Nikon D600: Is it good enough?

I have to admit: I am a Nikon DSLR user and lover. Having used the brand for decades, I am accustomed to the handling and the interface. Putting my film SLR usage history aside, my first digital SLR was the Nikon D60, then D200, then D300. When the first full-frame Nikon DSLR, D700, was released in 2008, I reviewed and decided to wait for the 2nd generation of Nikon full-frame DSLR before deciding if I should buy one.

It was a 4-year wait.

Early this year, Nikon finally launched the D800. I reviewed and loved the whole experience of handling the beast. However, the image resolution and file size are too large for my workstation to handle the image processing workflow efficiently. Furthermore, I am not shooting photographs full-time, and certainly could not justify the purchase. For the kind of assignments I undertake, the current D300 is more than adequate.

Now that the Nikon D600 is launched, people are comparing the technical specs and wonder if the D600 is good enough. After all, with a street price of S$2900, the D600 is the cheapest full-frame Nikon DSLR - an "entry-level" camera.

My view: it is.

At 24.3 megapixels in full frame, the D600 pixel density is slightly lower than my 12-megapixel 1.5x crop D300. What it means is that when I crop at 100%, subjects on the D300 appear more magnified than D600.

Comparing field of view between D300 and D600 with same 50mm lens.
But the D600 sensor captures with better details.

100% crop: D300 vs. D600.

While the quality differences are apparent from the comparison shots above, they are probably not that obvious in actual shooting conditions. Besides, these can be tweaked using post-processing methods. So it appears my D300 is still capable of delivering good images after all these years.

D600 or D800
Let's put things in perspective. If you shoot for a living, you would have decided on the D800 for its excellent professional-grade build and functions. If you are considering the D600, you are either a hobbyist photographer who doesn't need - only want - spectacular handling, or someone on a budget who needs to make a very wise purchase.

Well then, choosing the Nikon D600 is wise.

Don't be mistaken: the D800 totally wins my heart in terms of ergonomics and performance. When it comes to shooting pleasure, the D800 is more enjoyable to use.

It's just that the D600 is not designed for the true-blue professional handler. It has consumer-like mode dials, Auto and Scene modes, fewer dedicated buttons, plastic frame body. Yet when you hold the D600, it feels every inch a professional grade camera. And it can deliver professional quality images. That's why I love Nikon DSLRs.

I don't find anything seriously lacking on the D600 for my shooting needs. The hand grip is adequate although not as comfortable as D800. The buttons feel responsive and well-built just like D800. The camera AF is speedier compared to my faithful D300. And although there are less AF points compared to the D800, I don't really feel any handicap. If any, I felt that Nikon should have filled up the entire frame on the D600 and D800 with AF points.

Personally, I don't fancy the D600 mode dial lock, which impedes my ability to change modes quickly. But I guess it's there with good intentions (and consumer feedback). I also find that I am unable to customise the "OK" button to zoom-in images during playback, something that I could do on my D300. This is a convenient custom feature that helps me check focus sharpness quickly.

Here's why I prefer the D600 over the D800:
Why D800 is still a better choice over D600:
Don't kid yourself: the Nikon D600 is never meant to offer uncompromised professional handling. But do you need it to achieve your shooting objective? For S$1000 more, it does sound like the D800 is a small price for a more complete product. But, if you do not really need to push the limits of the DSLR functionality (1/8000s shutter speed? 1/250s flash sync? High-risk accident-prone assignments?), for what it's worth, the Nikon D600 delivers a lot of value.

This article is also published on XINMSN.

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