Nikon D600 review
Full-frame SLRs used to be out of reach for most amateur photographers, but that's beginning to change. The Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D600 both use full-frame sensors housed in more consumer-orientated bodies. With prices below £1,500 exc VAT, they're enticing propositions for amateur enthusiasts, and might just make the perfect backup camera for professionals too.
The Nikon D600 is the first to arrive in the shops, and our testing lab. It sits neatly between the cheaper Nikon D7000 and the pricier D800 in terms of size, weight and sensor resolution. Physically, it's much closer to the D7000, though, with dual SDXC slots and an almost identical layout of controls. This isn't a criticism. The D7000's sublime ergonomics belie its price, and in practice there's very little difference between all three cameras when it comes to accessing key functions. Almost everything can be adjusted by holding down one of the many labelled buttons and turning a command dial. Thankfully, this includes toggling Auto ISO on and off – something the D7000 leaves buried in the menu.
The only drawback we found was that reaching for the ISO speed, white balance or JPEG quality controls directly after shooting resulted in us inadvertently locking or zooming the previous picture. The D800 avoids this by splitting these shooting and playback functions to separate buttons. Meanwhile, those who shoot fast-paced action may regret the lack of an AF-On button for triggering autofocus separately to the shutter release. The AE Lock button or the Function button on the front of the camera can be assigned to this task, but this might not be enough to satisfy professionals who need to switch regularly between cameras.
The autofocus sensor has 39 points, nine of which are cross-type. This matches the specifications of the D7000, and the layout of the points is identical - but they haven't been modified for the full-frame sensor. While on the D7000 they cover a large area, on the D600 they're bunched more in the centre. This is good news when using the 3D tracking mode to follow moving subjects around the frame, but only if they stay relatively near the centre. For subjects towards the edges, the only option is to focus, recompose and shoot. For us, this is the D600's biggest weakness, but it's something we could live with.
The pricier D800 boasts a 36-megapixel sensor, but our comparisons with the 22.3-megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark III revealed that the D800's massive resolution comes at the expense of slower performance and higher noise at fast ISO speeds. Predictably, the D600's 24.3-megapixel sensor can't match the D800 for details, but it challenges the 5D Mark III for low noise and fast performance.
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