripes add up to a fairly frustrating experience when time is precious. Using my little Fuji, literally all of these issues disappear. No longer do I have to use an annoying and fiddly joystick if I want to shoot portraits - it just locks on to the nearest eye, irrespective of where the eye is in the frame, and bang! Done. The lens on the X100 is obviously fixed, but with all mirrorless bodies, calibrating lenses is no longer a problem. They all just work! As you say, camera and lens choices all ultimately come down to personal choice and what you shoot. For still life stuff, landscapes and architecture my D800 is superb (apart from its weight I guess). It just niggles me a bit when I am working with people and "need" to get that shot. Although I am not nostalgic about film necessarily, I am a full manual shooter. So if I have to jump through loops to do what should be basic tasks (like focusing!) then I do sometimes question why I am shooting digitally in the first place. The camera is a tool after all. The very best camera and lens combinations not only render beautiful images, they also get out of the way and don't hinder the process. I personally think Fuji are on the best track when it comes to a modern approach to photography. The old adage " Form follows function" is very apparent in Fuji if you are accustomed to shooting manually.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 01/08/2022

Thanks Nathan - great points and I think I agree with all of them. As I grow into the Df I'm liking it more and more. For my particular needs at the moment it's great. - but then I am shooting it alongside an F2 with prism finder that that I have loaded with Portra 160. I have 50mm lenses on both and if I set the ISO on the Df to 160 then I have a meter for my F2 as well. I'm a sucker for the Nikkor 50s and really, that's why I'm not using my Fujis much at the moment. Also, I am deliberately trying to create a slowish, semi-nostalgic process with low ISOs and just the 50mm, and this sort of works for me. I don't know what I'd do if I were shooting commercially. I shot the D700 for years after shooting an FM2 in the 90s and became so familiar with that Nikon way of doing things that it sort of stuck. I really like the Nikkor 50 f 1.4 AFD by the way - and mine seems to focus OK (I was sceptical and tested it) Yeah - Fuji is hard to beat though I think. Cheers

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Marcel on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 03/07/2022

Nice article. The Df is now out of production. Nikon is fully focussing on the Z mount. This will keep the lens factories going for a while as there was hardly any new exciting lens to be created for the F mount. The Df is a fantastic camera. Manual lenses are perfect for the Df. The old vintage lenses can be modified to even have fully metered control. Old glass is fantastic. Enjoy the Df, it will grow on you.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 03/07/2022

Thanks Marcel, Indeed, I'm finding that the Df is growing on me! I'm liking it more and more. Just today I actually tested six Nikkor 50mm lenses on it. (They were all good) I was thinking maybe I should write a better review, or expand this one a bit. Thanks for your thoughts. Al the best, David

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rubytuesdaay replied:

Comment posted: 03/07/2022

Hi David, I'm a long time Nikon lover; I've just picked up a Df to pair with my film bodies & assortment of Nikon lenses. Much like yourself it seems. I for one, would love to read your opinion of various Nikon 50's on the Df [and in general]. I now find myself with quite the selection of Nikon 50 mils to choose from & while I agree they are "all good" I would really value some of your insights on your experience with them & comparisons when used on the different mediums. Especially as I'm just starting to get to know the Df.

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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 03/07/2022

Great comment and questions Ruby - thanks! I was actually thinking of doing a little comparo of nifty 50s on the Df with thoughts on each - a "five minute guide to the nifty 50s on Df" if you like; this might inspire me. I'll see how it pans out. I agree they're "all good" but the 1.4s are quite soft wide open, so my thoughts are that unless you want that softness why bother with the extra weight... What lenses do you have? I'm thinking this roundup could be quite fun to do...

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Greg L on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 31/05/2022

Great minds think alike ! I too travel with a digital film pair that can use the same lenses on both bodies . My travel bodies are: The Nikon Df and the Nikon F6. Df - has the great D4 sensor. Has the old school dedicated dials layout that gives me the the same vibe as the Nikon FE and Nikon FM3a that i grew up with (and still use). F6 - Nikon’s SLR masterpiece. Beautiful grip. Handles great. A viewfinder superior to any Nikon DSLR. A joy to use. So with the above bodies i can bring along 3 or 4 small MF primes and I’m good to go. I still shoot slide film so I bring a few rolls of Fuji Provia 100F and Provia 400x that i bought a ton of 8 years ago and stashed in the freezer. I recently added some Kodak Ektachrome to the freezer too. I average about 6 rolls of film per year. I need to shoot more film than I currently do. Both the the Df and F6 support Nikon’s iTTL modern flash so I can use my little SB-400 flash on both bodies too. Great for indoors and for outdoor fill flash. The only autofocus lens I ever use is the excellent small 50mm 1.8 AF-D - just like yours. Also have that 50mm 1.8 AIS pancake lens. And I still have the first DSLR I ever bought - the classic Nikon D700. Pro body, built like a tank, has the great D3 sensor. I don’t travel with it anymore but I still use it occasionally. Still produces wonderful images. And yes there is something special about those D3 and D4 sensors. I shoot manual focus Nikkors 99% of the time on all the above cameras. I enjoy shooting both film and digital. I grew up shooting film and it is fun to shoot a few rolls every year. As long as i can shoot a few rolls and get them developed and scanned in a lab I don’t think I ‘ll ever stop. I think film and digital are complimentary. It creates a good mindset to shoot both in my humble opinion. And it's fun. So keep doing what your doing. I think it’s awesome to be able to do both with a lot of the same glass. Happy shooting! Cheers, Greg
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 31/05/2022

Cheers Greg - thanks for your thoughts! Yeah I have never really considered an F6; I do this thing with my F2 where I only half wind on a frame and make overlapping multiple exposure landscapes... The F2 is great for that. I will now go and read a bunch of F6 reviews though I'm sure. And yes, I also have an SB-400 that now lives in the travel bag!

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Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 29/05/2022

Good one, Dave. I have a venerable 50/1.4, the first AF standard lens made in the '80s. It has to be the sharpest lens of most of my arsenal (the 60/2.8 macro D excels, of course, but that's a given). I don't use my '50' enough and I have to take it out more, this said, I will now go and take it out of the bag and put it on my desk. Be prepared. As the Boy Scouts used to say. As we get older (also a given, as after all none of us are getting any younger, ha!!) I think it's important to "think minimal" and opt for lesser gear. One camera, two lenses at most Three for special situations. Zooms are now too heavy for me, so other than an ancient 28-85 I lucked into at a garage sale in 2003, which has to be one of the sharpest zooms I've ever owned (Iand 've had heaps in my time), I go primes all the way. Mostly 28/2.8, now and then 35/2.0, occasionally 85/1.8. All Nikon Ds of course. All this gear talk must not detract from the excellent points you made in your article - what I got from it was, while one camera or another camera may be ideal for this or that, in the long run (or even the short run) it all comes down to what is best for YOU. We all have to move on, beyond the (mostly manufacturer "influenced") online reviews or the celebrity blogs along the lines of "this lens (usually the latest in the line) is absolutely the best and the greatest for everything to interplanetary to macro" gushes. Learning what is best for us and how to intelligently and critically decide on those options that suit us against what the camera shops want us to buy, is crucial. In this sense 35mmc and your article sum it all up so well - a sensible appraisal of the Df , now no longer made but still cherished by so many, and an intelligent consideration of why this camera would suit a photographer in 2022, I hope to see and read more of your writing in future. You are worth following. My compliments to you, mate. From Dann in Melbourne, Australia PS To appease any skeptics who read this, may I say that I have never met and do not personally know the author of this article and so have no vested interest in what I have written. He is perceptive and insightful writer and I rate him as such. Full stop!!
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 29/05/2022

Thanks Dann!

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Serhiy on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 29/05/2022

What's really great about Nikon Df is a battery life. I can go on a three day road trip and only use one battery.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 29/05/2022

Good point; there's always the thing with any camera that relies on a battery though, that it won't work without without one, and maybe a spare should be carried... but yes, I take mine away without bothering to take a spare or charger I confess. Battery life is great.

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Jay Dann walker in MelbournE on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 28/05/2022

I too looked at the Df, thinking it was (or could be, or even would be) a sort of "reincarnation" of the gorgeous old film era Nikon SLRs I so fondly recall from decades past. I even borrowed one from my camera dealer, for a weekend - after which decided after that, to not buy one. Instead I went with the Nikon I had previously decided after much research, would be best suited for me - the D800. This I've never regretted, my D800 is THE camera for my needs as a photographer. Its ergonomics are entirely adequate - again, for me. The image files are eminently usable. I can put all my D prime lenses on all my Nikons - two D800s and two D700s, don't ask why, I would have to say "I don't know why," I'm not a pro, I just have them). A major reason for my decision was I can use my Nikon D lenses (nine primes, one ancient 28-85 zoom) on my digitals and my F65s. Digital and film, in one bag, often used together when I go out to "make good pictures" as the old Kodak amateur hand books once exclaimed. Yes, the D700s and D800s are big. And I'm no longer young. So there is also a Fuji XT2 in a bag, with four superb Fujinon lenses, all together weighing less and taking up no more space than the Nikon gear I used to cart around in my travels. My partner also went Fuji, with an XE2 now being used with my Fuji 18/2.0 wide angle lens. It's all about, well, "evolving", isn't it?? Another advantage of the D800s was I paid less for the two than the cost of one Df, which in Australia still sells for big money. My 800s cost me $650 and $850 (secondhand of course), with <5000 actuations on one and an amazing 1<400 clicks on the other. As an amateur, obviously my needs are different from those of the pros. This said, I've just this last week made a sale of a dozen color images to an architecture book publisher, my first since the seemingly so long ago pre-Covid times. As the old saying goes, "horses for courses". From Dann in Melbourne, Australia
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2022

Thanks for the thoughts Jay - Horses for courses indeed. I've now got a 50mm f1.4 AFD for the Df and I think it suits it really well. Anything bigger would be a bit too much I think. Yeah, it's all about what suits one's particular wants and needs rather than anything too tied to specs. I think we get too hung up on specs as we're told to keep upgrading digital gear with new features. I used to do my commercial work with a D700 and battery grip, two cheapish ADF zooms and an ADF macro for food shots. An old and cheap 80-200 f 4-5.6 ADF zoom was just fine for headshots and sharp enough wide open for my needs. For travel work I'd take the grip off the D700, take two zooms and a APSC sensored Coolpix A as backup. (Then I switched to a Fuji XE-2 and the kit zoom for travel work and it was just fine and SO much smaller.) When I got my first 16MP camera I htought "That's great - I can just shoot landscape orientation and it can be cropped tall or wide and has enough resolution for a full page shot. For me even 24MP is too much, and I never even thought of getting a D800. I am moderately tempted by the original Sony A7 with an M adapter and a little Zeiss on it - but not tempted enough to act at this time. FWIW my Df came in at $1600 AUD, so there is a bit of a premium for it, but it's not silly money like compact film cameras. Cheers.

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Dave on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 25/05/2022

My main gripe with the Df was that I needed the metal grip to use an 85mm prime, which added another 250 grams or so.. which negates the biggest selling point of the camera and puts you in regular 1kg DSLR territory. As far as digital goes I think some of the older leicas are good value these days.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 25/05/2022

Cheers Dave - I had not heard about metal grips for the Df and had to look them up, so thanks for the lead... I agree with you that putting anything other than a smaller prime on the Df does not make sense.

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Alex Fry on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 25/05/2022

I picked a pretty used example back in about 2015, and really like the thing. A huge part of what makes me want to pull out a "real" camera out, rather than just my iPhone, is the tactile experience of clicky controls and buttons. Just this week I finally got around to swapping the focusing screen out for a K3 screen from https://www.focusingscreen.com/ Which has finally made the camera actually feel like what I always imagined it would before I got it. Much easier to focus with my AI-S glass, partially becuase I finally have a proper split prism, but perhaps more so because doing the install finally forced me to fix what was aparently a viewfinder back focusing issue that had been there the entire time I've owned the camera. Much happier with it now. (Just need to deal with a couple of bits of dust I introduced during the install).
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 25/05/2022

Cheers Alex - thanks for the input. I had vaguely considered changing the screen, but I doubt I'll bother. When I got a D700 in 2008 I realised that focusing manual lenses was not what it was on an FM, and I guess I just became used to using AFD lenses (at least I can still click the apertures). I bought a 50mm f1.4 AFD for the Df and will probably just leave it at that. I like the K screen on my F4, but that only has one AF point so it sort of makes more sense. BTW - I see you work with colour for a living. Is it just me, or are the D3/D4 sensors a bit special? The way they work with the older lenses just seems really nice...

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Lee on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 24/05/2022

Everything is a compromise. A camera is too big, or it's too heavy, or it's too expensive, or it doesn't complement one's workflow. These are just some of the hurdles to overcome when trying to get the best of both worlds shooting film and digital side by side. I ended up going with a Fuji mirrorless system (X-H1) to accomplish this, because adapting lenses from any number of lens mounts is easily done. With mirrorless systems you get the extra benefits of generally smaller size, focus peaking, and sometimes sensor stabilization (such as in the X-H1). As a benefit, most of the Fuji mirrorless cameras have dials for ISO, shutter speed, and exposure comp to give a more analog-type shooting experience. But I did have to make some sacrifices. The X-H1 is a bit of a battery hog and, while the lovely battery grip adds loads more battery life, it defeats the purpose of having a more compact mirrorless system. The Fuji X-mount cameras are all APS-C, so my vintage wide angle lenses all become wide-normal focal lengths (28mm becomes 42mm). But I think I got much more than I gave up. I simply love focus peaking, the dual SD card slots, and the stabilized sensor for shooting vintage glass. If all I had were Nikon lenses, an option like the Df might be attractive for someone like me. The Nikon Df sells on Ebay for between $800-1500, with the majority sold for more than $1200 USD. I bought my lightly used X-H1 in October 2020, with battery grip, 2 batteries, and accessory flash, for $900. The X-H1 has a 24MP sensor, excellent high-ISO performance, can take video in 4K/30 or 1080/60, IBIS, and it was released in 2018, a full 5 years after the Nikon Df. I think the X-H1, or any similar mirrorless digital camera, represents a much better value proposition than the Nikon Df. You don't even get a split prism focusing screen in the Df. I think that would be a deal breaker for me.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 24/05/2022

Cheers Lee. I agree with all you say; I had almost the same journey as yours, but mine ended up with the Fuji X-Pro3. It's a great camera, I love the ergonomics etc... And I can't suggest that the Df is a great value proposition. As I settle into it though, I think I'm happy, because of my very specific needs. - Full frame sensor. (So I can shoot my Nikon 50s as 50s not 75s - Native ISO of 100 (So I can compare it with E100 and Portra 160) - A meter that works the same as my Nikon Film cameras I guess in a way I'm surprised I ended up with a Df - back in the day I didn't even pick one up to try! Thanks for joining the conversation. Cheers.

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David Hume on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 24/05/2022

Hi Wouter - I just read your blog post and I think you make very good points. Thanks. Yes - part of what I'm trying to get to here in this piece is, I think, that nine years on, features that were annoying at the time or not good enough, or whatever, have changed in their context. For example - who would ever want LESS megapixels in a sensor? Today if you have 48MP and you only want 12 you can use camera algorithms to reduce resolution. But I do love the 12/16MP sensors of the D3/D4. And I agree with what you say about front and back control wheels. For me - the Df is a camera which at its new sale price I did not even consider, but now I am really coming to appreciate. Likewise the Fuji X100 (first model) I bought one and liked it, and was frustrated by it, and in the end used a newer Fuji camera so I gave mine away to a friend who lost everything in a bushfire. I can look on it with fondness knowing it is now being used, but also that if it were mine it would be sitting idle in a cupboard.
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Wouter Willemse replied:

Comment posted: 24/05/2022

Thanks, in any case it's not a "right" or "wrong" situation. I like the fact that Nikon tried with the Df (and now Z fc), and the D4 sensor in the Df was definitely part of the attraction too (indeed a very very nice option). The whole notion on ergonomics is pretty personal anyway - what works for one, won't work for another. The Fuji X-Pro and X100 still attract me a lot, but lately having too much fun with my film cameras to even consider spending more on digital.

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Wouter Willemse on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 24/05/2022

For quite some time, I thought I really would want a Df - it looks lovely. But in the end I never bought it. I blogged about the why (https://www.ww-web.nl/romance-of-retro/) . You got me revisiting my thoughts there, though I still feel the camera has a confused design (I mean: either front and back control wheels, or a shutterspeed dial - not both). And while I love the simplicity of the FM and FM2, expecting a digital autofocus camera to behave the same is a bit ignoring that there are a whole lot more controls on the digital camera. Perhaps I am all wrong at this, but the design should follow the requirements, and a digital FM simply already can't work since it has to support G-lenses, ISO controls, people expect autofocus modes and what's more... But as implied, I never used the Df, instead opted for a D810 as replacement for the D700. Yes, it's heavy and large, and it produces large files. But as lovely as those old sensors are, those new ones deliver magnificent results too.
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Pablo García on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

I always liked that camera, it looks really cool. Why do you say you can't shoot the Xpro3 above 350ISO? Thanks!
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Hi Pablo - Actually I say I can't use the X-Pro 3 BELOW ISO 350 or so... It's just the way it works using the expanded DR modes... they need a higher than base ISO setting to work. It doesn't mean the IQ is not great at those settings, it's just not how I'd always choose to use it. I don't mean to fob you off here, but it takes a bit to explain how this mode operates. I recall reading a few articles about it and they made sense at the time, but I'm sure I'd get it wrong if I tied to repeat it. Cheers.

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CP93 on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Good description, but I kept waiting to see how you felt about using it... proof of the pudding and all that.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Hi CP - I think I'd say that I appreciate using it. The proof of the pudding is that it's the only full frame Nikon DSLR that is small and light enough that I would actually take it with me on a trip, so it's the best one - the only one - for that purpose. It's not as nice to use as a nice film SLR, but I really like the results so far, so it's the best camera I have found for the job at the moment. This may change of course as I suspect I will keep evaluating cameras!

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Jim Wolf on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Thanks for the comparison. I have been considering one of these for years but put it off; now I don't know if you can still find them new. I want a digital camera that I can take with my film Nikons - F2, F3, etc. - and am now using a D200 but it lacks one feature the Df has - it can accommodate pre-AI lenses. I like to have a digital camera with me in case I need color files for our weekly newspaper and I also like to shoot black and white film. I don't want to carry two complete sets of equipment, so a digital body that works with the lenses I already have is necessary. Did you shoot any manual focus lenses with your Df? Thanks again.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Hi Jim - Indeed. In the photo captions in the article if it says 50mm f1.4Ai or 50mm f 1.8 Ais that's a manual focus lens that is on the camera in the shot. The 50mm f 1.8 AFD is auto focus, but in a low-light shot of the horizon I probably switched it to MF anyway. Since I wrote the article I've bought the 50mm f 1.4 AFD as well and it's really nice but I have not fully tested it. In short - yep, the camera is good with manual focus lenses in my opinion. Cheers.

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John Earnshaw on Nikon Df – Thoughts From a Film Shooter – by David Hume

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Very good article. I bought a Df in 2020 for a good price and it had only 67 activations on its clock. Like you, I only use it with prime lenses, zooms simply look daft! I also appreciate being able to automatically set the minimum shutter speed to match the focal length of the lens I am using, very useful with non VR lenses. The sensor (supposably from the D4) is superb, especially at high ISO's. I have printed some superb images at A3 size from images taken at 12,500 ISO. Do I love the camera, yes I do and it blends in well with my Nikon film cameras. It is worth noting that here in the UK, prices for used Df's has skyrocketed in the last two years.
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David Hume replied:

Comment posted: 23/05/2022

Hi John. Thanks! Yes, it seems lots of people lov the auto ISO capabilities of the camera and the way they're implemented. I used auto ISO a lot in the past on my Fujis, but am not using on any of my cameras at the moment. I think it's a given that the sensor is the same as the D4. I did not mention prices in my piece, but to me they still seem OK; there is a bit of a premium over other DSLRs but to me the prices seem quite reasonable. People complained about the price when new of course! Cheers.

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