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Camera Reviews Lens Reviews

In Praise of the Nikon Df and Nikkor 58mm f/1.4 lens

Richard Hulbert (rhulbert)


Keywords: df, nikkor, 58mm, iso

Talk about eccentric behavior . . . Combining the Nikon Df and 58mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor lens . . .

You think you have irrational NAS?  See if you can top this!

Yes… call me crazy. I decided to mate the two most controversial and most “panned” Nikon Products in recent memory and challenge myself to see if I could make images that would not leave me with buyer’s remorse. Can a new Nikon Df Camera and new 58mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens at full aperture make good images together or is this a marriage doomed to fail? Why in the world would someone (me) even be tempted to go against the massive public outcry over these 2 products?

Paraphrasing, combining and summarizing internet site comments to date:

 

“the camera is old school technology that was supposed to be released 2 years ago”

“the lens has less sharpness across the field of view than lenses 1/5 its price”

“the camera is eye candy for rich people whose only taste is in their mouths”

“the lens has a lower DxO rating than most normal lenses and only becomes sharp across the visual field at f/11”

“the price of the camera is ridiculous”

“the price of the lens is ridiculous”

“the camera is an upgrade dinosaur”

“the pixel count is disappointing and should have been 36MP or better still, 54”

“the camera should have had the buffer of the D4, 8FPS, 2 card slots, video, 51 focus   points, build-in flash, removable focusing screen, and USB 3”

“this camera should have been mirrorless with an EVF and focus peaking”

“this camera should have been the D400”

“it is a camera in a party dress … great looks, stupid price … I had hoped for so much more … this is a silly camera … pathetic”

“This camera will be the biggest marketing blunder in history”

 

I must say that I am quite impressed with the fervor of comments pointed at the newly announced Nikon Df camera body. It is amazing how passionate internet users are about a camera most people (let alone photographers) have likely not viewed in person, held in their hands, or used in the image making process.

While it is great that people are so interested in voicing their initial opinions, let’s hope that nobody takes their words too seriously. I will admit that I was initially intrigued by the announcement. Reading the overwhelmingly negative comments voiced throughout the internet community of contributors, I was surprised by the vitriol and distrust given the track record of the Nikon Engineering Team.

 

So why did I even order this unique camera and lens combination?

 

First off, a declaration:

A.  I don’t own a D4.

B.  I believe that the quality of the digital sensor is a critical component in enhanced digital photography.

C.  I enjoy a D800E, an M240, and a RX1 as my “active” cameras for visible spectrum photography.

D. Therefore, I have an excuse for “needing” a low light, high ISO, moderate megapixel camera that excels in implementing fast autofocus and manual focus lenses.

 

Maybe, it is in my nature to take a “dare” or to purposely go against the “tide” of  comments to date, but I decided to order the Df. I will also admit to thinking that my gut feeling could very well end up giving me buyer’s remorse and a major stomach ache.

 

Why I wanted the Nikon Df . . .  “top 10” reasons, not all rational

1.   I like the idea of seeing and controlling many of the key functions on the camera’s top plate. As a professional teacher of photography, I wish every student had one of these cameras so I could see how they are setting the dials in real time during our “walk-about’s.”

2.   I like the notion of gaining the D4’s sensor for much less cost and a lot less bulk.

3.   I am hoping to be better able to auto focus and visually observe that focus snap on the Df than exists on my D800E . . . this despite owning mostly manual focusing lenses. My decision to pair the Df with the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4 lens will test this theory.

4.   My D800E has, for the time being, cured my desire for a high megapixel camera and this Df will hopefully, for the time being, cure my desire for low light, auto focus shooting without a tripod.

5.   The notion of being able to auto bracket up to 3EV’s between shots is intriguing.

6.   I like compact “full frame” camera bodies and I know that small is relative…especially when you add the lens! I am lucky to be able to enjoy one of the smaller full frame interchangeable lens range finder cameras … the Leica M240. I have the Sony Alpha 7r on order. I have and love the Sony R1. The Nikon Df is among the smallest DSLR bodies on the market.

7.   I am wanting a modern digital camera and lens combination that maximizes the IQ for urban portrait, artifact, and street photography. . . . not for commercial, wildlife, architectural or action photography.

8.   Early accounts from Bjørn Rørslett (nfoto) (suggest that the viewfinder’s field of view is far better than the D800 series cameras and is much better for manual focusing. He also suggests that the Live View on the Df is better than on the D800. I guess I will have to wait and see if Bjørn is correct on these compelling features.

9.   I like the ability to easily set the parameters of the image settings before bringing the camera to my eye… especially when engaging in Street Photography. I have 2 functioning hands and I don’t object to the idea of using them both to configure the analogue buttons and dials as I roam the streets.

10.  There is always negative internet chatter whenever a new camera is released. This is true of almost every body make and style. Admittedly, the Df seems to be in the lead when it comes to the sheer volume of negative comments ranging from the absence of features to suggesting a different name. It is almost like daring a future user to take the plunge. For those who remember the original Star Trek series, “Resistance is futile.”

 

 

Why I wanted the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4 lens . . . “top 7” reasons (because I could not come up with 10)

1.   I am hoping to enjoy the wonderful bokeh this lens should deliver at apertures from 1.4 to 4. I believe that the high center sharpness combined with the purposely reduced sharpness at the edges of the frame will assist in this objective. While my 85mm f/1.4 and 200mm f/2.0 lenses are “bokehlicious,” I want to enjoy that experience at a wider and lighter weight focal length.

2.   The center sharpness is pretty darn good from f/2.8 to f/5.6.

3.   I appreciate that the 58mm focal length gives that bit of slightly reduced depth of field over the 50mm focal length balancing portraiture with street shooting.

4.   I am hoping that the lens will improve both autofocusing time and low light performance over other Nikkor “normalish” lenses.

5.   Would I have liked it to be a pancake lens with an aperture of 1.0 or 1.2 and a performance better than other “normal” lenses? … Sure, but I actually have respect for product designers and the notion of “form following function.”

6.   It should be noted, that for photographers who are on a quest to mimic or duplicate human vision in their desire to make “realistic” or “natural” images, our eyes can only focus on a very, very narrow angle of view at any given moment. The newly announced 58mm lens provides the opportunity to more accurately simulate that momentary visual experience. It is not the only lens that can do this, but the center sharpness quoted along with the reduced sharpness away from the center supports this objective.

7.   Vincent Versace told me last year that he chooses his lenses for how they render the out of focus areas . . . not for their edge to edge sharpness. As I have already stated, I am wanting a modern digital camera and lens combination that maximizes the IQ for urban portrait, artifact, and street photography. . .  not for commercial, wildlife, architectural or action photography.

 

Update:

I now have my Df and 58mm f/1.4 lens combination in hand, and the images included below are from my first hour of use. My conclusion, thus far, is that in the future I am going to allow the ISO to float and not worry about the noise issue.

The images included here were taken in my first hour of shooting at a local waterfront commercial development in Vancouver, Canada where I went for dinner. I went there directly after I picked up the camera from my local “pusher” at Kerrisdale Cameras. Maybe one day I will even open the manual and attempt to actually read it.

 

20131202_084411_image-1_medium_iso-3200-1_125-f_1.4-.jpg
Nikon Df, 58mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/125 sec, ISO 3200
Click on the image for a larger view

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32 comments

Konrad Zuse (dr_mabuse) on March 13, 2017

I bought an used Df because it is the smallest full-frame camera and fits straight in my shoulder bag where I earlier had my F90X. I'm very content with it and prefer it over my D700 except for macro work. I use it with my old 50mm/1,4 AF-d as well as with the Tokina 28-70mm/2,6 Pro AF. See my stage photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/dr_mabuse/albums/72157672052242364 where I also used the 15mm/2 Ai-S.

Andrew Fishkin (asiafish) on September 13, 2014

Df arrived on Thursday and it is every bit as good as I'd hoped. 58mm f/1.4 on the way.

Andrew Fishkin (asiafish) on September 7, 2014

Great review. I am a fellow bokeh fanatic (I shoot vintage Zeiss Sonnars on a Leica M Monochrom), so I've been eyeing this combination for some time, and the lens lives in my B&H wish list. Just bought a used silver Df with kit lens at Fred Miranda forums, and now saving my pennies for the 58mm f/1.4. While saving, I have a nice early 1960s Sonnar-formula Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 that was AI'd and a late 1960s Nikkor O 35mm f/2, also AI'd, so I can still get a nice bokeh fix, in color for a change.

David Cummings (David2541) on May 28, 2014

Yes, a good review. I spent two weeks in Burma (Myanmar) in February with my new Df and 24-120 f/4 zoom. After 9 years with digital Nikons I'm finally happy. I have not used my D800e since the Df got here, and may not except for times when I wish I had Medium format resolution. The Df is great for travel and street work. I love it.

David Fattahian (Thrillington) on December 7, 2013

Great review. Totally agree with everything you wrote, Richard. I've had my Df for a couple of weeks now but have not had the time to take it out for a test run until today. Just put my 50mm f/1.2 AIS on the mount, threw my banged up 85mm f/1.4D in the bag and am looking forward to two days of celebrating the fusion of old and new. I love your approach to the mating of the Df and modern 50mm f/1.4. I find the current state of the quest for technical perfection that so many people seem to be focused on these days a bit of a waste. To me, these "imperfections" or "flaws in design" make up the character of the lens, sensor, body, whatever. Looking forward to posting some stuff tomorrow. Have a great weekend.

George W Carey (gcarey8) on December 6, 2013

I agree with the comment that this camera should had D400 in its name. That is exactly what we are missing.

Richard Hulbert (rhulbert) on December 6, 2013

Winner of the Nikonians 10th Anniversary Photo Contest Awarded for his limitless enthusiasm and extraordinarily genial nature consistently in support of Nikonians Writer Ribbon awarded for his generous and valuable contributions to the Nikonians Articles (Resources) section.

Let me try to respond to the previous five comments in order of their posting: Stan … I always enjoy and appreciate your posts. Regarding Manual Focus. You will note on other websites how there are some that feel that the focusing screen allows for easier manual focusing. I am not comfortable in suggesting that is true. While I haven’t done real testing comparisons, I find that I am using the Df hand held in very low lighting conditions … conditions I would have only used a tripod and live view with my D800E. Actually, with my “Architectural” shooting, I have been more focused on increasing the depth of field, whereas on the Df, I am wanting to explore and enjoy a very shallow depth of field and hence shooting wide open on my lenses. The answer is that I am able to manual focus in very dim light, but I have to stop short of suggesting it is better than my D800E. Ted … You are very welcome. Joe … The lens I am using (the new 58mm Nikkor) is not a hair splitting lens. It is a lens designed to celebrate and enhance the out of focus areas of a photo… hence, the less than stellar Dx0 rating. Richard … Enjoy your new Fuji. There will never be a camera that suits everyone for every purpose. The good news is that you will very likely see the advanced technology you seek in a future Nikon Camera. After lusting after many of the features you also would like, I have come to the conclusion that I am looking for the best sensors and lenses and adapting my shooting to the camera. George … You question is actually a good one. I actually use some DX lenses on my FX bodies. I suggest you try them without reducing the field of view as, in some cases, your DX lens FOV might be slightly larger than the DX format, and some intriguing images can be had. The only downside of your suggestion is that the number of megapixels will be reduced as your image will not be able to take advantage of the FX sensor size. One of my favorite cameras in the past was my 4 megapxel D2Hs camera with it’s DX sensor!

George W Carey (gcarey8) on December 6, 2013

Stupid question from a novice. Does it make sense to use this camera body (forgetting cost) on a DX lens like the 18-200? I know this lens is not the sharpest lens in the basket, but it is so convenient. What are the operating restrictions on a DX lens?

Richard Walliker (richardd300) on December 6, 2013

I was perhaps one of the first dissenters on the announcement of the Df, in fact I announced its arrival. So it comes as little surprise that every post here is of praise for the camera. I have read this with interest and give praise for the author for his commitment not to be swayed by adverse comments such as mine which remain as they were from day one. I tried out the Df in my local store last week, it's certainly very stylish. My viewpoint was and still is that I really would like see the departure from the mechanical mirror slapping technology and see Nikon move forward with camera design and technology. However, This appears not to be a highly rated concept, so I have to accept that the future is rather stagnated. This is a shame in my view, but I bow to those who think otherwise and wish them all the best for the journey. For me, Nikon remains my camera of choice for much if what I do, however if Nikon fails to move forward then I see the future as rather bleak. Perhaps I'm seen as a Dinosaur, but I don't think I am as I'm looking forward to and actually excited that I receive my Fuji X-E2 this week. For those who had hoped for more then perhaps our day will come. Richard

Joe Lamorie (valleylad) on December 5, 2013

Rick, I really enjoyed your hands on impression of one retro looking Nikon. The picture of the waitress isn't hair splitting sharp but boy the presence and ambience of the capture is stellar. Great work and enjoy your Christmas gift.

Ted Harman (foto_ted) on December 5, 2013

Thank you for your article. I have been waiting for an objective evaluation before ordering one. You have been very helpful.

Stan Jacox (km6xz) on December 5, 2013

Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in various areas, including Portraits and Urban Photography

I appreciate the photography oriented review, much more aligned with how I view the concept. I get tired of the constant arguments over nuances of the spec sheets or ratings that never get to the heart of it...what it like to hold and capture with? The 58 reminds me a little of the Sigma 50 1.4 that I have. Every lens I have is technically better but none does what it does, very luxurious night portraits in candid/casual conditions. The out of focus rendering is really pretty on your lens. I do not have the funds now but a smaller, lighter low light kit would sure fit my style and why my shot count has gone way down after getting the D800. It is not the camera to have with me all the time like the D90 was so I miss so many interesting opportunities. I just do not get how worked up everyone gets by a camera or manufacturer doing something was not aimed at them, and not doing it how they would have expected. But the internet feeds on that sort of feigned outrage and critical opinion concerning issues they know nothing about. Maybe it is envy..... Enjoy the new "old" feeling and handling. My one question is how is the MF, does it have a MF friendly focus screen and is it replaceable? The one thing I miss most about film is the process of MF, with the silky smooth focus rings to the great focusing screens that left no doubt as to what was in focus.

Richard Hulbert (rhulbert) on December 4, 2013

Winner of the Nikonians 10th Anniversary Photo Contest Awarded for his limitless enthusiasm and extraordinarily genial nature consistently in support of Nikonians Writer Ribbon awarded for his generous and valuable contributions to the Nikonians Articles (Resources) section.

Again, I appreciate all of your comments. As I continue to explore the possibilities of the Df, I have discovered a couple of things I want to share. 1. If you find the front control dial for changing the aperture a bit tough to turn with one finger (and prefer the "modern" way of controlling the aperture), you can go to custom menu f7, then to Change main/sub ON with a choice to have this in effect with just Aperture Preferred (ON A) or all for all Modes (ON). 2. You can show the ISO sensitivity in the viewfinder (instead of the number of exposures remaining using the custom menu setting d3. 3.This is one that even Michael Mariant will be impressed with: While I normally shoot on Aperture Preferred, I find that the Df makes shooting on Manual easier and more enticing. Good Light and Good Luck

Dr. James E. Axelson (JimAxelson) on December 4, 2013

Hi Rick Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about the Df. I am dying to lay my hands on one to keep my D4 and Nikon Photomic FTN Black body company . The Df will be a great companion (it has to be a black one… chuckle..!!) to the D4 when I am out birding. I don't always need the 11fps so the Df should be a great light weight alternative in those moments I feel weak in the knees due to my age and infirmities. I really appreciate your candour about the Df and I could not agree more with your position in the matter. I hope that we have another chance for some night photography down at the Granville Market. The Df will love all the old manual lenses in my kit bag (especially the Nikkor PC 35mm from 1970). I hope our Nikonians group can get together some time so we can share more war stories!! Take care and enjoy the upcoming Holiday Season!! Jim

Travis Burgess (Travis1946) on December 4, 2013

I wish I could afford one. My first Nikons were F series purchased new in 1968. Having one of these would be like going home.

KENT M. WHITNEY (KMWHITNEY) on December 4, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

P.S. Richard, Nice shots, #1 & #2 are my faves! I enjoyed them all, keep shooting my man! R/KMW

KENT M. WHITNEY (KMWHITNEY) on December 4, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Richard, you are a man of grace, talent and a kid at heart… My Df arrived yesterday, my wife has not seen me for 24 hours now and hates the Df (the other woman she said). My Df is all black and is very stealth in appearance, not as light as I had perceived but much lighter than my D700 and D800 with grips. heavier in feel than my F-FTN, FE, FG and lighter than my F6. The touch and feel is a bit plasticity to me but I know the materials used are strong and should make this one tough in the field. I shot about 200 frames in different light & textures, DOF and slower speeds and lower ISOs and will then go out tomorrow night and test the low light aspects at higher ISOs. I have been using my AF-S 200mm f2 VR, AF-S 70-200 f2.8 VR, AF-S 50mm f1.4, AF 50mm f1.8D and lastly for now my AF 14mm f2.8D ED (my older glass from the past 1960'S AND 70'S later on). The shots so far are pleasing and and on par with my expectations. I have to admit I felt like a school kid with his or her first camera. I do not think this little baby is for everyone but those that jump in with both heart and soul should be pleased. Those folks with all the fervor and fluff and have not even seen or held one yet, ranting about this and that, "Have-a-Day, No Worries, you are missing the point and the boat, best wishes to ya and if you can as a Photog open your heart and minds along with your vision of the moments to come and applaud those that have gone before you into the future with a hint of the past. I choose to believe that this DF is and will be a nice blast from the past and will move into the unknown future with a smile. Richard, get your book completed, I am standing by!! Enjoy your new Df, I am ;-) V/R Kent

Bill Schmitt (BillS52) on December 3, 2013

I clicked the fourth image expecting to see all kinds of noise in the sky. It wasn't there! I am impressed! Thanks for the article .

Garrett Hayes (Garrett Hayes) on December 3, 2013

I am one who raised an objection to the Df. One objection only. The price! In the US it is about $2794 but in Ireland, in the EU, its is a whopping $ 4500.00. If the price was about $1000 less I would definitely buy one but what justification is there for this huge price difference. Otherwise I would not have cancelled my pre order.

Nathan Wong (nathantw) on December 3, 2013

Oh shoot, looking at your photos at ISO 3200 and 6400 I decided I NEED that camera! Thank you for your article and the accompanying photos. My D700 are about 1 to 2 ISO lower to get the quality you're seeing with the Df. Good to see it's worth the money.

Pierre Blattner (blatgun) on December 3, 2013

May be I have to start to think a little differently about this Df. The pictures are just amazing and the other thing I like is the fact it's no video on it. Just really photography!

Richard Hulbert (rhulbert) on December 3, 2013

Winner of the Nikonians 10th Anniversary Photo Contest Awarded for his limitless enthusiasm and extraordinarily genial nature consistently in support of Nikonians Writer Ribbon awarded for his generous and valuable contributions to the Nikonians Articles (Resources) section.

Thanks to everyone, so far, for your kind and thoughtful comments.

Robert A. Bettis (bettis1) on December 3, 2013

Thanks for the review. Even as an amateur I appreciate the classic old Nikon top. It is the same love of the timeless masterpieces that makes one choose a Smith & Wesson Triple Lock or a Colt Single Action Army over a Glock; or an MG TC or a Jaguar XK 120 over a Corvette zr-1…it's called "elegance". Bob

John Palamara (palamara) on December 3, 2013

Thank you a rational commentary from someone who actually has tested the DF. I own the DF and its low light qualities moving up from my D700 is simply amazing. I love your last shot the most Rick.

Egbert M. Reinhold (Ineluki) on December 2, 2013

If I hadn`t already a D4 I would go for a DF. The pictures you show here a pretty good. But I love the picture with the waitress. Looks like a movie. Egbert

Gregory A Hoyle (Greg Hoyle) on December 2, 2013

I loved your writeup and perspective. Nice analysis. Nice art. The high ISO shots are impressive

Walter Hanf (Fotofreund1964) on December 2, 2013

Awarded for his effort on German workshops.

Hi Rick, Danke für Deine Zeilen und ersten Eindrücke! Bestädigt mein Denken über diese Kamera. Das Objektiv ist nicht mein Ding aber absolut exzelent! Gruß aus Bayern Walter

Alex Scott (Scotty) on December 2, 2013

I would love a Df... Cost precludes it at the moment, but in a year... Possibly... Great hands on thing here... The first pic very impressive noise wise...

Chris Wraight (Aqualung) on December 2, 2013

Awarded for his technical proficiency and numerous positive critiques over several years, most notably in the Sports forum

Nice to hear your thoughts Rick, I subscribe to your #6 & #7 points above; I'm seriously considering the Sony A7, and perhaps a 3rd generation Nikon 1 (just rumored). At first I dismissed this, but perhaps it will warrant another look next year when I will probably pull the trigger on such a kit.

Michael Beresford (MikeBee) on December 2, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Love this "non tech hands on" review! I don't anticipate a Df in my future, but the new 58mm has been and is on the top 3 list.

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on December 2, 2013

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit.

Rick is obviously enjoying his photography -- unfettered by any need to photograph brick walls or test charts. Bravo! THIS is what photography should be about -- recording the beautiful universe around you -- following whatever paths that may lead you on. My only criticism of the DF -- and I don't own one -- is that it diverges so widely from the trends in photography. That doesn't make it a bad tool. But it does mean that a lot of people who have grown up on current designs -- which have been around for a decade -- are going to be reluctant to spend the necessary kind of money on this body to merge two decades ago and today. I think it's a marketing blunder, but I applaud Rick for taking real photographs in his initial efforts with his new camera.

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on December 2, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thanks for the fun and informative write up Rick, and congratulations on choosing your own path!

G