There’s been a lot of online chatter about Nikon’s new Df camera for the past few weeks. Ever since the company’s official Pure Photography campaign videos began to leak onto the Interwebs, folks have been discussing, debating, and deliberating about this new machine.
Some are excited about the Df’s return to Nikon’s retro roots…while others are less pleased about the omission of certain features―the lack of video capability being an often-cited concern.
Photography is a very personal thing, however. It means something different to everyone. And while this might seem like an obvious notion, it applies to camera design as well. As photographer David duChemin recently told me in an interview, “…ultimately, we create in a craft that is uniquely tied to our gear … And in that sense, our gear matters.”
“Back to basics” or retro products may seem like just trends du jour, but if one stops and thinks about this for a moment, such design choices do impact on haptics and ergonomics. For example, not everyone wants a digital, do-everything wristwatch. Some prefer the timeless elegance of a mechanical timepiece with hour and minute hands.
The same applies to cameras. Many photographers may prefer today’s trend towards efficient LCD panels and chock-a-block feature sets, but there is something to be said for a simplified, mechanically-inspired control layout. For photographers who yearn to pick up a camera and only concern themselves with the subject they’re photographing ― along with aperture, shutter speed and white balance ― but who also want state-of-the-art digital image processing, the new Df fuses two eras artfully.
Storied Past + Inspirational Camera = Classically Inspired Shoot
Nikon is a company with a long history of building photographic instruments for image makers of all description. Beginning with the S rangefinder series that first debuted in the late 1940s, to the introduction of the Nikon F in 1959, the company quickly established a name the world over for fashioning superlative instruments that rapidly gained a reputation for quality, durability, and consistency.
From the LIFE photographer crawling through the jungles of Vietnam or capturing images of a Hollywood bombshell emerging nude from a pool, to the National Geographic editorial shooter documenting some of the most memorable places on Earth, for more than a half-century Nikon cameras have recorded more history in still images than perhaps any other single brand.
So whether intentional or not, the Nikon Df is also a tribute product of sorts. It’s a tribute to the company’s history. It’s a tribute to the simpler days of shooting on film. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a tribute to those inspirational Nikon photographers who captured some of the most remarkable images of all time. (And if you suspect that somewhere deep within the offices of Nikon Japan that Df probably also stands for Digital F, well, we’d guess you’re probably not far off the mark.)
Hyperbole? That depends on your point of view. Having handled and shot with the new Df, both Nick and myself can attest that the camera really is more than the sum of its parts. It inspired us, in turn, to go back and revisit the era in which some of Nikon’s most storied film cameras were produced. And, in turn, to re-imagine some of the most significant images captured on celluloid through the eyes of famous Nikon photographers.
But this time, instead of the Nikon F series cameras, we were using the new Nikon Df cameras. Analogue past revisited in the digital present.
Beginning with our first video, entitled “Pure Inspiration”, we journey back to the early 1960s. It was Kennedy. It was Khrushchev. It was Vietnam. And, of course, it was Marilyn Monroe. The Nikon F single lens reflex camera was barely three years old, and LIFE magazine was in its heyday. Talented photographers like Bert Stern, Lawrence Schiller and Larry Burrows were recording the era through the lenses of their Nikon cameras; inspirational imagery that burned itself into the minds of a generation.
This is a salute to them, the inspirational images they made, and, of course, the cameras they used―cameras that formed the basis for today’s Nikon Df.