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Review Nikon Df: phenomenal image quality

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s2smodern

It might sound weird to hear from us, but photography is more than megapixels. You also have noise and dynamic range. Just kidding.
Photography is a hobby that we enjoy, both for the results and for the stuff that you're shooting. The eye wants something too. In addition, photography, perhaps more than ever, is an experience.
The Nikon Df was introduced at the end of 2013 and is part of the trend of cameras with a retro design. The design is inspired by a classic analog F Nikon-35 mm SLR, but with a display screen on the back and the same sensor as the Nikon D4. Even so, it's not only the appearance that connects to the past. This camera offers the unique ability to use old Nikkor lenses . And this is the only Nikon camera for which a separate retro lens (Nikkor 50 mm 1.8 special edition) has been released....

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Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 Special Edition and an aperture simulator for classic Nikkors

The Nikon Df is delivered, among other things, as a kit with a special version of the Nikon 50 mm f/1.8, which, as you can see on the right, has a striking silver edge. It is only an adjustment of the appearance, so that this standard lens also has a retro appearance. The Nikon AF-S 50 mm special edition looks in my eyes maybe even nicer than the original Nikon 50 mm f/1.8. The suggested retail price of the Nikon Df with this kit lens at the introduction of this camera was just above 3,000 euros.

If you want even more lenses in a matching style, then you can - more than with all other digital Nikon SLR cameras -fall back on Nikon lenses from the past. Because here, Nikon has done something unique with the Df. Thanks to a collapsible aperture simulator (a small lever on the top right of the mount), it is possible to use classic NIKKOR lenses without AI on the Nikon Df. If you photograph with a lens without AI, with an aperture preference or manual exposure settings, then measurement with full-aperture is possible. In the camera menu, you save (once) per lens the maximum lens aperture and the focal length.

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Nikon Df versus Nikon D4

  • Nikon Df has the same sensor and processor as the D4, but it's around 1,500 euros cheaper
  • Nikon D4 has video, the Nikon Df doesn't
  • Nikon Df is much more compact (143x110x66 mm) than the Nikon D4 (160x157x91 mm)
  • Nikon Df weighs half as much (750 gram) as a Nikon D4. The battery of a D4 is much larger and lasts about twice as long
  • Nikon D4 shoots at 11 bps, Nikon Df 5.6 bps
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Nikon Df versus Nikon D800E

  • Nikon Df is about 500 euros more expensive than the Nikon D800E
  • Nikon D800E offers 36 megapixels max 25,600 ISO, the Df 16 megapixels max 204,800 ISO
  • Nikon Df is 250 gram lighter and a bit smaller than the D800E (146x123x82 mm)
  • Nikon D800E has both video and a built-in flash
  • The battery on a Df lasts for about 1400 shots. That's 500 pictures longer than on a D800E

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Nikon Df Design: classic, portable full frame

The black-grey version of the Nikon Df (with the f from "fusion") from the front or from above looks like a Nikon F camera from the '70s of the last century. Even if the camera is turned off, you see on the top what settings are chosen.

Tastes differ, but I find the quirky look of the Nikon Df very attractive. I had more trouble with the controls.
I always test cameras without reading the manual first, because I believe most consumers use their cameras as well without first consulting the manual. With the Nikon Df that didn't work for me. I couldn't figure out where the button for the aperture setting (pictured right). And I find this button in practice much less pleasant to work with than the buttons on a Nikon D600 or D800E, D7100. Also setting the shutter speed, at all stops, with the large button on top of the camera (pictured bottom left) I found complicated. You have to press a button in the middle and rotate the shutter speed ring. The security ring ensures that you do not unintentionally change the shutter speed. You need to use the same method (holding down a button and at the same time turning a ring) to set the ISO speed and exposure correction (picture bottom right). The solution from Olympus to prevent the unintentional turning of a ring on the OM-D E-M1 I found nicer: You press the button in order to block the ring and again to release the ring. So you don't have to press a button and at the same time turn a ring. In addition, you have the choice of whether you want to block that ring. With most cameras, it rarely happens to me that a button accidentally gets twisted during transport or use.

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Bovenaanzicht ISOknop
What I found very nice with the Nikon Df were the compact size and low weight of the Nikon Df. Yet the smallest full frame SLR from Nikon is just as well built as the other Nikon full frame SLRs.
With the design of the el;ectronics, Nikon has focused on the lowest possible energy consumption, so that you have a small battery (EN-EL14a) but you can take 1400 pictures. Every advantage has its disadvantage, because the smaller hand grip makes the camera less well balanced (compared to a Nikon D800E or a Nikon D3X) when using larger and heavier lenses. That you place an SD card next to the battery, on the bottom of the camera, I find also a less handy solution than placing the card doors on the side of the camera, such as on all Nikon SLRs.

Nikon Df lifestyle

Shooting with the Nikon Df might mean a transition to a different lifestyle, where appearance matters. It's like driving a Maserati quattroporte: a pleasure for wealthy people that can afford to pay for style and quality. Nikon has released in addition to the Nikon Df beautiful accessories, such as the leather protective covers depicted on the right. Formerly, when you bought a camera, you would immediately buy such a leather case as well. Why not now. It protects your camera and looks good. 112687-ce6e652a-5b5f-4cbf-9ba3-b17a87156555-df 2520camera 2520bag-original-1383573462

Monitor and viewfinder

What surprised me is that Nikon left the design of the menus unchanged. Samsung, with the Samsung Galaxy NX, showed that you can also give a menu a nice retro design. Many owners of Nikon cameras will probably not agree with me, because a great benefit of the preservation of the menu structure is that every owner of a digital Nikon SLR camera will quickly find their way around a Nikon Df.

While it's true that the Nikon Df has no video, it fortunately does have liveview. The viewfinder glass in modern cameras are not meant for manual focusing. If you want to precisely focus manually at maximum aperture for a picture made with a bright (vintage) lens, then liveview is fantastic, especially because the sensor of the Nikon Df suffers from little noise and thereby even at very low light delivers a nice image.

 

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Perfect companion for low-light, street-, reporting or travel photography

The smallest full frame SLR from Nikon is ideal in terms of size and weight to walk around with for a long time. The camera is also fast. The startup time for the Nikon Df is negligible (around 0.14 seconds according to Nikon), just like the shutter lag (0.052 seconds). To unobtrusively photograph, the sound of the mirror mechanism of the camera can be muted during continuous shooting (Q-mosus).

The modern AF system is very suitable for shooting in the dark, of the 39 AF points there are seven meant for lenses to f/8. And there are nine extra sensitive cross-sensors, giving you up to a light value of -1 EV the option of AF.
The fantastic performance of the Nikon Df in low light means that this camera quickly combines with bright (f/1.8 and smaller) lenses.
Because the fastest shutter speed of "only" 1/4000 second, at even the lowest ISO value in daylight situations you can't always choose the widest aperture without risk of an overexposed shot. You might not expect it, but a difference of 1 stop (in comparison to 1/800) matters a lot in such in case.

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Resolution and image quality

A camera with 16 megapixels scores relatively low on resolution in a playing field that nowadays includes cameras with 20 megapixels or more. Even so, resolution isn't everything. The image quality is also strongly influenced by noise, noise reduction and sharpening. If you customize the noise reduction, then you lose detail with any camera. Try therefore when editing RAW files as much as possible to avoid noise reduction.
With the sharpening of pictures, in general, noise and artifacts become visible more quickly. The files of the Nikon Df are so remarkably clean, you can sharpen or interpolate more without disturbing artifacts or noise becoming visible than is true with files from other cameras with a higher resolution or a smaller sensor.

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Dynamic range

DynamicRange
The Nikon Df has a very high dynamic range. Here you can see our measurement results for a 100 ISO RAW image without sharpening or noise reduction. A usable (without visible noise) dynamic range of 7.41 stops, with the noise reduction off, is a very nice result. This good performance is not that unexpected, because large pixels in general have a higher dynamic range and less noise than small pixels. And the 16 megapixels on a full frame sensor are colossal in comparison with the pixels on smaller sensors. What may be surprising is that the dynamic range we measured for the Nikon Df at 100 ISO is almost half a stop less than the Nikon D800E or the Nikon D610. The Nikon D800E has a more modern sensor with 36 megapixels on the same surface as the sensor of the Nikon Df. At higher ISO values, the tables are turned and the Nikon Df scores in our measurements of the dynamic range are better than the Nikon D800E..  

Color Reproduction

Modern cameras are able to capture most colors precisely. The differences between cameras are very small in many situations. Much smaller than the color deviations are the different picture styles. We tested the color reproduction of the RAW files with the standard Adobe color profile in Lightroom. To test the color reproduction of jpg files we started with the jpg files of the image style "Natural". Having said that, the Nikon Df is a topper when it comes to color reproduction.
The color reproduction of the Nikon Df in daylight turned out to be very good in our test, as you can see in the picture below left. In artificial light, the automatic white balance showed itself, as with all other cameras we've tested, and a distinct orange cast was visible. Taken altogether, the Nikon Df gave one of the best performances in terms of auto white balance of all the cameras we've tested to date.

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Color accuracy in daylight

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Color accuracy at tungsten light

Noise

DfNoise700

With the Imatest measurements the Nikon Df aims very high when it comes to the absence of noise. This camera is clearly better than the Nikon D3X (we haven't yet tested the Nikon D4), but not better than the Nikon D600, for example. Even so, you have to really scrutinize at the pixel level to see the differences in noise between the Nikon Df, D800E or the D610.
Test shots made at high ISO values in a studio environment, in comparison with sample pictures made in low light, give too rosy a view at high ISO values. We therefore made sample pictures in a low-light setting, which we - as a worst-case approach - have intentionally underexposed as an extra test of the sensor. Above you can see a partial cutout of 2 jpg images made with the test setup that's pictured here on the right.
The pictures made at low ISO values are extremely noise free. At the higher ISO values (from 6400 ISO) you already see obvious noise in RAW files without noise reduction. In jpg files, because of in-camera noise reduction there is practically none to see.

SampleImage

Image styles and filters, but no built-in GPS or WiFi

The Nikon Df might look retro, but many modern options such as an electronic virtual horizon with 2 axes, picture controls and an extensive photo retouch menu with a large number of functions and effects are included. On the other hand, built-in WiFi and GPS are missing on the Nikon Df. If you place the Nikon GP1 GPS unit or the Nikon Wu-1a WiFi unit on the side of the camera, then it looks a lot less retro. And such a protrusion is awkward as well.

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Conclusion Nikon Df review

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Look in our overview of tested cameras for specifications and for a comparison of the performance with that of other cameras.

Pro
Year:2013
Overall score:7.5
Resolution:6.0
Dynamic Range:7.5
Noise:9.0
Color:7.3
Whitebalance:6.0
Megapixels:16
Sensor:FF
Sensor magn.:0.70
fps:5.5
Weight (gram):710
MSRP NL (Euro):3059

Advantages

  • Retro design
  • Extremely low noise and very high dynamic range
  • Suitable for non AI lenses
  • The same sensor/image quality as the Nikon D4: extremely low noise and high ISO settings
  • Cheaper, smaller and lighter than the Nikon D4

Disadvantages

  • Retro design
  • 16 megapixels
  • no video
  • design of the camera menu is not retro

The Nikon Df is a quirky camera for photographers with a keen eye for experience, photographers who won't see the lack of video, Wi-Fi or GPS as a shortcoming - or photographers who, perhaps driven by nostalgia, still use non-Ai Nikkors. Personally, I find the ease of use of the Nikon Df lower than the ease of use of a Nikon D600 or D800. The Nikon Df looks nicer than a Nikon D800E or a Nikon D610, but all of the ergonomic improvements that Nikon has made since the Nikon F4 until - eventually - the Nikon D610 reversed this with the retro-design. This is truly a camera that you fall in love with and subsequently have to get to know slowly. It won't be about the performance, which is very good.

Apart from the resolution, the image quality is of the highest level. Frankly, I think the resolution of the Nikon Df is sufficient for a very large group of photographers. If you find a high resolution very important, then choose a Nikon D800E or a Nikon D610. The other side of the coin of "only" 16 megapixels on a full frame sensor is the fantastic signal-to-noise ratio. The Nikon Df is ideal for making noise-free images under low light conditions. The absence of noise also means that you can enlarge and sharpen more recordings without disturbing artifacts becoming visible.
If you don't need video and you are impressed by the image quality of the Nikon D4, but you would like to be less noticeable as a travel, reporting or vacation photographer? Choose a black Nikon Df. The black Nikon Df is equally robust, lighter, smaller and considerably cheaper than a Nikon D4. And the grey / black version of the Nikon Df is even more stylish.

 
Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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