Last autumn, Nikon unveiled the retro-inspired Nikon Df. It promptly sparked controversy. Some enthusiasts appreciated the retro design that harked back to the 35mm film cameras of the late 1970s. It stirred nostalgia for an era when each shot required careful consideration. In those days, 35mm film was a precious commodity, demanding photographers to meticulously adjust exposure, shutter speed, ISO, and more before clicking the shutter.
Conversely, some detractors loathed the new design and found the camera's specifications lacking. The Df housed the same ageing full-frame sensor as the Nikon D4, limited to 16MP. In contrast, most contemporary professional DSLRs, even consumer-focused offerings, boast 24MP or more. With the Df's price tag, some argued that the Nikon D610 was a smarter choice. Critics accused Nikon of creating a retro camera merely for nostalgia.
I was intrigued by the camera's retro aesthetics and wanted to experience it firsthand. I pondered,
This could be my ideal full-frame camera. 16MP suffices for my needs, and with my existing Nikon lenses, I wouldn't need to overhaul my kit. I registered for an upcoming photo meetup1 in a nearby town, envisioning it as a perfect opportunity to rent and test the Nikon Df.
The camera arrived from Lensrentals via FedEx. I unboxed it, revealing the Nikon Df, the camera manual, and the battery charger packaged in a camera bag. However, my excitement faded after I saw and held the Nikon Df. Compared to the full-frame Sony α72 and Fuji X-E23, the Nikon Df felt colossal. It even exceeded the size of my Nikon D5100. Connecting my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 to the Df, I instantly realised that this camera wouldn't meet my expectations. This body and lens combination was larger and heavier than I had expected.
If I wanted a bulky, heavy, professional Nikon, I would get a D800. If I wanted a Nikon within the Df's price range with comparable technical specs, I would choose the smaller and lighter Nikon D610. The Nikon Df doesn't fit the bill. Its distinctive trait is the 1979-inspired design. For the price and weight, I expect more.
Undoubtedly, I enjoyed tinkering with the knobs and dials on the Df. I have cherished memories of day-long beach outings and late afternoon countryside adventures in Bequia with my Dad. The controls on the Nikon Df evoked nostalgia, reminding me of my Dad's old Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II clicking away on those family outings. However, as I held the camera and lens, I questioned how long that sentiment would last while lugging this camera around.
Competent retro-styled interchangeable lens cameras from Fuji and Olympus are available4, benefiting from modern technology to reduce bulk. Nikon and Canon, the stalwarts of the camera market, appear to be stuck in a technology dead end.
The Nikon Df isn't the camera I dream of.