Even though this is a blog about photography I don’t normally talk about specific cameras in this space because I believe that in general all of today’s modern cameras work pretty well. Oh sure, there are some differences between models and manufacturers but when it comes to purchasing and using a camera it’s all a matter of personal preference.
However Nikon recently released a new camera that’s worth notice, though maybe not in a way that Nikon intended.
The Df is a new Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera just announced by Nikon. In its introductory advertising Nikon characterizes the camera as harkening back to a simpler, non-iPhone, pre-digital era.
To that effect the Df has a decidedly retro design. Its outward appearance resembles the venerable Nikon FM-series film cameras of old. Instead of modern LCD panels with digital menus and plastic buttons, it has mechanical-feeling metal knobs and dials. It seems that Nikon is marketing the camera towards the serious amateur or those trying to become more serious with their photography by taking inspiration from the days of film.
To me that means the ability control the camera to make it do what you want it to do, which in turn means to be able to used the camera in manual mode. Sure there were film cameras that had automatic modes and some advanced amateur photographers (even some pros) used automatic modes on their cameras, but understanding and setting shutter speeds and apertures yourself was (and still is) essential to being a “serious” photographer. The Df can shoot in manual mode but has all the automatic functions of a modern camera as well. Almost all modern DSLRs have a manual setting as well as their auto modes so they can do the same things as the new “retro” camera can. The Df accepts all of Nikon’s old manual focus lenses but then again so do most of the company’s other DSLRs. And the Df will take the new lenses as well.
While the Df isn’t a totally manual camera, it doesn’t break any new technical ground either. It’s a what’s known as a “full-frame” camera meaning its imaging sensor is the same size as 35mm film. Most other DSRLs sold are what are called “crop sensor’ cameras which have sensors that are smaller than the full-frame ones. This allows them to be smaller and cheaper than the bigger sensor cameras but at a general cost of lower resolution and higher noise. But there are several full-frame cameras on the market already and the Df’s 16-megapixel (MP) sensor is the same one that’s found in Nikon’s flagship D4. In fact it uses most of the innards of that camera. It’s smaller than the D4 but not the smallest in the Nikon DSLR lineup. While it’s much less expensive than the nearly $6,000 top of the line D4, at $2,746 it’s not cheap either.
So is the outward retro design of the Df the only thing that it has going for itself? In a word: yes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of Nikon’s taglines for the Df’s advertising is: “Pure Passion. Pure Photography.” The ad campaign features a series of short videos of a serious (we assume) photographer thoughtfully wandering different scenes: a forest, some hilly grasslands, a city, a Scottish castle. He scans the horizon or tree tops looking for a photo, then we hear him change the camera settings though the clicks of the mechanical dials he’s turning. He raises camera to his eye and we hear a single snap of the camera. Is all advertising hype? Probably.
Another of Nikon’s taglines is “Classic feel. Modern performance. Rediscover the joy of photography.” The visceral sense of how a camera feels in your hands and how it makes you feel is not to be discounted. From a beep, ping or tweedle, cellphone manufacturers could have chosen any sound for their cameras to make when a picture is taken, but then why did they pick a solid camera shutter sound? So that you feel like a photo has been shot.
I’m always advocating to people interested in photography, especially those starting out, to slow down really take a look at the scene and think about what they’re taking pictures of.
Sure, they can do that with any modern DSLR, and sure, it’s the photographer who takes the picture and not the equipment, but if the Df can get picture takers to feel like a photographer then perhaps they may start to think like one too. And in my book, that can be a good thing.