Nikon D600 Review: Images This Spectacular Have Never Been So Cheap

Earlier this year, we fell in love with the Nikon D800. How could you not? It's a 36.6-megapixel hulk of a professional camera. But not everyone has $3500 to spend on a camera. The Nikon D600 sounds like an ideal compromise: the camera you can still afford with many of the professional specs you want.

Why It Matters

The Nikon D600 has a 24.3MP, full-frame sensor and costs only $2500 for the body alone. Let's just come out and say it: That "only" is relative. This is a camera for people who are willing to shell out some dollar for photography. Still, this is the cheapest full-frame sensor camera Nikon has ever made, and amongst the cheapest you can buy in this class, period.

Until now, there has been a huge price gap between full-frame sensor professional cameras (like the $3500 D800) and the alternatives (like the $1500 D7000). At $2500 for the body alone, the D600 (along with the forthcoming Canon 6D) splits the difference.

Full-frame sensors are the professional standard: Compared to the APS-C sensors found in most inexpensive DSLRs, a full frame sensor is 2.3 times larger. Spreading the camera's roughly 24 million pixels over a larger area means larger photodiodes, which in turn do a better job capturing light — less distortion and better performance in the dark. Suddenly, there's a middle ground for serious photographers whose budgets can't stretch all the way into pro prices.

Using It

Hardware

As a rule, pro cameras look the part: they're big, heavy and covered in customisable buttons. The D600, as you might expect, is smaller and lighter than the D800. It's shocking the difference 140g can make when you're carrying the camera for hours.

The drawback of course is that you lose the D800's unparalleled operability. The D600's streamlined design has fewer buttons, and although you can customise everything, it's just not the same. You also lose the D800's big, incredible viewfinder.

Image Quality

Simply put, the D600 takes some of the highest-quality photos we've ever seen — better in some cases than much more expensive cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The cameras have nearly identical resolution, and you can see what we're talking about in this quick comparison. Here are two full-resolution crops from both cameras, taken in broad daylight. The D600 is clearly sharper.

As for ISO performance, here's a side-by-side of the D600 and the EOS 5D Mark III at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. This is the highest light sensitivity you generally want to use, and at this setting, the D600 images have less noise. (Download the image or view it on its own in your browser to see full size.)

Performance

Now, of course, these benchmarks don't really mean anything if they're not backed up with performance. From the start, the D600's 39-point autofocus system is no match for the super-customisable new 61-point system in the 5D. That said, the D600's system is adequate in most conditions. It fell short, especially in darker or low-contrast settings, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

The camera's overall performance, though, is quite fast. The shutter fires instantly when you press the release. The D600's 5.5fps continuous shooting speed is comparable to much more expensive full-frame sensor cameras. Still, photographers who like to shoot action might be disappointed that it's not faster.

Video

Nikon has been a step behind Canon on video for ages, and although it's made some strides recently, the D600 suffers from many of the same drawbacks as the D800. The video quality is sharp in broad daylight, but the quality falls apart in low light. Moire and rolling shutter distortions are evident. Inexplicably, you can't change the aperture of the lens in Live View mode.

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Excellent image quality in a lightweight low-priced package with all the essentials.

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If anything, we're just sad the D600 can't be a D800. We'd love more hardware buttons, a bigger viewfinder, and more powerful autofocus, sure. It would be nice to have the video quality on par with what Canon offers these days. But considering the price, these drawbacks aren't the end of the world.

Should I Buy This?

This camera' is so good, we'd even say that a lot of people who would otherwise shell out for the D800 or EOS 5D Mark III could consider the D600 instead. It's really more than just a scaled-down professional camera for amateurs. This is a different tool altogether. It's a leaner, more efficient DSLR. And that's exactly what most people need.

Until now, the crazy DSLRs that war and wedding photographers have dragged into their respective fields of battle have been both a physical and financial encumbrance. Take, for example, the D800. Yes, its sensor has unbelievable resolution, but it comes with two problems. First, processing files that large is very time-consuming — we know many D800 shooters who end up dialling down their sharpness to make life easier. Second, really truly taking advantage of that kind of resolution requires an arsenal of extremely high quality lenses.

In a lot of ways, the D600 gives you the power basically everyone wants, but without going overboard. If you're a serious photographer considering it because the price sounds right, it's almost definitely the one you should buy. If you're interested in shooting video, hold off until December, when we'll have a chance to review the new, comparably priced, Canon 6D.

Nikon D600

• Price (Australian retail): $2500 (body only) / $3200 w/ 28-85mm f/3.5 lens • Sensor: 24.3MP full-frame (35.9mm x 24mm) • Max ISO: 6400 (standard)/ 25,600 (expanded) • Max Image Size: 6016 × 4016 pixels • Video: 1920 x 1080 30/25/24 and 1280 x 720 60/50/30/25 • Max Drive: 5.5fps at full resolution • Screen: 921,000-dot dot, 3.2-inch LCD • Storage: dual SD card slots • Weight: 760g


Comments

    " we know many D800 shooters who end up dialling down their sharpness to make life easier." can I get a bit more on this ? why would any one in their clear mind do this ?

      I haven't done it but shot 60gb of images at a wedding on the weekend definitely a card destroyer

    You can get the body only for $2099 already!

    I've been shooting with the D5000 for a few years now and have been saying to myself that I won't upgrade my camera unless they bring out a cheaper/entry level full frame SLR. I will most definitely be buying this

    "But not everyone has $3500 to spend on a camera"
    "Price : $2500 (body only) / $3200 w/ 28-85mm f/3.5 lens"

    Hmm... Both math and Logic are taking a serious hit today...

    You do know the viewfinders of the D600 and D800 are exactly the same size? Check the spec sheets...

    Its disappointing that Nikon Charge $400 more then the asking price in the US for no reason, I'll get this camera but it wont be from Australian Stock! An import from Asia for $2050 with an 18month warranty will do me. Nikon are doing a disservice to Australian retailers setting the local price so high especially when the AUS dollar is above parity with the US....

      Daniel ,have you factored in GST for anything over $1,000, postage back to wherever you bought the camera, if repairs are required, your camera would be known as a grey import. These are not covered by Nikon Warranty in Oz.I have checked it all out ,and I suggest you do more of the same. do your sums my friend, you will find it lot less of a hassle.

    "Here are two full-resolution crops from both cameras, taken in broad daylight. The D600 is clearly sharper"
    - only if you were using the same lens for both shots....

      Good point, I wonder what the 5DIII was attached to.

    I desperatly want to get into doing time lapses, but it seems I have to buy a top of the line model to avoid having to buy an external trigger. Does anyone know of any "lower end" cameras with a built in timer?

      From what I know, from the Nikon D5100 onwards you have a customisable built in timer on almost Nikon DSLR. The one on my D300s is a very handy tool.

    You could drive a truck through the holes in these tests. Leave the camera reviews to dpreview and the likes please.

    @harri. You could buy the $2500 d600 or the $40 remote trigger (or any APsC canon camera and install magic lantern). Don't be scared of remote trigger they work just fine

    So can we get clarification on what lenses were used for the testing for both cameras? Sharper images are depends on the lens LOL using $200 lens on 5D3 and using $2000 lens on D600 will make D600 sharper.

    The test for the body is for the low light performance not the sharpness. O.o I really laugh at this review. you are testing the body not lens.

      "This is the highest light sensitivity you generally want to use" lol, I bet you didn't get that opinion from shooting with a 5DIII. I'm surprised the title isn't more like "D600 destroys, annihilates, pile-drives and buries the 5DMKIII image IQ into submission!"

      I agree with Steven. To bring sharpness into the equation without mentioning the lenses used looks pretty stupid.

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