2012 was a big year for the release of new full-frame DSLR cameras, with Nikon, Canon and Sony all releasing new models. In fact the Nikon D600 (24.3 MP), the Canon EOS 6D (20.2 MP) and the Sony SLT-A99 (24.3 MP) were all announced within a one-week period in the middle of September. For Nikon, the D600 was the third full frame (FX) camera that was produced in 2012, and even more surprising was the fact that it was on camera store shelves within a couple of weeks of its announcement. Also, it’s the first Nikon full-frame camera that can also be purchased body alone or as a ‘kit’ bundled with the new AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR.
Although the D600 is considered to be the base model in Nikon’s FX line, it has an impressive 24.3 megapixel CMOS full-frame DX sensor. It produces excellent images at its base ISO of 100 and continues to do so up to ISO 800, with very good results at ISOs up to 1600, with only a little noise appearing at this point. Inside the D600 is Nikon’s fast EXPEED 3 image-processor that will allow you to capture either 12-bit or 14-bit NEF (RAW) images, in addition to JPEGs, all with a wide dynamic range.
The body of the D600 is slightly larger and heavier than the D7000, but is a little smaller and lighter than the D800. It has a rugged build, with a magnesium alloy shell and weather sealing, but not as rugged as the D800. It has a similar feel to the D7000 and the layout of the controls are fairly close to it as well, so if a photographer is moving up from the D7000 or the D90 then they’ll be really comfortable with its handling. The large 3.2” LCD screen with 921,000-dot resolution produces a really good image, having 100 percent image coverage, which is especially useful when using the D600’s Live View for getting critical focus and shooting videos. The D600 has a dedicated Live View switch that’s a wonderful feature. When shooting with Live View both manual focus and auto focus is possible. In addition the D600 has a 100 percent viewfinder with built-in diopter adjustment; a great feature that often isn’t found on base models in a camera line.
The D600 has both a new auto focus system and a new metering system. The Multi-CAM 4800 focus system has 39 focus points, which is fewer than the 51 focus points in the D800/800E, but is quick and responsive. I found that its performance was very similar to the D800/800E. The new TTL exposure metering uses a 2,016-pixel RGB sensor that is also excellent and accurate. The usual exposure modes are present (Aperture Priority, Manual, Program Auto and Shutter Priority) and it has ±5 EV (stops) exposure compensation in either 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. The exposure bracketing function allows you to bracket two or three exposures at either 1/3, ½, 2/3, 1, 2, or 3 EV. Personally I would prefer the ability to bracket more exposures to give more flexibility.
Specifications and Capability
The D600 can shoot up to 5.5 frames per second at full resolution, which is faster than the D800/800E (4 frames per second) but slightly slower than the D7000’s 6.0 frames per second. It uses the newer EN-EL15 lithium-ion battery that also powers the D7000 or D800/D800E cameras, but if you use older Nikon DSLR bodies you won’t be able to use any of their batteries in the D600. Adding the MB-D14 ($329.95) battery grips allows you to add a second EN-EL15 or use six AA batteries, and it has a vertical shutter release that makes taking vertical images much easier. However, adding the MB-D14 doesn’t make the D600 any faster, and it’s a little pricey. The D600 uses either the ML-L3 Wireless (IR) Remote ($24.95) or the MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for remote shutter release. Since there are two IR sensors on the D600, one on the front and the second on the back, the ML-L3 is, in my opinion, the better option for remote camera operation.
Most Nikon users will have no problem navigating the D600’s menus as they are arranged very similar to other Nikon DSLR’s and are highly customizable. However, there are a few differences and the menus are starting to get a little cumbersome and losing a tiny bit of their user-friendliness. Photographers who are new to Nikon cameras should have little problem quickly learning the menu system.
Like most enthusiasts/prosumer level DSLRs, the D600 has a built-in flash (approximate GN 12 m @ ISO 100). Although not very powerful, it does come in handy for adding a little fill light, albeit front light, or a catch light to your subject’s eyes. The built-in flash can also be used as a commander function for Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, which is really handy. However, if you do a lot of flash photography, especially action photography, you will be a little disappointed that its maximum X-Sync speed is only 1/200 sec. The D600 has two Secure Digital (SD) slots and is compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. Having the ability to use two SD cards greatly increases the flexibility of the D600 as you can set it to record images sequentially, record the same images simultaneously onto two different cards, record NEF (Raw) and JPEG files separately onto two different cards and assign one of the cards to store videos.
Speaking of video, the D600 is able to capture full HD 1080p videos with MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression at 24, 25 or 30 fps rate. It has full-time auto focus with face-priority and subject tracking and manual exposure control that produces excellent videos. Audio quality has also been greatly improved, but to take full advantage of it you will need to use an external stereo mike as the built-in mono mike is located next to the lens so it picks up lots of noise from the camera. I especially like the dedicated movie record button; it makes taking a video extremely easy. If your primary interest is video production, the D600 may not be the best option and it would probably be a better choice to save your pennies and get the D800.