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Nikon D600 Review

The D800's little brother is a perfect choice for photographers with full-frame aspirations.

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Introduction

Building off the surprise success of the popular D800, and recognizing the demand for a cheaper full frame camera, Nikon announced the D600 at this year's Photokina. The incredible 36-megapixel sensor found on the D800 does not return, instead we trade down to a still-impressive 24.3 megapixel CMOS. Other key features include a 39-point autofocus system, ISO sensitivity that maxes out at 25,600, continuous shooting at 5.5 frames per second, and 1080p HD video recording.

But let's be honest: The best feature is still that tiny price tag. The D600 retails for just $2,099, going head-to-head with the Canon 6D in the newly-formed "affordable" full-frame market.

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Design & Handing

The D600 is smaller and lighter than the D800, but handling could still be better.

The overall design of the D600 is quite similar to the D800, but smaller and lighter. The styling and control characteristics remain similar, and the most important hardware features have also, thankfully, been carried over. This means we're treated to an excellent optical viewfinder, tall pop-up flash arm, and robust buttons and dials throughout.

We're also excited about Nikon's new 24-85mm VR kit lens, which is debuting with the D600—it's a sturdy bit of optical engineering with a convenient focal range, and very good performance for its price tag. Although the D600 is supposed to be Nikon's first "entry level" full frame camera, its design is every bit as serious as the rest of the field, with little evidence of the artificially dumbed-down feature set that many might have feared.

Handling Photo 1
The D600 handles well, but our fingers could've used more room
The body does have excellent overall balance, and all the buttons and dials are positioned with attention to ergonomics. Tweet It

The D600's front grip is rubberized and textured, plus there's a deep lip underneath the trademark red accent, giving your middle finger plenty of extra leverage. The thumb rest on the rear panel is also thoroughly rubberized, and there's another tall lip protruding from the area beneath the rear dial, allowing the thumb to latch on. Even the left side of the front panel is rubberized, and you'll also find a third ergonomic lip in this area, should you decide to position some finger tips over there.

While the backside ergonomic features actually represent an improvement over the D800, we found the front grip a little too shallow. It doesn't protrude far enough from the rest of the body to give the full length of our fingertips a place to stay. Perhaps this is by design, considering the close proximity of two front panel shortcut buttons nearby. Either way, the body does have excellent overall balance, and all buttons and dials are positioned with attention to ergonomics, so we're awarding a strong score here.

Performance

It may not have all of the D800's pixels, but the D600 shares most of its sibling's other image quality characteristics.

When you consider that the D600 costs $1,000 less than the D800, its similar performance is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Tweet It

Aside from the obvious difference in pixel count, the D600 seems to offer few advantages or disadvantages over the D800 in terms of sheer image quality. But when you consider that it costs $1,000 less, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment. We were particularly impressed by the camera's color accuracy results, where it outdid the D800. Its noise reduction capabilities were similarly impressive, hanging in there with the very best cameras on the market today.

Dynamic range performance was very good—generally in the same ballpark as the Canon 6D, though with a more gradual falloff curve as sensitivity increases. This means that the D600 should make a great choice for landscape photographers, since it can capture a huge variance of brightness levels in a single image.

Sadly, some of the D800's problem areas have also been carried over. White balance—especially the automatic algorithm—struggles under all lighting conditions except natural sunlight. Still, image quality is fantastic overall and every obstacle present in our testing can be overcome with patience or preparation.

Like the 6D, the D600 maxes out at 1080/30p for video recording. Lots of consumer models are offering 1080/60p these days, so it's a little disappointing not to see the option here, particularly for those looking to shoot sports. The slower frame rate means footage isn't quite as smooth as what you can get from some competing devices (particularly Sony's NEX and SLT models), but otherwise the D600's video is free of notable issues. Video was plenty sharp in our studio tests.

Features

If you're going to copy a camera's feature suite, the D800 is an excellent choice..

The D600 matches the D800 almost feature for feature. Notably, video options and controls are exactly identical between the two, making this camera an outstanding platform for DSLR videography. Beyond that, the D600's improved continuous shooting speed of 5.5 fps is a key advantage. The D800 can only manage 4 fps without its add-on grip. while the 6D tops out at 4.5 fps. As usual, those already adapted to the Nikon way of doing things will also appreciate the traditional Nikon control scheme, which gives you a lot of direct access to key shooting settings (at the expense of more daunting menus).

Videos may be captured in a variety of frame rates and resolutions. Maximum resolution is 1920x1080, and these movies can be shot in 30p, 25p, and 24p. Your other option is to shoot in 1280x720, and although this footage will be slightly less detailed, a few additional frame rates are unlocked, including 60p and 50p, as well as 30p and 25p. We're not sure why videos cannot be captured in cinematic 24p while also using 1280x720 resolution. Beyond all this, video compression quality may be set to either High or Normal to save memory.

Conclusion

If you've got $2,000 and you want full-frame image quality, buy this camera.

Nikon's D800 turned out to be one of 2012's most surprising success stories. As attention shifted from the 5D Mark III's lukewarm debut and onto the D800's huge 36.3 megapixel sensor, it reignited the age-old megapixel war—a war we believed to be over. Now, Nikon has attempted to deliver a smaller, cheaper, yet still compelling alternative to one of the year's best cameras. After putting it through a slew of in-depth lab tests, we believe they've succeeded.

Of all the cameras we've tested, this is the best entry point for photographers with full-frame aspirations. If you can afford one, go for it. Tweet It

Many of the D800's best features are mirrored, or even improved on, by the D600. Color accuracy, for example, is slightly more accurate, and the D600's noise reduction scores are every bit as impressive as what we've seen from more expensive models. We also really like Nikon's new 24-85mm kit lens. It's very sharp and, more importantly, maintains a fairly constant level of sharpness regardless of focal length and aperture (up to the diffraction limit, anyway). It's an extremely versatile first lens for the camera's target audience: enthusiasts finally making the leap to full frame.

This is also not some cut-rate, ersatz D800, either; the same care has gone into crafting the D600 as the rest of Nikon's full-frame lineup. It's hefty and well-built, with a robust control scheme. Though the chassis seems otherwise rock-solid, we can confirm the rumors of this camera's dust issues. After just a short time with the camera, never removing the lens, we detected some on both our sensor and our viewfinder.

Video shooting is an area of strength for the D600, with excellent sharpness and generally smooth motion despite its maximum framerate of 30 fps. White balance is probably the camera's weakest point, especially when using the automatic setting under artificial lighting. Of course there are plenty of ways around this issue; setting a custom white balance is best, but shooting RAW will give you a good chance to correct the issue, too.

Ultimately, what you should take away from this review is that very few features or performance metrics separate the D600 from the D800 other than the D800's extraordinary pixel count. To purchase a D800 over a D600 is to spend an extra $1,000 on—almost exclusively—extra resolution. Sure, there are other advantages like body design and number of autofocus points, but if you don't need them, the D600 is a heck of a bargain buy. Of all the cameras we've tested, this is the best entry point for photographers with full-frame aspirations. If you can afford one, go for it.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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