The much rumoured 24-megapixel, full-frame, affordable D600 was announced on 13th September 2012, five days before the launch of Photokina 2012 in Cologne, Germany.
But what was the need for another 24 megapixel model, when Nikon already has the 24 megapixel full-frame D3x? The answer is, ‘cost’. The D3x is a professional model at a professional price; the D600 is an enthusiast model at a much lower price. The D3x is as tough as a sledgehammer; the D600 too has good build quality, but don’t compare them side-by-side.
During Photokina 2012, we spoke to a senior officer from Nikon Japan and asked him his opinion of the D600 in terms of image quality as compared to the D3x. He replied that since the D600 is a much later technology, the image quality should be superior! So let’s see how the D600 fares in our gruelling tests.
Design and Build Quality
The D600 is a full-frame (24 x 35.9mm) digital SLR. The camera grip is perfect – the thumb rests securely in a niche under the rear command dial at the back, while the fingers cover a very comfortable hand grip, allowing the index finger to position itself perfectly over the shutter release button. The body uses magnesium alloy for the top and rear frames and extensive weather sealing to keep dust and moisture from creeping into the body. The overall build quality is good. The body, made in Thailand, weighs 760g (the D800 body weighs approximately 900g).
The D600 is feature-filled, and is the smallest and lightest full-frame D-SLR from Nikon. It offers a 24.3 megapixel CMOS imaging sensor backed by Nikon’s EXPEED 3 image processor (same as in the D4 and D800 models). The sensor mechanism is protected by a dust-reduction system. The D600 is ready to shoot in approximately 0.13 seconds and the release time-lag is 0.052 sec (the D4’s release time-lag is about 0.042 sec). The camera provides a maximum image size of 6,016 x 4,016 pixels (FX) and 3,936 x 2,624 pixels (DX). The body uses the Nikon F bayonet mount. The viewfinder frame coverage is 100% horizontal and vertical (FX), while in DX mode, it is 97% horizontal and vertical. The viewfinder provides a dioptre adjustment to suit individual eyesight. The body is compatible with AF and AF-S Nikkor lenses, including type G and D. Non-CPU lenses may be used with some restrictions (please check Nikon’s website for further details).
The D600 offers four exposure modes: Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S), and Manual (M). Exposure can be compensated by +/- 5 stops and can be bracketed (2 or 3 frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV). Besides the P, A, S, M modes, the D600 also offers 2 Custom modes and various Scene modes: Autumn Colours, Food, Silhouette, High Key, Low key, Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close up, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Pet Portrait, Candlelight, and Blossom. The Scene Recognition System uses the camera’s in-built 2,016-pixel RGB sensor to analyse every scene’s brightness and colour and then uses this information to further improve the exposure, White Balance, autofocus accuracy, and i-TTL flash metering. To activate the Scene modes, press the lock button and turn the Exposure Mode dial on the top left to Scene position. Then turn the Rear Command dial to select the scene. The D600, like all current Nikon D-SLRs, allows you to set Picture Controls. You can select between Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait or Landscape. Within each of the Picture Controls, you can further fine-tune the settings as per your personal preferences. For example, you can set the Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and the Hue to suit your taste.
ISO sensitivity ranges from 100-6400 but can be expanded up to ISO 50 equivalent (Lo-1) and 12,800/25,600 equivalent (Hi-1/Hi-2). Auto ISO feature is available. In P, A, S, and M modes, using Auto ISO, the D600 automatically controls the minimum shutter speed based on the focal length you are using. This can be of great help in minimising camera shake, by automatically increasing the ISO sensitivity when required. High ISO noise reduction (Low, Normal, High, Off) and long exposure noise reduction is available. The user can take the advantage of Active D-Lighting in difficult lighting situations. Active D-Lighting can also be bracketed. Shutter speeds on the D600 range between 30 seconds and 1/4000 sec, plus Bulb (B), and the shutter mechanism is tested for 150,000 cycles (that’s approximately 4,166 rolls of 36-exposure film). The shutter mechanism is self-diagnostic – it automatically monitors actual shutter speeds so as to correct for possible variances due to the ageing process. The shutter can be released in different ways: Single, Continuous Low, Continuous High, Mirror-Up mode, Quiet Release, and Self-timer mode. The camera can shoot at approximately 5.5 frames per second in FX and DX mode.
Three metering modes are on offer: Matrix – 3D Colour Matrix Metering II (type G and D lenses), Colour Matrix Metering II for other CPU lenses; Centre-weighted metering (75% weightage is given at the 12mm circle in the centre of the frame); Spot metering (4mm circle centred on selected focus point). Various White Balance options are available: Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade, Kelvin temperature setting, and Custom White Balance.
The D600’s autofocus system uses the Nikon Multi-CAM 4800 autofocus sensor module with TTL Phase Detection that offers 9, 21 or 39 AF points (including 39-point Dynamic Area AF). Out of the 39 AF points, 9 in the centre are cross-type; at f/8, 7 of them will still work! Focus modes are Single-servo AF (AF-S), Continuous-servo AF (AF-C), Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A), Manual (with electronic rangefinder), Normal-area, Wide-area, and Face-Priority AF (available in Live View/D-movie only).
Live View shooting is available for still as well as movie clips, where AF-S (single servo AF), AF-F (full time servo AF) and Manual focus is possible. During Live View, contrast-detect AF is used but during face-priority AF and subject-tracking AF, the camera selects the autofocus point automatically. Movies can be recorded in broadcast quality HD, 1,920 x 1,080 / 30 fps being the best option. The maximum movie recording time is 20 minutes at the highest quality, or 29 minutes 59 seconds at normal quality. Movies are recorded in MOV file format. The D600 uses H.264/MPEG-4 advanced video coding. Time-lapse movies can be effortlessly made using the D600.
Various in-camera editing functions are available: D-Lighting, Red-eye correction, Trim, Monochrome, Filter effects, Colour balance, Image overlay, Raw processing, Resize, Quick retouch, Straighten, Distortion control, Fisheye, Colour outline, Colour sketch, Perspective control, Miniature effect, Selective colour and Movie editing. The D600 is Eye-Fi card compatible. Alternately, one can purchase the WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter for wireless transfer of files. The camera can also be used with GP-1 and GP-1A GPS units.
A pop-up flash with the regular flash features is provided. Dedicated external flashguns can be used (SB 910/900/700/400). Flash control is via iTTL flash (2,016- pixel RGB sensor for the built-in flash and the external flashguns listed here); iTTL-balanced Fill-flash for digital SLR is used with Matrix and Centre-weighted metering; standard i-TTL flash for digital SLR with spot metering. Flash can be compensated up to -3 to +1 EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV. The D600 also offers support for Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.
The D600 offers two memory card slots. The card in slot 2 can be utilised for backing up the images on card 1, or to continue recording after card 1 is full. You can also set up the camera to record Raw captures in one card and JPEGs in the other. The camera is powered by an EN-EL15 Lithium-ion battery that, claim Nikon, provides 900 shots per charge (CIPA standards). The body weighs approximately 760g and has dimensions of 141mm (W) x 113 (H) x 82mm (D).
Our basic studio tests were done using a 50mm f/1.8D lens while the outdoor tests were done using Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lenses. All three combinations balanced perfectly well. The user-interface was easy to use. Unfortunately, Nikon does not provide a user manual with this model (at least we did not receive it), which, according to me, is a dis-service to the users.
Every reader would be anxious to know how the D600 performs in terms of autofocus, metering, image sharpness, detail, dynamic range, noise, handling, and ease of use. Some would surely like to know how the D600 would fare against Nikon’s own D800. Well, here are the results.
The D600’s autofocus capability was very good. It autofocussed quickly and accurately in most lighting situations. Remember, the lens too plays a part here; our tests were conducted using f/2.8 and faster lenses.
No issues here. All three metering (Matrix, Center-weighted and Spot) metered to our entire satisfaction.
Excellent (as mentioned earlier, the lens plays a very important part too).
Images shot with the D600 exhibited very good detail. But how does the detail compare to that from the D800? Without a shadow of doubt, the D800 with its higher megapixel count provides superior detail, but the D600 is no let down either. Those coming from 12 or 16 MP models will find a great improvement in D600’s detail. We would consider D600’s details adequate for most purposes.
The dynamic range of the D600 appears to be very good, though a bit below that of the D800.
Noise: The D600’s native image size is 13.28 x 20 inches at 300 ppi. At this size, images were free of noise right up to H 0.3 (1/ 3 stop higher than ISO 6400). At 33% screen size, images were almost noise-free up to ISO 1600 but you can safely use up to ISO 6400. At 50% and 100% screen size, noise could be seen at ISO 400 but I wouldn’t hesitate using up to ISO 1600. In real low light situations, I personally feel that you could use the D600 right up to ISO 3200 (or even 6400) as long as you don’t start looking around for noise. We would consider the D600’s noise control to be very good and I dare say, it is a close second to the D800.
The White Balance performance of the D600 was very good, with just a slight blue cast in AWB Shade.
Value for Money
The Nikon D600 body is available at an MRP of Rs.1,35,950 (Rs.1,63,950 with the 24-85mm VR kit lens). The 24 MP body seems to be expensive when compared to the 36 MP D800 (Rs.1,69,950), but that could be a marketing strategy and prices should fall within a few months.
+ Excellent performance
+ Good weather sealing
– In-built HDR only available for JPEG
– Cannot change aperture during Live View
|Design and Build Quality||17/20|
|Value for Money||7/10|
The Nikon D600 is a great little camera, with good features, good build quality and exceptional image quality. In terms of overall image quality, it may not stand up to its bigger sibling, the D800. Be it landscape, studio, fashion or whatever, the camera is perfect for day-to-day photography. Due to the lesser data it has to churn through (compared to the D800), it processes faster, offers better burst rate, occupies lesser computer space, and allows more shots per memory card. You could call it the more sensible option.