After several months’ long wait period, I finally got my hands on the D600. (How can you not find that phone call exciting: “Sir, your camera has arrived.”) Finally! It was like the world was surging ahead. (Frankly, Nikon, why do you take months to deliver a camera? Open a factory in the West somewhere.)
QC issues are going around, so I’ll tell you why that did not bother me; comparisons are going around (all positive) and I’ll tell you why I chose this; some people chose to have minor quirks with this camera and I’ll tell you why they’re amateurs. Ultimately, I’ve been testing this camera for weeks now so I’ll tell you quite definitively what you’d feel if you held this brilliant camera in your hand and shot with it.
The contents of this quick review
Since this is article might turn out to be longer than usual, let me toss you a list of contents:
- First impressions, handling, body etc.
- Looking through the D600 and others’ other issues
- Specifications that matter, or, why I chose the D600
- Friendly cage match against the D800, 5D MkIII and 6D
- Sample images and video
So that’s it. Let us dive right in.
[sws_blue_box box_size=”100%”]Shortly after I published this article, I realised the text may be too long for most of you so I’ve removed the sample images from the ‘sample images’ section and distributed them all over the article so you won’t find many images in the sample images section. The video, though, is still there. [/sws_blue_box]
First impressions, handling, body etc.
Having handled most of Nikon’s range — including the D5xxx, D7xxx and D800 — I think Nikon has hit the bull’s eye with the D600. It is not abnormally large like most full frame cameras are, and it is not too small for my hands. It’s no secret my hands are slightly larger than many, so Nikon’s lower end market such as the D5xxx and D3xxx feel awkwardly small for me, a truth I was reminded of when I recently meddled with my friend’s D5100. Such things are small but play a major role opposing good handling. But the D600 does it just right.
Also, the body, at three-fourths of a kilogram is not light, but not too heavy either. I find slightly bulkier bodies easier to handle and I find that they assist in maintaining greater stability while shooting. The D600 hits these check boxes for me.
“Sunset with thunder clouds”
The D600 in really not a technological marvel by itself because it introduced nothing new into the market; but it did do something no dSLR has ever done. It took the insides of the best of Nikon’s pro dSLR system (the D800 and D4) and threw them in a blender. That was then stuffed into a slightly beefy D7000 body and voila, the D600.
What this means is that the D600 offers the same features of the D4 and D800 in terms of performance and hardware layout and the D7000 in terms of dimensions and few more hardware layouts. Over use you will find, increasingly, that the D600 uses the buttons of the D800 rather than the D7000, except for the AF-ON button. Again, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does most others.
My tripod is calibrated to take a little over 3kg and while some people are paranoid and insist on leaving three times as much room, I am satisfied with two times; my heaviest body+lens combination is 1.5kg so a tripod with twice the capacity looks more than enough for me.
Over all, I love how the D600 is just right in many ways. Not too small, no too large; not too heavy, not too light; not at all amateurish (no effects and all that crap) and not filled with blazingly high counts (think D800’s 36MP — nobody needs that unless they’re shooting to blow up or shooting under tight lighting conditions like, perhaps, Peter Belanger.) I’m just saying.
“The barber’s mirror”
Looking through the D600 and others’ other issues
Let’s face it: everybody’s going to have a problem with something. (Even worse, somebody’s going to have a problem with everything.) And the D600 is no different. Just as it happened when the D5100 came out, then when the the D7000 and D300 and D700 and D800, some people have (although very few) problems with the D600 too. So I’m going to take a very brief moment to state their problems and why those problems do not bother me.
1. Slow shutter speed of 1/4000s
Oh, no, what a disaster! Now quickly run to your image handling software and tell me how many photos you’ve shot at 1/8000s.
In the real world, 1/8000s is so blazing fast you don’t need it except under two of 25,000 circumstances. In your 50,000 photos I bet there’s no more than five shot at 1/8000 and for the best of us, there’s probably none. I don’t think I have to explain further why the 1/4000s shutter speed does not bother me.
2. Only 39 AF points. That’s too little for a pro like me!
Again, calm down.
The D800 (blurred) vs D600 (sharp) AF points cover roughly the same area.
The D600 inherits Nikon’s breakthrough Multi-CAM 4800 autofocus — but from the D7000 and not the D800. This means it has 39AF points as opposed to 51. But this is not (and I’ll repeat this a hundred times) it is not the D7000’s Multi-CAM 4800 DX. This is the Multi-CAM 4800 FX, which is infinitely better, but for most people who judge cameras by the specs sheet, the 39 focus points have one major complaint: they’re bunched together.
Straight away I can tell you these guys are probably nowhere near being pro. Let me demonstrate with the picture above. How much more area do you think the D800’s focus points cover with respect to the D600’s?
3. Huh, what a lousy flash sync of 1/200s!
Granted, this can be a genuine problem because when it comes to flash sync a 1/50s additive can be of great importance. But, as long as we’re talking subjectively, I don’t use a slave flash (well, I don’t even own one!) so I could not care less about the flash sync. For on-board flashes (for which Nikon is pretty legendary) a 1/200s is all you need out in the real world.
“Rush hours pull my hair”
4. No magnesium alloy bottom? What a bad deal!
The D600 is full top and back magnesium alloy along with a 100% superior weather sealing inherited from the D800 and D4 bodies. So, unless you plan on playing football with your dSLR (which you can by all means do if you’re filthy rich) please stop complaining.
5. I spy spots on my sensor
We just had to come to this, didn’t we? Whatever camera you own (especially if they are full frame ones) you will find oil and dust spots on your sensor, so start cleaning it when you find too many to handle in post processing.
Perhaps the D600 is more prone to this issue but it shouldn’t kill you so long as you know a little lightroom (that uber powerful software many people believe is far less powerful than Photoshop when, really, thy just have no idea how to use it) and care more about your photos than shooting blank walls and blue skies at f/22 and then over-sharpening it.
Remember, the spots are on your sensor, which means unless you’re focusing close shut or very, very near to your camera, you won’t find these spots at all.
Specifications that matter, or,
Why I chose the D600
Let us look at my needs (compare them with yours and you’ll see what I mean.) And I’m also going to take the liberty of throwing in a thing or two about a person I know, Raghul Selvam, to give you a better idea.
“Carry the children”
Usage and budget
I shoot more landscapes, have been withheld by gear at higher ISOs, I shoot nature, an occasional street and documentary and still life, combined with more natural and conservative processing. Raghul, as I have seen, likes to get up close and shoot things tending towards a macro-style of shooting combined with heavy, contrasty processing. Our needs are different and yours probably falls somewhere around these two that I just described. Now this directly affects the gear we need to make our photography more systemic.
Secondly, for me, was my budget. I had set myself at $3,500 (€2,700) so I had to gather the best kit at that range. The D800 and D600 are essentially the same except for magnesium alloy on two more sides, 1/8000s shutter and 36MP, none of which I am bent upon getting — I don’t need them and the chances are, you don’t either.
The D600 comes with 24MP which is 24 million pixels of true resolution, not the same as 24 million pixels on a D5200 or a D3200. The smaller sensors on those lower end bodies means they are actually carrying an unhealthy amount of pixels that will soon work against the photograph. This is also why I was happy when Raghul bought the much older D5100 instead, (with 16MP if I’m not mistaken.)
For a camera with a small sensor, the D5100’s 16MP is close to the sweet spot: it is still too much, (12MP is the perfection point) but 16MP is not as bad as the 24MP marketing standard on crop sensors. On the other hand, for a full frame (i.e. 35mm) camera like the D600, whose sensor is twice as large as the D5100’s or the D300’s, 24MP is the sweet spot.
“Waiting to cross the road”
Full frame glory
At the end of the day, given the same photographer, same external conditions and same subject to shoot, full frame cameras like the D600/D800/D4 will eat cropped sensor cameras like the D7000/D5200 for breakfast as far as image quality is concerned. It is even more so at high ISOs.
But that is not to say cropped sensor cameras are bad — far from it. In fact, Raghul’s photographic usage (as I’ve described it above) would benefit from a cropped sensor camera like the D5100. These give you reach and let you go closer to your subjects at shorter lengths, which is something he would greatly benefit from. This comes at the cost of noise, image quality and often, the dynamic range.
Comparatively, a full frame camera goes majestically larger in cover, can do at f/4 what smaller bodies do at f/1.8 and produces (in the right hands) unmatched noiseless photos, sharper images, better colours, better blur, and these cameras can do a lot more in little available light. But this comes at the cost of reach, going close enough (unless costly lenses permit,) and… well, full frame bodies are larger and bulkier and need at least twice as much shot discipline as cropped sensors.
“Put aside all the negativity”
As I said, it all comes down to need. For my shooting, I would greatly benefit from a full frame sensor; for his, Raghul would benefit from cropped sensors (even if he would like full frames once in a while.) You can very well ask yourself the same questions.
fps, storage, U modes, auto focus speed and more
The D600’s dual SD cards are a boon and, since I’ve always been averse to the D800’s CF option offering, the D600 is better here. There is also a crop mode that essentially makes the D600 a 10MP cropped sensor camera giving me reach, going close etc. as we saw a couple of paragraphs above.
I get a screen protector. (Heavens protect Nikon for deciding to get rid of it completely in the D7100!) There is the attractive (attractive as far as I’m concerned) speed of 11 photographs in 2 seconds continuously up to 100 photographs with a single shutter press. Impressive.
The U1 and U2 modes (basically, user modes,) allow me to set my most used settings/style of photography for quick access. One dial twist and shoot: as simple as that. And while we’re talking about dials, I don’t find the lock a problem every time. In fact, I think I even like it!
“Woman with the pitchers”
The auto focus — what can I say? It’s just as fast as the D800, or maybe a negligible bit off, but it is way more accurate than its 36MP bigger brother. We have already talked about the AF points spread so I will not go there again.
Size, man, size. This is where the D600 hit it off the field better than any dSLR ever made. It’s perfect. You need to hold it in your hand to believe it. One major aspect that made this size reduction possible was Sony/Zeiss’ sensor built especially for the D600. It is the second best camera sensor ever made. (We’ll see the entire list after the first cage match.)
Anyway, let’s go ahead to the next (exciting!) section.
Friendly cage match
Round one: D600 vs 6D — same class, similar price range, but matched?
The 6D was Canon’s rather quick answer to the D600 — as if they had it in their closet all along. Anyway, the question now is, is the Canon good enough to beat the D600, especially when it costs much more?
Quickly: unless you own a full Canon system, the D600 beats the 6D into the mud. Decidedly, for in-line auto focus (i.e. when the subject is moving towards and away from the camera instead of along the frame) the Canon 6D scores a mere 45-55% accuracy, equal to Nikon’s three year old D5100. The D600 comes out at 75%-80%, a clear winner.
Some other quick things that matter: the 6D has a couple of stops higher native ISO at 25,600 against the D600’s 6,400 just like all Canons v Nikons. The 6D takes 980 shots vs the D600’s 900. The 6D also has GPS.
“Fuchsia skies and dusty beaches” — Note how the D600 recognises fine details in the people’s clothing despite the extreme light from a set sun right behind them.
On the other hand, the D600 has a way better image quality at 94 points against the 6D’s 82. (Check out the box below for a better idea as to what this means.) There is better colour depth, more cross type points, lower noise, more dynamic range at 14.2EV against the 6D’s 12EV and there is less shutter lag, quicker start up, more fps, built in flash and continuous video AF.
The winner? Why don’t you decide?
Understand image quality measurements
Image quality is measured simply in points from 0 (unacceptable) to 100 (best) as an overall conclusion to several other tests, comparative to the present camera market. To give you a better idea of where things stand, here are the best image quality cameras among popular Nikons and Canons. The first three are the top in the entire camera industry while the bottom ones have several Pentax, Olympus and Sony systems performing better than them.
Usually, a one point difference is negligible, but anything above 2 points is not. So 84.0 and 83.0 are practically the same while 79.0 is quite lower than 81.0 and so on.
- D800/E – 95.0/96.0
- D600 – 94.0
- D7100 – 84.0
- D5200 – 83.0
- 5D MkIII – 83.0
- 6D – 82.0
- D3200 – 81.0
- D5100 – 79.0
- 5D MkII – 79.0
- 7D – 66.0
Round two: D600 vs 5D MkIII — Can Canon’s best take on the D600 and win?
Canon’s best dSLR, the 5D Mark III, costs almost $1,500 more than the D600, yet it has just a half stop better difference in terms of fps and a 1/8000s shutter speed option.
The D600 has over 2 stops better dynamic range, lesser ISO just like with the 6D, quicker start up time and half a stop lower noise (although that is mostly negligible.) The 5D’s biggest triumph is its 61 AF points with 41 cross types which makes it especially useful for tracking, but for landscape work, it is just as useless.
Once again, the winner is something for you to decide.
The final round: D600 vs D800
It seems almost cruel to set the D600 up against its bigger brother, the D800, but facts show that the D600 can stand up in the fight.
Well, the D800 beats the D600 (and every other dSLR ever seen) pretty badly when it comes to resolution. It also has a negligible 1 point better image quality and the exact dynamic range as the D600.
The D600 shoots one-and-a-half stops faster and about one-tenth of a stop greater ISO reach at low or negligible noise.
“A snake that pretends to be venomous”
As you can see, the rest of the specifications are quite alike, which makes this an amusing comparison. So, unless you need 36MP, (i.e. you shoot with controlled lighting or have rock-steady hands or tripods fused to your dSLR) the choice is pretty simple: do you want a slightly smaller, lighter body which comes cheaper in terms of cost although without too many other sacrifices; or do you want a larger, heavier body with lots of megapixels and at a higher cost?
Speaking of the D800/E comparison, the E version which as a neutralised OLPF is somewhat replicated in the D600. Unlike the D7100, where Nikon has altogether removed the OLPF, the D600 still has one but it is much, much thinner than the usual size (such as in the D800) so this creates a halfway mark between the D800E and the newer D7100 — like I said, with the D600, Nikon probably wanted to hit all the “just right” spots.
Really, here there is no winner.
When it comes to taking the final decision regarding a camera, there is only one thing I really see barring everything else. Does the camera make me want to shoot? The D600 does. As far as tiny issues and problems go, I have learnt one thing: amateurs complain. Let them.
The D600 fits into my hand as if it was custom-built; it has all the requirements I was looking for — both hardware and software — it does not make me a pauper, and it helps me make great photographs. Judged and bound.
“Twittering amidst the miniatures of nature”
Sample images and video
Update: As stated above, the sample images that were in this section have been take off and put all over the article for you to take a break and enjoy while you read. As always, unless mentioned, you can go ahead and do whatever you wish with any of my photographs without my permission (although a tiny credit somewhere would be appreciated.) The same applies to the photographs in this article.
ENERGY: 24 megapixels of magnificence
I shot some video with the D600 — since I will probably be using it for my next short film — and I must say it is phenomenal. The specs say it is broadcast quality but I do not jump up and believe specs sheets. Yet, after having tried it, I must say I believe it and it is a huge step up from my point and shoot with which I filmed my previous two short films with Raghul as I will be doing the third with this. I am of course indebted to him for humoring me and agreeing to act in my films and supporting it all along (I doubt somebody else would have done that) so I can’t wait till the third one is out, especially now that we have a rather unique story we’re working with.
I will not go into exactly how I came to shoot this video, but let us just say what was required of me was to exhibit “Energy” in under two minutes. This is the end result of energy: it’s everywhere life is, it’s in colour, lights, breath, action, vision and music. That is what I wanted to showcase in this film. It’s worth watching (and it is under two minutes) and for somebody looking for the D600’s video quality, I assure you you’re going to love it. The lack of live view aperture bothers some but I have learnt to live without it.
Please turn on HD to watch the video at its best.
please specify correct url
If you own this great camera, share your thoughts; if you are looking to buy it, ask your questions; if you know nothing about photography and just love gear, you’re welcome. I, for one, could not have asked for a better camera than the D600 — it is worth every cent. [vhb]