#203. Nikon Df

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Feb 25

As a (now almost completely retired) marketer, I often look at products and wonder how the hell the company that made them got to where they are/were.


The Df is Nikon’s take on retro. Clearly intended to cash in on the same trend that has delivered the revitalised Beetle and Mini, made the rangefinder camera desirable all over again, boosted valve amplifiers and a whole long list of other stuff.


Unlike those successes, the Df feels like an attempt that only just makes it to the me too level; bringing surprisingly little that’s new to the table. Sure, it shines a light on Nikon’s successful past, when cameras were simpler, less complex (and film-based). But in those days, cameras were also better made – film was available everywhere and if you bought a Nikon it was for the long haul.


And, while Nikon has been sensible and omitted a video capability, it also left out GPS and wi-fi, the former I’d really like in my DSLR. At 16mp, the sensor from the D4 might be extremely good, but technology has moved along almost two years since it’s introduction. Did it find its way into the Df because a commitment to buy n sensors for the D4 over a set period and was in danger of falling short, with punitive contractual charges on the horizon?


We’ll probably never know. What I do know is that instead of delivering a knock your eyes out camera, Nikon has given us something with it’s feet safely in both camps. That’s not the way great products and services are made – ask someone who owns a Dyson vacuum, Toyota Prius, or an iPhone/iPad.


As if that wasn’t a big enough marketing blunder, the camera carries a price tag meant to give it some cachet; desirability amongst those who buy. The Df’s price just made my teeth bleed – hardly a trait to show off to one’s friends.


The inevitable next step when you’ve got over the shock, is to compare it with similar products and wonder how they could possibly have arrived at that price, other than with a pin, a blindfold and a spreadsheet of random numbers. The nearest Nikon is the excellent D600/610, a fine camera with almost identical performance, no pretensions and a price tag $800 lower. WTF?


You get to charge those prices when you’ve got something people queue up all night outside your store for. When you order one and wait months for it to be beamed down from the mothership in Germany, or own a B&B at an oasis in the desert.


So no, I don’t get the Df.


I’ve accumulated lots of cameras over the years – I am a hoarder at heart, despite the valiant and ongoing efforts of my wife. Equally, I have lots of lenses – many of these I use almost daily. Not because they are old and remind me of better times, but because they deliver very good results. I’m learning to use them properly, take my time and am often rewarded with some great images.


What I really don’t get about the Df is that it is neither a top of the range digital camera, nor sporting a price tag to attract the young who might want a whiff of the past. It doesn’t even seem to attract many people like you and me who might have fond memories of an older and much loved film Nikon.


In short, you could be forgiven for saying that it’s an ill conceived, overpriced camera which if Nikon’s management were to be held accountable (as they ought), should lead to a group seppuku. Hopefully, the incoming new management team will then deliver products the market wants, mixed with the innovation that Nikon used to be known for.


Offer me a mirrorless body with a native F mount, a 25-30mp sensor, in-camera stabilisation, OVF and a good movable rear LCD and I’d be interested.


A retro F? Hell no – I’ve still got two of the originals.


Since drafting this piece, LULA’s Michael Reichmann has written and posted a similar article. In fact, he could have had a sneak look at mine. You’ll find his take here.