“Retro”-look serious cameras are hot today. Besides the nostalgia factor, they provide their users with a sense of style. We wouldn’t trade the technology of our recent DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for that of the old 35mm film cameras, much less earlier digital cameras, but there’s something to be said for the retro look. Photographers—pro photographers, in particular—have an image, and a stylish camera can be useful for that image. Retro-style cameras look cool, and some are quite suitable for pro work.
Back in the day, things were simpler. You could set your DSLR directly via dials, no need to deal with menus on an LCD monitor (film cameras didn’t even have monitors)—or even switch on the camera. No white balance (you did that through film choice and when making prints), no video—just good cameras that could be directed easily to take excellent pictures. The cameras were quick, but let you work methodically without bells and whistles, urging you ever onward. Here, we present the prime movers behind today’s retro movement.
The concept behind the Df is akin to that behind a classic sports car, where the creators looked at the key elements that a driving enthusiast would want and then took out everything else. The Df includes the flagship D4’s full-frame sensor and amazing low-light image quality, retro styling with dials that provide direct access to the most important functions for a photographer, a 150,000-cycle shutter, 5.5 fps shooting and the ability to use a huge number of current and legacy Nikon lenses. But it leaves out HD video (although it does have live view) and a pop-up flash (but it has an i-TTL hot-shoe and a PC connector for studio flash). Like a true sports car, at $2,749, it’s not inexpensive, but it certainly ticks the critical boxes for a lot of still photographers.
Many online photo forums have long-standing threads populated by those who long for “the good old days”—or at least for that simplicity. Those photographers will love the new Nikon Df, a rugged and relatively compact full-frame DSLR, with plenty of dials that let you set non-digital photographic things directly, and no video. While the Df’s back is similar to those of other higher-end Nikon DSLRs, with a 3.2-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor, a big eye-level pentaprism viewfinder that shows 100% of the actual image area and the usual DSLR buttons, the top plate is where the action is. To the right of the pentaprism is a shutter-speed dial (4 to 1⁄4000 sec., plus B, T and X, and a 1⁄3-step position). To the left are concentric dials: The top one contains exposure-compensation settings (from +3 to -3 in 1⁄3-step increments); the bottom one sets ISO (the normal range in 1⁄3-step increments, plus L1 and H1 through H4). Adjacent to the shutter-speed dial is the drive-mode switch (S, CL, CH, quiet mode, self-timer, mirror-up). To the right of the mechanical shutter button is a simple PSAM exposure-mode selector. The key point here is, you can set, and check, all of these items without looking at the LCD monitor or operating multiple buttons and controls. Very cool.
While the exterior is retro and simple, inside is high-tech. For starters, you’ll find the 16.2-megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor from the pro flagship D4, along with EXPEED 3 processing to optimize image quality and produce the same remarkable ISO performance. Normal range is 100-12800, plus L1 (50), H1 (25600), H2 (51200), H3 (102,400) and L4 (a whopping 204,800)—here’s your chance to get D4 image quality at half-price! There’s in-camera HDR, two- and five-shot auto-bracketing, and Nikon’s Picture Controls. The 2016-pixel 3D Matrix Metering with Scene Recognition System and 39-point AF system (with 9 cross-type points, and 7 points that can function at ƒ/8, great news for teleconverter users) with 3D Tracking and Auto Area AF provide excellent performance in these areas. In Live View mode, the Df features the same contrast-based AF system as the flagship D4 pro camera.
The Df can shoot at 5.5 fps with focusing for each shot, in bursts of up to 100 JPEGs or 29 14-bit RAWs. The rechargeable EN-EL14a lithium-ion battery is good for around 1,400 shots per charge, per CIPA testing standards, and the shutter has been tested in-camera to 150,000 cycles. The body features the weather-resistance of the D800, with a single slot for SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, UHS-I-compliant.