Nikon D600 Review

 
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Nikon D600 Video Recording

Nikon actually kicked off the whole HD video DSLR phenomenon in October of 2008, with their D90 model. While other manufacturers have since jumped into the game, Nikon has maintained a strong position, as evidenced by the Nikon D600, their most recent full-frame DSLR.

The D600's video extends the capabilities of many earlier models, offering advanced features like full manual exposure, manual audio level control with an external mic jack and an external headphone jack for audio monitoring, all at a new low price for a full-frame Nikon camera body. The Nikon D600's video capabilities are quite advanced, producing good-quality video, although with one significant flaw. Read on for all the details!

Nikon D600 Basic Video Specs

  • 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) Full HD recording at 30 / 25 / 24 fps
  • 720p (1,280 x 720) HD recording at 60 / 50 / 30 / 25 fps
  • MOV file format, with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC encoding
  • Choice of two compression levels; High or Normal quality
  • TTL (through the lens matrix metering using the main image sensor
  • Autofocus can be triggered during movie recording by half-pressing the shutter button, or continuous AF (AF-F mode) can be enabled
  • Manual focus also available in movie mode
  • Programmed-Auto, Aperture-Priority and manual exposure modes available
  • Aperture can be controlled in Aperture-Priority or Manual exposure modes, but only before recording begins
  • Shutter speed and ISO can be controlled in Manual exposure mode, are automatic otherwise
  • EV adjustment (exposure compensation) can be selected prior to or during recording
  • AE lock works in video mode
  • Built-in monaural or external stereo microphone, sensitivity adjustable
  • Optional audio level display on LCD display while recording
  • Audio monitoring via external headphone jack
  • Menu shortcuts available to change audio level and screen brightness directly from Live View mode
  • Still image can be captured while in video recording mode, but doing so stops the recording
  • Flicker-reduction mode for both 60Hz and 50Hz light sources
  • Movies can be "trimmed" in-camera, selecting just the portion you want and saving it as a new file, or overwriting the original
  • Single frames can be selected from movie files and saved as separate JPEG files
  • Can simultaneously display video feed on monitor, and output uncompressed video feed without any overlays via HDMI
  • Supports FX-format lenses, or DX-format lenses with a 1.5x crop factor
  • Time-lapse movie mode (without sound)
  • Index marking makes it quick to return to up to 20 key moments in a movie clip
  • Very low rolling shutter artifacts (see rolling shutter section at the end of this page for examples)
  • Picture controls work in movie mode
  • Recordings limited to 20 minutes at 24 Mbps, 29 minutes 59 seconds at lower bit rates (see table below for details)
  • File size restricted to 4 GB maximum
  • Movies can be recorded to either of the two card slots, chosen via the Movie Settings menu
  • Class 6 or faster cards recommended

Nikon D600 Video Speeds & Feeds: Image size, frame rate, and file format

The Nikon D600 offers two video resolutions, five frame rates, and two quality settings in combinations as shown below:

Nikon D600 Video Options
MOV files, H.264/MPEG-4 encoding
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Available Frame Rates
Average Bit Rate
Max. Duration

1,920 x 1,080

16:9

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
20 min.
12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec.

25 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
20 min.
12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

23.976 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
20 min.
12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

1,280 x 720

16:9

59.94 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
20 min.
12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

50 frames per second
(progressive)

24 Mbps
20 min.
12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

29.97 frames per second
(progressive)

12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec
8 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

25 frames per second
(progressive)

12 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec
8 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

All of the Nikon D600's video modes are progressive scan, meaning that every video line is scanned, one after the other, for every frame. Compared to interlaced scanning, progressive scan video is much better for viewing videos on a computer screen. (Interlaced works fine for HD TVs, but some computer video players that de-interlace poorly will produce bad tearing of moving objects.)

The broad range of frame rates will be welcome to video enthusiasts, with progressive recording at all frame rates the D600 supports. The 60 frames/second in 720p mode is particularly good for capturing smooth-looking motion, while the 24 fps option offers a more cinematic look that some people prefer. Unlike some cameras from Nikon and others, you don't have to switch between NTSC and PAL modes to choose the associated frame rates; there are no separate NTSC or PAL modes, and all resolutions and frame rates can be selected from the movie settings menu at any time.

The Nikon D600 saves its video files in the MOV format, using H.264/MPEG-4 encoding. Pretty much any computer or editing program made within the last 5 years should be able to play its files with little problem, although the full 1,920 x 1,080 resolution files may strain older systems.

Nikon D600 video quality

The Nikon D600 generally produces fairly good-quality video, with good detail, relatively few motion artifacts, and pleasing color. With its large sensor and corresponding large pixels, it does very well both in daylight and after dark, in typical city night scenes, residential interiors, and indoor performances. We like both the contrast and color in the Nikon D600's videos, finding them to have plenty of zip, without appearing too contrasty or with oversaturated color. The D600's videos look quite natural under a variety of lighting conditions.

Compression and motion artifacts are very well-controlled in the Nikon D600's video, even when the camera is panning or the subject is moving rapidly; while you lose detail from the inter-frame compression, the resulting video is still very smooth-looking, with no blocky artifacts.

Unfortunately, the Nikon D600 does have one major video bugaboo, namely moiré and aliasing artifacts. The low-pass filtering algorithm (see note at the end of this section) used during video recording is too weak, with the result that the camera is very prone to producing moiré patterns or other artifacts during video recording. We noticed this some in our night video shots. It isn't so evident when the camera is panning, because the motion blur tends to obscure it. At the very beginning of the clips, though, you can see some color artifacts in the little roof over the outdoor tables at the Inc. restaurant on the right side of the frame. When the pan comes to a halt, you can see some aliasing in the brick patterns, particularly along the more distinct line down the middle of the sidewalk.

To look at the moiré issue with a more controlled subject, I made a cross-hatch pattern of black lines on a white background, displayed it on a 1,920 x 1,080 computer monitor, and recorded it with the D600 at both 1080p and 720p settings. This is really an absolute worst-case subject, particular at 1080p, where the pixel pitch of the monitor almost exactly matches the pitch in the final images. (It's not a perfect match, because the framing was slightly loose, with the monitor's surface not quite filling the frame.)

This crop from a 1080p video shot with the Nikon D600 represents a pretty dramatic worst-case for aliasing; we shot a 1,920 x 1,080 computer monitor with a camera recording at 1,920 x 1,080 video resolution, and this crop shows the worst-looking moiré pattern and aliasing we found. Even though we presented it with a true worst-case target, the D600's firmware low-pass filter for video recording should have been able to do a better job than this.

 

Here's the same subject, this time shot at 720p resolution. The final pixels here are somewhat larger than those on the display, but the aliasing patterns are about as bad as above. (While the worst case conditions looked similar, the aliasing generally seemed slightly weaker overall at 720p.)

The crops above show the worst aliasing I found at both 1,080 and 720 vertical resolution. The strength and appearance of the patterns varied a great deal, depending on the angle of the camera relative to the display; that's why I rocked it slowly from side to side during the recording, to see what the range of variation was, and also why the test patterns in the crops above are crooked. These crops represent pretty much the worst effect I found in each case.

In our view, this is a pretty serious defect in the D600's video, as the color moiré can surface any time you happen to have a repeating pattern of the right frequency somewhere in your subject. The modulation of the line width in these shots and the jaggies we've seen in some others are perhaps an even worse problem, because they don't require having just the right frequency pattern, but will appear whenever you have a sharply defined line or edge at a slight angle to the horizontal axis of the frame.

We don't know whether this is something that can be fixed with a firmware update or not. The sub-sampling process required to turn 24 megapixel sensor images into ~2 megapixel video frames has a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time, as it has to keep up with the frame rate no matter what. Such algorithms are sometimes hardwired into the image processor, or in firmware at a level below that which can be reached by the firmware update process.

* A note about the low pass algorithm (as opposed to a physical low-pass filter) mentioned above: Because it handles still-image anti-aliasing, many people tend to assume that the camera's physical low-pass filter that sits immediately above the sensor array is what controls the trade-off between aliasing and good detail rendition for both videos and stills. In fact, the physical low-pass filter has much too high a cutoff frequency to do any good with the much lower-resolution video frames. Instead, a combination of sub-sampling at sensor readout and low-pass filtering of the resulting data is required to shape the frequency content of the video data stream. This is the real black magic of recording good video with DSLRs. As noted above, a tremendous amount of data-crunching has to happen for every video frame that flies by. It's easy to design good low-pass filters if you have a massive computer and/or low data rates to work with. Given the constraints of video timing, however, the sheer size of the original image data (24 megapixels), and the processing hardware available in-camera, make it a seriously challenging task.

Nikon D600 aliasing issue samples

The players below show the aliasing test videos just discussed:

Nikon D600: Aliasing Issues
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

Nikon D600 video focusing

  • Both single-shot or full-time servo AF (AF-F) are available for AF during video recording
  • Manual focus during recording is also supported
  • Focus motor noise is quite audible in the sound track in quiet surroundings, even with AF-S lenses; best to use an external mic if you're using live autofocus during recording
  • AF area mode options:
    • Face-priority AF
    • Wide-area AF
    • Normal-area AF
    • Subject-tracking AF (Half-press shutter button to AF before recording, then hit OK button with subject centered in little green square. Square will follow subject around the frame, maintaining focus on it. Square can be moved anywhere in the frame via the arrow controls, for initial subject acquisition.)
  • Manual focus is also available during movie recording, but you'll probably need an external monitor to be able to judge focus
  • Focus tracking is decent, but large, abrupt changes in subject distance can leave the camera off-focus until you manually half-press the shutter button

Nikon D600 video exposure control

  • Defaults to fully automatic exposure, but exposure compensation adjustment is available
  • Auto-ISO limit in still capture mode doesn't affect video recording; max auto ISO in video mode is always 6,400
  • ISO can only be manually set in Manual exposure mode, maximum is Hi-2.0 (25,600)
  • Aperture can be set in Aperture-priority or Manual exposure mode
    • Aperture setting is a little confusing; you have to exit live view mode entirely to set video recording aperture
  • Shutter priority exposure is not available in movie recording mode. The camera appears to use a low shutter speed based on frame rate (either 1/60 or 1/30), only increasing it when the light level is so high that it can't stop down sufficiently to expose properly. (Actually a handy setup, as shutter speeds matching the frame rate produce smoother-looking video than faster ones.)
  • Manual exposure mode allows adjustment of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO independently
    • In manual mode, shutter speed and ISO can be set in addition to aperture
    • Shutter speed and ISO can be changed either before or during recording, but changing either during recording will produce very loud clicks in the audio track as you rotate the control dial
    • Aperture can only be changed outside Live View, before recording begins
    • Available shutter speeds range from 1/4,000s down to 1/60s for 60p, and down to 1/30s for 30p and 24p
    • Sensitivity can be set from ISO 100 to 25,600
  • Full range of Picture Control settings apply to movie recording. (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape, and adjustments for contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue for each of the main settings)
  • AE (auto-exposure) lock is supported in video mode
  • Matrix metering is always used for video recording, regardless of metering mode selected

Nikon D600 audio recording

  • Internal monaural microphone
  • Defaults to automatic level control
  • Manual level control available via Movie Settings menu, with 20 levels available
  • VU (audio level) meter display also available via Movie Settings
  • External stereo mic input - use external mics for better sound quality, and to eliminate camera and lens noise (a very rare feature in entry-level SLRs)
  • External headphone jack for monitoring audio level and clarity while recording
  • Mic sensitivity and headphone volume cannot be adjusted while recording
  • Audio can be turned off entirely

Nikon D600 video samples

Here are some examples of video shot with the Nikon D600:

Nikon D600: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

Nikon D600 video rolling shutter artifacts ("Jello effect")

Pretty much every DSLR on the market distorts moving objects, or the entire scene, if the camera is being panned. The technical term for this is "rolling shutter artifacts," but many users simply call it the "Jello effect," because the image can jiggle and sway like Jello as the camera is moved. This occurs because the image is captured and read out line by line, so the bottom of a moving object may no longer be underneath the top of it by the time the camera gets around to capturing that part of the frame.

Rolling shutter artifacts can be very annoying if they're severe, but as noted, all digital SLRs show them to one extent or another. In the case of the Nikon D600, they're clearly present, but nowhere near as bad as we see with many cameras. If you just pan slowly while filming, you're not likely to notice them much at all.

Nikon D600: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

 

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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