Today was the unveiling of the not-so-secret Nikon Df (digital fusion) DSLR. While many are calling the design "retro," Nikon has really gone back to what made shooting photos easier: physical dials. Not everyone is pleased, but the goal for the company was to make a product that attempted to remove the barrier between the photographer and the photography, something that film cameras arguably did by being simple mechanical devices. As a part of the strategy, however, Nikon has also gone against the grain and removed all video features from the camera. But if a Japanese camera company is willing to release a 'fusion' photography camera, where's the 'fusion' digital cinema camera?
Here is a hands-on with Engadget:
The camera is going to come in two versions, the silver above, which closely matches the current style of retro cameras, and a more understated black version:
- 16.2MP Full-frame Sensor
- EXPEED 3 Image Processor
- 3.2" 921k-Dot LCD Monitor
- Optical Glass Pentaprism Viewfinder
- Still Image Only Camera with JPEG, RAW, TIFF
- Mechanical Exposure Control Dials
- Multi-CAM 4800 AF Sensor with 39 Points
- ISO 100-12,800 (Expandable to 50-204800)
- 5.5 fps Continuous
- Rugged Magnesium Alloy Body
- SD Card Slot
- Available Late November
- Price: $2750 Body Only, $3,000 with 50mm 1.8 Lens
There are some who will inevitably cry hipster foul at a camera styled in this way (side note: I despise that word and most people who use it), but the Nikon 1, not this camera, is really the fashion accessory from the company, with its tiny point-and-shoot sensor. This Df camera actually features the same 16MP full-frame sensor found in the twice as expensive flagship D4. Image quality was the priority for this model, and by putting the flagship sensor in their smallest full-frame body, they are reinforcing that idea. It is also capable of metering with nearly every Nikon F mount lens ever made, though manual focusing would still be easier with a split circle viewfinder screen.
Nikon's marketing campaign was pretty fantastic in my opinion, producing videos that had a texture perfectly matching the product they were making. Here are just two of the teaser videos:
And here is the final video, a compilation of the first 5:
So what's so special about a still photography camera that has removed video -- a feature that started the DSLR revolution and gave us more cinematic images than we could have ever dreamed of for the price? Well, it's the dials:
While the camera can still be controlled from the menus, Nikon has followed the lead of companies like Fuji and has brought back physical dials to control major functions of the camera. Practically everything can be controlled just from the top dials, but if you want finer increments of shutter speed, you'll have to choose the 1/3 Step mode on the shutter dial.
Many will balk at the fact that the camera doesn't even contain a rudimentary video mode, but the video on the D4 was actually nothing special, and probably some of the softest and ugliest of the newer generation of cameras. Rather than releasing a product with a feature that doesn't even come close to the competition, they've completely axed it in favor of simplifying the picture-taking process. I think the design is a smart move in theory, though not having held the camera, I have no idea how well it will work in practice. While you could argue that true purist photography would involve giant view cameras and wet-plate printing, this is really a combination of a more traditional 35mm still camera and digital technology, which allows the camera to reach the insanely high-ISO of over 204,800 just like the bigger D4 brother.
What This Means for DSLRs
If you're a huge fan of video on DSLRs, this camera is proof that all of these Japanese companies begrudgingly added video. This kind of body was never meant to shoot video, and to add video features has meant changing some things around, and putting more options in the way of still photographers. Even though many photographers have welcomed the change and have begun adding video to their arsenal, the low entry price for more cinematic looking images and interchangeable lenses is one of last reasons that DSLRs are still a choice to shoot a project that only requires video (small size might be another, but we're seeing cameras like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera take care of that).
I think we're going to continue getting the same kind of video on DSLRs for years to come, and for the companies moving out of the DSLR space like Sony, and those who are only in the mirrorless space like Panasonic, the more video-centric products with higher quality will be in a specific and more expensive product category, so as not to upset the higher margin "video" cameras. Video has been an afterthought for most of these companies, and the Nikon Df perfectly explains why. To them, video has been a distraction that added a little bit of value, and got you in the door to buy more expensive cameras that do better video. I really like what Nikon is trying to do, but much of the reason they are doing it is because DSLR sales are in the toilet thanks to smartphones -- devices which are always on you and take good enough, or even excellent, photos.
Where's Our Affordable 'Digital Fusion' Cinema Camera?
I am perfectly fine with separating photography and video on certain devices, especially as you're probably hurting one to make the other one better, but for some reason the idea of a camera with a higher recording format (like RAW) and easier manual controls has not quite made its way down to affordability. Cameras like the ARRI ALEXA have arguably already done what I and many others have asked for, but it's not something most people can own, and certainly not something you're going to take with you for fun. The only two companies doing anything similar to this at an affordable price are Blackmagic and Digital Bolex.
While Blackmagic has the price and capabilities down pat, it's form factor mixed with the touch screen-only interface mean you've got to dig into a menu to do anything -- which is fine if you're shooting very controlled, but once things speed up and time is of the essence, it can really get in the way. Digital Bolex is probably the closest to a fusion camera that exists right now at an affordable price, but it has its own quirks that won't be perfect for every situation, including a sensor that needs a bit more light to really shine. There is also the fact that the team knows it can only make a certain amount of cameras, so you're probably not going to be picking this up at Amazon or B&H anytime soon.
I've talked about camera design quite a bit it seems, but it's because anything with a 35mm sensor under $10,000 is still being made with the mindset that something has to be small and portable and then rigged up when you need to get serious. Shooting with older Arri film cameras is about as simple as it gets, and aside from the process of loading film, it's about the closest you can get to making the camera an extension of your mind. Get your exposure reading and you're good to go.
I am a huge fan of what companies like Blackmagic, Digital Bolex, and the small open source startup Apertus are doing, but none have quite gotten perfect recording formats, sensor size, body size, and ease of use. I've never been a huge fan of shooting video on DSLRs. Every time I do I am reminded that functions I need are not where I need them. I like shooting on RED, but getting through their menu system is a legitimate nightmare. Only ARRI might finally be introducing the lower-budget camera I'm asking for in the AMIRA, but it's still going to be well outside of affordable for most.
If You Want Ease of Use and Image Quality, It's Going to Cost You
That's more or less the conclusion I get from the release of the Nikon Df. At $2,750 for the body and $3,00o with a 50mm 1.8 (which is styled like the camera but essentially the same lens as the cheap 50mm), the Df is a statement that good image quality and ease of use are still going to cost you. The same can be said for digital cinema, where the cameras with the most functionality that are still easy to use also happen to be the most expensive. Someday this may change (maybe when we're all shooting 8K video), but for now, you've got to save up your pennies if you want all of that in one camera.
If you like what they're doing (and you want one of your own), you can find a pre-0rder link below.
Link: Nikon Df Pre-Order