Nikon D600 collage

I have to admit: I am a Nikon DSLR user and lover. Having used the brand for decades, I am accustomed to the handling and the interface. Putting my film SLR usage history aside, my first digital SLR was the Nikon D60, then D200, then D300. When the first full-frame Nikon DSLR, D700, was released in 2008, I reviewed and decided to wait for the 2nd generation of Nikon full-frame DSLR before deciding if I should buy one.

It was a 4-year wait.

Early this year, Nikon finally launched the D800. I reviewed and loved the whole experience of handling the beast. However, the image resolution and file size are too large for my workstation to handle the image processing workflow efficiently. Furthermore, I am not shooting photographs full-time, and certainly could not justify the purchase. For the kind of assignments I undertake, the current D300 is more than adequate.

Now that the Nikon D600 is launched, people are comparing the technical specs and wonder if the D600 is good enough. After all, with a street price of S$2900, the D600 is the cheapest full-frame Nikon DSLR – an “entry-level” camera.

My view: it is.

At 24.3 megapixels in full frame, the D600 pixel density is slightly lower than my 12-megapixel 1.5x crop D300. What it means is that when I crop at 100%, subjects on the D300 appear more magnified than D600.

Comparing field of view between D300 and D600 with same 50mm lens.

But the D600 sensor captures with better details.

100% crop: D300 vs. D600.

While the quality differences are apparent from the comparison shots above, they are probably not that obvious in actual shooting conditions. Besides, these can be tweaked using post-processing methods. So it appears my D300 is still capable of delivering good images after all these years.

D600 or D800
Let’s put things in perspective. If you shoot for a living, you would have decided on the D800 for its excellent professional-grade build and functions. If you are considering the D600, you are either a hobbyist photographer who doesn’t need – only want – spectacular handling, or someone on a budget who needs to make a very wise purchase.

Well then, choosing the Nikon D600 is wise.

Don’t be mistaken: the D800 totally wins my heart in terms of ergonomics and performance. When it comes to shooting pleasure, the D800 is more enjoyable to use.

It’s just that the D600 is not designed for the true-blue professional handler. It has consumer-like mode dials, Auto and Scene modes, fewer dedicated buttons, plastic frame body. Yet when you hold the D600, it feels every inch a professional grade camera. And it can deliver professional quality images. That’s why I love Nikon DSLRs.

I don’t find anything seriously lacking on the D600 for my shooting needs. The hand grip is adequate although not as comfortable as D800. The buttons feel responsive and well-built just like D800. The camera AF is speedier compared to my faithful D300. And although there are less AF points compared to the D800, I don’t really feel any handicap. If any, I felt that Nikon should have filled up the entire frame on the D600 and D800 with AF points.

Personally, I don’t fancy the D600 mode dial lock, which impedes my ability to change modes quickly. But I guess it’s there with good intentions (and consumer feedback). I also find that I am unable to customise the “OK” button to zoom-in images during playback, something that I could do on my D300. This is a convenient custom feature that helps me check focus sharpness quickly.

Here’s why I prefer the D600 over the D800:

  • 2 user preset modes. They are so useful to switch between settings when you needed it. Even as a seasoned photographer like me who shoots mostly in manual exposure mode, I still like to switch to another mode quickly for some quick shots. These preset modes let you save whatever setting you have made to your D600, down from the RAW quality to the ISO and aperture setting. One thing to note though: if you have made changes to the settings with these modes, and then you switch to other modes and back again, the changes would be lost.
  • More manageable file size and image resolution. My current D300 generates 12-megapixel RAW images at 10+MB. The D800 generates 36-megapixel RAW mages at 40+MB. The D600 creates 24-megapixel ones at 20+MB. While bigger is better, sometimes you have to be rational. Too much pixels might not be a good thing for your digital workflow as it increases your processing time and requires a lot more memory cards when shooting, especially for events like weddings. Sadly, Nikon does not have options to save smaller RAW files.
  • Higher frames-per-second. D600’s 5.5fps vs. D800’s 4fps
  • Lighter weight. D600’s 760g vs. D800 900g, though I swear I couldn’t tell the difference.
  • More fun to use, thanks to consumer-based shooting modes. The D600 is ideal for formal assignments as well as family events. 
Why D800 is still a better choice over D600:
  • More professional. The camera delivers the highest possible image quality, if your job demands.
  • More hardware buttons for direct setting changes, again important for mission-critical photographers. The D800 button layout is consistent with the other Nikon professional cameras, which makes it easier to adopt. The D800 also has PC sync socket, an old-school connector that professionals would appreciate. The USB port on the D800 is 3.0 vs. D600’s 2.0, meaning you can transfer images from the D800 to your computer a whole lot faster.  
  • Higher shutter speed. D800’s 1/8000s vs. D600 1/4000s, something that only professionals really need. For the most of us, even if the actual exposure requires faster shutter, you can still capture the shot in RAW and recover the overexposed areas using post-processing.
  • Higher flash sync speed. D800’s 1/250s vs. D600 1/200s. But if you use Nikon flash that support CLS, you can sync up to 1/320s on D600.
  • Better build. With full metal body, the D800 will survive accidents better than D600. Then again, how many of us would even want to risk the situation to test the durability?
  • If you need higher frame rate, you can get the vertical grip which bumps the D800 to 6fps.
Don’t kid yourself: the Nikon D600 is never meant to offer uncompromised professional handling. But do you need it to achieve your shooting objective? For S$1000 more, it does sound like the D800 is a small price for a more complete product. But, if you do not really need to push the limits of the DSLR functionality (1/8000s shutter speed? 1/250s flash sync? High-risk accident-prone assignments?), for what it’s worth, the Nikon D600 delivers a lot of value.

This article is also published on XINMSN.


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