The Nikon D600 is the first of a new breed: budget full-frame digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. You get the same pro-quality images as with expensive full-frame pro cameras for nearly $1,000 less. You'll have to settle for some less-advanced specs, but experts say you might not miss them and plenty of satisfied owners agree.
Canon's very similar answer to the Nikon D600, the EOS 6D (*Est. $2,100 body only), won't hit stores until December. In the meantime, the older EOS 5D Mark II (*Est. $1,900 body only) is selling at a discount. It has a tougher all-metal shell than the D600 and outstanding image quality, but it's a slower shooter and lacks some of the latest features.
"As user-friendly as the Nikon D7000." Aside from its full-frame sensor, the D600 is nearly identical to our Best Reviewed compact-sensor Nikon D7000 (*Est. $1,000 body only), and critics say that's a very good thing. "The Nikon D600 is essentially the D7000 with a full-frame sensor and some more modern video capabilities. That's what you're paying all the extra bucks for," says Lori Grunin at CNET.
"Given that the D600 is based on the D7000, which I think is still one of the best-designed Nikon dSLRs, it should be unsurprising that I really like this model's design and operation; I really enjoy shooting with it," she adds.
Ben Andrews at TechRadar.com says, "Anyone who's handled a Nikon D7000 will feel at home picking up Nikon's latest full-frame camera. The Nikon D600 is deliberately designed to be as user-friendly as the Nikon D7000, and shares an almost identical interface."
The D600 is a little bigger than the D7000, but only 2.5 ounces heavier. It also adds some welcome improvements like locking pins for the mode and release mode dials so an accidental bump won't switch your settings, a big bright viewfinder that shows 100 percent of the scene, and a big 3.2-inch LCD screen like you'd find on the step-up Nikon D800 (*Est. $3,000 body only).
Speed and image quality stack up nicely against pricier DSLRs. In terms of megapixels, the Nikon D600 can't compete with the 36.3-megapixel D800 behemoth; nothing can. But nobody's complaining about the very healthy 24.3-megapixel sensor on the D600: It "captures an astonishing amount of detail ... more than most people will ever need," says Zoltan Arva-Toth at PhotographyBlog.com.
While the D600 shoots faster than the D800 -- 5.5 frames per second (fps) versus 4 fps -- thanks to its slimmer file sizes, it suffers from less sophisticated autofocus. Its 39 autofocus points, which is 12 fewer than the D800, are clustered toward the middle of the frame. This bugs both Arva-Toth and TechRadar.com's Andrews, and Arva-Toth finds that the D800 autofocuses better in dim light.
HD video mode is similar to the D800's, except that the D600 won't let you control lens aperture while shooting video. Both Nikons get an external mic jack and a headphone jack for monitoring audio while you record.
Battery life is rated at 900 shots per charge on both cameras. "That's comfortably enough charge for a day's hard shooting, especially if you avoid using the built-in flash," says Andrews.
Partly plastic body won't be as tough as all metal. Unlike other full-frame cameras that are built pro-tough with all-metal bodies, the Nikon D600 substitutes plastic panels on its front and bottom. This saves weight and cost, but it makes the D600 a little less rugged than other full-frame cameras. However, it's weather-sealed against dust and moisture "to the same degree" as the pricier D800, Andrews points out at TechRadar.com.
The D600's shutter is designed to last for 150,000 shots, fewer than the 200,000 Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III (*Est. $3,455 body only).
Borrows great features. Some of the D800's best extras carry over to the cheaper D600:
One feature the D600 gets that the D800 doesn't: It's compatible with a $60 Wi-Fi adapter that lets you wirelessly send images to your iPhone, iPad or Android device, or use your device as a remote control to snap a photo.
Review Credibility: Very Good "The Nikon D600 is a terrific camera," Andrews concludes after this test. It packs full-frame image quality into a compact, less-expensive body. He finds a couple of complaints -- he'd like more autofocus points, for one -- but gives the camera 4.5 stars out of 5. TechRadar.com also publishes separate head-to-head comparisons between the D600 and two other cameras in this class, the Nikon D800 and upcoming Canon EOS 6D.
Review: Nikon D600 Review, Ben Andrews, Sept. 27, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The cheaper Nikon D600 "will serve you just as well" as the pricier D800, as long as you don't mind the lower (but still high) resolution and a few other omissions. PhotographyBlog.com gives both cameras equal ratings of 4.5 stars out of 5.
Review: Nikon D600 Review, Zoltan Arva-Toth, Oct. 1, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The Nikon D600 earns a perfect 5 stars and an Editor's Choice nod here. Editors do find some quibbles -- the "white balance performance could be better," for example -- but overall the D600 delivers "excellent image quality and performance" for less than other full-frame cameras.
Review: Nikon D600 Digital SLR Review, Joshua Waller, Oct. 2, 2012
Review Credibility: Good Offering excellent full-frame performance for less than its rivals, the Nikon D600 earns 4 stars out of 5, an Excellent rating and a spot on Grunin's list of the best DSLRs. The only flaw she finds is some unexpected, unrecoverable highlight clipping. She includes a very helpful chart comparing the D600's specs with other entry-pro cameras from Nikon, Canon and Sony.
Review: Nikon D600 Review: Great Full-frame Camera on the (Sorta) Cheap, Lori Grunin, Oct. 9, 2012
Review Credibility: Good Owner reviews for the Nikon D600 are very positive, with about 100 users giving the camera 4.3 stars out of 5 here. Several say theirs had oil spots on the sensor, which necessitated either a return or a mail-in to Nikon's repair center.
Review: Nikon D600 24.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012