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Hands-on review: Updated: Nikon D600

| September 15, 2012 | 0 Comments


Hands-on review: Updated: Nikon D600

Overview and features

We’ve been expecting Nikon to announce a more affordable alternative to the groundbreaking Nikon D800 for quite a while now, but we weren’t really expecting it to make it smaller than the Nikon D300s.

However, as the Nikon D600 measures 141x113x82mm, that is exactly what Nikon’s engineers and designers have managed to do – even though it has a full-frame sensor and the D300s an APS-C format device. This should make it much easier to transport – which is good news for photographers who want a camera for everyday use.

Update: we now have a full-production sample of the D600 and our testing has started, so we’ve added the resolution chart and sensitivity range images as well as our signal to noise ratio and dynamic range results for you to take a look at. Check out that resolution!

The good news for image quality is that the newly designed sensor inside the D600 has 24.3 million effective pixels, roughly 12 million less than the D800 and this, coupled with the same Expeed 3 processing engine as inside the top-end Nikon D4, should mean that images are clean and detailed.

Nikon D600 review

Also, Nikon hasn’t pushed the boundaries of low light performance with the D600, sticking to the safe ISO 100-6400 native range and allowing expansion settings from the equivalent of IS 50 to ISO 25,600.

With 24.3 million effective pixels on its FX format sensor it’s not really a surprise that the D600′s maximum continuous shooting speed is ‘just’ 5.5fps. That’s 1.5fps more than the 36MP D800 can manage at full resolution and with its standard battery in place.

According to Nikon UK’s Hiromasa Sebata, the D600′s maximum shooting rate doesn’t increase if the battery pack is used.

Nikon D600 review

For most people and most occasions 5.5 fps is more than enough and it should be sufficient for the average enthusiast sports photographer who is unlikely to see regular benefit from shooting at 8 or 10 fps.

Build and handling

At 850g with the battery and a card (760g without), the Nikon D600 isn’t a lightweight model, but this compares very favourably with the 1kg weight of the Nikon D800. Nevertheless, its small size means that the Nikon D600 feels very dense, since the weight is packed into a small volume.

The top and rear shell sections of the camera are made from magnesium alloy, so its still pretty tough-feeling.

Nikon D600 review

However, the reduction in the size of the camera in comparison with the Nikon D800 means that the grip is considerably smaller and those with big hands may find it a little confining. Some may also find the button controls are a little cramped and that the Multi selector control on the back of the camera a bit small for their thumb. But this is only in comparison with other full-frame cameras such as the D800, when comparing with similarly sized SLRs, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Control-wise there are a few differences from the Nikon D800, and in several ways The D600 is more like the Nikon D7000. The bottom three buttons on the back of the D600 to the left of the LCD screen, for example, now access the white balance, image quality and sensitivity options as on the D7000.

These options can either be viewed on the secondary LCD on the top-plate or on the main LCD if the Info button has been pressed before the control button is pressed. These buttons also enable you to magnify or shrink and protect the image on the screen in review mode.

Nikon D600 review

The top-plate of the D600 also has a mode dial on the left side (as you hold the camera) jut like the D7000, with a drive mode dial beneath.

However, the Live View and Movie switch on the back of the camera is lower down on the D600 than it is on the D7000, which arguably makes it easier to operate when looking at the main LCD screen.

Nikon D600 review

Nikon has also moved the focus selector lock switch to around the Multi-selector that it governs, which seems a sensible space saving move.

Viewfinder and screen

We were only able to use the Nikon D600 indoors and under fairly dim artificial light, but the viewfinder provided a nice bright view, with no obvious darkening of the scene, corner shading or issues with the housing obstructing the view.

Like the Nikon D800, the NikonD600 has a 3.2-inch 921,000-dot LCD screen which automatically adjusts its brightness to take the ambient lighting conditions into account.

Nikon D600 review

This provided a clear, detail view and we’ll be looking out to see if it consistently represents image colour well when we get a full production sample in the next few days. We found that the Nikon D800′s screen can be prone to giving images a green tinge.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon D600, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart’s central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon D600 is capable of resolving up to around 28 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG files

Nikon D600 review: resolution ISO 100

The full ISO 100 resolution chart image.

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 50

ISO 50, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 320, score: 268 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 24 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw files

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 50

ISO 50, score: 32 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 30 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 26 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 26 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 24 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 22 (click here to see full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Nikon D600 review: Signal to noise ratio

JPEG images from the Nikon D600 relate closely to those from the Nikon D800, Nikon D4, Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III for signal to noise ratio, with all cameras producing very similar results. The D600 shows a marked improvement on the D700 at the higher sensitivity settings.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Nikon D600 review: RAW signal to noise ratio

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon D600 and Nikon D7000 are very similar across the sensitivity range. The professional level Nikon D4 only just taking the lead at higher sensitivities.

The impact of the Nikon D800′s higher pixel count makes itself clear with the lower signal to noise ratios across the sensitivity range.

JPEG dynamic range

Nikon D600 review: Dynamic Range

Our dynamic range results show that the D600 makes a huge leap in performance when compared with the D700, with results almost mirroring those of the Nikon D800.

Raw dynamic range

Nikon D600 review: TIFF Dynamic Range

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon D600 have a greater dynamic range than those from the Nikon D700 and Nikon D7000 and show results that are close to the Nikon D800 and D4 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Noise and sensitivity

Nikon D600

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions taken from the dark side of the image below.

JPEG files

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table

ISO 50, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 100

ISO 100, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 200

ISO 200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 400

ISO 400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 800

ISO 800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 1600

ISO 1600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 3200

ISO 3200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 6400

ISO 6400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 12800

ISO 12800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 25600

ISO 25600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw files

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 50

ISO 50, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 100

ISO 100, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 200

ISO 200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 400

ISO 400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 800

ISO 800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 1600

ISO 1600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 3200

ISO 3200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 6400

ISO 6400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 12800

ISO 12800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 25600

ISO 25600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Early verdict

At £1,955.99 in the UK the Nikon D600 may not be as affordable as some enthusiasts might have hoped for, especially as its launch price is only a little less (relatively speaking) than the D800′s current street price of around £2,280.

It also seems that US photographers get a better deal as the D600′s list price for them is $2099.

However, the D800 has a list price of £2,599.99 in the UK, so we can reasonably expect the D600′s street price to fall after a few months on sale in that area. Interestingly, the D800′s US street price seems to have stuck at around $2,999, it’s list price.

For most photographers 24 million pixels is more than enough and while we can’t expect the D600 to resolve quite the same amount of detail as the 36MP D800, it should be very capable, especially as it has the respected Expeed 3 processing engine.

The fact that the control arrangement of the D600 is closer to that of the D7000 than the D800 is suggests that Nikon is anticipating more enthusiast photographers upgrading to a D600 than it does professional photographers with a D800 buying a smaller back-up camera. The company may well be right as on the face of it the D600 looks a very good option for enthusiast photographers wanting the depth of field and image quality benefits of a full frame SLR.

The Nikon D600 goes on sale on September 18 and we will hopefully have a full-production test sample in the next few days. Watch this space for our full review.



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