Previous page Next page

Low light image quality

The D600 uses the same sensor (albeit placed in front of a different image processing engine) to that found in the Sony Alpha SLT-A99. As you can see from the various test pages scattered through this review, it offers very good image quality in a range of different situations, including subdued and poor light. The examples on this page are intended to show in-depth, just what the D600's sensor can do, and how you can get the most out of its JPEG and Raw output for the best results at high ISO settings, in marginal lighting conditions. Note that we will replace or augment some of the examples on this page with comparisons against the not-yet-available Canon EOS 6D at the earliest opportunity.

Real-world samples (JPEG)

The D600 matches or exceeds its nearest competition in terms of pixel count, and easily offers among the best image quality, too. Even when the light drops and you reach for the highest ISO settings, JPEG and Raw files contain plenty of detail, and it is only above ISO 6400 (the D600's highest 'standard' ISO sensitivity setting) that noise really becomes an issue for practical purposes. As you can see from the images on this page, and in our samples galleries, we've come a long way in the past few years. We'd have no qualms setting out to shoot night-time street scenes with the D600 handheld at ISO 6400. As always, you'll get the best results by shooting and carefully processing .NEF Raw files, but JPEGs are eminently usable.

ISO 1600 - JPEG, artificial light 100% crop
ISO 1400 - JPEG, artificial light 100% crop
ISO 6400 - JPEG, mixed daylight/artificial 100% crop
ISO 6400 - JPEG, artificial light 100% crop

The images here weren't taken at high ISO settings in order to specifically see what the camera could do, they were taken at these settings because it was necessary in the specific situations in which we found ourselves. Image quality is very high even at ISO 6400, and although not as sharp at 100% as we'd expect from JPEGs taken at lower ISO sensitivity settings, overall image quality is very impressive. There's no banding in these shots, and although noise is visible at ISO 6400, it's unobtrusive. The D600's AWB system has done well in all three cases, as well.

Noise-reduction (JPEG NR settings versus Raw)

If you're a JPEG shooter, you've got no option but to leave noise reduction to the camera itself, but you do still get a degree of control over how the D600 deals with high ISO noise - you can adjust it in four steps, from 'Off' to 'High'. The following example should give you an idea of the difference between these settings in normal use.

We set this scene up under very low tungsten light, and shot it at all five of the D600's noise-reduction settings in JPEG mode at ISO 12,800, and once more in Raw. White balance was set manually, from a gray card.

We processed the Raw file 'to taste' in ACR 7.3 to give you an idea of the difference between tweaking JPEG parameters and carefully processing Raw output.


NR Off - 100% Crop (detail) 100% Crop (shadow)
NR Low - 100% Crop (detail) 100% Crop (shadow)
NR Normal - 100% Crop (detail) 100% Crop (shadow)
NR High - 100% Crop (detail) 100% Crop (shadow)
Raw - processed in ACR 7.3 beta (detail) 100% Crop (shadow)

The images above show precisely what we'd expect - at high ISO sensitivity settings, turning the D600's JPEG high ISO noise reduction down to 'low' or 'normal' gives grittier results, which are sharper when examined critically, but the trade-off is relatively high levels of luminance noise, and some speckles of blue chroma noise - especially in shadow areas. Under warm tungsten light, blue, speckly shadows are a real risk, and can look very unpleasant and unnatural. The 'Normal' level of noise reduction, which is set by default, is a good compromise between sharpness and noise reduction, but 'High' reduces luminance noise at the expense of fine detail, limiting sharpness when compared to the results when NR is turned to 'low' or 'off'. On the plus side, the more intense chroma noise reduction has neutralized the blue noise in the shadows, but has reduced color saturation in the rest of the image in the process.

None of the JPEG noise reduction settings can compare to a carefully processed Raw file though, and if you're prepared to spend a little time adjusting the various parameters (we're using a beta version of Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 in this case) you'll be rewarded with higher resolution, more natural-looking detail and cleaner shadow areas.

D600 versus D800 in low light (JPEG)

For this test, we wanted to see how the D600 and D800 compare at identical (default) JPEG settings. For ease of comparison, we've reduced the D800's 36MP output to 24MP, to match the D600. This allows us to get a good idea of how the two cameras compare at an equal output size, such as a large print. If you're curious about what the original D800 files look like before downsampling, click on the magnifying glass icons on the thumbnails below (original image will open in a new tab).

We set this scene up under very low tungsten light, and shot it using both the D600 and the D800. Exposure settings and shooting parameters were identical with both cameras, and white balance was set manually, using a gray card.

Click on the magnifying glass symbol on the images below for the full-sized (un-resized, in the case of the D800) originals.
D600 D800 (resampled to 24MP)
ISO 3200 - 100% Crop ISO 3200 - 100% Crop
ISO 6400 - 100% Crop ISO 6400 - 100% Crop
ISO 12800 - 100% Crop ISO 12800 - 100% Crop

We're downscaling the D800's files to 24MP here, so it's no surprised that at a pixel level, the D800's JPEG output looks fractionally sharper than the D600. Also interesting to note though is that beyond ISO 3200, the difference in detail reproduction between the D600 and downsampled D800 images is fractional. The D800 clearly contains more detail at ISO 3200 but at ISO 6400 - and certainly by ISO 12800 - detail capture is all but identical even at very close examination. This isn't a huge surprise - the camera with the most pixels will always outresolve the one with fewer in ideal conditions, but at a certain point, noise will get in the way until there's little real benefit to be had from the extra pixel count.

D600 versus D800 in low light (Raw - no NR)

Here's exactly the same scene, showing comparative image quality in Raw mode at ISO 12800. Again, we've downsampled the D800 to 24MP, to match the D600 and again, we've provided a link to the full-sized original image for download. We've also provided a link to the original .NEF Raw files from both cameras. Note that we're presenting these images with zero sharpening, and noise reduction turned down to '0' in Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 (beta).

D600 - ISO 12800, Raw (No NR) D800 - ISO 12800, Raw (No NR)
100% Crop 100% Crop

The story when we examine the D600's Raw output alongside the D800 is basically the same as it is for JPEG. The two cameras are very very similar when examined in this way. The D800 gives sharper images when downsized to 24MP from its native 36MP, which could mean fractionally better print quality in large prints, but the difference is small.

Previous page Next page
I own it
I want it
I had it
Discuss in the forums


Total comments: 20

Amazing stuff ... very impressive technology and very likely an extremely capable camera (in the right hands). And yet, not for me. I find the bulk and the functional overload of cameras like the new D600 distracting and intimidating for both, photographer and subject. I much prefer more simple and purposeful designs that concentrate high quality photography.

1 upvote

What UI did Nikon install in this camera?

carton dinis machado

how to compare Nikon D600 versus nikon D7100

1 upvote
Mike FL

The new D610 has the same problem that Dust spot issue continues.


Today, D600 was ordered to be off sale by Government in China. 2014/03/16


Law Firms Lining Up to File Class Action Lawsuits Over the D600 Dust/Oil Issue:


Great camera but the oil spots, sold all my Nikon equipment and got a Canon 6D instead.
Now much happier with great Wi-Fi implementation, made in Japan better camera body....

1 upvote

Something that amazes me is that the Sony A99 actually performs better at high ISO settings, like ISO 1600 and ISO 6400, than this camera and the D610. I didn't expect that. If you doubt me, just take a look at the photos here with the studio shot comparison tool. Be sure to set the ISO settings for both cameras and make sure you look at the playing card and the writing on the red square under the dime. Those areas REALLY show the noise.

1 upvote
munro harrap

I am sure you , thinking a little about it, must realize they produce with profit in mind, not love for you, who are merely contributors to their profits for them.
That is all you are, and all even the greatest photographers are- a means of supporting their incomes and assuring the wealth and value of the yen against the euro, pound, and dollar.

Nikon knew pre-release, surely, that this problem existed, as they extensively test new machines. Therefore, it follows, surely, that this was all done on purpose, as was designing lenses that do not cover more than APS-C properly (24-70 NahNo!) because they delude themselves that we are all so pleased to own a Nikon that we will even buy plastic mount lenses for it!! Made of plastic, and according to one reviewer taped inside with sticky tape as iPhone lenses are with glue.

They think we are that jackdaw stupid. They are correct. We are so stupid we cannot make cameras at all!!!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
Frank C.

No recall from Nikon because of their abysmal recent quarter(s), if this would have happened in 2010 I'm sure Nikon would have replaced the shutter mechanisms for free under guarantee but is it stands now Nikon is struggling, there's no money in the pot to recall and fix the d600


How do you explain the D610 and the lack of recall of the D600?

One doesn't need a PHD in damage control; the way Nikon handled this issue and it's customer base are a shame.
The D600 should have been fixed, full shutter issue disclosure should have been provided.
Is the D610 shutter mechanism the same as the one on the D600 where it was replaced?
Simple questions, there should be answers but of course no, nothing.


DP Review is a professional organization and their review of the Nikon D600 meets professional standards. It is impressive how much better the Nikon D600 camera performs than Canon and Sony's high end cameras. The D600 is clearly the winner in the DP Review comparison of these top end cameras. For me the D600's handling of ISO images sets it apart from the competition and is one reason why Nikon is the #1 camera brand.

Apparently the early production run of the Nikon D600 had some cameras whose shutter mechanism was faulty. Nikon gave an advisory in February 2013 for those affected to take their cameras to their service centers and many had their camera's shutter mechanism replaced.

Canon's top end camera also experienced a light leak issue from its early production run. Apparently providing a fix was much more involved because it was a structural problem. Apparently Canon's solution was to put a tape inside the camera to cover the light leak.

Finally, the D600 is awesome!

1 upvote

For some its awesome, for others its their worst nightmare.
As long as your happy everything is fine, if there is a 610 there is a big reason for that.....

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting

You seem to trust DP Review's "professional standards" so much that you forget to use your own critical sense. Look closely at the studio shots, JPEG at 100 and 3200 ISO and tell me that the Nikon is not overly soft and lacking detail compared to the Sony or Canon, especially on the playing cards.


Cheers to DPR for the gold rating of D600 - a clearly defective camera by design and component. The link above is the implied admission from Nikon. Next time raters from DPR, it is better that you state "we withhold any final rating on this camera at this time until we see a conclusive fix from Nikon" or something like that and save yourselves the embarrassment.


D600 nightmare: After three weeks a few spots appeared. After four weeks a MASSIVE number of spots appeared and I sent it in to Nikon's New York repair facility. Two weeks later I received it, they had replaced the shutter mechanism and cleaned the low pass filter. I took some blue sky test shots which revealed spots still on the sensor. Back to Nikon for the second time. I received the D600 back from Nikon and the workorder shows all they did was re-clean the already cleaned sensor. Test shots show the exact same spots present as when they received it.

How ridiculous is it that an untrained consumer can see a serious problem in 5 minutes, and Nikon's service center has now twice sent out a camera with a damaged sensor.

One more thing: HEY NIKON - can we end the fantasy that the problem is dust? From the owner's manual: "Note, however, that the filter is extremely delicate and easily damaged." And apparently it is damaged when lubricant from the shutter mechanism hit it.


the "trained" technician is stuck in some poorly lit building. Is not like they can go outside and take shots of blue sky.


Nikon comes clean over the dust and oil problem – meaning they fixed it. Nikon users also mentioned even before the Nikon announcement that these issues disappear after the camera has been run in.
where there are two comparison grids of the most popular cameras to date.


they didn't fix it


No they havent fixed it. What they are doing in Australia is fitting a new D600 shutter, cleaning your sensor and sending it back, then surprise surprise after about 500-1000 shots the oil is splattered thickly again, not the normal one or two spots but multiple,this is not normal! after about 4 returns they send you another D600. So then your back on the round-about. I dont think I will buy NIKON again.

1 upvote
Total comments: 20