Travelling with the D600

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The author with the Nikon D600 at Symond's Yat
The author with the Nikon D600 at Symond’s Yat

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.

River Avon
River Avon

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.

Gloucester cathedral
Gloucester cathedral

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.)

Zweibrucken, Germany
Zweibrucken, Germany

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.

Cluj, Romania, from the roof of the Beyfin Hotel
Cluj, Romania, from the roof of the Beyfin Hotel

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.

Arriving in Mulhouse, France in the middle of a demonstration
Arriving in Mulhouse, France in the middle of a demonstration

For a look at the D600’s specs, you can check out my entry here, and for my first hands-on of the camera, that’s reported on here.

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.


Review: Nikon D600

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D600The D600 is no pretender to the throne; it is a Nikon in Nikon clothing. There is no getting away from its pedigree, its lineage.

It is a full-frame digital camera in the same vein the D700 was and the D800 is.

It’s just slightly smaller dimensionally and in weight than the D800, and has a metal chassis while the D800 has an all metal body.

The D600’s resolution at 24.3-megapixels is considerably less than that of the D800 at 36.2-megapixels. But 24.3 is quite a bit more than the 12- to 18-megapixels in smaller format DSLRs.

So, is the D600 the perfect camera?

No, because we all don’t shoot the same way/things, and so we don’t want the same thing in a camera.

However, you have to admit, it’s full frame, the Holy Grail of photography, equivalent dimensionally to a frame of 35 mm film. The D600 is multi-faceted, capable of extraordinary feats. It has a lens base to be envious of.

On the other hand, it may be too heavy for some photographers; there are any number of lighter DSLRs on the market today.

I lugged a D700 around New York City and, while getting excellent pictures, by the end of the day was wishing I had a lighter camera. I have no such complaints after carrying the D600 around NYC.

The D700 weighed in at 995g without battery. The D800 weighs 900g, the D600 is 760g.

D600Those shooters for whom weight is of paramount importance may want to head over to the mirrorless camera aisle.

So let’s say the D600 is near perfect for those into DSLRs, but definitely not perfect for those whose interests lie more in the realm of snapshots.

The D600 I used was matched with the superb AF-S Nikkor 24-85 mm f/3.4-4.5 G ED lens.

I’m not going to rehash all the camera’s specs. Those you can find in a previous post, here.

What using the D600 has done is sour me on using any other DSLR for a while; it simply won’t live up to what I have been getting from the D600.

Case in point, I got a call for a magazine cover. That’s a vertical. I cropped a just-shot horizontal and it still delivered all the guts I needed, thanks to the full format and high resolution.

Night shots from the D600 show no problems with noise. Interior shots at ISO 1600 beat other DSLRs at ISO 400. And I was blown away by the quality I got at ISO 3200.

As noted, I took the D600 to NYC for a day’s shooting, inside and out, under a variety of lighting conditions. I continue to be impressed with Nikon’s Nikon’s Scene Recognition System and Expeed image processing system, now version 3 in the D600.

(If you want to check out some of the NYC images I took with the D600, they’re up on Flickr, here.)

The only time I put the camera aside was for a longer lens on another camera, but when I look at the results, I should have stuck to the D600 and cropped the image.

The only time I had a problem with the camera may simply have been the result of wearing bulky winter gloves. Instead of changing ISO, I made the rear screen switch modes to multiple images. I fought with that a couple of times before figuring out what was happening.

I didn’t have a need to shoot any video in NYC, but the camera does deliver beautiful quality HD footage.

The chorus of the post-WW1 song goes “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm/After they’ve seen Paree?” That’s how I’m feeling about the Nikon. How am I gonna return to my old DSLR after using the D600?

Two thumbs up.

Nikon D600

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The rumours have been flying, and now we do, indeed, have Nikon’s smallest, lightest, and most affordable full-frame DSLR, the D600.

Aimed at photo enthusiasts, Nikon says it has pro-grade photo and video features with wireless sharing and capture capabilities.

We have a newly developed high-resolution CMOS sensor and Expeed 3 image processing engine.

The 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor (35.9 x 24 mm) provides a wide ISO range from 100-6400 (expandable to 50-25,600) for maximum low-light flexibility yielding clean images with minimal noise and accurate colour, says the company.

The full ISO range can also be used while capturing HD video in challenging light.

The processor delivers stills and Full HD (1080p) videos that exhibit faithful colour reproduction and tonal range throughout the frame, notes Nikon.

The D600 offers Nikon’s Scene Recognition System and 2,016-pixel RGB sensor.

The camera has a 39-point AF system with the new MultiCAM 4800FX AF module. This AF array offers AF modes to let users select a single point, continuous AF, Dynamic AF, or use 3D tracking to keep pace with a moving subject throughout the frame. The system features nine cross-type sensors while seven AF points are fully functional when using compatible Nikkor lenses and teleconverters with an aperture value up to f/8.

Nikon claims the D600 is ready to shoot in 0.13 seconds, with a 0.052 second shutter release.

The camera is capable of bursts of images at 5.5 fps at full resolution with full AF.

Dual SD card slots are compatible with the latest SDXC and UHS-1 high-speed standards.

The optical viewfinder offers 100 percent frame coverage.

The D600 offers several scene modes and features, including one-touch access to Picture Control functions through a new dedicated button. Photographers can also shoot images in High Dynamic Range (HDR).

Video? Oh yes. Full HD at varying frame rates and resolutions including 1080p video at 30, 25 or 24p, and 720p video at 60, 50 and 30p. When shooting HD video at the highest quality setting, up to 20 minutes can be recorded, or up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds in normal quality.

The LCD is 3.2-inches with automatic brightness control.

There’s full manual control of exposure, and you can switch between FX and DX-format (1.5X) at Full HD for a telephoto boost or to adjust depth of field.

Users can opt to focus manually, or use full-time AF while recording. Vdeographers have the ability to capture audio with the onboard microphone, or record stereo audio externally using the mic input. Audio can be monitored through the headphone jack and levels can be displayed on the LCD with peaking.

In addition to the ability to play back HD video and images through the HDMI terminal, users are also able to experience pro-grade video features in the D600. For monitoring and streaming applications, the image can be displayed on the LCD screen while simultaneously shown on another monitor through the HDMI, regardless of whether they are shooting data.

The D600 adds the ability to transfer uncompressed videos via the HDMI connection, which can then be routed to a digital recorder or similar device.

An optional wireless adapter allows users to connect wirelessly to their D600. When connected, users are able to share images taken with the D600 through their mobile device to their social circles, as well as send and download images from their camera to a compatible device. The adapter also allows users to remotely fire the D600’s shutter from up to 15.24 m (50 ft) away.

A built-in Speedlight commander can control multiple Speedlights. The camera can also control up to two individual Speedlight groups.

Okay, a smaller and lighter camera. Does that mean a lesser camera? Doesn’t look like it. The body of the D600 is sealed with gaskets for resistance against dirt and moisture. The camera is built with a magnesium alloy top and rear construction. The shutter has been tested for 150,000 cycles, and sensor cleaning is also employed.

The battery is rated for approximately 900 shots. The optional MB-D14 Multi Power Battery Pack extends the grip for comfort and can effectively double the battery capacity when using two batteries.

To avoid accidental engagement, the shutter button has been recessed, while the Mode Dial can be locked.

The Nikon D600 is scheduled to be available September 18 at a suggested $2,179.95 for the body only or $2,749.95 for the body with the AF-S Nikkor 24-85 mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens.