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We have spent some quality time with the brand new Nikon D600 full-frame digital SLR camera to deliver you a hands-on preview. You can read our initial impressions below.
Update: Since publishing this hands-on report, we have completed our full review of the Nikon D600.
Read our in-depth Nikon D600 review here.
When the first rumours of an FX format Nikon D600 started circulating on the Internet, just about everybody thought it would be a full-framer for the masses - i.e. an entry-level, FX format digital SLR camera sporting an entry-level feature set and an entry-level price tag; with some websites speculating that it might hit the shelves at a price as low as £1,200/€1,500. In reality, the Nikon D600 has turned out to be quite a different kettle of fish - though given the record levels of pre-launch information leakage, this probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. With its RRP of £1,955.99/$2099.95, the Nikon D600 isn’t the most aggressively priced full-frame digital camera ever – that title is held by the Sony A850, which cost £1,700/$1,999 at launch – but then with highlights like a weather sealed body, a viewfinder offering 100% frame coverage, a shutter designed for 150,000 actuations, bona fide spot metering and a multi-point AF system that works with lens+teleconverter combinations as slow as f/8; it isn’t exactly the kind of camera anyone would describe as “entry-level,” either. And let’s not forget that no matter what the long-discontinued A850 cost at launch, the D600 is the least expensive of all currently manufactured full-frame cameras, undercutting Nikon’s own D800 (and Sony’s brand new A99) by as much as 20-30%, depending on market.
Weighing in at 760 grams, the Nikon D600 is the lightest full-frame DSLR camera to date, although it’s still significantly heavier than many modern auto-focus film SLRs; mostly because of having a predominantly metal body shell (apparently the age of plastic full-framers hasn’t arrived just yet). In fact it’s only marginally heavier than the cropped-sensor Nikon D7000. In actual use, the difference in heft between these two cameras is pretty much negligible – the reason you still have to count on carrying a larger weight around your neck is that FX lenses, particularly zooms, tend to weigh more than their DX counterparts.
In your hand, the Nikon D600 feels very solid and well made. With a 50mm f/1.8G lens (read review) attached, it doesn’t feel heavy at all – using it with a pro zoom like the 24-70mm f/2.8G or 70-200mm f/2.8G VR is of course a different story altogether. The right-hand grip felt very comfortable, although it has to be mentioned that we had only a limited amount of time to “play” with the camera, so at this point we cannot comment on how comfortable it would be during an extended shooting session (we didn’t get to try out the optional vertical grip). As far as its control layout is concerned, the Nikon D600 takes its cues from the D7000 and D800 – but doesn’t quite duplicate either of them. Most Nikon users will feel right at home with the D600, but make no mistake – for all the similarities with the other models, its control arrangement is still unique; more like a blend of the D7000’s and the D800’s than a duplicate of either. Given that many prospective owners will use it either as a step-up or a back-up body, it would have been logical to take the user interface of an existing model and replicate it on the D600 as closely as possible, but this is not quite the case. (We understand a company’s need for product differentiation but also believe companies ought to understand their customers’ need for consistency, especially when we’re talking about tools.)
Like the D7000 but unlike the D800, the Nikon D600 features a mode dial, located on the left shoulder of the camera body when viewed from behind. A centred locking pin prevents users from inadvertently changing the shooting mode – a welcome improvement over the D7000’s design. It also offers the same choices – P, A, S, M, U1, U2, Scene, Flash-Off and Auto. As far as we’re concernced the Auto and Flash-Off options could have been omitted to give way for a third and fourth User-defined setting as we can’t really imagine someone shelling out over two grand for a camera only to use it as an oversized point-and-shoot (as regards the flash, it stays put in most modes anyway unless you pop it up manually). The Nikon D600 also features a Nikon-standard hot shoe, with a maximum sync speed of 1/200th of a second. (In FP mode, most Nikon Speedlights can of course be used at any shutter speed up to the camera’s top speed of 1/4000th of a second but that entails a loss of power and flash range.) There’s no PC sync terminal.
Left: Nikon D7000, right: Nikon D600. A striking family resemblance
Photo courtesy of László Miklósi
With 0.7x magnification (using a 50mm lens focussed at infinity), the Nikon D600’s viewfinder image isn’t the biggest in the market – however, those stepping up from an APS-C model will still find it positively huge. The 100% frame coverage is a bonus, and a clear sign that Nikon has intended the D600 to be a serious proposition to serious photographers. The camera comes with a newly developed Multi-CAM4800 39-point AF module – thankfully, the 39 focus points aren’t permanently marked on the focussing screen, so viewfinder clutter isn’t a problem. The Multi-CAM4800 AF module isn’t the same as the Multi-CAM4800DX module used in the D7000 – that would have been too small for an FX camera – but the arrangement of the focus points is similar. According to Nikon, the central 9 AF sensors are cross-hatched, while the rest are line sensors sensitive to horizontal detail only. This is again similar to the D7000 – but the Multi-CAM4800 module still represents a step up in that 7 out of the 39 focus points support lens+teleconverter combinations as slow as f/8. Using both fast and mid-speed lenses in typical indoor lighting – which is what we had at the Nikon press event held today in Budapest – the system worked very well, though we didn’t get to test the camera with a really slow combination. Focus speeds still depended a lot on the specific lens mounted to the camera, with the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G easily being the fastest to lock on to a subject.
This slide, taken from a Nikon presentation, shows the arrangement of the 39 focus points
The Nikon D600 “inherits” a number of features and functions from its bigger brother, the D800. Among these are a dual-axis Virtual Horizon – useful for architectural and product photography, and again a step up from the D7000’s single-axis level gauge –, in-camera HDR exposure blending and a fairly sophisticated D-Movie mode with a range of frame rates, microphone and headphone jacks and the ability to stream live, uncompressed Full HD footage to external recorders. In addition, the Nikon D600 is an excellent tool for creating time-lapse videos.
During the short time we have spent with the camera, we found little to criticise. The afore-mentioned top sync speed of 1/200 second is a wee bit too slow, as is the camera’s maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 second, especially in light of the D7000’s corresponding figures of 1/250 and 1/8000 second. Also, there’s no talk (or indeed evidence) of the camera featuring on-sensor PDAF a la Sony A99 and RX1 – Live View auto focus uses contrast detection only; though we were pleasantly surprised at the speed improvement over the D7000. The Nikon D600’s mirror is surprisingly quiet for a full-frame SLR camera and in normal use – with fast shutter speeds of course – it produces only minimal viewfinder blackout.
In summary, if you’ve expected the Nikon D600 to be something like a digital F65 – i.e. an extremely lightweight and affordable entry-level (or just-above-entry-level) full-framer, you might feel a little disappointed as the camera is not quite as light and definitely not as cheap as many would have liked it to be. On the plus side, it’s a highly capable tool with many professional features – and it’s still lighter and cheaper than any other full-frame digital SLR camera that’s currently in production. All in all, a well put-together and highly competitive product which we will be keen to test in depth once review units become available.
Make sure to take a look at our hands-on photo gallery too!