Day 63: This may be a little harsh…

Day 63: This may sound a little harsh…

Day 63: This may be a little harsh…

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

As I’d mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Nikon Df takes fantastic photos, so I’ll dispense with the pleasantries and get right into the heart of the matter: is the Nikon Df worth buying?

If your only criteria for a great camera is whether or not it can take a great photo with it, then the Nikon Df is a wonderful choice. But if you’re looking for a camera that delivers great value for money, then it depends on what you value.

Retailing at around $3,025 (these are all Australian prices), the 16MP Nikon Df has the build quality of the Nikon D610, a consumer-grade camera costs more than 30 per cent less at $1,900. If you’re mega-keen on spending at least $3,000, then for the same price you can get Nikon’s D800, a studio-grade camera that delivers a whopping 36MP of detail. For an extra $260 (a pittance if you’re planning to spend that much on a camera), you can nab the Nikon D800e, which is basically the same thing minus an optical low-pass filter to optimise the detail captured by the sensor.

The thing is, although the D800 has a significant MP advantage over the Df, pixel-peepers will argue rightly that it cannot match the picture quality that is produced by Nikon’s recently retired flagship model, the D4. Its successor, the D4s, is practically the same thing to all but the pros; but with its pro-level construction and performance, it will set you back a cool $6,695.

Here’s where things get interesting: the Nikon Df has the same sensor as the Nikon D4. As a value proposition, then, the Df gets you the picture quality of a $6,695 camera for less than half the price.

But that’s not the only trade-off. For starters, the build quality feels cheap. It only takes one memory card (the D4s and D800 take two) and it can only be accessed by opening the battery compartment. The autofocus is noticeably slower and the maximum shutter speed is 1/4000 of a second (both the D4s and D800 go up to 1/8000 of a second).

If your photography is for something other than your own personal amusement (which is to say you use it for your job), all of these little differences will have an enormous impact on your process. A shabbier build means it’s more susceptible to damage when taken out in the field. Being able to only take one memory card at a time gives you no back-up plan for separating jpgs from RAW files in the event of data corruption. Putting the memory card in the same spot as the battery is just plain stupid if you’re using a tripod. A maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second severely limits your ability to capture a short depth-of-field in daylight. And, as mentioned in my original post, the physical dials and poor ergonomics on the Df pretty much force you to work at a simple, methodical speed.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad thing. Some days, when I have the time, I do enjoy trekking around on foot, taking my time to scope out a different perspective and experimenting with manual settings for a unique exposure. Sometimes I want to see how the light behaves with one of my vintage lenses. That is the essence of what the Df does. That is what the $3,025 price tag is paying for.

Unfortunately, that’s not all that I do. I also shoot rock stars who run up and down the stage while pyrotechnics are going off in the background. I also discreetly capture people across the street unawares for my street photography. My kids rarely sit still. Every wedding I’ve shot has something unique and unexpected that happens.

In any of those circumstances, if you’ve missed a photo opportunity, are you going beg them to recreate what they just did and to hold still while you get your settings right?

Get real. Or get a camera with better performance.

When I explained all of this to a family member who works in marketing, he described the Df as a “luxury item”. I suppose that’s the kind, marketing-friendly phrase to use in the interests of preserving the capitalist notion that it might be worth buying.

And hey, if you’ve got three grand to burn and you really, really love that retro experience, maybe it is.

But I don’t, so it’s not.

Well, not for me, anyway.

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