Monday, October 1, 2012

REVIEW: Nikon D600–My Favorite Nikon Ever?!!! (Part 1 of 2)

Nikon D600 Digital Camera with 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens
Nikon D600 Digital Camera with 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens
(Buy now at B&H or Adorama and Amazon)

Okay, if I’m 100% honest the Nikon D3s is probably my favorite Nikon ever, but the D600 is a close second. Why not the D800 or D4 you might ask? Well, the D800 does have gobs of megapixels, but with all of those megapixels comes several new challenges. What’s more I just don’t need all of those megapixels for the way I use my images (which is typically on the web and in prints at sizes <= 16x24”). As a result, I was really hoping that Nikon was going to release something to replace the aging D700 without a bazillion megapixels. Fortunately the D600 is it, but sadly it isn’t too.


My trip to Mt. Baker was met with fog, but it was still a fun place to test the D600
f/11 @ 40 mm, 1/40, ISO 800, AWB (kit lens)
Click photo for full-size unedited in-camera jpeg original of this crappy shot

Here’s the thing – The D700 was a larger body that had more of a pro feel. The D600 is actually reasonably well built, but it’s closer in size to the D7000. However, that’s not all bad because the smaller size comes with less weight yet it still offers a bigger LCD! What’s more, the D600 adds video support and trumps the D700’s minimum ISO of 200 by going to ISO 100 native (and ISO 50 in Lo-1). As a result, I actually quite like it and think it feels great. I see zero reason for people with normal size hands to not do just fine with this body (and this is coming from a guy with big hands who thought the original Xbox Duke controller was the perfect size!).


f/9 @ 78 mm, 1/100, ISO 100, Shade WB (kit lens)

Now those who follow my blog know that I’m a Canon shooter because long ago I made a choice to invest in the Canon platform, and it makes no sense to switch camps. Given how much money I’ve had to spend this year on new Canon gear to keep up with the latest advancements (about $12k+), I could have probably switched to Nikon but I’m happy with Canon so I stayed there. That said, one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about Nikon’s is the wealth of hard button controls that are very well placed. The D600 seems to continue this trend by having everything well laid out and easy to use with hard buttons instead of having to use the menus. However, the absence of shooting banks in the D600 is a bit of a bummer.


f/8 @ 24 mm, 1.6s, ISO 100, Shade WB (kit lens)

The kit lens is pretty good

Visit SLRGear.com for more info

I was happy with the kit lens performance. While it really seems like it’s optimized for the DX format, you can see that even on the D800 it’s got a pretty fat sharp region at 35mm when set to f/5.6 (the sharpest spot). I suspect that it’s probably sharper with the D600 but SLRGear.com hasn’t tested it on the D600. It’s certainly not the sharpest lens I’ve ever used, but its perfectly usable.

High ISO Performance


f/8 @ 52 mm, 1/30, Hi-1 (ISO 12,800), WB 5560K (Kit Lens)
Click for unmodified original in-camera jpeg

I found the high ISO performance to be solid. Hi-1 (12,800) is totally usable as you can see above, so this isn’t one of those cameras where the Hi modes are utterly useless.

Live View Performance

If you followed my D800 review then you know that I was pretty upset about the poor Live View performance of the D800. From what I’m seeing (and I don’t have the D800 to compare side by side), the D600 isn’t as good as the Canon cameras but it doesn’t suck as bad as the D800. It’s still advisable to not zoom in all the way, but rather to back off one zoom level for the best live view performance. It’s usable, but it is still noisy which can make precision focusing during twilight very tough. It definitely feels like an improvement over the D800 though!

My Biggest Gripe about the D600

The focus point range does in fact suck – big time! You can move the focus point to the outer edges of the focus region, but the focus region is super small as you can see below (D600 vs D800). No camera goes out as far as I'd like, but this one does feel a bit restrictive which forces you to center your images (or focus and recompose) more than any camera I can recall using.

Copyright Nikon - Click to visit Nikon USA for more info
D600 Focus Region

Copyright Nikon - Click to visit Nikon USA for more info
D800 Focus Region

Sample Images

The following sample images were all taken with the D600 and the kit lens. The images are not processed in any way (no crop, rotate, sharpen, nothing). These are the in-camera jpeg’s that have simply been renamed and uploaded. You can click the photos to download the original files and you can visit the gallery to get more samples not featured in this article. Please note that just a few are a little soft because I accidentally switched off VR on a handful of shots and used shutter speeds too slow for my shaky hands – it’s not the lens or camera’s fault.


f/9 @ 29 mm, 1.6s, ISO 100, Shade WB (kit lens)


f/9 @ 56 mm, 1s, ISO 100, Shade WB (kit lens)


Great dynamic range is obvious here
f/4.5 @ 85 mm, 1/100 (Av –1 EV), ISO 280, AWB (kit lens)


f/9 @ 29 mm, 1/100, ISO 100, AWB (kit lens)


f/11 @ 32 mm, 1/125, ISO 100, Shade WB (should have been AWB)


f/4.2 @ 55 mm, 1/60, ISO 900 (kit lens)


f/5.6 @ 24 mm, 1/4, ISO 100, AWB (kit lens)


f/4 @ 35 mm, 1/40, ISO 200, AWB (kit lens)


f/5.6 @ 36 mm, 1/40, ISO 5000, WB 5560K (kit lens)
This shot prints beautifully with ZERO post-processing on letter sized paper


Again, good dynamic range
f/5.6 @ 24 mm, 1/25, ISO 3200, WB 5560K (kit lens)


f/8 @ 24 mm, 4s, ISO 100, WB 5560K (kit lens)

Conclusion

The D600 more than doubles the megapixels of the D700 by going from 12.1 million to 24.3 million, so for those megapixel counters who still think they might need the D800 – this is really plenty! This camera is so much easier to hand hold and get sharp shots and it has more resolution than most people need (only 8MP required for a letter size print or 4MP for wallpaper on a 30” display). As a result, I think that most people who foolishly ran out to get the D800 only to discover that it’s more than they need will probably find the D600 to be a great second camera for everyday use. It’s compact, it’s fun and easy to use, it has excellent low-light performance and it gets the job done well. The focus range issue might be a showstopper for some, but I think it beats the issues you’ll have getting handheld sharp shots in low light with the D800 so it’s worth the tradeoff.

Based on my testing, I highly recommend the D600 for those looking to upgrade their D700’s and D7000’s. This really is the camera that I’ve been waiting for Nikon to release, and I think the Nikon faithful will enjoy it quite a bit too! The D7100 is an awesome camera too for less money and similar features, but in terms of image quality I think the D600 is the best overall Nikon right now. Sure the D800E has greater resolution, but at the expense of high ISO noise that isn’t as dominant in the D600.

The kit lens doesn’t suck, so if you are just getting started I’d actually recommend it. Sure, there are plenty of great Nikon lenses, but this will satisfy most users needs. It’s definitely a lot better than most kit lenses I’ve used. As you can also see in this article, it made some pretty sharp images even at f/9 which is pretty far from its sharpest point at f/5.6.

I’ll cover more about this camera in the next installment here.

*** ALERT ***

If you own or will purchase a D600, please make sure you take advantage of this free service even if your camera is out of warranty:

http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Service-And-Support/Service-Advisories/hs309y82/Technical-Service-Advisory-for-Users-of-the-Nikon-D600-Digital-SLR-Camera.html

*** ALERT ***

A Word to Canon Shooters

No, you shouldn’t switch camps. Generally speaking switching from brand to brand is stupid once you’ve invested in lenses. If you haven’t invested in lenses then you shouldn’t be buying new camera bodies – seriously – getting good lenses is the best way to get the best results.

While I love the D600, I have lots of confidence that the EOS 6D will be the affordable alternative to the brilliant 5D Mark III.

Where to Buy

I highly recommend that you buy from B&H to show appreciate for them loaning me this camera so I could bring this review to you. I also recommend Adorama and Amazon.

Other articles you might enjoy

Disclosure

B&H provided a loaner camera and lens for this review. If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. Thanks for showing your appreciation by using my links when placing your order.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great write up and shots. Some of those were very slow shutter speeds- did you use a tripod on any of them? Do you think shooting .jpg vs. raw helped with sharpness at such slow speeds?

Jim said...

Thanks Ron for the d600 review, I am glad I did not take the D800 plunge (based on your advice. The d600 seems perfect for my needs, I have gotten very comfortable having a battery grip on my d7000, so I will be ordering one for the d600 along with an "L" bracket from RRS. Do you know when LR4 and PS5 will be supporting the d600? Thanks Jim Fair

Ron Martinsen said...

Anonymous,

Some of those were very slow shutter speeds- did you use a tripod on any of them?

Yes, a tripod was used on all shots where the shutter speed is less than the focal length. Keep in mind though, if the wind is blowing the trees during a long exposure they will blur which is why the river shot shows super sharp rocks but blurry trees.

There are some shots that are in the gallery but not in the article that are a little soft because my finger accidentally switched off VR. Those are shots where the shutter speed is about the same speed as the focal length, and they are limited to only a few shots at Mt. Baker.

I shot RAW+JPEG. RAW doesn't help you with motion blur. ;-) It's true that RAW's can be softer because the raw image has no in-camera sharpening, but most RAW processors add sharpening by default to try to match what you get with the JPEG thumbnail preview of the RAW (which is what you see on your camera's LCD, in your histogram, and when you first load the image in Lightroom before it processes the RAW).

Ron Martinsen said...

Jim,

Yes, the D600 seems a good fit for you and what you say makes sense. Be sure to use links on my blog! :-) (I can send them if you like )

The next update of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw do not currently have support for the D600 which means it could be a while. They haven't released that update, so they could do a last minute addition. However, from what I see I think it will be Lightroom 4.3 before we see D600 support so that could be closer to the holiday season.

David Levin said...

Ron,
Thank you for the review. I may buy a D600, but I'm wondering about it's bracketing capabilities for HDR photography. Only three frames? Have you tried creating any HDR photographs with just three frames?

Also, is it true that the zoom feature to review images taken cannot be seen at 100% on the D600?

Thanks!

Ron Martinsen said...

Jim,

Adobe just released the final version of Lightroom 4.2 and it's reading the D600 NEF files, so you should actually be good to go.

Ron Martinsen said...

David,

Trey Ratcliff is in the Smithsonian for HDR and is one of the most famous HDR shooters in the world. When you watch his videos you'll see that 99.9% of the time he only uses 3 images to make his world famous HDR's.

People make a big poo poo about how many bracketed exposures a camera can take, but if you use your head you'll understand that 3 is plenty most of the time. Why? Well if you shoot raw then that gives you +/- 2 EV so if I space the images 2EV apart, then those 3 RAW images cover a big enough range for almost any practical scenario.

When I do HDR I typically only do three (even though my camera can do more) and I usually don't like more than +/- 1 EV difference because using more makes garish looking HDR images.

FWIW, I love HDR Efex Pro 2 for doing HDR.

I'm not sure what you are talking about with the zoom feature. I know that I can zoom to actual size which is what I need. I haven't found any limiting factors of the D600 zoom feature in real-world use.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how to override the auto DX crop on the D600. I want to use a 12mm DX lens which I realize would have some vignetting but I want to crop for panoramas and the camera will not allow it . It worked on the D700 but not on the D600. Auto DX crop seems to be a new feature on this camera. For me this is very annoying.
John.

Ron Martinsen said...

John,

I'm so sorry I saw your post and got an answer from Nikon on 11/9, but forgot to respond. You just need to go to the Shooting menu (camera icon) > Image area > “auto DX crop off”

Peter J. Osher said...

Thanks Ron. Based on your review and other research I did I ended up buying the D600 kit from Costco. I had been using the D200 for many years, so it's refreshing to have a camera with such great features (including video). I was wondering if you had some favorite settings for point and shoot as well as landscape shots. Thanks your your help. PotoFoto

Ron Martinsen said...

Peter J. Osher,

Cool, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

I appreciate your visiting the blog and I know you'll love your camera.

Since you purchased your camera from Costco instead of via the links on the blog, you should probably go to them for tips since they earned the commission on the sale.

Best wishes,
Ron

TonyS said...

Dear Ron, I would be very interetsed in your comments on the D7100 per se and also how it compares to the D600 especially regarding picture quality.
Many thanks in anticipation.
Tony Steele

Ron Martinsen said...

TonyS,

Then you should read my review on the D7100 that I just released this week. ;-)

wilco said...

I was set back to get D600 since many people complaint oil and dust issue. Is D7100 is alternative for the time being?

Ron Martinsen said...

Wilco,

Since 2008, I've noticed that every great Nikon camera has someone complaining about this problem.

Yes, it's true that ANY Nikon model can suffer from the occasional oil spot on the sensor. I'm not sure why Nikon hasn't addressed this problem, but if you do your research you can see reports of this on the D300, D700, D3, D3s, D4, D7000, D7100, etc...

If the notion of getting oil spots on your sensor that are hard to clean bothers you then get Eclipse and cleaning swabs or go with Canon. It seems to be a general problem often reported for the Nikon platform.

I did see some of it with one of the Nikons I tested, I think it was the D4. I also had a student with a D7000 who had a bad case of it - I couldn't get his sensor clean it was so bad.

Ron

wilco said...

Thanks for your reply Ron, I have invested a lot with Nikon glasses and it is hard for me to switch to Canon without losing $$$$. I watched dpreview forum and there are many people facing dust and oil issue. I have not hear much about it when D300, D700, D3 and D3s was released.
The sad part is I do not see Nikon does not fix it properly yet.