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Nikon D600 review review: Great full-frame camera on the (sorta) cheap

On the camera's left shoulder sits the exposure mode dial, on top of the release mode dial (which is how Nikon refers to its drive modes); the former has a lock button in the center and the latter has it adjacent. As with Canon's design, I don't really like the lock button in the center, as I find it a little awkward to operate single-handed that way. There are two user settings slots on the mode dial; that's one way in which the D600 differs from the pro bodies, which have a much more sophisticated (and complex) set of options. I happen to like them better on the mode dial, but I also find that three slots is my optimal number of custom sets.

On the right shoulder sit the status LCD, dedicated metering and exposure compensation buttons, the power switch circumscribing the shutter button, and a tiny video record button. I'm not a big fan of the tiny top record buttons that seem to be becoming the vogue, and am a little disappointed that you can't program one of the buttons on the back for this function.

As with other modern Nikon models, there are two programmable buttons to the right side of the lens; to the left side are the flash popup/flash compensation button, bracketing control, and focus mode switch plus focus area button. One capability I wish both Nikon and Canon would incorporate would be selecting groups of focus points, like you can with the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 and Olympus' old dSLRs.

It's notable that even though Canon dropped the column of buttons to the left of a smaller LCD on the 6D, the D600, which retains them, still manages to be narrower than the 6D. Menu, Picture Controls, white balance, quality, and ISO sensitivity line the left side. You operate the Live View/Movie switch and the focus-point-selector rocker with your right thumb.

The viewfinder is really nice, big and bright with the useful overlay grid that many of Nikon's dSLRs have. You can assign one of the buttons to activate a digital level in the viewfinder that uses the exposure bars, which I like, but I wish it didn't have to toggle between that and the typical exposure information, and that there were a vertical indicator as well for front-back tilt.

Although it's missing desirable features like built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, the D600 has a full complement of shooting options. Unlike the 6D it has a built-in flash; while I don't recommend using on-camera flash, it's useful in a pinch and it enables in-camera wireless flash operation. The D600 also gets props for dual SD card slots and a headphone jack, other features the 6D disappointingly lacks. And it retains Nikon staples like time-lapse shooting and an intervalometer, plus the clean and uncompressed HDMI output first offered by the D800. For some, however, the biggest advantage the D600 immediately offers over the 6D is the ability to use all variations of both DX (with APS-C cropping, of course) and FX lenses.

  Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 6D Nikon D600 Nikon D800/ D800E Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sensor effective resolution 21.1MP CMOS
4-channel readout
14 bit
8-channel readout
12-channel readout
24.3MP Exmor CMOS
36 x 24mm 36 x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 24mm 35.9 x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
ISO range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 25600/ 102400 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ 102,400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)
Burst shooting 3.9fps
14 raw/310 JPEG
13 raw/65 JPEG
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
(5fps with battery grip)
13 raw/14 JPEG

VF Optical
100% coverage
100% coverage
97% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
AF 9-pt AF
1 cross type
61-pt High Density Reticular AF
21 center diag to f5.6
5 center to f2.8
20 outer to f4
11-pt AF
1 center cross type
9 cross type
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
Dual phase-detection system
11 cross type;
102-pt focal plane
AF exposure range -0.5 - 18
-2 - 20 EV -3 - 18 EV
(center point)
0.5 - 18 EV
-1 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 35-zone TTL 63-area iFCL 63-area iFCL 2,016- pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,200 zones
Metering exposure range 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV (est) 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
Video H.264 MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/25p/ 24p H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p/ 25p/24p
all at 24, 12Mbps
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/25p/24p @ 24, 12, 8Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1,080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 4GB
(approx. 12 minutes)
29m 59s 29m 59s 20 minutes 4GB/20 minutes n/a
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack mono; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3.2 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 inches
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7) 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC
Wireless flash No No No Yes Yes No
Battery life
Live View (CIPA rating)
n/a shots
(1,800 mAh)
950/200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
1090/220 shots
(1,800 mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,900 mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,800 mAh)
410/500 shots
(1,650 mAh)
Size (inches, WHD) 6 x 4.5 x 3 6.1 x 4.6 x 3 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 5.5 x 4.5 x 3.2 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 32.9 33.5 27.2 30.1 35 25.9 (est)
Mfr. price $2,499 (body only) $3,499 (body only) $2,099 (body only) $2,099.95 (body only) $2,999.95/
$3,299.95 (body only)
$2,799.99 (body only)
n/a $4,299 (with 24-105mm lens) $2,899 (with 24-105mm lens) $2,699 (with 24-85mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date November 2008 March 2012 December 2012 September 2012 March 2012/
April 2012
October 2012

It's interesting to see where companies draw the line on features. For instance, as mentioned before Nikon only supplies two custom settings slots, and you can't save them to an SD card for sharing across bodies (though you can save and share Picture Controls). It's also limited to a three-shot/3EV bracket, though that might be wise given the highlight clipping. It uses the same, somewhat limited two-exposure sans raw HDR as in the D4.

Those are just the highlights. For a complete description of the D600's features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.

The Nikon D600 is essentially the D7000 with a full-frame sensor and some more modern video capabilities. That's what you're paying all the extra bucks for. Whether it's worth it for you depends upon what you photograph. If you primarily shoot telephoto, for example, the D7000's focal-length magnifier of 1.5x means you can use a shorter -- and generally lighter -- lens to achieve the same framing. The D600 does support DX lenses and will automatically frame to APS-C, so you don't lose any of that flexibility, but if you're never going to take advantage of the wider angle of view or use fast lenses, then you're better off sticking with the cheaper D7000 and spending the extra $1,000 on a nice lens. Another consideration, however, is that the D7000 is due for replacement -- if Nikon chooses to replace it at all.

The D600 definitely feels like a must-have upgrade over the D700, if not for the resolution than for the generations-improved image-processing, better performance, and bigger viewfinder and LCD. And video, of course. As the D600 is a vastly less expensive alternative to the D800, that choice is a little tougher. The D800 has a broader dynamic range, better AF system, and more durable build, but whether or not those are meaningful tradeoffs depends again on what you photograph. Though the 5D Mark II is old and has a lot of issues, like a sad AF system (and being discontinued), it still does a better job of holding highlights. I'm hoping that's a firmware-fixable update. As for a comparison with the 6D, that will have to wait until I get my hands on one.

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