Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Nikon Df - First Look

Hello all.  We wanted to give you a quick look at the newly arrived Nikon Df.

In the "body only" box:
  • Nikon Df camera in black
  • EN-EL14a battery
  • battery charger
  • viewfinder cap w/ tether
  • camera strap
  • manualsViewNX2 software
  • body cap
  • USB cable
This camera has been quite an opinion piece for a lot of the forums and bloggers.  Before anyone had this in their hands they were either praising it as the next coming or panning it as an overpriced piece of trash that is nothing more than a way for Nikon to bilk money from fanboys.

The above 2 images were taken using the Df's in camera HDR mode setting (2EV).

As with most things in life, going to either extreme is a very emotional, reactionary way of looking at this and generally just causes more trouble than its worth.

What we do know is this as of this writing:
  • The heart of the Nikon Df is, arguably by some, one of the best high end DSLR full frame sensors made to date - that of the Nikon D4 and the Expeed 3 processing engine.
  • The price of the Nikon D4 is $6000USD, the Df $2747USD.
  • The Df is weather sealed to the standard of the D800.
  • The Df is about still images, so no video mode is present.
  • The Df standard for digital fusion.  What this means is that you have a conglomeration of manual controls from legacy cameras in the Nikon line up like the F and FM series SLRs.  You also get the control system of the modern DSLR with front and rear control wheels.  Its your choice how you want to work with this camera.  Plus some of the control methods can be combined!!  More on that further down in the post.
  • It is the lightest full frame DSLR that Nikon makes right now(710g with no lens)
Feel free to visit the Nikon site to get the full list of specs...but you get the idea.

1/13, f/4, ISO 1600, 36mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5VR
Below, I'm going to share some things that I found interesting.

Feel Of The Camera:
It is lighter than you would expect, but feels very solid.  The control wheels are stiff and I think would be fine even without the wheel locks for a lot of users.  It would be nice if the locks were "on/off" and not "press and hold", but for me it was not that big of a deal.  I've gotten used to running the exposure comp and ISO dials by feel - no need to move my eye from the finder.

  • Auto Focus - Because the weather here has not been the best, most of my tests have been indoors.  Cannot say that I have seen this camera hunt for focus at all.  The majority of my shooting has been with my old 50mm f/1.8D lens.  It focus' fast and sure.  I plan on eventually running every lens I have through the Df to see how they all perform.
  • Manual Focusing - A lot has been bantered about regarding manual focusing.  Some people think that it will be difficult if not impossible to manual focus lenses on the Df because they believe that the viewfinder is the same as a D800/D610 or because it does not have a split prism focusing screen.  My findings showed me that I was able to manually focus without issue.  Not 100% dead on rate, but better than when I tried on my D300 or D700.  So far, I've tested manual focus on 50mm f/1.8D and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6.  The image really did "snap" into focus and I could tell even without verifying with the "little green dot" in the finder that the focus was there.  This is one of those things that you really need to investigate for yourself if you are going to want the Df for those old MF/AI/AI-s lenses.  Make sure it is going to get you where you want to be.
1/80, f/5, ISO 200, 68mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5VR
Black and White processing in onOne Perfect B&W 8
Exposure Controls:
  • Shutter Speed - I think that Nikon put a lot of thought into this and gave us a lot of options. You have the choice of going one stop steps with the shutter dial on top of the camera.  Nikon also gives you the option of putting that dial in "1/3 step" mode and then using a command dial to adjust the shutter speed.  Pretty standard stuff.  Now this is the extra stuff and where the "fusion" style starts showing itself.  There is a setup option that you can active that will allow you to do a kind of "program shift" with the rear command dial while using the top shutter speed dial as the main setting.  With the "f11" menu setting "easy shutter-speed shift" it will allow you to increase or decrease the shutter speed by 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop using the top dial as the base.  Pretty slick if you ask me.
  • Aperture Control - The Df gives you the option of controlling the aperture value from the command dial, or if you are using a non-G type lens with an aperture ring on the lens(this does not include some older AI lenses) you can use the aperture ring on the lens.  If this mode is on and you switch out the "D" type lens and put on a "G" type, it recognizes that and automatically activates the command dial for aperture value adjustments.
  • Auto ISO implementation - I like how this works.  You setup in the menu the minimum and maximum ISO you want to allow the camera to "bounce around" in.  They also give you a menu setting to set minimum shutter speed as well.  What I like is that if I override the min or max from the ISO dial, I get that overridden value.  I think it is a very smart way of doing the ISO.
Shutter Sound:
Yes, it is very quite.  We need to keep it in perspective, though.  It is quite when compared to other DSLRs.  My D700 and D300 can sound like someone is racking the charging handle on an M240 machine gun in comparison.  But if we compare this shutter sound to say a Fuji X-E1/X-Pro1, then to my ear(not scientific) it is louder.

1/40, f/4, ISO 140, 35mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR
Black and White processing in onOne Perfect B&W 8
Customizable Buttons:
There are a lot of buttons on the camera body that can be customized.  The OK button in the middle of the multi selector, the multi-selector, command dials, AE-L/AF-L button, the preview button, the function button, the LCD illuminator button and the BKT button.
Not all are programmable equally, but it is nice to have the flexibility to set these up how you want.
For example, I really never use the DOF preview, so that button I set to "flash off".  I do this at times when working with on camera flash or radio triggers and want an ambient only lit image.  Instead of having to turn the flash/trigger on and off - I just press the "flash off" for that image.

Holding The Camera:
The grip on the Df is going to need to be adjusted slightly.  Anyone coming from any retro styled digital camera or a vintage film camera will be familiar with this.  I'll compare my grip on my D700 versus the Df.  The D700 gives you a deeper grip, which allows you to keep your fingers parallel to the ground when holding the camera at eye level.  Your index finger and thumb then naturally fall to the shutter release and the front and rear command dials.
The grip on the Df is different however.  You need to drop your palm downward and angle your fingers 45 degrees to the ground when the camera is held at eye level.  This then puts your index finger at the shutter position and then your thumb and index finger are also in proper position to get to the control wheels.

I've taken some images of me holding the D700 and the Df below to illustrate.  Pardon the stubble...I'm growing in my winter coat!!  lol  :D

For those interested in a deep dive, the manual can be found here:

Here is an interesting story for you.  I went to my local photo store to pick up the Df.  When I was checking out the salesman and I had this exchange:
Salesman: "Yeah, when we first heard about this camera, we were not interested in it."
Me: "Really?"
Salesman: "That was until we took our demo out shooting last night.  Now we finally understand it."

At the end of the day - this is quite a unique design.  You do not want to read the blogs of people that have never used the camera.  You cannot appreciate this piece of kit from afar.  To truly understand it, go in with an open mind and use it.  Then if you still don't like it, at least you gave it the benefit of the doubt.

The way I see it, you are getting a still image only version of the Nikon D4 with a price tag of less then half that.  That is nothing to disregard lightly.

Another item that I would like to share is the comments about the 1/4000th shutter speed "limit".
I put in the shutter speed filter in Lightroom and out of the 35,000 image catalogue, I had under 100 images that exceeded the 1/4000th shutter speed mark.  Most of them were images that I forgot to switch the ISO back down after shooting indoors.  I understand some people's need for a shutter speed that fast, but I think for the target audience of this camera, the 1/4000th should do them just fine.

Here are some street images captured on my first "day out".  Went to the North Market and Short North area in Columbus, OH on a brisk December day(roughly 28F).  Just took the Df and the 50mm f/1.8D out for a stroll.  Still looking for the "just right" settings.  All these images were taken with the "standard" picture control and then processed in Lightroom 5.2 and onOne Perfect B&W(which is my standard workflow for post).
1/250, f/4, ISO 800, 50mm

1/640, f/4, ISO 100, 50mm

1/60, f/5.6, ISO 400, 50mm
My Personal Feelings About The Camera:
After shooting with this camera for a week, I can honestly say that I love using it!!  It draws very little attention,  creates great files, and shoots like a dream.  I love going out and shooting personal projects with this camera.  I find that, for my shooting style, there are no compromises that need to be made.  I get top rate performance.  I could not ask for anything more.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR - Gear Review

Next on our gear review list is the relatively new released Nikon 24-85mm. This lens was released as a kit lens to the Nikon D600/610 series of cameras.

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR
Why purchase this lens, especially since we already have the older Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5? 

Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro

The older Nikon lens is actually a great lens. Very sharp for what it is,  sturdy metal construction, smooth zoom doing,  and can be found for next to nothing.   I picked this lens up a few years ago when I wanted a walk around zoom for my full frame Nikon D700.  Did some online shopping and found it for $62USD at KEH.

Ault Park Pavilion - Cincinnati, Ohio
ISO 100, 1/125, f/10,  32mm(no VR)
We've shot some street with it and a few community events.   It has held up well and performed admirably. It does have a bit of a slow AF speed performance.   It also lacks VR.

Strategically Lit
ISO 1600, 1/15, f/5.6, 50mm(VR active)
Fountain At Night
ISO 1600, 1/30, f/5.6 24mm(VR active)

So we went looking for a replacement and found a refurbished 24-85mm VR for $349USD. 

So far,  initial use has been positive.   It is definitely a sharp lens,  even acceptably so wide open at all focal lengths. The VR works as advertised, but we found little need for it until we started getting into the 50mm focal lengths and beyond or started shooting in very low light(night scenes).

Mass Transit, Downtown Cincinnati, OH
ISO 1600,  1/40, f/4.2, 44mm(VR active)
The newer 24-85mm also had the full time MF override capability.  

Test Platform:  Nikon D700 with Picture Control Standard (I do this because I like to post process all my JPG images in Lightroom/PS CC).  All the images here are hand held.

Size:  In comparison to the older Nikon 28-85mm zoom,  it is shorter, but larger in diameter.

Handling:  What you would expect from a zoom of this grade.  A little sticky at times, but overall pretty smooth.  I expect it to smooth out more with use(it has already).  It also has the same focus and AF ring positioning(zoom toward the front, focus ring toward the back) like on the Tamron 70-300mm we reviewed earlier. Not bad,  just different, especially since the older Nikon has the zoom ring to the rear of the lens.  Full time AF override, so you can crank that manual focus ring if need be.

AF speed:  Dead silent and heads and shoulders faster than the older 28-85mm.  Not pro grade lens fast, but acceptable for everyday use.

Optical quality:  Pretty close to even, I don't think I could give a nod one way or the other.  They both were very good.

Image Stabilization:  As mentioned earlier, we found very little need to use the VR until we got at and well past the 50mm focal length and into some night scenes.

Mall Christmas Tree
ISO 1000, 1/30, f/4.5, 24mm(VR active)
The sample images are from a wide array of scenes.  EXIF data provided will show that we were able to successfully use the VR for handheld night shots.  Generally, I would have used a tripod and a lower ISO for these kinds of images, but its good to know you can "run and gun" with some higher ISO and VR and get acceptable images.