Poppa Bear, Momma Bear Or Goldilocks? Is The Nikon D600 Right For You?
I will not begin with a list (and links) to all the sites announcing, previewing and spotlighting Nikon’s newest full-frame DSLR, the D600. There are sites galore available to you with a simple Google search, and all the usual favorites have information for you today. There also are plenty of those same sites with sample images from the new kid on the block. Let’s assume you are familiar with a D600′s specs and features. The bottom-line question always comes down to: is this camera right for me?
Are you a sports shooter, covering all kinds of fast-moving events in daylight and under the lights? You really do want a D4, the all-weather speed demon (complete with its 16 megapixel sensor). Or you want to stick with your D3S or even your much older D3. Frame rate, frame rate, spectacular low light performance, frame rate is the name of the game here to capture the action on the field. And 16 megapixels is more than enough to cover your sport adequately. Pro football, tennis, track and numerous Olympics all have been fantastically covered by those older cameras, even with their 12 megapixel sensors. You need speed, low light performance and all-weather protection, not the D600′s strengths.
Do you exclusively shoot landscapes? Or any subject that is not moving, with lots of detail, for which you always (or almost always) use a tripod? You are a D800 target. Those 36 megapixels are unmatched in the DSLR world, with amazing resolution, tonal gradations and very good low-light capability. The 4 fps shooting rate is okay for most of your work when you are not on your tripod. And the camera world dropped its jaw when all that became available at the near-amazing price of $3,000. Sales at Nikon are through the roof, with little signs of a slowdown. You don’t want a D600.
Are you a dedicated DX shooter, wed to that cropped sensor? There are some great cameras out there for you (think the Nikon D7000 and the Canon 7D). You like the reach you get out of that sensor, with its multiplier effect (a 50mm becomes a 75mm, eg). You have a collection of DX lenses that you are happy with. The D600 is full-frame, and you don’t want to move to a full-frame camera. The D600 is not for you.
Okay, that takes care of you Poppa bears and you Momma bears. No D600 for you! What about Goldilocks?
Got money? Want whatever is the latest, regardless of what you currently own or what you usually shoot? Easy answer: a D600 is just right for you, Goldilocks. There are lots and lots of features crammed into this new model. 24 megapixels is a nice round number. The camera is light and ergonomic, yet well-made and solid. Hey, you know the features and the most important thing to you is that it is new and you have one! No criticism meant from here; it is your money and you are entitled to spend it on what pleases you most (none of that redistribute the wealth baloney here). The camera begins shipping in a week; the camera is going to serve you well; get one before the rest of the crowd and proudly show it off.
Okay, next Goldilocks ….
David Hobby, aka The Strobist, has a huge following on the net. He knows lighting and lighting equipment and how they mesh with cameras (he tours with Joe McNally if that tells you anything). He had a post on his blog yesterday regarding the D600 and is it right for you? “The first thing, and given recent history something not unexpected, is the lack of a sync jack. I was pissed off surprised when the D7000 didn’t include it. But a full-frame body without a sync jack? That’s just a little weird,” he posted. Strike one. Then he followed that with, “It’s almost like Nikon is not really considering their lighting photographers unless you are willing to fork out over $3,000 anymore. Which leads me to the absolute deal-breaker for me for this camera ….The Nikon D600 has a 1/200th sync speed. Which for me means game over.” David goes on to explain why the D600 is off the radar for him (you can read his reasoning here if you do a lot of flash work or are a Strobist fan). Strike two; you’re out, D600! (David can be tough on Goldilocks).
Let me throw in my own deal-breaker here (different than David’s, but a deal-breaker none-the-less). The D600 brackets exposure at either 2 or 3 frames. My D300 does 3,5,7 or 9 (as does the D3). The D800 does 3, 5 or 7. Anything less than that is inadequate for my style of HDR shooting. I use HDR when the lighting conditions force me into it; then I really rely on it and demand the bracketing that lets me capture what I see. I have shot Nikon’s D7000 and its D5100, both of which mirror the D600. No thanks; for $2,1000 I want the bracketing I need. Deal-breaker.
Okay, Goldilocks, let’s try again. You are a good shooter who has been at it for a while. You have a good DX camera that you really like (again, the D7000 or the Canon 7D, something like that). But you have been thinking of stretching your wings, going full frame. You have some lenses that will work with a D600, so you won’t be strapped for cash or lens-less. You are going to keep your DX model as a second, backup camera. The D600 might be just what you are looking for. You shoot all kinds of things, sort of a generalist. You want to go full frame, but you are not so specialized that you already know you need either a D4 or D800. 24 megapixels will be a jump up for you, but you are used to shooting at 16, so your technique can handle the increase. Your computer equipment can handle the bigger files, also. You figure the low light performance is bound to be pretty good (the D800 is pretty good and the D600′s smaller sensor should actually be better). You already have decided you want to go full frame. This just may be what you have been waiting for. No, let me clarify that statement; this is the camera you have been waiting for (if you can live with David’s and my deal-breakers described above).
Or is it? Ah, you didn’t think I would let you off quite that easy, did you? Not quite. Even though my pals at Nikon might not like it (and they truly are great friends), I have one more consideration for you. Original projections all around the web were for this camera to come in at $1,500 to $1,700 complete. Just as the D800′s $3,000 price tag made it a super-deal for so many, at $1,500 even I would have ordered a D600 today. Actually, yesterday. At $1,700 and all those features and megapixels I would have given it some serious thought (bracketing and all). But at $2,100 I have to ask why not put in the other $900 and go state-of-the-art with the D800? It has even more features than the D600; those 36 megapixels are the wonder of the camera world. It’s performance is getting rave reviews from shooters of all kinds and stripes. Look, you’ve already decided to sink $2,100 into this venture. That is a serious investment, so why not save a bit longer or dig a bit deeper to buy the top-of-the-line D800? Think about it: when was the last time you or your family or your friends complained because they erred on the side of too much good, too much performance?
I wonder if perhaps Nikon has not made a slight miscalculation here? At $1,500 I am definitely upgrading and not even close to the D800′s $3,000 price tag. At $1,700 I still am a good distance from the D800 and not all that far past a new D7000. At $2,100 I can see the D800 just ahead, with all its added features and those amazing 36 megapixels. Why not get the best? If I can handle the jump from, say, 16 megapixels to 24 I think I can handle 36. What do I get with the D600 that I give up with the D800? If it is simply a matter of price, I wonder if the difference will be enough to make the D600 so attractive? It’s just me, I know, and I wish Nikon and the D600 all the best. But I am wondering exactly who this new camera is intended for? Oh, I think I know the reasoning: it is for the entry level full frame shooter. It’s just that the D800 is so very close in price and offers so very much more to the serious shooter. And I am not so sure that anyone moving to full frame at a cost of $2,100 is anything other than serious.
Okay, it is up to you. Are you a Poppa bear or a Momma bear? A Goldilocks on a shoestring budget or one with a bit more to spend? In any case, the best advice I can give you today is the same advice I myself follow. It is, “Hold on there, Babalooey!” (Whoops, my age is showing). Take your time, wait for some hands-on, in-the-field reviews to come in before ordering anything. It is akin to the old film days: that roll of film might have been in the camera for eight months, but when you took it to the drugstore you wanted the photos back tomorrow. The camera is going to be available next week; you don’t need to have it in your hands right then. Nikon will not run out of them if you wait for the reviews to come in. Let the initial excitement wear off a little bit, then make a reasoned decision based on what you shoot and the budget you have.