Nikon D600 Review

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I’ve tried every professional camera that came out in 2012, and I’ve never had people clamor for my review as much as with the Nikon D600. It’s clear that the attractive price point, including staggering holiday sales with lens bundles, are attracting people to move up to a full-frame sensor while it becomes more affordable than ever. Great! In late September I got one of the first models, I tested it out, found some things I loved, some things that I didn’t, and I was ready to go! I used it on an engagement shoot, used it at a wedding, and was ready to really put it through the paces in my extremely busy fall schedule.

892427And then … it broke. I’d started my second engagement shoot with it, and almost immediately it just stopped autofocusing. Not good. It turns out that my model had been damaged in transit. This means a couple things for this review:

  1. The reason you are reading this in late December instead of early October is that I had to sit and wait to see if this was a persistent problem with the model. I suspected this was a one-time case of bad luck, but if I’d started reading reports that D600 autofocus was failing left and right, then this would be a very different review.
  2. I have not been able to test it nearly as thoroughly as I like to for a dSLR review, especially as it was just a backup camera at the wedding I shot. I would have skipped the review altogether if people didn’t beg me for it every single day. That said, I have some insights on it as a working camera that I believe are valuable.

I have not seen anything about this being a persistent problem with the model, so I wouldn’t take this as a point against it in the review. A single data point is not in any way valid for determining whether the camera is particularly fragile.

OK, let’s get to it:

What is this camera all about?

This, not the D800, is Nikon’s real successor for the D700 … which shows how confusing the model naming system is. The D700 was all about fitting a full-frame sensor in as compact and broadly usable a camera as possible for a more affordable price. The D600 has the same mission, and uses a few design choices and technological progress to make the camera even more compact and affordable, weighing 22 percent less than the D700. The D800’s mission is totally different — from extremely high resolution to crazy dynamic range, Nikon set out to make the best ISO 100 DSLR around, and they did so. But the trade-offs are giant files and a sluggish, un-Nikonlike response speed. (see full review here)

So one of the central questions people have is this: Is it a worthy upgrade? Absolutely. In almost every way, the D600 is a superior camera to the D700, so pay no attention to that model number. It’s been four-and-a-half years since the D700 was released, and that’s a lifetime in sensor development. Even though the D600 has twice as many megapixels, you will absolutely get better prints at the highest ISOs from it, especially in regards to color fidelity. The D700’s sensor is virtually identical to the 2007-designed Nikon D3, and the color and overall tone gets muddy at the highest ISOs. Five years ago, no one cared that a photo was a bit muddy at ISO 6400 — we were too busy saying “I can take a usable photo at ISO 6400? What strange sorcery is this?”

120922 200040 85mm f1 6
The Nikon D600 at ISO 5000, good color and all

The only major potential drawback in the comparison was that the D700 used the best autofocus design available at the time, the same as the much more expensive Nikon D3, while the D600 uses a modified version designed for the “semi-professional” Nikon D7000. I expected this to have more of an effect on me, but I used it all day next to the D3s and in practice I didn’t notice any real difference in focus acquisition. Any effects were minimal compared to other factors like which lens you were using.

The diamond design of the focus points plus the large frame make the AF points feel a bit more clustered than others, especially if you’re shooting in the corners. But pretty much all full-frame cameras are pretty bad on this front, so I’ve learned to adjust for it a long time ago. Get as close as you can, then focus and recompose — it’s the full-frame way. (Live View actually lets you put the AF point wherever you want, but it’s much slower). Someone coming from, a pro DX camera like a D300s might be shocked at the difference though.

So what’s it like to use?

The sensor:

Even though its resolution pales next to the D800’s 36 megapixels, the 24 MP of the D600 is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s take a look at a picture of the New York skyline next to a 100 percent crop of the same picture, that lets us look at all of the best footholds for King Kong on the Empire State building:

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Now, I know what some of you might say. “Noise on a low ISO image?!? Get the pitchforks!” But this image was taken underexposed to keep the data in the highlights, and then sharpened so that it would look good in a smaller print. Luckily I’ve uploaded a RAW version for the techies to play with, because I care.

Nikon seems to be maximizing the resources of its sensors, whether they’ve designed them or they’re tweaking Sony’s designs, because all of their full frame cameras from the D3s on have the same general high ISO output of “very, very good.” They all look different at the 1:1 range, but if you were making an 8×12 print from each camera at high ISO, they would all fall pretty close to each other. I haven’t tested the D3x, but according to DXOMark, the D600 wins the battle of 24MP on all fronts at dramatically lower cost.

On Color: Another reason this review took a long time coming is that 3rd party software took forever to properly support this camera, and it is still very hard for me to get the results I want out of Lightroom with D600 files, particularly in skin tones. This is likely just a continuation of my frustrations with Lightroom, but I’ve got it pretty well figured out for the D3s, and it certainly treats D600 files differently. Capture One does a better job for me, and I suspect that Capture NX2 does it perfectly … but I can’t test that because I lost my serial number long ago after I realized that processing a wedding in Capture NX2 is like crawling across a field of broken glass in the hot sun, except without the sense of adventure.

120921 181214 85mm f1 4
Started the processing in View NX for better color

The body:

This is not a manly camera, and that’s the best thing about it for me. It’s as small and light as Nikon has ever had a full-frame digital sensor in, and is a fantastically compact package when paired with great lenses like the 28mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G. Like most cameras without a vertical grip, I find it poorly balanced with heavy-but-not-gigantic lenses like the 24-70mm f/2.8G, since too much weight gets put onto one wrist (luckily there’s an optional vertical grip).

But there’s something even better than weight — it’s quiet, really the only full-frame Nikon DSLR that I would give that designation to. Particularly in silent mode, the shutter barely disturbs your subjects. Now, I love the giant shotgun miror-slap of a 6×7 camera and the sharp clack of my D3s, but I shoot weddings and photojournalism for a living, and I count every shutter click as an “annoyance unit.” Stand in front of someone and fire off your camera, and eventually they will think about you instead of what they’re doing, and soon thereafter be annoyed by you. The quieter the moment and the louder the camera, the quicker the annoyance. With my D3s I never press the shutter multiple times in a church ceremony, because the sound carries everywhere. But with the D600 I felt more free to capture multiple shots to get the right expression, capture a small panorama, and whatever I needed without the subjects thinking about me:

120922 143722 200mm f3 2

For a Nikon wedding photographer, this is easily the best feature of this camera over others.

Also, the D600 retains that classic Nikon responsiveness that the D800 doesn’t have — generally, the camera can keep up with you, and you know that when your finger hits the button, a picture will happen. Doing multi-image panoramas with the D800 can be an exercise in patience, but the D600 kept up handily with this 47-image stitch, resulting in an image near 250 megapixels:

120921 180435 85mm f1 4 120921 180502 85mm f1 4A 47 images

The dual slots are a great feature, and I like that they’re the same kind of card. It just makes my life easier … (I’m looking at you, Nikon D4). In fact, if not for the next paragraph, I could have easily made this my next camera, as its strengths make it a good complement to a D3s or two.

But…

Here’s where my disappointment comes in. I don’t want to end a review of a great camera on a down note, but I would really like Nikon to listen to me on this. One of the things that would have made this the perfect complement to the D3s is an even better Live View. Live View is one of the few recent camera bells and whistles than can dramatically improve photography when used correctly. A good live view system can show you everything you need before the image is captured, from exposure to white balance to true depth-of-field to flare and backlight and details in light too low for your eyes to make out. Recent Nikon cameras not only have better back LCD’s than the D3s, but they also fix the D3s’s major Live View problem, which is that it only works up to a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. So I took it out of the box and immediately played with the Live View. Nice and sharp! Good color! OK, so how do I set it up to preview my exposure?

You can’t. You can’t.

Nikon doesn’t generally play the game of intentionally crippling their cameras for purposes of market segmentation, (unlike some major camera-makers), but its hard to see this as anything but. The other professional cameras they’ve released can do this — the D800’s works great but is filled with lag, and the D4’s is a dream. There’s no reason for them not to fix this. I imagine they could fix it in firmware, but I thought the same with the Canon 5d Mark III‘s glaring “black AF point” problem and as far as I know they haven’t fixed that yet. Nikon, if you are reading this, fix this. This reason alone is why I didn’t ask for another one when this one broke.

(Of course, I then bought two Nikon D4s instead, so I’m not exactly teaching them a lesson).

I think for most users this will not be a huge issue, and certainly not worth a $4,000 premium to move to the Nikon D4, but it was for me.

Let’s consider this a race. Will Nikon fix the Live View crippling first, or will Canon fix their AF points? Who will win the firmware battle of consumer satisfaction? I’m not taking any money on this, but if this sounds like a nitpick to you, then you might want to consider putting money on the D600, because otherwise this is a great camera.

Just don’t smash it on stuff.

PS: One issue that has received a lot of press is the grease and dust spots in the upper left corner that seems to be pervasive. Yes, I saw it. Here’s the upper left of a stopped-down image:

120922 164832 12mm f14

I can’t confirm this, but from what I’ve read this goes away after a couple thousand shots and a good cleaning, so if you buy one, go to town for a week or so and then clean it well before using it seriously.

Other D600 photos:

Buy it here

Published by

Ryan Brenizer

I take pictures.

50 thoughts on “Nikon D600 Review”

  1. Great review, as always!

    I just made the decision to buy the D600 to replace my D700, and it is a really natural progression, as you mentioned. While I have never been spoiled by live-view on my cameras (because they have never had it) one thing that has been bugging me (and does make me feel like Nikon is purposefully downgrading things it doesn’t need to) is the placement and number of focus points, which I didn’t see you mention. They seem to all be clustered in the middle, not taking advantage of the whole field or even being distributed all the way to the edges – is this something that bothered you?

  2. Honestly Becca, all full-frame DSLRS feel like their focus points are clustered in the middle for me. I would love to see a Nikon that has an AF module that goes beyond an APS-C frame, but none do. The D600 may be slightly worse on that front, but I’ve learned to adjust for it so long ago that it doesn’t shock me as much as it would someone coming from the D300.

  3. Fair enough! It is only slightly more annoying than the D700, it just seems a waste of all that space to cluster things in the middle. I mean, I bought one anyway, so I guess Nikon doesn’t need to do anything to keep my money on this count.

    Thanks again for the review, feeling totally justified in my purchase :)

  4. I was feeling generally dismissive of the D600 until reading this. I need an upgrade to my D700 and was beginning to finally feel ready to drop serious dough on the D4 since the 800’s file sizes are just too big for me to deal with on the workflow end. But the build and feel of the D4 is just so sweet.

  5. Canon most certainly has NOT fixed the black AF point on the 5D III yet. That being said, I have gotten fairly used to it at this point, but still, I would like them to fix it.

    Also, I have probably only used live view like 4 times, so if I were a Nikon guy, it would make no difference to me.

    When do you get your hands on the 6D?

  6. Thank you for this review Ryan! I know it’s not something you benefit from, but I really appreciate it. There’s been rumors that Nikon is going to update the D600 Firmware to fix the aperature live-view “bug” (yeah right, they intended it), maybe they’ll include exposure preview as well.

  7. Thanks for the great review! I need something a lot lighter then the D3S as a backup, so that when my arms can’t take it anymore, I can give them a rest with the D600. I was thinking of buying a used D700 but now that you have mentioned the D600 is even lighter, my arms thank you for the info!

  8. Great review and images!
    My D600 arrived a few days ago and the only annoyance other than the focus points in the middle is the center “OK” button goes to the retouch menu. On the D700 you could program the center button as a shortcut for 100% view of the image. Maybe a firmware upgrade will correct this?
    Dust free so far.

  9. Thanks Ryan. I have been reading all the reviews on the D600, and thought I would have to get a D800 and a new iMac with 32GBs of memory and a solid state drive.
    However, after reading this review, I do believe my first FX camera can be the D600.

    My real draw back on purchasing this camera was the AF system and the oil on the sensor, but if you find it to be a good camera for you work flow, I guess I can shoot the first couple of thousand images to get use to the cluttered AF system and rid myself of the oil and dust.

    One quick question, did you get a chance to try that wireless transfer feature?

  10. Great review. I’ve had this camera for a little over a month now and can attest to its quietness being a valuable asset in the field, especially for photoj. Thanks!

  11. Hi Ryan,
    I am strongly considering getting the D600 to replace my ageing and heavily used D7k. I’d love to know your true opinion on the behaviour of the AF system, particularly in low light. I am interested in not necessarily the placement of the points but how well they operate as opposed to the 7k. From my own personal experience the D7000 operates poorly in contact sport situations (tracking), and extremely low light (even with 2.8 or faster glass), think music venue colored lighting. I also use a D3S+D4, so I have a thorough understanding of great AF systems :)

    Others welcome for their input :)

  12. I loved my until it broke as well, had 2 D800’s and both broke as well…..before that I had so many other bodies that always seemed to work w/o any glitch. D700, D7000, D3, D2x, D2xs, D300s. I now own a D3s and have had my share of problems as far as the aperture filler breaking and D type lenses stopped working, plenty of stuck pixels on the sensor as well. I will stay w/ Nikon simply because you have to admit it, they are ahead of the game and their glasses are just phenomenal! AnimaliaPhotos.com

  13. Thanks again, Ryan. I don’t think I’ll be tempted yet – my D300 keeps making awesome pictures (and I said when I bought it – it remains true – that if you can’t take a good picture with a D300, the camera is not your problem). But full-frame does tempt. One day. Every day you wait, the market makes better cameras.

  14. Thank you for pointing out the Live View issue. Most reviews don’t seem to talk about this, but it really is a big deal. I was going to switch from Canon to Nikon for the D600 to get the better DR, BUT I need exposure simulation. So I got a 6D instead, and it has great exposure simulation in Live View.

    The current rumor from Canon Rumors, is that Canon isn’t sure if it can fix the dark AF point issue on the 5D3 – but is trying. Not sure if I believe it or not.

  15. Hi sir..thx for the review..I have read it carefully after a long time of wait..and I have read the review for the d800. I am new here in your page and I appreciated a lot..but what I still need is to know witch one is best for wedding shooting d600 or d800? Am still confuse ..I know d4 is mush better but Its mush money for me now.i do maybe 10 till 15 weddings in year..most in spring and summer .waiting ur reply and thx a lot.i live in Beirut .regards

  16. Hi Ryan

    I purchased the D600 in September as well. I really love it, I am coming up from a D90 though so the difference in the camera blew me away. I will say that I tried to shoot at F22 the other evening while ontop of a lighthouse in Pensacola, came home to process the images and I have the same spots on them. I have taken well over 5000 images I am sure.

    To clean it, do I need to send it back to Nikon or is this something someone can do on their own?

  17. Ryan, the one thing you didn’t mention is the flash sync. I know David talked a lot about this on Strobist, but I waited to get one in hand to create my own opinion. I too have a few D3s and was looking for a lighter backup and figured the higher MP would be good for the formal wedding shots. I thought going from 1/250 to 1/200 couldn’t be that big of a deal. But I’ve recently got into studio work as well, and did some shots with a D600 triggering an Einstein via Pocket Wizards Mini and what I saw shocked me. Even at 1/200 the images had a slight black bar at the bottom meaning the camera wasn’t fully synced w the flash. A shot at 1/160 completely removed this “black bar of death” but I was shocked it showed at 1/200. My D3s showed nothing at 1/250. Obviously this is just a test with a strobe, and the results could be different with a speed light or using Nikons CLS, but for me it was one big “ouch” I. My final decision. Could be something that may be corrected w firmware down the line as well but whose got time to wait on those? For a light backup with great colors and high res, it seems like a great choice, but like you, I’m waiting to see what else comes out in the future.

  18. Thanks for taking the time to do yet another thorough review. You’re my go-to guy for reviews. (And thanks for the inspiring photos as well.)

  19. Thanks for the review! I’ve definitely been waiting. I’m about to step into the full frame world from the D300s, and I’ve had reservations about this camera’s size and AF points. I think I’m favoring the D600 over the D700 again.

  20. Hi Ryan,
    Holding the D600 in the store I was concerned about the feel of the especially at the top where it protrudes for the shutter button. There is a hard horizontal edge. I remember when I used a Pentax K10D and K20D the similarly hard edge really dug into my index finger when holding the cameras for hours at a time. Did you find any comfort issues with this after using the camera for some time?

  21. Thanks for this sweet review Ryan! I just sold my D700 and picked up the D600. I’m really digging the D600 – the high ISO’s are crazy and the files look so much cleaner and the color stays in tact. Bravo Nikon. Now I’m looking to sell my aging D3 and pick up another D600. My only gripe about this camera, and its more of a Nikon gripe, is that I’m not allowed a sRAW option like on the Canons. I would LOVE a 13MP file – JUST LOVE. I can only hope. You rock and much love from Chicago.

  22. Hi Ryan,

    That is a great site out there and I really enjoy your perspectives, panoramas, wedding shoots and Nikon product reviews.

    After much deliberation and specifically after reading your review, I decided to buy the D600 (despite the LV problem which isn’t a big concern for me). I am an amateur/hobbyist and going to shoot a friend’s wedding next week. For D600, would you rather use the camera in area or point focus?

    Thanks,

    Kumar

  23. Thanks for sharing this.. When I saw the quality of the D600 via the images you took.. I went out and bought one… after deciding for a while….After 1 week with it.. I have to say it really is the Best Camera ever.. There nothing much to do in Lightroom.. The Exposure is perfect. Sharp, Great Colour, unbelievable AUTO-ISO performance.. With a Pro lens on this body… It makes you wonder why you need the D800 or D4.. Maybe only for the Rugged a few extra pro features.. People really nit-pick about features.. But a Camera is really about the pictures it can produce.. This produces Pro level images in spades…

  24. “I realized that processing a wedding in Capture NX2 is like crawling across a field of broken glass in the hot sun, except without the sense of adventure.” – Big smile broke across my face. Agreed! I wonder if Nikon knows about this as there never seems to be anyway of giving them feed back. Their software is murdurous. Ditto on the xQD debacle you refer to. It has hit them in Asia (where I am) as very few shops/countries stock them. I hope they dump with the future D5 it as I know it stopped me buying a D4.

  25. Hi Ryan, I hate these kind of questions but I am in need of a solid impression from someone who has used both in the field. I shoot weddings with a d800 which I know in many ways is the antitheses of a good wedding camera but it suits my style well and i dont mind the file size, I am replacing my second body and obviously see it as a chance to fill the gaps of the d800 which are basically speed. I would love a D4 but im not sure its the best business decision so am looking at the d600 or a d3s and wondered what you opinion was. I know they are both amazing cameras and I get the impression that the d600 smokes the d3s at low iso but if im shooting low iso I have the d800 so im just wondering if the d3s would be a better choice?

    Id love any thoughts on this but i know you are a very busy man :)

  26. D600 is a great camera, however the dust issue (or the oil spots) make me hate my camera. NIKON, you fail !

  27. Great article. I shoot with 2 x D4’s, 2 x D3’s, and a D3x. My second shooter got a d600 and I was blown away with the quality vs price. I noticed though that in low light focus he was struggling to capture the moments due to the slow ad speeds. He now uses one of my D3’s bodies to compensate for the D600 shortfalls. But in natural nice light the quality is excellent. I too have noticed problems with skin tones going RAW through LR. How have you addressed it? The new LR 4 is a lot better. Thanks your images are beautiful.

  28. Still not convinced with the 600. I was shooting with a photographer over christmas at a wedding who had 2 of them and his newest (one month old) 600 lost focus ability just like you described. We had to revert to my trusty 700 to back him up. It seems the build quality has suffered a little with the newer series of cameras.

  29. any tips on getting skin tones right? I think I’m doing okay and I had no experience with Nikon before, but I might be seeing what you were saying about skin tones… Did the update in Lightroom fix your issue?

  30. Oh, and you CAN have about 10-11MB file…. just shoot in DX mode :D You get a “free zoom” and way smaller file size. And the full benefit of a full frame sensor. It just crops for you :)

    I plan on doing this instead of adding an extender when I need longer reach…or for events like weddings where I want to be further back.

    You also get the same DOF as full frame in DX mode since all you’re doing is cropping the image (camera crops for you)

  31. Hi Ryan,
    Great review of the D600 and awesome wedding pictures…That stitched image caught my eye and I’ve been looking at doing that with my D600…Can you give some directions or what to google to find out more…I read about that style way back on a website which some guy claimed to have invented which I thought would be great to do for a very high mp image..

    Hope you can help.
    Cheers

  32. Thanks Ryan, your images are fantastic. I am just an amateur and entered FF with my first Nikon last week, I have to say that I love this D600 with the 50mm 1,4G output that much, i am totally impressed by it. i did not invest that heavy but was unsatisfied with all my small sensor cameras, so i even switched back to my fathers old Leica R using film. The results from 35mm film made me totally lusting for an FF DSLR, first D600 shots blew me totally away. Recommend it to anybody seriously looking for pop and depth in pictures.

  33. Helpful write-up, thanks. That said, still not sure which path to take. I’m a PT wedding photographer and have been working with a D700 (and borrowed back-up) for a couple of years. I could really use a second, or new first, body, and I can tell the 700’s in the latter part of its life. I feel limited by the resolution on big albums too. Trouble is I think I’d be compromising on ergonomics with the 600, I don’t need or want the 36mp of the 800 and it’s a hug£ l£ap to the D4. Would the 600 do the job well, or should I maybe look to pick up a used D3s? Or will a magical D4 in a D800 body appear this year? Who knows.

  34. I’m just wondering how good the d600 af is I mean if your doing a whole body and the af is centered all the way.. huuu any advice?

  35. Thank you!
    I’d love to see your review on canon 6d. Maybe it’s better in real shooting than on paper. Oil spots are holding me back, and I don’t know if 6d is good enough.

  36. Hi Ryan, great review. I may be missing something but why on a digital camera is exposure preview in Live View so important? Can’t you just take a photo and then chimp from the preview? Surely this would take the same amount of time as engaging Live View and adjusting exposure before the photo is taken?

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