I’ve never seen a more polarized response to a camera than the Nikon Df, people either seem to love the way it looks on the spot or to be completely turned off.
Me? I think it’s ugly. The classic FM2 had elegant long and slim proportions, but the Df looks squat and chunky, with an ill-fitting angular front grip. It doesn’t look authentically retro, but like someone had welded an idea of retro onto an existing modern-day DSLR body. In fact, turn the Df around and that’s exactly what you get, a button layout the same as previous Nikon DSLR cameras.
To be fair, Nikon did say it was a digital fusion. But when combined with the way it works, it’s more of a digital fission, or simply put, digital confusion. The camera contradicts itself, and some of the design touches seemed to have been placed there for the sake of retro’s sake instead of actually helping you shoot pictures.
We’ll start with the dials, since that’s where most people’s eyes will go to first. Yes, they let you see your exposure compensation, ISO settings, drive mode and shutter speed settings at a glance. Shutter speed is set via the top dial - unless you set it to 1/3 Step, in which case you change shutter speeds via the rear dial, now you have two ways to get at the same thing.
ISO sensitivity can be set to auto within the digital menu, and then it doesn’t matter where the ISO dial is set to - the camera has just contradicted itself. If you set the Df to ISO Auto and forgot about it, you won’t know unless you hit up the Info button or see the indicator on the bottom right of the viewfinder. There’s really no reason why Nikon couldn’t have had an ‘A’ on the ISO dial to set ISO Auto and left that setting out of the digital menu.
The top dials are all locked (except for drive mode, and the shutter speed dial which locks on the 1/3 Step setting), which is both a good and bad thing. Good because it’ll stop the dials from being moved around by accident, bad because it’ll make you a half-second slower when changing settings. The Mode dial is also locked, but instead of pushing down on a lock, you pull up to twist it.
Thanks to the locks, it’s impossible to change ISO settings with one hand. It’s also impossible to switch on the camera with one hand, as the power switch is a perfect circle without a lever. The one thing I’ve loved about Nikon’s DLSR cameras is their ability to power on and shoot, using just one smooth finger motion. That’s not possible on the Df (well, I managed it once with a lot of finger yoga).
The Df’s front control dial is a vertical circle, instead of the horizontal dials used on other Nikon DSLRs. It looks cool, but doesn’t work well. There’s too little to grip, and the dial is stiff to the touch.
The Info screen still doesn’t work. Tapping Info brings up the screen, tapping ‘i’ gains access to some controls, like High ISO NR and Picture Control. But even though info like ISO, white balance, file format and autofocus modes are displayed right on the screen, you can’t get to them.
The most positive thing I can say about the Df’s design and handling is how light it is. At 710g (body only), the Df is 50g lighter than the D610 and is the lightest camera in Nikon’s DSLR catalogue. That’s nice for a camera with a D4 sensor inside.