Purchasing a camera based on the self-identify theory. The Nikon Df although a very capable photography tool is criticized by many photography experts for being underwhelming in its price range. Despite its criticism, I still invested in and shoot with this camera due to its performance and nostalgic intrinsic value.
Why did I buy a Nikon Df?
When the Nikon Df was announced to be released in 2013 – I was in awe. The Df was equipped with the same sensor as a D4, high ISO, redesigned for a tactile experience, and it also had a vintage esthetic design that I connected with. I was also already heavily invested in full-frame Nikon lenses which made acquiring another Nikon an easy choice.
I was previously shooting with a D700 (Nikon’s first full-frame camera, which was getting outdated). Before I went full frame I was shooting with the D300; which is essentially a crop-sensor version of the D700. I found the both the D300 and the D700 to be magical. The cameras would draw in ambient light, from unknown places and produce the most astounding photos, bending light where nobody would imagine it could go. The same magical light was spoken about when photo buffs described the Nikon Df. A claim that I can verify as a fact.
There are many mixed reviews out there about the Df. Some photographers love it, and some despise it. There are also many alternatives in the same price range such as the D750 and D850 that deliver 1/8000 shutter, higher frames/second as well as video. I have been a student of photography for quite some time, and those are not features I care about, so it was a very easy trade off.
Many a hipster have dusted off their parents’ old 35mm cameras as a novelty to match their eclectic lifestyles, and I don’t blame them. Vintage stuff looks really cool. Most people that see the Nikon Df figure that it’s just another film camera (which is a great theft deterrent). Beyond the design of the camera, it gives a sensory experience, bringing back tactile satisfaction that no other camera (that I know of) delivers. All of the controls: shutter speed, ISO and aperture are controlled by buttons and dials on the outside/top of the camera which makes adjustments a breeze. White balance, picture quality/file type and flash controls are also extremely easily accessible and require no deep menu navigation. What I love the most about this camera is that it has a small flange that can easily pop up and down, that allows for the mount and metering of Nikon’s non-AIS lenses from the 1960’s (as well as many other manual lenses).
Added value of self-identity
In my most fond childhood memories, I remember my dad’s chrome and leather 1973 Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder, fitted with a mechanical shutter release, and hot-shoe mounted flash. On special occasions, my dad would set up the camera on a tripod on the green burly living room carpet in Eastern Canada, and it was a magical experience. He would then set the camera’s timer by sliding over a mechanical switch built into the fixed lens, then he would run and join the rest of us for the portrait. Waiting for the shutter to release was exciting. The timer of the camera would start slowly “zipping”, like the sound of a zip-tie tightening. The sound would get louder and faster, just before the shutter released. The memory of my dad and this mysterious contraption that we would stare and smile at is burnt deep into my heart and mind, and has really set the example of what a camera should be.
A great review of the Yashica Electro 35 can be found here: Review: Yashica Electro 35 GSN (The Poor Man’s Rangefinder).
Consumer cameras soon came with automatic focus, and my family upgraded to several black-plastic futuristic looking cameras that we would enjoy for a time, or until they broke and had to be replaced. Just when I had forgotten about the Yashica Electro, my dad pulled the camera out of his dusty archives and gave it to me for a high school photography class. But it then disappeared into the dusty abyss of our garage.
35mm point-and-shoot cameras into the digital age
Film cameras began phasing out with the advent of digital cameras. I had purchased several automatic point-and-shoot cameras that were pretty much disposable due to their lack of durability; before I got into DSLRs. Beginning with a 1 megapixel Sony which I got as a wedding gift from my best friend in 2002, to an automatic Kodak which I did some amazing travel photography with, then into the DSLRs with the Canon EOS Rebel, to the Nikon D3100, to D5200, D300, and D700. These cameras all performed relatively well, but their design and performance was monotonous and boring. There was no tactile experience setting one camera apart from another besides internal features (which are also very important).
Then came the Df, which I can call nostalgic at the least. Its design was inspired by the Nikon FE, but to me; it brought back those warm and fuzzy moments with my family in our living room in Canada, with the green carpet and orange drapes, staring at the Yashica Electro and hearing that satisfying buzzing timer and holding my breath for the “click”.
Tetlock et. al (2000), found in a study that “threats to sacred moral values” result in moral outrage, as well as attempts to restore those moral values (Tetlock, Kristel, Beth Elson, Green, & Lerner, 2000).This study can also be applied to any self-affecting view, such as identity, product and lifestyle preference. In retrospect, the black plastic “blob-cameras” of the 1990s which continue until today represent a deviation from what is valuable to me, my memories and my self-identity. Mediating the threats to my self-identity would be to object to the status quo and seek self-confirmation by returning to something that made me ultimately feel better about myself; vis-à-vis: The Nikon Df.
Furthermore, a study conducted by Jennifer Campbell, which concluded that individuals are likely to hold highly confident views if they can draw coherent evidence from the environment and also from their past experiences (Campbell, 1990). This implies that there is a direct correlation between self-esteem and nostalgia. This conclusion is strengthened by what social scientists Shrira and Martin (2005) said in regards to self-affirmation. Steele stated that
“individuals can cope with threats to their selves though such procedures as affirming an important self-value”Shrira & Martin, 2005
Looking back at my experiences, I can clearly see that purchasing the Nikon Df reaffirmed a part of my self-identity that I felt was at risk, or I had lost. That warm and fuzzy feeling of what a camera should look and feel like that was molded strongly in my heart and mind as a child, was lost to the plastic monotony of modern camera manufacturing.
Now my Df is getting outdated, and there is a lot of pressure to conform to emerging technology due to ease of use and the promise of better pictures. I will however hold out with my Df as long as possible; or until Sony comes out with a mirrorless hipster camera or Fujifilm releases a full-frame model. That X-T3 is getting mighty enticing though!
Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-Esteem and Clarity of the Self-Concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 538-49.
Shrira, I., & Martin, L. L. (2005). Stereotyping, Self-Affirmation and the Cerebral Hemispheres. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 846-56.
Tetlock, P. E., Kristel, O. V., Beth Elson, S., Green, M. C., & Lerner, J. S. (2000). The Psychology of the Unthinkable: Taboo Trade-Offs, Forbidden base Rates, and Heretical Counterfactuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 853-70.
Photos of the Nikon Df courtest of Nikon.com