It’s been four years since the full-frame Nikon D700 first arrived and became an overnight hit with serous enthusiasts and semi-pros looking for a full-frame body without the bulk of a twin-orientation professional DSLR. Prior to the D700, Canon’s original 5D and 5D Mark II were the only other full-frame DSLRs geared towards the same market, with other full-frame models of the time – such as the Nikon D3 and Canon 1Ds Mark III primarily aimed at professional photographers and priced accordingly. In addition to its undoubted abilities as a camera the legacy of the D700 was that it was the first full-frame Nikon DSLR to retail for less that £2000 – approximately half the price of the flagship Nikon D3 at the time.
This year has already seen the launch of the Nikon D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III, and while the latter seamlessly takes the 5D series on to the next level the D800 represents such a significant upgrade over the D700 it’s incorrect to think of it as a direct replacement. Indeed, the D800 – with its 36.3MP full-frame sensor – is something of a new direction for Nikon altogether. Step forward the D600 then – a full-frame DSLR that neatly bridges the gap between the enthusiast orientated D7000 and the semi-pro/pro D800.
The big question for many potential purchasers looking to make the jump from APS-C to full-frame will be whether to pay the extra premium for the D800 or to settle for the cheaper D600. At the time of writing the price of a D800 body has settled at around £2100, whereas the current street price for a D600 body is around £1750. At first glance this might not seem like much, with the difference equating to around £350. On the other hand, £350 is a useful sum to be able to put towards a new FX prime lens...
The first thing to note about the new D600 is that it’s not merely a stripped-down version of the D800, but rather a brand new camera in its own right. For a start the D600 gets an all-new 24.3MP full-frame FX CMOS sensor instead of the behemoth 36.3MP chip found inside the D800. This means that – in terms of effective resolution at least – the D600 is able to match, and in the vast majority of cases exceed, any other full-frame DSLR on the market. As with other FX Nikon DSLRs, the D600 does offer a 1.5x DX crop mode that allows you to use any existing DX lenses you might have without producing the extreme vignetting effect normally associated with mounting APS-C lenses on full-frame bodies. The only ‘downside’ to using the 1.5x crop mode is that effective resolution is reduced to 10.5MP.
Behind the sensor, the D600 employs Nikon’s latest EXPEED 3 image processor – the same one that’s used by the D4 and D800 and which enables the D600 to deliver 14-bit A/D conversion, as well as 16-bit image processing. The D600 offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400, which can be further extended to an ISO equivalent of 50-25,600 – exactly the same as the D800.
Continuous shooting speed is a healthy 5.5fps – which compares well against the 4fps of the D800 and the 5fps of the D700. In addition, you can also choose to shoot continuously at a slower rate of between1-5fps in the Continuous L mode. Rounding things off are a Quiet Shooting mode that muffles the shutter and an Interval Timer mode that allows you to program the shutter to fire at your own user-defined time intervals. These images are stored as movies that be played back at speeds of between 24 and 36,000 times faster, making the feature especially useful for the creation of time-lapse movies.
Metering is handled by a 2016-pixel RGB sensor that works with the sensor to feed information to the camera’s Scene Recognition System. This is then used to calculate the optimum exposure, white balance and autofocus settings. It’s not quite as advanced as what’s found on the D4 and D800, although it’s still a perfectly capable and reliable system.
The D600 uses a 39-point Multi-CAM4800 AF system that’s very similar to what’s found inside the APS-C equipped D7000. Nine of the 39 AF points are of the cross-type variety for improved AF efficiency regardless of whether you’re holding the camera in landscape or portrait orientation. By comparison the D800 and D4 use a 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type points. The other major difference AF performance between the D600 and D800/D4 is that the D600’s AF system works down to -1EV, compared to -2EV on the D800/D4. One further thing to note is that although the D600 offers 29 points, this can be scaled back to 11 or 9 AF points, which might come in handy if you’re using the camera in Single-point AF mode and want to hop around the screen quicker.
The D600’s optical viewfinder delivers 100% coverage with approximate magnification of 0.7x. On the back the D600 gets a larger than average 3.2in LCD monitor with a resolution of 921k-dots. The display can be set to automatically monitor the brightness of its environment and adjust the screen accordingly. Above the viewfinder you’ll find a built-in flash that, in addition to providing fill-flash on demand, can also be used in conjunction with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System to wirelessly control and trigger flashguns positioned off-camera.
On the side of the camera are two SD card slots, both of which are UHS-1 compatible. As with other dual-storage cameras from Nikon the D600 offers a range of storage options should you want to shoot with two cards in at the same time. There’s also the option to attach optional Nikon WU-1b Mobile Adapter for wireless transfer of images to Android smartphones or tablets. Apple compatibility is expected before the end of the year.