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

Richard Hulbert (rhulbert) on December 2, 2013

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.



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.


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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