But let's be honest, the best feature is still that tiny price tag. The D600 retails for only $2,099, going head-to-head with the Canon 6D in the newly-formed "affordable" full-frame market.

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Box Photo

• Nikon D600 digital camera

• neck strap

• USB cable

• EN-EL15 battery pack

• wall charger

• AC cable

• Quick Start Guide (English and Spanish)

• User's Manual (English and Spanish)

We tested the D600 using Nikon's new Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5, which offers a relatively wide aperture all the way through the focal range. The lens isn't very heavy, plus the wide angle and moderate zoom make it a good choice for travel. The same MF/AF and VR On/Off switches found on many Nikon lenses are here too, and so are the large mechanical rings for zoom and focus, which are each a little more stiff than other manufacturers' versions. When focusing or zooming, the front element remains fixed, allowing you to set up filters properly in advance.

Nikon's famously long-lived F-mount is still in use here on the D600, which has full-featured backwards compatibility extending all the way back to lenses produced in the 70's. There's also an autofocus drive motor included for full compatibility with all AF Nikkor lenses. Automatic DX crop is also available in the menus, which limits you to just an APS-C sized portion of the sensor. This has the benefit of giving you a 1.5x crop factor, but it limits resolution to just 10.3 megapixels.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

The D600 uses a 24.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor. For the uninitiated, this means the digital sensor is just as large as a 35mm film frame or, in even simpler terms, huge. Big sensors unlock more depth of field, wider angles of view, and generally better low light performance.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

If you follow the news as closely as we do, you'll also know the D600 has become rather infamous for a dust issue, which seems to be the result of a manufacturing flaw. We're sad to report our test model has the same affliction, we noticed dust on both the sensor and the viewfinder as well.

According to this post on the LensRentals.com blog, the dust issue dissipates over time. When we received our prouction-level D600 we made sure to put it through some thorough usage. Our D600 was well-broken in at that point, with over 9000 actuations. After a thorough cleaning and periodic checkups, none of our subsequent tests were affected by this issue.

The D600's bright optical viewfinder is a joy to shoot with. Coverage is 100%, and the screen overlay illuminates red when a focus point locks on. The focus screen displays small boxes around each point, rather than dots or crosses, so you can always see exactly what you're focusing on.

Around the viewfinder is a removable rubber eye cup. Built-in diopter adjustment is accomplished via a small wheel above the eye cup, and it extends from -3 to +1m-1.

The rear LCD monitor is a 3.2-inch display clocking in at a resolution of 921,000 dots. Frame coverage is once again 100%, but we spent far more time with the viewfinder and reserved the LCD mostly for video purposes (though proper videographers will want an external monitor). Nikon's classic scratch guard covers the entire monitor, but even with this addition neither reflectivity nor viewing angle are ever a problem. Brightness is more than sufficient for outdoor use, and onscreen color rendition is remarkably accurate to the final image.

On the left side of the body, you'll find three rubber stoppers, underneath which are connectivity ports for a pair of headphones, an external 3.5mm microphone, USB, HDMI, and even external GPS. The big misses here are going to be the D800's flash sync terminal and 10-pin remote terminal. The D600 does feature the ability to connect wired remotes through the GPS terminal, or go with wireless remotes if you need.

The D600 ships with an EN-EL15 rechargeable battery pack, which must be removed and charged via a wall socket adapter. This battery is CIPA rated to 900 consecutive shots but, unless you're using onboard flash, battery life should be much better in practice. As mentioned above, we actuated the shutter thousands of times on a single charge.

Battery Photo

Dual SD card slots reside on the right side of the body. That's right, two SD card slots, no CompactFlash. A remarkably self-explanatory menu item called "Role played by card in Slot 2," governs the role of the card in slot 2. The second card may be used for simple overflow storage, carbon copy backup, or for JPEG versions of RAW images stored in slot 1.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

Aside from the obvious difference in megapixel resolution, the D600 seems to offer few advantages or disadvantages over the D800's image quality, but for $1000 less, that's amazing. We're particularly impressed by this camera's color accuracy, which surpasses the D800, as well as its noise reduction capabilities, which hang in there with the very best cameras on the market today.

Sadly, some of the D800's problem areas have also been carried over. White balance, especially the automatic algorithm, struggles under all lighting conditions except the sun. Still, image quality is fantastic overall and every obstacle present in our testing can be overcome with patience or preparation.

The 24-85mm kit lens is sharp, and obeys many of the performance trends common to all lenses. For example, sharpness is certainly always best at the center of the frame, and at moderate aperture values like f/9.0 and f/10.0. Shrinking the iris down to f/22.0 or f/29.0 has a predictable softening effect, as diffraction begins to set in even on the large sensor. Opening the aperture up all the way generally produces sharpness somewhere in the middle. Focal length has only a minor effect on resolution, and this is really only observable at 85mm. More on how we test sharpness.

Shooting a standard 24-patch Xrite ColorChecker chart, the D600 returned an uncorrected color error value of only 2.32, with a corresponding oversaturation of only 2.1%, which is within our tolerance. Looking over the gamut, we see that light blue/greens are are responsible for the most severe inaccuracies, while remaining shades share the blame equally. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

This results outscores some of the finest cameras of 2012, including Nikon's own D800, as well as Sony's new A77. For fun we also included the Nikon D4 in this comparison group, as well as the Canon 5D Mark III, and both of these models have superior color accuracy.

As is often the case for Nikon SLRs, the most accurate color mode (or "Picture Control" in Nikon parlance) is Neutral, by far. The Portrait and Standard modes also have color accuracy we'd consider acceptable, while Landscape, Vivid, and of course Monochrome should be used for artistic purposes only.

The D600's white balance performance is below average for a camera of this price. The automatic algorithm is particularly poor, and really only does an acceptable job in daylight. Under fluorescent light, the D600 produces an average color temperature error in excess of 1800 Kelvin, which is unacceptable. Things are even worse under incandescent light, which results in average color temperature errors of around 3400 K.

If you can't shoot in RAW, it's always worth your time to perform a custom white balance when shooting with the D600. This extra step will reduce color temperature inaccuracies down to below 200 K, a totally acceptable level. Daylight is once again the most accurate lighting condition, averaging errors of only 120 K.

While the field is relatively close in terms of custom white balance, the D600's automatic white balance scored similarly to the D800, which in turn lagged behind other cameras in this category.

High ISO performance of the D600 is exceptionally strong, returning usable shots up to ISO 3200 or 6400 depending on print size, and all this before the use of any noise reduction software.

Once you do start using noise reduction, the effects can be dramatic. Each noise reduction level behaves similarly at low ISOs, but once you cross 3200, the software has the ability to lessen image noise by one "ISO's worth" per noise reduction level. For example, image noise is 1.76% at ISO 6400 and low noise reduction, yet holds steady at 1.71% at ISO 12800 with normal noise reduction. Basically, this is really good noise reduction software.

Each step incurs a penalty to detail level of course, but the shots that can be pulled off low light situations are worth it. More on how we test noise.

The D600's sensitivity range extends from 100 - 6400 natively, however this can be extended considerably without any resolution penalty. After unlocking them with a menu option, sensitivities down to Low 1.0 (ISO 50 equivalent) are available at the bottom end, and sensitivities up to Hi 2.0 (ISO 25,600 equivalent) appear at the top.

The D800's maximum dynamic range is 7.21 stops at ISO 100. The "Low 1.0" ISO setting (ISO 50 equivalent) sometimes produces dynamic range in excess of 7.5 stops, but not consistently. Dynamic range does not fall off dramatically until ISO 800, at which point the camera is only capable of 5.41 stops, then 4.62 stops at ISO 1600, 3.88 stops at ISO 3200, and so on smoothly from there. At maximum native ISO, 6400, the D800's range is 3.16, and further boosting sensitivity up to "Hi 1.0" or "Hi 2.0" reduces dynamic range to 2.55 stops and 1.94 stops respectively.

It's important to note that our dynamic range score has a much higher threshold for quality than the industry standard. Dynamic range is the range of tones in which the camera can capture and distinguish between light levels. The industry standard involves including any tones that are captured with a signal to noise ratio (SNR) of at least 1:1. This makes sense from an engineering standpoint; those tones are at least 50% the signal you want. Of course, any part of the photo with 50% noise is going to be completely unusable. We use a much higher threshold, cutting off dynamic range measurements at a SNR of 10:1, which results in a better indicator of photographic quality but results in lower numbers than you may see published elsewhere. More on how we test dynamic range.

This is a strong result. The D800 offers slightly better low-ISO performance, and slightly worse high-ISO performance, resulting in scores between the two that are, coincidentally, separated by only one thousandth of a point in our scoring system. Both cameras lag behind the Sony A77 and the expensive Canon 5D Mark III, and of course this entire comparison group is easily trounced by the ultra high-end D4.

High ISO performance of the D600 is exceptionally strong, returning usable shots up to ISO 3200 or 6400 depending on print size, and all this before the use of any noise reduction software.

Once you do start using noise reduction, the effects can be dramatic. Each noise reduction level behaves similarly at low ISOs, but once you cross 3200, the software has the ability to lessen image noise by one "ISO's worth" per noise reduction level. For example, image noise is 1.76% at ISO 6400 and low noise reduction, yet holds steady at 1.71% at ISO 12800 with normal noise reduction. Basically, this is really good noise reduction software.

Each step incurs a penalty to detail level of course, but the shots that can be pulled off low light situations are worth it. More on how we test noise.

The D600's sensitivity range extends from 100 - 6400 natively, however this can be extended considerably without any resolution penalty. After unlocking them with a menu option, sensitivities down to Low 1.0 (ISO 50 equivalent) are available at the bottom end, and sensitivities up to Hi 2.0 (ISO 25,600 equivalent) appear at the top.

We detected no differences in the focus speed of the D600 versus the D800 in a side-by-side comparison. Both cameras lock on quietly, precisely, and almost instantaneously. This alleviates one of our chief fears concerning the D600: that the camera's different autofocus system, which features only 39 AF points to the D800's 51, would be inferior. Thankfully, it's not.

Just like the D800, the D600 was able to produce a 50 IRE video image using only 4 lux of ambient illumination, making both of these models some of the most sensitive we've tested. Note the D600's auto-gain will not meter past ISO 6400, so for the sake of consistency, that's the maximum we tested. If you choose to manually increase sensitivity beyond the sensor's native range, to ISO 25600 equivalent, the D600 requires only 1 lux of illumination to gather 50 IRE.

Chromatic aberration is evident in some shots, and not so much in others, amounting to an overall average of about 0.5 pixels of fringing off a typical edge. The effect is spread pretty evenly across all focal lengths and apertures of the kit lens, however we did notice one or two hot spots. Notably, f/3.5 at 24mm was home to the worst chromatic aberration, though other focal lengths at this aperture were better than average. Across all apertures, we also noticed 55mm seemed to be the worst focal length for fringing.

As a whole, these are (narrowly) the best chromatic aberration results in our comparison group, including the D4.

Like the D800, radial distortion is very severe when using the kit lens. We recorded a whopping 3.20% barrel distortion at the widest angle, then 3.31% and 3.33% pincushion distortion at the middle and telephoto focal lengths respectively. We expect scores to be a little bit worse in high-end cameras, since the distortion effect isn't corrected...but not this much worse.

The D600's recording speed of 30 frames per second producing much more trailing than what we've come to expect from 60p devices, however the motion test was otherwise free of issues. We noticed only minor compression artifacting and even fewer occurrences of poor overall smoothness. Frequency interference is nonexistent. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Under full studio illumination and while shooting video with the kit lens, the D800 is capable of resolving 750 lp/ph of detail both horizontally and vertically. Our sharpness test footage was surprisingly polluted by moire, despite the presence of an optical low pass filter. Ultimately this result places the D600 in line with the more expensive D800, but lagging behind the Canon 5D Mark III. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Under low light, the camera's video sharpness performance dips a bit, but not by much. Image noise starts to affect the footage in dim lighting, so this time the D600 resolved 650 lp/ph both horizontally and vertically.

Just like the D800, the D600 was able to produce a 50 IRE video image using only 4 lux of ambient illumination, making both of these models some of the most sensitive we've tested. Note the D600's auto-gain will not meter past ISO 6400, so for the sake of consistency, that's the maximum we tested. If you choose to manually increase sensitivity beyond the sensor's native range, to ISO 25600 equivalent, the D600 requires only 1 lux of illumination to gather 50 IRE.

Nikon's interfaces are typically expert-oriented, with far more of an emphasis on shortcuts and hotkeys than menu navigation. Fans of the Nikon method will love operating the D600, which is very much a traditional example of their control philosophy. What few changes do exist include a new dual-function, dual-locking, mode / drive mode dial.

Another important point is that the D600 is actually faster than the D800. While the D800 could only export its 36 megapixel files at a rate of 4 frames per second, the D600 is capable of 5.5. True, neither one of these are really ideal for sports photography, but hey, an upgrade is an upgrade.

A fully automatic "green" mode is available on the mode dial, and it removes some—though not all—of the choice and control from photography. This is still your best option for handing off the camera to non-experts, though you'll probably need to tweak one or two basic settings before doing so.

Logically, the D600's control scheme is typical Nikon. A cluster of dual-purpose buttons are arranged vertically along the left side of the monitor, while the right side of the rear panel is reserved for buttons within reach of the right thumb, including AE-L, Live View, the directional pad, as well as the rear control dial (one of two found on the D600).

While many of us here at the office are partial to Canon menu interfaces, those with Nikon allegiance will be pleased by the D600's control style. Nikon's DSLR menus are more expert-oriented than their Canon counterparts. They're more closely based on buttons, more physical, and therefore require a much steeper learning curve. The tradeoff comes once you finally get a hang of the menus, and start to remember where options are, at which time you'll find most shooting options are fast at hand, without the need to navigate through any menus at all.

When the main menu is necessary, you'll find the same horizontal tab-based orientation that Nikon has been using for years. The location of a given setting isn't always intuitive, so here again a learning is in place for those that don't already own a Nikon DSLR. Navigation is accomplished primarily with the directional pad, which is adequate.

The D600 ships with a thick, comprehensive user's manual that features both a table of contents and index. Each section is tabbed on the outside edge of each page, so the huge document is easy to thumb through quickly. Plus, there's two of them, one in English and one in Spanish.

The D600's right hand grip is rubberized and textured, plus there's a deep lip underneath the trademarked red accent, giving the middle finger plenty of extra leverage. The right thumb rest on the rear panel is also thoroughly rubberized, and there's another tall lip protruding from the area beneath the rear dial, allowing the thumb to latch on. Even the left side of the front panel is rubberized, and you'll also find a third ergonomic lip in this area, should you decide to position some finger tips over there.

Handling Photo 1

While the rear panel's ergonomic features actually represent an improvement over the D800, we found the front hand grip a little too shallow. The grip doesn't protrude far enough from the rest of the body to give the full length of our fingertips a place to stay. Perhaps this is by design, considering the close proximity of two front panel shortcut buttons nearby. Either way, the body does have excellent overall balance, and all buttons and dials are positioned with attention to ergonomics, so we're awarding a strong score here.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Logically, the D600's control scheme is typical Nikon. A cluster of dual-purpose buttons are arranged vertically along the left side of the monitor, while the right side of the rear panel is reserved for buttons within reach of the right thumb, including AE-L, Live View, the directional pad, as well as the rear control dial (one of two found on the D600).

Buttons Photo 1

Surrounding the shutter release, which feels excellent by the way, a few of the most important buttons are within easy reach, including exposure compensation, metering, and video record. You'll need to hold these down and then jog the dials to change settings, and you'll need a second hand to support the body while doing so.

The top panel is also home to the dual-function mode dial / drive mode dial, each half of which is locked by a mechanical release. This represents a tradeoff of speed for security: it takes extra effort to swap shooting modes and drive modes, but the locks prevent accidental adjustments.

Buttons Photo 2

The rear LCD monitor is a 3.2-inch display clocking in at a resolution of 921,000 dots. Frame coverage is once again 100%, but we spent far more time with the viewfinder and reserved the LCD mostly for video purposes (though proper videographers will want an external monitor). Nikon's classic scratch guard covers the entire monitor, but even with this addition neither reflectivity nor viewing angle are ever a problem. Brightness is more than sufficient for outdoor use, and onscreen color rendition is remarkably accurate to the final image.

The D600's bright optical viewfinder is a joy to shoot with. Coverage is 100%, and the screen overlay illuminates red when a focus point locks on. The focus screen displays small boxes around each point, rather than dots or crosses, so you can always see exactly what you're focusing on.

Around the viewfinder is a removable rubber eye cup. Built-in diopter adjustment is accomplished via a small wheel above the eye cup, and it extends from -3 to +1m-1.

The locking mode dial, found at the upper left side of the body, features all the classic "PASM" shooting modes, a fully automatic "green" mode, a similar automatic mode without flash, plus two customizable modes, and a setting for Scene modes.

All variables may be set to manual control, and even the behavior of automatic features may be configured manually, like ISO range. Manual focus is on each lens, and autofocus may be configured to single, continuous, or auto (that's right: auto-autofocus). There's even an option to fine-tune each of the three metering modes to your liking. Basically, this is a really deep camera. You want manual controls? You got 'em.

We detected no differences in the focus speed of the D600 versus the D800 in a side-by-side comparison. Both cameras lock on quietly, precisely, and almost instantaneously. This alleviates one of our chief fears concerning the D600: that the camera's different autofocus system, which features only 39 AF points to the D800's 51, would be inferior. Thankfully, it's not.

Images may be captured in full sized FX format, or cropped down to DX for lenses intended for smaller sensors. Beyond that, three settings of varying size are available for each format.

By the way, you could also use any FX lens in DX crop mode as a way of increasing focal length.

An entire locking dial is dedicated to drive modes, which include two continuous settings, a customizable self-timer, quiet shutter mode, mirror-up mode, and remote control mode.

Continuous burst speed is rated to a maximum for 5.5 frames per second in Continuous High, or anywhere from 1 to 5 frames per second in Continuous Low. Our tests confirmed Nikon's claim. We clocked the D600 at a peak speed of 5.72 frames per second in full resolution JPEG. The buffers fills up after around 30 shots, after which shooting speed drops down. Maximum burst is 100 consecutive shots.

The self-timer is fully customizable. Countdown time may be set to either 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, or 20 seconds; and number of shots may be set between 1 and 9. Even the interval between shots is user configurable, between a half second or three seconds.

All this is separate from the D600's built-in interval timer, which is exceptionally robust and a compelling feature for time-lapse photographers.

We detected no differences in the focus speed of the D600 versus the D800 in a side-by-side comparison. Both cameras lock on quietly, precisely, and almost instantaneously. This alleviates one of our chief fears concerning the D600: that the camera's different autofocus system, which features only 39 AF points to the D800's 51, would be inferior. Thankfully, it's not.

The D600 matches the D800 almost feature for feature. Notably, video features and controls are exactly identical between the two, making this camera an outstanding platform for DSLR videography. Beyond that, the D600's improved continuous shooting speed is a key advantage, and fans are sure to love the hands-on, Nikon-esque control scheme.

Videos may be captured in a variety of frame rates and resolutions. Maximum resolution is 1920x1080, and these movies can be shot in 30p, 25p, and 24p. Your other option is to shoot in 1280x720, and although this footage will be slightly less detailed, a few additional frame rates are unlocked, including 60p and 50p, as well as 30p and 25p. We're not sure why videos cannot be captured in cinematic 24p while also using 1280x720 resolution.

Beyond all this, video compression quality may be set to either High or Normal to save memory. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Focus

Autofocus may be set to continuous or single, but you can also command the system to acquire a new lock anytime by simply half-pressing the shutter release. Videos may only be shot in Live View, so phase detection autofocus is not available.

Exposure Controls

Almost every manual control available during still shooting is also available for video, but there are some restrictions. You'll need to use the appropriate priority mode in order to specify shutter speed or aperture value. In the case of aperture, you'll also need to lock in a value before beginning a clip.

Pressing the Info button while using Live View cycles through a number of onscreen displays, including grid lines, an electronic leveler, and a readout of audio levels. Microphone sensitivity may be manually set from 1-20 in the Movie menu. Auto sensitivity is also available, but it's not responsive enough to be useful.

Mic Photo
Box Photo

• Nikon D600 digital camera

• neck strap

• USB cable

• EN-EL15 battery pack

• wall charger

• AC cable

• Quick Start Guide (English and Spanish)

• User's Manual (English and Spanish)

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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