Nikon D600 Review
Nikon D600 Introduction
The Nikon D600 is a new full-frame digital SLR camera featuring a 24.3-megapixel FX format sensor, 39-point AF system, 14-bit analogue-to-digital conversion and a glass prism optical viewfinder with 100% frame coverage. Weighing in at 760 grams without a battery, the Nikon D600 is the lightest FX format DSLR camera Nikon has ever produced. Other highlights include a shutter unit designed for 150,000 actuations, an ISO range of 100-6400, extendible up to 25,600 and down to 50; dual SD card slots with SDXC and UHS-I support; a dual-axis virtual horizon; in camera HDR exposure blending; and Full HD video capture at a variety of frame rates, with the ability to output an uncompressed live video stream to external recorders. The Nikon D600 is available now for £1734.95 / €2385.99 / $2,099.95. It is also sold in a kit with the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens for £2148.95 / €2981.99 / $2,699.95.
Ease of Use
“The times, they are a-changin'…” A year ago if you were a Nikon shooter in need of a full-frame camera with more than twelve megapixels, your only option - other than switching over to Canon - was to buy, hire or steal a $7,000 / £5,000 Nikon D3X. Today you have the $3,000 / £2,100 Nikon D800, the slightly more expensive D800E, and the $2,100 / £1,735 Nikon D600 to choose from. That's right - for a little more than a third of the price of a D3X, you can now purchase a camera with a similarly sized sensor and practically identical pixel count. And while it's obviously not in the same league in terms of overall build quality, ruggedness and durability, the Nikon D600 can certainly hold its own when it comes to cutting-edge features and technologies, some of which were practically unheard of when the D3X was released back in 2008.
In your hand, the Nikon D600 feels very solid, very well made - and significantly smaller/lighter than the D800, not to mention the D3X or D4. The lower weight has mainly to do with the body material - the Nikon D600 has a body shell whose rear and top plates are made of metal but the front plate is plastic. That doesn't make it any less sturdy - in fact, the D600 boasts the exact same level of weatherproofing as the D800. The right-hand grip is smaller but still quite comfortable, even if using the camera for an extended period of time.
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 for Nikon 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.
Now this is fine as long as you are simply upgrading from the D7000 - once you get past the initial frustration caused (mainly) by the swapping of the Zoom-in (+) and Zoom-out (-) buttons, you'll be OK. But if you plan on using the two cameras alongside each other, that's a different story. The same goes for using the D600 as a back-up to a D800 - the interface differences make it difficult to seamlessly switch back and forth between the two cameras. We suspect Nikon did this for a reason - namely, to make D800 owners who need a second body buy another D800 rather than the cheaper D600.
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 (and one that's easy to get used to, too). The dial also offers the same choices - P, A, S, M, U1, U2, Scene, Auto and Auto with Flash Off. The U1 and U2 positions allow easy retrieval of complete sets of camera settings, a much better solution than the D800's separate Shooting Menu Banks and Custom Settings Banks. The only gripe we have about this is that there are only two of them - as far as we're concerned the green Auto and Auto with Flash-Off options could have been omitted to make room for additional and much more useful U3 and U4 positions.
Underneath the shooting mode dial is the so-called Release Mode Dial, which has also been carried over from the Nikon D7000. The release mode options include Single-frame, Continuous Low, Continuous High (5.5 frames per second, which is faster than the D800), Quiet (delays mirror return until the user lets go of the shutter release), Self-timer, Remote control and Mirror lock-up. The last of these is really only useful if you purchase the optional MC-DC2 cable release - while you can use the shutter release button in Mirror lock-up mode, the very act of pressing it can cause more vibration than the mirror itself, defeating the point. (Do note however that the Remote control mode also has a “Remote mirror up” option, which you can activate via the shooting menu if you have the ML-L3 infrared remote control but not the MC-DC2 cable release. If neither is to hand, the Nikon D600 offers a user configurable Exposure Delay Mode, in which the mirror is raised when you press the shutter release, and the actual exposure takes place automatically with a one-, two- or three-second delay depending on what you've set in Custom Function d10.) As you would expect, this dial also has a locking pin.
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 viewfinder eyepiece differs from that of the D800 so it cannot take the same accessories. The camera comes with a 39-point AF module - thankfully, the focus points aren't permanently marked on the focussing screen, so viewfinder clutter isn't a problem. The arrangement of the 39 focus points is similar to the D7000 but on the D600, they are grouped even more tightly in the centre of the frame, offering less coverage for the off-centre areas.
On a related note the AF point indicators are smaller than on any other mid-range or top-end Nikon dSLR I can think of, meaning the active focus point is harder to see - even if AF point illumination is turned on via Custom Function a4. With a lower limit of -1EV, the Nikon D600's AF system is less sensitive than that of the D800, which remains operational down to -2EV - and in our experience this does make a difference when shooting in very low light. There's also fewer cross-hatched sensors (9 in the D600 versus 15 in the D800), and they are all located in the very middle of the frame. This is again similar to the D7000 - but the FX version of 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.
Similarly to both the D7000 and the D800, the Nikon D600 has a two-position (AF-M) focus mode selector with a small button at its hub. With the selector switch in the 'AF' position, you can toggle between AF-S and AF-C modes by holding down this button and turning the rear control wheel. To cycle through the available AF Area modes - single and auto area in AF-S, single, 9-, 21- and 39-point dynamic, 3D tracking and auto area in AF-C - you need to use the sub command dial instead. The settings are displayed in the viewfinder and the top-mounted status LCD. Unless you've set the AF Area mode to 'auto area,' you can change the active AF point via the eight-way controller, which is unfortunately very small compared to the D7000 or even the D800. Given the amount of real estate available on the camera's rear plate it's a mystery why Nikon has chosen to make this important control so tiny.
To the left of the rear screen, the Nikon D600 has five buttons arranged in a vertical row. These include Menu, Picture Control, White Balance, Quality and ISO, the last four of which double as Retouch, Help / Lock, Zoom-in (+) and Zoom-out (-) buttons respectively when the camera is in Playback mode. As noted earlier, the Zoom-in and Zoom-out - and thus Quality and ISO - buttons have been swapped versus the D7000. Although the new arrangement - (+) at the top, (-) at the bottom - is arguably more logical than the old one, it's bound to be a source of frustration to any D7000 user trading up, not to mention those who would like to carry on shooting their old camera alongside the new one. The Picture Control / Retouch button is entirely new. It's also worth noting that while the Nikon D800 also has five buttons in this vertical row, they aren't exactly the same - which is again bound to translate into confusion and frustration if someone wants to use a D600 as a back-up to a D800.
Just like the D4 and D800 - but unlike the D7000 - the Nikon D600 has a Live View button encircled by a two-way Live View mode selector. This lever can be set to either “live view photography” or “movie live view”, each of which is denoted by a little, self-explanatory icon. As with other Live View enabled Nikon dSLRs, there is a red rectangle that you can position anywhere within the frame, so you can focus precisely on the part of your subject that you want to appear sharpest in the resulting photo. On the Nikon D600, Live View auto focus is actually quite fast for a traditional dSLR camera and certainly faster than any other Nikon - apparently the new sensor has better read-out speeds which always helps with contrast-detect auto focus. That isn't to say it's fast in absolute terms - the latest generation of compact system cameras still run circles around it - but at least it doesn't feel sluggish. (When you aren't using Live View, focus speeds are naturally much faster.) As far as manual focus is concerned, the Nikon D600 has no focus peaking feature but you can at least magnify into the live view feed for accurate focussing. Another important thing to note is that you cannot change the lens' aperture setting while in Live View - this is similar to the D7000 but a major point of difference versus the D800.
With respect to the separate “movie live view,” you may be wondering why one needs it in the first place. The reason is simple; it enables you to accurately preview framing for videos, which have an aspect ratio of 16:9 rather than 3:2. The Nikon D800 offers Full HD movie capture at three different frame rates (24/25/30fps) and two quality levels. Additionally, 720p is also available at 25, 30, 50 and 60fps; and again at two quality settings, High and Normal. The maximum length of a clip is generally 29 minutes and 59 seconds for Normal and 20 minutes for High quality videos, unless you're using an external recorder hooked up to the camera by way of an optional HDMI cable. (For those that plan on doing just that, Nikon has issued a notice saying “the output image may be smaller than the value set with the 'image size/frame rate' menu.” No such warning has been issued to D800 owners so this issue must be specific to the Nikon D600.)
The Nikon D600 features a built-in microphone but for professional-grade audio recording you'll definitely want to use an external one. In order to monitor the audio during movie capture, you can also connect a pair of headphones to the camera. As is now the norm for virtually every digital camera, from compacts to CSCs to DSLRs, there's a dedicated red movie-record button on the D600, located right next to the shutter release (much like the D800, D4, D3200 and D5100). I personally found this button a bit too small for my tastes - your mileage may of course vary. If Index marking is selected for Custom Function g1 or g3, you can press the button during recording to add indices that can be used to locate specific frames during editing and playback.
|Shooting Mode Dial||Pop-up Flash|
At the heart of the Nikon D600's live view and movie live view experience is a 3.2” LCD screen. This is the same 921,000-dot affair found on the Nikon D800, which incorporates a gel resin between the cover glass and the screen itself to combat the fogging that may result from sudden changes of temperature, and also makes use of an ambient light sensor to allow for automatic adjustment of the screen's brightness, contrast, gamma and colour saturation. In use we have found the screen to have excellent viewing angles but only so-so visibility in direct sunlight (this is with the bundled BM-14 monitor cover removed - with that attached, outdoors visibility is noticeably worse).
Like every other Nikon digital SLR camera except the professional series (D1 through D4), the Nikon D600 features a pop-up flash, which can also act as a master controlling up to two groups of wirelessly slaved system flashes. This built-in speedlight has a guide number of 12 in metres at ISO100/21°. In addition, the D600 has a standard Nikon hot-shoe for external flashguns - but no Prontor-Compur flash sync terminal. The camera has come in for a lot of criticism for its X-sync speed of 1/200th second - on one hand it is indeed a step back from the 1/250th second sync speed of the D7000 and D800; on the other, it's exactly the same as that of the much more expensive Canon EOS 5D Mark III. In FP mode, most Nikon Speedlights can be used at any shutter speed up to the camera's top speed of 1/4000th of a second but that of course entails a loss of flash power and range.
The Nikon D600 inherits a few interesting features from the D800. Among these is the ability to automatically create Full HD time-lapse movies based on an interval and shooting time selected by the photographer. The maximum shooting time is 7 hours and 59 minutes. whilst the maximum length for movies recorded using time-lapse photography is 20 minutes. Another D800 feature that has trickled down to the D600 is intelligent auto ISO control. With auto ISO enabled, you can have the camera determine the minimum shutter speed based on the focal length of the lens in use. This means that the camera may raise the ISO sensitivity if the shutter speed drops below 1/200 second when using a 200mm lens but leave it unchanged down to 1/50 second if a 50mm lens is attached (this can be fine-tuned by the user).
The dual-axis virtual horizon of the D800 has found its way to the D600 too, which is very good news for architectural and product photographers. Also worth mentioning is the fact that just like the D800, D7000 and other mid-range models, the Nikon D600 can auto focus with pretty much any AF lens you can mount on it, including those that do not have a built-in Silent Wave Motor, and can provide matrix metering with any AI lens including those that do not feature a CPU. Do note however that F-mount lenses dating back to the 1959-1977 period ought not to be attached to the camera unless they have been professionally AI converted.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The dual SD memory card slots have been carried over from the Nikon D7000. The implementation of the two-card system is exemplary: you can tell the camera to record every image simultaneously on both cards for instant backup, designate one card to store raw files and the other JPEGs, use the secondary card for overflow - you name it. It probably goes without saying but this camera is no friend of slow cards. Having used the Nikon D600 with both a new UHS-I compliant Class 10 SDHC memory card and an older Class 4 card (both 8GB models from Panasonic), we can say that you'll definitely want to use the former. With the slower memory card, we experienced almost freeze-up-like slowdowns when reviewing images just taken - but had no such issues with the faster model.
On the left hand flank, if viewing the camera from the back, we find three commendably firm, hinged rubber doors that are well-behaved enough to stay open until you close them. Sheltered behind these doors is an array of connection ports including microphone and headphone jacks, a mini HDMI connector, a USB 2.0 port - no USB 3.0 on the D600, unlike the D800 - and an accessory terminal for the optional MC-DC2 cable release and GP-1 GPS unit. The camera is also compatible with the WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter. Power is supplied by the venerable EN-EL15 battery that also powers the Nikon 1 V1, D7000 and D800 cameras.
In use we have found the Nikon D600 to be a great, responsive and versatile tool. The 39-point auto focus system has proven to be fast and generally accurate, with the fastest speeds achieved using the AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G lens. We did feel that the AF module's frame coverage could have been greater and as mentioned above, we've had some issues seeing the active focus point because of the unusually small size of the in-finder AF point indicators - but that aside, we've found the focus system to work well in most conditions except for really low light.
That the D600 is lighter than any other Nikon FX digital SLR camera is a real boon to anyone planning to use it for extended periods of time, though be prepared that it's still quite a handful and noticeably heavier than the cheapest auto focus SLRs of the film era (then again, it's a much higher specified model than any of those). 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. We also loved the wide viewing angles of the LCD screen but were less impressed with its visibility in direct sunlight. The only major gripe we have with the camera is that you cannot change the aperture in Live View or during movie capture, unless you use an old lens with a manual aperture ring, of course.