Dirk Jesper is Product Manager for Professional Products and Product planning at Nikon Europe. Photo: Barnaby Britton

Nikon has had a busy year, launching several new products including two full-frame DSLRs, the 36MP D800 and the enthusiast D600, which offers a 24MP sensor. In a week when Canon announced its own affordable full-frame camera, the EOS 6D, Barnaby Britton caught up with Dirk Jasper, product manager for professional imaging at Nikon Europe, to get his opinion on the competition, as well as some more detail on Nikon's newest - and cheapest - full-frame DSLR.

Dirk - is the D600 the new D300S? In other words a bridge between your DX format DSLRs and high-end full-frame?

It's hard to compare the D600 to the D300S. I see this camera sitting between the D7000 and D800, which are closer to the D600 than the D300S is. It has a decent resolution - 24MP full-frame - and we've included some of the features of the D7000, in terms of accessibility, and the scene modes and so on, but also we have D800 technology like the HDMI output, uncompressed video recording, the metering capabilities, which are adapted from D800 and D4-level technology. The D300S is a different concept. It's a semi-pro DX system camera and [the D600] is an enthusiast camera. So really we're talking about two different types of product.

We expect to get some upgraders coming to the D600 from the D300/S, though, also D80 and D90 users, we have received a lot of positive comments from them. They are considering entering the full-frame system with the D600, because they think it's good value for money, it's something they've been waiting for, because the D700 was out of reach when they bought their cameras. The D600 can process information twenty times faster than the D700. It has double the pixel count, the color range and the dynamic range is better…

The AF system is taken from the D7000 - have you made any changes?

Yes it's the same module, but there have been refinements, especially in terms of the sensitivity. With this camera you can focus at a combined aperture of F8, which isn't possible with the D7000.

Is that because the AF array occupies a smaller area of the image circle in the D600? So there's no light drop-off towards the edges than there might be in the D7000?

No, it's really the internal technology itself, which has been changed. This is something new that has been developed for the D600. Thirty three out of thirty nine focus points can offer AF down to F8. This is incredibly good for an enthusiast camera.

The Nikon D600 offers a 24MP CMOS sensor, high-end video recording cabanbilities and a 39-point AF system (inherited from the D7000). The interface is a cross between the D7000 and D800, and all three cameras share the same battery. You can also mount DX lenses on the D600 for 10.5MP capture. 

What are the challenges in putting all this technology into an enthusiast-level product?

That is something you should ask the engineers! I think the melding of proven, existing technology and new, or recently-introduced technology was very difficult. To find the right balance. That was one of the hardest things. Incorporating technology into a new product is not such a big thing, but to find the right balance so it still hits the target price point, so it's affordable, that's the key.

How important is video to your target audience for the D600?

Not so important for 'classic' photographers, but we see a huge community out there, a group of customers that we have not addressed really before the launch of the D4, the D800 and now the D600. These cameras are now being used by the video broadcasting community. For the first time this year we attended a major broadcast conference in Holland, and we had really positive feedback, people were waiting for us to go there. The D800 was used to film the UEFA championships in Sweden, among others. We're entering new markets now. Dexter is now filmed on the D800, too, it's broadly accepted even in a field where we really never intended it [to compete].

How many enthusiast photographers will shoot uncompressed HD footage?

I don't know, I can't tell you. I think it is becoming more popular though. There will always be people who concentrate on stills, which is absolutely fine of course, but a camera is there to offer opportunities. Not to say 'you must go there' but to say 'you can, if you want to'. That's the idea.

The D600, like the D800 and D4, does not feature focus peaking. Why not?

Currently, no, we don't have an in-camera solution. If we're talking about 24MP capture, and 36MP, any minor focus offset is more noticeable than it might be on a 12MP camera, no question. Working in video, where focus peaking is used most, working at open apertures focus can be an issue. But there are solutions for the problem. If you're serious, there are external recording options like the Ninja from Atmost, this works really well with the D600 and it offers focus peaking, zebra-ing, everything you might want.

But the D600 and D800 are not video cameras, they are still cameras. They have outstanding video capabilities, so we get a lot of requests for extra features but it takes research, it takes development, we have to do this step by step. For us, video is a new space. I'm not saying no, but I can't say whether we can provide focus peaking in a firmware upgrade or not.

When Canon introduced the 5D Mark II, there was some surprise that its video capabilities ended up being so popular. Were you surprised?

No. We were not. Video creatives came to us very early asking when were going to have something for them.

What's your opinion of the Canon EOS 6D? You must have been looking at it pretty closely?

I cannot really comment much on competitive models, but if you look at the concept of the 6D, I think Canon has a different approach to us. With the D600 we are really concentrating on the photographic features and we're trying to give the best photographic package that we can. We've seen a lot of cameras with full-frame sensors released in the past ten days but my feeling is that all of them - the 6D, Sony's A99 and RX1 - all have a different approach, and represent a different concept to ours.

We are really concentrating on delivering something for the photo enthusiast - so for example it was important to include a 100% viewfinder, a good AF system with enough cross-type AF points, the ability to shoot with teleconverters and still focus at F8, a built-in flash… also, you can use the D600's flash as a commander in Nikon's Creative Lighting System. That is we've been asked for by our customers. And our 'want to be' customers.

Canon's answer to the D600, the 20MP 6D, offers a slimmed-down feature set compared to its big brother the 5D Mark II but offers compelling features like built-in GPS and WiFi. Ergonomically the 6D is a cross between the APS-C 60D and the full-frame 5D II, but the fixed screen and lack of built-in flash might surprise some Rebel upgraders.

Which of your customers were you thinking about when you first sat down to plan the D600?

We were really thinking about applications, not what a specific owner of another camera might want. So landscape photographers for example who want 'real wide angle' and feel that APS-C isn't the best solution, that was one of the main audiences we had in mind. The D600 is a full-frame FX format camera that is easier to carry around than the professional models in our lineup, but it's still weather-sealed, for use out in the wild.

Are you selling more D600s body only, or with a lens?

I don't know yet, we only just started to sell the camera this week but I expect initially we will sell more cameras without a lens. We know there are a lot of lenses out there, enthusiasts already have lenses that they can use with the D600, and they want to test these existing lenses before they buy new ones.

The D600 has an automatic DX crop mode that will let you shoot at 10.5MP with DX lenses. Do your customers actually do this?

I don't know, I don't have that information. But it is important for us to maintain that compatibility, and that's why we have the automatic DX crop mode when a DX lens is mounted. This year we reached 70 million Nikon lenses produced, and maybe say, 40 million of those are compatible with the D600. At least. This is an amazing number and I think this is a core benefit of the Nikon system - you have a future-proof, and long-reaching ability with all of the Nikon lenses.

Even second hand, or refurbished, a good lens is still worth its price, ten or twenty years later. Especially for enthusiasts, backwards and downwards compatibility is very important. Once you invest your money in a system it must be safe. You must get value for money.