1. Reminder: Please use our affiliate links for holiday shopping!

Can a dedicated mirrorless shooter find true happiness with a DSLR?

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Ray Sachs, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I got a loaner copy of the Nikon Df DSLR and two Nikon prime lenses from UPS this morning – the “D” series 24mm f2.8 and 35mm f2.0. I’m gonna shoot with this gear for the next month and a half or so and see if a mirrorless lover like myself can find anything like happiness in the deep dark world of the DSLR…

    When I got back into photography almost four years ago now, I swore I wasn’t gonna get back into the SLR / DSLR world. I’d shot SLRs as a kid and got out of photography partly because I didn’t want to haul all of that gear around AND haul my kids around – the kids won and the cameras lost. So I spent many years in the P&S wilderness until m43 caught my fancy when I decided it was time to get a decent camera again a few years ago. I liked the small size and the IQ was better than anything I’d shot with back in the film days so I was happy with it and continue to be for the most part.

    12196457304_d574b24892_b.jpg
    DF testing-52-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    But I found you can still carry a fair amount of mirrorless gear around if you want and then the lure of full frame bit me right in the butt about a year ago in the form of the RX1 and I’ve been doing some thinking about how I might move forward into full frame gear. I don’t want it for longer lenses (where the m43 size advantage is downright overwhelming), but for wide to normal focal lengths, I think a relatively smallish DSLR and a few prime lenses might work really well for how I tend to shoot. I've been loving the RX1, but the thought of a few more focal lengths is pretty enticing. Full frame is obviously not strictly necessary and, arguably, it’s pretty silly for how I shoot and how I process my stuff. But there’s something about being able to shoot with confidence into the ISO stratosphere and be able to pull all sorts of interesting things out of the resulting files that really appeals to me. And the bottom line is I’m often carrying a fair amount of gear around these days anyway and if I can carry a similar amount with a DSLR, it might be worth checking out.

    Hence, the Df. I wanted to check out the Df rather than something like the D610 or Canon 6D not because of the retro looks or controls but because of the sensor. It shares a 16mp sensor with the pro-level D4 and what little it lacks in resolution (compared to the modern day mega-pickel kings that come in at 24 and 36mp) it makes up for in low light and incredible looking files. In terms of the controls, I actually think I’d probably prefer a D610 or D800 (which is too large to even have thought about). And if I have ANY chance of making this work, I have to go with small lenses, so I’m sticking with the relatively cheap lower end Nikon “D” series of primes, which are about the size of the Fuji 35mm or maybe slightly larger than the Panasonic 25mm. I’m starting with a 24mm and 35mm. If I ever got serious and actually bought into this system, I’d probably add a 20 and an 85 and some sort of ultra wide solution – maybe a Rokinon 14mm or something. These are not premium lenses, but I figured they might be an OK match for a lower resolution camera whereas something like the D800 might out-resolve them and actually not look that great. And f1.8 – 2.8 is more than fast enough for me with full frame – it’s usually fast enough with m43 and APS as well, so this foray in full frame is no time to start chasing the elusive f1.2-1.4. Plenty shallow DOF too...


    DF testing-42-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Over the next many weeks I hope to do a fair amount of “real” shooting, once the weather lets up a bit around here in the recently Arctic Mid-Atlantic and I’m gonna spend a week in San Francisco at the end of February and beginning of March. So I’m gonna do some shooting, which I’ll report on as fully as I can. But on my first day, I mostly tried to figure the camera out and did a bunch of shooting around the house to see how it worked and how it handled the variety of lighting conditions.

    For now, some first impressions:

    • This is a larger camera than I’m used to, but not by as much as I’d expected. It’s not a lot larger than the Olympus EM1 or the Fuji X-Pro I had for about a year and a half. With large lenses, I think it could feel pretty unwieldy, but with these small primes, it’s not a bad shooting experience at all. The grip isn’t big but my hand seemed to know exactly how to fall into it and I find it quite comfortable to use, at least with the smaller primes – a big zoom might be a different story, a story I fully intend not to read!

    • I’d forgotten how much I like a good dslr OVF. I don’t even know if this is a good one relative to others, but it’s the first one I’ve used in many years and I think it’s freaking brilliant. As great as EVFs are getting, there’s just something about a big clear OVF that brings a little something different to the game.

    • OTOH, I sort of miss the precision of a good live view setup – I used the live view on the Df a few times and it’s actually not terrible for some types of shooting, but it’s nothing like an EM1 or a Nex or Fuji or whatever.

    • The PDAF (phase detection AF) is really good. I wouldn’t say it’s better than the CDAF (contrast detection) system in the m43 bodies (tracking aside – something I’ve never found much use for in my shooting), but it’s got a different feel and it’s quite fast and seemingly good in very very low light. I’ll probably hate it if I ever have to get into correcting back or front focus issues, but so far, no issues. OTOH, I haven’t figured out a way to equal the face detection performance of the EM1 with this – I know there’s SOME sort of face detection in it, but it’s pretty well hidden and I don’t know if PDAF can hope to do that specific a task as well as CDAF can. Another possible reason to stick with m43 for portrait and longer lenses…

    12196455004_4371d95b06_b.jpg
    DF testing-27-2-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    • To my surprise, and contrary to what I'd read, manual focus doesn't suck even a little bit. There's nothing like the split prism focussing screen I used to have in my 1970's SLRs, but the view is plenty clear and there's no mystery about when what you want in focus is in focus. I don't think I'd be using MF much with such a camera, but I wouldn't be scared away from it. And these lenses still show a nice distance scale on the barrel of the lens so if I ever want to try zone focussing with them, it shouldn't be a problem at all.

    • The retro looking dials on this particular DSLR are almost totally wasted on me and the one that isn’t I actively dislike with a vengeance. The shutter speed dial I’ll almost never use because I shoot in A mode 99% of the time, particularly in a camera with such a GREAT auto-ISO setup an so much latitude to put it to use. Which means I’ll pretty much never use the ISO dial either. So that's two out of three retro dials wasted. The one dial I would use is the exposure comp dial but it’s on the left shoulder of the camera (when god clearly intended it to be on the right) and it also has a locking pin in that you have to depress while you turn it (which she never would have approved of either)! So, it’s a nice look, but not at all functional to me. Also, I was pleased to see that the D lenses I got have actual aperture rings on them, but dis-pleased to find that they don’t actually work with the camera in any of the modes I’m apt to shoot in – you just disable it and change aperture with one of the two modern dials on the camera. As I said, I think I’d have preferred the controls of the D610 or D800 or D4 for that matter. But I don’t have to use them much, so at least they’re semi-cool looking…

    • An irony of my dislike for the exposure comp dial’s location and function is that using an OVF, I’m less apt to actually USE the exposure comp dial. With a live view setup like my mirrorless gear uses, I tend to immediately see when I need to up the exposure comp to deal with backlighting or something, or back it off when a large dark area in the frame may be biasing the exposure. With this big bright OVF, I’m just not automatically seeing that, at least not yet. And when I do, the spot meter is so wonderfully accessible that I’m apt to just flick that little switch with my right thumb and meter the part of the scene I’m trying to catch rather than go off in search of exposure compensation. AND, with as much latitude as this sensor has, I think I can probably get by without using much exposure comp anyway – you can almost always fix it in PP. A nice option, sacrilege or not.

    12196292093_0c342ae2b7_b.jpg
    DF testing-21-2-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    • Aside from the useless retro-dials, I like the interface a lot. The bracketing and AF controls are both extensive and ridiculously easy to use on the fly. Who knows, when it’s this easy to use, maybe I will try some AF tracking at some point.

    • The shutter button is nice, with threading for an old-fashioned cable release or a soft release. I stuck a soft release in there first thing – really love the feel of those.

    • I wouldn’t have minded a couple of custom user setting slots on the “mode dial”, but the mode dial is a tiny little thing I doubt I’ll be using much. Oddly, you have to pull it up from the body to turn it. But no custom slots – I think custom settings are available in the menus, but I haven’t figured them out yet…

    • The files are sublime! Which was the whole point of this exercise. At ISO 12,800 they’re incredibly good – a bit of easily treatable noise but incredible color and detail. And there’s just a smoothness to them that I already find quite intoxicating. I wouldn’t say they’re better or worse than what I get from the RX1, (which has more resolution and a much nicer lens than I’m using with the Df), but they have a different look to them and they ARE better at the highest ISOs. Although the RX1 is no slouch at 12,800 either, but the Df is cleaner. This one is at 12,800, taken in a VERY dark hallway:

    [​IMG]
    DF testing-60-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    I'll report back as this experiment continues, maybe in this thread, maybe in others if it seems appropriate. And I'll no doubt start a dedicated thread from my trip to the Bay Area as well, with what should be shaping up as final impressions / verdicts by then.

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 21
  2. Gubrz

    Gubrz O.* Gonzo's & Bentley's Dad

    979
    Jun 5, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Eliot
    I wish they'd put that sensor in an rx2
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. chester.a.arthur

    chester.a.arthur SC Rookie

    18
    Oct 13, 2013
    It's nice to read someone who is using the Df in a way that really plays to the strengths Nikon seemed to emphasize in it. That is: outfitting it with older-vintage compact primes and highlighting the low-light performance. So many people harp on it for being bigger than smaller-sensored mirrorless cameras, not having all the features of much larger SLR cameras, or incorporating "retro" design for aesthetic reasons. But those lines of criticism generally strike me as saying more about the critic than the object of criticism. I think it was designed and targeted at a very small audience for only a few very niche sort of shooting styles or priorities. I don't fall in that audience, but potentially would if it were around 50% of its current price and it's an intriguing camera, so I'm looking forward to your future posts on it...
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    In a word, Ray, no. Send the camera to me.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Country Parson

    Country Parson SC Top Veteran

    682
    Apr 5, 2011
    North Carolina
    Dan
    Good to see you reviewing this camera, Ray. I am loving mine but it seems to suit me in ways that you don't care about. I like and use the dials, but like you especially appreciate the high ISO capabilities. I have pledged to put up a new photo every day on my web site for a year with this camera and so far I am enjoying that process, and learning what the camera is capable of. My RX1 is getting hardly any use now because of this project. I prefer to use the D lenses with their manual aperture rings. When I am approaching a subject I can set virtually everything for the shot before even turning the camera on. I keep the minimum shutter speed (while in A priority) set to double the tradition reciprocal of the lens length to assure sharp images. The ISO performance makes it possible to do this while sacrificing nothing worth mentioning. I hope you enjoy the process of testing. For my part this is the digital camera I have been waiting for.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Isoterica

    Isoterica SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 6, 2011
    Pretty piccys. In answer to your title, yes. One can find happiness in whatever helps them get their shot. You put a dslr down because it was too much to carry with kids. You don't have little ones anymore.. so whether you lug a mirrorless, lenses, batteries etc.. or a dslr.. what difference does it make if you make wonderful photos like this. Enjoy Ray.. and do share.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    Ray, I'll look forward to your commentary. In contrast to the typical serious compact the Df offers new opportunities; the DoF control on the shallow end and B&W conversions are dreamy. Enjoy!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  8. retow

    retow SC All-Pro

    Jul 24, 2010
    Welcome to the club. To my eyes, there is much more to the Df output than just unmatched high iso quality. There is a smoothness and richness to the files I have not seen with the other FF sensors I was or am happy to use. The 50 mm kit lens is actually quite good and thanks to the Df I discovered some old Nikon MF ais beauties which can be had for next to nothing when compared to other makes.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Boid

    Boid SC All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Rajiv
    Ray, if you slap on the Sigma 35mm 1.4 on the D4, you might not want to give up the camera. Though it is a bulkier lens and kind of defeats the purpose of trying to create a walkaround dslr kit.

    The Sigma lens has a "Zeiss like" micro contrast, with the added benefits of a silent motor af, it's also sharp as heck wide open and 1/2 the price of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon.

    I've toyed around with it on my D800e and it's my second favourite lens on the Nikon, piqued narrowly by the 14-24. I've also used the Sigma on a D600 with outstanding results.
     
  10. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I was just getting it boxed up to send you John, and then it occurred to me that it's not mine to send. I'll have to buy one and send it to you - that might take a little longer... :cool:

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Hi Dan,

    If I were to seriously consider keeping the Df, the RX1 would have to go, as would a good chunk of my m43 kit. I absolutely love the RX1 and it's directly responsible for leading me down this path, but this would serve exactly the same purpose but with more versatility. I'd think about the A7 instead but I'd have to be convinced Sony is gonna do the lenses I'd want, which would probably take a while under the best of circumstances. Nikon already has 'em all.

    One question - you say you use the manual aperture rings on the "D" lenses. When I tried that with the two lenses I've got, the camera gives me error messages as soon as I move off of f22. Is there some menu setting you need to change to enable this, or is the camera actually metering and exposing correctly through the various aperture sizes regardless of the error messages? What mode are you shooting it in to make this work? I'd really like to shoot these lenses this way, but hadn't figured out how to work it yet... Any help is appreciated!

    -Ray
     
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    That's my initial impression too - it's clearly different than the RX1, but I can't say if it's the sensor or the lenses or what combination of the two. I also can't say better or worst, but I like it a lot too. I love the RX1 and would be very happy to have that in three or four different focal lengths. But that may not be possible anytime soon.

    -Ray
     
  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I don't doubt for a second that this and other lenses would be a pure delight visually. But it's a road I really don't WANT to go down. I could easily see gear creep getting the best of me with such a camera and if I actually added a really nice 24 and a really nice 35, 85, maybe 120 or 135, and something like the 14-24, THEN I'd be back to carrying a huge bag of gear, something I'm pretty specifically not interested in doing. And hell, once I had the lenses, I'd probably lust for the resolution of a D800 or it's successor, probably buy something like that, and then sell it all a year later because it's just too big to haul around. So I think the only way I end up with a camera like this is if I'm convinced I'd be satisfied using mostly these D lenses and maybe one or two special purpose manual focus lenses. Then I'd have a kit I could manage and enjoy. If I don't end up feeling it with these lenses, I'll likely just hang with what I've got and see what Sony does with the e-mount lenses and see if anyone else get's into the mirrorless full frame game... If I did end up with something like a Df, I'm afraid I'd just have to stop hanging out in photo forums so as to avoid the GASeous temptations to do exactly the kind of thing you're suggesting here, and which I know I could be susceptible to!

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 2
  14. Country Parson

    Country Parson SC Top Veteran

    682
    Apr 5, 2011
    North Carolina
    Dan
    Ray, I shoot in A Priority like you 99% of the time. I leave the shutter dial set at "1/3 step." In the custom menu f7 Controls the *f7 "Customize command dials" is set to "Aperture Ring." With these setting I can still control a G lens (i.e. no aperture ring) with the rear command dial, so either type lens works, i just prefer to use the physical aperture on the lenses when possible. I have not seen the error message you refer to. I really don't know how I avoided it. Perhaps the settings I am using were default and maybe the loaner you have was changed by someone (?). As for the RX1 it probably will be sold in my case.
     
  15. rbelyell

    rbelyell SC Top Veteran

    820
    May 14, 2013
    NY Mtns
    i'm sooooo glad i popped into this thread! reading your first couple of paragraphs i just could not believe how you accurately captured my entire thought/analysis process since i received my rx1 and started reading reviews of the DF. i feel like you reached into my head! ive had exactly the same experience, from long ago huge film dslrs, to large digi dslrs, to my 'need to go small' when i saw the results from the original x100. that purchase led me into rangefinders, smaller rf lenses, m4/3, ricoh gxr etc etc. i thought i was set, philosophically and productively. but that changed when i saw files from the rx1. while i could not discern meaningful to me differences between fuji xtrans and m4/3, the disparity between those two formats and the rx1 FF was palpable.

    from there, loving fujis analogue controls, and really wanting to step up my lowlight options, falling in lust from afar with the DF was easy. from what ive seen, and even from the samples you posted (esp #2), the files are stunningly dissimilar and superior to 90% of what i see on these forums. the low light results are like magic. there is a depth, a richness, to FF now that just sets me a flutter.

    so thanks! i made a promise to myself long ago that i was not talented enough to warrant spending more than about $1500 on any single piece of equipment, so for now, i will happily live vicariously through you! cant wait to see/hear more.
     
  16. rbelyell

    rbelyell SC Top Veteran

    820
    May 14, 2013
    NY Mtns
    oh, forgot an important part of my DF fantasy: shooting it with the zf 28/2.0 'hollywood' distagon, the leica r 60/2.8 macro and one of the legendary nikon 105/2.5's! i think each of them would keep the kit small enough, and oh man! what a lineup! and probably all gettable for a total of less than 2 grand...
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Isoterica

    Isoterica SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 6, 2011
    This is like my mantra! If I do something spectacular.. that warrants more gear, then I will justify price. Until then, and mind you I still look at things every so often, I will work what I have. Of course this means I will loose my little Rebel over the summer when my daughter studies abroad, and then when she has her photography class.. so I better get crackin' with doing something spectacular. Otherwise it will all be the X100s which.. it has for the last few months. But take something away and that is when you need it!
     
    • Like Like x 1
  18. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    Not this mirrorless shooter. Granted, I sometimes feel a bit nostalgic for my old Canons but it doesn't take long to remember why I feel limited shooting a DSLR compared to a full-featured mirrorless camera. The difference is not merely size but functionality. Given that, a camera like the Df just doesn't do a whole lot for me, I'm afraid.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  19. RidgeRunner22

    RidgeRunner22 SC Regular

    65
    May 31, 2013
    Jackson, WY
    Sam
    both cameras are beyond my talents. But, I'm wondering if you could tell us if slightly lower resolution of the DF gives it any noticeable advantage, over the RX 1,in using slower shutter speeds in low light. Probably a moot point if you are able to use 12800 and beyond
     
  20. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    BINGO!

    Thanks so much Dan - the default setting seemed to be to use the rear command dial - I switched it over to "aperture ring" in both of my banks of settings (yeah, I've worked out the custom "banks" - although it would be nice if you could group banks of custom settings and shooting settings) and now the aperture ring works like a charm. I just hadn't noticed that setting in the menu. Thanks Dan!

    -Ray