Nikon Df long term test

Jack Casady
After a month of heavy use, I’m still wild about the new Nikon Df, despite (not because of) its retro vibe. I’ve shot two concerts at ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800, as typified by this one of Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane immortal bassist Jack Casady on December 5. Even with compression and my croppings you can see that the Df performs almost exactly like my D4 at high ISO settings. Three days after Hot Tuna, I shot Hot Tubas, aka Tuba Christmas, in a more classical setting at Trinity Cathedral with the same outstanding results.
What *don’t* I like?

  • Autofocus was fine, but manual focus was not up to that of the D4 under very dim conditions. When doing selective focus at the cathedral, I sometimes struggled to zero in on a particular plane, even with my 85mm f/1.4’s large maximum aperture and narrow DOF. The Df manually focuses okay under brighter conditions, however.
  • Changing ISO with the dial is not that easy in the dark. I alternated between ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800, and holding down the ISO dial release button with the left thumb while spinning the dial with the left index finger, while looking through the VF to see the exact setting was clumsy. As I become more familiar with the camera I should be able to do this by counting clicks, once my brain absorbs which direction increases/decreases the ISO value.
  • Not crazy about the cheapo door on the bottom, which accesses both the battery and memory card. It pops right off! It also pops right back on. Fingers crossed that this heavily-used access door doesn’t break easily.
  • I’ve twice run into what may be a bug, and which I haven’t been able to deliberately replicate so far. On two different occasions I was doing in-camera HDR (set to Series), and the first shot came out OK. But on trying a second HDR shot, the Job indicator never turned off, even after four or five minutes. Green-reset button didn’t work, and the only way I was able to regain control of the Df was to remove the battery for a second. Surprisingly, that last-resort move didn’t corrupt an image or the memory card itself.
  • While setting the shutter speed using the retro dial on top of the camera was fun, and even convenient when I wanted whole-stop increments, the need to switch to the 1/3 Stop setting to access slower shutter speeds was not fun. Moreover, it’s possible to rotate the dial from 1/3 Stop to the other settings without pressing the release button, if you force it. That can’t be good for the camera.
  • I’m happy with my choice of the silver-accented model, mostly for old-times’ sake. However, particularly when I am in photojournalist mode I don’t relish the attention it attracts. I actually have fewer problems in this regard with my all-black D4, which also has black matte electrical tape over the logo. (That’s not because I am cool, modest, or in stealth mode — the black tape eliminates reversed-type reflections when shooting unintentional or intentional selfies in close-ups of shiny objects.)


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