Nikon D600 sets high bar for sensor image quality

Wednesday September 19 2012

Sensor Review
Introduction | Nikon D600 Preview | Nikon D600 Sensor Performance | Nikon D600 Versus Competition | Conclusion

Nikon D600: Full-frame sensor for the budget minded

Nikon D600

A growing chorus of amateur and enthusiast photographers have been wondering aloud if a full-frame sensor would ever find its way into a more compact, intuitive, and consumer-oriented camera body – and equally important, a price range that won’t induce heartburn.

Nikon and Canon both seem to have their fingers on the pulse of consumer preferences. On Sept. 13, Nikon announced the arrival of the D600, a consumer-targeted DSLR that includes a 24.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. And on Sept. 17, Canon rebuffed Nikon’s D600 announcement with an equally impressive consumer-minded full-frame DSLR, the EOS 6D

Further examining the D600, its sensor is embedded into a camera body that most resembles – in design and weight – the company’s more veteran high-end consumer DSLR, the D7000. However, its dimensions and its image production are more closely aligned to Nikon’s 36-megapixel full-frame sensor DSLR, the D800.

For starters, perspective D600 users will enjoy the full-frame sensor’s 35mm film-like appeal. The camera allows amateur photographers to break free from the cropping-factor that is typical of smaller sensors found in consumer DSLRs like the D7000, hybrid cameras, and DSCs.

And the price tag? The D600 costs just shy of $2,100 – enough to still give some photographers stomach churning anxiety – and places it in price range and direct competition with Sony’s $2,000 full-frame high-end DSLR, the a850, and is just a few pennies more than Canon’s new EOD 6D. Still, the D600 is priced well below the most affordable Nikon or Canon full-frame sensor DSLRs, including the roughly $3,000 Nikon D800, or the $3,450 Canon 5D Mark III.

Nikon justifies the D600 retail price for its obvious 24.3-mpx full-frame sensor, but also because the camera can photograph at a snappy and nimble 5.5-frames-per-second, and it includes a 39-point autofocus system, has a D800 sized 3.2-inch 921k-dot LCD screen, and is capable of filming 1080p30 full HD video with accompanying stereo sound recording. 

Other perks of the D600 include:

  • ISO range of 100-6400, but expandable to 50-25600 equivalents.
  • Built-in flash.
  • In-camera image and video editing.
  • MOV video file format, plus H.264/MPEG-4 compression formats.
  • Audio headphone jack to compliment and monitor video recording.

Nikon D600 blurs line between pro, consumer DSLRs

The D600 likely will appeal to two very different types of photographers. Enthusiast photographers will be drawn to its intuitive functionality, creative features and filters, and its full-frame sensor. Professional photographers will be attracted to the latter, and could consider the D600 as a lightweight and affordable compliment to their broader and heavier pool of camera gear.

This blurring of camera genres situates the D600 in a unique place among the broader Nikon family. The D600 could potentially replace the 12.3-mpx “DX” sensor format of the Nikon D300S – the latter has been billed as the company’s top “DX” camera and the entry-level pro-DSLR model. Yet, the D600’s full-format “FX” CMOS sensor easily trumps the D300S, and is more closely related to the semi-pro Nikon D700 and its 12.1-mpx “FX” sensor. Even still, the megapixel count of the D600 is more than double that of the D700. This leaves many to wonder, even us at DxOMark, if this consumer-marketed DSLR will eclipse the image quality of the D300S and D700, and potentially approach the image quality of the 36-mpx D800.