snap of the D600 at today’s launch event

 

I call this a tea post. The kettle is on and I’m going to write this before it boils.

Just home from the official Nikon announcement of the D600. The much anticipated addition to the Nikon ‘full frame’ range of DSLR cameras.
At a listed entry price of 2000 Euro for the body, the camera is undoubtedly going to score. The cameras are going to hit the market quickly and in plentiful numbers.

I’ve heard many D700 users saying they want a replacement for the D700. The D800 was ‘overkill’ for some and without a doubt the D600 will be looked down on by some as falling short of what the D700 offered. Realistically though, a professional photographer now has the choice of 3 very capable weapons, D600, D800 or D4. We’re spoiled for choice.
To me, one detail that puts the D600 way above the D700 is the better dynamic range that the new sensor offers. I noticed this in the D800 compared to my D3 and this is pretty much the same in the D600. Better skin tones, faster image processing. 2 more advantages with the D600.

I had a quick test of the D600 and of course, put it onto the highest native ISO setting of 6400. The image is cleaner than the skin on a baby’s forehead. Way better than the D700.
Lower pixel density than the D800 will make grabbing shots bit easier, faster handling is important for some. It’s here.

Holding the D600 it feels pretty much the same as the D7000, the crop-sensored sibling. I assure you, the build quality is better, it’s heavier and feels a lot more robust. The D7000 shakes when you take a photo, the D600 feels reassuringly stable. This is also backed up with the possibility that NPS members will get NPS support on a D600. That’s saying something.

For me, the D600 body just isn’t quite tall enough for comfy daily use. I had the same problem when using the D7000 for any periods of time. I tried the optional grip on the D600 and it felt a lot more usable and compliant in my hand. The opposite of the D800 with grip, that is even larger than the D4 and feels very bulky. So if you’re large hands, I’d strongly suggest trying a grip on the D600, for comfort.

<kettle boiled, water poured into teapot>

Nikon sowed the seed of the incredibly popular and cheap D3xxx and D5xxx series and are now luring those people into fullframe photography with the D600. With the aggressive market presence of the popular mirrorless systems Nikon clearly saw a gap and went for it. I think the D600 will make people think, go mirrorless or go compact DSLR with full frame sensor.. I already mentioned that pros are spoiled for choices, the amateur market is not just spoiled, they are lured and tempted by so many options and right now the D600 is sitting there at the end of the amateur trail, leaning on the fence of the professionals.

The D600 will be disliked by some, but I am sure it will be liked by more.

I’ll have one soon for a proper field test and report.

<Tea is brewed, and then I’m back to work! Thank you for reading>

  • Peter Burkwood - Interesting to hear you early thoughts on this Rob. I am one of those D700 users and still have my doubts to be honest.

    I look forward to hearing more feedback when you’ve had more time to test.

    P

  • greg - Great first impressions… can’t wait to hear more such as how the AF compares in real world dark situations where i can see a real improvement with the d800

  • Nikon D600 - Pagina 2 - [...] 6400 is den D600 perfect bruikbaar!! gezien en gelezen van ene die op't nikon95 event was bron?? Rob Mitchell en dat de azijnpissers nu maar zwijgen tot ze zelf een foto gemaakt en met de camera! ik heb de [...]

  • Wolf - Very curious, D7000 owner here.

    I tested both the D700 and D800 to make a decision on what to buy and decided to hold out for the D600 announcement.

    My thinking now is that the price difference between D600 and D800 in Europe is so small I might as well go for the D800 to get the extra MPs for cropping, 51 focus points, a more accessible AF-ON button, 1/8000 shutter speed and 1/250 flash sync.

    I don’t really care that much for the extra FPS (5,5 on D600).

    I do like dual SD better than SD+CF (in the D800).

    I hope to rent or try the D600 soon.

To add to my hands-on experience of mirrorless system cameras I’ve recently had a short time with the Sony NEX-7. Sony Belgium kindly sent over a camera with a couple of lenses to see what I thought of it. The lenses were the Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA and the Sony E 16mm f/2.8.

My initial feel for the camera was that it was a good compact size, yet not too compact. The battery compartment gave a good grip volume on the side of the camera that made it feel very comfortable in my hand. Positive feel to all the dials on the body and a general sturdy feel to construction were pleasing to see and feel.
A couple of big plus points of any camera in this category are covered by the NEX-7. A built in viewfinder and a tilting rear LCD. I found the EVF a little to harsh on the black tones and very contrasty. On the whole it was very responsive to camera movement with no serious lag in refresh. The tilting screen was solidly made and offered a good representation of the images during playback and was very usable in ‘Uncle Bob’ mode. Oddly though, I missed the touch screen functionality that I’ve seen on the Panasonic GX1 and Olympus OM-D. A feature I once loathed has grown on me for quick and easy adjustments to settings and AF points.

The menus.
The NEX-7 was really frustrating at this level. I found the menus rather messy, disorganised and very annoying. I didn’t discover that the NEX-7 could shoot in black and white until after I’d returned the camera. Yes, I could have looked harder in the menus but I shouldn’t have to for such a basic feature. The autostitch panorama feature was easier to find. For me a much less interesting feature but of course this camera is aimed at a market that would probably find that feature more appealing.

Batttery.
Battery life isn’t too bad. What I’ve come to expect from this category of camera. A day out of trigger happy shooting would certainly require a spare battery in the bag. With all that said, leave the camera switched on and carry it around on a strap and the battery will and does drain a lot quicker. The eye sensor on the EVF detects anything that comes close and activates the camera, an unwelcome power use. I also found the EVF a lot more comfortable to use without the rubber eyepiece fitted. Strange as rubber eyepieces are generally fitted to aid use, not hinder it.

 

Hotshoe.
Again, Sony stick to their proprietary standard hotshoe, knowing full well that just about any serious photographer will buy an adaptor to allow connectivity to the world of ISO 518:2006 hotshoe accessories. Is it through stubbornness or just to be different? I don’t know. They’re not alone though, Nikon of course recently chose to use a proprietary hotshoe on their 1 series.

 

Lenses.
I’m most certainly a prime lens lover on compact mirrorless systems so was pleased the 16mm and 24mm were supplied with the camera. The lenses were clearly very different, and not just in focal length. The 16mm, nothing substantially wrong with this lens as far as I could tell and in fact an ideal combination to fit my personal desire to keep a compact camera system compact. It was very slim and fitted right in with the description of ‘pancake lens’ A good all round day trip prime lens that works out at about 24mm in real money. Nothing too wow about image quality from the lens though, very adequate but nothing to make me fall in love.
The 24mm on the other hand.. Carrying a Zeiss badge or not, it just felt a lot better on the NEX-7. Build quality was up on the 16mm and although physically way larger than I’d like, I liked using it. Wide open I had a good feel, closed up it gave crispy images, directly into the sun it had no nasty flare issues. After using both lenses, I’d forgo the w i d e 16mm for the 24mm, any day.

The rest.
Tech specs aren’t what I’m about so the rest of the usual things in a camera slide past me unless they stand out in either a good or bad way. I expect all cameras to focus quickly nowadays and the NEX-7 does. In fact you forget the camera is focusing as it’s so quick. Accurate and good in all lighting conditions. ISO range is good, like all cameras in this category the NEX-7 is at a point where strictly speaking, it doesn’t matter what ISO you use up to the mid-high range, the image is going to be perfectly acceptable. Push it or any other camera to the upper limit and it’ll start to get messy. So no surprises there at all.
Images out of the camera are reliable, colours are good and no nasty surprises. Definitely low to mid range DSLR image quality levels here.

All in all I had a pleasing experience with NEX-7. Nothing would scare me off from buying one, but there is not light flashing to tell me I should either. My main issues are, the menu system is horrible and the flash mount would need me to buy an adaptor to unleash extra creative ability.

As I write this, I’ve just caught some Twitter feed of new NEX model news being leaked. With Photokina on the near horizon and incredibly fast moving camera development, I do wonder what will Sony will do NEXt.

Below a mixed bag of images shot with the NEX-7.

;

After my report on the D800 I though it’d be a good idea to have a look at the D800E too, the genetically altered twin to the D800.
As everyone knows by now, the difference between the D800 and D800E is pretty small yet supposedly significant. The removal of the low-pass filter in the D800E was a conscious decision by Nikon to squeeze the sharpest images possible out of the whopping 36mp sensor.
However, this omission of the low-pass, or anti-alias filter does come with a word of caution from the manufacturer. A moiré pattern or optical artifact maybe be visible in some images.

My mission over the next month isn’t to bench test these 2 cameras, that has been done. I am going to use them in my day-to-day work to just see how and when and if I can see a serious difference.
This won’t be a scientific test, it’ll be my usual style of testing. I will try to make some side by side comparisons when the situations allow. For any side by side comparisons I will endeavour to use identical lenses on both cameras.

Throughout the month I will be dropping images onto twitter and my Facebook page. Reader feedback is welcome.

Follow it as it happens on Facebook or Twitter

The full article will follow.

  • Richard Devlin@Fujifilm x-pro1 - It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on Nikon d800, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  • Rob Mitchell - Hi Richard,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad what I posted was of value to you.

  • Larry King@Digital Camera Reviews - There is certainly a lot to find out about this topic – Nikon d800. I really like all of the points you’ve made.

 

It isn’t every day that I get a call to ask if I’d like to do an extensive test of a new camera. It is even rarer to get asked to do the test in New York. There it was though, an invitation by Nikon Europe to go to New York and take part in an event that brought together photographers and journalists from all corners of Europe. There was one mission 48 hours in NY to give the D800 a good workout and report our findings.

I was given the D800 a week before the trip so that I could familiarise myself with the layout, menus and handing. I’m a D3 user so although the D800 felt smaller in my hand it felt no less at home. Lacking the body height and bulk of the D3 or D4 it sat surprisingly comfortably and stable in my hand. I put a memory card in the camera, formatted it and noted that I had space on the card for 200 photos. I popped the card out again to check the card size and saw it was a 16GB card. With the camera settings set to 14Bit uncompressed NEF I’d have the camera yelling at me for more storage after just 200 shots! We’re looking at files of around 75mb each here. Compare that to around 430 in the D4 and 600 in the D3. This sort of file size would mean I’d need 3 x the memory card capacity to shoot as much with the D800 as with my D3, plus of course, 3 x the disk space on my computer. There are other file options like 12Bit and compressed NEF that will fit more images onto a card but I was a little disappointed to see no ‘Small NEF’ option.

Needless to say, I hastily ordered some more CF and SD cards plus a portable hard drive.

Controls

As for the general handling of the D800, the controls and their positions are the usual natural progression rather than a fundamental change. I could grab the camera, put it to my eye and my fingers and thumbs knew instinctively where the controls could be found, with one exception. On both the D800 and D4 the Movie record button has been placed just behind and slightly to the left of the shutter release button, where the Mode button is on any other pro Nikon body. The Mode button is now further back and even more to the left. My hands aren’t small but I can tell you, trying to get my finger to that mode button while holding the camera to my eye takes some serious stretching. My finger falls naturally onto the Movie record button. Let’s not forget this is in the first place a stills camera so the ability to change Mode easily should be the priority. To rub salt into the wound, D800 users are not going to like the fact that the option to reprogram the Movie record button is only available on the D4. Option F16 in the Custom Settings menu gives has several options for re-assignment of the button, ISO, Image area, Shooting bank, shutter speed and aperture lock. It goes without saying that I would like to see the F16 menu options to be included on the D800 together with the option to reprogram the Movie record button to ‘Mode’ when shooting stills. Can it or will it happen? I hope so!  D700 and D7000 users will trip over another button assignment issue too. The + and – zoom image previews are in opposite positions on the D800 and D4. + is above the -. Any D700 user instinctively pressing the buttons will be surprised, especially if using a D800 together with a D700.

Discipline

Arriving in NY, I had a few hours to explore the neighbourhood and shoot a little street photography. It soon became apparent why Nikon does actually warn about taking care when making photos with the D800. I was making photos as I normally would during a short city walkabout, see a shot, reach for the camera and grab the image. I was getting a high percentage of shots that just lacked that crisp feel I expect. It was very obvious that I’d slacked into bad habits. A camera with 36mp will and does punish the use of low shutter speeds and bad technique. As soon as I adjusted my technique and used a higher shutter speed than I normally would, I started to notice the images were getting better. It also became very apparent that the D800 is very critical of lenses; I noticed a marked difference between the Nikon 70-200mm VRI and VRII. The VRII was substantially better on the D800, a difference I have hardly noticed when using my D3. The D800 loves high quality prime lenses.

Focus

One seriously good addition to the D800 and D4 is fact that the AF mode can now be changed without even taking the camera away from the eye. Pressing the button in the middle of the AF/M selector and rotating the aperture or shutter controls, the AF mode can be changed and is displayed in the viewfinder. I found this really useful during a trip on a water taxi to the Statue of Liberty. Some jet skiers were ideal high speed moving targets to test the new 3D AF tracking. Not only was the water taxi moving quickly on the choppy river but the jet skis were giving their all too. Pixel peeping after the event showed consistent and accurate focus. Time after time the D800 managed to lock onto the target and follow it shot after shot. However, this is where the D800 has to bow to the mighty D4. 4fps in FX mode obviously isn’t going to be quick enough to catch all the action but the images it did catch were spot on. Nikon makes no illusions about the shooting speed of the D800 and with the sheer processing power needed to process and save 36mp files; I’m surprised the camera even manages 4fps.

Unlike the D4, the D800 has an AF assist lamp; I always find these lamps very intrusive so during one of our challenges I was happy to see that when I turned it off the AF still performed with no noticeable problem. The challenge was an exclusive chance to photograph and video the spectacular Blue Man Group at their theatre, just off Broadway. Low light, bursts of bright colour and fast action were there to test the D800‘s low light stills and video capabilities. I shot up to 4000 ISO very comfortably. With high ISO being one of the other major concerns of potential D800 buyers, I was very surprised at the lack of noise. There is no doubt; the D800 can’t touch the D4 in this area, but what I think it does do is beat my current camera, the D3. Yes, at a full 36mp the noise is visible but no more obtrusive than a full sized D3 file. Reduce the D800 file to 12mp and the noise is substantially less noticeable. What’s more important: I feel there is a lot more detail retained in the highlights and shadows of the D800, even at the higher ISO’s it feels a lot better than the D3 and certainly as good as the D4, suggesting the dynamic range of the D800 and D4 to be a lot better than their predecessors.

Battery

Battery life is good, even with the larger LCD, a lot of video use and about 650 photos it still wasn’t empty. The battery is the same as used in the D7000 so Nikon have obviously worked hard on efficiency. On the subject of the LCD, I did spot some irregularities in playback. Sometimes colours didn’t look accurate, switching the monitor settings to Manual brightness instead of Auto fixed this. Maybe just a slight firmware issue here?

Video

I’m new to the DLSR for video world but seeing example videos online has certainly motivated me to use video more. One popular D800 example video is ‘Joy Ride’. The film’s creators, photographer Sandro and cinematographer Anthony Arendt were at NYC48 to talk us through the production and offer tips. My video clips during the event certainly didn’t do the camera justice but I was certainly impressed with the ease of video recording and the output quality. To make my life easier to switch between photo and video settings I set up custom Shoot Bank A for photos and B for basic video settings. This helped to an extent but I did find myself forgetting to switch Shoot Banks a lot, mainly because the only place you can see the selected setting is by using the info screen on the rear LCD, which I rarely use. I would have liked to have this information displayed on the top LCD panel as it is on the D4.

Upon returning from NY I shot a real-life comparison test with the D800 and D4, a simple model portfolio style shoot on the streets of Gent. Moving quickly though the streets, no fuss and all had to be done in 2 hours. I matched the settings on both cameras and used both cameras as I would on this style of shoot, using the body that had the right lens at that moment and using it. Paying as little attention to the camera as possible I dialed in the settings and just made the shots. Back in the office I did the same for the selection and processing of the images, just selected the shots I liked without paying attention to file info. I only looked afterwards. Out of the all the photos I made with the 2 cameras I chose 42 ‘keepers’. 14 were from the D4 and 28 from the D800. Not by any means a scientific test but enough for me to see that these two cameras are so close in so many ways.

D800 vs D4

Looking back at the D800 images from NY and the comparison shoot in Gent, the final look and feel of the images from both cameras in mixed conditions is virtually identical. The images can be processed next to each other and nobody would guess which camera they came from. Yes the D4 will accelerate past the D800 when pushed to the high ISO range. It will capture more frames per second than the D800 but personally, the image detail of the D800 far outweighs the disadvantages it might have when compared to the D4. Yes, maybe I would have liked the option to shoot a smaller NEF size, Shooting DX mode is one option but that isn’t quite the same. Like it or loathe it, by leaving the FX image output at 36mp Nikon have certainly given the D800 one defining feature to set it apart from the D4. Thinking about it, the price of memory cards and hard disks has declined in recent times, so unless you are a ‘Spray and pray’ photographer, is the actual cost of image storage a serious problem? The real cost could be in the workflow as the D800 files do take extra time to process and handle. Saying that, I do seem to remember having the similar concerns when moving from 6mp to 12mp.

With the launch of the D4 and the D800, Nikon have defined two markets with a cross-over area in the middle. For some photographers the choice will be very obviously defined by the type of work they do. Others will be wondering which they should choose. I tried the D800 in situations in and outside its comfort zone and it performed better than I expected. I think the crossover zone is actually bigger than Nikon expected.

Which camera would I choose?

Ultimately, I ‘need’ both cameras for my work but if I was given 6000 Euro to spend tomorrow, I’d buy a D800 and with change I’d buy a 35mm 1.4. With the D800 you’re not getting half a D4, I’d dare to say you are actually getting 90% of the D4 for half the price.

 

The level of details in D800 images beg for them to be printed on large format. F2.8, ISO200, 14mm

The D800 loves good prime lenses. The Nikon 35mm F1.4 feels at home on this camera. F1.8, 1/250, ISO800, 35mm

The Dynamic range of the D800 is superb, there is a ton of detail to be found in the RAW files. F7.1, 1/320, ISO 100, 16mm

The AF tracking has no problem with keeping with fast moving targets. Just the 4fps might be too slow for some. F4.5 1/3200, ISO250, 135mm

Moving up the ISO scale the D800 is surprisingly good. As good as or better than the D3. F2.8, 1/125, ISO3200, 130mm

The D800 matches the D4 all the way for image 'feel' It might be left behind from ISO6400 but it blazes ahead in image details. Ideal for catalogue shoots. F1.8, 1/250, ISO 200, 85mm

For more pics from the trip to NY, please check out my 500px page or my professional page on Facebook.

This article was originally published in Shoot magazine, edition 19. The Belgian photography magazine.
Thank you to Erik for allowing me to reproduce the document in for the blog.

Thank you to Nikon Europe for the ‘challenge’