The best lenses for your Nikon D600

By Kevin Carter - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lens Recommendations
Introduction | General Overview | Wide Angles and Telephotos | Standard zooms and primes

With a DxOMark score of 94 the camera came just behind the firm’s D800 and D800E in our sensor scores. Priced at around $2,100, about $900 less the Nikon D800, for enthusiasts the newer, lower-resolution D600 maybe the best balance between image quality and value for money.

We’ve tested and assimilated the data from a wide range of lenses numbering 70 in total to see which lenses perform best overall, bearing in mind the different imaging characteristics of the 24Mpix sensor in the D600. Like the other reviews in the series, the aim is to help readers maximize the potential of their camera and offer advice and recommendations when buying lenses.

As we’ve demonstrated with comparisons between the Nikon D800 and rival Canon EOS 5D Mk III, the quality of the lens influences the performance of the sensor.

We will reveal that when paired with certain high performance lenses, the lower resolution Nikon D600 can achieve results that are very close to that of the Nikon D800. With few real concessions to image quality, a smaller file size and lower initial purchase price, the D600 may be the better all-round choice for photographers on a budget.

We’ve tested 72 different lenses with the D600 including those made by Nikon, as well as third-parties such as Sigma, Zeiss, Tokina and Tamron. Of those, we’ve measured 42 primes ranging in focal length from 14mm to 150mm. Wide and ultra-wide lenses total 19 different models, and we’ve assessed 22 standard and short telephotos including macro-types.

Top 10 performing prime lenses we’ve tested:

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G 2199 40
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G 690 40
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon 899 37
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon 1840 36
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon 328 36
Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Nikon 599 34
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon 969 34
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon 1843 34
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED 2200 33
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon 1005 33
 

Of the 32 zooms we’ve tested on the Nikon D600, seven are wide-angle, nine fall in the standard category and a further seven models are telephoto zooms, including three super-zooms.

Top 10 performing zoom lenses we’ve tested:

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED 2000 28
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II 2699 27
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED 1800 27
Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD Nikon 1299 27
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR 1399 26
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED 1850 25
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) MACRO Nikon 770 25
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM Nikon 1699 24
Tokina AT-X 16-28 F2.8 PRO FX Nikon 849 24
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO Macro HSM II Nikon 949 24
 

Results overview of Nikon D600 vs D800 vs D3x

While the Nikon D800 sit at the top of DxOMark database with regards to sensor scores and P-Mpix (Sharpness), if we dig a little deeper with the DXOMark body and lens combination scores some interesting results are revealed.

01-Nikon-D600-lenses

No surprises here. Compared to the 24-MPix D600 and D3X models, in the best case, the 36-Mpix Nikon D800 is capable of the highest levels of sharpness.

Each camera achieves its best score with a specific lens:

Although the D800 has a much higher pixel count, the sharpness gap is not as large as expected.  However, while a high-quality lens can maintain this benefit in sensor higher pixel count, a poorer performing lens can erode that advantage. The 72 lenses that were tested on the Nikon D600 were also the same lenses tested on the D800 and 24-MPix D3x.

D600 vs D3x sharpness comparison: Tie

Given the pixel count that’s hardly surprising though there are other factors that might affect the sharpness, such as the AA filter, for instance. The scores are close enough to suggest there’s no difference in AA filter between the D600 and D3x 

D600 vs D800 sharpness comparison: only few lenses provide higher sharpness on D800.

When the results are averaged out across the complete sample of lenses, the overall sharpness figures measured in P-MPix matches that of the D800.

In fact, there are only a few lenses that deliver higher sharpness mounted on the Nikon D800 and even then the best performing lenses provide just 12% higher sharpness from a 30% increase in Raw file size. Given the price, this all makes the D600 look particularly attractive.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon 899 23 19
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II 2699 20 17
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G 699 21 18
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR 1399 21 18
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 25mm f/2 ZF.2 Nikon 1700 22 19
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G 2199 22 20
Lenses selection delivering higher sharpness (P-Mpix) on the D800 over the D600
 

DxOMark score D600 vs D3x vs D800

If we take into account every IQ aspect and have a look at the lowlight performance, the D600 scores very well too: registering the same best and overall score as the D800. Sensor improvement explains the significant gap between D3x result and D600 results:

02-Nikon-D600-lenses
03-Nikon-D600-lenses

While the D800 performs very well, the D600 performs very close in lowlight condition.

The best lenses for the 3 cameras are the same:

Conclusion

Taking the sharpness into account, there’s a lot less between the D600 and D800 than one might think by looking at pixel count alone.

Sharpness capture is only a part of the equation however. While the D600 is tempting in that respect there are plenty of other benefits of choosing the D800 over the more affordable D600, including the 51-point AF system, semi-pro construction (including a more durable shutter) and the choice of CF and SD cards to name a few.  Be that as it may, there’s no denying the D600 is a attractive alternative, especially if on a budget.

Stay tuned for the other part of the series where we’ll discuss standard (or normal) lenses, and then in our third and final part, wide-angles and telephotos.