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Friday, 08 November 2013


I must disagree about the focus dot, Mike. On my D800E, the dot remains lit during a certain arc of rotation of the focusing ring, so you may not be at the actual point of focus just because the dot is lit (even if you have micro-adjusted the camera-AF). Comparing the 55 micro AIS on the D800E with my F3, it's clear that the split image of the F3 gives me less arc of rotation in which the camera is confirming correct focus.

I absolutely agree about the Alpha 900 being the exact same concept, only 5 years earlier. I use mine with Sony Zeiss glass, and manual focus lenses (Takumars mostly), and it works beautifully. The sensor may not be so good beyond 1000-ish ISO, but its resolution and dynamic range are fantastic. It still does better than tge one in Leica's current production M-E (without the reliability issues). Best 2.5k I ever spent.

The notion that the green dot (or the Rangefinder function the Df also has) is "precise" is not exactly correct. Try this experiment at the widest aperture with the camera on a tripod and mid-distance subject with some depth: starting with lens at minimum focus, rotate the focus ring until the green dot appears, stop and take a picture. Now take the lens to infinity and rotate the focus ring until you get the green dot, stop and take the picture.

Now examine the photos. The focus point will be at different distances. Conclusion: using the green dot will put you within some RANGE of "tolerable" focus.

Looking down on those three Nikon cameras I can't help thinking how much I prefer the retro look to the modern plastic cameras we get today. And I do love that Df...it would go so well with my D600 & D700!

"The Nikon Df is a the camera we (newly converted) Canon 5D users have been wanting Nikon to make." ..........Pity it isn't, August 2005 anymore!

Are we going to be saying the same about Canon as SONY introduce their A7 line of cameras?

I was just reading about a method for AF fine tuning that has implications for manual focus users. It's referred to as "DotTune" and can be found in a video on YouTube. Basically, you set your camera on a tripod aimed at the target, then AF in live view mode (using CDAF). Then in manual focus mode, the manual focus verification (green dot) tells you if the PDAF system still thinks you're in focus ... you adjust the AF fine tune value until the green dot is lit. Actually, there will be a range of values at which its lit and it's recommended to pick the middle of the range (or pick a compromise for zooms).
The interesting part is that people who have used this method say that the range of AF fine tune values at which they get the green dot is much wider in MF mode than it is with the camera set to AF using the AF-ON feature. The implication being that you can get more precise manual focus with the camera set to AF and AF-ON than you can with the camera set to MF. I haven't used a manual focus lens on my Nikon, so don't know for sure that that works (I don't see why it wouldn't). Might be worth checking out.

I've read on the interweb that, having handled the DF, highly respected Nikon photographer Bjorn Rorslett says that the matte screen installed makes the DF's manual focus greatly improved over the D800. So maybe Nikon have thought this aspect through more than many, myself included, have given them credit for.

Lest I sound redundant (retro in today's tech' terms) it appears that no one camera manufacturer really gets it. All that many photographers really want is a simple still camera without deep menus that only a computer geek would love.
For me, I want simple. Maybe I'm just getting old, (well, no maybe to it) but give me something like a mirrorless camera ala Leica and I'm happy.
(Oh, it would be nice if I didn't have to sell my soul to get it.)
My two pesos.

Thanks for showing the overhead comparison, Mike. When you look at the three side-by-side you see that the Df body isn't that much thicker than the FM body, especially considering that the Df has to accommodate an LCD display on the back as well as a full-frame mirror box. The Df is certainly a lot less thick and bulbous than the D800 while still having a hand grip, which the FM lacks. (I found holding my FM3A so uncomfortable I added an accessory grip.) As for height, let's remember that a 3-inch diagonal LCD is roughly 20% taller than a roll of 35mm film, not counting the viewfinder optics that need to get stacked on top.

This is not to say that the Df appeals to me; it does not, but as full-frame DSLRs go these days, it's smaller and lighter than most.

Mike: " You can put "sainted" before "Konica-Minolta 7D." I had no idea how good that camera was, because it was my first DSLR. I really wonder how long I would have used mine if it hadn't gone all wonky on me...after Sony had taken over and was declining to repair them."

Second, though mine is still working. Nowadays it seems awfully heavy, though. Love those control dials with detents, like exposure and flash adjustments right under your fingers.

Their A2 is another gem. I use other cameras now, but I'm often just about ready to go back even though I like the lower noise of the newer sensors.

I have been using manual lenses on digital cameras for a few years now. The "focus dot" never worked for me with anything fast and / or wide. Try focusing a Nikkor 35/1.4 AIS with the dot. Or a 24/2. Or even the 50/1.4 AIS. Impossible. My focus accuracy with fast lenses improved drastically when I finally got a NEX 7.

It´s a mystery to me why Nikon skipped a split-prism screen with the Df. (Besides the abundance of dials and buttons and overall bulk but thats another story.)

I have really never understood this 'thing' for retro. To me, beauty is as beauty does, and I would rather spend my money on greater capability than on looking like a camera from half a century ago. I have two FM2s, which I love, but I'm not about to go back to film as my first choice. And I often use my digital cameras in manual mode, for many situations, and still use my old manual lenses. But even in my ancient years, I have no desire to ape what was my choice in my 20s. Guess it just isn't my style.

I fully get what you mean about the 7D. To me, it felt very "1st gen". But now, having replaced it with an A700 and that with a Nikon D7000, and having tried any number of other cameras, that 7D was a real gem as far as build & ergonomics. I remember reading an article by David Kilpatrick saying that the folks at Konica Minolta claimed it was very expensive to built the camera with so many high quality external controls, and to expect that to degrade in the future to reduce costs. I suspect that if I were to try the Nikon Df out, that I'd be much more impressed with it, based on what I've read about the controls.

'You can put "sainted" before "Konica-Minolta 7D."'

I've still got mine, though I haven't really used it in several years. It's just too big to schlep around, and that size is what drove me first to Micro 4:3rd and then to NEX. My 7D suffered from the "first black frame" malady and fortunately I managed to get it repaired (with the updated parts from the 5D) before it was no longer possible to get the camera serviced.

I still love the manual controls, and the output at ISO 100 & 200 is very nice. But at ISO 400 you really start to notice degradation in image quality (not just noise, but the dynamic range dropping off and the colors seeming to lose something). ISO 800 was unusable (in my opinion) until noise reduction got much better in RAW processors and plug-ins like Topaz Denoise within the past few years. Above 800 lay banding and madness.

I really ought to sell the 7D while there's still a chance of finding a buyer, but can't quite convince myself to do so. After dealing with the NEX-6's occasionally maddening menus, clicking the dials and switches on the 7D is oddly therapeutic.

Of all the 'features' that Nikon could have resurrected from its film camera days, one that I'm pleased they chose to forget is the old practice of charging more for black bodies than for chrome ones. Common sense finally prevails.

I still use my FE and FM2s from time to time, and my old Nikkors and I have been looking forward to this camera (or one like it) for years. I couldn't remotely afford one, but at least the industry has begun to take the first steps toward the curmudgeons and away from the dragoons.

For 25 years, I manually focused my film cameras (even AF ones') and don't recall having a 100% rate of accuracy. Whether split screen, matte screen, rangefinder etc., there was always the chance my assumption of being in focus was wrong.

As for camera thickness, more telling I think would be to line up the cameras using the film plane indicator. It then becomes obvious why the DSLR design is what it is.

At the Salon de la Photo in Paris I got to handle the Df for a few minutes, and mounted a couple AI'd lenses to it. The difference to looking through my D700 wasn't enough for me to notice.

Nikon basically created a standard DSLR with a veneer of analog dials.

I know that it won't happen, but I'd really rather see a APS-C or M4/3 sensor based mirrorless retro done on the basis of the Nikon SP http://www.cameraquest.com/jpg4/sp1.jpg

It would be fun in S mount, though honestly, I'd rather have it in LTM because there are so many more lenses available for that mount.

Won't happen, I know, but that or a Canon P retro would be a really great way to do a mirrorless retro that would be a delight to use daily.

Mike, I need to correct my earlier post. Although Bjorn does indeed say that the Df is easier to focus manually, and that the viewfinder is much improved over the D800, it is not until later in the thread that an unnamed source from Nikon Finland is attributed as saying this is due to improved coatings on the matte screen. Bjorn did not claim this and I apologise for the incorrect attribution.
Also, apologies to you, Mike, for coming in here and FUDding all over your bright and sparkly website.
Ah,well. We all make mistakes...as R2D2 said when he fell off the dustbin. ( By the way, if anyone from Lucasfilms is reading this - the R2D2 crack was just a joke. Only just.)

Maybe I'm one of the few but I often use my camera's ability to save and recall groups of settings. Is this available on cameras with dedicated dials?

All things considered, I think they did okay. But I really do not understand why they couldn't use the same ISO mechanism as the FM3a. The combined dial they chose both looks tacky and seems highly unergonomic. And for MF, there's a right and a wrong way. No split-cricle micro prism is definitely the wrong way.

I use my Nikon DSLR rangefinder confirmation dot often when shooting with manual focus. You must remember what it is the dot is displaying. It's not the point of sharpest possible focus but rather the range of focus similar to that allowed by the AF system under the same conditions. So, indeed, it is more accurate when manually focusing an F1.4 prime than an F2.8 zoom, with both used in full aperture metering and focusing mode. I think of the rangefinder dot as being limited by its own set of hyperfocal range rules.

Along that theme, I'm fascinated that some shooters concentrate their efforts on the fine tuning of their camera AF systems when in fact they may be shooting with slow F2.8 zooms having somewhat wide hyperfocal ranges.

I'd still prefer to have a split-center focusing screen though. The one in my Nikkormat would be great.

Ah, yes, but they shouldn't have done it half a*&^& (excuse my french). A retro camera is a retro camera, and in order to capure the feel of an F3 (the best camera I ever shot with, and still shoot with in fact), you need to build a digital F3....which is simple enough, build an F3HP and replace the piece were the film goes with a sensor, a battery and one or two SD cards. Use a 16 to 20 Mpixel sensor in order to shoot with glass from 1978 till 2013 of the AI/AIs variety, and add a little lever under the prism to shoot with the rest 1960 till 1978. As long as it has a aperture ring on the lens it's all right, if it doesn't toss it, who cares about G lenses anyway.

Call it the Nikon F3-D and expect to be sued by Olympus.

Greets, Ed.

I still shoot with my K-M 7D, and have to agree with everything said above. That said, the vast majority of the time I'm using my Sony RX-100 instead these days, because that's a camera I don't have to decide if I want to deal with its weight and bulk. Controls-wise, though, the 7D is perfect.

I still may pick me up an A900 one of these days. Out of production or not, it's a classy device.

Reminds of the Mini Countryman "mini SUV" (http://uncrate.com/p/2010/01/mini-countryman-xl.jpg)

If you squint at it and don't see it side by side with the original or the reborn small Mini, then you may think it looks like a good facsimile. But look at it more clearly and in context, and it just doesn't work.

I envisage a small cottage industry of focus screen replaced Df's cropping up.

760 g (1.68 lb / 26.81 oz) body only including battery.

That's not retro: It's about 50% heavier than the thing it is copying. Why not just junk the retro-for-retro's sake bits and make the camera lighter?

According to a prominent Chinese photography website, when they were invited to attend a QA meeting with Nikon for Df and D5300, Nikon told them that they had made efforts to reduce the size of Df, and this was the reason for choosing D600 gut for Df.

About focusing screen:I swapped the standard K screen that has a central split-image to the bright B screen in my Nikon F3. The B screen, according to Nikon, has not "clutter". :) Hope they would have put the B in Df.

I (still) love my Konica-Minolta 7D... and it still works well, but my daughter has adopted it – and uses it frequently. It was a hard decision when I bailed on Minolta-soon-to-be-Sony... and went to Nikon, where the ergonomics weren’t as good – but the long term prospects were better – or so I thought at the time.

My 5 1/2 year old D300 I’ve adapted to... and I continue to wait for a D400– but if one doesn’t show up by June of next year, I guess I’ll get a D300s. I’m happy with my lenses and don’t want to swap out for their equivalents in FX... so the Df and the D800 have limited (but not zero) appeal to me.

Oh yes the A900 rules albeit a bit noisy. But it is a pity Nikon didn't put a split screen in this camera that would be something. That being said I'm sure this is a fine camera (but so are the D800 and D6x0). By the way the pictures comparing the old and new camera are interesting I don't understand why this new camera is so much bigger. Is it sensor thickness?

After years of shooting motorsport with an FE and an FM coupled with an MD12 motordrive the D300 was a revelation - it fell into my hands and felt just right.

From its dimensions I suspect the Df will feel something similar but I doubt if I will buy it. I've moved on from dials on the top. The D300 works beautifully for me and if Nikon would simply put the D7100 sensor or similar in a D300 type body (aka D400) I would be happy to get my credit card out. In the meantime the D300 works just great.

I agree with you on the 50/1.8G. I've never really been a fan of 50s, but this one is special.

As for the Df, if Nikon had any clue as to what people who were asking for a digital FM wanted, they would have eliminated all but two or three unmarked buttons on the back and allowed the user to asign them functions via software. The rest of the mess back there could have been accessed via touch screen. It's also very telling that the shutter speed dial needs to be unlocked each time it's adjusted. I'm guessing that the majority of purchasers who even bother to adjust shutter speeds are going to set the dial to the blue 1/3 stop setting and leave it there. Instead, they'll use one of the command wheels just like they do on all the other Nikon DSLRs. Instant redundancy, caused by poor design and poor usability.

Don't get me started on green dot focusing - it's slower than a split prism/microprism combination, more fiddly, less accurate, and it requires the user to divide his attention between the subject and the green dot.

On the positive side, the only things I'm envious of are the flip-up aperture position tab and the ability to (indirectly) meter with Pre-AI lenses. The tab was there on the F3, the F4, and as an option on the F5; then they abandoned it. That ten-cent part should never have been dropped, and two-step metering with Pre-AI lenses should have been available all along.

Your illustrations show very well why we're unlikely to see a digital SLR similar in size to film SLRs. The sensor and LCD packages add a lot to the sensor plane to camera-back distance. The only easy way to get a film SLR sized interchangeable lens camera is to ditch the mirror box.


What, no love for the Fujifilm X100s?

It's far closer to any of its antecedents in size, style and function than any of the other 'retro' cameras (the title here is The Ideal Retro Camera after all). Not only that, it's mind glowingly framing fantastic to use.

p.s. that last sentence was supposed to be 'mind blowingly freaking' but auto correct and one typo left it better

Hmm, I don't agree about the A900 being retro. It is simplistic, yes, and incorporates exactly one film SLR design element: the Nikon F prism peak.

Other than that, it is fully modern, which means pressing function buttons while turning reprogrammable generic dials to make all your changes which don't go through the menus.

The Nikon Df gets that right, with single-function dials. At least, it does for those whose workflow it captures. As I use Auto-ISO and aperture mode, I can't use any of them, apart from the exposure compensation wheel, which I would have preferred where the PASM wheel is.

Speaking of which, why was this included? Is it really one of the most used settings, to the point that it deserves the most reachable position of all the dials? I could glue my camera to A and not notice for months.

Mike - so did you notice Q10, answer #8, on the Nikon survey: "I prefer to collect cameras rather than taking photos." Should any of us check that box?
Also, if you're happy with the focus dot, maybe I should try harder to adapt to it. Looking at the dot instead of the scene messed with my mind and I gave up quickly. But I'll try again. Thanks.

I just took the Nikon survey and put "Butt Ugly and not digital FM2" as the reason for not purchasing it :-)

As others have pointed out, the green dot is simply not accurate enough on Nikons: it's lit for a relatively large range of focus, too large for critical sharpness at large apertures. I used to have a D300 and a focusing screen with split image and microprisms for it and my focusing accuracy was high using those focusing aids. With the D800 I can't try it out since there are no focusing screens available! Thus paradoxically, my mirrorless cams can be faster to focus manually, since they offer focus aids and zooming in the viewfinder. In my mind, this is a big blow to the usefulness of the viewing system in a DSLR.

Mike, I also fully agree that A900 is what this Nikon should have been, maybe with some chrome thrown in as they did. It even had/has interchangeable screens.
Sorry, focus confirmation just doesn't cut it. It is like asking Leica to remove the rangefinder and replacing it with a green dot that lights up when 'something' in the frame is in exact focus. There are two points. Retro is retro. When you have used micro prism or split image for thirty years you kind of feel comfortable focusing that way. it worked well and still does. Especially on the smooth, long manual gears of old lenses, not these AF wonders that have 10degree throw from infinity to 1feet and no friction. More importantly, when you put that split image on a certain point in the subject and adjust the focus, you know exactly what is in focus. With these AF focus confirmation lights you never really know what it is focusing on. Until you open the picture on a PC.

Nikon lenses just don't look like they used to.

I've had a few old Nikon lenses (notice that I don't say Nikkors) and my favorites when it came to quality and handling (if not suitability) were my Series E Nikons from the eighties. That's what was "consumer quality" in the eighties?

My 75-150 f/3.5 was sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp and luckily my copy didn't have the zoom slam (who needs zoom creep when you can have a proper slam?) that was common. The second generation Series E lenses looked lovely and the first generation versions looked very much at home on my cheap but lovely Nikon D40.

I'd probably feel a bit nostalgic right now if my M43 lenses weren't so nice.

Love the KM 7D. Not heavy for me, easy to use, ergonomic, confortable.

I couldn't agree more, Mike. Recently I had the shutter of my a850 replaced for a very reasonable $300. Now its showing intermittent control wheel glitches. I'll replace that too, if need be.

The a850/a900 twins are the perfection of the DSLR… if you care as little about AF and high ISO performance as I do. The controls are as straightforward and convenient as I can imagine. Certainly better than the classic Nikon SLR interface. I see no advantage in setting shutter speed by a top dial, out of easy reach of right hand fingers. And ex comp on the rewind dial, er, left side? Gimme a break! And I can replace the focusing screen of the Sony with two others, including an MF-optimized one.

All I really need is an a900 and two compact Minolta zooms, like my 24-85 and 100-200. Those are the tools, all the rest are just toys.

In further praise of the a900, let me say briefly that it remains unique. There is no other camera that will stabilize any new or old lens in front of a FF sensor, and show me the scene through an outstanding OVF. That's all I want. The full set of intuitive controls and the huge range of compatible lenses from my $50 pawn-shop Maxxums to the pricey Zeiss, are just icing on the cake.

The latest Pentax K models come closest to this ideal, without the baked-in FF goodness. But when I see what Nikon's offering its customers here, I feel sorry for them.

Look through the viewfinder of a Leicaflex SL or SL2 if you want to see what a truly glorious viewfinder experience can be. Best evah. No need for split image spot. Look through one and you'll know why. Central area micro prisms that snap the image into contrasty focus, surrounded by what looks like a matt screen, but is actually a micro prism surface that is so fine you can't see the prisms. But when the image comes into focus, there is a snap in the image that is just amazing. I'd have to say that the A900 is one of the only DSLRs that has as classy a look as the Leicaflexes too.

I, for one, have not heard an understandable reason as to why they didn't put a split-prism finder in. Can anyone tell me?

It looks fairly grotesque in chrome, less so in black. How does it compare (in size) next to a 610, and wouldn't the guy in the video fare better taking his landscapes with the 610 sensor- and save a few bucks in the process?

I could certainly get that people wanted a digital Nikon FM. I think I've wished for a digital Olympus XA more myself, though.

No camera I've used has been more enjoyable to use. The fact that it uses 35mm film that I'd then scan just killed the whole deal.

One more vote for the A850/900. I felt that way the first time i picked it up at the Sony booth at PDN when it first came out. I was an Oly guy then, but had heard about the A900 (there wasn't yet an A850). I picked one up...and it felt like it just melded with my hand---I was startled. And thought, "well, well well...". Cerainly didn't expect that from Sony! The proof in the pudding has been my work with it this past summer (and ongoing)doing fine arts repro in total manual mode. Just great manual focus, killer with the right angle finder. The term classic gets bandied about too much, but these cameras rate that designation. I'll keep it until it dies for the above purpose, even after I get my A7r in January.

I'm gonna vote on the side of Mike here. Never understood the love for those split image screens. A flat screen with grids is much more useful IMHO.

This combined with my hatred for top dials probably permanently disqualifies me from the retro-camera nostalgia club.

I've also never been able to change anything near the viewfinder of a camera without introducing permanent dust, dirt and fingerprints into the viewing system.

Also don't see why the A900 is any more "pure" than the D700. Sure the D700 had liveview, but you'd never want to use it.

Still shooting with the a900 and happy. Of course the lens makes all the difference...

I can't comment on the relative technical merits of split-prism focusing screens and focus-confirmation dots, but I would note that the Df was pretty clearly not made for the kind of audience that takes 'It's easy after you get used to it' for an answer.

The green dot on my d3 is more accurate than my 50 year old eyes.

I'm torn. I've been waiting for ages to see what Nikon would produce that could replace my D700's and ... and this doesn't seem to be it. I don't much care for the styling, though in truth I've been stung by style over substance before (step forward Fuji's focus-free X100) so that isn't the main issue. The main issues for me are that the price is steep, and it comes (in the UK) with a lens I don't need. All that, and it appears to have been deliberately given sub-optimal software / focussing in order to not lead to cannibalised sales of other models. On the other hand, it comes with a D4 sensor and as low-light performance is the first characteristic, pretty much, that I look for in a camera, I can't quite bring myself to dismiss it just yet.

At first I thought that this Df was too broad in the hips for my taste; certainly not an FE2 class light fast cruiser.

Then I took a look at the actual dimensions. And I see that most bloggers are getting it wrong. This is not FE2 class retro. Because the Df is more compact than the F6, the F5, the F4 (even with base battery pack), the F3. The Df is not to be compared with the FE2 family, but with the top of the line F film family for size.

That changed things for me. I'm going to give this a try. Everyone on the interwebs know the manual focusing will be bad since it's a fixed screen, but you got me how they know this for a fact.

I'm withholding judgement until I give it work out. My biggest objections are the lack of video and built in flash. I think the elimination of these were simple cheap-outs. Convenience tools, just like all the usual crap tools in the bottom of a bag you hardly use. Your possession of such tools may lose you 'purity' creds. Who cares.

As for buttons and such, I'm going to work this puppy out. I hope I like it. If not so be it.

I just got back from a long weekend photographing landscape work with Sony's a850, having held onto it while experimenting with Nikon's d800. I couldn't get used to the ergonomics of the d800 and sold it.

If Sony produced an a950 with their 36mp sensor, a good implementation of live view, and kept everything else the same about the a900 or the a850, I would buy it in a heartbeat. It handles brilliantly. The user-interface was/is wonderful. Hopefully the a7r comes close.

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