New full frame cameras – mirrorless Sony and the retro Nikon Df

Written by Gary on November 6th, 2013

Nikon today formerly announced their new retro styled full frame dSLR – the Nikon Df.

The Nikon Df presumably is in response to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fuji mirrorless cameras which have enthused the enthusiast and pro photographer world with their great retro styling and classic ergonomics.


Nikon Df

Nikon Df

The Nikon Df is bound to be a hit with Nikon die hards who will fall in love with its nice styling but unlike the Olympus OM-D E-M5, instead of combining great retro looks and ergonomics with cutting edge technologies and awesome new versatility such as brilliant image stabilisation down to 2 secs hand held, almost waterproof features, WiFi control by smartphones, etc, etc, Nikon has produced a camera with no new technology but instead less technology and functionality  than is currently available in equivalent but less expensive cameras – such as their Nikon D800 dSLR.

It certainly has more aesthetics than Nikon’s other dSLRs, but at a cost of less customisation options – unlike the OM-D cameras, the top dials cannot be customised to other functions as needed and some dials such as the exposure compensation dial will be redundant in manual exposure mode.

The Nikon Df is a hybridization of:

  • Nikon F-series film camera:
    • body resembles that of Nikon’s F-series 35mm cameras, complete with dials for shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation.
    • unfortunately the utility and ergonomics of these dials is not great, especially if you have your eye to the viewfinder as these dials are difficult to unlock without viewing directly
    • furthermore, the argument the dials display all the data falls down as they don’t show aperture, and if you want more flexible shutter speeds, will not show that either as you use the front dial instead, plus you have the LCD screen to display all this anyway.
  • the Nikon D4 pro dSLR:
    • the 16mp full-frame CMOS sensor
    • EXPEED 3 image processing engine
    • 1/250th sec flash sync
  • the Nikon D600 mid-level dSLR:
    • the 39 point autofocus system from the Nikon D600
    • same boring fixed non-touch 3.2″ 921K dot LCD screen as the Nikon D600/D800/D4
    • same optical pentaprism viewfinder as the Nikon D600/D800/D4
    • same limited shutter range as the Nikon D600 (30sec-1/4000th sec)
    • same limited 5.5fps burst rate
    • “environmental sealed” as for the D800
  • minus a few features:
    • only +/- 3EV exposure compensation instead of +/- 5EV
    • only 1 SD card slot and no CF slot
    • lighter at 760g, it is lighter than the other Nikon full frame dSLRs (the D610 is 850g)
    • no movie mode
    • no scene modes
    • no timelapse recording
    • no built-in flash

In summary, lovely looking camera with great image quality with excellent high ISO capability designed for the still photographer only, but no built-in image stabilisation, and unlike the Sony option below only takes Nikon-mount lenses or larger format lenses.

Unfortunately the aesthetic design gets in the way of ergonomics and functionality instead of improving it as is the case with the Olympus E-M5 and E-M1.

and the hands on preview at dpreview concludes with “As such, although I hate to say it: from a cold, hard practical point of view, I can’t shake the feeling that the Df is a little bit… silly.”

Unless you really, really want the 16mp sensor, or you need to use very old Nikon lenses, you would be better off with a MUCH CHEAPER 24mp Nikon D610.

Now for the Sony mirrorless full frames – the a7 and a7R:

These two camera represent an the start of the future of full frame cameras – removing the old optical pentaprism and noisy, heavy mirror box and replacing it with modern high quality electronic viewfinders allows the cameras to be made much smaller, lighter, less expensive, and best of all, capable of using almost any 35mm full frame lens ever made, including Leica rangefinder lenses.

The Sony a7 camera is a 24MP camera with on-sensor phase detection sensors for faster continuous AF tracking and some AF capability with lenses not optimised for CDAF technologies.

The more expensive Sony a7R has a similar sensor to the Nikon D800 at 36mp with no anti-alias filter for highly detailed images but no phase detect sensors.

Time for Olympus to go full frame too?

Olympus and Sony are collaborating, and I only wish Olympus produce a full frame version of the their Olympus OM-D E-M1 with its wonderful features such as awesome image stabiliser down to 2 secs hand held which works on all lenses,  almost waterproof, cool Live BULB and timed BULB modes, WiFi control by smartphones, fast, accurate CD-AF, and a flash system compatible with Micro Four Thirds (although hopefully with new radio TTL flash system added).

Of course this would mean Olympus would need to develop a new range of CD-AF compatible full frame lenses but as there is really no-one else seriously doing this apart from Sony, this would be an awesome time to get in first and become a leader as they have done with Micro Four Thirds in the cropped sensor mirrorless genre.



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