Noise

The D600 delivers very clean JPEGs up through ISO 400. You can start to see a little degradation in shadow areas at ISO 800, though there's no corresponding degradation in well-lit areas until about ISO 3200. Images are generally quite usable through ISO 1600.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Noise, high-ISO JPEGs

There's obvious noise at ISO 6400 and above, with significant detail degradation even in bright areas in the expanded ISO sensitivity range.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 200 JPEG

The D600 produces lovely, natural sharpness and tonal range.

(1/100 sec, f6.3, +2/3 stop, ISO 200, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 66mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Detail recovery

While there's a lot more recovery latitude in the shadows than the highlights in the D600's images, there's sufficient latitude in both directions to fix most high-contrast photos (like my ISO 100 test photos, which I accidentally shot at +2/3 stop exposure compensation). One big difference between the D600 and the D800 is the amount of recoverable detail in seriously blown-out highlights; the latter is much better.

(1/25 sec, f7.1, +2/3 stop, ISO 100, matrix meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 68mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Highlights

The clipped highlights on the background apples are an example of areas of unrecoverable highlights. This is from the 14-bit raw file shot in the Adobe RGB color space; in the JPEG, those areas are simply flat.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 400 JPEG

Images come off the sensor with very little noise at ISO 400. I can't even credit the cleanness of this shot to good noise reduction; the raw version without any NR looks almost as good.

(1/13 sec, f5.6, spot meter, ISO 400, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 62mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 800 JPEG, bright light

The camera and sensor have extremely intelligent noise-reduction algorithms. This is the shadow area of a relatively bright shot; there's very little NR going on anywhere else in the scene.

(1/80 sec, f6.3, spot meter, ISO 800, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 78mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 800 JPEG, darkness

There are practically no visible compression artifacts or color noise in the sky, though there's some color noise in the gold areas of the clock. That tends to be difficult to process thanks to the reflection of the stoplight.

(1/80 sec, f4.5, spot meter, ISO 800, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 75mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Dynamic range

ISO 800 is as high as I'd go with assuming recoverable shadow areas -- there's some clipping in the darkest areas at 100 percent -- but it handled the significant exposure fix (raw file) very well.

(1/80 sec, f10, matrix meter, ISO 800, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 55mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 1600 JPEG

The JPEGs start to show significant color noise at ISO 1600, but you can get good results from raw.

(1/80 sec, f4.5, spot meter, ISO 1600, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 85mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 1600, no noise reduction

This is pretty good for an untouched ISO 1600 image.

(1/80 sec, f3.5, ISO 1600, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 24mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 3200 JPEG

While you can see quite a bit of color noise here, it's not noticeable in a 13x19 print or scaled down 75 percent.

(1/80 sec, f4.2, ISO 3200, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 52mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 6400 raw vs. JPEG

If you don't mind a little grain, the ISO 6400 images clean up real nice.

(1/80 sec, f4.5, ISO 6400, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 78mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 12800, D600 vs. 5D Mark II

Interestingly, the D600's JPEGs aren't exceptionally better than those of the 5DM2 at ISO 12800. However, the D600 doesn't have any hot pixels and has less clipping in the shadows of the raws than the 5DM2.

(1/80 sec, f4, ISO 12800, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, Nikon 24-85mm lens at 24mm/Canon 24mm f1.4 lens)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

ISO 12800 JPEG

The D600's high-ISO-sensitivity shots look very nice scaled down.

(1/80 sec, f4, ISO 12800, spot meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 24mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Color

Personally, I find the D600's white balance just a hair too cool in general, but it's still quite within the bounds of acceptability, and the colors are relatively accurate.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Picture Controls

The default Standard Picture Control doesn't seem to push saturation, but it does boost the contrast -- you can see where you lose some shadow detail because of it (the green peppers in the foreground, for example).

(1/60 sec, f4.5, ISO 200, matrix meter, AWB, Nikon 24-85mm lens at 80mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Bright, saturated colors

While the JPEGs tend to clip bright, saturated areas, the detail is still there are recoverable in raw.

(1/160 sec, f8, ISO 100, +2/3 stop, matrix meter, AWB, standard Picture Control, Nikon 24-85mm lens at 24mm/Canon 24mm f1.4 lens)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Sharpness, 24-85mm lens

The 24-85mm kit lens delivers a good sharpness match for the sensor.

(1/400 sec, f10, ISO 200, +2/3 stop, spotmeter, AWB, standard Picture Control, 24-85mm lens at 78mm)
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:
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