After many months of rumors of a budget full-frame camera, Nikon finally announced the Nikon D600 right before the Photokina 2012 show. Priced at $2,099 MSRP, the D600 is currently the cheapest full-frame DSLR from Nikon, around $900 cheaper than its bigger brother, the Nikon D800. The camera is designed for any kind of amateur and professional photography – from landscape and studio, to event and wildlife photography. In this review, I will not only provide detailed information about the camera, but will also try to answer the many questions and requests that we have gotten so far on it, along with comparisons to other DSLRs such as the Nikon D700, D800 and D3s.
While most of the features and components are borrowed from the D7000, the D600 is physically larger in size and comes with a brand new 24.3 MP CMOS sensor. And as you will see further down in this review, with a native ISO range of 100-6400, the Nikon D600 provides pretty clean images throughout the ISO range for both daylight and low-light environments. Built to be affordable, it does not have the same robust autofocus system used on the D800 and D4 cameras, so it comes with an older 39 point AF system used on the D7000. Its shutter speed is limited to 1/4000th of a second and its flash sync is also limited to 1/200th of a second, which might be a disappointment for some photographers out there. However, it has 100% viewfinder coverage, 5.5 fps speed, which is faster than the D800’s 4 fps and has the same 3.2″ LCD monitor with 921,000 pixels used on the latest Nikon DSLR models. And movie fans will be delighted to see impressive 1080p video with uncompressed HDMI output.
Nikon has clearly taken an aggressive pricing strategy with the D600, although some may have been expecting a price of $1,500, which was widely circulated on a number of photography forums. While outgunned by both Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III relative to specifications, at only 60-70% of the price, the D600 represents a significant value. The camera is sure to attract a large number of customers that have been holding off upgrading their D700s, but also those who have been on the fence between the DX and FX camps, and put off by the higher costs of FX DSLRs. With the recent announcement of the Nikon 24-85mm VR lens, Nikon has signaled that it intends to bring value-priced FX lenses to the market to compliment the camera. And with the almost simultaneous announcement of the similarly priced 6D by Canon, the Nikon D600 now looks even better with its better features and sensor technology.
1) Nikon D600 Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 24.3 MP FX
- Sensor Size: 35.9 x 24mm
- Resolution: 6016 x 4016
- DX Resolution: 3936 x 2624
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-6,400
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 50
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800-25,600
- Processor: EXPEED 3
- Metering System: 3D Color Matrix Meter II with face recognition
- Dust Reduction: Yes
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Body Build: Magnesium Alloy
- White Balance: New White Balance System
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Shutter Durability: 150,000 cycles
- Storage: 2x SD slots
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Speed: 5.5 FPS
- Exposure Meter: 2016 pixel RGB sensor
- Built-in Flash: Yes, with Commander Mode, full CLS compatibility
- Autofocus System: MultiCAM 4800FX AF with 39 focus points and 9 cross-type sensors
- LCD Screen: 3.2 inch diagonal with 921,000 dots
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 30 fps max
- Movie Exposure Control: Full
- Movie Recording Limit: 20 minutes @ 30p, 30 minutes @ 24p
- Movie Output: MOV, Compressed and Uncompressed
- In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
- Two Live View Modes: One for photography and one for videography
- Camera Editing: Lots of in-camera editing options with HDR capabilities
- GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
- Battery Type: EN-EL15
- Battery Life: 900 shots
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 760g (body only), 850g (with battery and memory card)
- Price: $2,099 MSRP
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at NikonUSA.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
While the Nikon D600 does not have the same full magnesium-alloy frame like the D800 or D4, it still has a tough body covered with magnesium alloy on the top and the rear of the camera, as seen in the below image (the MB-D14 grip is attached in the photo):
Some photographers are spreading rumors that the Nikon D600 will have a problem with heavy lenses like Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR, developing a potential issue with the lens mount over time. The argument is that a heavy lens like 70-200mm would bend the plastic and cause alignment issues. You have to use common sense when mounting heavy lenses like Nikon 70-200mm on any camera body. There is a reason why the 70-200mm and longer/heavier lenses have tripod mounts. You should never let a heavy lens dangle off the camera mount – you are just asking for trouble when doing that. I don’t even do it on my Nikon D3s, which is built like a tank. Will plastic bend if I let the D600 support a heavy lens? It might a little, but it will typically go back to its original shape. Whereas if metal bends, you know it stays there. Another thing to keep in mind, is that metal will expand and shrink when temperatures change drastically, whereas plastic has a much higher tolerance in comparison. So there are pros and cons to using both plastic and metal in camera equipment and there is no such thing as plastic not being able to handle heavy lenses. Just use your common sense and handle heavy lenses properly.
In addition to tough construction, the Nikon D600 is also weather-sealed. This means that the camera should be able to survive in light rain, dust and humid environments without getting damaged. So far I have taken the camera to cold, rainy and humid conditions and it passed the survival test. Here it is, after getting exposed to about 5 minutes of light rain:
Once I got home, I let it dry out and it worked without any problems afterwards.
Handling-wise, the camera is excellent. True, it does not have the same soft rubber grip from the D800, but it is still pretty comfortable to hand-hold. The front of the camera looks almost identical to the one on the Nikon D7000, with two programmable buttons and the same flash, bracket and lens release buttons, along with the AF/M switch. The left top dial is also borrowed from the D7000, while the rest of the layout on the top resembles the Nikon D800.
The control layout on the back of the camera resembles the D800 more than the D7000 – five buttons on the left of the LCD, same Live View and Info buttons, a smaller multi-selector button with a lock. Like on all lower-end DSLRs, the AF-ON button is not there, so if you want to be able to focus and recompose, you will have to program the AE-L/AF-L button for focusing. On a negative note, the center button on the multi-selector dial cannot be programmed like on high-end DSLRs. This is a bummer for me, since I am very used to being able to zoom in to 100% view instantly without having to press the zoom in button many times. On the D600, you will have to press the zoom in button 8 times to get to 100% view! I don’t understand why Nikon decided to strip this important feature from all lower-end DSLRs, since it can be easily programmed to the camera firmware.
The memory card door is designed exactly as on the D7000 – you slide the door out forward and it opens up to the side. There are two SD card slots that can be set in 3 different configurations: Overflow, Backup and RAW/JPEG. I typically use the Overflow configuration since it gives me two cards to write to, but if I am shooting a commercial project, I switch to Backup. The same with the battery door/battery compartment – like the D7000/D800, it is also designed with a safety holder that prevents the EN-EL15 battery from falling down when the door opens.
One big thing I noticed right away when firing my first test shot with the D600, is how quiet its shutter/mirror movement sound. If you own a Nikon D700, D800, D3s and similar cameras, you know how loud those cameras can be. The D600 is way quieter in comparison and that’s without using the special “Q” (Quiet) release mode! When photographing wildlife, especially wild birds, I always wished my cameras produced less noise, since the very first exposure typically scares the heck out of them. The D600 has a nice quiet sound, similar to the D7000 and some Canon DSLRs.
3) Viewfinder Size
While many of the camera controls and the general layout on the camera are borrowed from the D7000, the full frame sensor on the D600 requires a much larger mirror and pentaprism, which means that the viewfinder is much bigger in comparison to any DX camera, including the D7000. How big is the difference, you might ask? It is huge! Once you look through the viewfinder on the D600, you will quickly realize what you have been missing on your DX camera. Size-wise, it is as big as the viewfinder on the Nikon D800!
One of the major concerns from our readers has been the spread of the autofocus points inside the viewfinder. While AF performance and accuracy are discussed in detail under the “Autofocus Performance” section, let me shed some light on this topic here. True, the autofocus points on the D600 are tightly squeezed in a much smaller area compared to the D7000 – that’s a given, since the viewfinder is so much bigger. If you compare the D300s to the D700/D800, the difference is very similar. However, if you compare any full-frame Nikon to the D600, you will see that the AF area is actually not much smaller in comparison. Take a look at the below viewfinder comparison:
As you can see, the difference in AF area coverage is not as bad as some think when compared to other Nikon full-frame cameras. If you are upgrading from the D7000, however, you will surely notice the difference between the two. If you are used to composing your images with far left/right focus points, then you will have to learn the “focus and recompose” technique, something many DX shooters have to learn when upgrading to FX.
4) Camera Menu System and Ease of Use
The camera menu system very much resembles all other Nikon DSLRs, but there are some great features and fixes worth talking about. One major advantage of the D600/D7000 cameras over all higher-end Nikon DSLRs is a working user preset system. Unlike the dual Shooting Menu and Custom Settings Banks system that doesn’t work (I leave those blank on my D800E and D3s), Nikon uses a much better user preset system on the D600/D7000. You have two programmable presets on the camera: U1 and U2 (accessible from the camera dial), which work perfectly for customizing the cameras for different needs. I set up my D600 for two presets – Landscape (U1) and Portraits (U2). When photographing landscapes, I always shoot in Manual Mode, with Auto ISO turned Off (ISO set to 100), 14-bit RAW, AF-S in Single Focus mode. So I programmed all those settings to U1 (Tip: if you want to set your U1/U2 presets to anything other than Program Mode, start in the desired camera mode like Aperture Priority, then Save user settings to U1/U2). For photographing portraits, I prefer shooting in Aperture Priority Mode, Auto ISO turned On (ISO Sensitivity: 100, Max Sensitivity: 3200, Min Shutter Speed: Auto), 12-bit RAW, AF-C in Dynamic Focus mode with 39 AF Points. I saved all these settings to U2. The beauty of this user preset system, is that when I photograph landscapes, I simply rotate the left top switch to U1 and I do not have to go into the camera menu for anything else. When photographing people, I switch to U2 and I am all set. Very simple and straightforward. I do not understand why Nikon does not implement this very useful preset system on high-end DSLRs – the dual bank system is plain stupid and useless in comparison.
If you are upgrading from the Nikon D7000, you will love the enhanced Auto ISO feature that was first implemented with the D800/D4 cameras. When selecting the “Minimum Shutter Speed”, you now have an option called “Auto”, which will automatically set the minimum shutter speed to the focal length of the lens. For example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, the minimum shutter speed will be set to 1/50 of a second. If you can handle slower shutter speeds, you can set “Auto” to be 1/2 or 1/4 the focal length of the lens. Or if you have shaky hands, you can set it to 2x or 4x the focal length of the lens. Think of “Auto” as -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, similar to exposure compensation in full stops. If your focal length is 50mm, your “Auto” setting would look like this: 1/13, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200. The default would be 1/50, but if you go one step slower your shutter speed would be fixed at 1/25 of a second, while going two steps faster would increase the minimum shutter speed to 1/200 of a second. Many of us have been asking for this feature for many years now and I am very happy with this implementation, although I hope Nikon takes it a step further, by automatically compensating for VR as well.
Just like the Nikon D800/D800E/D4 cameras, the Nikon D600 also comes with an advanced “Exposure Delay” mode with up to 3 second delay (d4 in Custom Setting Menu) that can be used in conjunction with “Self-Timer”. For example, you can set the Self-Timer to 5 seconds and turn Exposure Delay on with a 3 second delay. Once the shutter button is pressed, the camera will wait for five seconds, raise the mirror, wait for three seconds, then open and close the shutter, then put the mirror back down. This will prevent pretty much any sort of camera shake – equivalent of using mirror lock up (MLU) mode with a cable release. I have not taken my cable release out since I have been using the D800, since this combination does an excellent job.
5) Image Sensor
Without a doubt, the most important feature of a digital camera today is its image sensor. You could put the most advanced autofocus and metering systems with a boatload of great features into a camera, but at the end of the day, they are all more or less secondary – the sensor performance is still looked at first. Things like resolution, dynamic range, color depth and ISO performance are all tightly related to the sensor and its physical size. The Nikon D600 surely does not disappoint when it comes to its sensor performance. As I have previously reported, the superb 24.3 MP FX sensor on the Nikon D600 was rated second after the D800/D800E by DxOMark. Take a look at the below comparison:
The D600 has almost the same color depth and dynamic range as the D800, which is incredible. Some people think folks at DxOMark are Nikon fanboys and they accuse DxOMark for favoring Nikon cameras over Canon and other brands. The reason why I point out DxOMark ratings, is because my observations more or less match theirs when comparing digital sensors. Take a look at my Nikon D800 Review and see the “Camera Comparisons” section, where I show how I tried to recover data from a shadow area from both the D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III. As you can see, dynamic range on the D800 is clearly better, just like DxOMark says. I am planning to do a similar comparison with the Canon 6D when I have it in my hands later this year. Going forward, I am planning to start assessing the dynamic range and color reproduction of cameras myself (hardware and software to do that is on its way). It will be interesting to see how my findings will compare to DxOMark’s, especially when doing cross-brand comparisons.
I tried to recover shadows on both the D600 and the D800 and I was able to get about the same amount of detail from both cameras. Hence, I have the same conclusion as folks from DxOMark in terms of dynamic range performance. The colors are also superb – I cannot see any difference in color rendering and skin tones between the D600 and the D800. As for low-light performance, the D600 also seems to handle high ISOs as good as the D800.
6) Quality Assurance and Autofocus System
Before I talk about the autofocus performance of the Nikon D600, I would like to first point out a few things. After the whole Nikon D800 Autofocus Fiasco we witnessed earlier this year, many photographers are now very cautious of potential autofocus issues on new Nikon DSLRs. I promised to investigate any potential AF issues on the D600 as soon as it was announced. To be able to get a more or less good sample variation, I decided to get at least three D600 units for testing. One unit I purchased for myself, another unit was taken on a loan from our friends at B&H and the third unit was borrowed from a friend. I spent some time testing all three and I can happily report that none of these units had any serious autofocus issues like the D800. All 39 autofocus points worked well in phase detect AF. There was a very slight autofocus variation on the first unit, but it was well within the acceptable norm (dialing +3 in AF Fine Tune took care of the issue). I also checked out the alignment of AF focus points, which were good on all three cameras. It seems like Nikon did a much better job with the AF system on the D600 in terms of QA.
This is not to say that all Nikon D600 units are good. As I have previously pointed out in other articles, shipping and other factors can affect the performance and accuracy of the phase detect AF system. That’s why I always recommend to check your camera for potential autofocus problems within the within the 30 day return period. If anything is wrong, you should either return the camera, or send it back to the manufacturer for re-calibration.
As for quality assurance and other potential issues, while I do not see any technical problems with the camera, some of the units were shipped with dirty sensors. Two out of the three units I tested had plenty of dust on the sensor, as seen from the image below:
This is from a brand new D600 unit. I mounted the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G lens on it and snapped an image at f/16 pointing to a white wall. Gladly, sensor dust is an easy issue to deal with for me, so I used the Giottos Rocket Blower on the sensor a couple of times and most of the dust was gone. However, after shooting for another week or so, the dust bunnies came back again! I then realized that something was actually shredding small pieces of dust/debris directly on the sensor.
While dust is a normal fact of life in DSLRs, I am not happy that Nikon did not clean sensors before shipping the cameras out and overlooked a quality control issue that resulted in dust/debris falling onto the sensor. This type of problem is not the first time I have seen this happen lately – the Nikon D5100 I tested last year had some nasty residue on the sensor, which I unfortunately only noticed after coming back from a photography trip, so many of my pictures were spoiled.
If you do not know how to deal with dust issues, check out the “Photography Tips for Beginners” page, where you can find tutorials on maintaining camera gear and cleaning sensors and lenses. I also have a video tutorial on how to clean a DSLR sensor in less than 5 minutes.
After I cleaned the sensor several times, the dust issue seemed to have disappeared.
7) Autofocus Performance
As I have already pointed out, I have received a number of requests from our readers, asking me to thoroughly assess the autofocus performance and accuracy of the Nikon D600, especially when compared to the Nikon D800/D4. Since the D600 uses a very similar phase detect AF system as the Nikon D7000, the big question is if there is any AF performance difference between the two. I split the answer to multiple sections, since people are considering the D600 for different environments.
7.1) Autofocus Performance: Daylight
In daylight situations, the AF performance of the Nikon D600 is excellent. I was able to obtain accurate focus on my subjects most of the time and I honestly could not tell a difference in AF performance between the D600 and the D800. I used lenses like Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II – all worked very well without any issues. Daylight conditions are not really a challenge for most modern autofocus systems though – even entry-level DSLRs like Nikon D3100 do quite well when there is plenty of light. It is obviously a different story when photographing fast moving subjects or in low-light environments.
7.2) Autofocus Performance: Low-Light/Indoors
All AF systems start to suffer in low light situations, simply because very little light gets to the phase detect sensor (as explained in my “how phase detection autofocus works” article). In my experience, autofocus systems in full-frame cameras always seemed to outperform autofocus systems in cropped-sensor cameras, especially in low-light situations. For example, I had a lot more “keepers” with the Nikon D700 than I did with the Nikon D300/D300s. Since Nikon reused the 39-point AF system from the D7000 (MultiCAM 4800) on the D600, my first task was to see if there is any difference in AF performance between the two. After testing the AF system of the D600 alongside the D7000, I came to the conclusion that the MultiCAM 4800FX AF system is more accurate than the MultiCAM 4800DX AF system on the D7000, especially in low-light situations. While AF speed seems to be about the same on both, the D600 does not hunt for focus as much as the D7000 does and the hit/miss ratio is much better.
7.3) Autofocus Performance: Wildlife and Sports
I had a chance to do a rather demanding test on the Nikon D600’s AF system, photographing Colorado wildlife. I wanted to see if the camera would be suitable for photographing sports and wildlife, since many of our readers have asked me to do that in the 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!
7.4) Autofocus Performance: Landscapes
The Nikon D600 does quite well for photographing landscapes, but you do not really have to worry about AF performance/accuracy for landscape photography. If you shoot on a tripod, I would rely on the much more accurate contrast detect using Live View mode instead. You can also switch your lens to manual focus and use Live View while zoomed in to 100% to get the most accurate focus (see more on the Live View implementation below). During my fall landscape photography trip this year, I mostly relied on contrast detect via Live View for sunrise/sunset shots when I mounted the D600 on a tripod. During the day, however, I focused normally hand-held with Phase Detect and everything worked as expected.
8) Lens Selection
Many of our readers that either bought the Nikon D600 or are planning to buy one, have been asking about what lens(es) to get for it. While the D600 definitely has plenty of resolution, you should not be concerned about lens performance, since I found many lenses (including many budget options) to work extremely well on it. If you own DX lenses, now might be a good time to get rid of them, unless you are keeping your DX camera as a backup. While DX lenses work on FX cameras, shooting in DX mode is a waste – you are throwing away more than half of the data! It is like putting a cap on a Ferrari so that it does not go over 30 mph on a 60 mph highway. Good FX lenses do not have to be expensive – instead of using a mediocre Nikon 18-200mm superzoom, get a 50mm prime and you will be much happier. Sure you will lose the zoom versatility, but that prime will make you a better photographer.
If I were to decide what three lenses to buy first for the D600, I would go with: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G (for wide angle/landscapes), Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (for everyday photography) and Nikon 85mm f/1.8G (for portraiture). And if I wanted to get a zoom, I would buy the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR. All these are superb value lenses that I highly recommend. There are many more budget lens choices out there, including some of the older Nikon AF-D and manual focus lenses for a wide range of photography. As for the kit Nikon 24-85mm VR lens, personally, I would not buy it because I would not want to use it on my Nikon D800E. However, it does an OK job on the D600 and it comes discounted when purchased as a kit. So if you cannot afford to get the 24-120mm VR, you might want to get the 24-85mm VR kit lens and some or all of the primes I mentioned above.
9) Metering and Exposure
Unlike the Nikon D4 and the D800 that have a brand new and sophisticated 3D Color Matrix Meter III exposure metering system with a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor, the Nikon D600 comes with an older and simpler 3D Color Matrix Meter II system with a 2,016-pixel RGB sensor – the same one used on the Nikon D7000. As I have pointed out in my Nikon D7000 Review, the metering system on the D7000 tended to overexpose images, especially when photographing people. Looks like Nikon might have tweaked the D600 a little, because I do not see the same exposure problem anymore. Most photographs of my kids came out properly exposed and did not need additional tweaking. However, the metering system is definitely not as good as the newer metering system used on the D800/D4 cameras. My Nikon D800E meters pretty much spot on whatever I throw at it and I rarely have to dial exposure compensation to get what I want. I definitely have to resort to exposure compensation more on the D600, which is expected.
10) Shooting Speed (FPS) and Battery Life
The Nikon D600 can shoot at 5.5 frames per second, which is pretty impressive, considering the fact that it has to process 24 megapixels of information. In comparison, the Nikon D700 with a 12 megapixel sensor was limited to 5 frames per second (without a battery grip), the Nikon D800 can only shoot up to 4 frames per second (thanks to its massive 36.3 megapixel files) and the Canon 6D is limited to 4.5 frames per second. So I find the 5.5 fps speed to be pretty reasonable for the D600. It strikes a good balance – not super fast to compete with the D4, but not a slow crawler either. The bigger concern is not so much the shooting speed, but how long the camera can last without filling up the buffer.
Here is a comparison table of camera buffers between Nikon D7000, D300s, D600, D700 and D800:
|Nikon DSLR||Speed||Buffer Capacity||Shooting Time||Image Quality|
|Nikon D7000||6 FPS||15 Images||2.5 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
|Nikon D300s||7 FPS||20 Images||2.85 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
|Nikon D600||5.5 FPS||27 Images||4.9 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
|Nikon D700||5 FPS||26 Images||5.2 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
|Nikon D800||4 FPS||25 Images||6.25 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
|Nikon D4||10 FPS||98 Images||9.8 Seconds||12-bit Compressed RAW|
As you can see, aside from the crazy fast Nikon D4, the D600 is ahead of all other Nikon DSLRs with a 27 image buffer, which equates to close to a 5 second continuous shooting time, twice as much as what the Nikon D7000 can do. One of the biggest complaints from sports and wildlife photographers was the short buffer on the Nikon D7000 compared to the Nikon D300s. As evidenced from the table above, while the D600 is slower than the D300s (5.5 fps vs 7 fps), it will actually last twice longer when shooting 12-bit compressed RAW files before the buffer fills up. Hence, the D600 could be more suitable for sports and wildlife photography where length of shooting time is sometimes more important than the speed of capture. Another key difference is in resolution – the Nikon D600 gives more options for cropping than the Nikon D300s.
As for EN-EL15 battery, I find 900 shots on a single charge to be plenty for any kind of photography. Those that need more can get the MB-D14 battery grip, which will allow using two EN-EL15 batteries for twice the capacity. I am very happy that Nikon is sticking to the same battery on many cameras. With the D600, there are now a total of 5 cameras that have the same battery: Nikon D7000, D600, D800/D800E and Nikon 1 V1. I love the fact that I can use the EN-EL15 battery interchangeably between the D800E and the D600, and I do not have to carry an extra charger with me when I travel.
11) Dynamic Range
As I have already stated, the dynamic range on the D600 is superb – even better than most medium format cameras. While I have not done any scientific measurements to evaluate the dynamic range of the D600 yet, I trust DXOMark when it says that the D600 can go as far as 14.2 EVs, which falls just a tad short from the Nikon D800’s 14.4 EVs of dynamic range. I have tried recovering shadow details from RAW files and I was amazed by how much I can pull out of them. There is so much information stored in those 14-bit RAW files, that you can easily restore overexposed and underexposed parts of the image, as long as they are not completely blown out. Dynamic range is the highest at ISO 100 and gradually goes down as you increase ISO. My field tests are showing that shooting between ISO 100 and 800 is quite acceptable without heavy loss of dynamic range. Anything beyond ISO 800 will decrease dynamic range dramatically.
12) Live View
The Nikon D600 comes with two live view options – one for photography and one for videography. You can switch between the modes by moving the live view lever on the back of the camera. The photography mode is similar to the previous “tripod” mode on older DSLRs – you cannot record video or audio, but you can zoom in and out, track objects / faces and acquire focus using contrast detect. The video mode is used for recording video, so you will see microphone record levels and other video-related features.
Unlike the ugly interpolated live view on the Nikon D800, the D600 has a good 1:1 pixel level Live View mode. To be honest, I do not understand why Nikon chose to screw up Live View on the D800/D800E. It makes it far more difficult to obtain critical focus on the D800/D800E than on the D600 when zoomed in. I am glad the D600 is not crippled the same way and I am still waiting for the moment when Nikon releases a firmware fix to the D800/D800E with a proper Live View implementation.
13) Movie Recording
Similar to the Nikon D800, the D600 also features impressive movie recording capabilities. It can record 1080p videos at up to 30 fps and 720p videos at up to 60 fps using the H.264/MPEG-4 codec. There is a built-in mono microphone for recording sound and you can connect an external microphone via the external stereo microphone jack on the side of the camera. As specified by Nikon, the D600 is also capable of outputting uncompressed video feed via HDMI (just like the D800 can), which makes it a potentially great camera for recording videos. Initially, there was one serious bug that affected the uncompressed video output via HDMI – the camera outputted only 95% of the image, giving a black frame around the video. Fortunately, Nikon addressed this issue in firmware 1.01.
As for the quality of videos, while I have not really experimented much with video recording (I am not much into video yet), the D600 makes very impressive 1080p videos at high ISOs. I recorded a couple of sample videos at home of my kids at ISO 1600 and 3200 and I was very impressed by the lack of noise. At ISO 6400, there was some noticeable grain, but it is very tolerable in my opinion. The rolling shutter effect is still noticeable when moving fast. When recording videos, the Aperture setting is locked to whatever it was before the Live View button is changed; there seems to be no workaround for this at the moment.
14) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
- White Balance: Auto, changed to Custom, Temp: 4500, Tint: +25
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Active D-Lighting: Off
- Image Format: RAW, 14-bit Uncompressed
- Imported images into Lightroom 4.2 and normalized to 12 MP resolution
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 90
- Cameras were mounted on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II sitting on a Gitzo tripod. Focal length was adjusted for the D7000 (DX) to have the same field of view as on FX.
Let’s take a look at how the D600 performs at low ISOs. Here are some crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
The images look very nice with no noticeable noise between ISO 100 and ISO 800.
15) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Nikon D600 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
Every step up in ISO adds a slight amount of grain. Shadow areas start to get impacted at ISO 3200 and some noise is added at ISO 6400. Getting rid of noise at very high ISO levels would require a more selective noise reduction algorithm, so software like Nik Software Dfine would have to be used for best results. See my “Photo Noise Reduction Tutorial” for examples of selective noise reduction.
16) High ISO Performance “Boost” (ISO 12800-25600)
Nikon D600 has two extra ISO “boost” levels – ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for extreme situations. Let’s take a look at these:
ISO 12,800 adds quite a bit of noise compared to ISO 6,400, but thanks to down-sampling, the detail level is still pretty high. Even at noisy ISO 25,600 there is still plenty of details to work with, although the shadows look pretty bad to me with large grains and artifacts all over the image.
17) ISO Performance Summary
The Nikon D600 yields very impressive results at all ISO levels, even at boosted ISO 12,800 and 25,600. Given how little noise there is, I would not hesitate to use it at ISO 3,200 and could even push it as high as ISO 6,400. Now bear in mind that these are down-sampled images at 12 MP – I had to normalize the output in order to compare the camera to the D700 and D3s. Noise levels are obviously higher at 100% pixel view due to smaller pixel size, but that’s not how sensor performance should be compared. I always normalize images to the smallest resolution for proper camera comparisons (which is the only proper method).
It is hard to judge the performance of the Nikon D600 without direct comparison against other professional cameras, which is why you should definitely check out the comparisons below.
Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality. Also note that all images are down-sampled to the size of the sensor with the lowest resolution (Nikon D700/D3s in this case).
Compared to Nikon D7000
Let’s see how the new D600 compares to the D7000, a cropped-sensor (DX) camera with a 16 MP sensor.
18) Nikon D600 vs D7000 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Take a look at the below crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Nikon D600, Right: Nikon D7000):
As I have previously noted in my other reviews, one thing I was not particularly happy about with Nikon DX sensors was the apparent noise at even the base ISO. As you can see from the above, there is a little bit more noise on the D7000 than on the D600 at ISO 100. Even when I look at the images at 100% view without down-sampling anything, the Nikon D7000 still shows more noise.
At ISO 200, the noise difference is a little more apparent, with the Nikon D7000 producing even more noise throughout the image.
The same with ISO 400 – the Nikon D7000 is visibly noisier.
And by ISO 800, the new sensor technology on the D600 is showing its best – it has almost no visible noise, while the Nikon D7000 shows plenty of it. The Nikon D600 at ISO 800 looks as good as the Nikon D7000 at ISO 100, even when not down-sampled!
19) Nikon D600 vs D7000 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? You can probably already tell what the comparison is going to look like. Let’s take a look:
The Nikon D7000 gets very noisy at ISO 1600, as can be seen from the above image. The difference between the two is night and day.
And there is no need to talk about what happens at ISO 3200…
ISO 6400 on the D7000 is plain unusable, while the D600 is still performing really well. I would say the Nikon D600 is about two stops better than the D7000 at high ISOs.
In comparison to the D7000, the Nikon D600 looks usable at ISO 12800 and 25600…
20) Nikon D600 vs D7000 Summary
Since the first Nikon D600 rumors appeared on the Internet, many DX owners have been contemplating about upgrading to a full-frame camera. A number of Nikon D7000 owners that felt like moving up to something bigger and better did not quite want to shell out $6K on a D4 or half of that on a D800. While the latter is a superb camera, some felt like 36 MP was too much and the 4 fps speed was too limiting for certain types of photography. With the introduction of the D600, which has the right balance of sensor resolution and camera speed, and a price tag that is $900 lower than the D800, it looks like a great potential choice as the first full-frame camera. However, since many of the features and components on the D600 were borrowed from the D7000 and Nikon put some limitations on the shutter speed and flash sync, the question became “is the D600 worth upgrading to from the D7000?”. I consider the D600 to be worth upgrading to from any DX camera. Yes, full-frame does make a difference (if you do not understand the difference between FX and DX, check out my FX vs DX article), not just because you are getting bigger pixels and more resolution, but also because you are getting a much bigger viewfinder (which makes a huge difference when composing images or focusing manually). In addition, you regain the lost field of view due to the crop factor, which makes lenses like Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR far more useful.
As you can see from the above ISO comparisons, a full-frame sensor (FX) makes a huge difference. Due to a bigger pixel size and better image processing pipeline, the Nikon D600 also looks cleaner at low ISOs between ISO 100 and 800, even when viewed at 100% without down-sampling.
If you would like to read more on the differences between the two cameras, please see my Nikon D600 vs D7000 article.
Compared to Nikon D700
Let’s see how the discontinued D700 performs compared to the D600. Please keep in mind that the Nikon D600 image was down-sampled to 12 MP to match the D700’s resolution.
21) Nikon D600 vs D700 at Low ISOs
I cannot see any difference in performance between the D600 and the D700 at all low ISO levels between ISO 100 and 800. Both look more or less the same, with excellent performance.
22) Nikon D600 vs D700 High ISO Comparison
I still cannot see any major differences at ISO 1600, but the D600 looks a tad cleaner in non-shadow areas.
At ISO 3200, we see more noise on both cameras, but the D600 now clearly looks better, mostly thanks to the down-sampling process (the grain looks smaller in comparison).
You can see for yourself that the D600 looks even better at ISO 6400, retaining a lot of details throughout the image, especially in the shadows.
And even more so at ISO 12800.
Lastly, while ISO 25600 looks pretty bad on both cameras, the D600 still looks way better in comparison. In my opinion, it outperforms the D700 by about a full stop at high ISO levels, which is remarkable, considering that it has a lot more pixels (24.3 MP vs 12.1 MP).
23) Nikon D600 vs D700 Summary
The Nikon D700 has been a very popular camera ever since it came out back in 2008. As I have already pointed out in my Nikon D800 Review, the D700 ended up cannibalizing the sales of the D3, because it had the same sensor, same AF system and fast speed when used with a battery grip. This time Nikon took a completely different approach – instead of keeping a high resolution camera in a very expensive package (D3X), it made it available in a smaller and much more affordable D800, while holding the premium camera line (D4) specialized for sports, news and wildlife photography. The D800 release confused many photographers that wanted to move up from the D700, because it was not the same type of camera anymore. Sports and wildlife photographers wanted faster speed and better high ISO performance, while event photographers did not want to deal with the high resolution sensor that yielded gigantic files. The D600 release is another proof that Nikon is not willing to make another D700-like camera. While resolution and speed on the D600 are what many photographers wanted to see on the D800, the AF system is inferior and there are some other limitations and compromises. Sports and wildlife photographers are pretty much stuck with the D4 at the moment. For everyone else, the D600 is an excellent package. More than twice the megapixel count, better dynamic range and colors, video recording capability and more.
While I have been a huge fan of the Nikon D700 for many years now (and still own one), I am very impressed by what the D600 can deliver. While both cameras have very similar performance at low ISO levels, the D600 outperforms the D700 at ISO levels above 1600. Thanks to its high-resolution 24.3 MP sensor, the Nikon D600 provides a lot of detail compared to the D700. The advantages of a high-resolution sensor are clear here – the D600 not only show less noise overall, but also provides more details when images are down-sampled. We saw the same thing on the Nikon D800, so it is really not a surprise to see this kind of performance from a higher resolution sensor.
Another thing that is definitely worth talking about is dynamic range. As I have previously reported, the D600 has remarkable dynamic range that is almost as good as on the D800. You can recover some serious data from RAW files (especially in the shadows) on the D600 and the D700 stands no chance there. Hence, the it is a much better camera for landscape photography, where the ability to capture the most amount of dynamic range is important.
If you would like to read more on the differences between the two cameras, please see my Nikon D600 vs D700 article.
Compared to Nikon D800/D800E
Let’s see how the Nikon D600 compares to the superb Nikon D800/D800E. I used the D800E for a comparison here, but you can assume that the D800 will look the same, since both the D800 and the D800E have the same noise characteristics at all ISO levels.
24) Nikon D600 vs D800/D800E ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
As expected, both cameras perform exceptionally well at low ISOs – I cannot see any difference between the two.
25) Nikon D600 vs D800/D800E High ISO Comparison
We see the same thing when looking at performance at high ISOs – both cameras look about the same, even at boosted ISO levels of 12800 and 25600.
26) Nikon D600 vs D800/D800E Summary
Another frequently asked question by our readers, is what to choose – the D600 or the D800. With a $900 difference between the two, is it still worth spending the extra money and getting the D800, or getting the D600 with better lenses? To be honest, for most photographers out there, I would recommend the D600 over the D800. The D600 has a lot to offer in a smaller package. I consider the D800 (especially the D800E) to be a specialized camera for specific needs. For commercial landscape, architecture and studio photography, the D800 without a doubt is the top choice. For everything else, the D600 is a great camera. Yes, professional/advanced amateur wildlife and sports photographers will still want the expensive D4 for better autofocus and speed, because the D600 might not cut it for them in critical situations (see more on the AF performance for wildlife photography below). Personally, I would favor the D600 with a good lens over the D800 with a crappy lens. In fact, the D800 is more demanding on lenses, so you have to get the best lenses for it if you want to get the best image quality. So at the end of the day it might be well over $900 in price difference between the two, once you take lenses into consideration. For those who already own a D800/D800E, I would seriously consider the D600 as a backup camera. Another key factor in favor of the D600 is its colors. The rendering of the skin tones on the camera is as good as on the D800!
I went back and forth and looked a lot at the performance of the two sensors to see if I could spot any major differences. As you can see from the above samples, both cameras perform about the same throughout the ISO range, which is very impressive! We are dealing with the best two sensors here and this comparison is a clear proof of that. The Nikon D800/D800E still has the edge due to more megapixels (36.3 MP vs 24.3 MP), but it only matters to those that truly need them. For portrait and event photographers that do not particularly care for sensor resolution, the Nikon D600 is clearly a superb choice today, while landscape, architecture and studio photographers would still be better off with the D800/D800E. This does not mean that the D600 cannot be a landscape camera! Before the D800, many of us were photographing landscapes with the D700 and not complaining. I have a boatload of beautiful images that I shot with the D700 and some images I can print really large, thanks to the panoramic photography technique. I am sure others have similar stories to tell. I did a quick calculation, and it turns out I can print as big as 40 x 26 inches at 150 PPI with the D600, which is more than enough for most of us out there. We clearly got spoiled with the D800! So unless you are a commercial photographer that wants the best high resolution full-frame camera in the world, the D600 is more than enough for landscape photography.
If you would like to read more on the differences between the two cameras, please see my Nikon D600 vs D800 article.
Compared to Nikon D3s
What about comparing the D600 to the low-light king, the Nikon D3s? Let’s take a look.
27) Nikon D600 vs D3s ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Again, I see no difference between the Nikon D600 and the D3s at all low ISO levels.
28) Nikon D600 vs D3s High ISO Comparison
Similar to what we saw with the D800, there is really no difference in ISO performance between the D600 and the D3s, even at ISO 3200! We only start to see minor differences in shadows at ISO 6400, where the D3s seems to retain a little more details. Other than that, both are almost identical.
When pushed to ISO 25,600, the Nikon D3s is a little cleaner and retains more colors, while the D600 still shows more details (again, thanks to down-sampling). D3s retains more dynamic range at this ISO level. I do not particularly care for the ISO performance above ISO 25600 on the D3s, since it is too noisy for my taste anyway.
29) Nikon D600 vs D3s Summary
As you can see from the above image crops, the D3s is a worthy competitor to the D600 at most ISO levels. At high ISO levels the Nikon D3s shows a little better ISO performance in the shadows, mostly because it retains dynamic range better at high ISOs, thanks to the larger pixels (visible at ISO levels 12,800 and 25,600). At the same time, the Nikon D600 still resolves more detail at high ISO levels, thanks to much higher resolution (24.3 MP vs 12.1 MP) and the down-sampling process.
Compared to Canon 6D
Once I get my hands on the Canon 6D in November of this year, I will update this review with image comparisons between the D600 and the 6D.
30) Nikon D600 vs Canon 6D ISO Comparison at low ISOs
31) Nikon D600 vs Canon 6D High ISO Comparison
32) Nikon D600 vs Canon 6D Summary
After Nikon introduced the D600, Canon also brought a direct competitor to the market – the Canon 6D. Priced at $2,099 (exactly the same price as the D600), it shares some of the features of the D600, adds a couple of extras like built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, but also falls behind or lacks on some important features. I have always been an advocate for having built-in GPS in cameras, which is why I highly praised Sony for adding it in their SLT cameras like Sony A77. For a number of years, I have been very annoyed by the fact that Nikon and Canon users had to buy external GPS units and walk around with cords connected to their cameras. GPS is an important feature for landscape photographers and I am happy that Canon finally built it right into the camera – something that I wish was done a long time ago and something, I hope, Nikon will add to their upcoming cameras in the future. Wi-Fi is another important feature, because we are in a wireless world today and it would be very convenient to be able to transmit files without having to use external accessories or cables. Nikon also fell behind there, because it wants us to buy extra accessories instead of building it right into the camera. Again, I hope this will be a good motivation for Nikon to start building GPS and Wi-Fi into their cameras.
While these are great new features, Canon decided to cut on many standard and important features on the 6D. For example, there is no built-in flash on the 6D. In comparison, the Nikon D600 has the same built-in flash as higher-end DSLRs, with ability to remotely control other flashes. Canon decided to use the same old 11-point AF system used on the Canon 5D/5D Mark II with a single cross-type sensor, while Nikon used a much better 39 point AF system, with 9 cross-type sensors. The viewfinder on the 6D has 97% coverage, while the D600 has 100% coverage. The speed of the camera is also inferior – 4.5 fps on the 6D versus 5.5 fps on the D600. A single SD memory card slot versus dual on the D600 (a serious disadvantage in my opinion). Finally, it falls behind in terms of megapixels (20.2 MP vs 24.3 MP). While megapixels do not really matter, it will be hard for the 6D to compete with the second best sensor in the world (according to DxOMark), which has better dynamic range and colors than most medium format cameras.
The Canon 6D was an interesting move by Canon, since it has also significantly marked down the price of the popular Canon 5D Mark II all the way to $1,799, making it the most affordable full-frame camera on the market today. Obviously, Canon is discontinuing the 5D Mark II after the Canon 5D Mark III release, so the heavily discounted price is temporary, to get rid of the current stock. However, the 5D Mark II is a higher-end DSLR and yet it is significantly cheaper than the new 6D. I just cannot imagine anyone deciding to get the 6D over the 5D Mark II, if the latter continues to be available (it was available for purchase at most retailers, including B&H at the time this review was written).
If you would like to read more on the differences between the two cameras, please see Roman’s Nikon D600 vs Canon 6D article.
A small camera with a BIG sensor
When the first rumors about the D600 started to circulate on the Internet, I wondered about what kind of sensor technology Nikon would put into it. This question became even more intriguing when I found out that the D600 would have similar build and features as the D7000. At two thirds of the cost of the highly-regarded Nikon D800, I was afraid that Nikon would use an older inferior sensor with unimpressive noise characteristics on the D600. Deep inside, I kept on thinking that Nikon would not risk to have something that would compete head to head with the D800. After testing the D600 extensively, I was surprised to see that Nikon did exactly that – it performs about the same as the D800, only with less pixels. As you can see from the Camera Comparisons section of this review, the Nikon D600 shows very impressive performance at all ISO levels that match those of the D800/D800E! The only camera that retains a little better shadow detail and more dynamic range at very high ISOs is the Nikon D3s. However, keep in mind that the latter has much less resolution in comparison and hence serves different needs (such as sports and wildlife photography). Hence, the biggest strength of the Nikon D600 is its phenomenal sensor.
What about other features, is sensor the only good thing about the D600? While it has similar features as the D7000, it has a far better and larger viewfinder, faster processor, better AF system, better movie recording features and some new firmware features such as in-camera HDR, better Auto ISO and Exposure Delay mode implementations. These key differences make the D600 a worthy upgrade from not only the D7000, D300s and other older Nikon DX DSLRs, but also from the discontinued D700 (the sensor alone is worth the upgrade in my opinion). The Nikon D600 would also serve as a great backup for the D800/D800E, because you can share the batteries and only carry one charger when traveling. As an owner of the superb Nikon D800E, I already purchased the D600 for myself, which I am planning to use as a backup camera for my everyday and commercial photography needs. As for its limitations such as 1/4000 max shutter speed, 1/200 flash sync speed, see my Nikon D600 Limitations article, where I covered the topic in a lot of detail.
Without a doubt, the Nikon D600 will be a very popular camera. I suspect it will be far more popular than the D800/D800E, especially after people realize that it is not some crippled camera, but a very functional DSLR with impressive performance characteristics. Overall, I am extremely impressed with the D600. It is one hell of a camera!
I hope you enjoyed this Nikon D600 Review. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.
34) Where to buy and availability
35) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
Photography Life Overall Rating