Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Yeah, it seems strange to write an article on why in particular I really love my Nikon Df. Why would anyone give a shit what someone else likes as far as a camera?

And yet, they do. And I kinda get that on some level.

I have heard this camera derided as being too “retro” by people who like the Fuji X-100… yeah. OK. (I love the Fuji as well, but this is not about the Fuji… so I am digressing.) I have read the litany of complaints from those who list no video, dials, slow to operate… blah blah. Yeah, them ‘grampacams’ are like that.

So let’s start out with what I do not care about. If you do care about all this stuff, then this is definitely NOT a review you want to read.

– High ISO (for me, shooting ends so there’s more time for drinkin’…) Shooting at 267,842 ISO means little to me.
– File size. Meh.
– Speed of the camera controls. Actually, I LIKE that they slow me down. More on that later.
– Ergonomics. Fits my hand just fine.
– Controls. Seem easy enough to me. I am fairly smart and can learn to twist a dial. Try it… not that hard actually.

So what do I care about?

– Image quality. Dayam this thing rocks.
– The size/weight of the kit. I already have a bigass kit of Canon DSLR’s in a huge roller bag. We good.
– The way the camera invokes a shot in my mind.

The way the camera itself invokes a shotand that is IT, man. THAT is what I love about this camera.

Some background… I have been a photographer since before dirt was completely made. I have been a photographer since the Kodachrome days. And being a photographer meant that we had different formats of cameras for different types of work.

In my line of work, a generalist with a specialty of people, that meant a lot of kits.

I have an 8×10 Deardorff, a 5×7 Linhoff, a 4×5 Toyo and 5 lenses for that group. I also had a full set of Mamiya RB67’s, a Hassy Superwide, and a bigass kit of Nikons with 4 bodies all motorized.

When a brief would come in, there would be choices to be made. Film, processing, location/studio?

But usually there would be the first inkling of the system choice. Was this to be a view camera shot, or was this a shoot that simply called for 35MM? Should we go MF with the Mamiyas, or could it be time to haul out the big Deardorff?

The images in my head were inexplicably tied to the camera I chose. The camera I chose was absolutely indicative of the images I would make.

Fast action fashion? 35MM probably.
Portraits of cowboys on location? Medium format… even view camera possibly. And the choice would dictate the kind of work that would be produced.
Food would usually mean the view cameras, and model work would usually mean the 35 system.

Personal projects were many times created with the format of the camera in mind – sometimes chosen first. Along with the film of choice.

I did a shoot of old mines in southern Colorado on 8×10 B&W, and the next week shot Navajo coal miners in color on the Mamiyas. A week on the road for Motorola shooting executives in out of the way places was a 35MM shoot, and following that we shot stills of the first cellphones on both view camera and medium format. I would even pre-visualize the final print, as well as the look of it from the choice of film and format as well.

Contact prints of the 8×10 negatives were stunning, and the prints coming off the Mamiya were amazing… and different.


Shooting with a view camera is slow, deliberate and exacting. Each exposure takes a considerable amount of time. Focus upside down and backwards on the ground glass – under a black cloth, tilt the lens board, shift the back, adjust and focus again, shut down the aperture, prepare the shutter, insert holder, pull dark slide, wait for camera to settle, make exposure, insert dark slide, remove holder… prepare to do it again. Slow. Deliberate.

And the work that was created was deliberate and exact. There was no ‘rushing’ when using a view camera. A tripod was absolute, as was the preparation before going out to shoot. One shot at a time. One shot.

Medium format was a bit faster. We had a roll of film and a winder tool to advance it to the next frame. But this camera had something else that was unique: We held that camera at waist level, looking down into it. I had viewfinders for eyelevel work, but honestly used them rarely. It was the configuration of the camera that was tactile to working with it that made it part of the choice.

I liked looking down into my SuperWide Hasselblad, and the Mamiyas. I had a stack finder (a vertical tube to look into that kept out the ambient light) but still looking down.

Working with the medium format cameras was also deliberate, although we could move quicker than with a 4×5, and occasionally shoot off-tripod, it was still more meticulous than the 35MM cameras. We had fewer lenses to work with, and yet that too was part of the creative attraction. The big, bulky medium format cameras harkened to me a particular kind of photograph. There was something that the tool brought to the making of the image that I simply cannot explain, other than to say it was real.

The 35MM’s were the most dynamic. Shooting from eye level on a wide assortment of lenses, the work tended to be looser, more fluid… like the tool in the hand of the photographer would allow. Because of the faster cameras, I would make images in bursts (not really easy to do with a 4×5) and from places with difficult access (not easy with the MF cameras). The 35’s were an extension of my eyes. The MF’s an extension of my brain.

The view camera was an extension of my heart.


I don’t know if I have explained it well enough for others, and really, not a big deal.

I loved that tactile /creative part of the process. Still do.

Sometime along 2000, it all went away.

The DSLR replaced it all. Food shooters, architectural shooters, fashion shooters, portrait and product shooters all began to use the DSLR for ALL of the work. And the work started to show it. There was something missing from my imagery that was – at the time – unexplainable to me. I did not see the loss of the formats as big of a deal as it invariably was. I have learned over the years that it was indeed a love lost quietly, in the stills of time.

I think it explains my Df attraction.


I love it precisely because it is NOT another big DSLR. It is slower to operate, with deliberate dials and knobs. That slows me down, and it makes me think differently about the image. Holding it feels different as well. It is the first DSLR (SLR) that I have been happy with without a grip. Seems to fit my hand well, and feel very good in the way it handles both at the eye and in the resting position.

I would not have purchased a Nikon (although I do love the D700/D800 and secretly have pined for a D3400 in Ferrari Red… ). It would not have been a move up, but simply another big DSLR that – for all their differences – is really not any different than what I already own.

But the Df feels different and that makes me think differently about the photographs I would use it for. The lenses I have for it are all old model AF so they are tiny in comparison to their bigger, newer siblings. I like that as well. A tiny bag (in comparison) with four lenses and I am out the door. No shoulder stress, and no bag on wheels to find a place for.

The slowness, the deliberateness of the camera means a slower, more deliberate approach to the images. Earlier this week I went out to shoot a project for a client. I knew that the Canons were the right choice. Tomorrow I am doing a set of environmental still life and the Df will be on my shoulder. This coming weekend is the Renaissance Fair with my daughter. Nikon V1 is the chosen tool… great images, fast and easy to carry.

I would like to have a Fuji X-100 as well, and a fixed lens 35MM equivalent rangefinder… more choices for different ways of shooting.

So now I find myself with a big DSLR Canon kit (6 lenses – 20MM – 200MM), a single Nikon Df kit (4 lenses – 28, 35, 50, 85) and a Nikon V1 with 24-200 35 equivalent zooms (2). Different strokes and different approaches.

Not the same as before, with all the widely differing variances of tools, physical sizes, film choices, processing choices and more that was such a big part of the mystique, but it will have to do and for the most part, it does rather nicely.

So there you have it. My big reason for the Nikon Df is that it makes me think differently about the images I want to create because it IS different.

Nothing to do with the ‘retro’ of it, or the cool dials, or the amount of megapixels, or the shutter speed or buffer or yaddayaddayadda…

Yeah… big deal, eh?

(Oh, I like the new Sony Quattro system as well. So sue me.)


CreativeLIVE Photoshop Week

I was asked for some ideas of which shows to watch, so here is my suggestions for both beginners and power users. CreativeLIVE is bringing a ton of material to the week, and most time slots are showing two different classes.

Please feel free to watch more than my suggestions, but these are the ones I think you can do well with based on your level of Photoshop expertise.

And remember to check out my CL classes while you are there.

Lighting Essentials

Product and Still Life.

Photoshop Week LINK HERE.

Beginner Monday:

Habits with Dave Cross

Lightroom Automation Jared Platt

Photoshop Camera Raw Jack Davis


Power User Monday

Photoshop Functions Dave Cross

Creative Photoshop Panoramas

Photoshop Camera Raw Jack Davis


Beginner Tuesday

Photoshop Smart Objects Dave Cross

Building LR Presets Jared Platt

Fundamentals of Photoshop Layers Kharana Pilcanic


Power User Tuesday

Photoshop Smart Objects Dave Cross

Compositing Tips Colin Smith

Camera Raw Jack Davis




Beginner Wednesday

Shooting for Creative Lindsay Adler

Photoshop Blend Modes Lindsay Adler

Advanced Beauty Retouching Lindsay Adler


Power User Wednesday

Advanced Layer Tips Julieanne Kost

Automating Camera Raw Julienne Kost

Photoshop Masks and Channels Colin Smith


Beginner Thursday

Mastering Photoshop Curves Colin Smith

Selection and Masks ONeil Hughes

Photoshop Image Size Khara Piicanic


Power User Thursday

Working with Video in Photoshop

Sharpening Savvy Lesa Snider

Moving and Removing Lesa Snider


Beginner Friday

Black and White ONeal Hughes


Power User Friday 

Automating Photoshop Julienne Kost

Aputure Trigmaster Plus II Triggers

Aputure Trigmaster Plus II Triggers


Have you ever gotten a product that made so much sense to you that you think it was made to order? That is how I feel about these Trigmaster Plus II’s from Aputure.

Wireless Triggers for flash is now one of the most important tools we have seen emerge in the last decade. Being able to fire flashes without having cords running all over the floor – or work to create “line of sight” for opticals means more freedom for the photographer.

I am a manual flash photographer. I am not interested in ETTL, ATTL, or whatever your camera manufacturer calls the auto-flash exposure mode. I know others who love it. Fine.

I don’t. I like manual and for the way I work, manual works just fine.

And speaking of ‘manual’… (nice segue, eh?), the manual – instruction book – that comes with these triggers is clear, concise and easy to understand. That is pretty cool, right there. I wish all manuals were this easy to go through to find what I need. Clear illustrations and simple concepts had me working with them within a few minutes of taking them out of the box.

And out of the box… the worked flawlessly. That is even cooler than the instruction manual!


trigmasterThey have literally everything I would ever want in a trigger system. Multiple mounting tools (straps, hot shoes, stands) and the options that make sense for the way I shoot.

  • All-In-One Transmitter and Receiver
  • Interlink Triggering Mode
  • Four Zones
  • Relay Mode
  • Multi-Camera Control
  • Power Display
  • Compatibile with all Aputure 2.4G Triggers
  • 500m Range
  • 2 AA Batteries
  • Compatible with high voltage flash units (up to 300v)
  • Compatible with all major brands of flashes (you must purchase the ones for your brand camera)
  • 2.4G Wireless Signal
  • 1/320 Max Sync Speed
  • Metal Hot Shoe
  • Locking Wheel (nice)
  • Antenna folds down for easier storage
  • Easy to read display and controls
  • 1/4″ Tripod Mount on cold shoe
  • Safety Strap
  • All cables needed for most flashes
  • Extra Battery Case
  • PC Cable
  • Flash Sync Cable
  • Sync Output Converter (for larger flashes like my Profoto’s)
  • Test Trigger Button
  • Camera Trigger (remotely fire camera)
  • 6 Channels / Four Zones for maximum productivity

Something I like a lot is the ability to use the remote camera trigger AND have the camera fire a remote flash at the same time. That is new – at least to me – I have not seen any triggers that do that. This is the “Interlink” feature of the units and it is pretty cool

Using the Relay mode on “Super” you can reach out to distances not imagined in inexpensive wireless triggers. I tried it and found that I could get my daughter at one end of the block and me at the other and it still triggered… amazing.

These are not TTL or ETTL or whatever your camera brand calls automatic exposure control of the flash from camera. These units are manual, sturdy, feature rich tools that make shooting with all kinds of flashes (large, medium, small) easier and with less stress.

I have a big batch of different kinds of strobes from Dynalite and Profoto studio strobes to off-brand flashes purchased on EBay for a few bucks. These triggers fired all of my working flashes – without missing a beat.

I need to add an additional big shout out to the designers who used white lettering on the black unit. I know that is an additional cost in the manufacturing process – but it so welcome to many of us who may not have those same young eyes we did back when we were 25. I love the fact that I can see what I need to do without having to angle them to the light to catch black raised letters on a black surface.

Look for them soon on Amazon – we will add a link here as well.
Available on EBay for $59 per.

Learn To Use A Light Meter

Learn To Use A Light Meter

Do you have a hand-held light meter that is just sitting around gathering dust? Have you ever wondered how it would be beneficial to you? I have created a new, free class at UDEMY to help you understand the uses and reasons for using a light meter. There is over 2 hours of content, and more will be added next month… I want to show a real world example of multiple lights and how using a meter helps you address the scene with confidence.

No matter what kind of hand held meter you have, you will learn a lot from this class. We are not brand specific in this course, but we cover all the ways a reflective and incident meter can be used to find the values you need.

But even more importantly, we discuss how a meter can help you visualize the image before you start shooting… and we have a few examples and exercises to help you with that. I hope you enjoy it.

How to Use a Photographic Light Meter: at UDEMY.com (link)

NOTE: this class is given freely to all photographers who want to know how to use their light meter… it is simply produced and is more informational than glossy. It will be continuously updated when new materials become available.

Introduction video.

This course is designed for those photographers who have just begun using a hand held light meter or who may not know what to do with their meters. or why they are important and useful tools for making images.

The light meter is a device that measures the intensity of light, whether that light is being reflected from a subject (reflected light) or falling upon the subject (ambient or “incident” light). The light meter is a tool that helps a photographer create more accuracy in exposures.

We take a very close look at all the ways a light meter can help a photographer develop a stronger understanding of the light, as well as learning how the different tonalities are expressed through a light meter.

Real world examples and some simple and fun exercises will help the beginning light meter user develop good habits, and stronger lighting.

From reflected light readings to “placing the exposure” for maximum artistic presentation to using the ambient dome for flash in studio, this course is a simple to follow discussion of meters.

NOTE: We do not discuss the operation of any specific (Brand) kind of meters. You will still be required to read your manual to find out how to set your specific meter up, and the specific ways it works. But all meters DO the basic same things, and that is what we discuss on this course.

We use video and a few PDF’s to show the use of the meter in both reflective and ambient modes. There are three exercises to be done by the student that will help them learn their specific meter.

The course should be done in order, and there is over 2 hours of video content as well as PDF documents for your files.

If you are ready to learn to use a meter, to take control of your exposure this course is for you. Many photographers will tell you that ‘chimping’ is all you need to do. I disagree… there are far more reasons to use a light meter than merely exposure… and we will discuss them in this class.

The class is free… enjoy and keep shooting.

Please see my two other courses on UDEMY:
– Portrait Lighting with Simple Gear
– Natural Light Beauty and Fashion Photography

Thank you,

Don Giannatti


Gear List / Links for the UDEMY Portrait Class

Portrait Photography with Simple Gear

Link to the Class Page.

Stand (even better a stand and a boom)
Umbrella Holder
Umbrella (shoot through and bounce)
Flash (the kind that goes on the camera, but also has the ability to set the power manually)
A trigger set to fire the flash from the camera
Softbox (small or medium – get the best you can afford)
6 sheets of fome core or white cardboard
A 5-in-one or 6-in-one reflector set

Items for the class (note, these are affiliate links).


Flash Units:


Stand Toppers:

Mini Boom:




Extra items to consider:

A “Standbagger” for your gear. I have several for my big stands, but I love my two Standbagger “Grab-N-Go” bags for small flash work. You can see the entire Standbagger line here.

Flashmeter (light meter that can measure ambient light as well as flash).

Gray Cards and Light Balancing Tools:


Cameras Are Tools. Vision is Photography.

Cameras Are Tools. Vision is Photography.

I love this article on communication, photography and the distractions of gear and platforms.

Photographer Jon Stanmeyer hits the nail smack on the head with this post on the distraction of the medium over the substance of the image itself.

“Now here is what’s key regarding Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot; Some of these images we publish, the text we write on various social media outlets, etc, they can be pieces of a far greater, even deeper, more richly layered project which has a commodity element behind it. These images can, for a lack of a better way of putting it, be glimpses, headlines, instant breaking information of a much larger project waiting to be presented. Like seeds, images can be sent out to one or millions, dropping seeds of information into the consciousness of others, nurturing a project to grow, both in marketing and funding. The final product, brought to the consciousness via meaningful bits and pieces, is the entity to be leveraged both as information to an event, as product or as a printed photo essay, as a commodity. This is, until the next leveraging aspect of social media is attained, the greater purpose and potential.”

You absolutely must read the whole thing.

I think that there wil always be ‘cameras’ in the way we think of them, but we are a tiny, teeny sliver of the genre of “photographers” these days.

There is a lot of angst in the camera makers worlds out there. They see the handwriting on the wall.

Enter the $2000 full frame.
Enter the kit lenses that make exceptional images.
Enter automatic exposure that makes PERFECT shots under all situations.
Enter video in the camera.

This fellow is a photojournalist. His job is to get the picture.


It will most likely be fine enough at 4MP for news and web. An 8 or 12 MP image is more than enough for the reason the shot exists.

Young people coming into the digital age will never have known what a camera was ‘supposed’ to look like. And that was a HUGE influence over camera manufacturers deciding to make digital cameras look like film cameras. The damn things even have ‘film chamber’ build to them.

“Professional Photographers” would have it no other way.


Well, I gave my kid my old Rebel digital. She gave it back to me… she is totally happy with her Android phone and the P&S Canon she got for Xmas.

Just finished a nice trip to Maine. We had some very flat and boring light in mid-day. Charles would pull out his iPhone and make some simply stunning images. I like to make straight images on my iPhone, then manipulate them later in Snapseed or a myriad of other APPs I have.

There is a tendency for me to think the larger images are somehow ‘better’ or of higher ‘quality’ because they were shot on a big chip with expensive glass.

Problem is no one can tell the difference in the print.

So I start to sound like a ‘gearhead’ and I am NOT.

I am all about the image, and couldn’t care less how it was made. The traps we make when thinking about our work are more dangerous than listening to a blistering critique of your work from a ‘kitty shooter’ on some forum.

I am holding out for a Samsung Galaxy III – (October) as I have seen the images that thing produces. I have not seen a 16×20 from one, but I have seen an 11×17… argh. I don’t care what anyone says, I was totally knocked out by both the sharpness and the overall transitions in shadows.

I was just asked on twitter about what I thought of the new Nikon D600. My answer was that I don’t have anything to say about it that has any value. I don’t think much about cameras these days.

I am struggling mightily with photography, its place in my world, its power to heal or inspire or reflect or reveal or destroy.

Photography is more important now than ever before, and yet we are consistently bombarded with distractions of devices. I think it takes a toll on all of us.

And we forget what it really is about, this whole capturing a moment in time to preserve, enlighten, entertain or simply to see what it looks like captured. I don’t want to forget that in my work.

Below are a few of my shots from the trip done with Hipstagram and the default camera. I like these images for similar and disparate reasons. And some of these I also shot on the big camera, but they are far different in tone and emotional impact than these are. Different, not better or worse… different.

To me that is the power of these little cameras and the apps that are so much fun to shoot with. I get different approaches to the subjects. Kinda like having a new lens to work with. One that has its own quirks and qualities.

It was a bit foggy, a bit dark from deep overcast. I wanted to say something about the dreary, almost mysterious feeling of this entrance. I chose the Hipstagram app to enhance the emotion of the subject.

I loved the texture qualities, and the Hipstagram image supplied a slight vignette and muted tone that enhanced the feeling of the shell isolated on the rocks.

It was cold and overcast (I loved it… heh) and this straight camera shot captured a bit of the reality of that day and moment. I had already packed the cameras, but the trusty iPhone delivered the shot I wanted to get at that moment.

Sometimes an image just wants to be made and it reveals itself. I loved this little vignette of vine and old board wall. A straight shot on my Canon is not as interesting as this little Hipstagram photo. The image needs the context of the frame and the muted colors to make it really look like what I saw in my head.

Flat midday sun, and the Hipstagram delivers. The shapes and textures were so interesting, and a couple of my big camera shots make me happy… but this little vignetted, non-perfect capture that fit the mood I wanted.

This image is about the frame and the ‘space between’ – part of my vision mantra. I like the spatial play and the contrast of textures and colors. Camera phone and big camera – big camera is far different feeling than this one. Not better or worse, just different.

Light leaks and crusty edges makes the retro sign even more retro. Fun images are what the small cameras are about.

A grab shot with the iPhone and Hipstamatic reveals how I was seeing the trip we were on. I would have loved to have more time to shoot the area, but we migrated from point to point and shot what we liked… Maine through a car window – yeah, that is what it was like. Sorta.

In the end it is whether you like the image or not. And if not, no matter. Photography is not about every image communicating to every person. These are my little images. I share them here and there.

Photography is still fun for me. It still answers my desire to make something lasting. How long is that?

I dunno. I don’t care. I just want to make the images I see in my head. The iPhone and Androids seem like they offer me more tools with which to find and make those images.

This line from Jon’s article is dead on for me:

“Don’t waste your time nor mine on any bit of that dinosaur debate.”

Yes, Jon. I wholeheartedly agree.