D600-1

Nikon D600 Review

After releasing the D800, D800E and D4, Nikon has released it’s 4th full frame FX DSLR this year, the Nikon D600. Unlike the previous full frame cameras, the D600 is mainly targeting the enthusiast user market. It’s Nikon’s smallest, lightest and also cheapest full frame DSLR so far.

 

When I first saw the D600, I nearly mistaken it is a D7000! It’s design looks very similar to the D7000 and it’s only slightly bigger and heavier. The D800 is quite a bit bigger, taller and heavier than the D600.

D600 and D800 size comparison (Left: D800 Right: D600)

It shares the same metering system 3D color matrix metering II 2,016 pixel RGB sensor as the D7000.
And the autofocus system is based on D7000’s 39 point AF system. 9 of the autofocus points are cross type and seven of them can now focus at f/8. Like all the Nikon FX camera, all the focus points are within the central DX crop area and spot metering is linked to the active AF point. While I haven’t really spend much time testing the AF tracking or use some test chart to test the autofocus accuracy, the AF system seems pretty accurate and responsive when I was shooting real life photos.

The D600 also shares a lot of improvements and new features with it’s bigger brother, the 36MP FX D800. For example, the LCD screen is the same as the D800, it uses the same Expeed 3 processor, it has very similar video mode including uncompressed HDMI output, headphone out, external mic in and 1080p30 mode…etc


Videographers would love all these ports!

 

The camera has a partially magnesium metal body. The shutter rating is 150,000 and I was told the weather seal is same as the D800. So while it’s not as heavy or solid as a D4 or a D800, it is still a very solid and reliable camera that you can take it anywhere, and shoot it under pretty much any weather condition.

There are also infra red sensors on the camera so you can use an infra red remote trigger to trigger this camera. In additional to that, you can use the optional wifi module and control it with an Android or iOS device. Unfortunately there is no 10 pin remote Connector so you can’t use a normal remote shutter cable with the D600.

The camera is pretty responsive because of the Expeed3 processor. Going through the camera’s menu is quick and easy.

If you are a street photographer, you would also love the D600’s quiet shutter sound. It is a lot quieter than the other Nikon full frame cameras and won’t draw as much unwanted attention when you are taking photos. I’ve used the D600 to take some photos of a newborn baby during the review period. The little one was only 1 day old and was sleeping peacefully when I arrived. I switched the camera to the quiet mode, and took probably a dozen photos at short distance. The shutter sound didn’t upset the baby at all. I’m pretty sure it would be a different story if I was shooting with my D700 or D800 as those camera have a much louder shutter sound.

And for those of you who care about how the camera look, I think it’s a very good looking camera. It’s not too boxy nor too curvy, and with a medium sized zoom or prime lens attached, it looks and feels very nice and balanced.

 

As i’ve said in the beginning, the D600’s design is very similar to the D7000, but with some new changes. For example, the new live view control, the position of the video record button is the same as the new one on D800. There are now 5 buttons instead of 4 on the left hand side of the main LCD screen. The ISO button is now moved to the buttom most, allow user to adjust ISO easily when you are shooting. Auto ISO can now be enabled by pressing the ISO button and turning the front dial, just like the D800. So you don’t have to go into the menu to turn the auto ISO on/off anymore!


Zoom in at top, Zoom out at bottom. It just makes more sense isn’t it?

 

The D600 has dual SD card slots. You can assign the second slot to act as overfill, backup or storing a JPG. Just a few years ago, the only camera that has dual card slot was the flagship camera like the D3!

While the D600 doesn’t have the circle shape viewfinder like other FX cameras, it’s viewfinder is a 100% pentaprism and is really bright and large! There are also tonnes of information displayed in the viewfinder. And if you are using the Auto ISO mode, the actual ISO the camera selects is now also shown in the viewfinder.

 

The camera has a built-in RAW converter and some postprocessing ability. It also has a built-in HDR mode. The camera creates a “HDR” style image using 1 or multiple shots automatically for you. The HDR JPG output captures a wider dynamic range then normal photo. It works pretty well especially when you are shooting a high dynamic range scene, for example part of your photo is indoor and part of it is outdoor. Just don’t expect the crazy Photomatrix style effect as it’s designed for more subtle HDR effect.


Normal Mode


HDR Mode – Smooth Setting = low

 

But you need to remember the HDR mode can only be enabled when you are shooting in JPG mode with bracketing turned off. The camera will only grey out the HDR option unless you met all the requirements. I wish Nikon can improve this in the future and either offer to adjust all the settings to allow HDR mode, or at least tell you explicitly what is causing the HDR mode disabled. It’s not only the HDR mode, there are also a few other menu options that could grey out depends on other settings/conditions and if you are not familar with the camera it really can take you a bit of time to find out how to re-enable it.

 

D600’s live view mode is pretty much the same as the D800 and D4 and uses the new live view button/level design. It’s a lot easier to use when compare to the older live view design, The autofocus in live view mode while not as fast as some of the fastest mirrorless system, is still quite fast and doesn’t hunt too much. Unlike D800, you cannot adjust the aperture size once you are in liveview mode, unless you are using a AF lens with mechanical aperture ring. Unfortunately, the live view display’s framerate also drops quite a bit when you zoom in the picture, just like the D800. It makes manual focus using live view harder than it should be.

 

To differentiate the D600 from their own and more expensive D800, Nikon has to tune down some of the otherwise amazing D600 spec list. Fortunately, most of the missing things (when compare to the D800) like limited number bracketing frames, or the lack of AF-ON button I mentioned earlier..etc are minor and there are usually some workarounds. But the slower maximum flash sync speed of 1/200s (which can actually be boost to 1/250s) and the max shutter speed of 1/4000s are probably the biggest complains from me. If you are a landscape photographer or street photographer then you most likely don’t care but if you shoot a lot of sports, or you are a strobist, then the lower max sync and shutter speed (also with the lack of PC Sync jack) could really annoy you. But then Canon’s newly announced 6D (which is D600’s direct competitor) also has the maximum shutter speed of 1/4000s and max sync speed is even slower at 1/180s. So maybe I shouldn’t really complain too much?

 

When I first pick up my D800, I found that it requires me to pay a lot more attention to my shutter speed, aperture setting, lens selection and also I need to try to be steady as possible if I want to get maximum quality photos. With the D600, probably because of it’s lower 24MP resolution, I find it is a lot more forgiving as it doesn’t reveal every tiniest mistake I’ve made. The smaller image size probably is more computer friendly too for most people that doesn’t have the latest and fastest computer with the biggest storage space.

 

During the review period, 90% of the time I was using the camera with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR kit lens. The 24-85VR is one fantastic kit lens! While it’s a little bit plasticky, it’s also a lot more compact and lighter (and of course cheaper) than the 24-70mm f/2.8G and the picture quality is nearly as good under most situtations. And at f/3.5-4.5 it’s not too much slower neither. Some of the photos I took at wide open, look awesome even when viewed at 100%. A short review of the 24-85 lens will come soon!
So if you are upgrading from DX and need a standard full frame zoom lens, I would highly recommend you to check out the 24-85G.

 

So how’s the image quality?

 

After using the camera for about a week, under daylight, moonlight, shooting various kind of photos, I’ve to say I’m really impressed by the photo comes out from the D600.

The dynamic range is very good, a lot better than the D700 and probably just as good as the D800 which is the current king of DR according to DXOMark.
Combined with the clean image it generates, you have a extremely large amount of freedom to push the shadow details or recover highlight during post processing especially if you are shooting at low ISO.


Left Half: RAW -> JPG in Lightroom, all default settings
Right Half: RAW -> JPG in LR Exposure increased 6 stops, otherwise default settings, no noise reduction applied

For the photo above, the Correct Exposure should be around 1/15s but I shot the actual photo at 1/1000s so this photo was 6 stops underexposed. I pushed +6EV in post processing I’m guessing if I didn’t tell you the original photo was 6 stops underexposed you probably wouldn’t know.

Yes 6 stops!

 

When Nikon released their first FX DSLR Nikon D3. It’s high ISO performance completely blown everyone away. Maximum 5 digit ISO was something we never thought of being possible and it started the new high ISO war between different camera manufacturers. D700 uses the same sensor as D3 and it was the camera of choice for low light shooting for many professional and enthusiast users. So how does the new D600 and D800 perform when compare to the original low light king?

I did some quick tests to compare the picture quality of these three cameras at different ISO.

I tested each camera from ISO 100 all the way to 25600. All cameras were in manual Mode, all the photos were shot with the same lens, same shutter speed and aperture for each ISO setting. Same white balance was used and the camera was on a tripod. The RAW file is then loaded in Adobe Lightroom 4.2 , all default settings, no noise reduction, no sharpening, output to 10MP JPG to allow us to compare the results at same zoom level.

This is the test photo:

And here are the 100% crop results from the 10MP JPG.

[CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE FULL SIZE]

Crop 1: Green Box


Crop 2: Blue Box

 

All test photos were taken indoor during daytime within an approx 10 minutes period. It was a partly cloudy day and the sun went behind the cloud from time to time, so the ambient light varies slightly. If you are wondering why some images are brighter than other, this is probably the main reason.

Up to ISO 800, there is virtually no visible difference between the three cameras. The D700 starting to show a little bit more noise at ISO 1600 but it’s not until ISO 3200 then the difference become very apparent. At higher ISO, the D800 still managed to retain a lot of fine details. But while D600’s photo has slightly less details, the chromatic noise seems to be much better controlled compare to the D800. So overall, I would say the D600 and D800 is pretty similar overall at high ISO.
The D700, which was once the best high ISO camera just not too long ago, really got beaten by his younger brothers. It’s approximately 1 stop behind the D600 and D800 in terms of overall image quality. Looking at the performance at ISO 25600 (remember these are photos with no noise reduction applied), I felt Nikon can easily push another 1 or maybe 2 stop and claim a maximum ISO of 51200 or 102400 if they want. But they probably want to be a bit more conservative and therefore limited the maximum ISO at 25600.

 

 

Conclusions

Nikon has released some really nice DSLRs this year, the latest D600 doesn’t disappoint either. In some way it’s probably the most exciting release this year as it’s the most affordable full frame camera that still comes with a very impressive spec list. And more importantly, the actual performance of the camera in real world is just as good as the spec sheet.

If you are a strobist, the lack of sync port, 1/200s sync speed may annoy you a bit. But for most of it’s target users, it’s really hard to find any major thing to complain about.

It’s probably the best ever camera for enthusiast photographers.

Even for the professional photographers the D600 would be a great lightweight 2nd camera to go with their D4 or D800. If someone is offering to swap my D700 (which is my 2nd camera at the moment) with a D600, I would accept his offer immediately! Anyone?

Now Nikon has completely refreshed the complete full frame DSLR line up and also their entry level DSLR this year. I wonder what the next DSLR release will be like?

 

Pros
– Fantastic dynamic range
– Great high ISO performance
– Small and light but still with decent build quality and weather protection
– Decent autofocus system and metering system
– Lots of features for a enthusiast level camera: Dual SD card, 100% viewfinder, mic in, headphone jack, uncompressed video out…etc. hm… my D700 doesn’t have any of them!
– More forgiving and computer friendly than the D800 because of it’s lower resolution
– Great quality kit lens

Cons
– 1/200s sync speed and the lack of PC Sync jack would disappoint strobists
– Cannot adjust aperture size once live view mode is turned on (unless you are using a AF lens with mechanical aperture ring)
– Live view mode still low framerate when you zoom in.

 

 

Sample Photos
(Nikon D600 + AFS 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR, all photos are unedited JPG straight from camera)

 

[CLICK ON A PHOTO TO SEE THE LARGER VERSION]


f/6.3 1/800s ISO100

f/7.1 1/400s ISO100

f/7.1 1/400s ISO100

f/7.1 1/500 ISO720


f/6.3 1/13s ISO1600

 f/4.5 1/30s ISO1600


f/18 0.3s ISO100 (Handheld, don’t you love VR!)


f/9.0 1/0s ISO100


f/4.5 1/200 ISO180

f/6.3 1/13s ISO1600

f/4.2 1/1000 ISO100


f/6.4 1/100s ISO6400

f/4.5 1/200s ISO1400


f/7.1 1/13s ISO3200


f/8.0 1/400s ISO100

f/5.6 1/200s ISO220

 


f/7.1 1/132 ISO3200

 

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Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding/portrait Photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photo-by-Richard/113755425305636

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