With he launch of the Nikon D600 – on September 13, last – the waiting has finally ended for whoever wanted to either “go” full-frame or was looking to upgrade from the, by now, legendary D700.
Legendary, because it was the first more or less affordable full-frame Nikon DSLR to break the Canon low-noise hegemony with stellar high ISO performance.
Legendary also, because Nikon never gave up that lead again. At the time of writing, there are six Nikon cameras in the DxO Mark top-10, while the D700 is still 16th, in spite of its respectable age of 50 months.
By now the D800E and D800 top the DxO charts (1 and 2, respectively), closely followed by the D4 (5th).
On September 18th, 2012, the D600 snatched up 3rd place, with an overall score of 94 and a Low Light ISO score only second to category leader D3S (10th overall).
With the D700 being fazed-out, semi-pros and advanced amateurs are left with two full-frame cameras to choose from in Nikon’s semi-pro price bracket, the D800E and D800 costing $ 3.300 and $ 3.000 respectively, while the D600 will set you back $ 2.100, a 25% premium of $ 400 over the aging D300S APS-C camera.
Yet in the absence of independent tests of the D600, it is interesting to compare it against the D800, to figure out how much more camera $ 900 buys us, and ask ourselves whether or not it is worth spending the roughly 50% extra.
If I could afford to spend the additional cash for the D800E without thinking, I probably would. However, I cannot.
Also, after the D1X, I swore to never ever again spend that kind of cash on a body ever again. And $3.000 plus is a tad too close for comfort to the amount I once swore to never ever spend again.
Since I also need to replace my stolen D200, MB-D200, SB-600, AI 50 mm f/1.4, AF 35-70 f/2.8D and 18-200 f/3.5-6.3, 900 bucks will go at least some way into the right direction...
When Nikon Rumors started to publish mock-up images of the D600, a while ago, the first thing that called my attention was that Nikon had done away with the 10-pin and flash-sync terminals on the camera front.
That is the D600’s first down-grade and a break away from the tradition to provide these connectors on Nikon’s pro and semi-pro cameras.
For people who own one or more 10-pin remote accessories (GPS, infra-red or wired remotes, etc.), this alone might be a deal-breaker, especially because I doubt that Nikon will provide a 10-pin to D90-type adapter at some point in the future.
Also, having to open a rubber connector cover (even if independent) on the side of the camera is not exactly my idea of weatherproofing, while anything sticking out of the body laterally is dubious, at least in terms of ergonomics.
That aside, the makers of my Promote GPS-N1 ($ 149) informed me that I can change my 10-pin cable for a D90-type in a few minutes, and offered to send me a replacement cable for the two Promote GPS units I currently own. ($ 25 + shipping. Contact Promote for more info).
However, not everyone may be as fortunate.
The absence of a flash sync terminal is rather easier to swallow, since Nikon’s AS-15 hot-shoe adapter goes for around $ 30, while this feature is also mainly interesting for people who work with studio strobes on a regular basis.
For the rest of us, it suffices to know that the D600 is fully compatible with CLS and that the built-in flash is identical to the D800’s and – thus – can be used as a commander to remotely control SB-900/910, SB-800, SB 700, SB-600, SB-400 and SB-200 flash units.
Apart of these two most eye-catching changes for Dx and Dx00 owners, Nikon has repositioned and reshuffled buttons all over the body, which may take experienced users a little time to get used to.
|D800, D600, D7000 - Front Right.
• The FN button has moved down and from the side of the lens-mount area to the front. This is a direct inheritance from the D7000, which features the FN and depth of field preview buttons in the exact same position.
Oddly, though, their functions have been swapped on the D600. For people who own any D- or DX00 series camera, the button order is the same, at least, but they will have to get accustomed to reaching farther down for the FN button.
• With the D800, Nikon argued that they had changed the inclination and angle of the power switch and shutter release buttons to make them more ergonomic.
However, they have not carried this design over to the D600, where their position and angle are something in-between the D800 and D7000.
• The AF mode switches on the D600 and D800 are identical, featuring only two positions (AF, M), plus a central AF area mode selector button (which works in combination with the main and secondary command dials) while the previous generation D700, D300S and D3X, among others, have three (C, S, M), while the area mode is selected with a switch on the camera back.
This dual button design was first introduced on the D90, and has now been carried over to all recent Nikon models from the D7K up, including the D4.
|D800, D600, D7000 - Front Left.
• On the D600, the dedicated button to raise the pop-up flash from the D800/D700 is gone. The flash button works in the same manner as on the D7000 and most other models down the ladder.
Pressing it raises the flash and pressing/holding it, while rotating the main command dial changes flash mode. Rotating the sub-command dial adjusts flash exposure compensation (FEC).
This is not necessarily a bad design decision, but it might indicate whom Nikon believes this camera is targeted at. People upgrading from Dx000 and older Dx0 models, rather than Dx00 owners.
• The dedicated bracketing button (BKT) has moved from the top of the Release Mode dial to below the flash button on the left hand side of the lens mount area; again a copy/paste from the D7K.
Although not as important as the Three Kings – ISO, QUAL and WB – and while better than nothing, the fact that it is tiny and rather ill positioned will take some getting used to.
• The D600’s left hand side, on the other hand, features the one thing that all its more expensive brethren lack: an IR remote receiver.
Thus, the camera is compatible with the ML-L3 wireless remote ($ 20), a very welcome and economical addition.
|D800, D600, D7000 -Top.
• As said, the top-left of the D600 lacks the dedicated ISO, WB, QUAL and BKT buttons of the D800, and instead features the same combined dedicated shooting- and release mode dials as the D7000.
For some this may be an improvement, for others a downgrade, depending their shooting habits.
I, for one, like the mode dial – especially the U1 and U2 user-configurable modes – but dislike the fact that the Three Kings have now moved to the back of the camera, where they cannot be reached without taking one’s eye away from the viewfinder.
That said, with 10 years shooting different Nikon DSLRs, I mostly use Auto WB, virtually always shoot RAW, rarely bracket and up ISO only when I must.
So, this is definitely not a deal-breaker for me.
• The top right of the D600 and D800 are virtually identical. The only difference is that the metering selector push/hold button (matrix, center weighted, spot) of the D600 replaces the D800’s exposure mode one, again, per the D7K.
The top control panel appears to be a mix of the D800 and D7000’s, leaning more towards the latter.
Its one apparent major flaw is that exposure compensation is only shown as set (per the D7000), but not at what value, which – for me – is something to profoundly dislike, because EV compensation is, by far, my most used shooting variable.
To show the the set exposure compensation, both in the viewfinder and on the top control panel, the exposure compensation button must be pressed.
|D800, D600, D7000 - Back.
• Just as on the D7K, the WB, QUAL and ISO buttons are placed on the left-hand back of the D600, with the addition of one extra button for retouch/picture control.
With the exception of Menu, all buttons are double, triple or even quadruple function; WB, QUAL and ISO variables are set by pressing/holding the button while simultaneously rotating either the main or sub command dial.
• The D800’s left hand bottom OK button has been moved to center of the – rather smallish – Multi Selector on the D600’s right hand side. The latter sits above the Live View- and Info buttons, plus the memory card access lamp.
Nikon incorporated the second microphone (above the LV selector on the D800) at five o’clock from the Info button, while the ambient brightness sensor sits at the same place on both cameras.
Finally, the D600’s secondary infrared receiver is located at the bottom of the “thumb area”, to the right of the Info button.
• Thank heavens, Nikon did not ditch the integrated Multi Selector lock, habitual on the more expensive models, but absent from the D7K down.
Left-eyed photographers will particularly appreciate this feature, because it avoids inadverted setting changes provoked by accidentally “nose pressing” the Multi Selector.
• The layout of the back-top – viewfinder – area of the D600 is virtually identical to the D7000, which means that it lacks both the viewfinder shutter and the AF-On button.
Although the first will likely not be a mayor issue for most of us, I know a few AF-On fanatics who will definitely balk at the absence of the latter.
A work around would be setting the AE-L / AF-L button to AF-On in the CSM menu (f4), or assigning either the FN (CSM f2) or Preview (CSM f3) button to this task.
• Finally, the viewfinder eyepiece itself is also a breakaway from the traditional DX00 configuration and akin to that of the D7K, which means that it does not accommodate D- and DX00-series Diopter adjustment lenses, magnifying eyepieces and the DR-4/DR-5 Right-Angle Viewing Attachments, among others.
If you want or need any of those, you will have to buy them anew.
Under the Hood.
Even though the D800 and D600 are similar in many ways, there are a number of details that are supposed to justify the $ 900 price difference.
For starters, the camera body itself. While the D800 frame is built entirely out of magnesium alloy, on the D600 the same material is used only for the top- and back frames, meaning that the front part of the camera is built out of plastic or – to be more precise – polycarbonate. (picture above).
The second significant difference is resolution: 36,2 vs. 24.3 Mp. in FX mode and 15,4 vs. 10,3 Mp. in DX mode.
While the D600’s more “modest” resolution in FX mode might seduce a few D700 fans whom feel the D800’s 36 Mp. are “exaggerated”, they will have to take into consideration that the camera is technically decidedly less sophisticated.
On the other hand, both new cameras make for very capable DXs, with the D600’s DX resolution only slightly inferior to the D300S’s 12,4 Mp., while the D800 offers only a smidgen less than the D7000’s 16,2.
With the D800’s already proven clean high-ISO performance, it is fair to assume that the D600 will not under perform in this area, which means that both cameras are clearly superior to previous generation models, even in DX mode.
Moreover, being able to switch a full-frame to DX and get the typical APS-C 1,5 crop factor for free at a resolution very near to last generation DX cameras is most definitely a blessing for any photog who uses long – or very long – lenses on a regular basis.
To me, anything above 10 Mp. is more than enough for the large majority of users, allowing for big prints, professional (CMYK) pre-press and printing, while most stock agencies want native files of at least 6 Mp., a demand that both cameras generously exceed, even in DX mode.
With these obvious internals out of the way, and having already concluded that the D600’s body, layout and features are more “amateur” than the D800’s, it’s time to look at the more subtle differences.
I think it is fair to say that most of us accept that resolution, ruggedness, operability and features are the determining factors that separate flagships from mid-range from entry-level cameras, and the D600 is no exception.
It has some of the advantages of its more popular cousins, but also some flaws that may have people who make money with their cameras decide to shell out the 900 (or 1.200) additional bucks, or – alternatively – wait for the D300S upgrade (if it ever comes...).
On the upside.
There are a few features of the D600 that stand out positively – IMHO – in comparison with the D800.
The first is that the D600 has two SD (HC/SX) card slots, where the D800 has one CF (compact flash) and one SD slot, which implies carrying around two different card types.
This difference becomes even more pronounced for people who work with back-up cameras, which – more likely than not – also use SD.
The second is that the D600 has an infrared receiver, which makes it compatible with the 20-dollar ML-L3 IR remote control. A similar accessory for the D800 would set you back $ 260 (ML-3 Modulite).
Third, the D600 weighs in at 150 grams less than the D800 – both including 2 memory cards and battery – which not may seem like a lot, but will surely be appreciated by anyone who shoots weddings or other events that involve hand-holding a camera for several hours consecutive.
Fourth: the D600 is faster than the D800. In FX mode the first shoots at a maximum of 5,5 fps., while the latter at 4.
A 30% faster camera may not be an issue for most users, but is definitely for sports and other fast action shooters.
Finally: there is one eenie-weenie little detail about both cameras, that not many people seem to have picked up upon.
For years and years and years, f/5.6 was the maximum aperture limit for AF. After that the system would hunt.
These two cameras now accept lenses and lens/accessory combinations with a maximum aperture of f/8 to still AF properly, if and when using the center 7 (D600) or 11 (D800) focusing points.
B.I.G step forward...
On the downside.
Apart of the externals, the D600 lacks some other, more “pro” features that many people may not even consider or may not consider relevant, but for others may be real deal-breakers.
The D800 is – for starters – more “cutting edge”, which shows through in features such as USB 3, 51 focus points (15 cross-type) and 3D color matrix metering III, vs. USB 2, 39 focus points (9 cross-type) and 3D color matrix metering II on the D600.
The very most outstanding difference between the two cameras is the minimum shutter speed: 1/8.000 vs. 1/4.000 s., which might be the Nº 1 deal-breaker for more professional users and/or for people who love to shoot fast lenses wide open.
While I have few images shot at above 1/4.000 s. with the D200, with the D40 (and its baseline 200 ISO) I do get the occasional HI (subject too bright) warning, which inevitably means stopping down or lowering ISO (if possible) even if I don’t want to.
Still, the shutter speed difference is only one EV (exposure value / aperture stop), which ought not to be a mayor issue for anyone but the most demanding users.
Moreover, the Lo-1 (50 ISO) option on the D600 – absent on the D7000 – gives users that one step playroom in most cases, except for extremely fast-moving subjects.
The second significant difference is flash sync speed: 1/250 (1/350 max.) for the D800 vs. 1/200 (1/250 max.) for the D600.
Combined with the D600’s lower auto FP high speed sync – associated with the camera’s highest shutter speed of 1/4.000 s. – and the absence of a flash sync terminal (however cheap the optional hot-shoe adapter) this may be another deal-breaker, especially for studio- and even wedding photographers.
There are a few more subtle differences, which may or not be relevant, depending on a photog’s style and subject matter.
Bracketing is one. Where the D800 can bracket exposure, flash, WB, and ADL from 2-9 frames, the D600 is only capable of 2-3 frames.
The iTTL flash control module is another. Where the D600 features a 2.016 px. RGB sensor, the D800 features a 90.000 px. unit for the same purpose, which ought to translate in more precise flash control.
There may be other minor – but still relevant – differences between the two, which most of the time only become obvious after using a given camera for a while.
What is to be perceived as an annoying flaw or just a minor nuisance depends very much on the individual photographer.
Even so, compared with similar previous generation models, the D600 is a step forward, and likely to keep its owners happy for many years to come.
I read a comment the other day, saying that the D600 is a D800 in a D7000 body. It would be nice if that only were true.
Truth is, the D600 breaks with a number of longstanding DX00-series traditions, such as an all-magnesium alloy shell, flagship-like, cutting-edge technology and built-in, 10-pin and F-sync terminals, for example.
The D600 is a full-frame “something” in between the D7000 and D5200, and ought to have been baptized (and priced) consequently.
A full-frame D5200 because, similarly, the D600 shoots at 1/4.000 s., flash syncs at 1/200 s. (1/250 or slower) and brackets only 2-3 frames, while the D7K at 1/8.000 s., 1/250 s. (1/320 or slower) and brackets 2-9 frames.
A full frame D7000, because the D600 is motorized, does meter-couple with non-cpu lenses, includes commander mode on the built-in flash and features auto FP high-speed sync, while the D5200 does not.
Note that the D7K high-speed syncs at a maximum of 1/8.000 s., while the D600 only at 1/4.000.
Contrary to the D800 and other DX00-series cameras, which choose A-mode automatically when a non-CPU lens is attached, the D600 must be set manually to A or M, or else the camera will not fire.
Thus, D6000 comes to mind, as the D600 can be considered to be the first of a new generation of full-frame Nikon cameras oriented at enthusiasts rather than pro(sumers).
From a marketing point of view, it leaves the door open for even more downgrades, like stripping out the AF motor, flash commander mode, and focus system sophistication.
Still, the D600 lacking pro features does not make it a less interesting camera, even though very expensive.
For starters, it’s compatible with a couple of economical accessories such as the ML-L3 IR remote control ($ 20), the MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord ($ 35,50), and the WU-1b wireless transmitter ($ 60), features I would like to see on any Nikon camera.
Moreover, its IQ outperforms the D700 – although not its build quality and features. While in DX mode, it will outperform the D300S and even the D7K in every way, if and when you can live with a max. shutter speed of 1/4000 s. and 1/200 s. flash sync.
I have been forced to live with the D40 as my main – and only – camera for over a year now and have found that, for the most part, I can work around these limitations.
Although technically clearly inferior to the D800 (and even the D7K), the D600 – unlike the entry level DX models – does not lack any features necessary for successful commercial photography.
The bottom line..
Whether the D800/D800E are or not worth the extra money over the D600 depends entirely on an individual photographer’s subject matter, workflow and output demands.
For people who make their living in the studio, there is very little doubt in my mind that the D800E or D800 are a better choice.
For wedding- and event shooters, then again, the choice is tough. While, on the one hand, a 20% lighter camera is always a blessing, the D600’s less sophisticated flash infrastructure might be a matter for serious pondering. If and if the more “pro” camera gets one slightly better output and only one more assignment, the extra cash quickly turns into a minor investment.
For sports-shooters the D600 seems like the better choice, even if only for its superior frame-rate.
In all other cases, the matter is merely a question of pocket-depth and particular circumstance.
I, for one, have a limited budget, shoot mixed subject matter – both paid and unpaid – and need to urgently replace my stolen D200, SB-600 plus a few pro lenses. Thus, the D600 seems like an obvious choice.
Still, lacking the budget for a D800E, taking into consideration the D600’s “ama” features, it being way overpriced and yet in the absence of a D300S upgrade, I will stay on the fence just a little longer.
For people who’s cameras do not pay for themselves, who do not own FX “pro-level” glass and/or will have to sell their better halves on the need of spending yet again on a new DSLR, the choice seems simple...
You might also want to read:
Nikon D600 (Nikon USA)
Nikon D600 user Manual
D600 Image Samples
"Geotagging" with your Nikon. Review of the Promote GPS N-1
The new Nikon D800. Medium Format akin or not? A spec comparison with the Pentax 645D.
D800 / D600 Comparison Table. Main differences.
|Body||Top and back frames: magnesium alloy; front: polycarbonate||Magnesium alloy|
|Accessory terminal||D90-type||10-pin remote|
|Flash sync terminal||No. AS-15 hot-shoe adapter (optional; $ 27,50)||Yes|
|Eye piece shutter||No||Yes|
|ISO, WB, Qual, BKT||Back of camera, BKT below the flash button on the lens mount||Release mode dial|
|Metering selection||Push button + Command dial||Dedicated button|
|Max. image size FX||6.016x4.016 (24.3 Mp.)||7.360x4.912 (36.2 Mp.)|
|Max. image size DX||3.936x2.624 (10.3 Mp.)||4.800x3.200 (15,4 Mp.)|
|Storage Media||SD, SDHC, SDXC (x2); UHS-1 compliant||CF (x1); SD, SDHC, SDXC (x1); UHS-1 compliant|
|IR Remote Control||ML-L3 (optional; $ 20)||ML-3 Modulite (optional; $ 258)|
|Remote release modes||Delayed remote, quick-response remote, remote mirror-up||No|
|Shutter speed (min-max)||1/4.000 - 30 s. + bulb||1/8.000 - 30 s. + bulb|
|Continous shooting||Up to 5,5 fps.||FX: up to 4 fps.; DX: up to 5 fps.|
|Metering method||Matrix: 3D color matrix metering II (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering II (other CPU lenses); color matrix metering available with non-CPU lenses if user provides lens data||Matrix: 3D color matrix metering III (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering III (other CPU lenses); color matrix metering available with non-CPU lenses if user provides lens data|
|Exposure bracketing||2-3 frames||2-9 frames|
|Min. AF aperture||f/8 (7 center points)||f/8 (11 center points)|
|Cross-type focus sensors||9||15|
|AF area modes||Single-point AF, 9-, 21- or 39-point dynamic-area AF, 3D-tracking, auto-area AF||Single-point AF, 9-, 21- or 51-point dynamic-area AF, 3D-tracking, auto-area AF|
|Built-in flash||Auto/Auto pop-up, Manual, Commander||Manual, commander|
|Flash sync speed||1/200, syncs at 1/250 or slower||1/250, syncs at 1/320 or slower|
|FP high speed sync||Up to 1/4.000||Up to 1/8.000|
|Flash control||2.016 px. RGB sensor||91.000 px. RGB sensor|
|Flash bracketing||2-3 frames||2-9 frames|
|White Balance bracketing||2-3 frames||2-9 frames|
|USB||High Speed (USB II)||Super Speed (USB III)|
|Weight||850 g. (incl. cards and battery)||1.000 g. (incl. cards and battery)|
|Size (WxHxD)||141 × 113 × 82 mm||146 × 123 × 81.5 mm|
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