Nikon D600 for Sports and Wildlife Photography

As I have pointed out in my D600 Review, I am quite pleased with the autofocus performance of the D600. It acquires focus quickly and accurately in most situations and in my opinion works more reliably than the AF system on the Nikon D7000. This past weekend I had a chance to do a much more demanding test on the D600, photographing Colorado wildlife. I wanted to see if the Nikon D600 would be suitable for photographing sports and wildlife, since many of our readers have asked me to do that in my review.

Clark's Nutracker

I started out photographing birds first. Small birds can be tough to photograph, since they move constantly and they fly fast. My primary subjects were Clark’s Nutracker and Steller’s Jay – both were very active, so they were perfect for testing the speed, responsiveness and the reliability of the AF system of the D600. I started out in AF-C mode, Ch release, Dynamic 39 points and Focus Tracking with Lock-On set to 3 (Normal). Focusing on perched birds was very reliable and I got a lot of keepers. I even used other focus points in the extreme corners while composing my shots and the images came out in perfect focus. However, the moment a bird would take off, I had a hard time tracking it in flight with my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR (hand-held), since they were too fast. Very often they were too close and too fast, which made it harder to get anything in the frame and in focus. Gladly, I was not the only person having this problem – Tom was standing right next to me with his Nikon D4 and Nikon 500mm f/4 VR and he was having similar issues. So I knew it was not the camera at fault.

Nutrackers Fighting

Nutracker and Chipmunk

Steller's Jay (1)

Steller's Jay (2)

On the Edge

Having photographed birds with the Nikon D3s before, one thing that I really enjoyed about the D600 was its new Auto ISO implementation with an “Auto” value for the “Minimum Shutter Speed” (previous generation cameras do not have this feature). When photographing birds, I set my shutter speed to be double the speed of the focal length and it worked out great. And when I needed to go faster than that, I set the “Auto” value to +2 (Faster) and my shutter speed would be tripled (3 full stops), giving me enough speed to get fast action. The nice thing about this setting, is that I went back and forth between 200mm to 400mm and the shutter speed would be compensated automatically. At 300mm, setting Auto to +2 would give me 1/1250 shutter speed, which was often good enough for birds in flight. However, when I needed to go faster, I would switch to a desired shutter speed instead. I turned off VR most of the time, since my shutter speeds were fast enough.

Steller's Jay (3)

Steller's Jay (4)

Steller's Jay (5)

As you can see from the images here, the Nikon D600 did really well with perched birds. All images posted here are very sharp and you can see individual feathers on birds at 100% view (none of the images were taken to Photoshop – these are crops out of Lightroom, with little sharpening applied upon export). Both the D4 and the D600 had a hard time tracking fast little birds in flight with Dynamic AF, so Tom and I both switched to 3D AF mode, with Focus Tracking set to 1 (Short). We then both started to get some shots of birds in flight in focus and the hit/miss ratio started to get better. My biggest challenge was to try to keep birds within the smaller AF zone (which is smaller on the D600). Overall though, the Nikon D4 still had the edge as far as AF performance and accuracy in my opinion. But I cannot say that the D600 was much worse either – it performed surprisingly well in this environment.

After photographing birds for about an hour, we took off to take some pictures of bighorn sheep and elk:

Bighorn Sheep

Male Elk Bull

The detail level on each image is very high. Take a look at the below image of the Male Elk:

Male Elk

And here is a 100% crop:
Male Elk Crop

Lastly, I took a couple of pictures after sunset of a running female elk. The first image was shot at ISO 3200 and the second one was shot at ISO 1600. Both images have plenty of detail and very acceptable noise levels.

Female Elk Crossing River

Female Elk Running

If you shoot at higher ISO values, you might want to run some noise-reduction before you down-sample the image to get the best results.

Overall, I am quite impressed by what the D600 can offer to sports and wildlife photographers. While the AF system is not as robust as the one on the D4/D800, it is still a very good AF system that is far better than the one on the D7000 in my opinion. I have not performed any tests with Nikon teleconverters, but I am sure they will work just as well. More to come, since I am planning to visit Bosque Del Apache later this year and use the D600 for bird photography there!

This information has been added to my review of the Nikon D600.
Exposure data (EXIF) is kept in all images for your reference.


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) SVRK Prabhakar

    Thank you so much for your views on auto focus performance of D600. I found that the auto focus with D700 in combination with either 24-70mm or 70-200 VRii was not so pleasing for me since I am getting lot of out-of focus shots. So I have two questions for your consideration:

    How D600 compares against D700 in terms of speed of auto focus.

    How much of auto focus performance depends on the body and the lens? Is it equally dependent on both the body and lens or more on the body? [I am asking this since I read sentences like 'this lens focuses very slow' in several lens reviews].

    Thank you so much for your valuable work help always.

    • D700 has an excellent AF system that in my opinion is superior to the one on the D600 (just like the D4/D800 are). If you cannot get sharp photos from your D700, then you are doing something wrong. Photographing wildlife and sports can be challenging and it requires good technique. See my article on how to photograph birds for detailed information on technique and camera settings. Also, always make sure that the long lens you are using can accurate focus with the body. Do an AF test and adjust AF Fine Tune, if necessary.

      • 4
        ) SVRK Prabhakar

        Thank you so much for your prompt response and advise, I will certainly refer to that article and hope that my auto focus issues will be solved.

  2. 3
    ) Fathom

    Hi Nasim

    Your reviews are one of the best to refer to when one is having 2nd thoughts on which bodies or lenses to choose for purchasing. I commend your hard work on taking time to present these to your supporters.

    I have a D700 and it’s really a stellar performer. Though I’m planning to invest on a 2nd body to shoot kiddie parties, reunions, portraits, engagement shoots & on some occasions, as a 2nd team wedding photographer. The second body would either be designated as a primary body or a back-up unit.

    And honestly, I’m dumbfounded as to which to body to choose: A D800 or a D600 for the matter. Of course with the subjects I shoot, the camera would mostly be handheld and I’m usually in the hunt for those “momentous candid shots.”

    I’ve inquired from Mr. Ming Thein, a famous photography blogger in our region, with regards to the D800′s capturing performance and he said that I’m better off with the D600 as the D800 will require “higher shot discipline” in a reportage scenario (which is synonymous to candid moments I presume).

    Nasim, I usually shoot in manual mode and Auto Focus (specifically AFS). Mr. Thein said that I need to have higher shutter speeds & optimal apertures to avoid camera shake & softness (given the D800′s resolution).

    Though I’ve read in other posts that you would still need that higher shot discipline for the D600 because of its 24 MPX resolution. The difference is that the supposed motion blur that could produce in the D600 when shooting handheld is that if it’s “hidden” on the D600, it’s going to be “tiny” on the D800. So, Ming Thein, , still recommends a 1/2X focal length for shutter speed settings to avoid motion blur on the D600 [which is roughly the same as that of the D800, though the conclusion here is that it would be more "forgiving")].

    Honestly, I’m leaning more towards the D800 for the following reasons:
    a. It has a magnesium alloy body (I had a D7000 before, and it unfortunately fell from 3ft. attached to a tripod and the middle portion, which is hard plastic polycarbonate, cracked open, ripping off the mount from the camera body. Maybe a magnesium body would not result to the same situation as it did to my D7000 but still I know there are magnesium bodies that cracked as well).
    b. Live view movie mode Aperture control can be adjusted.
    c. I have the following lenses: 70-200mm f2.8G VR2, 24 f1.4G, 50 f1.4G [Which all could be well-suited for the D800 as I’ve read from forums and with some of your comments (Though I’m not sure, though it is well documented that at 24mm and f/1.4, the AF Left focus issue of the D800 would be revealed assuming that the D800 you purchased has that problem).

    Since you've tested both the D800 and D600, what will be your recommendation? ESPECIALLY, IN A LOW LIGHT SITUATION WHERE THE BODY IS HANDHELD AND THAT AF ACCURACY & PRECISION ARE A MUST? (Given also that I heard from a thread that while shooting at a wedding with low light, the D600 is kind of struggling autofocusing on the target. But you might have a different experience with yours, Nasim).

    Your prompt response would greatly be appreciated. [It's because I had one D600 and D800 reserved until next week (I live in Southeast Asia)]. Thank you!

    • Fathom, I answered your question in the Nikon D600 Review.

      • 38
        ) Fathom

        Hi Nasim,

        Sorry if I posted it again on this thread. I thought that with your busy schedule, you might have overlooked my inquiry. You could delete my comment here anytime should it please you. :)

  3. 5
    ) Wilson Li

    Hi Nasim,

    I’ve been following your Nikon D600 reviews, and once again it’s one of the best D600 reviews I’ve seen. Thanks a lot for all the work!

    I’m interesting in your comments regarding turning off the VR due to the sufficient shutter speed. Would you in general recommend to turn off the VR when shutter speed is not a problem and would it be a negative impact otherwise?

    Additionally my understanding is that the current Auto ISO implementation in terms of minimum shutter speed does not take VR into consideration. If the VR can save around 3 stops (as being claimed) can I assume the default minimum shutter speed should always safe enough?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Wilson, absolutely – you should always turn VR off when your shutter speed is faster than the focal length of the lens (with perhaps a little more “cushion”). VR can in fact introduce blur to images at very fast shutter speeds and it also impacts the way bokeh is rendered by the lens. So I always turn VR off when shooting birds in good light.

      The current Auto ISO implementation does not take VR into consideration (hopefully Nikon will add that in the future). If you do not need crazy high shutter speeds, then just set the minimum shutter speed to the default value and even play with the negative setting (might be good in low-light situations, where you need the best possible image quality at low ISOs).

      • 37
        ) Wilson Li

        Thanks for the tips, Nasim!

  4. 6
    ) insiteimage

    When you have time, can you post your thoughts on the autofocus experience for those considering an upgrade from a D300? I’ve always been pretty happy with the D300 autofocus (for a DX) when shooting my kid’s sports events and I’ve always been surprised at how often it does well in low light. I would love the D600 FX sensor but I would second guess the upgrade if I’m worse off when shooting sports or hunting in low light. What experience do you think the D300 owners will find in these area?

    Also, I currently focus with the AF-ON button. I know the D600 lock button can be programmed for that but how does it feel to you when shooting?

    Finally (editorial comment), I was hoping the D600 was more of a sports sibling to the D800, not a step down. I was hoping for a larger, more rugged body that included some of the better D800 features (ex. AF system). I was willing to pay D700 pricing for it. I’m disappointed that Nikon is not positioning D600 for that.

    • To be honest, I was never very happy with the AF performance on the D300. I ended up selling mine, because I had much better results with the D700 and the D3s. I think the D600 will do very well against the D300, except in one area – autofocus point spread. If you are used to moving the focus points on the D300 to outer edges, then you might get disappointed with the concentrated AF area on the D600.

      As for the AF-ON button – I immediately move my focus to the AF-ON/AE-L button, which on the D600 is not located too far away from the grip. The button is comfortable to use and I did not have any issues with it.

      Lastly, I believe I already explained in the review that Nikon is probably not going to have another D700-like camera that will take away sales from its high-end line. I too wish we had a true D700 replacement, but it won’t happen…at least any time soon. I believe the next camera will be the D400, which I anticipate to be released in Q1/Q2 of 2013.

      • 44
        ) insiteimage

        No need for you to reply but I wanted to thank you for taking time to reply to my comment (also thanks for the the review itself). You answered my big questions which were: 1) would low light and sports focusing be the same or better on the D600; and 2) is the AE-L button is comfortable for AF-ON. I’m not surprised you found D300 focusing disappointing compared to the D700 and D3s (wish I owned one of those)! Since it sounds like the D600 is a step up from D300 in this area, I’ll probably upgrade next year to get full frame. I did see your original comment about the D700 being a Nikon “mistake”. I don’t disagree but I’ll still hope for a different balance of features in future Nikon generations. Thanks again.

  5. 7
    ) David B

    Nasim, you are a great photographer. Your photos are all superb. Very Talented. Just a general observation

    • Thank you David, I appreciate the feedback :)

  6. 8
    ) Nivas

    Hi Nasim:

    Beautiful photos as ever. Hope the squirrel survived!

    “Auto” min speed looks to be a cool feature!

    • Nivas, it is a chipmunk and he kept on stealing food from the birds :) He survived just fine!

  7. 9
    ) jugger

    Amazing pictures!
    Great article as well.
    Thanks

  8. 10
    ) Adnan Khan

    Wow! great job Boss :)
    I wish I could take a flying bird picture like that (no. 3 and 8) fantastic!
    Focus is spot on .
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and useful thoughts and comments :)

    regards
    Adnan

    • Thank you! Just keep on practicing and I am sure you will get there :) Bird photography is challenging, but it is very rewarding as well.

  9. 11
    ) William Jones

    Sir; in your article you stated:

    “Both the D4 and the D600 had a hard time tracking fast little birds in flight with Dynamic AF, so Tom and I both switched to 3D AF mode, with Focus Tracking set to 1 (Short). We then both started to get some shots of birds in flight in focus and the hit/miss ratio started to get better.”

    If possible, what was the hit ratio for the birds in flight (1/2, 1/3, 1/4)? Were the birds in flight shot in Single, CL or CH release mode?

    Also, do you suggest/prefer Focus Tracking be set to 1 or off? Reasoning for preferred setting please.

    I tried shooting polo in Dynamic AF, and found that the D600 would “hesitate” in shooting, and the hit ratio was lower. Since there were often a number of horses in the scene, I believe the hesitation was caused by the focus system deciding which horse to focus on. I prefer AF-C Single point, or 9D at most, as I find that otherwise the AF system wants to “jump” around from horse to horse. When there is only one rider in the scene, not a problem, however, when there are multiple riders at 300 or 400mm (and not all the same distance away), with many possible AF points, the AF point used jumps around, with a resulting drop in hit ratio (my experience). Try tracking a selected animal within a small herd, and see what kind of results you get with different AF settings (Single, 9D, 21D, 39D, 3-D; but don’t even bother with Auto in such a case).

    Great pictures by the way, and thank you again for taking the time to test the camera, and sharing your results.

    WEJ

    • William, unfortunately, I did not keep track of the hit ratio – we just looked after each series of shots and that’s where we realized that 3D tracking (not Auto 3D) worked better for birds in flight. Everything was shot in CH release mode – I do not use Single mode when photographing birds, because I want a sequence.

      As for focus tracking, it depends on what you are doing. If the movement is very sporadic with lots of sudden changes, then set it to a low value. That way the camera will quickly reacquire focus on whatever you are pointing to. Typically, the default middle value works best for me, but I sometimes bring it down a little. In your case, you might want the camera to quickly switch from one polo player to another, so setting a low value will help with that. If you keep the focus tracking value high, then it will not switch right away and you will miss the moment.

      Why not focus on the player, not the horse? I assume players have different clothing when they play, which would be a much better subject for the camera to focus on. Set your Focus Tracking to 2 or 1 and experiment a little. Lastly, give 3D tracking a try – you focus with the center point and 3D tracking should follow the subject you are focusing on. Don’t go full dynamic or 3D auto – that’s where the focus point will jump all over the place and I don’t like that myself either :)

      • 42
        ) William Jones

        Sir; thank you for the detailed reply.

        I normally don’t focus on the player because the horse, being a bigger target, is a lot easier to track. Also, since there are four players for each team, in group shots the chances are that at least two of the jerseys will be the same. I tend to follow the progress of “Who has the ball?”. Since that sucker gets hit around (sometimes 150 yards at a single hit), the controlling player can/does change rapidly (though I do get good sequences from one end of the field to another at times).

        I experimented with a Focus Tracking setting of 1 yesterday (instead of zero), at a practice. Shot some in Single release, and some in CH. Used the D600 with a Nikon 70-300, 1/1,600th and f/5.6 (could have the f-stop vary with distance, but I typically don’t bother to do so when shooting zooms). The hit ratio seemed to be better than with Focus Tracking turned off.

        As a side note: With my 80-400 lens, my hit ratio is better between 80 and about 300 to 330, with a noticeable drop between 330 and 400. With the 70-300, the sweet spot for hit ratio seems to be about 70-250, then dropping between 250 and 300. I have thought about switching to using two cameras, both with primes. Thoughts are:

        Twin D600s, one with a 105 (either the AF-S Micro-Nikkor f/2.8 or the AF DC f/2, though I am uncertain which of those two would be best) and the other with a AF-S 300 f/4;
        or
        Twin D800s, one with an 85 (my AF-S 1.4G) and the other with a AF-S 300 f/4 (or even twin D800Es).
        Setting aside the FPS and MP differences between the D600 and D800, and out of curiosity, which combo would you choose?

        I have lots more D600 polo shots to post, however am waiting for the DxO modules to be released (due this month according to their website). I am going to experiment with a Sigma 150-500 on the D600, and will let you know my results.

        Thank you again,
        WEJ

        • William,

          I would still focus on the subject rather than the horse – that way you know who you are trying to focus on for sure, plus, a person with clothing would have more contrast for an AF system than a horse (unless the horse is spotted or has some clothing on it). I apologize if this is bad advice, since I have never shot polo myself, but just something to perhaps think about.

          As for the 80-400mm lens, I find it to be unbearably slow for fast action. I would encourage you to use something like the 300mm f/2.8 or the 300mm f/4 if budget is an issue.

          For fast and erratic sports like polo, if I set FPS aside, I would probably go for the D800, since it has a better AF system. But I would not use the 85mm f/1.4G or the 80-400mm with it (AF is too slow). I would use 70-200mm VR II for close-ups and either the 300mm f/2.8 or the 300mm f/4 for distant subjects. I would not count on the Sigma 150-500mm – get the Nikon 300mm f/4 instead and you will be much happier, trust me.

          • 59
            ) William Jones

            Thanks again. Do you think there is enough difference in focus speed between the 70-200 AF-S and the 80-200 AF?

            As for the 80-400: The D3 series works fine with that lens (because of the bigger battery). The newer cameras, and lower end models, just don’t have the Wheaties to drive that lens fast enough. My concern is that most AF zooms, not just the big ones, will be the same (hence my above question about 70-200 and 80-200). I have experimented with the D600 and the 80-200 combo with HS football, and it seems to do okay.

            I am surprised that you think the 85 f/1.4 will not work. It is an AF-S lens. I have already used it on a D3S for Arena Polo (match played at night in low light). Daytime polo will have a lot more light, so focus should be fine. Would probably shoot it (if try), in f/4. Used f/2 for night shots.

            For me, the “subject” is the rider and horse combo. I much prefer shots that include full rider and full horse, not rider and partial horse. The horses do have saddle blankets, which vary from rider to rider even on the same team (in most cases). If you would like to see some video, I can provide a link (shot from 40 to 50 feet above the field. I shoot from ground level; but would at least show how the sport is very difficult to follow).

            My first D800 was a bust, (and I sold it), so I have waited on purchasing a second one to try. After my experiences with the D600, I understand better the reasons for some of the problems I had.

            If handholding two cameras, I think the 300 f/2.8 would be too big for one of them (weight wise). Have shot two cameras before (twin D90s when I first got serious about polo), so have some experience with the issues involved.

            I expect the Sigma 150-500 to not work, however wish to try anyway. I have tried two different Sigma 50-500 lenses, and neither of them worked. Can experiment, and if don’t like/doesn’t work, return to Adorama. Will receive on Monday, and can test on Tuesday or Wednesday. One to two test days will provide me enough shots to know.

            By the way, DxO released the update for the D600 today, so I am finally able to direct develop my NEF files, instead of two-stepping them. If you, or any readers, are interested, let me know, and I will create a gallery and post shots that can be compared: one developed via DxO and the same shot developed via ViewNX2.

  10. 12
    ) MJohn

    thank you… awesome report!

  11. 13
    ) Richard

    As a keen wildlife photographer the wildlife and in particular the bird images are exceptional. I am most surprised to see such quality without extra reach of a DX camera on a reduced D800, unless of course the distance to subject was relatively close!

    I have not had as much time as I’d like available to exercise my D800, but what results I do have are remarkable. There have been many comparisons to the D600 being an FX D7000 and the results posted here are to be applauded. My D7000 is now quite lonely and doesn’t get out much anymore as the D800 + MB-D12 for extra fps does its job and I suspect the D600 will do most things it can apart from fps and DX crop sizes too.

    • Thank you for your feedback Richard! Nikon is doing a really nice job with these cameras, I cannot complain :)

  12. 14
    ) Big_Mike

    WOW…these pics are stunning! D600 is such a bad-ass camera ;)

  13. 15
    ) Mosin

    Nasim Beautiful shots and i really appreciate your hard work you did for us. I was thinking to get D600 actually ( i had one ) but after 28 shots camera start having oil spots on sensor just returned it i think i will get D800 with 70-200 vrII
    Thanks again

    • Mosin, yup, looks like some units have dust/oil issues like the D7000 had. Out of the 3 cameras I tested none had issues with oil, but 2 out of 3 had dust on the sensor. Too bad Nikon is not cleaning them before releasing…

  14. 16
    ) John

    Hi Nasim,

    I am off to the Kruger Park in South Africa armed with the D600 and D800, 70-200mm, 300mm f2.8, and the x2 tele. I very much appreciate your reviews of both cameras and cannot wait to test them “in the field”. Here in Hawaii wildlife is limited but we do have lots of small flighty birds that make for good practice. Small birds never sit still and some can actually hear the click of the camera and move their heads while the shot is taken!

    What I like to do is to use the 300mmF2.8 with the x2 tele for a focal length of 600mm. With practice I am getting good results handheld. But I do want to stress that it was not easy at first. This lens combination has everything going against it; almost no DOF, high shutter speeds necessary even with VR, critical focusing requirements, difficulty in tracking the subject, requirement of higher ISO’s, etc.

    One does not normally need 600mm for wildlife photography, but for me, using 600mm on small birds has been the best way to get better photos with my other telephoto lenses.

    For birds in flight, I up my success rate by not trying to have the bird fill the frame. The high resolution of the D600 and D800 allow for considerable cropping so I take advantage of this a lot with birds. It still is a lot of hits and misses with emphasis on misses! But once in a while I luck out and really get a great shot. And isn’t that what it is all about?

    • John, thank you for your feedback! Please let me know how the D600 and D800 work out for you in Africa – would love to see some pictures as well :)

    • 45
      ) Martin

      John – I was in Kruger a few weeks ago. The opportunities for taking wildlife pictures are enormous. I had with me a D700 and a 300f4 with TC14e combination, giving 420 f5.6. For most of the pictures, I needed all of the 420mm. More would have been better.

      One cheap, but absolutely invaluable, piece of equipment I had with me was a Jessops Pop, a glorified small but thick bean bag, which screwed securely onto the base of the 300f4. This allowed me to prop the pod onto the metal bars on the side of the jeep, to give a really solid platform from which to shoot pictures. I found it to be a fantastic aid. There is no way I would have had so many keepers without it.

      The Pod costs £14.99 in Britain, although I believe that it can be purchased on the internet for £9.99.

      I will shortly be going to Costa Rica. I will be taking a D800, the 300/TC14 combination – and DEFINITELY the Pod. I will be experimenting with DX mode, to see if 630mm and a 15MP image delivers. I suspect that keepers will be fewer, but who knows?

      Enjoy Kruger.

      • 46
        ) John

        Hi Martin,

        Thanks for the tip on the bean bag. I have been to the Kruger before, driving extensively around in a rental sedan. My last trip was with a D7000, 70-200 with x2 tele for a maximum effective telephoto of 600mm (putting in the DX crop factor). Because of the VR function it is possible to get good results handheld as long as the lighting is decent. This trip will be the first time I have a 6 pound lens (300mm,f2.8) and a full frame camera (d800).

        I have experimented with the D800 in crop mode (really the same resolution as the D7000) vs the D7000 and find the results similar but with an edge to the D800 as you still get to see the area beyond the crop zone through the viewfinder (making it easier to find the subject), the focal points cover the entire DX frame, and the high ISO noise is a bit better.

        Your 300mm with the 1.4 tele and D800 in crop mode will give you an effective 630mm! Practice on your backyard birds before going to Costa Rica to get a sense of the shallow DOF, critical focusing requirements (do the fine tune of “back focus” that the D800 provides, with the tele both on and off the lens). Another thing to remember is that atmospheric conditions such as heat waves really start showing up at longer distances when having the effective 630mm focal length.

        As you know, in wildlife photography you do not have much time to get the shot. i make sure my camera is preset with by best guess settings as I find there is almost no time to adjust once the animals show themselves. This is really important with the D800 since it lacks the U1 and U2 settings of the D7000. When focusing I mostly use the center focal point only (in the single mode). Especially for birds I focus on the eyes almost exclusively and just keep clicking away. At moderate focal lengths the auto focus feature is good, but at extreme focal lengths I have not had much success.

        Have fun in Costa Rica. Would very much like to know how it goes as I want to go there myself in the next year.

        • 55
          ) Martin

          Thanks you for the feedback, John. I do intend to get in as much practice as possible before going to Costa Rica, and I will pick up on the hints which you have so kindly provided, especially about back focus fine tuning.

          I was lucky enough to get the “big five” in Kruger, all in a single day. The leopard was elusive, and rhinos are becoming increasingly difficult to see because of the (utterly appalling) scale of poaching which is currently occurring. But, of course, if it was all a given, so much of the uncertainty, anticipation, and challenge, of wildlife photography would be missing.

          My good wishes for your forthcoming trip. I’m sure it will be memorable.

      • Don’t experiment with the DX mode since you are shooting with FX lenses (unless you really need that speed). It is better to crop images afterwards…

        • 56
          ) Martin

          Thank you for your advice, Nasim. I realise that I will get the same quality of image by shooting in FX, and cropping, and, for the most part, that is what I will do with the D800. I’m still getting used to it, and I was curious to see how well it would operate as a D7000, with improved focusing and ISO, when it suited me, with the ability to switch to a 36MP super-camera when required (probably most of the time).

          My reasoning is that, with small birds, most notably humming birds, using the DX mode would enhance buffer performance, allow tighter focusing, and more efficiently use card space. As I am unlikely to get close enough to fill a full frame with a 420mm lens combination, it would seem to be a reasonable option, certainly some of the time.

          Loved you pictures, especially the bird in flight. Now, if I can capture the wings of a humming bird with that astonishing clarity…

        • 61
          ) Callum

          Hi Nasim,

          Possibly a silly question – but if you’re cropping Fx shots in LR4 how do you make sure you get the same shot as a Dx crop factor?

          I’m not sure if I’ve just overlooked something simple. I’m also wondering how best to crop shots to fit regular printed photo sizes, but that’s possibly another story…

          Thanks,
          Callum

  15. I’ve used the D600 for 2 weeks now and I’m very pleased with the results I’m getting shooting birds. Lot’s of keepers, also with BIF shots. My new challenge is getting kingfishers in focus when they are diving for fish….see my site for the results!

    Thanks for your great site BTW.

    Erik.

    • Thank you for your feedback Erik! Beautiful pictures you got there man, I love kingfishers :)

  16. 18
    ) Roberta

    Nasim,

    Inspiring shots and thanks so much for this latest report on the D600. I am very interested in wildlife shooting with the camera and the report is of great benefit to me. The longest lens I have at this point is the 70-200 f2.8 II plus the TC14EII teleconverter and I’ve had problems trying to get photos of some of the smaller birds. I think using some of the techniques in this report will help me a great deal, if nothing else it will give me something to practice with my lens until I can afford something with more reach. Is there a particular lens you would recommend for those of us who are particularly interested in wildlife? I am an amateur photographer only but I am still interested in producing the best photos that I can within the constrains of budget. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is quite a bit of wildlife on our property on a daily basis. Was able to grab a few shots of some bobcats while testing my camera shortly after receiving it a bit over a week ago: http://www.flickr.com/photos/desertmules/8039717249/in/photostream This was shot in jpeg only but it was so encouraging to see how the camera would perform at a much higher ISO than would have ever been as successful with my D90.

    • Roberta, if budget is an issue, get the Nikon 300mm f/4G AF-S lens. I use it quite a bit for wildlife and I love its sharpness and bokeh. It also works very nicely with the TC-14E II.

      • 43
        ) kunda

        Nasim i read your D800 review in that u used TC-17E II with Nikon 300mm f/4G AF-S and the auto focus worked perfectly as D600 also boosts the same kind of focus upto f8 could u pls tell weather it really works or not

        • It does, but keep in mind that the 300mm f/4 AF-S is not good with 2x teleconverters. You lose too much sharpness, not worth it for me.

          • 57
            ) kunda

            Will you personally recommend TC-17E II 1.7x on D600 or stick to the TC-14E II 1.4x when using 300mm f/4 AF-S. as with 1.7x u get that extra bit of range but does it compromise the sharpness ?

            • 80
              ) Adnan Khan

              Hi Kunda ,
              For 300mm F4 AFS the TC 14 E II is the last thing as the image quality will decrease it makes it a 5.6 lens which is the limit in teles as the largest aperture, but in my experience I’m getting sharper shots from 6.1 to F8 ,even F11 is not too bad ,the others will make the image very soft ,the extra bit of range does not help if you are not getting closer to the subject , if you want good quality images then TC 14 is enough ,want more reach in less budget get a bridge zoom camera the Fuji X series is very good but the new Canon goes to 1000 mm equal to 35mm and I’m not sure if it’s in the market yet.They do come handy as a second or third body , I have a Panasonic FZ 35 12MP and if I decrease the res. to 5 MP it nearly goes to 1000mm. The new Panasonic models are not good as the older model. Do look into this option too :)

              cheers!

    • That shot of the bobcat is absolutely beautiful, good job!

  17. 19
    ) Mosin

    Nasim One more question as you mentioned ” Overall, I am quite impressed by what the D600 can offer to sports and wildlife photographers. While the AF system is not as robust as the one on the D4/D800 ”
    and i’ve seen your D800 Birds Photos aswell, so it means D800 AF even for birding is better then D600 even though D800 4FPS but out of 4 can i get 2 focused and sharp images? Iam planing to buy D800 and 70-200 f2.8 II plus the TC14EII
    Your reply will be highly appreciated
    Thanks again

    • Mosin, it depends – if you are trying to capture some action, you will need more speed (fps) and that’s where the D600 is better. For better accuracy and consistency, the AF module in the D800/D4 is better…

  18. 39
    ) steve

    Nasim, I very much enjoyed and appreciated both articles on the d600 as well as your excellent lens reviews of the 24-120 f4 VR and the 50mm 1.8. FYI as a result I bought all (from B&H)
    Can you please publish your camera settings for the pictures in the first article and second?
    This wound be extremely helpful!
    Thanks

  19. 40
    ) Prajakt

    Excellent photos Nasim, as usual! Thanks for sharing observations of D600 autofocus performance. This will help anyone who is yet deciding on buying D600. One general observation on these photos. There is absence of catchlight in eyes of birds on some photos. Some reflection from eyes might have made these photos more alive.

    Prajakt

    • Prajakt, I agree, reflection in the eyes would have been good. But I had to work with what I had and I did not feel like dragging a flash unit with an extender for this shoot. I would never use these pictures in my portfolio, this is just to show what the camera is capable of…

  20. 41
    ) Eric

    Thank you Nasim for this very exhaustive and interesting and well written and well illustrated review! As you mention, the lack of spread focus points, and instead their grouping in the center is not such a problem for you with this D600, and as a consequence I understand that the D800 doesn’t offer a significant improvement on this matter. Does it mean that you take all birds photography using the central point only? Since you cropped your pictures, we can’t guess which point you used for focusing.

    Also, in your very useful How to Photograph Birds guide, you don’t mention which point you mostly use for birds shooting. I’d be curious to know this information. Thanks a lot.

    • Eric, when photographing anything that moves, I would never count on anything but the center focus points. If a bird is perched, then I might compose my shot by moving the AF focus point. But I rarely do that, since I typically just use the “focus and recompose” technique and it works great. Remember, the center AF focus point is cross-type and typically receives the most amount of light, so it is always the most accurate…

      • 54
        ) Eric

        Thank you Nasim. I’m afraid of “focus and recompose” with full frame since getting slight focus pane shifts with portraits at f/1.4, but I guess I’ll see less that problem when birding. Thanks again.

  21. 58
    ) Steve

    I don’t mean to waste your time but…Maybe it’s a Mac thing but I click on your photos above and they just get bigger how do I access the exit data from your post?

    • 60
      ) William Jones

      Try right-clicking on the photos and saving to your machine. Then view the properties. Works for me on my PC.

    • Steve, just right click the image and open the link on a new window, so that it shows you the original image. After that you can view the EXIF data :)

  22. 62
    ) Sharon Cato

    Great images… This camera is definitely on my wish list now!

  23. 63
    ) Chris Zeller

    Thanks Nasim! Another great article with great photography. Ha Ha, birds are tough but Clark’s Nutrackers don’t fly or move fast. They are Colorado’s pigeons. Just hold out your hand and they are liable to land in your palm! The most annoying birds in the backcountry. LOL

    Keep them comming Nasim. I’m really enjoying your articles.

    • 64
      ) Chris Zeller

      P.S. These are similar in appearance to the equally annoying gray jay….

    • Chris, I guess it depends :) When people throw food at them and they fight with chipmunks, they surely fly fast! But yes, I agree – they unfortunately have become like pigeons in some places in Colorado…

  24. 65
    ) June

    Wonderful images, Nasim. We don’t have blue Jays here in England – looks like I’ll have to start saving for an American trip, once my bank manager has recovered from buying me a D600.

    By the way, you say that EXIF data is embedded into each image but, even with ViewNX2 and OPanda IExif (which works with my own images), I can’t see what lenses you’ve used, only the camera, f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, etc.

    [Damn - I keep forgetting to complete that b***** CAPTCHA!]

  25. 66
    ) Apop

    Hi Nasim, a nice review once again!

    Were all the photos taken with the 200-400?, i myself am wondering if a 200-400 would be a better choice for safari then a 300 f2.8 ( even tho in general you recommend the 300 f2.8 in your review)

    would want to use the 300 f2.8 with 1.4 and 2III converter and 200-400 with 1.4( naked most of the time)

    I have a 70-200 vrII for my camera, and also bought a nikon v1 with ft1 adapter.
    Will you be making a review of the 200-400? any time soon?

    Thanks alot for all your great reviews !!! without them choosing would be impossible

    now it’s just hard :)

    • Apop, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 with 1.4x TC works well, but I would never use any other teleconverter on it. I guess it all comes down to your preferences. The 200-400mm can suck at very long distances (a well-known issue that I will write about in my upcoming 200-400mm review), which is another reason I prefer prime super telephotos instead…

      I need to finish a number of reviews later this month, after which I will start working on the 200-400mm review.

      • 77
        ) Apop

        Hi Nasim, thanks for the reply and the info!
        When searching the internet looking for the distance the 200-400 starts to ”suck”
        I get so many varying distances, some say 30 meters, 40 meters, others 80-100 meters, and yet others claim it only starts being an issue @ 300+ meters

        What is your experience with this?, the problem for me is that it’s either 300 2.8 or 200-400 ( the 500 and 600 are 2 expensive)

        And i feel it might be a shame to use a 1.4, or even 2.0 tc the entire trip on the 300mm 2.8:(

        Im looking forward to your full review of the 200-400 mm!, and would really appreciate some real life comparison images ( i know you already provided us with the test charts, where the 200-400 does seem to have a slight edge compared to the 300 mm , in most ranges)

        I hope you keep up your work for a long long time:), this website is the first place i look for information

  26. 67
    ) Michael

    I need suggestions for an online photolab. Which one’s have best quality?

    • Michael, there are too many to list, but I have used mpix.com in the past and they are pretty good.

  27. 68
    ) GLB

    Thanks for the excellent review. The photo’s are awesome! Can you explain what you mean when you say 100% crop?? I’ve tried googling it and keep getting different opinions. What exactly does it mean? Thanks again for the excellent review.

    • GLB, 100% crop means that you are looking at something at 100% view, meaning pixel level. If you open a very large image on your computer and zoom in to 100%, that’s what you would get :)

  28. 69
    ) William Jones

    Sir; a (hopefully) simple question. What do you consider an acceptable hit ratio?

    Thanks,
    WEJ

    • William, it depends on what I photograph. For regular wildlife photography and slower sports, an acceptable hit ratio for me could be more than half of the images, maybe 60-80% or more. For bird photography such as birds in flight, 1 out of 10 images is acceptable. That’s because it is extremely hard to photograph very fast and sporadically moving subjects with any AF system…

  29. 78
    ) adam

    Hello Nasim,

    Thanks for the wonderful photos, and tedious work reviewing all of this equipment and answering many of our questions. You are my favorite photo site, and I live in Denver, so it is nice to see some great things coming out of Colorado!

    I am ready to upgrade my d7000 system to one of the following:

    Option A: Canon 5d mark III with 24-105 and 17-40 price @ BH right now is $4480 (kit just came down)

    or

    Option B: Nikon d600 16-35 and 24-120 f4 price @ B&H is $4660 (actually more than the 5d mark iii kit)

    Since you have handled at tested both of these cameras, which option would you go for if you were not heavily invested in one brand or the other.

    I shoot a little bit of everything, but landscapes are my favorite. For reference:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ipivorje/

    Thanks for the word.

    • 79
      ) Adnan Khan

      Hi Adam ,

      Both of them are offering overlapping focal length lenses.
      Though a better recommendation will be from Nasim.

      If I were you in that budget there are many options like :
      1 – D800 +16-35 VR or 24-70 2.8 or 24 1.4 G
      2 – D600 + 17-35 2.8 + 70-300 VR
      If you are more into landscapes than action then these are better options IMHO.

      If you are into action more than landscapes then :
      I’d keep the D7000 body and get a D600 + 70-200 2.8 VR

      Cheers!
      Adnan

  30. 81
    ) Srini

    Some of the photography forums are discussing at length significant amount of dusts/oil on the D600 sensors for f between 9 and 22. Have you come across this problem?

  31. 82
    ) Mike

    I have news for everyone, my D600 has no oil, dust or debris on its sensor, it’s focus is spot on and I am very very pleased with my purchase and it takes great pictures, coupled with F4 24-120mm a dream combi, remember nothing is ever perfect.

  32. All these reviews make me get one of these, stick a 50/1.8 on it and go old school and shoot just that. Awesome camera for an awesome price…too bad I cannot afford it (I currently own a m43 kit).

    Great review as always Nasim :-)

  33. 84
    ) Don B

    Thank you so very much for the the info on the D600. It taught me two things about my D800 that I needed to know.

    1. I did not know how the auto shutter speed worked when setting autot ISO. That was an eye opener for me.

    2. I didn’t realize how much how much focus lock caused so many problems for me with moving objects. I now use a focus lock setting of 1 or none for many of my action photos, and i get much higher keeper rates. The default of 3 is way to long for most of my shtots.

    Thanks for the great info. You are my favorite internet site for useful camera information.

    Don Burritt

  34. 85
    ) Cliff

    Thank you so much for this info. I currently use a D300 and D7000 with a 80-400 lens for bird photography and am about to replace the D300 with a D600. Do you by chance have a comparison of a FX photo cropped to the same dimensions as one taken at the DX setting. I am really curious to see if there is any benefit to the DX magnification with the same lens. Camera size and weight are determining factors for me re D600 vs D800.

  35. I’ve just returned from shooting wildlife in Florida. Quite satisfied with the images returned with the D600 + 70-200mm and 1.7x TC. Fortunately, wildlife is so abundant there I was able to get close enough with this combo.

    http://www.slickpic.com/u/AlphaWhiskey/photoblog/post/FloridaWildlife

  36. Thank you for the review. I’m currently deciding whether or not I want to get the d600 or d800. Starting to lean toward the d600. Currently using the D7000.

  37. 88
    ) Jesse

    Hi Mr. Mansurov,

    I’m from Chandigarh, India and an avid reader of your website. Please excuse my for my lengthy query but I need help and soon (if possible).

    I’ve been doing street photography while riding my motorcycle for four years now. I’m now trained to do this safely with my left hand and shoot quite accurately by just pointing accurately in the right direction. Of course I ride real slow and am over cautious while doing this (never had a close call on the road….yet). Over the years, I’ve grown used to picking out interesting things quickly, without losing focus on the road and I can now pin point to the direction of the target and shoot. Owing to the inherent nature of this activity, I do miss shots sometimes but whatever I capture, keeps me going.

    I use a d5100 with quick release plate tethered to strap across my torso. Settings are “sports” mode + auto ISO + continuous shoot mode + AF area mode. Lenses are 35 mm 1.8 DX and 18-70 mm DX lenses and storage is a Toshiba Class 10 SDHC card. I get great shots up to ISO 1600, even up to 3200 (it is mostly between ISO 400 to 800 though).

    Sometimes I also click birds (eagles to be precise) but I don’t have the equipment to do this right (though I have managed some interesting shots). I have a AF70-300 non-VR on a D70 for that (Duh! My canon 450D + 55-250 mm (IS) was much better but I sold it). Although in bright light, the D70 does a good job but many a time it loses focus and acts like its high on narcotics! With the 35 mm f/1.8G it’s pretty good though.

    Also although my fingers are thin, they’re long (and reasonably strong I guess, I play basketball) and holding the D5100 is a pain, I like holding the bigger D70 and once held someone’s D300 and found it to be perfect.

    I think that doing mobike street-photography with my D5100 is bad for its health. It’s rather fragile compared to the D70 but the D70 is slower and is simply dumb in low light unless its on a tripod. I have to use Neat Image for both D70 and D5100.

    I’m planning to sell the D70 (it’s slow) and buy either a D2H (one’s available for ~ USD 500, cosmetically in a rather “heavily used” state but works like a breeze) or a D300 (also available for USD ~500 in the vicinity).

    Following is my current gear :

    1. D5100 (bought new)

    2. D70 (got it for free with a used 18-70 mm)

    3. 18-55 mm VR (came with the D5100)

    4. 35 mm DX f/1.8 (bought new)

    5. AF 70-300 (bought used)

    6. 18-70 mm DX (bought used)

    7. SB-600 flash (bought used)

    8. Vanguard Alta pro tripod + IR remote ML-L3 + spare battery for the D5100

    So my first list of questions are:

    1.) Will my AF70-300 perform much better on the D2H (heard it has a more powerful focus motor) be much better than the D70?

    2.) D300 + AF70-300. Will this be better than the combination in point (1.) mentioned above?

    3.) D5100 + AF-S 70-300-VR version will this be better than (1.) and/0r (2.) ?

    4.) D70 + AF-S 70-300-VR version. How is this compared to the others? (not expecting much).

    5.) I want to shift to either D300 or D2H as I feel that they are more rugged and easier to hold (also I can use the vertical shutter release of the D2H on the bike).

    I already have dust accumulating in my lenses but I’ve found a cheap way to prevent that. I use a broad ladies hair-band and cover up all the joints of the lenses (hey they cost Rupees 10 a piece or $ 0.162). It looks very silly but does the job well.

    I’ve read that the CAM-3500 autofocus system of the D300 is more advanced than the CAM-2000 of the D2h but many vouch the latter saying that it’s cross points and spread wider than that of CAM-3500 so the D2H is actually better for bird photography. I’ve read that the low-ISO performance of the D2H is better than D300 or any other camera but they say that the D300 is actually better at higher ISOs (but then some say that D2H is usable till ISO 800 and in B&W upto 1600.

    I personally believe that noise can me managed in Neat Image but I don’t know how bad the D2H is in this regard (sometimes the compromised dynamic range from the D70 just spoils it for me, I hope this doesn’t plague the D2H as well). The D2H is solidly built so I’m bent towards it. D300 isn’t a wimp either and is pretty solid and works well at higher ISOs. I think that either of these cameras will serve me both for mobike street photography and clicking the eagles (with my existing AF 70-300 mm non-VR lens…will they?)

    I’ll also be visiting Rajasthan shortly, an arid desert region of medieval Indian grandeur with its forts, palaces and sand dunes. So I’m also wondering if I should forgo buying another camera and just buy a wide angle lens like a Tamron, Sigma or Tokina (something tells me it’ll be good with the D70 on a tripod. Will it?).

    I have only so much money so my final list of questions (considering that (a.) I’ll be visiting Rajasthan, (b.) doing mobike street photography and (c.) the eagles keep posing and I want to click them (d.) with all my resources pooled and after selling a couple of things, I’ll be able to arrange for Rs. 30,000 at the most, which is around USD 485.00…(Man! I’m a science PhD and we guys don’t have much money).

    In your opinion should I :

    (1.) keep my current gear but:
    (a.) Sell the AF70-300 and buy a used VR version?
    (b.) buy a Tokina 11-16 mm (won’t autofocus on D5100 I guess but will so on the D70) or some other Tamron/Sigma wide angle lens and add to my gear
    (c.) buy a new Canon S110 for my travel to Rajasthan (Canon has lowered its price quite a bit, at least here in India)
    (d.) Buy a Nikon AW-110 or Olympus TG-2 (should work on the bike and in all weather and even for travel but I don’t know if they are good in low light or as fast and accurate as the D5100)

    (2.) Sell the D70 and buy the D2H (and use the lenses I own)

    (3.) Sell the D70 and buy the D300 (and use the lenses I own)

    (4.) What do I check for before buying these used DSLRs?

    (5.) Sell some of my current stuff (if yes, which one?) and buy some other stuff like other lenses (which one)

    I want to keep the D5100 only for indoor use and want to have a rugged/fast camera for biking and birds. But will forego some of my wishes if the Canon S110 or Nikon AW110 or Olympus TG-2 serve my better.

    Having said that I also don’t mind the bulk of the D2H or D300 if they serve me well.

    I did not find answers to my peculiar queries anywhere on the internet. I probably am the only one on the planet with such issues, So Mr. Mansurov please help!

    Many thanks,

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