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Nikon D600

Nikon D600, Samyang 14mm f/2.8 @ 30" f/2.8 ISO 6400

I normally don't get around to writing a camera review until well after it has been discontinued, ala the D50 and D200 reviews. This is by no means a technical review, really just totally subjective comments on Nikon's new D600, a $2,100 full frame camera. The D600 manages to be both impressive and underwhelming at the same time. The short story is that the body is a downgrade from previous D--- models while the sensor is a nice upgrade. Let's start with the good. A new generation 24mp FX sensor for $2,100. This is incredible considering that image quality is better than Nikon's not yet discontinued 24mp D3x that was just selling for $8,000. It's considerably lighter (10z) and smaller than the D700, Nikon's previous "small" FX camera. From my initial impression it's easy to sum up basic sensor performance. You can really think of this camera as a 24mp D700/D3. That's incredible and something none of us would have imagined seeing three years ago. Noise performance is similar at ISO 100-6400 and if you down sample the image to 12mp it's considerably better. A nice bonus is that the D600 can drop down to ISO 50. Two SD card slots are a nice addition, better than the miss-matched CF and SD card slots of the D800. Who wants to carry two types of cards around? The AF points are way too centered, but accurate. Too many times the outer AF points on the D700 were not cross-type and it would struggle to focus in low light. All things considered, after a trivial amount of use I find myself liking the more accurate D600 AF, especially with lenses like the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4. The viewfinder is a full 100% and looks great.

I have medium to small sized hands for an American male. Outside of not being designed as a professional level camera, in hand the D600 feels, well not really very Nikon. In my previous Nikons (D50, D200, D700) the curves of each camera were contoured almost perfectly to fit in hand, and each generation/upgrade improved that almost subconscious fit and feel.  Buttons just fall under your fingers without needing to find them. On the other hand the D600 feels...well almost Canonish. The front grip is square and skinny, it makes my hand feel too big. Yet many controls are more of a reach making my hands feel too small. Holding onto the D600 requires a tighter grip to hold onto the camera than the previous D--- models. Perhaps part of this is due to a different rubber that is not as sticky as the D700 rubber (which does have issues staying on the camera long term, but feels great) The lack of a dedicated AF-ON button is obvious because that's exactly where the thumb falls, into a blank space. The AE-L/AF-L button can (and should) be reprogrammed into an AF-ON button, but when shooting in vertical mode my thumb hits my eyebrow making it hard to keep my eye snug in the viewfinder. I understand leaving the AF-ON button off to save money and differentiate it from (aka protect) the D800, but at least shift the AE-L/AF-L button over so it falls under thumb and we can be comfortable shooting vertically. All over the camera buttons are missing vs the D700 and even D200, but honestly for my shooting style I don't miss them too much. I prefer single spot AF and rarely switched away from it in the past, so I don't mind that big control group being gone. If you constantly fiddle with AF modes and settings, you'll miss the ability to do so on the back of the camera. Many are giving kudos to Nikon for making such a small and light full frame SLR, but let's face it, compared to the new Sony RX-1 or NEX models it's not that impressive of a technological feat.

Unfortunately Nikon really needs to do a firmware update on D600 for two obvious bits of poor programing. The first is that ISO is only adjustable in half or third stops. I always adjust my ISO in full stops, and just can't do that on the D600. In review mode, there is no way to set the center "ok" button do do a 100% zoom. In fact you can't program it to do anything but the bring up idiotic consumer point and shoot "retouch" menu. This is a $2,100 24 megapixel camera, users don't want to edit their jpgs in the camera. Surprisingly, Nikon included "Focus tracking with lock on" settings in the D600, a higher end feature. Seems like there was some confusion over who this camera was being built for, it has some nice enthusiast/professional features with a few blatant slaps in the face to serious photographers.

If I was shooting a hundred weddings a year, working as a photojournalist or using this camera for all my work, the few flaws would really bother me. But for my work I use the smaller/lighter/faster fps Olympus OM-D system about 80% of the time and only shoot a handful of weddings a year. I'll take the weight, sized and cost reduction of the D600 for the work I use it for and ignore the few drawbacks, two of which should, but probably will not be fixed in firmware. Nikon almost hit the nail on the head with the D600. Almost. Despite some slight misses, there is incredible value for the dollar in the D600 and I'm sure it will be a popular camera, but it's a shame Nikon slipped up on things they are normally the best at. It just doesn't get everything quite right like the D700 did.

After using the D600 for five weeks in Argentina and Chile, as well as for some general use in the US, I have to say I'm very happy with it. The playback zoom is still sorely missed. I also miss the switch to jump from Matrix Metering to Center Weighted or Spot. But the image quality, oh the image quality. Just make sure you are using good lenses to get what this little gem can deliver.

How much cropping power does it deliver? Look at the overlay to see a 12mp crop from the 24mp original would look like.

Image Quality
AF Point accuracy
100% viewfinder

No full stop ISO adjustment
No center button 100% review in playback
No AF-ON button and poor placement of AE-L/AF-L
A step down in ergonomics for Nikon
Centered AF points.

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