Design & Usability
The body of the Nikon D600 looks very much like the Nikon D7000, with some minor updates to bring it in line with contemporary Nikon cameras. It has the D7000's combination of a shooting/drive mode dial on the top plate, with a locking mechanism to prevent accidental changes. It has a back face that is almost identical to the D800, save for the missing metering mode switch, and a slightly reorganized collection of buttons on the left side of the rear LCD.
The body design sits comfortably between the professional-level control of a Nikon D800 and the consumer-oriented usability of a Nikon D7000. The shooting mode dial includes custom settings and a full suite of PASM priority modes, but it also includes scene modes and automatic settings—something you definitely wouldn't see on a D700 or D800. The rear control panel features the upgraded live view/video switch from the D800, as well as a dedicated creative mode button that brings you right to the Nikon's picture control settings.
Everything on the D600 is designed to aid a professional or enthusiast photographer, while not putting the camera beyond the capabilities of most novices. If you've shot with a camera like the D7000 or D5100, the Nikon D600 isn't going to intimidate. The design is right in line with what we've seen with Nikons in the last few years: front and rear control dials, a four-way directional pad for menu navigation, and menus with long lists of options rather than organized tabs.
The Nikon D600's 24.3-megapixel full-frame image sensor bears a striking resemblance to the 24.3-megapixel full-frame image sensors found in Sony's recently announced cameras. Nikon has likely made some modifications, pairing the sensor with a 39-point autofocus system that we found responsive and accurate. It's a different AF module than the 51-point AF system on the D800, and we felt it was noticeably quicker with the D600's 24-85mm VR kit lens.
The D600's viewfinder offers 100% coverage and a magnification of approximately 0.7x, though it wasn't quite as bright and clear as the D800's. The D600 is quite fast, however, with shot-to-shot speeds ranging all the way up to 5.5 frames per second, compared to just 4FPS on the D800. That's down a bit from the 6FPS we saw on the D7000, but the increases in resolution and sensor size make it worthwhile. The D600 even retains the headphone and mic ports from the D800, while the Canon EOS 6D only has a microphone jack.
In general the D600's features compare favorably to the D800, with Nikon culling only in a few minor places. The D600 has the advantage of being smaller, lighter, and faster, lacking only the D800's expansive 36.3-megapixel resolution, SuperSpeed USB port, Compact Flash slot, and advanced bracketing features. For a professional those may matter, but for most shooters the losses are quite minimal.
The Nikon D600 was one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry this year, and the enthusiast and prosumer crowd has been foaming at the mouth to see what an affordable full-frame camera from Nikon would look like. The Nikon D600 does not disappoint, offering nearly every bit of control that the impressive D800 offers, with comparable features.
The D600 is an odd camera to write first impressions about, because it's clearly ready for public consumption, having already hit the labs of the folks at DXOMark. The high marks the camera earned there show that clearly Nikon isn't compromising on image quality to get the price down. With a level of control that can nearly match the D800, Nikon has put together a fine camera for a reasonable price—a price that only Canon's current low-end full-frame offering can match.
We'll have to get both the Canon 6D and the D600 into our labs for full performance breakdowns before we'd hazard a true comparison, but these are exciting times for Canon and Nikon supporters. Having shot with both cameras, we're honestly on the fence about which is better.
The Nikon D600's body doesn't feel quite as cheap as the EOS 6D, but the Canon 6D's ergonomics and menu design are still worlds better for those stepping up from simpler cameras. If you already own a DSLR and are ready to make the jump up, it's also worth noting that the D600 is fully compatible with all of Nikon's F-mount lenses—stretching back to 1977 and including manual focus and APS-C glass—while the 6D only works with Canon's EF lenses and not their cheaper, more compact EF-S line.
While the (largely forgotten) Sony A850 may have been the first digital full-frame body to break the $2000 price barrier, the arrival of Canon and Nikon to this part of the market is arguably the biggest development at Photokina 2012.
Heading into Photokina 2012, it was pretty obvious what the main talking point was going to be for most of the major manufacturers: full-frame image sensors in relatively compact bodies.
For Sony, it was the new pro-level A99, designed to lure DSLR video shooters spurned by Canon's lukewarm Canon 5D Mark III. Sony also had another ace up its sleeve: the fixed-lens Cyber-shot RX1, a sort of A99-in-miniature. For Canon, it was the EOS 6D, which came in at a tantalizing $2100 body-only price—$700 cheaper than either of Sony's full-frame cameras.
As impressive as we found the Canon 6D in our short time with it, Nikon has their own affordable full-frame camera ready to capture the hearts and minds of budget-conscious pixel-peepers everywhere: the lightweight, $2100 Nikon D600.