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Nikon D600 Review

by Shawn Barnett, Andrew Alexander, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview posted 09/13/2012
Review posted 12/13/2012

Nikon D600 photo by Shawn Barnett -- thanks to Ellis Vener for holding the third flash

Signaling the dawn of the affordable full-frame digital SLR camera, the Nikon D600 features a 24.3-megapixel FX CMOS sensor, an optical viewfinder with ~100% coverage, a 3.2-inch 921K-dot LCD, and dual SD card slots for US$2,100, body-only. It's true, $2,100 isn't exactly cheap, but it's more affordable than the $3,000 Nikon D800, and not much more than the long-in-the-tooth D300S, which cost about $300 less at launch. Shoot with a full-frame SLR and you learn: you really want to shoot full-frame. Is the D600 Nikon's answer for D300S shooters? Don't wait for the D400, upgrade to the D600 now?

For those who thought the D800's 36.3-megapixel sensor was overkill, the Nikon D600 hits the sweet spot. Its 24.3-megapixel sensor covers an extended ISO range from 50 to 25,600. With a pixel-pitch similar to the Nikon D3X, we expect good quality at high ISO settings, and that's one of the primary reasons to spend a little more on a full-frame camera: greater light gathering ability.

If you've been eyeing the D800, much of the D600's specs will seem less-than. But it's important to remember the Nikon D600 was designed to be a little more consumer friendly, leaving off a few features here and there, and including things like Scene modes. Think of the Nikon D600 as a D7000 with a full-frame sensor.

The Nikon D600 is noticeably smaller than a D800, and weighs less as well. Measurements are 5.6 x 4.4 x 3.2 inches, and weight is 26.8 ounces (760g) without lens or battery. Compare that to 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 inches and 31.7 ounces (900g) for the D800, and you can see the Nikon D600 is a bit shorter and about five ounces (140g) lighter.

Nikon D600 front

The Nikon D600 still seems tall, probably due to that big, bright pentaprism behind the Nikon logo. Anyone who knows the D7000 will recognize the control layout, particularly the position of the two function buttons, one just right of the grip, the other lower-left of the lens mount (on the pro cameras, these two buttons are inline with one another between the grip and lens mount). By default a Depth-of-field preview button, this latter button can also be programmed to serve other functions. The inclusion of the Sub-command dial on the front indicates this is a prosumer camera. The shiny lens to the right of the shutter button houses the AF-assist lamp. The upper right corner has an infrared port, holes for the microphone, and the flash release button. Down beneath the lens release button is the Focus mode selector, with an AF-mode button in the center.

Unlike the company's consumer SLRs, the Nikon D600 still includes support for legacy lenses, with both a screw drive to handle old, body-driven AF lenses and the Meter coupling lever for reading the aperture settings of even older lenses.

Nikon D600 top

Except for the center lock button, the Nikon D600's Mode dial on the left could be lifted from the D7000, while pro cameras like the D800 and up have a cluster of buttons in this position. Beneath the Mode dial is the Drive mode dial. On the right, the D600's status LCD is a little larger than the D7000's, but the general controls are the same, with the Metering mode and EV-compensation buttons and the Power switch surrounding the Shutter button. What's new is the small Movie Record button tucked just behind the Shutter button.

Nikon D600 back

From the back you get a better view of the Drive mode dial. A press on the far left button releases the dial's lock. Nikon's included one more button left of the LCD, and swapped the others around a bit. Below the 8-way Multi-selector, Nikon's placed the Still/Movie switch and Live view button, borrowing the design from the D800. Info button and speaker are below that, along with the rear infrared port and card access lamp.

Nikon D600 in hands - Thanks to Ellis Vener, hand model

Overall it's an interesting admixture of controls from the D800 and D7000, laid out comfortably. The Rear status display seems to have most of what you'd want within easy reach, including quick access to the 39 autofocus points, ISO settings, Resolution and Compression, basic exposure information and battery status, among other things.

Nikon D600 Shooter's Report

by Shawn Barnett

It's confirmed: I love shooting the Nikon D600. I was able to get a few decent shots with the 24-85mm kit lens, the only lens Nikon provided, the night we received our review camera, as well as two ISO series. I didn't have my tripod so a few shots were a little soft, as I relied on posts and rails to stabilize, but so many of the shots were handheld thanks to the D600's very high ISO capability. One series is below; another is in the Gallery.


1/5s, f/3.5, ISO 100

1/30s, f/3.5, ISO 400

1/60s, f/3.5, ISO 800

1/100s, f/3.5, ISO 1,600

1/200s, f/3.5, ISO 3,200

1/320s, f/4.5, ISO 6,400

1/500s, f/5.6, ISO 12,800

1/800s, f/7.1, ISO 25,600

As I walked around New York, I let the ISO float in Auto mode most of the time, and the Nikon D600 was equal to the challenge.

1/15s, f/4.5, ISO 25,600

This scene was darker than it seems here, but I like the result. ISO 25,600 delivered a good shot, and steady handholding combined with IS made a clear image without a tripod. Autofocus also worked as if the scene were daylight.

1/50s, f/4.2, ISO 2,500

The lovely parked-bicycle cliche is easy to achieve in NYC; paired with a well-known logo and brand, and reasonable darkness on this street made for a nice contrasty image; again, handheld at 1/50 second.

1/50s, f/4.5, ISO 800

I like the idea of this large predator bird swooping in to grab a nice yellow treat just off Times Square.

1/640s, f/4.5, ISO 160

A pair of spires rise above human pairs in Central Park's rowboats.

1/160s, f/4.5, ISO 160

I came across this bride getting made up for wedding pictures. I'd have popped up the flash for a bit of fill, but didn't want to annoy the actual photographer capturing the moment from a different angle. The raw image would give me plenty of leeway to tweak if I wanted to.

1/200s, f/7.1, ISO 160

I liked how these branches seemed to grow just right to frame this church steeple, waiting for me to walk by and look up.

1/640s, f/4.5, ISO 160

I had to chuckle at this couple who rowed to this spot to get away from the crowd of other boaters only to find me and two other people waiting to take their picture. "Say, 'Privacy!'"

1/60s, f/4, ISO 160

I very likely creeped people out crouching here in the shadows, but I wanted to wait for just the right person to come through for an interesting silhouette, and this guy was it. Sadly the couple in the rear is in focus, while my elderly gentleman is slightly out of focus, partially from motion blur. But if you download and adjust the levels, you can see the amount of detail left in the shadows -- even out of focus, it's pretty impressive.

Nikon D600 with pop-up flash deployed

The main reason I show and talk about all these images is I liked how the Nikon D600 let me think about my composition and not the camera. That's the kind of camera it is, and why Nikon made it the way they did. It doesn't have to be complicated to enjoy the fruits of a full-frame digital SLR.

More like the D7000 than the D800, the Nikon D600 is tuned more for the consumer shooter, yet it still offers most of the controls a more serious photographer would want, right out front. Since I tend to shoot cameras in the mode the average target buyers are likely to use, I spent most of my time in Program and Aperture-priority modes, and the Nikon D600 handled most scenes quite well. I like the ease of having dials for Drive and Exposure modes, but it's a little different shooting with the D600 having just come from using the D800. Still, the controls I'd look for on the top deck are instead on the back. It's not as easy to adjust them, because you have to first look at the buttons on the back, then switch to the top deck LCD to make your adjustments, but it becomes second nature after a short time.

As much as I like the D7000, the Nikon D600 stands out as a great intermediate photographer's tool. It has the same versatility as the D7000, but with a larger body, a larger sensor, and that big, beautiful viewfinder. Mirror blackout time is fast, allowing a quick return to your subject, which is very important to me, especially when I'm working on portraits.

But enough of what I think, let's read what Andrew Alexander, our SLRgear editor and pro Nikon shooter, thought of the D600.


Nikon D600 Shooter's Report

by Andrew Alexander

I had the opportunity to shoot with the Nikon D600 for just over a week in a combination of casual and professional shooting. The D600 is Nikon's entry-level FX (full-frame) digital camera. As such it has many features that attempt to make shooting simpler for the average user. At its most basic level, the D600 offers a basic Auto mode, which lets the camera take care of absolutely everything. For the more discriminating user, there are 19 scene modes: everything from basic Portrait and Landscape modes, to Autumn Colors, Food and Party mode, allowing the user to tailor the D600's settings to a particular event. More advanced users will be accustomed to Nikon's professional shootings modes (Program / Aperture Priority / Shutter Priority / Manual).

Design. The Nikon D600 takes some of its design features from the Nikon D800 and others from the Nikon D7000, with a few alterations. Nikon is still making up its mind regarding the placement of buttons, and this lack of consistency may confuse people who use different camera bodies on a shoot.

D600
D800 D7000 D4

Button, Button... Who's got the button? Nikon can't seem to make up its mind just where their high-end DSLR buttons should go.

The function buttons mounted on the front of the camera are useful in theory, but it's a challenge for me to stretch my pinky finger to consistently hit the lower one. The D3 and D4 series have this secondary function button placed within perfect reach of my ring finger; why can't the D600? The mode selector dial was apparently a problem on the D7000 (nothing would stop it from accidentally rotating), so while the D600 has borrowed the same design, it's improved upon it by adding a release button which you must depress to turn the dial. This design works well, and otherwise, the layout is the same as the D7000.

Nikon D600 with optional MB-D14 battery grip

One unfortunate omission is that the OK button in the center of the multi-selector is not user-configurable in playback mode. (In shooting mode, it selects the center focus mode by default, but can be programmed to highlight the active focus point, or do nothing at all.) In more expensive models, you can choose what happens in image review mode when you press this button: for example, the button can be set to give me 100% magnification, so one can quickly review focus (or lack thereof). In the D600, it helpfully brings me to the Image Retouching mode, and there is no option to change it to do anything else.

Despite these criticisms, I really enjoyed the feel of the D600: it's light and rests easily in my hand. When I used the camera, a battery grip wasn't yet available, and I would certainly welcome one, both for the extra battery life and the vertical grip.

Live view - the story continues. Nikon continues to change its mind on how it implements Live view. Live view was first introduced on the shooting mode dial of the D3. The function was then given its own dedicated button press in the D3s; the D90 changed this function to use a twist-to-activate design, which has been present in every model up to the D7000. The Nikon D600 changes it back again: a small switch lets you select between Movie Live View mode and Live View photography mode, and the button surrounded by this switch puts the camera into Live View mode.

Live view implementation on the Nikon D600 is still a bit clunky. Try taking a photo in Movie mode, for example, and the camera will exit Live view, focus, take the photo, and re-enter movie mode. Once you do it a few times you figure it out. I especially like the dedicated movie shooting button near the regular shutter release, as it feels a bit more intuitive there.

A moving vehicle, such as this speedy UPS truck, is a good torture test for a camera's AF system. In this case I was using the 3D AF-tracking in continuous autofocus. The D600 passes this test: My target was the UPS logo on the side of the truck, which the camera held in focus in every shot, even though an SUV obscured it briefly (it's a little soft at the end).

Speedy and responsive. In general, I was very impressed with the performance of the D600. I use a Nikon D3 for my day-to-day shooting, and have also shot with D3s, D3x and D700 camera bodies. The D600 represents something of a panacea for many Nikon shooters: 24 megapixels in an affordable D700-style body. All Nikon bodies in the prosumer and professional range are shooting-priority cameras; pressing the shutter button will always take the camera out of whatever menu or setting you are currently looking at and strive to take a photograph. The camera also turns on very quickly, with no delay. It is ready to shoot when you are.

I had imagined that Nikon might have cut a corner or two to make the D600 more economical, and that it might not be as responsive as its professional siblings. I was surprised it was as responsive as my D3 in everyday use, having no trouble quickly acquiring focus and metering very accurately.

I heard the ambulance before I saw it, and barely had time to raise the camera to my eye and take the photograph. Autofocus nailed it, and the exposure is spot on.

Still, it's hard to make a camera at this price point without some compromises, and there were a few points where I encountered some sluggishness. Zooming in with the Live view mode selected to a magnification greater than 100% resulted in a noticeable drop in performance (the image being viewed seems to slow down). Also, using the D600 with a slower SD card (Nikon recommends a class 10 card) can produce some sluggishness: Reviewing photographs as the buffer is being written out essentially locks up the camera in this case. When using a class 10 card, the delay is miniscule. Very occasionally, calling up the menu would result in a delay of a second or two before it appeared, though this was something I could not reproduce on a regular basis. While none of these situations is a deal-breaker, it is worth noting.

Sync speed slow? One point that has been remarked upon is the sync speed of the Nikon D600: it's slower than its brethren, at 1/200 of a second. While I may long for the days of the D70, with its 1/500 of a second sync speed, I certainly didn't find an occasion in or out of the studio where a little more power or the use of FP mode didn't see me through. If I really needed the extra speed, I probably needed more camera, such as the D800.

Quiet shutter. I shoot a lot of theater, so one of the first things that surprised me was how quiet the shutter was in comparison to other cameras I shoot with. While this may mean that the shutter is not as durable as more pro-level camera bodies (the D600 is rated for 100,000 cycles), it was very useful for shooting in a theater where you don't necessarily want to be heard.

Shooting in a theater can be demanding, but at ISO 1,600 the D600 performed very well: well-saturated images with low noise, and the quiet shutter was not too distracting to the audience.

ISO Auto perfected. Nikon has had an automatic ISO selection mode available in its cameras all the way back to the D100, and has made refinements to the operation of that mode ever since. It's not a mode I usually employed because I found I didn't always agree with the choice the camera made, however, I'm pleased to report that the D600 has added some excellent improvements to the ISO Auto mode.

The first is that a button-plus-dial combination now allows you to turn ISO Auto on and off rather than having to do so from the camera menu. Specifically, you can press the ISO button to the left of the LCD and rotate the sub-command dial to accomplish this. This is an extremely welcome change because it allows the shooter to enable or disable automatic ISO selection without having to remove the eye from the viewfinder.

The second improvement is that in addition to allowing the shooter to select the minimum shutter speed the camera will seek to use, Nikon has added an "AUTO" setting. This setting is a long overdue implementation of the "one over focal length" rule of thumb. If you're not familiar with this shooting suggestion, it basically provides that in order to ensure you get a sharp image, you should choose a shutter speed that is the inverse of the focal length you're shooting with. So if you're shooting with a 200mm lens, you should select a shutter speed of at least 1/200 of a second. Nikon's AUTO mode in ISO-Auto does just this, as long as you're using a CPU-enabled lens, or have entered the focal length information for a non-CPU lens. Nikon even allows for users to fine-tune the auto setting: if you find you need to shoot with a slightly faster shutter speed to get sharp images, you can dial this in.

The updated Auto ISO function works perfectly in this case, allowing me to choose the f/5.6 aperture and not have to worry about shutter speed or ISO. The camera chooses 1/200s because that's the focal length, and ISO 2,500 because that's what's required for proper exposure (there's slight motion blur, but not bad).

A load on the buffer. It's worth noting that using ISO-Auto, or in fact many of the camera's shooting menu options such as auto distortion control, vignetting control, D-Lighting, High-ISO Noise Reduction, et cetera, can reduce the number of images you can shoot in a continuous burst:

Settings versus reported buffer depth
RAW JPEG
No special settings 15 28
Shooting settings enabled 10 9

This number just shows what the camera reports as the available number of shots before shooting begins: the speed of the card you're using greatly influences what will actually be the case. When I used a class 10 SDHC card, the buffer said I would only get nine shots, but I actually got around 15 shots before there was any kind of shooting slow down.

High Dynamic Range. Generally, a camera is only so successful in its ability to record a scene which has both very bright and very dark elements: one of those two will get left behind. To get around this limitation, the Nikon D600 has a new mode for High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, taking two photographs at slightly different exposures, and merging them together. The HDR mode function allows the shooter to select the range of exposure to be captured (from one to three stops of difference, or AUTO, which lets the camera decide based on the scene), and whether it's just the next photograph that will be in HDR mode (single photo) or all subsequent photographs (series). You can also select the amount of smoothing the camera will use when blending the two images together - High, Normal, or Low.

It's not clear which of the shooting variables (aperture, shutter speed or ISO sensitivity) the D600 is changing between exposures, so HDR purists may stick to tried-and-true methods rather than using the built-in HDR mode. The results are fairly compelling, though: Even without a tripod, I captured some striking images.

Full sunlight is a great candidate for HDR images, such as this front step where the bricks are almost completely dark in the shadows. The second shot uses HDR mode, and there is at least an extra stop of detail in the shadows. However, you have to make sure your camera is steady during the multi-exposure, or you will get some ghosting, as evidenced in the third shot.

Movie Live View mode. Nikon was late to the party putting Full HD video on DSLR cameras, and it continues to try to make up for lost time. The D600 adds many important features that have been lacking in previous models, and for the first time we see a camera that might actually give Canon's indie filmmaker favorite, the 5D mark II, a run for its money. Movies can be recorded at Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) in H.264/MPEG-4 AVC format, with either a 24Mbps or 12Mbps bitrate, depending on the level of quality chosen.

Nikon D600 with optional ME-1 external mic

The actual implementation of Movie recording seems a bit hard-wired, and it's not clear if it is for technical reasons or to keep from cannibalizing D800 sales. For example, you can't change the lens aperture during movie recording; however, you can change shutter speed and ISO sensitivity (the D800 has no such limitation). You can change aperture during Live view photography mode.

My optimistic view of this implementation is that Nikon wants to simplify the experience for its D600 users. That said, older AI/AIS lenses have absolutely no problem adjusting aperture during movie recording (you just turn the aperture ring); newer AF lenses won't work this way, they produce an "EE" error.

Nikon has also improved its audio recording in the D600. The first important change is that the D600 now includes a 3.5mm audio output jack, which can be used to attach headphones for monitoring audio quality. Until now, if you wanted to check sound, you had to shoot a clip, then remove the memory card and play it back on a computer. Or, you could take your chances by listening to the tinny mono speaker.

Nikon has also added some on-screen audio levels in two important locations. The first is during movie recording, which is useful, and these levels show red warning points if the audio is too hot. However, there is no in-camera way to adjust the volume during recording: you have to stop recording, and adjust.

The second place audio levels show up is in the Movie Settings selection of the Shooting Menu. The shooter can adjust how loud or quiet the recorded sound will be, either automatically (where the camera will boost the volume in quiet settings, and reduce it in loud settings), or on a scale from 1 to 20 to fine-tune based on the camera's environment. There is no indication of what this scale actually represents, but it is nice to have, so you can see exactly what level of sound you are about to record.

The Nikon D600 includes an HDMI video output, and the LCD will continue to display when an HDMI device is attached. Unfortunately, composite video is no longer supported, so if you want to use an external video monitor, it will have to be HDMI.

Visit our Nikon D600 Video page for sample videos and more details.

Appraisal. The best part of the Nikon D600 is that at its core, it is an excellent still-image camera, with an impressive number of extra features built-in; the 24-megapixel full-frame imager is the primary reason for getting this camera, and the image quality does not disappoint. Using a high ISO setting used to mean that you would roll up your sleeves after capture and salvage what you could with noise reduction software. While the D600 may not match the ultra-clean images produced by the D3s or D4 cameras at high ISO settings, its images are very good indeed. And if you don't need to push the sensitivity, you are rewarded with ultra-clean, huge images. With 24 megapixels, you can print a massive 13 x 19-inch image without any resizing.

By choosing a price point of just over US$2,000, Nikon has signaled that they want to move a lot of these cameras; and indeed, most of the Nikon photographers I know who had been waiting for an entry-level full-frame camera have lined up to buy one. Sometimes, bigger, better and faster comes with a compromise, but in this case, the D600 delivers - and does so at an extremely reasonable price.

 

Nikon D600 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

The D600 digital SLR is based around a newly-developed 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor. (That's FX-format in Nikon parlance.) Effective resolution is 24.3 megapixels.

It can also operate at 10.5 megapixels with an APS-C crop (aka DX-format.)

Nikon says that the new chip has a similar pixel pitch to that used in the professional D3X SLR, along with a broad dynamic range and high signal-to-noise ratio.

Above, the full sensor assembly is shown. Nikon notes that it has chosen an optical low-pass filter that optimizes sharpness for HD video. (More on that later.)

Output from the new FX-format sensor is handled by Nikon's proprietary EXPEED 3 image processor. Together the combination provides 5.5 fps burst shooting for full-res JPEGs or raw files.

Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 6,400 equivalents, expandable to a range of ISO 50 to 25,600 equivalents.

The Nikon D600's construction consists of magnesium alloy top and rear panels, as well as in the handgrip of the optional portrait grip, with plastic elsewhere.

The D600 is said to feature moisture and dust-resistant seals and gaskets throughout, providing a similar degree of weather sealing to that offered by the D800.

The Nikon D600 provides a Nikon F-mount with autofocus coupling and electrical contacts. As you'd expect, it's compatible with almost every F-mount lens made since 1977. (Currently, there are over sixty lenses in the system; over 70 million F-mount lenses have now been sold worldwide.)

Note that some lens types will have a few limitations with regard to availability of individual focus, metering, and exposure modes.

The Nikon D600's eye-level pentaprism viewfinder has ~0.7x magnification, and an eyepoint of 20.6mm.

In FX-format mode, coverage is approximately 100% horizontally and vertically. For DX-format shooting, a framing guide indicates the active area with 97% coverage on both axes.

A diopter adjustment provides correction from -3 to +1 m-1.

On the rear panel of the Nikon D600 is an LCD panel with a 3.2-inch diagonal, wide viewing angles, and a total resolution of 921,600 dots. (That works out to be a 640 x 480 array, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green, and blue dots.)

Based on the size and resolution, it's likely the same panel featured in the Nikon D4 and D800, in which case the H/V viewing angles are 170 degrees.

Of course, no enthusiast DSLR worth its salt relies on a color LCD alone. The D600 is no different, with a roomy, backlit monochrome status LCD that helps you quickly confirm settings without wasting battery life on the main panel.

The Nikon D600 features a 39-point, wide-area phase detection autofocus system, of which nine points feature cross-type sensors, sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail.

Seven of these points at the center of the frame work all the way down to f/8, allowing use with teleconverters and longer lenses.

When using live view mode, full-time contrast detection autofocus is used for both still and video imaging.

As well as the Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure modes that are the go-to options for enthusiasts and pros, the Nikon D600 also offers consumer-friendly Auto and Scene modes. There's also a Flash Off Auto mode, and two User modes that save settings groups for quick recall.

Beneath the locking Mode dial is a locking Drive mode dial, which offers a choice of Single, Continuous Low / High, Quiet Shutter Release, Timer, Remote, and Mirror-up modes.

The D600 features Nikon's 3D color matrix metering II exposure metering system, operating on data from a dedicated 2,016 pixel RGB sensor. The system has a working range of 0 to 20 EV.

If not supported by the lens, this falls back to color matrix metering II, and both center-weighted (75% weight for 8mm circle) and spot (4mm circle) modes are available.

Exposure compensation is available within a range of +/- 5.0 EV, in steps of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV.

In addition, you can bracket either two or three frames, in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV.

The shutter mechanism Nikon has selected for the D600 DSLR has a rated lifetime of approximately 150,000 cycles.

Available shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 30 sec., plus a bulb mode.

Although it's aimed at enthusiast use, the Nikon D600 does include a popup flash, and it supports wireless Commander mode. It's a worthwhile addition--sure, external or off-camera flash is better, but we can't all carry a full camera bag everywhere we go.

The built-in flash's Guide Number is 39 feet (12m) at ISO 100.

There's still a hot shoe on top of the viewfinder prism, of course. The Nikon D600 does lack a PC sync terminal, but that's easily solved with a hot shoe adapter, if you're a studio photographer.

Flash exposures are determined using i-TTL metering, and -3 to +1 EV of flash exposure compensation is available.

You can also bracket flash exposures with either two or three frames, in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV.

X-sync is at 1/200 second.

The Nikon D600 is, says the company, capable of shooting cinema-quality video.

Capture is possible at either Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or 720p (1,280 x 720) pixel resolution.

At Full HD, you can choose from frame rates of 30, 25, or 24 fps. For 720p, meanwhile, rates of 60, 50, 30, or 25 fps are on offer. Bit rate choices are 24Mbps, or 12Mbps at 1080p with 720p adding an 8Mbps option, and you can shoot in FX- or DX-format at either resolution.

Full manual exposure control is possible, so you can tweak aperture, shutter speed and ISO to match your creative vision.

The Nikon D600 includes the company's Scene Recognition System, which takes information from the 3D color matrix metering II system and compares what it sees in the image to a database of 30,000 photos. Details on similar images in the database are then used when determining focus, exposure, i-TTL flash exposure, and white balance, allowing the Nikon D600 to make better decisions overall.

The D600 also includes other features you'd expect in a modern Nikon DSLR, such as Active D-Lighting and two-shot in-camera HDR.

Video capture is started and stopped with a dedicated Movie button, or you can also do so from a remote cable release.

Videos are recorded in a .MOV container with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression.

The D600 also lets you output uncompressed video via the HDMI port, helpful if you prefer to record on an external device. Should you choose to do so, it's possible to have both the LCD panel and HDMI port active at the same time, letting you frame from the camera.

Audio is taken from a built-in monaural microphone, or an external stereo microphone, plugged into a 3.5mm jack on the left side of the camera body. There's also another jack into which you can attach a pair of headphones, letting you monitor audio levels.

You can adjust levels with a fairly fine-grained twenty-step control, and the Nikon D600 provides a levels display with peak audio indication to help you in making your adjustment.

The audio portion of your videos is stored as Linear PCM.

The Nikon D600 caters to storage with dual Secure Digital card slots, located in the right side of the hand grip.

Both slots are compatible with the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC card types, as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types.

Connectivity options include USB 2.0 data and Type-C mini HDMI video, 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks, and an accessory terminal. The latter is compatible with Nikon's MC-DC2 remote cord, as well as the GP-1 GPS unit. You can also use the ML-L3 infrared remote.

Among the accessory options for the Nikon D600 are two new choices: the WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter, and UT-1 Communications Unit.

Both devices attach via USB on the left side of the Nikon D600's body. The WU-1b is a tiny dongle, where the UT-1 is a taller and has its own power source.

The WU-1b lets you transfer photos and video from storage (or at capture time) to your smartphone or tablet via 802.11b/g/n WiFi.

Android 2.3+ smartphones, Android 3.0+ tablets, and iOS 5.1+ smartphones are supported.

The WU-1b shipped September 18, priced at a very reasonable US$60, making it a no-brainer to accompany your camera.

The UT-1, meanwhile, lets you connect to the D600, D4, D800, D800E, or D7000 over ethernet networks, or via WiFi through the WT-5a wireless transmitter. Images and video can be sent at capture time or manually from a memory card, via FTP.

You can also control many camera functions such as exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and shutter remotely, and even view a live preview, using Camera Control Pro 2.

The UT-1 can be purchased separately or in a bundle with the wireless transmitter, and it mounts on the D600's accessory shoe.

The UT-1 shipped from late October, priced at US$470 alone, or US$1,300 with WT-5a wireless transmitter.

The D600 draws power from a proprietary EN-EL15 lithium ion battery pack, as used by the D7000, D800, and D800E SLRs, as well as the V1 compact system camera. Battery life is rated at around 900 shots, to CIPA testing standards.

The optional MB-D14 battery grip doubles battery life when using another EN-EL15, or you can use six Ni-MH, Alkaline or Lithium AA batteries.

There's no DC input jack on the body, but an optional EP-5B dummy battery adapter is available for about US$56 to connect to an optional EP-5b AC adapter (US$118).

The Nikon D600 is available in the US market from September 18, priced at about US$2,100 body-only, which includes an EN-EL15 battery pack and MH-25 quick charger.

A kit including AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens is priced at US$2,700, a premium of US$600 over the body-only price.

The MB-D14 battery grip which is equipped with a shutter-release button, AE/AF lock button, multi selector, and main- and sub-command dials, costs a curiously specific US$322.

 

Nikon D600 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Nikon D600, Nikon D800, Nikon D3X, Canon 5D Mark III, Sony A99 and Sony NEX-7.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Nikon D600 versus Nikon D800 at ISO 100

Nikon D600 at ISO 100
Nikon D800 at ISO 100

The Nikon D600 obviously isn't quite equal to its 36.3-megapixel brother, but it still does a nice job. It happens, though, that our dreaded red leaf swatch is troublesome for a different reason, as a moiré pattern appears in the fabric, thanks to the threads in the fabric itself. You can see these threads in the Nikon D800 image. It seems to become more noticeable as ISO rises, but it's limited to this fabric swatch among all the elements in this shot.


Nikon D600 versus Nikon D3X at ISO 100

Nikon D600 at ISO 100
Nikon D3X at ISO 100

The Nikon D3X turns out a similar image to the D600, but without the moiré.


Nikon D600 versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

Nikon D600 at ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

Bright sharpening halos are immediately evident in the 5D Mark III's images when compared to the D600, and the D600 also gets the red leaf swatch a little sharper. Its representation of the pink swatch is also more accurate color-wise.


Nikon D600 versus Sony A99 at ISO 100

Nikon D600 at ISO 100
Sony A99 at ISO 100

The Sony A99's image is a little softer than the D600. However, despite the nearly identical resolution, the Sony shows no signs of moiré in the red leaf swatch.


Nikon D600 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 100

Nikon D600 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 100

The smaller APS-C 24-megapixel Sony NEX-7 does quite well against the D600, looking nearly the same, but the D600 gets the pink swatch closer to accurate.



Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Nikon D600 versus Nikon D800 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D800 at ISO 1,600

The colors that appear between the tiles of the mosaic image are actually there, left over from the offset printing process, so the Nikon D600 does a good job of capturing those elements. The pink swatch and red leaf swatch ar brighter and more accurate. Only a little chroma noise appears in the shadows behind the bottle, though it's a little more prominent in the D600's image.


Nikon D600 versus Nikon D3X at ISO 1,600

Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3X at ISO 1,600

The Nikon D600 maintains slightly better contrast in the mosaic image and perhaps a less artificial look in the red leaf swatch; but the D3x's image is preferable for its lack of moiré.


Nikon D600 versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600

Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600

It almost looks like we swapped the bottom image here, but it's true to form for Nikon: they are able to take a more balanced approach to noise suppression across all image elements, while Canon applies more noise suppression to some areas than others, and they also sharpen more aggressively. Thus the sharp mosaic image and soft red leaf swatch from the 5D Mark III.


Nikon D600 versus Sony A99 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600
Sony A99 at ISO 1,600

The Sony A99's noise suppression kicks in pretty strongly in the mosaic image, as well as in the red leaf swatch, softening detail. The pink swatch is not only soft, but appears artificial.


Nikon D600 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 1,600

Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 1,600

Thanks to its smaller sensor size, the NEX-7 exhibits even more anti-noise processing than the A99, particularly in the shadows and the red-leaf swatch.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Nikon D600 versus Nikon D800 at ISO 3,200

Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D800 at ISO 3,200

Noise patterns are similar between the two cameras, and though the detail seems a bit more crisp from the D600 the D800 puts a whole lot more pixels on the job. The D800 also still shows hints of the threads in the red leaf swatch as well.


Nikon D600 versus Nikon D3X at ISO 3,200

Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D3X at ISO 3,200

The Nikon D3X's shadows are very clean at 3,200, but the red leaf swatch loses detail by comparison.


Nikon D600 versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200

Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200

Nikon's approach is again more even than Canon's, and the red leaf swatch detail is noticeably better. Even the moiré is less apparent.


Nikon D600 versus Sony A99 at ISO 3,200

Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200
Sony A99 at ISO 3,200

Sony's noise suppression works a little harder, cleaning up chroma noise in the shadows that the D600 misses, but it also obliterates detail the D600 retains, which is preferable.


Nikon D600 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 3,200

Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 3,200

The NEX-7 does still more processing, and loses proper color compared to the D600, which looks pretty good.



Detail: Nikon D600 versus Nikon D800, Nikon D3X, Canon 5D Mark III, Sony A99, and Sony NEX-7

Nikon
D600

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D800

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D3X

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
5D Mk III

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
A99

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-7

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. About on par with other full-frame cameras in contention, the Nikon D600 does very well as ISO rises. Contrast reduces along the way, but not badly, and the D600 avoids the heavy sharpening we see from the 5D Mark III and A99.

 

Nikon D600 Print Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints from ISO 50 to 400; ISO 6,400 images look good at 11 x 14; and ISO 25,600 images make a good 5 x 7.

ISOs 50/100/200 images look excellent at 30 x 40 inches, with a very natural appearance all around. These also make for great wall display prints up to 40 x 60 inches.

ISO 400 also looks great at 30 x 40, nice color, great detail, no sign of noise or noise suppression artifacts.

ISO 800 images show a very slight hint of luminance noise in the shadows at 24 x 36, but if you didn't see the lower-ISO images you'd never notice. Amazing print size for this ISO.

ISO 1,600 shots show a slight pattern of both luminance and chrominance noise in the shadows, but you have to look closely to make it out, even at 20 x 30 inches. A strange moiré pattern becomes stronger in the red leaf swatch, likely due to the sub-pixels picking up the fabric pattern at this resolution. 16 x 20 is quite good here.

ISO 3,200 shots at 16 x 20 inches start to show a light grain pattern in the shadows. Close inspection also reveals light chrominance noise in the gold and yellow bottles of our Still Life target, mostly speckles of red and green. 13 x 19s are very good here.

ISO 6,400 images are amazingly good at 11 x 14. Again, this is quite high for ISO 6400!

ISO 12,800 prints have slightly pumped color and a louder grain pattern, but the resulting prints still look good at 8 x 10 inches.

ISO 25,600 prints are a bit rough at 8 x 10, but look quite good at 5 x 7.

The Nikon D600 turns in a very good performance, with even application of noise suppression across all elements. There is a slight trace of moiré in the red leaf swatch, which suggests Nikon used a weaker low pass filter, but it also handles that swatch as good or better than most of the cameras we have tested (many of which tend to render it as soft).  With a full-frame sensor at a price point well below most others, the D600 turns in an amazingly strong performance in the image quality department.

 

Nikon D600 Dust Issue

In the course of our regular and lab shooting, we found the same dust reported elsewhere on the Web, with primarily dark flecks of dust appearing in the upper left corner of images. Having shot well over 1,000 images, we cleaned the sensor with the Copper Hill Wet/Dry Kit (our attempts to blow off the dust with a Giottos Rocket Air Blaster had little effect), and shot a few hundred more. What appeared after that looked more like drops of oil than dust or paint. They were concentrated on the left side, with a smaller cluster on the right, as you can see in the image below, whose levels were adjusted to reveal the dust more clearly (to see the unmodified image, see image YDSC_5416.JPG).

As has been reported elsewhere, we suspect the issue will go away over time. It's a shame that this mars the image of an otherwise good camera, but it appears to be a real issue that will face most Nikon D600 owners: You'll have to clean the sensor a little more often than the average digital SLR, so be sure to learn how to clean your sensor. It's important to remember that every digital SLR will collect dust over time. Because this issue seems to involve oil as well as possible paint flecks, we recommend a wet cleaning to get it all removed. The Copper Hill Wet/Dry kit works pretty well.

 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Nikon D600 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Comfortable control layout
  • Great grip
  • Power switch perfectly positioned
  • Supports older, screw-drive lenses
  • Mode and Drive dials lock in place
  • Focuses well in low light
  • Very high resolution with superb detail
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Quieter shutter (than other pro Nikons)
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Improved Auto ISO
  • Built-in lens corrections (CA, distortion, shading)
  • Built-in flash supports wireless commander mode
  • Good burst speeds for a high-res full-frame prosumer model
  • Dual card slots, with UHS-I support
  • Very fast prefocused shutter lag
  • Excellent battery life
  • Excellent video frame-rate flexibility
  • Very low rolling-shutter artifacts
  • Manual control in video mode
  • Automatic or manual audio level control for video recording
  • Optional live audio level display during video recording
  • External mic jack
  • Jack for external headphones for audio monitoring when recording movies
  • Single frames can be extracted from videos and saved as JPEG files
  • Index marking for up to 20 key moments during video recording
  • Uncompressed video output via HDMI
  • Dust and oil-spatter problem (may go away with time)
  • Second function button oddly placed
  • Phase-detect AF points are limited to the center of the frame
  • Moiré can be a problem in certain circumstances
  • Zooming in greater than 100% in Live view mode slows down refresh rate
  • Slower X-sync speed
  • Kit lens's optical performance could be better
  • Warm Auto and Incandescent white balance indoors
  • AF speeds could be faster
  • Very slow AF in Live View mode
  • Uneven flash coverage at wide angle
  • Significant aliasing of fine patterns and near-horizontal lines in video recording, at all settings
  • Abrupt changes in subject distance can require half-pressing shutter button to restore focus during movie recording
  • Lens focus motor noise very audible in sound track; use an external mic for AF during video
  • Mic sensitivity and headphone volume cannot be adjusted while recording

 

Put simply, the Nikon D600 is very much like a D7000 with a full-frame sensor. Nikon drew on the extremely popular design when building the D600. Its 24.3-megapixel sensor was the first available for under $2,100 body-only, followed closely by the Canon 6D's 20.2-megapixel design for the same price. Since many balked at the D800's 36.3-megapixel sensor, it makes good sense for Nikon's consumer FX camera to stick with 24.3.

Smaller and lighter than the D800 and D700, the Nikon D600 is still bigger than a D7000. It's hard to hide that large, bright pentaprism without adding a bit of height. The D600 is wider too, but it has great heft and a good grip. Controls are well-placed for the D7000 upgrader too, with only a few additional buttons and control substitutions. The Movie Record button on top and a new Still/Movie switch are the main changes.

Just like the D7000, shooting with the Nikon D600 is just plain fun. Straightforward design, a big bright viewfinder, responsive AF and a quiet shutter all add up to a great experience, one where the camera gets out of the way and you can focus on composition.

Shooting in low light was even easier than expected, producing well-balanced images in most circumstances. Daylight shooting was just as easy: Shooting in Program and Aperture priority yielded great results, and any tweaks needed to make were just a button or dial away, usually without having to dig into the menus.

A few button positions frustrated our pro reviewer, particularly the second Function button, which was out of reach compared to the same button on his pro Nikons. The recent change to Live view control is also a little irritating, but that's more for reviewers to lament than a camera owner. It becomes important, though, if you'll be working with both cameras, as many advanced shooters do. Flash shooters like the Strobist also lamented the lower X-sync speed of 1/200 second. It's a legitimate concern, and those interested in faster flash sync speeds should save a little longer for a D800.

But by far the biggest problem with the D600 is this dust and oil issue that also affected our review unit. Widely reported on the Internet, it seems the shutter mechanism is splattering the sensor with oil, and perhaps paint is even peeling off and joining the oil to prevent the D600's dust-reduction system from removing the spots. Nikon has acknowledged the issue, but no fix is yet available. The problem seems to abate after a few thousand shutter actuations, so there's hope. The dust and oil we've seen is light and not particularly noticeable in most images. We had to enhance our images to show the spots, but results vary. It's quite likely most D600 owners will do well to learn how to clean their sensors.

On the video front, the Nikon D600 offers a lot more features than its predecessors, including Full HD, full manual exposure, manual audio level control, external mic jack, and a headphone jack for monitoring the audio, great news for videographers. We were a little disappointed with the moiré and aliasing artifacts thanks to a weak low-pass filtering algorithm in the video engine, but we're also seeing similar artifacts from other cameras. We liked having full control over exposure, as well as so many frame rate options. Even cooler was the ability to save single frames from video as a JPEG. See our video page for more on the D600's video capabilities.

Overall, though, our experience with the Nikon D600 was quite positive. It's an excellent digital SLR with plenty of years of Nikon engineering in its design, and it shows. We have no trouble recommending it highly, making it a Dave's Pick!

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