Very Brief D600 initial thoughts

Started Sep 22, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Very Brief D600 initial thoughts
Sep 22, 2012

First off - this is a long, long way from my usual long term evaluation of a camera body. This post is strictly some initial first thoughts after getting to briefly evaluate and shoot with a D600. I'm a D800E (primary) and D700 (backup) user who has used most of the Nikon DSLR line (D100, D70, D2X, D80, D90, D300, D7000 in addition to shooting with a D3S, plus the two bodies I own now), and these are nothing more than my preliminary thoughts:

It's basically a D7000 body feel and construction quality (meaning, not as good as D700 or D800 or of course one of the pro bodies, but decent) scaled up to FX. The viewfinder for some reason frustrates me a touch and I'm not sure why, but I could live with it. The body "feel" is a bit plastic, but again, it's nothing I couldn't live with. I probably would try not to bang this camera around.

Biggest surprise was the AF: Nikon definitely seems to have improved the (very marginal IMO) AF from the D7000 in the D600. I never liked the D7000 AF in anything but bright list - being almost utterly unreliable for serious work in lower light (including under studio modeling lights) but my first tests of the D600 AF in dimmer light were very encouraging. It's fairly snappy to first acquisition, and the test body I used didn't suffer from any back or front focus issues. Is the AF as good as the D800E I own? No, it's not at that level, but it's better than I expected.

Image Quality: Really nice. It has that same kind of "feel" to how far you can push the shadows as with the D800, and the color performance and general "look" to the files is quite nice. Now - and here's the tricky part - do the D600 files have that same "near large format quality magic" that the D800E files do when one takes the time to shoot at a proper aperture with an excellent lens and have all the craft variables nailed down? No. Not in the same league. There still is something to a D800E file shot, say, between F/5.6 and F/9 that no other DSLR in production at the time I write this approaches - there's a level of microcontrast and for lack of a better word, "reality" to the D800E files that sets this camera at the top of the image quality heap. However, in order to "get there" with the D800E, you have to be at the top of your game craft wise, and if you're shooting at F/13 or higher, you won't get there either. The D600 files are gorgeous - no doubt - but it's more an extension, subjectively speaking, of the image quality into the higher megapixels rather than reaching a new plateau in terms of image quality. But getting to that new plateau on a D800 series body takes a lot of effort while getting to the D600 image quality, while still requiring a certain level of craft, doesn't take as much "work" in some ways. I'd say, offhand, that the D600 files are like D3X files with better dynamic range in the shadows. Please don't take this paragraph to mean I'm some D800 snob who looks down upon everything else - it isn't meant to be that at all - I'm actually very pleased with the D600 files for what they are - but at the same time, if one truly takes the time and effort to work the D800E files to their best capability (which is harder to do), the files of the 800E do still live in their own neighborhood. Whether each photographer requires that level or wishes to work towards achieving that level is a different matter.

In terms of high ISO, from very, very, very limited testing, it looked pretty good. In the usual mixed lighting misery of indoors, it looked competitive at 1600 and held up well even at 3200. I'd need to shoot one a lot more to tell how it acts, but I think it will do fine for most uses.

In short, assuming I didn't just get a "lucky sample" to play with in terms of the AF being spot on without the misery myself and my colleagues have experienced with the D7000 AF, I think this camera is going to sell like lemonade to a thirsty man in death valley. I don't have an immediate need for it, but come early next year, my plan will be to purchase a D600 and put it into backup duty for studio and landscape work - I was impressed enough with the body to make that decision. However, that also means it will be a long while before I will be able to thoroughly test it in my usual fashion - anything I have typed here today is just a preliminary impression, nothing more. (But enough of an impression to change my mind about picking one up as a backup body at some point - until today I wasn't planning to get one)


Nikon D2X Nikon D300 Nikon D3S Nikon D3X Nikon D600 Nikon D70 Nikon D700 Nikon D7000 Nikon D80 Nikon D800 Nikon D800E Nikon D90
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