The DSLR strikes back? Nikon D600

I didn’t expect, after selling my A900, to be buying another DSLR about 12 months later.

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Aha, people who own a DSLR will say, he has seen the error of his ways. He’ll be shooting solidly with a DSLR now. All this mirrorless ILC stuff will turn out to be a “phase”. Err no. What I discovered was a great cashback deal on a fullframe (35mm sensor) DSLR with a sensor very similar to the A900 (but with high ISO ability and liveview). I was after the incredible dynamic range (DR) and resolution of the latest Sony full frame sensors for use in landscape work. Everything else is just a bonus.

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A health warning here. I don’t really like DSLRs. That means I’ll moan. It doesn’t mean the D600 is a bad camera, it just means that I don’t like DSLRs for most purposes.

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I did get the Sigma 35mm lens for Nikon because of the rave reviews. It is very, very good, even wide open.

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Conversely I was unimpressed with the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.4G Lens. It suffers badly from CA and is very soft wide open. Two key lenses I bought were a Nikon 16-35mm VF F4 lens, which seems very, very good, especially stopped down at wider focal lengths and a Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 zoom. Both are very good but I may try out the Nikon 12-24mm 14-24mm F2.8 as an alternative UWA zoom.

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I’ve since bought the Carl Zeiss 21mm ZF.2 F2.8 lens which I like a lot. Very sharp, very contrasty, lots of pop, very Zeiss. I would consider manual focus to be an issue in a standard focal length DSLR lens but even I can focus a MF only UWA lens… The digital rangefinder feature is something Nikon shooters will be familiar with. I don’t think it is as accurate as an actual rangefinder, but it’s fine for shooting UWA lenses!

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I took out the D600 with me on a short country walk with the family and later a walk along London’s south bank. The experience reminded me why I’ve been carrying the Fuji X100S as my walkaround camera more recently. Almost everything about the walks and the experience of taking the photos would have been more enjoyable if I was using a smaller, lighter camera. Almost.

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However, the USP of the D600 is the combination of great resolution, great DR and that almost 3D effect you only seem to get from larger sensor cameras. Some of the results were very, very good with none of the compromises one might have to make with the NEX-7 (e.g. magenta shading).

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Of course, having bought the camera the lens I wanted to take every picture with wasn’t the UWA or the zoom but the Sigma 35mm, which has almost Leica/Zeiss levels of performance (actually it’s better than the Zeiss branded Sony lenses). That reminded me why my carry everywhere camera at the minute is the X100S and not a DSLR.

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Do I regret not getting a D800E? Not right now. The D600 seems better with moire from the samples I’ve seen elsewhere and I cannot claim I ever want to deal with 60-70mb RAW files.

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The downside of the D600 is the fact it is prone to dust and oil spots. I’m unimpressed by that but well experienced with sensor cleaning, so the D600 is probably less of a hack for me than it might be for others.

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Handling wise, it is very heavy and I wouldn’t want to carry this every day. It made me realise (again) that DSLRs have great ergonomics because they have to. They weigh close to 2 kg with a larger lens on the front and you feel that on a long walk. That said, it was great to have buttons and controls for everything, though it’s funny how much I prefer having at least a real aperture ring on lenses. I may try out some of the older Nikon lenses for that reason.

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The AF mode selector seems a bit barmy to me but perhaps I’m a bit “old school”. I would prefer a switch with single shot, continuous and manual. The selection of focus points via a button press on the AF selector, which seems too complex to me.

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People seem to moan about the fact there are only 39 focus points on the D600. Since my last DSLRs had only 11 and 9 focus points respectively I’m not too upset. In fact I find myself constantly flipping back to centre point AF. Like I said, old school… In any event, the AF system seemed to cope well with moving objects.

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One point I would note is that at one point my D600 locked itself in bracket mode (so I was unable to adjust shutter speed, aperture or the menus) and the only thing that cleared it was a two button reset of the camera. I was quite relieved that the reset cleared it (I was about to hurl it through the window!) and thanks to the two chaps from the DPR forums who suggested a reset to me.

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Let’s get away from my moans and realise that the image quality this camera can give you is just fabulous. Lots of resolution, lots of dynamic range, very clean files at higher ISOs. It’s possible to pull back lots of detail from shadows and highlights in post. Most of my quibbles with it really relate to the fact it’s a DSLR, not a rangefinder or mirrorless camera, and a Nikon DSLR at that (i.e. many of my dislikes are points that are common to all Nikon DSLRs). If you have identified that you want a DSLR for a particular purpose or as your only camera (you crazy person) the D600 is an excellent performer that gives you full frame performance at a much lower price point than the D800/E.

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Assuming it doesn’t lock up again, I’m keeping mine…

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