Nikon D600 £1955.99

27th Sep 2012 | 14:10

Nikon D600

We check-out Nikon's latest full-frame SLR

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Compact and light; Outstanding sensor performance; User-friendly;

Dislike:

Autofocus sensor positioning; No aperture adjustment in video mode; Pricey; Fixed LCD screen

Introduction

Nikon has been rather busy over the past year, having already released the D4 and D800 in quick succession. But the company isn't taking a break just yet. The Nikon D600 aims to fill the gap between the hugely capable and professional Nikon D800 and the enthusiast-level Nikon D7000.

The D600 is Nikon's first 'accessible' full-frame DSLR. Its £1,955.99/$2,099.95 price tag comfortably undercuts the full price of the Nikon D800 or Canon EOS 5D Mark III, while the size and weight of the Nikon D600 are only a marginal increase over the cropped-sensor Nikon D7000.

But has Nikon cut any corners to produce its smallest and least expensive full-frame offering?

Nikon D600 review

At the heart of the Nikon D600 is a new 24.3 million pixel, FX format CMOS sensor. It may seem quite a reduction from the 36.3MP chip in the Nikon D800, but it's still enough to outdo a Nikon D4 or Canon EOS 5D Mark III in terms of outright resolution.

Of course a good sensor needs to be backed up by a fast processor, and fortunately the Nikon D600 shares the same Expeed 3 engine as the Nikon D4 and Nikon D800.

In the Nikon D600 it's capable of a 5.5fps continuous shooting rate, making it slightly faster than the Nikon D800's 4fps (thanks mostly to the Nikon D600 needing to shift fewer pixels).

Nikon D600 review

Sensitivity settings range from standard settings of 100-6400, but can be extended down to ISO 50 or as high as ISO 25,600 for shooting in minimal light, albeit with a hefty increase in image noise.

Autofocus is taken care of by a slightly revamped version of the Multi-CAM 4800 system in the Nikon D7000. As before, this has 39 AF points, of which nine are the more accurate cross-type. What's more, the central seven focus points will function at apertures as small as f/8, meaning users of teleconverters can still retain autofocus capability.

The Nikon D600 also makes use of the Nikon D7000's 2,016-pixel RGB TTL exposure metering sensor, rather than the Nikon D800's superior 91,000-pixel meter.

Nikon D600 review

Time-lapse shooting mode is another feature that appears from the Nikon D800. Its basic functionality is similar to more common built-in intervalometers, but Nikon has taken things a stage further by saving recorded image sequences straight into a Full HD video file.

With this function demanding many shutter actuations, it's good to see the shutter in the Nikon D600 is rated for 150,000 cycles.

These days a good DSLR must also have decent video capture capabilities. The Nikon D600 is similarly specified to the Nikon D800 in this department, with uncompressed recording available when tethered via HDMI, as well as headphone and external microphone sockets for audio. The only major omission of the Nikon D600 compared to the Nikon D800 is its inability to control lens aperture during recording.

Nikon D600 review

Data storage is left to dual SD card slots, so there's no need to carry multiple card formats. Although the Nikon D4's compatibility with the XQD card design improves recording speed, the rarity and extra cost of the new format compared to SD would have made it less appealing to the Nikon D600's target market.

Common to the Nikon D600 and its direct siblings is Nikon's EN-EL15 1900mAh Li-ion battery, which in the Nikon D600 has a rated CIPA-standard life of 900 shots per charge.

That's comfortably enough charge for a day's hard shooting, especially if you avoid using the built-in flash.

Build quality and handling

Anyone who's handled a Nikon D7000 will feel at home picking up Nikon's latest full-frame camera. The Nikon D600 is deliberately designed to be as user-friendly as the Nikon D7000, and shares an almost identical interface.

In the hand, there's little to separate the two cameras, with the Nikon D600 being just 9mm wider, 8mm taller and 5mm deeper. The extra 10 per cent weight difference is barely noticeable, making the Nikon D600 a very comfortable DSLR to carry.

Nikon D600 review

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Thankfully this light weight doesn't come at the expense of reduced build quality. The camera feels as rugged as the Nikon D800 with its part-magnesium construction, and is weather sealed to the same degree against moisture and dust. Casing materials are up to Nikon's usual high standard, with tactile rubberised inserts aiding grip levels.

Shrinking a full-frame body to this extent while cramming in so many controls can have a knock-on effect on ergonomics, but the Nikon D600 remains a comfortable camera to shoot with. Both front and thumb grips are large enough for those with bigger hands, and all major buttons fall within easy reach.

Nikon D600 review

Dominating the Nikon D600's rear panel is the same 3.2-inch, 921,000-dot LCD screen that appeared in the Nikon D800. It features the same automatic brightness adjustment and excellent viewing angles, making for a reliably accurate monitor when reviewing in the field.

Left of the LCD screen is the main menu button and controls for adjusting white balance, image quality and sensitivity (ISO), with each button having an alternate function when reviewing images.

Nikon D600 review

The Nikon D600 also contains a fifth button in this area for quick switching between Picture Control colour saturation presets.

To the right of the LCD screen sits a standard four-way control pad for navigating the menu system. It's easy enough to use, but is slightly on the small side, and Canon users may miss the fluidity of a rear control dial.

Nikon D600 review

Below the navigation pad is a switch for choosing between still or video capture, which surrounds the Live View selector button.

Atop the Nikon D600's body is a mode dial layout straight from the Nikon D7000, though now with a central locking button.

Nikon D600 review

This means you get two customisable shooting preset modes to rival Canon's custom settings on the EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark III. Beneath the main mode dial is a secondary ring for selecting shutter release options such as single, continuous or remote shooting.

The Nikon D600 is equipped with a good array of output sockets, including headphone and external microphone ports, plus the usual USB and HDMI connectors. There's also a dedicated accessory socket for connecting a wireless adaptor, remote shutter release or GPS module.

Nikon D600 review

Performance

Recent Nikon DSLRs have been outstanding performers, and the Nikon D600 is no exception. The new 24.3MP sensor is a very close match for the Nikon D800, Nikon D4 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III in the key areas of dynamic range, colour depth and noise suppression.

Images shot up to ISO 1600 are largely noise-free, with even ISO 3200 producing minimal artefacts. Only at ISO 6400 and above does image quality deteriorate noticeably, but the Nikon D600 is still capable of producing usable images at these settings, providing you don't pixel-peep too much.

Nikon D600 review

Keep the sensitivity below ISO 3200 and images stand up to the closest scrutiny. On paper the Nikon D600's 24.3MP resolution can't match the 30 per cent higher pixel count of the Nikon D800 for detail, but in the real world 24.3MP is easily enough for any scenario, and images have masses of detail. Factor in the higher continuous shooting rate and more manageable file sizes of the Nikon D600, and it shapes up well against the Nikon D800.

Nikon D600 review

The performance of the Nikon D600's autofocus system doesn't disappoint, either. We tested it in a variety of conditions and were impressed by its speed and accuracy. Only shooting fast dancing in a dark, harshly lit party setting provoked any obvious focus hunting, though the final images are still correctly focused.

Nikon D600 review

These results aren't that surprising, given that the Nikon D600 shares the same autofocus system as the Nikon D7000, and we had few issues with that camera.

Nikon D600 review

However, the downside of the transplant into the Nikon D600 is that the 39 autofocus points still occupy the same overall space, meaning that on the Nikon D600's full-frame sensor there's a much larger peripheral area not covered by any autofocus points. It's rarely a problem, but can make shooting subjects that are considerably off-centre trickier than necessary.

Nikon D600 review

Another common element between the Nikon D600 and the more modest Nikon D7000 is the 2016 pixel exposure metering sensor, though fortunately there's no problems to report here. Any early issues with the Nikon D7000 having a tendency to slightly overexpose seem to have now been ironed out, and in the Nikon D600 metering is reliably accurate.

Nikon D600 review

Naturally the default matrix metering can be fooled in certain situations, but switching to spot metering or dialling in some exposure compensation easily fixes this.

Nikon D600 review

Combine the accurate metering with the excellent dynamic range of the Nikon D600's sensor and resulting images display plenty of shadow and highlight detail with seamless tonal graduations. Nikon does include an HDR function on the D600 to further boost dynamic range, though like the Nikon D800 it's only available in JPEG mode.

Nikon D600 review

Nikon's Active D-Lighting does a great job of retaining highlights while lifting shadows, and often avoids the need to capture multiple exposures.

Nikon D600 review

Lab testing the Nikon D600 reveals its new 24.3MP sensor to be a real gem. Raw images (after conversion to TIFF) have a better signal-to-noise ratio than even the Nikon D800, and almost match the Nikon D4 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Nikon D600 review

The dynamic range graph shows a similar story, but here the Nikon D600 actually leads the pack at lower ISO settings. Above ISO 800 sees the Nikon D4 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III perform slightly better, but the Nikon D600 still outshines the more expensive Nikon D800.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon D600, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon D600 is capable of resolving up to around 28 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG files

Nikon D600 review: resolution ISO 100

The full ISO 100 resolution chart image.

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 50

ISO 50, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 28 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 320, score: 268 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 26 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 24 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 20 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw files

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 50

ISO 50, score: 32 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 100

ISO 100, score: 30 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 200

ISO 200, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 400

ISO 400, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 800

ISO 800, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 1600

ISO 1600, score: 28 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 3200

ISO 3200, score: 26 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 6400

ISO 6400, score: 26 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 12800

ISO 12800, score: 24 (click here to see full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Resolution ISO 25600

ISO 25600, score: 22 (click here to see full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Nikon D600 review: Signal to noise ratio

JPEG images from the Nikon D600 relate closely to those from the Nikon D800, Nikon D4, Nikon D7000and Canon EOS 5D Mark III for signal to noise ratio, with all cameras producing very similar results. The D600 shows a marked improvement on the D700 at the higher sensitivity settings.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Nikon D600 review: TIFF signal to noise ratio

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon D600 andNikon D7000 are very similar across the sensitivity range. The professional level Nikon D4 only just taking the lead at higher sensitivities.

The impact of the Nikon D800's higher pixel count makes itself clear with the lower signal to noise ratios across the sensitivity range.

JPEG dynamic range

Nikon D600 review: Dynamic Range

Our dynamic range results show that the D600 makes a huge leap in performance when compared with the D700, with results almost mirroring those of the Nikon D800.

Raw dynamic range

Nikon D600 review: TIFF dynamic range

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon D600 have a greater dynamic range than those from the Nikon D700 and Nikon D7000 and show results that are close to theNikon D800 and D4 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Sample images

Nikon D600 review

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There's plenty of shadow detail here without overexposing highlights

Nikon D600 review

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Rich colours can be captured in default settings

Nikon D600 review

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The Nikon D600's exposure metering hasn't blown out any highlights in the bride's dress

Nikon D600 review

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Although the subjects are in shade, the background isn't distractingly over-exposed

Nikon D600 review

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Despite the full-frame sensor, narrower apertures can still give considerable depth-of-field

Nikon D600 review

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Focusing on subjects like this can be tricky, since it falls just outside the D600's autofocus sensor zone

Nikon D600 review

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Colours are vibrant without being over-saturated

Nikon D600 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Shot on a 55-200mm DX format lens, the Nikon D600's image has been cropped to 10.3MP

Nikon D600 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Single-point autofocus and patience get results like this

Nikon D600 review

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Note the correctly exposed white stripes and good background shadow detail

Nikon D600 review

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Even in nasty disco lighting like this, the Nikon D600's autofocus couldn't be fooled

Nikon D600 review

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The 24-85mm kit lens can still get close to subjects

Nikon D600 review

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Single-point autofocus selects the right focal point

Nikon D600 review

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This shot required -1EV exposure compensation to subdue the bright backlighting

Nikon D600 review

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Harsh afternoon sunlight couldn't overcome the D600's dynamic range abilities

Nikon D600 review

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Creamy background bokeh blur from the new Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G lens

Nikon D600 review

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Detail is pin-sharp even at the default sharpening setting

Nikon D600 review

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The (late) summer bird

Nikon D600 review

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All the highlight detail here has been retained

Nikon D600 review

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Golden leaves in the golden hour

Nikon D600 review

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Shot into the light, matrix-metering has got the exposure bang-on

Nikon D600 review

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The dim lighting in this venue required f/1.8 at ISO 6400 for a still shot. Image noise is still impressively well controlled.

Nikon D600 review

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Shot in shade, the bright highlight reflections are well maintained

Nikon D600 review

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Great balance of shadow and highlight detail

Nikon D600 review

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Good tonal range and detail

Nikon D600 review

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Here, f/9 aperture was still wide enough to give a shallow depth-of-field

Nikon D600 review

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Superb clarity from the 24.3 sensor and vibrant colour rendition

Nikon D600 review

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Stop down to f/22 and expand the ISO to 50 and you can get smoothed water without an ND filter

Nikon D600 review

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The Auto HDR function really boosts shadow detail at its maximum +/- 3EV setting

Nikon D600 review

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We used +1EV exposure compensation to lift shadow detail at the expense of the brightest highlights

Nikon D600 review

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The latest fashion

Nikon D600 review

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The D600 just avoids over-exposing the suspension coil in this harsh sunlight

Nikon D600 review

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Check out the detail on that tyre

Noise and sensitivity

Nikon D600

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions taken from the dark side of the image below.

JPEG files

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table

ISO 50, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 100

ISO 100, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 200

ISO 200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 400

ISO 400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 800

ISO 800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 1600

ISO 1600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 3200

ISO 3200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 6400

ISO 6400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 12800

ISO 12800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 25600

ISO 25600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw files

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 50

ISO 50, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 100

ISO 100, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 200

ISO 200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 400

ISO 400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 800

ISO 800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 1600

ISO 1600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 3200

ISO 3200, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 6400

ISO 6400, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 12800

ISO 12800, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Nikon D600 review: Sensitivity table ISO 25600

ISO 25600, (click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

The Nikon D600 is a terrific camera. To produce a full-frame sensor with comparable image quality to the likes of the Nikon D4, Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III is no mean feat in itself; but to house it in a body that's almost as small and light as a cropped-sensor DSLR is barely believable.

It certainly fulfils its brief of being an easy to use full-frame DSLR, with a control layout and menu design based on consumer rather than professional cameras. As such it makes for a compelling upgrade for those seeking the benefits of full-frame photography without the complexity or physical bulk usually associated with such cameras.

We liked

It's compactness and light weight make the Nikon D600 a tempting proposition for those wanting a full-frame upgrade, or for professionals downsizing from larger bodies, especially since the Nikon D600's sensor is one of the best currently available and is backed up by excellent autofocus and exposure metering.

We disliked

While it won't hurt your neck, the Nikon D600's £1955.99/$2,099.95 full price is still quite a strain on the pocket. When compared to the current full-frame options it is good value, but remember that the Nikon D7000 now retails for well under half the price and, sensor aside, is a very similar camera.

Its autofocus coverage area is better suited to the cropped-sensor camera from which it's taken than to this full-frame sensor, which is the only real frustration when shooting with the Nikon D600.

Final verdict

The superb sensor, extensive yet accessible features and compactness make the Nikon D600 an exceptionally user-friendly full-frame.

It's a pity the Nikon D600's larger sensor commands such a price premium over the Nikon D7000, but assuming it sees the kind of price reductions that the D800 has undergone, we're in for a treat.

But Nikon won't have this sector to itself for long. Canon's new full-frame EOS 6D will undercut the Nikon D600 on size, weight and price. Let battle commence...

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