New Gear: Nikon D600 Full-Frame DSLR

It's not as burly as the D800 or the D4, but it costs just $2,100

Nikon D600

Nikon D600

Ever since the first full-frame DSLRs, photographers have been clamoring for less expensive bodies with those big, wonderful sensors. Nikon has heard these cries and answered with the new 24.3MP D600, which will sell for $2,100, body only, or $2,700 as a kit with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens. Sporting what they call an FX format (aka full-frame 35mm) CMOS sensor, with a suspiciously similar pixel count to the one in Sony's recently announced A99, the D600 offers an alternative to the 36.3MP behemoth that is the D800.

With fewer pixels, we wouldn't be surprised if the D600 shows less noise than the D800 does across their shared sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400 (expandable to ISO 50-25,600). Another plus, the D600 can capture 5.5 frames per second compared to the D800's 4fps bursts. We don't know how many shots per burst the D600 can take, so it's hard to tell the whole story on this one, but at 5.5 fps, its creeping into the low end of the sports camera category. Metering is handled by a new 2,016-pixel RGB sensor, while a new 39-point AF system handles the focusing. As has become typical for Nikon, the two work together for 3D focus tracking. The D600's Scene Recognition isn't at the same level as the D4's and D800's Advanced Scene Recognition, though Nikon can't currently quantify exactly how. The higher-end cameras do have more robust 91,000-pixel metering sensors, which allows them to see subjects in more detail and facilitates better tracking.

The D600, like the D800 and D4, can output an uncompressed video stream through its HDMI port. Video recording tops out at 1920x1080 and 30fps and continues to be recorded (when not streaming uncompressed) in the same H.264 format that other Nikon DSLRs have used up until now. Given that tariffs in Europe haven't changed, the maximum recording time you can get with the D600 is 29 minutes and 59 seconds. In the camera's top quality level of 24Mbps though, Nikon says that the maximum clip length is 20 minutes. As of press time, we weren't able to find out any reason why. There is a stereo microphone input in case the built-in mono mic isn't enough for you, and for serious videographers it won't be. It also falls a bit short of Sony's A99, which can crank out 1080p footage at a silky 60 fps.

The fixed screen on the back of the D600 is 3.2 inches in size and has 921,000 dots comprising its images. That's one of the largest screens on any DSLRs right now. Flash shooters who need fast sync speeds should note that the D600's X-sync is 1/ 200 sec. compared to the D800's 1/250 sec. Not a huge difference, but worth noting. And speaking of flash, theD600's built-in pop-up flash sports a guide number of 39 (in feet, at ISO 100).

The pentaprism finder in the D600 offers 100% coverage and a fairly standard magnification of 0.7x. The D600 uses an EN-EL15 Lithium-ion battery that Nikon says will provide enough juice for up to 900 shots per the CIPA standard.

In addition to the D600, Nikon announced the WU-1b wireless adapter ($60, estimated street), which adds Wi-Fi capability so you can transfer images to a smart phone or tablet, or use that smart device to control the camera. They also announced the MB-D14 battery grip ($322, estimated street) to accompany the D600.

Since connectivity in DSLRs is so hip at the moment, Nikon also announced the UT-1 adapter that will add Ethernet capability to the D800 or D7000. When used in conjunctionwith the WT-5a wireless transmitter, the UT-1 also adds wireless capabilities. The UT-1 will sell in a kit with the WT-5a for $1,300, or alone for $470, when it hits stores in late October.

Someone over at Nikon must've also been worried that the Nikon 1 system would get jealous of all of this action the DSLRs were getting, so they also announced the 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens. A small, lightweight lens that is a 50mm equivalent in that system, this will be the fastest glass available for the Nikon 1 cameras when it hits stores in November for $190.

The D600 and its accessories will be in stores in the next couple of weeks. Check out our sample image gallery here.

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Nikon's new $2,100 full-frame D600 will be making its way into our test lab very soon, but to give you an idea of how it performs, here's a collection of real-world sample images shot with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 kit lens. All the shots use Standard picture control mode, Auto white balance, with Matrix metering, in the sRGB color space. None of the images have been edited. This image of a glass jar in my home doesn't say much about fine detail, but it does show how the D600's auto white balance deals with the daylight pouring in through the window, mixed with the amber light on the left side colored by the slats from my air conditioner. It also shows off the bokeh of the kit lens at the tele maximum aperture of f/4.5. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 400, 1/100 sec., f/4.5, +0.67 EV exposure compensation, lens at 85mm. Download the full-resolution image
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Here's another shot wide open at the tele end of the zoom. There's only a sliver of real sharpness around the green sprout near the middle of the image. In this case we get to see how the bokeh deals with blurring a more complex surface while including lots of darker areas to show some shadow detail. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/500 sec., f/4.5, -0.67 EV exposure compensation, lens at 85mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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This Verizon payphone that resides on a corner near my home has sat in its desperately mangled state for months. Zoom in to enjoy the relative lack of noise at ISO 1600 and see if you can count the number of scratches on the top of the earpiece from angry people bludgeoning the phone with it. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 1600, 1/250 sec., f/8, -0.67 EV exposure compensation, lens at 62mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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Lampposts in New York City are often covered in flyers. This one sits across the street from what is hands-down the best Italian restaurant in Washington Heights. It is called Saggio, and you can see its striped awning in the background. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 1600, 1/250 sec., f/8, +0.67 EV exposure compensation, lens at 72mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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Talentless hacks like me love to shoot pictures of rusty iron railings. I shot this one at ISO 3200 just to have an excuse to subject you to it. Being in a shadowy area, and with the railing a bit high for my limited height, I used live view and held the camera above my head. Using the contrast detection system in live view, focusing wasn't particularly fast, but not annoying slow either. The minimal grain at ISO 3200 is impressive. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 3200, 1/640 sec., f/6.3, +0.33 EV exposure compensation, lens at 42mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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When life hands you grapefruits, place them in front of the under-ripe oranges. There's not much more to say about this one, though again, it is shot at ISO 3200. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 3200, 1/1250 sec., f/6.3, no exposure compensation, lens at 72mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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This is a wacky stairwell at the south end of the 181st St A train station. Shot at ISO Hi 1, an equivalent of ISO 12,800, we can observe the diminishing detail available at this camera's penultimate sensitivity setting. We also get to see how the D600's auto white balance fares with what can only be described as the nastiest fluorescent lighting known to humankind. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 12,800, 1/250 sec., f/6.3, -0.67 exposure compensation, lens at 85mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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This is about as mean as you can be to the D600. Shot in the Continuous High drive mode, with 3D focus tracking engaged, and panning along as the A train slowly pulls into the station. Normally I'd have gone for a brighter, more pleasing image, but I wanted to keep it dark to see what happened to noise in the shadows. Compared to a lot of cameras, especially smaller-sensored ILCs, this is actually a pretty good result. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 12,800, 1/800 sec., f/4.5, -0.67 exposure compensation, lens at 85mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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Here's a better-exposed shot at ISO Hi 1. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 12,800, 1/640 sec., f/4.5, no exposure compensation, lens at 85mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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Have you mailed your grandmother a letter lately? Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/50 sec., f/5.0, no exposure compensation, lens at 24mm. Download the full-resolution image here
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Don't misuse public trash bins in New York City or else you will pay dearly. With harsh sunlight at my back, it was a bit difficult to see LCD screen to frame this shot with live view. I did my best, but ended up with this somewhat haphazard composition. Shot info: Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/50 sec., f/11, +1.67 exposure compensation, lens at 24mm. Download the full-resolution image here