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!).
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.
The kit lens is pretty good
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where to Buy
Other articles you might enjoy
- REVIEW: Nikon D600–A 5D Mark III Killer? (Part 2 of 2)
- COMPARISON: Nikon D600 vs Canon 5D Mark III using the latest 24-70 f/2.8 lenses
- COMPARISON: Canon 6D vs 5D Mark III and Nikon D600
- Nikon D800 Review
- Nikon D7100 Review
- Nikon D4 Review
- Nikon D7000 & 24-120mm Lens Review
- Canon 5D Mark III First Look & “For Parents Version”
- COMPARISON: Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III
- First Look: Nikon D800–Should Canon 5D-Mark III Users Switch?
- FAIL: Nikon D800 Live View vs Canon 5D Mark III
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.