My social media feeds are usually full of modeling photos, new
camera announcements, and the occasional person looking for attention. This
week it has exploded with news of the Nikon Df. Articles galore condemning or commending
Nikon for their newest camera. F-stoppers had a great comparative article
showcasing the two camps. I found myself strongly leaning toward the ‘this
camera is unnecessary’ side. I thought I would weigh in with my usual brand of wit and sarcasm.
The main argument for the Df is it is a photographer’s camera. No frills, no video, just pure photography goodness. This is not meant to be a camera for weddings or professional studio work. It is purely for the enjoyment of photography. It is for going back to our earliest memories of falling in fall with photography. Nikon is really trying to play on our strong nostalgic emotions of our first ‘simple’ cameras.
One argument is that it reminds us of our first cameras. That we can go back to that mind frame of discovery and excitement. My love of photography started differently than many other photographers’ stories I read about. I always hear about photographers getting their dads old Nikon or Olympus and toying around with black and white film yadda yadda yadda falling in love with it. Well I never was able to get an SLR. I knew I loved photography early on but all my parents could afford was a point and shoot camera. I loved it and was really grateful but I remember always being handcuffed creatively by what the camera could do. I knew exactly what kind of image I wanted but I could not replicate it with what I had available. The camera simply wasn’t good enough. Therefore me going back to my roots doesn’t mean I focus on creativity and excitement, I think of limitation and frustration.
So this camera is marketed as back to basics ‘for the love of photography’. The very idea of a pleasure camera is counter intuitive. I understand the desire for a compact camera as a casual creative shooter, but the Df just doesn’t fall into any appropriate category. I have just accepted that on trips and nature walks I am bringing large DSLRs and large heavy lenses. I can’t accept poor quality photos on vacations so I will suck it up and bring my proper gear. I would not bring a Df just because I love taking pictures. I love taking good quality photos where I can create the image exactly like I want. I am aware you can use all of your regular lenses on this camera but the marketing suggests you would just use one simple lens and snap away like you used to as a kid.
I also strongly disagree that the Df is like a Porsche and other DSLRs are like a utilitarian van. To me a Porsche is about styling, speed, the thrill of driving. I understand how that can be related to photography. But the joy of photography is about creating an image. It is a tool for you to accomplish something. The camera itself only enhances your journey by allowing you to create what you envision. Your experience of using the camera should enhance what you are trying to achieve. Can a camera be fun to use? Or is it more about being easy to use to accomplish what you want? Rather than thinking between Porsche or Caravan I think of it more like the Mustang redesign. They took inspirations of the old beloved nostalgic design and wrapped it around modern functionality and engineering. An old Porsche is beautiful and elegant, but it could never drive like a brand new 991. The idea that the Df is a physical reminder of why you picked up a camera is ridiculous. I will always buy the best camera I can afford.
Thus we come to the Apple argument. They sell beautiful things that are overpriced. Yes they do, but they also make user friendly devices that are intuitive and allow you to do what you want to efficiently. Actually when you think about it, is the Df actually beautiful? It’s just old looking? Old looking doesn’t mean better. Apple isn’t making beige boxy computers to remind us of the glory days of computing. Not yet anyways. Which bring me to my main rant about our love…. Vintage.
Why do we love vintage things so much? We are obsessed with our past. We glorify things that did not work as well, were poorly designed, or were incredibly ugly. Fashion constantly looks backward to revitalize our stale present. Older wasn’t always better. I know your grandpa looked stylish in his brown suit and thick framed glasses. But not everything should go backward to “the good ol days” because often the “good ol days” sucked. I fall victim to love of vintage things. My beloved old Star Wars t-shirt, my cassette tape iPhone case, and wayfarers. There is comfort is looking back at our past, but often the reality wasn’t as pleasant as we remembered it. Let’s not let vintage design take over ergonomics and technical evolution.
So who should buy the Df? People with plenty of disposable income (who of course love photography) and like old things for the sake of their design and simplicity. Otherwise spend an extra $200 and get a monster D800 that can do anything just short of time travel. Cameras can be as simple as you want them to be, why limit your growth or ability just for the sake of fashion. To me if you buy this camera you are falling into the group of people who buy rotary phone style handsets to plug into their smartphone.