I’ve just spent three weeks travelling in England, Wales and several European countries, accumulating more than 3,500 images, the majority of them captured on a Nikon D600.
When the trip began to gel, several months ago, I knew I would want to take a full-frame camera and, having used the D600 before, knew it would be perfect, especially with the AF-S Nikkor 24–85 mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens.
I also planned to take a second camera, an Olympus E-P5, specifically because of its bright, big, auxiliary viewfinder, specifically for telephoto shots. Unfortunately, that camera wasn’t available, and instead I took my Panasonic Lumix GF2 Micro Four Thirds camera with auxiliary LVF1 viewfinder. For the GF2 I took three lenses. The first was an ultra-wide zoom Olympus 9-18 mm f/4-5.6 lens (18-36 mm equivalent) which I rarely used. The second was a 40-150 mm f/4-5.6 (90-300 equivalent) which I suspected would be the one which was on the camera the most, and it was. The third lens was a Four Thirds 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 (140-600 mm equivalent) with MFT adapter. This last lens, a physically large lens I rarely carried with me in my camera bag because of the lens’ weight, was for two specific shots, the first at Stonehenge, the second on the Champs Elysées in Paris.
But the D600 was my mainstay. It rarely left my hand.
Because I was travelling with others, and I couldn’t dictate when we would be at a specific location and for how long, it was a case of taking whatever picture opportunities arose rather than predetermining what type of picture I would be going for, and scheduling around that. The two specific shots I wanted to get were like that. I wanted to shoot Stonehenge as early in the morning as possible, and from a specific vantage point, requiring the use of the 600 mm end of the big zoom. And I wanted to shoot the Arc de Triomphe at night, from the Place de la Concorde, the full length of the Champs Elysées, again requiring the 600 mm.
While I got the shots, they were not taken at the time of day I had wanted and, in the case of Stonehenge, was shot from a totally different vantage point due to construction. Ah well.
You will note the word “viewfinder” popping up here. That’s because I prefer to use them rather than the big screen on a camera’s back. Sounds kind of counterintuitive, small image versus large, but it isn’t. While the back screen is big, to look at it while composing a shot means holding the camera out in front of you, and that is not conducive to steady, blurless shots, especially with a tele lens. The big back screen also becomes less easily viewed in the bright sun.
Holding the camera to your face helps brace it and reduces the incidence of camera shake.
I also wear a floppy-brimmed hat to help reduce any problems with sun but, hey, an umbrella also works if you have a third hand.
The Nikon’s big, bright viewfinder image is a joy to behold and use, offering a couple of levels of information, depending on how much of that image you want cluttered. I generally opt for the “bare bones” info level, in a black bar at the bottom of the frame.
(I made a mistake earlier this year after eye surgery and got a new pair of glasses without bifocals, opting for a separate pair of reading glasses. Next pair of glasses will be bifocals, as having to fumble around changing glasses while trying to make camera adjustments or, more critically, review images just shot . . . well, I’ve learned my lesson.)
Back to the D600. This is the slightly smaller version of the D800 – smaller physically yet still full format. That extra bit of weight can make a surprisingly big difference when carrying the camera for extended periods of time. (Rumours are starting to circulate that Nikon will be announcing the D610 shortly, but those same rumours suggest Nikon isn’t going to ruin what’s already a good thing, leaving the spec sheet pretty much the same as the D600. Please, Nikon.)
There’s one other thing which endears the D600 to me beyond the full format sensor, and that is the Expeed image processing engine which I consider from my experience to be the best there is. It consistently delivers great exposures. Did I ever have to do some on-the-spot exposure tweaking? Yes, every once in a while, in very difficult lighting, yet I instantly understood what the Expeed system was trying to do and was, for example, able to dial in a stop or so less light to deliver a more moody shot rather than a perfectly exposed one.
The 24-85 mm lens is a VR model, and those letters stand for vibration reduction. This is a sweet lens, a versatile lens, covering just about every focal length I need. With the VR feature, it allows me to hand hold shots at slower shutter speeds without getting image blur. It won’t work magic, but gets doggone close to it. Switching over to the other camera for tele shots put a lighter and smaller camera in my hands, but it also felt unsubstantial.
If I had my druthers, the D600 is the camera I’d take every time I travel – whether to the far reaches of the world, or just to the backyard.
I’ve included a handful of the shots taken with the Nikon during the trip. Photoshop was used on three of the images (Stonehenge, Avon, Cluj) to remove spots, and the contrast was raised slightly on the Stonehenge image, otherwise the photos are as they came straight out of the camera.