The Nikon D600 was the hottest camera of 2012, and it’s shaping up to be just as popular in 2013. This Nikon D600 review has comparison photos from Nikon D600, D700, and D7000, the cameras to which the Nikon D600 has been most often compared. It also contains tons of “real world” photos that I’ve captured after constantly shooting with the Nikon D600 since the day it was released.
Those of you who follow my photography reviews may know that I reviewed this camera back when it was initially released with my early hands-on impressions. This review supplements those impressions with my thorough thoughts after using from September 2012 until January 2013 for over 10,000 photos. Supplements might be putting it lightly, as I’ve revised the majority of this review. The controlled ISO comparison shots section of the review remains unchanged, as there are no differences to report there, and that section speaks for itself. So, if you’ve already read the original review, you can skip that!
The Nikon D600 has drawn a lot of comparison to the Nikon D700 and D7000. I own all three cameras, so I figured some controlled tests in addition to my commentary about the Nikon D600 would provide readers with information sufficient to make an informed decision on the Nikon D600.
After using the Nikon D600 for a few months, and having used the D7000 for a few years and the D700 for nearly a year, my belief is that the D600 is the best camera of the three by a wide margin. It bests the D7000 in every way imaginable, and although it falls short of the D700 in some areas concerning features, its image quality reigns supreme.
Before I dig into the meat of the review, I encourage you to check out my Photo Gallery or my other Photography Reviews. I have experience with a wide range of cameras, from the Sony RX100 point & shoot to just about every Nikon DSLR since the D40. Not that this experience or my photos makes my review any more credible, but at least it gives you an idea of my knowledge and skill-base.
Upon announcement, the Nikon D600 was pretty polarizing. As touched upon, some didn’t see it as enough of an improvement upon the D7000 or D700 to make it worth looking at. They viewed it as a camera for those who really didn’t have a reason for a full frame camera, but just wanted to say they “shoot FX.” Others viewed it as a cheaper alternative to the D800, and with significantly smaller size and file size.
No one cares about camera reviews by people who haven’t used the particular cameras in question (unless your name rhymes with Ren Kockwell), so all of this chatter was fairly meaningless.
Nikon D600 Specs
The “spec” about which most everyone cares on the Nikon D600 has been the price. The Nikon D600 is priced at $2,100 for the body-only or $2,600 with a 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens in the United States. Amazon sells the models for $1,997 and $2,497, respectively. AAAPhoto in New York City sells the camera for $500, but if you buy there, they won’t ship your order unless you purchase a $1,500 battery charger. At these prices, the Nikon D600 is significantly cheaper (around 30%) than the Nikon D800, which is priced at $3,000.
The Nikon D600 features a 24-megapixel CMOS sensor and can shoot 5.5 frames per second in burst mode in a weather-sealed and (partially) magnesium-alloy body. Viewfinder coverage is 100%. The camera’s native ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 6400, with expanded modes as low as 50 or as high as 25,600. These expanded modes are pointless. Of course, raw sensor and ISO information doesn’t mean a whole lot without seeing how those numbers pan out in testing (depending upon the camera, ISO 6,400 can be really clean or really, really noisy). The D600 has 39 autofocus points, with 9 cross points. Its maximum shutter speed is 1/4,000th of a second, with flash sync down to 1/200th of a second.
The Nikon D600 also has a fleshed-out video mode. It shoots in both 1080p and 720p as well as frame rates ranging from 24 fps to 60 fps. HDMI allows output to an external recording device, and the camera supports headphones. Nikon once again does not allow aperture adjustments while recording, an intentional flaw that has plagued previous cameras, but was “fixed” in the D800. This appears to be an strategic move to force upgrades to the D800. The Nikon D600 is smaller than the D800 and weighs less, at only 760g. It’s just a tad larger than the Nikon D7000 in size, but smaller than both the D700 and D800.
There are optional accessories for the Nikon D600, including a battery grip and some Wi-Fi accessories, the most basic of which, the WU-1b adapter, only costs $60. This slick little accessory plugs into the USB port of the camera and allows you to control the camera via your Android or iOS device, and to transfer photos and videos wirelessly. Some people consider this type of thing a gimmick, but I’m sure it will be popular among journalists and sports shooters. It’s a shame the D600 can’t do it without the adapter, a la the Canon 6D.
Nikon D7000 & Nikon D700 Capsule Reviews
Before getting to the Nikon D600 review, here are my CliffNotes Nikon D700 and Nikon D7000 review (click here for my full D7000 review).
There are some similarities and differences between the Nikon D700 and Nikon D7000. Biggest of these differences is the D700’s full frame sensor, but it’s also different in that it is more well built, and is a still-only camera. The full frame sensor has depth of field advantages, better pixel density, and performs better at higher ISOs. It also has a better autofocus system, with 51 points versus 39 points in the D7000. The D700 also has “better” lens options, whereas the D7000 has better “value” lens selections. As a wide angle shooter, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens (my review) has always been my holy grail of lenses. While all full frame lenses technically “work” on crop sensor cameras, this lens isn’t so wide, and it doesn’t make sense to purchase. So if you’re a landscape or wide angle shooter, that one lens might be sufficient reason to go full frame. I also believe that the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR is a lot more useful of a focal range (for my style, at least) on a full frame camera than on a crop sensor. Same goes for the very economical Nikon 50mm f/1.8.
Overall image quality between the two cameras is fairly similar. The newer Nikon D7000 has a slight advantage in dynamic range, which is likely a product of its lower native ISO, but otherwise the cameras are pretty comparable, minus the aforementioned differences. The D7000 also has a 100% viewfinder (versus 95% in the D700), has 2 SD card slots (versus 1 CF card slot in the D700), and is a 16-megapixel camera (versus 12-megapixels in the D700). And one thing that probably can’t be overlooked is that the Nikon D7000 is presently about $1,000 cheaper.
The Nikon D7000 and Nikon D700 are both great cameras. I originally upgraded from the Nikon D40 to the D90, and then from the D90 to the D7000. The biggest upgrade was from the Nikon D40 to the Nikon D90. Each subsequent upgrade after point and shoot to DSLR, and from entry level DSLR to intermediate is more of an incremental improvement. I think most photographers recognize this, though. The Nikon D7000 wasn’t as much of an upgrade, but as I used it more, I began to appreciate more of its features, like the viewfinder, dynamic range, dual SD card slot, and ability to use non-CPU lenses (which was great since one of my favorite lenses is the Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens (my review)).
I decided to add a Nikon D700 to my lineup, and relegate the D7000 to “backup” camera status specifically so it would make sense for me to get the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. Once I started using this camera, I fell in love with full frame (something I previously doubted “needing”), as well as the robust feel of the Nikon D700. Its images are cleaner at high ISOs, but didn’t offer as much dynamic range, which gave me a bit less latitude when editing. Despite this, and thanks to the full frame sensor, there is still something about the full frame images that just look more visually pleasing. It’s that inarticulable x-factor of using full frame. While I am still a fan of the Nikon D7000, by itself, the upgrade to the full frame sensor from the crop sensor is worth the additional $1,000 in price for me.
FX isn’t going to be worth more to everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, full frame cameras will always cost more than their DX counterparts, so if the full frame sensor in itself isn’t worth more to you, you might as well close this review now and not read any future FX camera reviews.
Head-to-Head Test Images
I tested the Nikon D600, D700, and D7000 each from their native base ISO up to ISO 6400 in a largely controlled setting. I say “largely” controlled because I don’t do this for a living, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I made some little mistake. I don’t spend my entire day combing over technical camera topics and I find real world shooting more interesting than this kind of shooting. Regardless, I think the results are pretty interesting…
The first image in each set is a 100% crop, followed by the full image. All images are straight out of camera jpgs, with no noise reduction (in camera or otherwise):
D600 – ISO 100
D600 – ISO 400
D600 – ISO 800
D600 – ISO 1600
D600 – ISO 3200
D600 – ISO 6400
D700 – ISO 200
D700 – ISO 400
D700 – ISO 800
D700 – ISO 1600
D700 – ISO 3200
D700 – ISO 6400
D7000 – ISO 100
D7000 – ISO 400
D7000 – ISO 800
D7000 – ISO 1600
D7000 – ISO 3200
D7000 – ISO 6400
As you can see, the Nikon D600 begins to pull away from the other two cameras at the higher ISOs. These test images downplay the differences, which is why I don’t much care for controlled test images (no one besides professional camera reviewers is shooting test images for a living, so “who cares.”) As you’ll read below, the actual differences in practice are much more stark than what appears above.
Nikon D600 Review
Dynamic range is where the Nikon D600 really shines. While all of the above ISO test images are straight out of camera JPGs, the other images in this review all have been edited in Adobe Camera Raw and/or Photoshop CS6, and were all shot in raw. You know, the way actual photographers approach photography. These images have given me tremendous latitude when processing, and I’ve found many cases where HDR or multi-exposure layer masking would have been necessary with the D700 or D7000, but can be accomplished with a single photo from the Nikon D600.
I’ve been able to pull a lot of detail from the shadows or raw files and also recover a significant amount of highlight detail. The amount of shadow detail is insane. I’ve accidentally underexposed some photos by a fair amount and have still been able to salvage them. Likewise, only minor highlight recovery has been possible on my other Nikons before “greying” the white areas. The Nikon D600 is able to recover more detail from these areas.
The significance of this increased dynamic range really cannot be understated. If you’re the type of photographer who likes to spend as little time in front of a computer editing images as possible, the Nikon D600 is a great camera for you. It negates a lot of the need for multi-exposure HDR, and I’ve found that I can now quickly process most images in Adobe Camera Raw without ever opening Photoshop. (I still do use Photoshop for most images, but it’s no longer out of necessity.) So, if you’re a ACR or Lightroom fan, this should be great news for you.
In the samples above, the Nikon D600 is the high ISO champ, but that’s even more true in “real world.” In real world shooting, I’ve found myself able to go to ISO 5000 or 6400 and then have been able to do some post processing on the resulting images. In the past, when I hit these ISOs, post processing was pretty much out the window because of the amount of noise it introduced.
Consider the dynamic range with the ISO capabilities of the Nikon D600, and you’ll understand where its capabilities lie. If these are things that matter to you, then the Nikon D600 is a great camera for you.
Beyond image quality, the quality of the Nikon D600 is apparent. While it looks very similar to the Nikon D7000, they’re not identical. Button placement is similar, but there have been a number of subtle improvements, and overall, build quality is better than the D7000. The Nikon D600 felt more substantial in my hands, especially the grip, which is deeper than the D7000’s and feels better. The Nikon D600 definitely does not feel as substantial in the hand as the D700, but it’s also a lot smaller and lighter. That difference of feeling could be a good or bad thing depending upon your perspective.
In my opinion, one of the biggest unheralded features is the Auto ISO functionality. The Nikon D600 allows you to add variable into the Auto ISO calculation: focal length. We’re all familiar with the 1/focal length rule for shutter speed, and now Nikon allows you to apply this rule (or a “slower” or “faster” variant thereof) when setting the shutter speed floor. This is especially great if you’re using a lens like the Nikon 28-300mm VR. Thanks to the VR, you might be able to get away with a 1/5th second shutter speed at 28mm, but that’s going to be nearly impossible to pull off at 300mm. This feature allows you to adjust for that.
One of the biggest complaints about the D600 is build quality. To be frank, I don’t see this. No, it’s not as heavy as the D700 or D800. Weight and build quality are not the same thing. If you are really opposed to a lighter camera, I’d suggest duct-taping a rock to the bottom of the D600, which will “improve” its weight and build quality, I guess.
I think the D600 feels very well built without this rock “accessory.” When paired with a nice, well-built lens like my Nikon 14-24mm, the D600 felt absolutely perfect in my hands and hanging from my Black Rapid strap.
Other specs of the camera admittedly speak for themselves and can be judged based on initial spec sheets. The flash sync speed of only 1/200th of a second (1/250th with limited range) is disappointing, especially for strobists. I’ve found myself getting more into strobist photography in 2013, and although this limitation hasn’t affected me yet, I suspect that once I start doing more strobist work it might be problematic. If you’re a strobist, you might want to give this spec some thought before buying the D600. The rest of you need not really worry about it.
Another spec that has been criticized is the maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second. I often shoot wide open in broad daylight and I have yet to have an issue with this. Given the native ISO of 100 (versus 200), I think this really isn’t an issue. Plus, you can use a neutral density filter (I’m a huge fan of creative uses of neutral density filters). Still, it would be nice if workarounds weren’t necessary for those who might want a faster shutter speed.
Big HDR shooters may also dislike the 3-frame bracketing limitation of the Nikon D600. I said above that the D600 eliminates the need for a lot of multi-exposure HDR, but just because you can pull shadow and highlight detail from a single frame doesn’t mean that’s the absolute best (or preferred) way to do it. Three frames is fine for my needs, especially with 2 stops between the frames, but your mileage may vary on that if you’re big into Photomatix.
It seems like these “flaws” are fairly intentional ways Nikon chose to handicap the D600 to prevent it from cannibalizing D800 sales. Personally, if these are the ‘big’ differences to differentiate the models, I’m fine with that. I’ll take these flaws and keep excellent image quality and ISO performance any day at a significantly lower price anyday.
Auto-focus was another area of initial concern with the D600, but I’ve found it to be fast and accurate. The other aspect of the auto-focus that’s received a lot of attention is that there are only 39 auto-focus points. Unlike some of the other complaints about the camera, I think this could be a bigger issue. Thanks to the 100% viewfinder, there is a lot of the frame that isn’t covered by focus points. The focus points are decently spread out, but are still concentrated in the center of the frame. There have been a few situations where I’ve had to focus-recompose due to the focus point coverage, and that is not ideal. Most of the time, this is not a problem…but it should never be a problem. Depending upon how you shoot, your mileage may vary with this, and it could end up being a deal-breaker. To me, it’s definitely the biggest fault of the camera.
One final issue that is worth mentioning is the “oil issue” that has been widely reported. Early D600s pretty much universally had a problem with the camera tossing oil/dust/debris onto the upper left hand corner of the image. My camera had this problem, so I’ve been following this closely. It sounds as if Nikon has made an adjustment to the mirrorbox with newer D600s that have resolved the issue. If you do purchase a Nikon D600, I’d highly recommend purchasing it from a retailer that cycles through a lot of inventory so you get a camera that’s not affected by this early problem. If you do end up with one of the early ones, after you shoot about 3,000 frames, send the camera in to Nikon or have it cleaned yourself to eliminate this problem (the spots stop appearing after around 3,000 frames).
I consider all of the above to be minor complaints (no camera is perfect) about an otherwise great camera that really suits my style of shooting well.
Overall, the Nikon D600 is a worthy entry into Nikon’s lineup, and one that I highly recommend both for those wanting to take the plunge into full frame photography and for shooters already using full frame cameras who want another body who aren’t bothered by some of its limitations. The full frame sensor performs, producing beautiful files that allow for a lot of post processing. Design-wise, the camera body is perfect for people who want nice build, but don’t want bulky size. The D600 shares some bloodlines with both the D7000 and the D700, and the D4 and D800 as well. At this level, most upgrades are only incremental, but I think many photographers will find the upgrade from the Nikon D7000 (or any DX camera) to the Nikon D600 is much more than an incremental upgrade.
Is it for you? If you’re otherwise considering a D700, I’d encourage you to buy the Nikon D600 instead if you don’t need some of the pro features missing from the D600 and the ergonomics of the body work for you. If you’re debating between the $997 Nikon D7000 and Nikon D600, I’d consider your lens budget (good lenses are as–or more–important than a good camera body). If you’re looking at the Nikon D600 or Nikon D4 ($6,000)/Nikon D800 ($3,000), I’d consider what kind of shooting you’re doing, and whether you have a specialized need for one of the more expensive cameras. If you’re a hobbyist who isn’t independently wealthy, the D600 is probably the better option.
As for me, after several months using the Nikon D600, I’m still incredibly happy I made the move. Its improvements over the D7000 and D700 are huge for me, its image quality is amazing, and it has manageable file sizes and physical size. At $2,100, the Nikon D600 is still a pricey camera, but you certainly get a lot of camera for that price, making it a good value in my book.
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Have you ordered the Nikon D600? Interested in it? Share your thoughts about this wonderful camera in the comments!