Nikon D600 Rolling Review (Words and Pictures)

D600 and friends–the FA and F100

I added a D600 to the fleet in hopes that it can solve a need of mine, a low light, JPEG only camera for events.  I’ve been known to shoot oddball combos at events and weddings simply because I like how the different setups gets the mind going.  For me lots of times, photography in the field is like videogame RPG’s, trying to figure out cool setups with the different characters.  Or in a less nerdy analogy, if you’re a red blooded American, you have to figure out setups for both the M4 rifle and Glock sidearm, to be prepared for when zombies or Cobra finally attacks.  For regular photography though, a great “A” camera can make things much easier, in terms of capturing the image and in post as well.  I know everything is going mirrorless and compact these days, but everyone still needs a DSLR, simply because they are the workhorses.  While EVF’s are a nice thing for real time preview, no review site ever mentions that you can have a DSLR in the ready to go position for days on end since the battery is just flipping up the mirror, shutter, and making the picture from the sensor.  So here’s my rolling review of Nikon’s latest full frame FX sensor camera, one that is getting high praise around the web due to its relative “low” introductory price and image quality.

D600 Initial Impressions:

  • 24MP is gracious plenty for almost anything we would ever want to shoot, just like how 12 was plenty, and 6 “back in the day” was more than sufficient for prints and web use
  • The shutter is quiet, more dampened than my previous Nikon cameras
  • The 1/4000 shutter speed max is not that big of a deal.  I’ve shot wide open f/1.4 on bright blue skies and the image comes out fine, brightened to the level you would probably do in post anyway
  • Dynamic range is a very noticeable upgrade, especially with ADR enabled, great for landscapes
  • The switching of the Zoom In / Zoom Out button location is an annoying change
  • The inability to change the Aperture with G lenses while in Live View for movies is a bother (one reason why it’s good to hang on to D lenses with manual aperture rings)
  • Photo Live View doesn’t show an accurate representation of what the image will be.  For those that shoot manual focus lenses like myself, it’s a shame that the sensor doesn’t give you a real time exposure preview of the scene
  • Greenish/Yellowish Tint of the LCD (or is it just the Auto WB?) is noticeable, but hardly a deal breaker as the images on the computer screen look fine.
  • DX crop at 10MP is very useful, not to mention cost effective if you don’t have many old film camera lenses.  DX lenses work great on the D600, since you are essentially getting a free D7000.  Using these sub frame lenses on a FF camera isn’t that big of a disadvantage, since even the 18-55mm rinky-dink lens can make for a light and simple combo.  With the D600’s ultra low light sensitivity one could shoot without a care if you just want snapshots at 10MP.  One thing that I personally like is, shooting with DX lenses, you see the frameline for what the camera is going to capture in the optical viewfinder.  This makes the D600 a faux rangefinder like the Fujifilm X100.  By that I mean, you can see events and subject elements happening outside the frame, good for unpredictable subjects.  The DX crop also works for FF lenses so you are essentially getting a free 1.5X teleconverter.
  • Old Manual Focus Ai-S lenses show heavy vignetting wide open, which is great for “artsy” photos, but really shows how lens technology has changed and improved
  • 3 Level Vignette control for modern lenses is a great feature, and can be enabled/disabled if you want that look
  • This camera, and the D800, really demands the best lenses if you want to achieve the same pixel sharpness that we’ve been spoiled with on the cropped DX format.  Looking to shoot a group portrait with all sharp faces?  Stop down to a small aperture and light accordingly.
  • The Power Connector cover likes to come off (the little piece near the battery cover), which is a minor gripe
  • It’s lightweight!
  • Dust collecting on the sensor…I haven’t really shot small aperture landscape shots yet so I don’t know if this D600 will develop the same problem everyone is crying foul over on the web.  I’ve shot over 4000 frames thus far, but most of that is portrait and low light situations, so the large apertures really negate the sensor dust issue.  I have the camera set to do the automatic sensor cleaning when it is turned off, so let’s see if it still develops over time.  For video shooters I definitely see a problem.  I’ve had my share of 5D mk II steadicam shots at f/16 or smaller in bright sunlight and the dust is very distracting.  I guess we’ll have to manually clean these sensors like the first DSLR’s.
  • Sometimes continuous mode produces a JPEG that is unreadable by both View NX2 and Capture NX 2.  I get the dreaded “Unsupported File Type.”
  • Auto ISO and Flash photography do not go well together with this generation of Nikon cameras.  They all like to go to your maximum set ISO in any type of flash photography, which is a big problem for photos of folks in dark areas in social situations, parties, etc.  The metering takes into account the ambient and it will go to ISO 6400, even with a good amount of flash.  Not too big of a problem, but not definitely not what I’m used to with the older cameras that were just killer for event photography.  No fiddling of flash settings needed with the D300, which is why it is aging gracefully like an old Integra GS-R.
  • Using the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX to shoot movies produces very visible aliasing (striped shirts, screens, some patterns). I think this is also the case with DX crop video mode in general.
  • Movie Live Mode (aside from the inability to change apertures on G lenses) is a pretty powerful tool.  This currently is the only Live View mode that gives you an accurate simulation of the exposure.  In Manual Exposure you can adjust the shutter speed and ISO to gauge the exposure as you see fit.  Pressing the shutter button takes an image in the 16:9 aspect ratio.  One feature I like, but you really have to mindful of, is the function button on the front of the camera toggles the exposure modes for Videos OR Stills.  As in, when you take a picture in Movie Live View mode, the pictures will use the settings you have set up in Manual Exposure mode BEFORE you entered Live View.  With the front toggle button, you can change the exposure settings.  This is good because not all still pictures will be at the 1/50 shutter speed most cinema shooters will be locked into.
  • Lastly, the name.  Thankfully Nikon stuck with a relatively simple alpha numeric model #, D600.  What’s happening with their naming conventions in all the other lower tiered (though still powerful) cameras is getting confusing and not so easy on the eyes.  You’d think there would be plenty of number and letter combos remaining, but nope, the people in charge of branding are confusing customers with D7100’s and D5200 and Coolpix A, and 1 J1, etc.  The quadruple digit odd updates remind of not so classy cars.  Let’s hope we don’t get to the hieroglyphic-like naming schemes like on camcorders.  Just looking out for you Nikon.  F3, we will always remember.  F100, street cred as well.  N6006?  Not so much.  Nikon should take the cue from Apple (and even Canon) and just revamp the lineup and do away with incremental number changes and just use revision/generation.  Rebirth of the D100 Gen 2, yes, please.  D300 V-spec, yes.  Nikon (Infiniti) FX50 AWD 50 Megapixel All Weather Edition, yes.

The Canon 5D mk II solved a need I had for both pictures and cinematic movie clips, but I was never impressed with the autofocus or RAW image quality, I guess that’s why I never fully invested in the system, I just used it as my main oddball combo to shoot Nikon Manual Focus lenses.  One thing that I love about it besides image quality, is that it is actually a better camera for mounting Ai-S lenses simply because there is a zoom in button for Live View near your right thumb.  The Nikon D600 lacks this, making you use the Zoom In and Zoom out button on the left side, essentially making you take your left hand off the lens to check focus.  The 5D is ironically more user friendly with old Nikon lenses.  Hopefully in a future firmware upgrade the “OK” button or AEL button can be made to zoom in while in Live View.

Below are random photo examples and more thoughts on the Nikon D600.  Basically I’ll be photographing random things with various lenses (what I do normally).  Newer images and thoughts at the bottom of the post.   A person can read all they want in camera “reviews” online, but you never know if a particular tool works for you unless you actually use it and figure out its strongpoints and weaknesses.  At the end of the day, most camera phones can take decent enough images, bigger cameras are just better suited for different purposes.  (And plus you really can’t tell too much from 600 pixel images downsampled from the original 6000 pixel image.)

..and we begin with a goofing off shot with the D600.  Old 28mm Ai-S shot at f/16, 1/2000 and ISO 6400 in the bright sun.  Hardly any objectionable noise in my opinion.

Random shots from the flea market.  I might have to go back and snatch up Skeletor and Shredder in the corner there.

The above and below shots are with the 85mm f/1.4D shot at 1.4.  Being “maxed out” at 1/4ooo isn’t a bad thing.

One advantage of this time of year is the quality of light.  Early morning Atlanta, with the D600 and 28mm Ai-S out the sunroof.

A real Behind the Scenes shot.  I might be smiling in the photo, but those evil jagged curbs in Atlanta ruined a $200 tire.  That and the spare was flat too.  Great fun. :/

Nikon 85mm f/1.4.  Mine might really need to be calibrated for focus, but hardly anything is in focus wide open anyway.

70-200mm f/2.8, the first one, which has been a workhorse for a long time.  Yes it vignettes, but it sure can knock out the background.

28mm is actually becoming one of my favorite focal lengths.  Being a prime it just looks different than a zoom at the equivalent setting.

In this image I’ve attempted to recreate the greenish color cast that shows up on the back on the D600’s LCD.  I’ve read that the tint has something to do with the material in the screen itself, and might go away as the material cures over time (doubt it though…).  It isn’t that big of a problem, as the images on the computer look fine, but I did want to treat the D600 as a jpeg only camera, as I don’t really want to wrangle 25MB RAW files (especially for events).  I like getting the most out of DX sensor RAW’s but the full frame cameras should have excellent JPEG output out of camera.

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ISO 5000 on the D600

70-200mm f/2.8

One of the crown jewels in Nikon’s modern lineup (in my humble opinion) is the 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR.  This might be my favorite portrait lens, when I don’t need the extra two stops of light with the 85mm f/1.4.  The subject and background separation is obvious, but I think the color transmission is very pleasant and indicative of the times we are living in.  These images were shot as JPEGs, with minor color correction in Capture NX.  I think I will keep the D600 JPEG only.  I’ve been shooting and editing RAW files for something like 7+ years now, and really need to minimize time at the computer.

85mm f/1.4 with the lens hood on, but the flare and low contrast is nice.

Above is an example of the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX on the D600.  Glad to see that expensive lens not only working, but getting a new lease on life in DX crop mode.  ~26mm f/2.8 light gathering ability with the depth of field of like an f/4.

Overexposed this shot at the traveling fair.  28mm f/2.8 Ai-S.

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105mm Micro VR.  Location: My backyard! 🙂

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Here are real world examples of the Nikon D600 at ISO 6400.  With this camera, I think one can shoot at any ISO with impunity.

These shots are with bounce flash and ISO Auto “bug” enabled.  Usually with every new Nikon camera I’ve found that you have to learn the quirks of how it is tuned with flash.  These files were a bit overexposed and pulled back in the raw file (thought I wasn’t going to shoot raw with this thing? 😉 ).  Thanks pretty ladies!

The next photos show the challenging lighting situations where you definitely need f/1.4 and ISO 6400.  One advantage of high megapixel images is that they can be down sampled, eliminating some of the noise.  For website posting and reportage though, the D600 could be shot over the native “max” 6400.

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When you take a picture while in Live View for movies, the resulting file takes on the aspect ratio of video.

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85mm f/1.4 with just the modeling light into the umbrella, edited with Snapseed.  With this camera there are more existing light portrait situations, even in studio.

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I like to take artwork progression photos of my drawings, and usually take a snapshot in less than ideal light.  ISO 3200 still pretty clean.  105mm Micro VR.

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