Nikon Df Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Ultimately, it is the image quality that makes a camera worth buying. For a digital SLR, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, contrast and exposure are properties of the camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness depends on the weakest link. So, the camera cannot capture more details than the lens lets through. Conversely, a lens can transmit a greater amount of details than the sensor can capture.
The Nikon Df produces extremely clean images, edging out the D4 reviewed here
Nikon D4 which had the best image-quality of any digital cameras until now. The Df and D4 have the same resolution and sensor-size, so this is a demonstration of technological improvement over 2 years. The critical difference between this two is that the Df retains slightly finer details at extreme ISO sensitivities. Note that it has an anti-alias filter which is somewhat surprising considering the current trend.
ISO 50 to 3200 are impeccable and noise becomes barely visible at ISO 6400 which remains usable for large prints. ISO 12800 begins to show signs of color-noise and remains completely usable. There is a visible jump in noise which reduces potential print sizes at ISO 25600. Still one can get a clean mid-size print without much fuss.
This DSLR can also produce images from ISO 51200 to a class-leading 204800. Each step gets more noisy and adversely affects print-sizes. Color-noise is rather strong at ISO 102,400 but cleans up reasonably with noise-reduction, enough to make a small and surprising clean 4" x 6" print. ISO 204,800 is there for bragging rights and is not really usable except perhaps for emergencies.
Image sharpness is dependent on image processing. Those who do their own from RAW files, can get superb image sharpness from the Nikon Df. JPEG shooters are limited to the internal processing which has improved compared to the D4. There are 10 settings, ranging from extremely soft to very sharp. Artifacts appear above 4 which causes edges to double though.
The Matrix metering of the Df is generally good and very consistent. It seems more influenced by the center of the frame than ideal which may cause over-exposure when only a small portion of sky is showing for example. The Df supports a customizable metering offset of ±1 EV in 1/6 EV increments that can be set independently for each metering mode. This is great since Spot and Average metering work exactly as expected and so one can affect Matrix metering only, if desired.
Image parameters provide a good amount of fine-grain flexibility in terms of color rendition. There are six picture styles offering various degrees of realism. Vivid is not as extremely overdone as on previous Nikon models but still visibly over-saturated. The Standard and Natural styles are closest to reality with natural colors somewhere in between. The most realistic results were obtained in Neutral style with Saturation and Hue both at +1.
Automatic white-balance is good under most conditions but struggles under dim artificial light. There are two Auto settings that vary in how they deal with the warm color-cast typical of tungsten lighting. One setting tries to correct it while the other does not. Under low light, they both leave a noticeable yellow cast in images.
Dynamic-range of the Df is excellent. Exceptionally, it has a gentle drop-off as sensitivity increases to ISO 1600. Between ISO 50 to 200, the newer D610
Nikon D610 actually shows more dynamic-range which makes it a better choice for landscape photography where low ISO and tripods are de rigueur. From ISO 800 and beyond though, the Nikon Df is class-leading. At higher sensitivities, it delivers the best performance among full-frame DSLRs.
The Nikon Df is quick and extremely responsive. However, it does not match the outstanding speed of the D4 which weighs and costs considerably more. Its 5.6 FPS continuous drive is respectable and offers a buffer for up to 100 JPEG images or 29 RAW files. It can record 14-bit or 12-bit RAW files with or without compression. Lossless compression is available which allows for slightly longer bursts.
The Df supports UHS-1 SDXC memory which is available in speeds over 90 MB/s. Losslessly compressed 14-bit RAW files reach around 20 MB. This means that a single SDXC card can store several thousands of files at maximum-quality or far more JPEG images.
This delivers an impressive performance characterized by the following performance numbers:
- Power On: Instant. Excellent.
- Power Off: 1 second. Good.
- Autofocus: Usually below ¼s, up to ½s in very low light. Great.
- Focus Confirm: Instant for both autofocus and manual focus. Excellent.
- Shutter-lag: Instant followed by extremely short black-out. Superb.
- Shot-to-Shot Speed: Faster than ¼s. Class-leading.
- Instant Review: Under ½s. Good.
- Playback Mode: ¼s. Very good.
- Shooting Mode: Instant. Great.
This camera features automatic distortion correction based on pre-programmed lens data. Due to the nature of optical distortion, parts of the captured image get cropped, making precise framing impossible. Enabling it also barely slows the Df. However, it reduces buffer-depth for JPEG images by half. Logically, Distortion Correction has no impact on RAW files.
There is also an optional Vignetting Control feature which has no impact on buffer-depth. Unfortunately, this one is not profile-based and simply applies the selected level of correction. Options are Off, Low, Normal and High. While vignetting is very easily corrected in software without reducing to image-quality, we do not recommend it in-camera. Since vignetting varies by lens, focal-length and aperture, it would be considerably too much work to keep adjusting Vignetting Control according for constantly changing parameters.
The 39-point AF system used on the Df is ultra-fast and barely slows down in low-light. It is also very sensitive, down to -2 EV which is only behind the Pentax K-5 IIs
Pentax K-5 IIs and Canon EOS 6D
Canon EOS 6D which reach -3 EV. The Nikon Df has nothing to fear though, as its AF system is considerably faster than that of the K-5 IIs.
Battery-life is superb at 1400 shots-per-charge according to the CIPA standard. That is sufficient for an intense day of professional photography.
The Nikon Df brings ultra-high image-quality in a retro-styled design which is relatively compact for a full-frame DSLR. Its state-of-the-art 16 megapixels CMOS sensor delivers incredibly low-noise images with class-leading retention of details, even edging out the enormous D4. Dynamic-range is also spectacular, only falling slightly behind the D610 at low ISO sensitivities.
With a unsurpassed ISO 50-204800 and broad shutter-speed range, plus a 39-point AF system sensitive down to -2 EV, the Df is the new champion of low-light photography. Its 5.6 FPS drive delivers a solid performance with good buffer-depth. This DSLR offers nearly every drive-mode imaginable and plenty of photographic controls for every situation. The only notable omissions from the Df are video and a built-in flash, easily replaced via the Df's standard hot-shoe or sync-port.
The unique design of the Nikon Df provides highly mechanical controls plus plenty of digital features. The top-plate controls give direct access to exposure parameters and show current settings at a quick glance. Some of these controls are questionably placed as they force the photographer to frequently switch between the body and lens. This is fine when shooting from a tripod but gets tiresome quickly while hand-holding.
The sturdy body of the Nikon Df is relatively light weight yet fully weather-sealed. Unfortunately, this DSLR is not unusable with gloves on due to ergonomic issues. Otherwise, controls are all intuitive and the extra-large 0.7X magnification OVF with 100% coverage is very nice.
What the Nikon Df succeeds in doing is impressive. Delivering the image-quality of a much larger camera while maintaining fast processing and long battery-life of 1400 shots-per-charge is no small feat. Overall, there is no doubt this DSLR provides an appealing balance of design, features and ergonomics for certain professionals.
Nikon Df Highlights
Sensor-Size: 36 x 24mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|16 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 50-204800|
|Nikon F Mount|
Extra Large Viewfinder
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Hot-Shoe & Sync-Port|
|5.5 FPS Drive, 100 Images||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3.2" LCD 920K Pixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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