Why choose the Nikon D600?
I have been having somewhat of a challenge lately deciding exactly which camera to choose as my main work horse.
I was not entirely happy with my Canon 5 dmk 2 once I decided to take more than just stationary landscape shots. To me the auto focus was not exactly great shall we say. With L glass on or with fast bright primes I was still getting an awful lot of shots that were not in focus when shooting people.
It actually amazed me that the auto focus on the Panasonic G3 was in my opinion actually better for slow moving or stationary subjects. Yes some of that can be put down to a greater depth of field for any given aperture thanks to sensor size differences but for the slow moving targets that I wanted to capture the contrast detection af of the Panasonic gave me a much higher percentage of keepers.
This led me on to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 which I bought 6 months ago and found to be a fantastic little camera. Small and light enough to take with you on most occasions yet producing good enough image quality for all but the most demanding photographers. I was very impressed with its 16 mp sensor and the handling of this camera body. However on a recent trip to my local beach at sunset I saw a few things that niggled away at me.
Let me firstly explain that I am in the process of moving from my home on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and back to England to be with my girlfriend. This is a costly move and it is making me consider all of my equipment that little bit more and whether it can justify its place in my camera bag (yes I’ve sold a lot of those off too).
In all likelihood the gear that I have now is going to have to see me through the next few years and so it must be capable of performing every task that I require of it, prominently landscapes but I am also taking on more and more commercial photographic work.
So here are my reasons for going with the new Nikon D600 rather than sticking with micro 4/3, going back to Canon or choosing another Nikon.
Image quality of the Nikon D600
The number one reason to choose the Nikon D600 in my opinion is for the superb image quality that it produces. I mentioned earlier that I saw a few things in the Olympus files that I didn’t like. Let me say that in general the Olympus OM-D E-M5 produces superb quality images, especially for a micro 4/3 sensor. The dynamic range was the single biggest improvement I saw when compared to older micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic G3.
However in low light shooting conditions such as those around Sunset and sunrise I saw a level of noise in the images even at base ISO (200 on the Olympus) that I wasn’t happy with. The images showed noise in the shadows and although the files were more than useable I know that at some point this would actually cause me issues when wanting to print large.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 ISO 200 100% crop. Notice the noise in this raw file at base ISO. It’s by no means bad but it does highlight limitations in the sensor tech.
It goes back to knowing that I can rely on my gear to get the job done and I’m afraid it was this single reason that caused me to lose faith in the Olympus as my sole platform. If I could justify keeping it as a travel camera I would but unfortunately with other financial constraints and the wish to invest money elsewhere in the business the Olympus is currently on Ebay. For almost all other purposes it is a fine camera though so if you don’t shoot landscapes in challenging light then you will more than likely be delighted with it.
If image quality is the number one factor in my choice then why not Medium format or the Nikon D800?
Well I think that Medium format is financially unviable for most photographers and it actually doesn’t suit a lot of the things that I shoot. Travel photography with a medium format system is definitely not my idea of fun.
So what about the D600′s older brother, the medium format killer D800?
Yes the Nikon D800 will produce more detailed files with its 36mp sensor but the difference for most applications is marginal and I do not do enough jobs that would justify the extra expense and more importantly the extra processing times and storage requirements of those huge files.
There are downsides in reality to that 36mp sensor, it makes shooting technique of paramount importance and getting razor-sharp handheld shots will require more thought and effort as even the slightest movement is highlighted by this behemoth of a sensor.
I used to live by my tripod and shoot in a very considered way. Tripod, mirror lock up, cable release, view finder to compose, live view to manually focus “oh dam the light changed” lol (see my landscape photography tips). In all seriousness I still shoot my landscapes like that but I need something that I can use for all types of photography including hand-held travel and street work. I don’t want to be restricted by the technique required of the Nikon D800′s 36 mp sensor.
What you do get with the Nikon D600 though is the fantastic dynamic range of the Sony sensors which is considerably better (in my opinion and that of DXO labs so Canon shooters please don’t start sending abusive emails my way) than those produced by rivals Canon. Even the smaller Olympus OM-D E-M5 (which used a much smaller Sony Sensor) rivalled my old Canon 5 d mk2 which was a very impressive performance indeed from the little Oly.
The Nikon D600 sensor
The 24mp sensor in the Nikon D600 is enough for my needs. I print regularly up to 30×20″ for exhibitions and for customer orders and with the 24mp sensor I can easily create superbly detailed prints from the D600. I could do this on the Canon 5d mk2 and even produced some wonderful prints from the Olympus at this size. I don’t need 36mp for this. I see a lot of photographers who have bought the Nikon D800 and use it to post pics to Facebook, that’s fine and I’m sure those people love their D800′s and will justify their purchase but for the work I do I couldn’t, as much as I would like to!
Customers, those who actually buy my prints wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and they certainly wouldn’t pay more for the privilege so I’m not going to spend my money on something that doesn’t give me a return on my investment.
I have noticed and I would think that most photographers who actually sell prints would agree that it is other photographers who pick up on things like corner sharpness, DPI, ppi and all these other little factors that really don’t matter much to those who buy your work. Take note of this, photographers don’t buy your prints (or very rarely) so who cares what they think. I have heard numerous comments like “this bit of the scene is not as sharp as this area” etc about my all time best-selling print. Did it stop all those people from buying the prints, no, because it’s a beautiful image. Once you reach a certain level of quality anything beyond that produces diminishing returns and if you are running a business and not a hobby then these factors have to be weighed up.
My point here is that the quality of the D600 is such that it will not hold me back. If I can’t create beautiful large prints with this camera it is not Nikons fault. It will be mine (unless these dust issues really are true of course but I will judge that for myself over the coming months and report back. I don’t trust reports on internet forums to give me an accurate representation of the issue, if indeed there is one.)
So what about my commercial clients? Well in my experience clients care about the end product that you produce for them. The image and the message conveyed is by far and away the most important aspect and it is your skill as a photographer that they are paying for. They trust you to use the right equipment for the job. I have never had any client question the gear I am using so I know for a fact that the Nikon will be more than capable of anything I ask of it in the commercial world. If I work on specific jobs that require huge billboard sized prints then I will rent a Nikon D800 for the shoot and charge the client appropriately.
This is a business and my gear has to pay it’s way.
Autofocus of the Nikon D600 for portraits, travel and street photography
This is an area that I am enjoying more and more and intend to dedicate a greater proportion of my time to.
My decision to get the Nikon D600 in this case was swayed by the 39 point auto focus system that although not quite up to the level of the D800 and certainly not in the same league as the Nikon D4 will be more than adequate for my needs.
Having come from the Canon 5D mk2 I can safely say that I will be suitably impressed by the superior Nikon system combined with the added benefit of over 5 frames per second continuous shooting rate. I know the Nikon will get the shot when I need it to. If I happen to be commissioned by National Geographic (if you’re reading this I am open to offers NG ) to travel half way around the World to photograph some exotic fast-moving species then I will rent a Nikon D4 and possibly someone to carry it and some huge lenses for me.
Why not get the Nikon D7000 or it’s replacement the D7100? The autofocus system in the D7000 is the same as that of the Nikon D600 but because it is a dx camera the autofocus points are spread over a smaller sensor area and therefore cover a larger percentage of the frame. The newer D7100 has a new and improved 51 point AF system and so should yield improved autofocus capabilities over both the D7000 and the D600.
Nikon D7100′s 51 point Auto Focus system
However my primary concern is with image quality and so it took priority in my decision-making process over the merits of the AF systems of the cameras. The full frame sensor of the Nikon D600 won the argument as it offers better IQ and low light performance. Sports and wildlife photographers would probably place greater importance on the AF system and possibly prefer the crop factor of the DX cameras too but that decision is going to be down to you and what you shoot most.
Weatherproofing and ruggedness of the Nikon D600
Nikon D600 construction
The weather proofing on the Nikon D600 is reported to be on the same level as the Nikon D800 and as I do a lot of outdoor shooting this is a pretty important feature for me to have on any camera body. I don’t need it to be capable of withstanding the worst of the Outer Hebridean weather because I don’t have any intention of continuing to shoot in those conditions. No shot is worth that, trust me! It’s good to not have to worry about your gear and even having to put it away when things get a bit drizzly or damp though. Doing a lot of coastal shooting it’s good to have the weather sealing to keep out dust, sand and sea spray as much as anything else.
The Nikon D600 and Nikon System
One other factor that is a major consideration for me as I now intend to keep my gear fairly minimal and rent lenses etc as and when they are needed, is the availability of lenses, flashes and the range of compatible camera bodies.
I have in the past always bought the gear I needed even if it wasn’t used that much. However now I would prefer to keep those monies available to fund more trips, experiences etc and so it is important to me that I can easily rent specialist lenses or equipment as and when the need arises or jobs require it. Obviously Nikon and Canon hold a massive advantage in this area and realistically my choice is limited to the big two.
I am heading to St Kilda in a couple of weeks to shoot images for an upcoming exhibition and I needed to rent something wider than I have and also a telephoto. When you have a DSLR from Canikon it’s easy to do. Here’s where I get my lens rentals from at great prices in case you are interested.
Added benefits of the Nikon D600
Ok so I’ve pretty much covered the major factors that influenced my decision to go with the Nikon D600 but there are certainly other reasons too.
Affordable full frame DSLR
Price is one factor of course, it is billed (alongside the Canon EOS 6d) as the first really affordable full frame dslr. I’m not too sure how affordable £1300+ is to be honest but it is definitely a step in the right direction and perhaps the beginning of affordable full frame cameras.
I found the electronic level in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 really useful and I’m glad to see that the Nikon D600 has this although only a single axis level is visible in the viewfinder but that’s fine as I only use the secondary axis (pitch, roll? forwards and backwards lol it’s late here and I don’t have the energy to check) when trying to avoid distortion in interior or architectural photos. If I need it I’m happy to check it in the Nikon D600′s live view mode.
Dual memory card slots
Dual SD card slots of the Nikon D600
This is definitely a bonus feature that will be really useful for me as I will set the Nikon D600 to create a backup of all the images as I shoot. I don’t care that it’s dual sd cards rather than compact flash. To me that’s a moot point. Maybe it’s a factor for sports shooters (who need the extra speed of CF cards) but it seems to get mentioned by a lot of reviewers as a negative. Not for me, SD cards are cheaper, I already have a bunch of them from my Olympus and my girlfriends camera takes them too so we can share.
Ok so all these decisions have been made but I am still sat here waiting for the camera to actually turn up. I got the 50mm 1.8, I got the 85mm 1.8 and I got a battery grip and spare batteries plus filters for the lenses but me got no Nikon D600. Praise the lord for the Outer Hebridean courier service.
I’ll update the site with a review once I have had time to get to grips with the camera. In the meantime it would be great to hear what features made you buy your Nikon D600 or was there something that really put you off it? Maybe the 1/200 flash sync speed? reported dust issues? Let me know below.