Sep 132012

The Nikon D600 is the most affordable full-frame DSLR ever released. It is the younger sibling of the immensely popular D800 and carries a lot of the same features. Another way to look at it is a D7000 body with a full-frame sensor since it also shares a lot of things with that camera. The full-frame sensor is 24 megapixels which puts it on par or above every full-frame camera on the market with the exception of the D800. At a MSRP of $2099 this is going to be an extremely popular camera.

Important Specs

  • MSRP: $2099 USD for body / $2699 with 24-85mm lens kit
  • Resolution: 24.7MP / 6016×4016 pixel image size
  • Sensor: Full-frame CMOS
  • ISO sensitivity: 100-6400 (50-25,600 with boost)
  • 39-point autofocus
  • 3.2″ 0.92MP LCD
  • Shutter speed: Bulb – 1/4000 sec
  • Video format: MPEG-4 / H.264 or Uncompressed 8-bit over HDMI
  • Video size: 1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps), 1280 x 720 (60, 50, 30, 25 fps), 640 x 424 (24 fps)
  • Optional wireless adapter (Nikon WU-1b) that allows control of the camera over wi-fi
  • Dual SD card slots

Full-frame vs. Crop sensors:

If you own a DSLR chances are it’s one with a smaller APS-C sized sensor (or “crop” sensor). Full-frame sensors are physically the size of a frame of 35mm film, while crop sensor is approximately 2/3 the size of a full-frame sensor. In compact digital cameras and cell-phone cameras the sensors are much smaller than that.

If you took a picture with the same lens at the same focal length with a full frame and crop camera, you would have results like the ones above. That is why lenses designed for crop sensors can usually not be used on a full-frame camera because there would be heavy vignetting on the corners of the image. The two main benefits of a full-frame sensor like the one in the D600 is shallower depth of field (often desirable depending on your subject) making the background and foreground blur more and the second benefit is a higher signal-to-noise ratio due to bigger pixel pitch. Bigger pixels = more light reaching the sensor and less noise.

The downsides to a full-frame sensor are that generally you need more expensive lenses, and if you are upgrading from a crop sensor camera some of your lenses may not be full-frame compatible. Also, precise focus is much more important with a full-frame camera. Even being off slightly will make your picture look blurry and out of focus where on a crop sensor you have a much higher margin for error. Often new owners of a full-frame camera will be disappointed with blurry shots until they learn to change their technique and probably use a tripod more often. You can also take advantage of the low-noise characteristics and shoot at higher ISO for handheld shots. So what are the benefits of a crop sensor then on cheaper DSLRs? The main one for me would be the crop factor on telephoto lenses. A 300mm lens on a full-frame becomes a much tighter 450mm lens on a crop sensor.

The D600 does have a “DX” or crop mode for using DX-only lenses, but the resulting images will only be 10.5 megapixels.

Compared to the D700 and D800

The D700 was Nikon’s first enthusiast-class full-frame DSLR and it came out with the D3 back in 2008. Even today it is still a very popular camera despite it only being 12 megapixels. That’s likely the reason the D600 is a lower model number than it. The D700 is still a slightly better camera in terms of features that more professional photographers will appreciate. The autofocus system is better, the body is better balanced for heavier lenses, the body is full magnesium alloy and weather-sealed (whereas D600 is only partly magnesium), and there are a lot more little conveniences like more bracketing options and less need to dive into the camera’s menus to quickly change your settings. That being said, the D600 is still an amazing camera but I think it’s an upgrade path for DX users, not D700 users. D700 users are better off going for the D800 or else they might lose a few little features they’ve come to depend on.

The D800 is clearly the D600’s big brother. It packs 36 megapixels, better autofocus, more durable body, higher resolution metering sensor and most of the features you come to expect on Nikon’s high end cameras. If you aren’t the type of photographer who shoots for a living or shoots subjects that require the superior autofocus, then saving $900 by getting the D600 will allow you to instead put that $900 towards some shiny new lenses. 24 megapixels is more than enough. Personally for me I am happy with 12 megapixels since I don’t routinely print large poster sized images.

Compared to the D7000 and D300s

I believe the D600 is most aimed at owners of the D7000 and D300s more than anything. D7000 users will be right at home since for the most part the D600 is a D7000 with a full-frame sensor. That is obviously over-simplifying things but they share so much in common that it’s a good comparison. The D300s is in a funny spot. Feature wise it is comparable to the D700 that I talked about previously but it uses a DX sensor instead. It’s MSRP is also similar to the D600, but Nikon may drop that considering the value the D600 now offers.

So should D7000 users  look into upgrading to this camera? Absolutely! If you are happy with how your D7000 operates but you want to start experiencing the benefits of full-frame then it’s a no brainer. D300s users may be better suited to jump up to a D800 since there is a chance the D600 will have some features or conveniences that they will miss.

There’s so much focus nowadays on the sensors in these cameras that people tend to forget everything else like ergonomics and how comfortable you are taking pictures with it. The sensor is important, no doubt, but to give you an example I as a D700 owner would not want a D600. If I were to upgrade (and I see no reason to right now), it would be a D800.

Final Thoughts

The jump from a DX camera to a FX camera is always slightly painful because of the potential lenses you will have to replace, but once you’ve moved to FX you will never go back. The lower price of the D600 eases the transition and allows you to scoop up a lens or two that you otherwise may not have been able to if you went with the D800.  Is this any kind of upgrade path for Nikon FX users? I don’t think so. If you own one of the older FX cameras like a D3 or D700 your best bet is a D800.

The D600 is available for order now from Amazon and Adorama. Also available is a kit which includes a 24-85mm f/3.5-5.6 FX lens for $2599 (Amazon and Adorama).

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