Everything I Know About the D600 So Far

A compendium of my D600 postings to date

Nikon's Digitutor for the D600

Nikon's Brochure for the D600

Nikon's Sample Images for the D600

And Now the Question: D600, D700, or D800?
Sept 21, 2012--
Here's the answer. If you're a D70, D70s, D80, D90, D7000 type of user: D600. If you're the D100, D200, D300 type of user: D800. Simple as that. Really? Not one of the last remaining D700's for those Dx00 users? No. While everyone keeps trying to say the D800 isn't the D700 followup they wanted, I'd argue it is, they just don't know it. Other than quality control, sliced any way you look at it the D800 is a phenomenal camera, and if you want 12mp, it's far better at 12mp than a D700. The usual comeback is that "but I don't want big files and I don't want to post process." Drives are cheap and Lightroom/Aperture pretty much took care of the post processing complaint a long time ago. (Well, okay, you have to learn to use Lightroom properly, which isn't quite as straightforward to learn as it could be, but it's a small investment of time.)

Both the D600 and D800 are remarkable cameras in different ways. Just as, in their time, the D90 and D300 were. It's the same exact relationship brought forward with substantive gains in both lines. It's Nikon's way, and I can predict that we'll have this same discussion when the D500 and D900 appear some day in the future.

Impressions and Depressions
Sept 20, 2012--
My D600 still sits across the Atlantic awaiting my return, but I did have time to spend at the Nikon booth with both the camera and product managers. The few Japanese execs that are here are mostly in hiding (though I did find one trying to wander anonymously, though the white J1 he was carrying was what gave him away to me; that made me curious enough to look to see who this was, and lo and behold it was someone I knew ;~).

So let's start at the beginning, shall we? Nikon rotates executives on the way to the top through the Presidencies of the subsidiaries. Since Photokina falls in Europe, it's the current European President, Takami Tsuchida, who got to be front man for the opening press briefing. He basically told us what we already know, that Nikon wants to the number one brand in the imaging industry, in all product categories, in all regions. The American scene is deep in the midst of our quadrenial President elections, and I felt as if I was listening to another politician saying nothing. He did say Nikon had "the responsibility to provide the best service and support to end users..." How do we think they're doing on that? ;~) [By the way, as one of the journalists who helped instantiate the term "end user" into the vocabulary, I apologize. I was also responsible for the "it screams" word usage when writing about a product's speed, for which I was properly awarded a misuse of the English language award by fellow journalists. To hear a Nikon executive refer to customers as "end users" grated on my nerve, as it's so dispationate and uninvolving and shows how distant they are from those that buy their products, but I only have myself to blame establishing that phrase in the news magazine I edited back in 1980.]

I met with two of the European Product managers for Nikon. I really only had a couple of questions for them. One that I had already tried getting answered at the booth. It has been intimated that the D600 can output uncompressed video from the HDMI port, but unlike the D800, the D600 doesn't have the HDMI settings that allow you to pick whether the signal will be clean or overlaid. So the question I had (actually two related questions) was: how do you set the camera to record clean uncompressed video, or does the camera not put the LCD overlays on the HDMI output? The answer wasn't known. They promise to get back to me with the right answer. We'll see if they do. At this point I suspect that the D600 won't put out clean uncompressed video on the HDMI port. There are other video-related differences, to, as a few users are figuring out. Because the D600 is based on the D7000, it uses the D7000 aperture control, which doesn't allow real-time manual adjustment while recording video (tip: use a lens with an aperture ring ;~).

But clean HDMI or video capabilities were not the thing I had the biggest issue with. It's a new camera, after all, they subsidiaries have barely had it in their hands, too, and we're all trying to figure out what's different and what it does, and the complexity of high DSLRs means that it takes some time to figure that out (though if Nikon corporate would connect to and learn to think like customers better, a lot of this could be handling right at launch). Still, foregiveable.

No, the thing I had a problem with was the answer to a rather simple question: "so who do you see buying the D600?" The answer was "one key buyer will be the D7000 user who's using an 18-105mm lens deciding to go full frame with the D600 and 24-85mm lens." Okay, that may actually turn out to be somewhat true, as not all users are rational. But this quickly led us into the missing D300s replacement discussion.

Let me dissect Nikon's answer a bit. The user that they postulated about gains: 8mp, FX frame size (which has some advantages in dynamic range and noise all else measured equally), 2mm at the wide end, and not much else. They lose: 65mm of telephoto reach with their lens, a widely dispersed focus system for a tightly center one, and a lot of money. I'm not sure this person is better off. Nikon is clearly better off ;~). And there-in lies one of the primary customer complaints about Nikon these days: loyal users--some dating back 50 years or more--feel like they're on the short end of the stick. Technically, the D7000 user moving up would get fewer drawbacks from the D800 than the D600 (indeed, they'd have an almost exact DX experience with the new camera with their old DX lenses).

As I write further down, Nikon is being a little tricky with their rollouts. It's going to go D800, D600, D400, in that order. In terms of the best choice for the D200 or D300 user who's been waiting for a new camera, that's exactly backwards. Of course, you notice that the rollout is in descending order of price. So maybe Nikon picks up a few people with higher priced upgrades than they really need? Hey, we're still friends, right?

So most of our discussion in the time I had was centered around Nikon's product definitions versus customers wanted definitions. That spans from Coolpix to Nikon 1 to DX to FX, obviously, and it seemed to me that the more questions I asked, the more blind spots I was noting. Quick, what's the best way to get to 800mm on any Nikon? Nikon Europe's answer was well, maybe the 500mm with the TC-14E. Nope, try a V1 with the 70-300mm VR.

As I've noted before, I think that Nikon doesn't quite put out the products that some of us want because they actually don't see us as customers very well. The lack of wide angle DX lenses, the no clear follow-up to one of their most successful cameras (the D300), and much more. It may be because we're end users. Ugh (again, sorry).

Here's the thing: Nikon sees sales doing well, so they think they are making the right decisions. There's right and there's Right. Nikon's made a lot of good product and good decisions. But they're not getting everything right. Imagine what their sales would be if they did.

One of the interesting things here at Photokina is how obvious it is that Leica is listening closely to their users. They're not fixing problems overnight, but virtually every complaint Leica users have had seems to get addressed. Every complaint. (Well, okay, no more R series looks permanent, though Leica has moved to make R lenses work with the new M cameras.) That's the sort of attention Nikon end users, ahem, customers, would like to get.

D600 Buffer
Sept 14, 2012--
I promised an answer, here it is. These are mamixums. I'll get into what that means in a moment.

  • FX NEF: 16 (14-bit lossless compressed) to 27 (12-bit compressed)
  • DX NEF: 38 (14-bit lossless compressed) to 86 (12-bit compressed)
  • FX JPEG Fine Large: 57
  • DX JPEG Fine Large: 100

Like all Nikons there are a lot of caveats. The buffer will never go beyond 100. You'll need to set JPEG Size Priority (default) to get the JPEG numbers; JPEG Optimal Quality will cut into those numbers a bit. Long Exposure NR will take an image off the buffer size. Auto Distortion Control will take as much as half the buffer. HI ISO values will steal some buffer. Remember that if you're not using state-of-the-art UHS-1 SD cards, you probably won't get these numbers either (they're from my 8GB SanDisk Extreme Pro). There may be other things that impact buffer but I haven't discovered them yet.

I don't think JPEG shooters are going to have any trouble with the buffer size. Best case they'll be shooting continuously for 10 to 18 seconds. Worst case, they'll still have probably a five second buffer. Raw shooters may need to watch settings carefully. I can see the camera getting to a buffer of 7 (r7 reported in viewfinder) when I set the camera in certain ways, which is barely over a second worth of buffer. I'm guessing that raw shooters will want to set 12-bit Lossless Compressed and turn off all the things that take buffer space (especially Auto Distortion Control), which should get them a bit short of four seconds of continuous shooting.

D600 Impressions
Sept 14, 2012--
A lot of folk are asking the "should I get a D600 or D800" question and wanting my impressions. My initial impression is pretty much what I think Nikon intended: the D600 is an excellent FX entry choice, the D800 remains at the top of the heap, and the D4 has a very specific target user who needs high speed (in all the meanings of that word).

When the D3 was announced in 2007 we had exactly one FX choice: a D3. Eventually, we got another choice: the D700, which was a D3 in a prosumer body and didn't work at the high frame rates of the D3. Finally, we got the D3x, which was the top resolver. Curiously, with some obvious differences, still the same three choices as we now face today. Only difference is the pricing is far lower for two of the options (D600 and D800 versus D700 and D3x).

Yet I keep hearing the "D600 isn't a D700 replacement, and neither is the D800" complaint. I'm not sure I agree with that assessment. I think the complainers are looking a bit too much at the body build and not at the functionality and performance. If you want the D700 body build, buy a D800. If you want the D700 value proposition (and more performance than a D700 delivers), buy the D600.

As I've noted several times, the D600 is essentially the D7000 body build with FX guts. There's nothing particularly wrong with the D7000 build, IMHO. I've been using two as my wildlife cameras since they came out, and they hold up just fine to stress I throw at them. They do have an internal metal frame, after all. They do have some body sealing (though not quite as thorough as the higher models). The D600 is going to be the same: a pretty decent build, but not overbuilt and storm worthy. While a lot of folk have noted the lower weight and slightly smaller size of the D600 versus the D800, in practice the D600 is still a big camera and once you've put a lens on it will still be a lot of weight hanging from your neck strap. I don't buy the "it's a lighter smaller D800" arguments. Lighter and smaller is an Olympus OM-D E-M5 or a Nikon V1. DSLRs aren't small and light, not even a D3200.

People bemoaning the loss of the D700 also seem to be complaining about sensors. I don't know why. The D800 performs just fine, and it more than equals the D700 when downsized to 12mp. So if you like the D700 and want the "new camera," get a D800, as I write above. Realistically, the only thing you really lose is fps, but you also gain in buffer and card redundancy and a whole bunch of other things. And guess what? The D800 is the same price as the D700 was when it was introduced. Basically, I have to label this group the Pixel PooPooers. They think that more pixels made the D800 worse than the D700. They are wrong. Very wrong. It's a better camera in image quality than the D700.

Okay, how about the D600 as a D700 replacement? Well, here the thing people are usually pointing to is price. "For US$2300 I used to be able to get a D700, now I get a D600 at US$2100 but lose a lot of body quality." Wait a couple of years. The D600 will be well under US$2000 ;~). You can't really compare end-of-life pricing to introduction pricing. Well, you can, but this is a lot like automobile end-of-year sales. You can get the older model with last year's technology for less money, but this year's latest-and-greatest is going to cost more. The question here becomes: is the latest-and-greatest worth giving up the bargain pricing on last year's model?

I think so. But the final determination will be when I can really take the camera through its paces and look at image quality. Where the camera makers are finding resistance--and the D600 is a perfect example--is in the addition of features that the buyer might not want or need. Video, for instance. The D700 isn't a video camera. The D600 is a very high-end video camera. But if you don't care about video, then this addition has no value to you. Even the pixel count push gets old after awhile for many. If they're happy with the results they're getting from their 12mp cameras, why do they need 16mp, 24mp, or 36mp? That question has a better answer than the "why do they need video" question, though: more sampling is always better, all else equal. It's similar to the thing Apple is doing with Retina displays: more is truly better if used properly. It can be visibly better. Even printing a 12mp and 24mp image at 8x10" you should see some benefits to the 24mp image: it should have more acuity.

Overall, I like the D600. It's a "value" camera. Yes, it has some trade-offs. But it also packs a lot into something that is (currently) the low price FX champion.

The bigger question here is still "DX or FX?" Yep. Still the question most people should be asking themselves (and maybe even "mirrorless or DX or FX?"). But Nikon's being a bit tricky. Note the D800 came before the D600. Which will come before the D400/D7200 DX refresh. They want you to consider the higher priced models and jumping upwards first before they tell you what's in store for you at the lower levels. At the lowest levels (D3200/D5200), it's always been easy to predict how they distinguish those cameras. It's the D70/D80/D90/D7000 and D100/D200/D300 continuations that have been a little more difficult to predict. So Nikon gave all you enthusiasts a choice of D800 or nothing at the start of the year. Now they've added something one notch lower (the D600). Come February I suspect we'll get the next notch (e.g. D400 and/or D7200).

Frankly, this one-at-a-time approach from the top is not customer friendly. Indeed, it might be considered customer antagonistic. If Nikon isn't aware of the dissatisfaction of the D300 users right now, they're not paying attention. If they are, then they're showing disrespect to their customers. Neither of those are good.

I started this with the "should I get the D600 or D800" question. Now that I've gone through a few of the sub-texts that are being considered by the questioners I'll get to my answer.

The real question here is the (in the US) US$900 price differential. If you can afford that, there's no question that the D800 is the better camera. Better build, great sensor with significantly more sampling, solid pro-type features (e.g. banks), faster flash sync (up to 1/320 versus 1/200), and more. If they were the same price you'd always pick the D800. So it's really whether you see US$900 of price difference or not.

But here's the thing: the D600 is a D3x in a D7000 body for about 30% the price. If you're price conscious and don't treat your camera's roughly, the D600 does seem to be a good value and a way to get into FX relatively inexpensively. You've got enough pixel power to produce 20" prints (at 300 dpi). You've got reasonable mid-range performance in terms of focus, fps, and more. You lose dedicated buttons for ISO, WB, QUAL, and BKT, but if you learn how to manage your camera right, those buttons are still available (plus there's always the info button for fairly direct access to almost all critical settings).

The D600 feels more "casual enthusiast" to me with the D800 being "dedicated enthusiast." The D600 shooter is more likely to be the weekend-only, or worse still, vacation-only shooter. The D600 shooter probably isn't trying to get to the highest pinnacle of photography, and is satisfied with "good images." The D800 is someone shooting all the time and trying to move to the next level.

The bottom line is that Nikon has given us two very good choices, and they have a price spread (outside of Europe ;~) that's about right for their differences. Personally, I can't wait to get my D600 out into the field and see what it can really do. Since I've shot with D7000's a lot recently, the D600 should prove to be a nice comfortable switch.

D600 Questions Answered (Don't Call Nikon ;~)
Sept 13, 2012--
Nikon took a bit of time to get brochures and other information out (at least in English ;~), so quite few questions have been coming in about specific details. Here are the answers in one place:

  • Remotes? Takes the MC-DC2 wired or the ML-L3 wireless.
  • Flash Sync? 1/200 for normal flash, 1/4000 with FP Sync.
  • AF Fine Tune? Yes (dpreview got it wrong).
  • Frame rate with MB-D14? Same as without.
  • Frame rate in DX? Same as in FX, 5.5 fps.
  • Mirror Up? Yes, and remote mirror up with ML-L3.
  • Bracketing? 2 or 3 frames, with 1, 2, and 3 stops supported.
  • Commander mode? Yes.
  • PC Sync? No, buy an AS-15.
  • USB 3.0? No.
  • Video format? H.264 28Mbps max in .MOV container.
  • Max video length? ~30 minutes.
  • Virtual horizon? Yes.
  • Face detection AF? Only in Live View.
  • Mode dial? Yes, and it locks and has U1 and U2 user setting positions.
  • Any new Retouch options? None that I've noticed.
  • Who's sensor? Almost certainly the Sony 24.7mp sensor.
  • Any new accessories? Only the MB-D14 and WU-1b.
  • Headphone jack? Yes.
  • External microphone jack? Yes, and powered.
  • Where is the D600 made? Thailand.
  • When? Limited shipments at US dealers on September 18th.
  • Does it come with LCD protector? Yes (BM-14).
  • Uncompressed NEF? No. Only lossless compressed and compressed.

And some longer questions and answers:

  • It's missing buttons, right? Yes and no. Like the D7000 it overloads the buttons at the left of the LCD to provide Picture Control, ISO, Qual, and ISO buttons, plus you can assign bracketing to the Fn button. But those buttons are usually only active if there's nothing showing on the LCD, which makes them frustrating to some.
  • Will it really ship on the 18th? Actually, it appears to be shipping earlier than that, but dealers are forbidden to sell it before that date. Most US dealers should get their first shipments on the 17th. They are prohibited from selling them until the 18th.
  • Will there be a Complete Guide to the Nikon D600? Yes. But I can't write books the way I do until I've had experience using the camera and ferreting out the small details through use. Don't expect an instant addition to the long line of books I've written.
  • Where's the Record Movie button? Unfortunately, up top next to the shutter release in the same position those of us with D800 and D4 cameras keep hitting accidentally. The good news is that this doesn't actually trigger recording a video unless you're in Video Live Mode. The bad news is that most of us took a fair amount of time to adapt our finger memory backwards a bit to find the button we're really looking for (on the D600 that would be the matrix metering button).
  • How is DX crop handled? Does it have grayed out area like the D800/D4? No. Frame only, and the framelines are about 97% accurate.
  • How does the f/8 maximum aperture lens autofocus thing work? Interesting, very little change. At f/5.6 all sensors work (nine center are cross hatch). From f/5.6 to f/8 you only lose the two outer columns. At f/8 there is a very tight restriction: only five horizontal and three vertical sensors are active, with only the central one being sensitive to cross detail.
  • How does the WU-1b work? The US$60 WU-1b plugs into the USB port and then provides two-way communication between the camera and your choice of free iOS or Android apps (see TrueRumors page). The apps are sort of a cut down Camera Control Pro and have four basic options: take pictures with the camera and have them appear on the remote device, use the device as a remote control for the camera, download pictures from the camera's card to the device, and share those pictures. At least in the version I have, I'd say that automation and settings controls are lacking. This is a program that needs some tender loving design extensions, but for the basics seems okay. For the Nikon folk reading this: no, this does not yet solve the two communications workflow examples I presented to you. For the most part, it's a wireless stripped down Camera Control Pro that works on mobile devices. A start, but only a start.
  • The sample quality of images I've seen so far looks poor? Is the D600 not that great? Simple rule of thumb: never go by what you see from pre-release sample taking. Never. (1) The camera makers never get this right. Somewhere along the line the marketing department thinks that "pretty" pictures are better than pictures that are evaluated on disciplined shooting that reveals true image quality capability, so you end up with slightly missed focus points, slightly wrong exposure, sRGB Color Space at often camera default settings (for the JPEG), and even minor camera handling issues. (2) Unless you're provided with true out-of-camera JPEGs to look at, it's highly likely that there is recompression (and maybe interpolation) involved in what you're seeing. If you actually get out-of-camera JPEGs to look at, see point #1 ;~).
  • How about the MB-D14, anything new there? Not really. Same basic design as the grip for the D800, just reshaped a bit for the D600 body. It has front and rear command dials, a lockable vertical release, a Game Boy Direction pad, and the AE-L/AF-L button. You leave a battery in the D600 if you want, as the MB-D14 doesn't have a tongue that goes inside the camera, nor does it require you take the battery chamber door off the camera. Comes with a tray for an EN-EL15 and a second tray for 8 AA batteries. There is no mention of using EN-EL18 (D4) batteries in this grip.

Again, think D7000 with FX sensor and you'll be pretty close to right on any question you can come up with.

Nikon Pricing
Sept 13, 2012--
The D600 introduction brings up all kinds of pricing comments. Let me see if I can deal with them:

  • UK Prices. Indeed, these are strange. At the moment Grays of Westminster lists the D600 at 1955 pounds, the D800 at 2279 pounds. That's a difference of US$522 at today's exchange rates. Here in the US, the price differential is US$900. At the moment, questions into Nikon UK about this difference haven't resulted in any useful answers yet, unfortunately. A smaller difference like that is going to distort D600 versus D800 sales in the UK, I think. But I'm starting to see why so many UK residents I've been corresponding with are so grumpy ;~). My usual response: they don't have to deal with NikonUSA ;~).
  • Eventual price. People want to know how low the D600 price will go. US$1600 in a couple of years would be my guess based upon historical trends. Of course, that may be a rebate price with purchase of something else, and it probably wouldn't happen until at least late 2015, but you asked, and I answered.
  • D400. As I've written before, Nikon is gap-conscious. They try to provide a large number of products that have small to modest differences at carefully positioned price points so that they can up sell and down sell, as necessary. A US$1000+ gap between the D7000 and D600 suggests that there is another model coming, likely the mythical Bigfoot, oh wait, wrong story; likely the mythical D400. But don't hold your breath waiting for it. The D600 is made in the Thailand plant. Historically, Nikon has never produced more than two brand new cameras within a short period at that plant, and we now are overdue for a D5200, D7200, and D400. My guess is that it will be at least nine months before all three of those have gestated. Which comes first, I don't know, but the most pressure right now is on the D5200, with the D7200 having the least pressure to appear.

The Worst Kept Secret is Now Not Secret
Sept 13, 2012--
In the worst kept secret in Nikon's long leaky history, Nikon today announced the FX D600. If you take a D7000 body and stick a 24mp FX sensor in it, you pretty much have the idea of this camera. Throw in a couple of D800 and D3200 goodies, and you have the full story.


Let's start with the D7000 nature of the camera. The autofocus sensor, shutter, meter, and most of the body form and controls are close to direct lifts from the D7000. That does introduce a few changes, though. Unlike the D7000, the D600 will be limited to 1/200 flash sync and a top speed of 1/4000 (likely due to the large sensor area that's being traversed). The shutter is still rated to 150k clicks, like the D7000.

Other D7000 bits you'll notice are the U1 and U2 positions on the Mode dial. Why is it that we have only two mid-range cameras that can store ALL the camera settings, but the pro models still don't have this? Can you say "asleep at the wheel?" I know Nikon has heard pros tell them they want this. So the fact that they only give that function to mid-range users means what? Sounds like a passive aggressive design stance towards customers to me.

Like the D7000 (and V1 and D800), the D600 takes the EN-EL15 battery. Hmm, now we know why there's been a battery shortage ever since the recall: Nikon themselves must be stockpiling them.

Some will be disappointed by the 39-position autofocus sensor instead of the 51-point version in the higher end cameras, but this is part of the parts re-use that allows Nikon to get the price down, and frankly, most of the targeted users for this camera probably focus in the center of the frame, anyway. It's a reasonable compromise, in my opinion, and likely to cut down on all the "it doesn't focus" complaints. (Or maybe not after the D800 fiasco.) We do, however, get f/8 focusing capability with a limited set of sensors, so it's not the exact D7000 autofocus sensor array, but an updated one.

From the D800 the D600 gets uncompressed video out the HDMI port and the timelapse recording function. Indeed, the video specs pretty much seem the same as all the other high-end Nikons these days, right down to allowing DX crop for video, too.

From the D3200 the D600 gets a WiFi adapter (unfortunately, not the same exact one, but the new WU-1b, basically the same thing for the D600 USB port). This is a very welcome accessory with one small caveat (okay, huge liability): it works only with Nikon-supplied software for Android or iOS devices. I can't say that I've been overly impressed with the D3200 implementation for Android, and we're still waiting for the iOS version. We really need someone to reverse engineer the protocol being used and write a real app (as well as some good Windows and Macintosh desktop applications).

All of which brings us to the sensor: a 24mp CMOS sensor that almost certainly is made by Sony (and used in Sony's own upcoming RX1, A99, and VG900 cameras). That translates into 6016 x 4016 pixel FX images, 3936 x 2624 (10.3mp) for the DX crop. Just to be clear: the FX size is big enough to give you 300 dpi on the largest print you can make with a desktop inkjet printer (19"). Nikon is rating this sensor with a base ISO of 100 and a top of 6400 (with 50, 12800, and 25600 also being possible).

Other details you might find important to know: 100% viewfinder, 5.5 fps top frame rate, a new MB-D14 battery grip, GPS support, and the camera ships on September 18th, just in time for a bunch of people to bring theirs to Photokina (not me, I'll already be in Germany, so won't be able to pick up a camera in time). Yes, it shoots 14-bit raw (in all three possible compression/uncompressed options). No, it doesn't have 1.2x or 5:4 crops, only DX. Yes, it has two SD card slots. The camera body weighs in at 26.8 ounces, or 760g.

Unlike the rumor sites, I've been predicting for nearly six months that this body would come out at US$1999, and at US$2499 for a kit (with the new 24-85mm), not the US$1500 mark that seems to have generated so much leak excitement. I was off a bit: Nikon set the price at US$2100 for the body and US$2700 with the 24-85mm VR lens. Which makes you wonder where that rumored price and leaked details came from. Clearly the leaked details on the D600 have proven to be accurate, except for the price. One has to assume that these leaks came directly out of Nikon. Nikon knew they were flying another FX DSLR into a full frame market that was heating up with Sony's likely Photokina return to full frame. Was Nikon dulling the (also possibly intentional) Sony leaks, perhaps?

Whatever the case, the Nikon Rumors US$1500 suggested price was clearly not the real price from day one. That price would fly in the face of the way Nikon has structured its line and priced it in the past, would require a breakthrough in sensor costs, would rule out a D300s replacement and force price changes to the D7000, and would be leaving significant money on the table.

US$2100 is still slightly on the aggressive side, and it makes the D600 the lowest cost full frame sensor camera by a fair margin (the next closest being the Sony A99 (or RX1, your pick, both at US$2800). It certainly becomes the lowest cost traditional DSLR with a sensor sized the same as 35mm film, and all those legacy Nikkors now have a more affordable home.

So what else to make of the D600 announcement?

Well, first, it's probably the camera that most of the D800 purchasers should have bought. The casual user, and even quite a few of the serious enthusiasts, don't need 36mp, especially when they start putting the 28-300mm on the front. The 24-85mm VR and 28-300mm VR are much better matches to the D600. Indeed, the f/4 zooms also look pretty good for this camera (where's the 70-200mm f/4, Nikon?).

Update: It seems a few have objected to that last paragraph. I stand by it. The critical words are "especially" and "better matches." With a D800 and these two lenses, optimal optical results are achieved at a point where you're into the diffraction zone on a D800. When I measured the gain in resolution at 85mm f/11 between the D800 (36mp) and D3x (24mp), I got low single digit resolution gains. Is it worth paying US$900 more for a camera to get that gain if these are your choice of lenses? I say no. The D600 matches up better against these lenses: you can still stop down to f/8 and get good performance gains and about everything those lenses can deliver. Can you get a bit more with a D800? Sure, but it's the old many-dollars-for-little-gain problem.

I understand that people often buy more than they need. If that's what you want to do, fine. But my comments here were in the context of the value proposition of the FX bodies and lenses. The D600 matches up nicely against the 24-85mm and 28-300mm. The D800 matches up better against the 24-120mm and 24-70mm. I'm pretty sure that's what Nikon actually intended.

The compromises Nikon made to get the price significantly under the D800 are all very reasonable ones. We photographers get a bit spec-happy from time to time, and higher numbers seem to excite us way more than they should. There aren't any "higher numbers" in the D600, so be prepared to not be as excited as you were when the D800 was announced. But no worries; we have drugs for that these days.

All in all, the D600 seems very well rounded. Indeed, I believe it will start the FX revolution-for-the-mainstream pretty much the same way the D70 started the DX DSLR revolution-for-the-mainstream oh so many moons ago (106 moons, I believe; dang it, I've got to stop taking those pills that make me so anal ;~).

The one thing that Nikon does seem to always get really right from time to time is to create just the right camera for the budding enthusiast. This trend started back with the N90s, continued through the F100, and as I noted in the last paragraph hit the DSLR market with the D70. To some degree, the D300 and D700 could be said to fall in that category, too, though they both appealed to the very serious side of enthusiasts more than the slightly more casual group. The D600 once again hits that balance point very nicely, with no clear serious flaws in its design compromises (for the market it's intended for). It should do very well in the marketplace.

I came here to praise Nikon, not to bury it. Well, at least until the following paragraphs ;~)

What bothers me when Nikon designs a camera that hits the marketplace just about right like the D600 is why they can't do that with all their products (or at least most). At the top end (D300s, D800, D4) there are too many missing things and too many didn't ask for it things. At the bottom end (P7700, J1/J2/V2, D3200, D5100) there are too many of the wrong compromises, and too much of the wrong kind of hand holding. It's the Goldilocks's story over and over with Nikon, with only the cameras in the middle ever getting it "just (about) right." That would be, in recent history, the D300, D90, D700, D7000, and now the D600.

But let's put things in context for a moment. What Nikon DIDN'T announce in the pre-Photokina run-up that put them far away from Goldilocks's porridge and bed: any large sensor compact, the V2 (or my better Z1 idea), the D5200, the D7200, the D400, any truly meaningful Nikon 1 lens extensions, the 80-400mm replacement, any wide angle DX prime lens, and a host of other odds and ends. Oh, and an explanation about what happened with the D800 quality control and what's been done about it.

I've written earlier that Nikon's strategy seems to be to try any and everything. Gee, the D600 will sell like hotcakes, mostly because it's the right camera for the right audience. Why not try doing more of that? (THAT would be making the right cameras for the right audiences.) And then following that up with the right accessories, available upon launch of the camera, the right lenses, the right quality control, and the right support?




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