Bigger is better, the saying goes, and nowhere is that more true than where cameras are concerned. The lure of a full-frame sensor can be sufficient to drive many users towards an upgrade -- a fact Nikon clearly recognises. It's busy pushing chips of that size into more of its mid-range models, among which sits the D600.
It's a chunky beast of a camera, and heavy with it, but it's packed with all the controls and features you might ever need to make best use of its monster resolution.
Sensor and lens
The D600's native resolution is 24.7 megapixels, which when you allow for the unused pixels around the edge produces 6,016x4,016-pixel shots. They're written to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards loaded into a pair of parallel slots. This dual-slot setup is becoming increasingly common on more advanced dSLRs and affords great flexibility.
Option one is to carry on shooting for longer with the D600 set to switch to the second card as soon as the first is full. If you prefer the belt-and-braces approach, you can settle on option two, and use the second card as an instant backup -- useful for wedding photographers who won't be wanting to take any risks -- or there's option three: write different formats to each card, with raw NEF files on the first, and JPEGs on the second.
In front of this is the F lens mount, which I used to secure a 24-85mm unit. Thanks to the FX-format sensor the stated focal lengths need no further conversion to work out how they perform in comparison to those on a traditional 35mm film camera. Its maximum aperture at wide angle is f/3.5, and at full telephoto it stands at f/4.5, although you'll experience different results if you buy the D600 body only and pair it with an alternative lens.
On the whole though, if you opt for this lens as part of the VR kit you won't be disappointed. It's fast to find focus, and makes it easy to capture a shallow depth of field with a creamy fall-off to the defocused areas.
As you'd expect of a mid-range dSLR, there's a huge number of buttons and dials dotted around the body. The top plate is dominated by a large read-out for common shooting information, which you can replicate on the rear LCD if you choose.
At the opposite end of the body you'll find the shooting mode selector, with the regular PASM modes supplemented by the kind of auto and scene modes common to consumer models (the D600 does fall into Nikon's consumer line-up, after all).
This is a dual-layered control, with a secondary ring below it taking care of remote control, timer delay and so forth.
For the most part you'll compose your images using the optical viewfinder, but you can lock open the shutter if you'd rather frame the view on the rear LCD. Obviously this is a necessity if you're shooting video, and turning off live view simultaneously shuts down any movie recording. The LCD is fixed, so can't be reorientated like the display on theto compose your shot from less conventional angles.
Built-in editing tools
You needn't wait until you get back to base before you start work on editing your shots, as there's a generous range of creative tools built in. Some of these are simple on/off options, such as monochrome conversion, which doesn't give you any control over contrasts, highlights, shadows and so on. Others, such as D-Lighting, let you step through various strengths to trim the result.
All edited images are saved as copies of the original, so you can still retrieve your untouched shot, and in some cases can apply sequential edits, although once some options are applied it blocks you from applying others on top.
One benefit of a larger sensor, such as the one found here, is that the camera tends to have better low-light performance, as manufacturers can afford to space out or enlarge the photosites on the chip. This certainly paid dividends with the D600, where high-sensitivity shooting resulted in very clean results.
At ISO 1,000, which was used to photograph the cat below, the level of grain in the image is impressively light and doesn't hamper capture of fine detail such as the hair and whiskers on the cat's face. The cat's fur is full of detail, and flat areas such as the illuminated wall behind it are smooth.
Maximum sensitivity is ISO 100-6,400 (extendable to ISO 25,600) with compensation of +/-5.0EV, broken down into steps of one third of a stop. On the basis of this performance, I had no hesitation throughout my tests in switching the D600 to its flash-off auto setting and letting it choose whichever sensitivity it preferred. Even at ISO 1,600, noise was only faintly visible upon extremely close inspection.
Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, plus bulb. These are pretty much de rigeur for a camera of this level, and give you the freedom to freeze or blur pretty much any subject you choose.