As I have pointed out in my D600 Review, I am quite pleased with the autofocus performance of the D600 and the D610. These cameras acquire 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 D600 / D610 would be suitable for photographing sports and wildlife, since many of our readers have asked me to do that in my review.
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.
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.
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:
The detail level on each image is very high. Take a look at the below image of the Male Elk:
And here is a 100% 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.
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. A follow-up Nikon D610 review has also been posted.
which is better for auto focus between d600 and d800 if paired with a 200-400 + tc 1.4x lens
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-)
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.
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?
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)
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:
Thanks for the word.
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