The best lenses for your Nikon D600

By Kevin Carter - Wednesday May 15 2013

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

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/1.4G219940
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G69040
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon89937
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon184036
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon32836
Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Nikon59934
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon96934
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon184334
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED220033
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon100533

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 ED200028
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II269927
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED180027
Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD Nikon129927
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR139926
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED185025
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) MACRO Nikon77025
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM Nikon169924
Tokina AT-X 16-28 F2.8 PRO FX Nikon84924
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO Macro HSM II Nikon94924

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.


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 Nikon8992319
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II26992017
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G6992118
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR13992118
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 25mm f/2 ZF.2 Nikon17002219
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G21992220
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:



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

The best lenses for the 3 cameras are the same:


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.