The Nikon D600 is one of the most affordable full-frame DSLRs ever, so is it the camera we’ve all been waiting for? We find out in the What Digital Camera Nikon D600 review
Full-frame DSLRs have for the most part been the preserve of the professional or high-end enthusiast due to their high cost, but with the arrival of the D600, Nikon hope to open this up to a much wider audience.
The D600 is Nikon’s most affordable full-frame DSLR to date and will undoubtedly appeal to a broad range of photographers looking to upgrade, and not just Nikon users either.
The question though is have sacrifices been made in an effort to produce a sub-£2000 full-frame DSLR or is the Nikon D600 the perfect DSLR for the enthusiast photographer?
Nikon D600 review – Features
If you’re thinking that the D600 is a stripped-down full-frame DSLR offering from Nikon, then think again. For a start, the D600 features a newly developed 24.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor. With the exception of the 36.3MP D800, the resolution offered by the D600 matches or exceeds any other full-frame DSLR on the market today. As with other full-frame Nikon DSLRs, there’s a 1.5x DX crop mode as well, so should you still want to use an existing DX lens that’s in your camera bag, you’ll come back with 10.5MP files to play with.
The D600 features Nikon’s latest EXPEED 3 image processing engine that’s employed by both the D4 and D800. This allows the D600 to deliver 14-bit A/D conversion, as well as 16-bit image processing. Not only that, but the D600 will rattle through a burst of images at a maximum rate of 5.5 frames per second. There’s also a Continuous L mode should you still want to shoot continuously, but at a slower rate (this can be selected in the menu, with a choice of between 1-5fps), while there’s also a Quiet Shooting mode designed to dull the sound of the shutter for discreet photography. There’s also an Interval Timer Shooting mode that allows you to trigger the shutter at preset intervals, which are then saved as movie files to then be viewed from between 24 and 36,000 times faster than normal.
While the ISO range doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of some recently launched DSLRs, its still strong, delivering a native sensitivity range of 100-6400. This can be extended to an ISO equivalent of 50-25,600, delivering an identical ISO range to that of the D800.
Working in tandem with the D600’s image sensor is a 2016-pixel RGB sensor that feeds information to the camera’s Scene Recognition System, which is then used to optimise the D600’s exposure, white balance and autofocus. It’s not quite as advanced as the system found on the D4 and D800, which uses a 91k-pixel RGB sensor, but still none-the-less, a very capable piece of technology to have on board.
Rather than opt for a similar 51-point AF arrangement to the one found in the D4 and D800, the D600 utilises a 39-point AF system very similar to that in the DX-format D7000. The Multi-CAM4800 system features nine cross-type sensitive AF points for improved AF acquirement, compared to 15 cross-type points found on the D4/D800. The other difference is the AF’s functionality in low-light conditions, with the D600’s system working down to -1EV compared to -2EV on the D800.
The viewfinder delivers 100% coverage, while the rear screen is a nice and large 3.2in display with a resolution of 921k-dots that monitors the surrounding brightness and adjusts the screen accordingly. There’s also a built-in flash, so not only does it come in handy for the odd bit of fill-in flash, but it can also be used to control and trigger Nikon flashguns positioned off-camera for creative lighting control on location.
For storage, there are two SD card slots on the side of the camera, which are UHS-1 compatible. Just like other dual storage cameras, a range of options should you want to shoot with two cards. These include using one card as an overflow, or as a back-up, or for video.
Via the optional WU-1b Mobile Adapter, the D600 also allows for wireless transfer of images, allowing you to send images directly to your smartphone or tablet, or even control the camera remotely (Android OS at the moment, with support of iOS coming towards the end of the year).
Nikon D600 review – Design
For those upgrading to the D600, you should feel right at home. On the top-plate, you’ll find a mode dial to switch between shooting modes – including Scene and Auto options, rather than the four-button arrangement for setting ISO, WB, Quality and Bracketing on the D4/D800. The mode dial features a press-lock to ensure it doesn’t get knocked out of position unintentionally, while round the collar is the drive mode selector just like you’ll find on the D7000.
Again, like the D7000, 4 of the 5 buttons along the side of the display on the rear of the camera offer different controls dependent on whether you’re shooting or reviewing your images. You’ll find quick access buttons to ISO, Quality, White Balance and Picture Control if you’re shooting, while these revert to zoom out, zoom in, help and the retouch menu when looking at and reviewing images.
The D-pad on the other side of the display is smaller than we’ve seen on some Nikon DSLRs recently, while there’s a dedicated selector switch to choose between stills and video capture, with a button in the middle to select Live View.
The design of the D600 is a blend of the D800 and D7000 that it sits between. Side-by-side with the D800 and it’s noticeably smaller, with a similar footprint to the more compact D7000, if a touch taller.
Its also a touch lighter than the D800 too, tipping the scales at 850g compared to 1000g, and is only a little heavier than the D7000 at 780g. This weight-saving over the D800 is due in part to the D600’s construction, with just the top and rear covers constructed from magnesium alloy, compared to the entire chassis that is the foundations for the D800. Nikon point out that the D600 is weather-sealed to the same degree as the D800, and while it doesn’t quite have the ultra-rugged feel of the D800, it still feels very well put together. The handgrip is a decent size, allowing you to get a firm hold of the camera – it’s big enough that you don’t have your little finger dangling off the bottom of the camera, while the finish is to a high standard, too.
Nikon D600 review – Performance
The D600’s Multi-CAM4800 is a very capable AF system that delivers a high level of performance and sophistication. If we’re being picky though, the 39 AF points are grouped a little too closely in the centre of the frame for some subjects, requiring you to focus and then recompose in some instances.
With the camera set to AF-S, we found focus to be fast and precise in action, performing well under a range of conditions. It’s only when little levels are really poor that you may find it struggles to lock-on, but this is only in very dark conditions that won’t be a daily occurrence for most shooters.
AF point selection is very straightforward too – simply use the D-pad to move from AF point to AF point. If you find all 39 AF points are too much, this can be pared back to 11 should you want to move round the frame quicker.
Switch to AF-C and you’ve got a host of sophisticated AF tracking options at your disposal as well as single point AF. Linked into the D600’s Scene Recognition System, Dynamic AF will intelligently track your subject should it move away from the initial AF point you select. Depending how erratically your subject is moving, you can choose between 9, 21 or 39-point Dynamic AF modes, while this can be fine-tuned in the camera’s menu to provide a bias for how far away your subject is. On top of this is 3D Focus Tracking, which will automatically track your subject from point to point, and is ideal for action/sports photography.
In Live View and video shooting, contrast-detect takes over focusing duties, with AF-S or AF-F focusing modes. AF-F is full-time servo AF, meaning that the camera is constantly adjusting focus during Live View or video capture. While it performs solidly, compared to specifically designed Compact System Cameras, it doesn’t quite have the same turn of pace and usability of these mirrorless options.
With a Class 10 SD card, the D600 is capable of rattling off 42 Fine JPEG files consecutively at 5.5fps before the buffer slows up, while at the same rate, 16 Raw files can be captured. This is pretty good considering the size of the files the EXPEED 3 image processor is handling, while the 5.5fps offered by the D600 is actually better than the D800’s 4fps. There’s also the option of adding the MB-D14 battery grip, but even with the additional power supply, it won’t boost the frame rate of the D600.
For those upgrading from a DX-format Nikon DSLR or similar, you’ll instantly notice the benefit of the larger and brighter viewfinder delivered by the D600. Not only that, but the 100% coverage means you won’t experience any stray elements creeping into the corners of the frame when you review your image. As well as that, the 3.2in screen provides a broad viewing angle, though some may be a little frustrated to see it sit flush with the body and not pullout from the camera. The screen renders plenty of detail and colour appears to be faithful, though it doesn’t quite have the same amount of ‘bite’ as we’ve seen in WhiteMagic and AMOLED screens.
The D600 is a nice camera to shoot with and those looking to upgrade should have no problems getting to grips with this camera. If you want, it can be used as a very sophisticated point-and-shoot camera if you pop it into Auto, but to get the best from it, you’ll want to explore the more creative options on offer. It’s also quick to use – all the shooting controls are dotted round the body and can be quickly accessed and adjusted, while the menu, while comprehensive, is laid out fairly logically. Within the main menu are six main sub-categories: Playback, Shooting, Custom Setting, Setup, Retouch and My Menu. It’s within these sub-categories that adjustments can be made to the camera’s set-up to really tailor the D600 to behave exactly how you want.
Nikon D600 review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
We tested the D600 under a range of lighting conditions to put the D600’s 2016-pixel RGB sensor to the test. Shooting in 3D Matrix Metering, the D600 performed well, though in some instances could overexpose a touch, requiring a touch of exposure compensation to rectify this, though this was only between -0.3 and -0.7 of a stop.
Also, while the system is not quite as advanced as the D800’s, which will detect a face in a backlight scene and expose accordingly, the D600 did an admirable job under these conditions.
White Balance and Colour
Using our Datacolor Spyder Checkr and continuous daylight balanced lights, the D600’s Auto White Balance was very good, delivering pleasing natural results. This is maintained through the ISO range, with only a very minor loss of saturation at the D600’s highest ISO sensitivity.
As you’d expect, there are a host of Picture Controls to vary the intensity of the colour should you wish, while Raw files can be adjusted to taste.
Sharpness and Detail
The new 24.3MP sensor inside the D600 delivers an impressive amount of detail. In our lab tests with our resolution test chart, the D600’s sensor was still capable of rendering finely spaced horizontal lines right down to 34, with it only dropping down to 28 at the D600’s extended ISO equivalent of 25.600.
This level of detail offered by the D600 transfers across into real world shooting, with images displaying excellent levels of detail through the camera’s ISO range.
As you’d expect at ISO 100, results are incredibly smooth and free of image noise. What really impressed us though was the image noise characteristics at higher sensitivities. While image noise had encroached onto the image at higher ISOs, it was still very well controlled. Even at ISO 3200, images looked pretty clean with good levels of detail. Shots at ISO 6400 did see the image degrade at touch more, but results were more than acceptable, and you’d have no problem producing a decent print from it. It’s only in the extended range where detail suffers noticeably and chroma noise becomes more prominent.
Raw vs JPEG
Colours are a touch warmer on the JPEG files compared to the unprocessed Raw files, while at higher ISOs, image noise control has also been applied, producing less noise in the JPEG file. The payback is sharpness, with the Raw file displaying slightly higher levels of detail.
The video output from the D600 is bound to appeal to videographers
as well. Capable of shooting at either 30, 25 or 24p at 1920 x 1080, the D600
can also shoot at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24p at 1280 x 720. Footage is recorded as
MOV files with H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding compression, while there’s
also an option to have uncompressed HDMI output to external devices should you
wish. There’s also a headphone socket (3.5mm jack) on the side that allows you
to monitor audio.
Value & Verdict
Nikon D600 review – Value
It’s still a serious investment for anyone considering buying one, but when you consider just over a year ago and a 24MP full-frame Nikon DSLR would have set you back over £5000, the price of the D600 looks remarkable. Not only that, but it’s priced very competitively with Canon’s recently announced 20MP EOS 6D full-frame DSLR.
Nikon D600 review – Verdict
For many photographers, Nikon has it the sweet spot with the D600 – a perfect blend of size, image quality, performance and price.
Virtually identical in size to the D7000, the D600 is noticeably smaller than any other full-frame DSLR we’ve seen, yet still feels well-made and comfortable to hold.
The full-frame chip that they’ve managed to squeeze into it delivers excellent results, with the level of detail, noise performance and colour reproduction really impressing.
It handles nicely too – controls are easy to access and the menu system clear and concise, while key areas such as the AF delivers the goods.
Add to that the price and the Nikon D600 is the camera many enthusiasts have been waiting for.