Colours remained vivid in all lighting conditions, both indoors and out, but never to the point of being unrealistic. Gradual transitions between similar tones were smooth and well controlled, while striking contrasts were sharp.
In very occasional circumstances, the lens I used in my tests introduced a very small amount of colour fringing into my results -- an effect known as chromatic aberration -- although your own experience will depend entirely on your choice of lens, as this is particular to the way it focuses the incoming light, and not the camera body itself.
On the whole, though, such stark contrasts were kept well under control. The Blackbird below contrasts sharply with the tall windows at the back of the hangar, yet the edges remain crisp throughout the focused area, with a very definite, well-defined black finish to the fold of the wings and fuselage.
Still life test
I performed the still life test with the D600 set to aperture priority at f/13 to extend the depth of field. It was mounted on a tripod so that an extended exposure time when using ambient light wouldn't lead to camera shake. In all lighting conditions -- studio lights, ambient light and using the onboard flash -- it maintained a constant self-selected sensitivity of ISO 100.
Under ambient light the exposure time ran to 1.6 seconds, resulting in a brighter image than that shot under studio lights, which required an exposure of just 1/10 second. This didn't lead to any reduction in the level of detail captured in the finished image however, or overexposure of the result.
Contrasts were stronger when using the on-board flash, and the shadows cast behind some objects were strong, but again colours were well differentiated, if not quite so neutral as they had been under the other two lighting conditions.
Image capture in movie mode is as snappy as it is when shooting stills. Again, colours are true to the originals and sharp contrasts are cleanly rendered.
It copes well with changes in the level of available light, compensating smoothly and without stepping, and the soundtrack is extremely cleanly recorded. Indeed, the D600 demonstrated some of the best long-distance sound recording I have yet come across.
I kept the microphone set to auto sensitivity throughout my tests, but should the need arise you can switch to manual sensitivity, which lets you configure it to a level of your choice on a 20-point scale. Whatever setting you choose, dual meters on the screen monitor the current recording level.
At best, movies are shot at 1,920x1,024p, 30fps, although the resolution can be stepped down to 1,280x720, which will increase the frame rate to 60fps. There's no option to shoot VGA or smaller sizes for online use, or to record exceptionally high frame-rate capture for smooth, slow-motion playback.
The D600 may sit within Nikon's 'consumer' dSLR line-up, but don't expect to bag one for a few hundred pounds -- not for a few years, anyway, and even then not brand new.
Buy one today with the kit lens I used in my tests and you can expect to pay around £2,000 -- a price that represents extraordinary value for money, undercutting a similarly-tooledby around £500 on the high street.
The Canon has a slightly higher frame rate for continuous shooting (6fps to the Nikon's 5.5fps), a higher maximum sensitivity without resorting to extended modes and 61 autofocus points, versus the D600's 39. The Nikon, meanwhile, has a built-in flash, it's lighter and it has a fractionally higher resolution.
All in all, then, the two are extremely closely matched, which means that when you take price into consideration the Nikon D600 looks like the more tempting deal for anyone looking to move up to a full-frame dSLR. Unless you have a stash of Canon lenses that you want to carry on using, then it's hard to recommend anything else.
The Nikon D600 should be considered something of a benchmark. It's a close to perfect marriage of features and price, that with a little bit of hard saving it puts full-frame photography within many an ambitious amateur's reach.