Nikon D600 review
35.9x24mm 24.3-megapixel sensor, 3.5x zoom (24-85mm equivalent), 850g
The resolution is down from 36.3 megapixels to 24.3 megapixels, but for us this is yet another improvement. The D800 was capable of taking incredibly detailed photos, but we found it was hard to take full advantage of its resolution except in carefully controlled conditions.
Automatic exposures are well judged to avoid clipped highlights, and there's plenty of detail in shadows too (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
Sure enough, the D600's photos displayed very little noise at fast ISO speeds, but comparing our studio scene with the D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III output initially left us disappointed. While the D600 and 5D Mark III performed similarly on detail, the D600 displayed significantly more noise at fast ISO speeds. It seemed to have the D800's higher noise without its extra detail. However, comparing raw files processed in Lightroom, the D600 made a dramatic comeback and matched the 5D Mark III for both detail and noise levels.
There's a hint of noise reduction in these features, but image quality is still fit for critical use at ISO 1800 (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
The D600's comparatively lower resolution means it's faster, too. The D800 managed 4fps for 18 frames before slowing to 1.2fps, but the D600 ran at 5.5fps for 15 frames before slowing to 2.2fps. With lens-distortion correction switched off, it lasted for 68 frames and then slowed to 3.4fps. Continuous raw mode started at 5.5fps and slowed to 1.9fps after 16 frames. These speeds snap at the heels of the 5D Mark III, and allay one of our biggest concerns with the D800.
The top ISO 25600 speed is quite noisy but it's fine for casual use. We're impressed at the accuracy of the focus and exposure in this extremely dark scene, especially considering that we suppressed the AF assist lamp (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
Video is recorded at 1080p at a choice of 24, 25 or 30fps, with clips up to 20 minutes long at the highest quality settings, and 30 minutes at a reduced bit rate. Picture quality was excellent, with the same flattering colours as in JPEGs and crisper details than in the 5D Mark III's videos. Autofocus spoiled the soundtrack, but otherwise it worked reasonably well, especially after we'd assigned the front Function button to trigger it. The ability to give the button different functions for photo and video capture is a nice touch. There are minijack sockets for both a stereo microphone and headphones, and proper volume control and metering, so using an external microphone is much more feasible than on cheaper SLRs. We're sorry to see that shutter- and aperture-priority modes aren't allowed for videos, though. Manual exposure is available but the aperture can't be adjusted while recording.
At ISO 12800, the D600's JPEGs are noisier than the 5D Mark III's and closer to the D800. However, its raw output (processed at identical settings in Lightroom) is much better, and at least as good as the 5D Mark III for noise (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
The D800 and 5D Mark III are tough acts to follow, and although the D600 is cheaper, the price difference isn't huge. However, it's extremely competitive regardless of price. The simpler autofocus and the lack of priority modes for video are the only issues that would tempt us to spend more. We'd like to see better JPEG output at fast ISO speeds, but by any sensible measure its JPEGs are stunning. Besides, there can't be many people who are willing to spend this much on a camera but unwilling to shoot in raw mode. We await the EOS 6D with interest, but for now, this is the full frame camera to get.