First Impressions: Nikon Df

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: A v1.0 product with 50 years of history.

Counter Opinion: I hated the Nikon Df from the moment I picked it up. The handgrip is awkward, the front dial is impossible to turn, and the camera feels far less valuable than its price tag should require. I wasn't one of those who was stoked with pre-launch enthusiasm, so the strength of my adverse reaction caught me by surprise.

My reaction would have been much milder if I hadn't spent the weekend with my D800, which is the current pinnacle of design engineering that the Df superficially rejects. And there are some distinct disadvantages that the size and shape of the Df (pronounced "df") has when compared to the FX D-hundreds series. The battery is the smaller EN-EL14, inherited from the entry-level SLRs, and its single lonely SD card also lives inside the battery compartment. The round eyepiece says "pro", but the details disagree.

But as I handled the Df more, my objections diminished. The handgrip can't be held with a fist, the way the D-number series is, but instead is held between thumb and middle finger, like a flat-fronted camera. Or, to cite a more tragic digital precedent, like the Sony A330/380. I do still wish that the fake-leather-texture plastic was a grippy material, like on the D800, instead of hard, like on the Canon Rebel T3. No, not T3i. T3.

The front dial of the Df is something I really had a hard time with. It's incredibly difficult to turn and hard to reach. But a few seconds in the menu is really all that's needed to switch the aperture control from the front to the back dial, which makes the problem go away. Except for changing certain setup parameters, such as from single-point to all-area AF, there's not all that much that needs both dials. Exposure compensation has its own dial, as does shutter speed. What else is there?

Thankfully the Df does retain the extremely useful auto-iso ability despite having a dedicated iso dial. It works exactly the same as on the button-and-dial Nikons, with the auto-iso menu setting defining the upper limit, and a user-selectable minimum iso that can be set through the dial. So in auto-iso mode the fancy physical control only sets the iso floor, which rarely needs to be changed, but it is nice to have it right there on top of the camera where we can keep an eye on it. And I suppose auto-iso could be turned off, should it be necessary.

I'm not buying a Df: it doesn't suit my needs, it doesn't play well with my Nikons F5, D800, or V1, and if I want a pure photography experience I'll run a roll of film through my m-mount Zeiss Ikon. My uniformed opinion is that it's over-priced; some retailers are already quietly discounting it despite it being less than a week old. But after spending more time with it I have no doubt that the Df is going to turn out to be a really great camera that completely suits some people. It's just too bad that Nikon has trained people to wait for the Christmas price-drop, or the inevitable iteration, before committing to it. Nikon simply hasn't sparked the passion that the Fuji X-series inspires.

Counter Opinions are quick "sales counter" product reviews.
As always, viewer discretion is advised.
Last updated 30 nov 2013


Manfrotto MP3-D01 Pocket Series Tripod

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 0 out of 5
Yeah, but: Chant "don't buy, don't buy."

The Long Version: It's Manfrotto that calls the MP3-D01 a "Pocket DSLR Support" with a 1.5kg load capacity, not me. This flat plate with three independent legs is designed to stay attached to the bottom of a camera and simply unfurl when it's needed. It does fit a DSLR well enough – it's far too big for other cameras – but it certainly does not hold 1500 grams.

My D800 with the Sigma 35/1.4 should add up to 1555g, and the MP3 collapsed at the sight of it. Switching to the 60/2.8G lens brought the weight down to 1325 grams, and brought down the Manfrotto as well. It could mostly hold the camera with the 50/1.4G attached – 1180 grams – but I'd never rely on it for that task. In fact, my Joby Micro 800 – with a rated 800g capacity – did just as well at that level.

The MP3 has plenty of strength to hold little pocket cameras, but it's far too wide to be elegant. Manfrotto does explicitly say that it fits large cameras, so its unsuitability here shouldn't be a surprise, even though this is finally within its actual weight capacity.

So the only cameras that it really works with are the smaller ones with interchangeable lenses, as long as those lenses don't project below the camera body. My Nikon V1 works, even with the large 30-110mm lens, so that's a win.

Put another way, the non-musical MP3 is most suitable for cameras that have the memory card next to the battery, the door to which its broad breadth will almost certainly block.

The thinness of the MP3-D01 necessitates a thin and fiddly little attachment screw, which can be positioned in any of three slots to let the camera balance on it. This makes the tripod-thing awkward to remove and a nuisance to attach, but I suppose when a well-engineered product performs at this level some sacrifices must be made.

While I hardly ever actually use it this way, I have found one application that suits the little Manfrotto pocket tripod. It can hold my audio recorder off of a table, angled upwards enough to be useful, and doesn't block any ports or the battery door in the process. In this case its thinness really does let it stay attached to the recorder when it's in use or being carried, just like the promo material says it should.

The slightly thinner profile of the Manfrotto MP3 is its only advantage over the Joby Micro 800 that I usually use. The Joby is simply better in every other way, whether using it to support the camera or while using the camera with the support folded away. More elegant design, easier to attach, easier to use, less likely to obstruct battery doors, no little screw to lose, and significantly cheaper as well: at the time of writing, B+H has the Joby Micro 800 for $20 versus the MP3 for $35.

Seriously. Buy the Joby instead.

last updated 17 nov 2013


Wenger EvoWood 14

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Almost my perfect knife.

The Long Version: There are two brands that make "Swiss Army Knives", Wenger and Victorinox, and I've always gravitated to the latter. I bought and reviewed the four-layer Wenger EvoGrip18 a few years ago, but while it's a nice enough knife I never liked it as much as I wanted to. Four layers is a bit too thick for my taste, and even when it was broken in a little the plastic-and-rubber handle never felt as nice as it should.

What a difference a material change makes. My most recent acquisition, and SAK of the Month for November, is the Wenger EvoWood 14.

The handle scales on this EvoWood knife, which are made of walnut, are fantastic. It might not be as hard-wearing as celidor or nylon, but it feels great to hold and it really takes advantage of the sculpting in the Evolution-series handle shape. Not only is it easier to hold than flat plastic, it also gives a tactile cue to the orientation of the knife. I often have to take a second to figure out which end is which on my Victorinox SAKs, which I didn't even realize was a problem until I noticed that the Wenger always seemed to be the right way around.

The Evo 14 is a three-layer knife, and its 85mm length puts is just a touch longer than October's SAK of the Month, the Small Tinker. That makes the Wenger just about perfect. Its blade and tools are just as useable as on the larger 91mm knives, but it's easier to carry, while three tool layers offer a lot of versatility without becoming too fat. Yes, the proportions of the EvoWood 14 are just about perfect.

The tool set is a useful mix that doesn't match any other knife. It has only one blade, with a nail file where the small blade would usually go. The middle layer is scissors, which Wenger does better than Victorinox. The third layer is the cap lifter, which lacks the right-angle detent of a Vic knife, and the can opener, which is the largest difference between Wenger and Victorinox tools.

The Wenger can opener cuts with the tool moving forward between strokes, with the can rotating clockwise, while the Victorinox cuts in the oposite direction. This lets the Vic have its small screwdriver, while the hawksbill cutter of the Wenger works as a secondary blade for rough cutting. Another great feature of the Wenger opener is that the curved back works on all of those coin-slot screws that the flat blade of the cap lifter can't turn effectively. It's nice to have variety in the world.

The wooden scales don't hold tweezers or toothpicks, but the Evo 14 does have an awl and corkscrew on the back. The handle next to the awl has a cutout, making it easy to deploy, but the awl doesn't have a sharpened edge or a sewing eyelet, making being pointy its only atribute. The corkscrew is the same as those on Victorinox knives – they're the same company these days – so the little Vic accessory screwdriver will work on it, but I don't have a big need for corkscrews in my life.

There is another model – Evo 16 – that is identical except that it trades the corkscrew for a Philips screwdriver. That's almost certainly the model I should have bought, and if I see it with a wooden handle, I almost certainly will. But in a pinch the tapered tip of the nail file can drive a Philips screw, making the EvoWood 14 very nearly my perfect knife.

last updated 6 nov 2013

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