Back to the Future – the Nikon Df
Nikon photographers of a certain vintage will be taken by the recent introduction of the Nikon Df. The D is, of course, for Digital and the 'f' is for fusion – a project that Nikon has apparently been working on for over four years. The result is modern powerhouse with the sensor from the D4 combined with the finesse of real controls and if this is something you have grown up with, it feels remarkably right in the hand.
My own first Nikon was the venerable FE, made in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and though the paint has worn on the the edges and shows its age cosmetically, this camera has enabled me to make some wonderful images – transparencies that I treasure. It has captured moments from four years of college life; weekend adventures on the hills and coasts of Ireland and travelled from the tropics in Asia and Australia to glaciers in New Zealand; sailed 12,000 miles on a tallship from Brisbane to Marmaris in southern Turkey; bounced on a motorbike across Sri Lanka and I daresay could do it all again. Nikon's reputation for making robust, reliable equipment has been the enduring feature of the camera bodies and Nikkor lenses, the latter recently celebrating an 80th anniversary.
Fast forward the time machine to 30 years after the FE ceased production and we have a camera that could hardly have been imagined in 1983. With the Df, the f could well stand for future because it is truly a camera capable of the highest image quality of 2013/14, with the classic and trusted design of cameras from the '70's and '80's. There have been many similar introductions from different manufacturers recently, using this simple and uncluttered interface between photographer and camera. The Fuji X series comes immediately to mind, with its Leica rangefinder looks and also the Olympus OMD - a modern version of its classic OM10.
The question is, however, how do these designs transfer to the very different way of working digitally? Certainly, for those who started out in photography in the era of autofocus film or digital bodies, they will find it hard to see the point. For those of us who have an instantly familiar 'feel' for these cameras, however, it is indeed a fusion of old and new that just works. No reading of the manual required: switch it on, control dials where they should be and off you go.
The designers of the Nikon Df had a lot to pack in, alongside film-era control dials and inevitably compromises have to be made. For me, probably for most photographers, there is no perfect camera body and you just get on with finding your own way of working with what you have. So, rather that bemoan what the design team did not manage for your ideal setup, I find that tweaking your own handling works just fine. For example, I find that the placement of the strap lugs gets in the way of my index finger reaching and resting on the shutter release, so I've taken them off and use a Black Rapid strap attached to the base instead. If I don't want to use a neck or shoulder strap, which is often, I use a short wrist strap on the left side.
Overall, the image quality is superb in a body that is light, a pleasure to use and with astonishing battery life. I look forward to putting it through its paces over the next while. Great job Nikon.
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