New Dog, Old Tricks?

The new Nikon Df camera was released recently, a camera I thought I’d immediately start to covet but have actually been somewhat underwhelmed by. I learned my craft on manual Nikon SLRs (a Nikkormat EL2 lost in a burglary and replaced with a Nikon FM3a) and loved the direct connection with image making enforced by manual selection of exposure and focus settings. Moving to digital in 2007, I still used most of my manual lenses and generally continued to set shutter speed and aperture manually. I’ve since acquired some auto-focus lenses (great for portraits) but continue to rely on crisp, contrasty manual lenses for landscape work.

So why don’t I love the Df as a return to the good old days? Firstly it’s big(ish). The FM3a is rather svelte by comparison, principally because it doesn’t need to fit a D4’s electronic gubbins inside it. Secondly, I’m not sure what you gain from using ‘manual’ dials to set exposure settings over using the front and rear command dials as I’ve become accustomed to (and you can use command dials with the camera to your eye much easier than the rotary dials). Thirdly, the sensor size – why 16 Mp on a camera aimed at photo-purists and not something larger like on the D800? And the clincher is the cost – not much change from three thousand pounds.

I would have preferred a camera closer to the ideals of the FM3a – basic metering, no auto-focus drive and manual exposure settings (alright, perhaps aperture-priority auto-exposure). And image processing components that provide the highest quality image for subsequent development – i.e. a high resolution sensor and RAW-only files. This would reduce the complexity of the electronics inside and place the camera back into the hands of those who prefer not to be distracted by details such as number, spread and types of auto-focus sensors, metering patterns, and ‘scene-based’ image processing algorithms. It would be smaller and cheaper, too!

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