When the Nikon D600 was announced back in September, it took the world by storm. It was the first affordable, full frame DSLR on the market. The 24MP sensor combined with its semi-pro build quality and 5.5 fps shooting capability was the answer many advanced amateurs and professionals were looking for. Nikon was kind enough to lend me a review body along with the new AF-S VR 24-85mm f/3.5~4.5G lens.
I will preface this review by stating I'm a long time Nikon user and former NPS member. Once the eagerly anticipated camera arrived, I quickly acquainted myself with the camera, and was ready to go out take some pictures. As I go though this review, I won’t bore you with specs, test charts, or noise profiles. While I understand these details perfectly, and have even taught photography workshops, I feel they’re not relevant to the real world reviews I present. All images are shot in RAW, processed and converted in Adobe Lightroom 4, which has recently become my default image editor.
Nikon D600 Body & Controls
The camera body is solid when you pick it up, just like you would expect. It's noticeably smaller and lighter than the D700, but almost identical to the very popular D7000. The top and bottom plates are magnesium for added durability with the same weather proofing as the D800. The grip allows even my big hands to take proper hold of the camera, although it's still not as comfortable as the D700 or D-Series cameras.
The controls are well laid out, with the Program and Drive Mode dials seemingly carried over from the D7000. As with most prosumer level Nikons, ISO and WB buttons can be found on the side of the rear LCD for easy adjustment and the Fn button is logically placed right next to the lens on the front of the camera. The viewfinder is very bright with 100% coverage; the only downside is the lower eye point for those of us destined to wear glasses.
Menus and User Interface
The menu system is straightforward and simple. It’s easy to locate the desired function and, after a couple hours of use, you should have a good grasp of where everything is located. If you're a Nikon DSLR user already, you will feel right at home. A few features of note:
- Quiet Mode. Much quieter than the D700, and even the D600's own "S" mode. Perfect for weddings, recitals or libraries where a quiet shutter is required.
- Sensor cleaning, now a standard feature on most if not all Nikons. You are given options including before or after the camera is powered on/off.
- Dual card slots. The D600 offers 2 SD slots. Options are almost limitless including RAW + JPEG, simultaneous backup, and video or still options.
- The one-touch Live View switch is conveniently located on the back of the camera; no more messing with the drive mode dial as with the D700.
- Fn Button: There's a myriad of options including DOF Preview, Metering, and Bracketing. One feature of note missing is the ability to independently lock Aperture and Shutter speed, a feature that's always been available on Nikons pro-level cameras.
- As with the D7000, the Program and Drive Mode dials require the user to depress a lock button in order to change a setting. This makes it difficult to do while keeping an eye on the viewfinder.
Autofocus & Performance
The D600 incorporates the same AF system as the D7000, including the sensors. The AF is quick and responsive, capable of tracking birds in flight. The problem lies within the area the sensors are located. They are too close to the center of the frame. There are not enough sensors towards the outside of the frame. If you are used to the coverage offered by a D700/800 or D3/4, you will be disappointed. The AF tracking works fine, as long as your subject is located towards the center of the image. AF speed in low light is good, easily able to lock on to static subjects.
Continuous shooting speed at 5.5 fps is great for sports and wildlife. Shooting NEF at full burst rate, you can rattle off 15 consecutive frames before the buffer is full.
Battery performance, like all of Nikon's cameras, is excellent. If you are headed out for a day's shooting or even going away for the weekend, a full charge should get you through without a problem. While I always purchase a second battery, for most users it's probably not necessary unless you shoot thousands of pictures or are heavy into long exposure night photography.
This is what I care most about in a camera. What will the final image look like? The Nikon D600 does not disappoint. At low ISO right up through ISO 1600, the files remain clean and useable in any situation. From ISO 2000 to 6400, you get the expected image degradation, but the files are still excellent. With double the pixels of the D700/D3 Sensor, Nikon has managed to control the noise levels and keep them the same. If you're at all familiar with either of these cameras, you will know how well they perform at high ISO. At ISO 12,800 and above, one needs to be careful, but images are still suitable for web or that once in lifetime UFO landing
Long exposures reign supreme, with no noticeable noise creeping in even at lower ISO. This will be important for landscape or astronomy photographers who sometimes needs exposures in the 30-60 second range.
The most amazing feature of the D600 is its Dynamic Range. The detail you can pull out of a single image in incredible. Dynamic Range is quoted at over an unheard of 14 stops by DXO Mark. This couldn't have been evident that when reviewing photographs taken in the University of Washington's Suzzallo Library.
The Auto White Balance is excellent, among the best I've seen from a DSLR. It seemed to be one of the least adjusted settings when processing the images, even when taken under mixed lighting. For those who like to "set it and forget it," this is a vast improvement.
I had no doubts the Nikon D600 was an excellent camera, and it did not disappoint. Image quality was impressive, build quality excellent, and Nikon's user experience was once again positive. Fast AF and impressive high ISO performance will make this a serious contender for anyone considering their first FX camera.
There are very few negatives about this camera, the biggest being the number and location of AF sensors. While you get an FX sensor, you only really have AF coverage for a DX sensor. I wish Nikon had put a few more horizontal and couple more vertical sensors in the AF module. The other negative is, for those who are awaiting a replacement for the D700, this isn't it. AF isn't adequate for a professional body, the build quality--while excellent--does not match that of the D700. I wish that Nikon would put the amazing D600 sensor in a D700 body. I, for one, would be first in line... and have two on order.
If you are looking to upgrade to your first full frame camera, you need not look any further. The Nikon D600 is an excellent camera, capable in almost every aspect. If you are a professional looking for a backup, or the AF concern is not an issue I can give it a wholehearted recommendation. The D600 is yet another surefire winner from Nikon.
The Nikon D600 is currently available from your local authorized Nikon Canada Dealer for a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Prise (MSRP) of $2,179