In an exclusive interview, we sat down with Nikon Df Large Team Leader Suzuki Kawasaki to discuss the inspiration and aspirations of the new dF. “When I was asked to lead the Nikon Large Df Team, I was very excited. I knew that the Df needed to be special, incorporating the latest technology but also respecting our heritage and the roots of Nikon. Our history is filled with wonderful moments captured by talented photographers using Nikon cameras. So we asked ourselves, ‘what does it mean to be a Nikon? What does it mean to be a Nikonian?’ We were surprised by what we found as we looked back through time-a lot of ugly cameras.”
Widely recognized as one of the great camera makers, Nikon cameras can be seen on the sidelines of major sporting events, along the fashion runways of Milan, Paris, and New York, and in conflict zones around the world. What Kawasaki and the Large Df Team noticed time and time again, was that photographers bought Nikon whether or not they were beautiful.
“Let’s face it-we’ve made some ugly cameras. Like really ugly ones. But for some reason, people liked them. We made a lot of especially ugly cameras in the 90s, like the N5005 with ‘Nikon’ written on the grip. And in the 70s, the F2 Photomic SB was, we really have to admit, just hideous. And the Nikonos? You really have to be drunk or underwater to think that is a beautiful camera. Yet people still bought them, and now we are highly regarded. But I think that over the years that we have gotten away from ugly cameras, moving instead to blobs. Only recently have we begun drawing inspiration from this part of our Nikon heritage.”
The fruits of this corporate-wide introspection is now just reaching the market. “We were extremely proud of what we did with the Nikon 1 V2. The V1 was minimalist and stylish. With the V2, we improved the sensor, but we also turned the ugly up to 11. And did you see what happened? The V2 sold as poorly as the V1.”But ugly is but one part of the Nikon heritage. “As we looked back, we also saw lots of physical controls, each with a tactile feel that added to the Nikon experience. Over the years, I think we have lost that, relying more and more upon menus. And let’s face it, our menus suck. So with the Df we tried really hard to put as many buttons on the camera as possible. Early prototypes had as many as 500 buttons, switches, knobs, and dials. We even investigated incorporating a set of tiny pneumatic tubes to set white balance but they proved too fragile in the field.” With a sly wink, Kawasaki hinted that pneumatic white balance adjustment just may show up in a future iteration (internally called the D0g).
The Df is available in black and also a black/silver model. “We are especially proud of the silver Df. The ugliness of the black Df is hidden a little bit of by the darkness, but the gawky pubertiness of the silver Df is unmistakeable. It is the V2’s older, uglier, and maybe a little creepy uncle.”
The camera is designed to appeal to men who appreciate the finer things in life, like a fine scotch whiskey, and chest hair. “The camera is will appeal to well-heeled fifty- and sixty-somethings who grew up with our older, uglier cameras but otherwise have some taste and aesthetic sense. They will throw it in a Billingham bag and place it in the passenger seat of the Jaguar on those days when the trophy wife is out shopping with her friends.”
This target audience longs for a simpler time and the Df evokes ugly Nikons from their past. This “uglify/simplify” approach extends to the functionality of the camera; video recording, now available on nearly every camera and phone sold in the whole entire world, is noticeably absent on the Df.
“We made a conscious decision to exclude video capabilities in the Df because we believe that still photography is the ultimate expression of our world. It is pure, and no other means of communication are necessary” Kawasaki said in a video webcast at the Df introduction. VIDEO. VID-EE-OH. The Df, apparently, does not include an irony filter.
In keeping with the spirit of the Df, Nikon will not be selling the camera through traditional online channels like Amazon and B&H. “We want people to experience the purchasing process purely, the way that it used to be. So the Df will not be sold on the new Internet but instead will be sold via Compuserve and Prodigy. People interested in purchasing the camera will have to dial into the service with their modems, and then click 4) Shopping, 3) Consumer Electronics, 5) Cameras, 4) Digital Cameras, 2) Nikon, 2) DSLRs, 4) New Models. It’s that easy!” Those choosing to purchase the Df at retail locations will be able to pay in cash, credit, Diner’s Club, Discover Card, and goats. The Df, available soon, will cost 32 goats.