Nikon D600

Offering a range of video controls and still-image quality refined over generations of Nikon cameras, the D600 is an impressive SLR that signals a new era in full-frame photography.


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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


With the announcement of the D600, the full-frame wars have well and truly begun. Photographers have long been interested in a relatively affordable — we use that term loosely for the Australian market — entry point into the upper echelons of SLR gear.

Full-frame sensors have the advantage of being larger than their APS-C or crop-sensor cousins. In a nutshell, this means that they are able to gather more light thanks to the larger photosites, and are not susceptible to crop factor. So when you mount a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, it's a true 50mm focal length.

Design and features

The lightweight body makes it a much more viable alternative to the D800 for street shooting, travel and everyday photography. At 760 grams with a battery (body only), the D600 won't overwhelm you, particularly if you have never experienced shooting with a full-frame SLR before.

In the hand, the D600 feels like a baby version of the D800. Controls will be familiar to anyone who has used a Nikon SLR previously, with the requisite buttons flanking the LCD screen for options such as white balance, ISO, zoom, menu and playback controls all within easy reach.

The locking mode dial.
(Credit: CBSi)

A new exterior feature on the D600 is a locking mode dial. To rotate it in order to adjust shooting features, the centre button on the dial needs to be depressed. It's designed to stop the dial from sliding out of place, though it feels somewhat unnecessary given how sturdy the mechanism is. Still, some photographers may find this a valuable feature.

Underneath the mode dial is the secondary shooting dial with options for single, continuous, quiet, timer and mirror-up shooting.

Across the top panel, you will find an LCD panel that displays shooting parameters, as well as a hotshoe and pop-up flash. Just near the shutter button is a small record button for shooting video, as well as a metering and exposure-compensation button.

The D600 has dual SD card slots, which can be configured in a number of different ways, namely for redundancy purposes and flow-over. Wi-Fi connectivity is also supported, but you need to invest in an optional adapter to get this capability. Also, this camera only has USB 2.0 on-board, as opposed to 3.0, which does limit bandwidth for traditional tethering methods.

Click through for more sample photos and impressions of the D600. (Credit: CBSi)

The 3.2-inch LCD screen at the back of the camera is the same 921,000-dot version found on the D800. The viewing experience is excellent in the majority of situations, but for outdoor use, we suggest removing the included BM-14 plastic cover and shooting without, or buying a third-party alternative. The viewfinder is nice and bright, offering 100 per cent coverage of the field of view. Photographers who like to shoot landscape or architectural scenes will appreciate the virtual horizon that is available on the D600.

Connectivity is very robust. Photographers get access to a 3.5mm headphone jack for audio monitoring during record and playback, as well as a stereo microphone input. Micro HDMI, USB 2.0 and a GPS port complete the side panel. Like the D800, the D600 can output a clean, uncompressed feed through its HDMI port.

A built-in HDR feature when shooting JPEG photos allows the camera to automatically merge exposures at set values (1, 2 or 3EV) and select smoothing options. It won't replace constructing an HDR image in post-production, but it provides a good base for experimentation.

Compared to

6D vs D600
Canon EOS 6D Nikon D600
20.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor 24.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
3-inch LCD screen (1.04-million dot) 3.2-inch LCD screen (921,000-dot)
11-point AF (1 cross-type) 39-point AF (9 cross-type)
Wi-Fi built in Optional Wi-Fi transmitter
4.5 frames per second 5.5 frames per second
SDXC support (1 slot) SDXC support (2 slots)
1/4000 sec max shutter, 1/180 sync speed 1/4000 sec max shutter, 1/200 sync speed
No built-in flash Built-in (pop-up) flash

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 0.10.40.30.4
    Nikon D600
  • 0.10.30.30.04
    Nikon D800
  • 0.20.40.30.1
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • 0.30.40.40.3
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in fps)

  • 6
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • 5.5
    Nikon D600
  • 4
    Nikon D800
  • 3.8
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Sharing the same power pack as the D7000 and D800, the battery is rated at 900 shots.

Note that the shutter-lag measurement listed above for the D600 is with autofocus turned on. The D600 can take a burst of 15 RAW images at 5.5fps with autofocus, and then stops to process them. In JPEG-only mode, it's a near-unlimited burst depending on the speed and size of your memory card, at 3.5fps with autofocus.

Autofocusing is swift and mostly accurate, though as the 39 AF points are located closest to the centre of the screen, sometimes you may need to adjust and recompose your shot if the right object isn't in focus the first time. The 24-85mm lens — incidentally the only lens supplied to us for review with the camera — doesn't feel like it is best equipped to make the most of the AF system.

As usual, autofocus in Live View isn't instantaneous, but it feels a bit snappier than that found on the D800. Also, an important point to note is that when shooting video in Live View (not stills), you can't adjust the aperture.

Image quality

While the D600 may not have the extreme resolution of the D800, it does benefit in many ways from its older sibling, including excellent low-light capabilities. Colour rendition on default settings, and when shooting JPEG, is incredibly impressive. Natural, true-to-life colours are something you can expect time after time from this camera.

It's bokehlicious! The advantage of a full-frame sensor at f/4.5, in photo form.
(Credit: CBSi)

The "kit" 24-85mm lens is decent, but not as sharp from edge to edge as we would like, which is something that becomes noticeable not just on crops and pixel peeping at 100 per cent magnification, but also on smaller versions of the image on a screen. We would suggest using some of Nikon's more impressive FX glass for the best results.

Automatic white balance is very accurate, though looking at the images on the D600's screen makes things appear a little cool.

A comparison of the RAW and JPEG files produced by the D600, 100 per cent crops inset.
(Credit: CBSi)

At the time of writing, the only program that could read the D600's RAW files was the included Nikon software. JPEG processing from the D600 is very similar to RAW, with only slight smoothing of noise as the ISO level increases. What is most interesting about the D600 is how it renders noise as the sensitivity climbs; it looks more like film grain than digital noise.

Video quality is on par with that delivered by the D800. The image is very clean, even when shooting at extremes like ISO 2000 and above during filming. There are a few gripes, though, which include the recording time being limited to 20 minutes when shooting in the highest-quality mode, and the slight softness of the video image straight from the camera. The D600 can record in 1080p (30fps, 25fps, 24fps) or 720p (60fps, 50fps, 30fps, 25fps).

Nikon D600 test with ME-1 microphone from CNET Australia on Vimeo.

Something that really comes in handy for photographers wanting to experiment with more creative video modes is the built-in time-lapse feature. Set the shooting interval, and the D600 will tell you how long the sequence will be, then automatically snap away and create a finished 1080p video with all the frames stitched together once it has finished.

Video recording can also be done in DX crop, which uses the centre portion of the sensor to provide a 1.5x focal-length crop, still able to record at 1080p.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/60, f/4.5, ISO 1250

Exposure: 1/1250, f/4.2, ISO 320

Exposure: 1/640, f/8, ISO 250

Exposure: 1/640, f/6.3, ISO 320

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Though many will see this camera as a D800 "lite", the D600 offers plenty of advantages for photographers wanting to enter the world of full-frame photography without the hefty price. Offering a range of video controls and still-image quality refined over generations of Nikon cameras, the D600 is an impressive SLR that signals a new era in full-frame photography.

Nikon Australia no longer issues official RRPs for its products, though one Australian retailer is offering it for AU$2599 for body only.



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Grimbot posted a comment   

There is no comparison with image quality between the D600 and D7000 (I own both of these great cameras). While the D7000 is an excellent DX body it simply cannot compare to the D600 on image quality. The D600 provides much higher resolution, greater dynamic range, and much better low light performance....as well as an in-camera HDR feature that actually works quite well. From a video standpoint the D600 is a far more capable camera, allowing me to shoot 30 fps in full 1080 (the D7000 is limited to 24 fps in 1080) and can also shoot 50/60 fps in 720 while the D7000 can do 30 fps. Since I do a lot of corporate video work the additional capabilities of the D600 were exactly what I needed. The D600 also has a mic out jack and onscreen audio level monitoring, and clean HDMI output. All very useful when shooting video.

There is less moire with the D600 than the D7000 when shooting video....and much less moire than the D800 which really needs the Mosaic Engineering filter to be usable at 720. It is true that you cannot change aperture when shooting video with the D600...but this is the same as the D7000. When I shoot corporate video all of my clips are always pre-planned so I have never found this to be an issue with the D7000 and so it won't be an issue with the D600 either.

Grimbot
10
Rating
 

"Exceptional image quality, excellent handling and versatility"

Grimbot posted a review   

The Good:Fantastic image quality and great low light performance

The Bad:AF focus area takes a bit of getting used to...then it's no problem

I've had my D600 for a couple of weeks and recently finished a commercial photo/video shoot with it and I've been extremely pleased with the image quality, handling and versatility of this superb FX camera from Nikon. No problem getting clean images down to ISO3200. DX lenses work very well for video work and the D600 shows 100% of DX in LiveView when shooting video which makes framing scenes etc. very easy indeed. Shooting stills in DX gives about 104 MP and there is a DX frame outline to guide composition. While the overall file sizes are smaller than the D7000 (i.e. 16 MP) you do gain much better dynamic range and in-camera HDR feature - which actually works very well especially using a tripod...or hand-held at higher shutter speeds (e.g. 1/400th). I love the lightweight and compact size as I did not have to change my video fluid head, tripod or camera slider as the D600 is only slightly heavier than my D7000. While the image quality of the D7000 is exceptional for a DX camera it simply can't compare to the D600. Much higher resolution, greater dynamic range, and much better low light performance with the D600. For about 20% to 30% less money than the D800 you are getting a smaller, lighter, easier-to-handle package with image quality that is very, very close to the D800. Make no mistake...the D600 is an exceptional camera and worth every penny. I have a Nikkor Micro 105 VR and with the D600 this lens produces images that are jaw-dropping in terms of detail and quality.

 

lalex81 posted a comment   
Australia

Besides the fact that this is a full frame DSLR are there any other features that make this camera a much better choice above the D7000?

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Not sure about "better choice" but definitely worth considering as advantages include: bigger screen, better noise control at high ISO levels and audio monitoring for video recording. And full-frame vs. APS-C!

 

Grimbot posted a reply   

Hi Lexy, much more video capability including 30 fps in 1080 and 50/60 fps in 720, headphone jack, audio metering, and straight out HDMI. The D600 also has in camera HDR which actually works well. The sensor in the D600 is FAR superior to the one in the D600...go to DXOMark to see their testing results. The sensor in the D600 is the third best DXOMark has ever tested...only marginally behind the D800 and D800E. The D600 is a lot more camera than the D600...and in my view worth every penny.

 

Carbonaceous posted a comment   
Australia

Thanks for this update Lexy. Do you think you could conduct some comparative tests with the D800 and Canon 5D at varying ISO levels?

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

I'll take a look at this next time I have both cameras at the same time :)

 

scatrd posted a comment   
Australia

Cannot help but feel disappointed as reading through the specs on the Nikon website you realise that this is not the D700 replacement, and we already know the D800 isn't either. Guess I will hang onto that D300 of mine for a little longer.

 

Grimbot posted a reply   

Hi scatrd....not sure what you think is missing with the D600. I'd suggest reading the Mansurovs review and comparison of the D600....he does a great job comparing the D600 with a number of other Nikon cameras. Quite simply the D600 blows the D700 out of the water in terms of image quality.

Unless you really need a high frame-rate (which most people really don't need) I can't see what the D600 is lacking. D400 rumours abound and I was originally waiting for that DX camera as an upgrade to my D7000.....but I'm very pleased that I bought the D600 instead. If you need a high frame rate, DX sensor camera then the D400 might be the camera you're waiting for. It is rumoured to have a 24 MP DX sensor, full alloy body, 51 point auto focus and a few other 'pro' features.




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User Reviews / Comments  Nikon D600

  • Grimbot

    Grimbot

    "There is no comparison with image quality between the D600 and D7000 (I own both of these great cameras). While the D7000 is an excellent DX body it simply cannot compare to the D600 on image quali..."

  • Grimbot

    Grimbot

    Rating10

    "I've had my D600 for a couple of weeks and recently finished a commercial photo/video shoot with it and I've been extremely pleased with the image quality, handling and versatility of this superb F..."

  • lalex81

    lalex81

    "Besides the fact that this is a full frame DSLR are there any other features that make this camera a much better choice above the D7000?"

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