The Nikon DF – Retro cool or overhyped cash-in?

Well, Nikon have finally done it. They have been talking about this in the sidelines for years, a full frame digital Nikon camera, with classic looks and handling. But is all as it seems?

Unless you have been living under a rock (I respect your choice if you do), you cannot have failed to notice that Nikon has had the hype machine of full power over the last couple of weeks. What with the teaser ads and the viral marketing (letting images of the camera ‘slip’ into public view), they have had the internet in a bit of a tizz over the new offering, the Nikon DF.
Now this is nothing new, Olympus started the trend with the pen cameras, retro styling in a modern body. And Olympus did it very well. They made a camera that was not overly expensive, that had the ease of digital and the looks of a film camera. After the success of this, everyone was on it, trying to get a bite of that retro pie.
And, as usual, Nikon is late to the table. But better late than never. And this is what they have for us:


According to Nikon, the DF stands for Digital Fusion, whatever that means. Fusion of what exactly? It is supposedly based on the FM2, but with a larger prism. Though in all honesty, I don’t think it holds a candle to the FM2. This is a modern imitation. But that is what it is supposed to be after all. It actually weighs a bit more than the FM2 as well, so you know it is not going to be a lightweight beast.

It has all of the tricks you would expect from a modern digital camera, but the big selling point for many is that it is full frame. There was talk a long time ago of Nikon making a FF S2 or SP, made in the same standard as the S rangefinders, but I guess that proved too costly.

The dials are a nice touch, especially the ISO selector. But there are too many buttons, and that brings me to my next point.


Nikon have been using the tag ‘Pure Photography’ to push this camera. And I am really not sure what to make of that. I mean, if it was pure photography they were after, surely they wouldn’t have made the back of the camera the same old generic digital back, piled up with all kinds of buttons for different modes? I would have thought that Pure Photography would mean keeping it simple, by not having a ton of features. Back to the old school if you will. Making something that is different and that forced the photographer to rely on his instincts and not the settings and dials.

I posted the NikonRumors piece about this camera on my facebook page, and the ensuing comments have been very enlightening. Especially the ones about the price. This is not a cheap camera, not by any stretch. OK, it is full frame, but that should not really be an issue in this day and age. Nikon and the others produce millions (between them) of FF units every year, and realistically they should be standard by now, which would mean for lower prices. But this camera comes with a retro tax. The pricing of this camera puts it high enough that only the most dedicated are going to shell out for it.

And that is my problem with the camera. The retro styling. It is a digital camera trying to be cool and old fashioned and this is the fault of the makers. Nikon et al have not done anything truly groundbreaking to the design of their digital cameras since….forever, so they all look the same, act the same and never really change. They could have really done something different with this and made it truly ‘pure’. A manual only or aperture priority FF digital camera. Simple functions. Complete redesign. But they did not, as they don’t want to take the risk. To me that is the shame, as Nikon used to be ready to take a risk, and bring us completely game changing cameras. I know this is not meant to be a game changer, but it could have been something.

It seems to me like this camera is a cash-in. It is like the have grabbed a D601 off the shelf and jammed it into a retro styled body. Nikon have realised there is money to be made in re-branding the classics in a digital format. So what is next? A bastardisation of the F3?

Colour me unimpressed. If I want a classic Nikon I will by a classic Nikon. If I want a digital Nikon I will buy a Digital Nikon. I am not looking for an overpriced ‘fusion’ camera.

What are your thoughts on this camera? Love it? Hate it? Share yours in the comments below.