Nikon D600 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
Ergonomics of the Nikon D600 are generally quite good. The camera feels very solid with a good weight which gives it added stability. Among full-frame DSLRs, it is the lightest and second smallest, behind the Canon EOS 6D
Canon EOS 6D. The hand grip is quite straight with a small protrusion and widening at the top where the front-control-dial is mounted. The protrusion helps support the camera while rubber coating around the grip provides good traction.
The shutter-release is mounted at the top of the grip with a slight angle. This is a two-stage release with short travel and a very soft halfway point. This makes it easy to shoot without jolting the whole camera down and just as easy to take one accidentally. The front control-dial is within easy reach of the index finger from the shutter-release.
The top of the grip has the power-switch around the shutter-release and three buttons behind it. The EC button finds itself on the outer edge of the camera body. While it is within reach of the index finder, it is not comfortable to do so. Given that EC is very commonly used, it would have been much better to move it to where the the Video Record button is. That button starts and stops video capture and does nothing outside of Video mode. Behind it is the Metering button. It ought not be on top of the grip which is a premium place for settings used at eye-level. Instead, it would be better to have an ISO button up there.
The top plate of the D600 has the mode-dial stacked right over the drive-mode dial. Changing exposure-modes requires pressing the locking button in the center of the dial and turning. This makes accidentally changing modes impossible. The drive-dial protrudes thinly outside of the mode-dial and uses a locking mechanism to release it. It is rather difficult to use with gloves on but otherwise does its job. Strangely though, the lower-end Nikon D3100
Nikon D3100 has a better drive-mode switch.
The rear of this DSLR is very ergonomic. There is a large 3.2" LCD with 920K pixels aligned with the optical viewfinder. The LCD is sharp with a wide viewing-angle and good refresh rate. Visibility is good and the anti-reflective coating works well.
Towards the left of the LCD and OVF are 7 buttons, mostly arranged in a column. It is really great that there is such space to the left of the LCD. A number of modern DSLRs have the LCD flush with the edge of the camera which frequently causes the display to get smudged. As anyone using sunscreen quickly discovers, it is very hard to clean it off in the field. Nikon also generously includes a protective plastic LCD cover with the D600.
The top two buttons, Play and Delete, are easy to reach and work well together. Pressing Delete once prompts to delete the shown image. Pressing it again confirms and pressing Play cancels. This makes deleting each image from a single card efficient. Deleting an image from both cards is problematic though. Since Playback mode shows images from one card followed by images the other, one must navigate to the end of the card to delete its duplicate. Pretty soon, one gives up doing this and space gets eaten by all those images that should have been deleted. This happens because the D600 only uses the least amount of space available on either card when Slot 2 is set to Backup. If Nikon could provide a firmware update to add the option of deleting both copies together, it would be truly welcome!
The column below those has 5 buttons: Menu, Picture Style, WB, Quality and ISO. These buttons all do the obvious and their placement is reasonable except for ISO. Since this is a frequently changed parameter, it would be immensely better to place it in a distinct location that is easy to reach and identify with the camera at eye-level. Luckily, there is something called Easy ISO which is discussed along with the control-dials below.
In Playback mode, the 4 lower buttons to the left of the LCD take on different functions: Retouch, Protect, Zoom In and Zoom Out. These functions are trivial to use with Retouch invoking a menu of 18 items, including NEF (RAW) Processing and Side-by-Side Comparison.
The D600 features dual control-dials which are easy to reach without shifting your grip. These dials have plenty of customization options affecting how they work. This includes options to reverse them, switch them and even flip visual indicators.
Both controls dials are put to good use. Enabling Easy ISO in the configuration menu under ISO Display and Adjustment lets the otherwise-unused dial control ISO sensitivity. A similar option called Easy EC exists which makes the same dial apply exposure-compensation without having to hold-down the EC button.With Easy ISO enabled, which we highly recommend, the dials work as follows:
|Mode/ Button||Front Dial||Rear Dial|
Towards the right of the OVF and rear LCD are a few controls, much like those on the D800[E]An extra AF-On button is available on the D800[E]. The AE-L button on the D600 can be configured for AF-On, but only one is available at a time.. At the top is the large well-placed and configurable AE-L/AF-L button. To its right is the rear control-dial which Nikon considers the main one. Below AE-L/AF-L is an 8-way controller with central OK button and rotating lock switch. In capture mode, the controller is used to move around the focus point or area, unless the outer switch is set to the Lock (L) position. This controller is also used to navigate the menu system and interactive status display.
Directly below the 8-way controller is the Live-View button surrounded by a rotating switch. The button toggles Live-View, while the switch chooses between Still and Video mode. Video mode shows the right aspect-ratio for video and enables the Video Record button on top of the hand-grip. It also restricts shutter-speeds to less than the video frame-rate. Strangely, it also locks the aperture to whichever one was set before entering Video mode.
The last button to the right of the LCD is Info. This one cycles through various display modes in Live-View and shows or enters the interactive status display in viewfinder mode. There are ten editable settings: Movie, High ISO Noise-Reduction, Active D-Lighting, Vignetting Control, Preview Button, Card Slot 2 Role, Long Exposure Noise-Reduction, Remote Control Mode, AE-L/AF-L Button and Function Button. These are all short-cuts to different menu items.
In operation, controls to the right of the LCD are rarely needed, particularly the lower onesInfo and Live-View. This will be greatly appreciate by users of hand-straps as those often hinder moving the hand down. Using a hand-strap, rather than the supplied neck-strap, makes a camera more discrete which helps with candid photography. This is something Nikon is managing better than most.
The optical viewfinder is very large and bright with 100% coverage. The viewfinder features an optional DX crop framing guide and an optional composition grid. A single axis of the digital level can be shown in the viewfinder. When active, it replaces the status line with a simple tilt indicator. It is really too bad that the second axis and all other status information is not shown. Live-View has a different digital level which only appears by cycling over all display modes using the Info button. This is excessively inefficient, plus Live-View does not honor any button customizations for invoking the digital level.The status line shows Metering, Aperture, EC, ISO and the number of frames remaining. It also has a great MF direction indicator that shows in which direction the lens needs to be focused. It also confirms when focus has been established at the center of the frame.
While some constructive criticism regarding ergonomics were discussed above, Live-View is very problematic. Many photographers could not care less but video depends on it. The Live-View implementation has a number of important limitations:
- Not Exposure-Priority: This DSLR makes no attempt to preview a correct exposure. It does respond to EC but does so artificially without regards to the expected brightness. There is no live histogram either.
- No DOF-Preview: The aperture used in Live-View is fixed upon entering and the DOF Preview function does not operate in Live-View. This is too bad because a large display is more suitable to show DOF than an OVF which becomes much darker while stopping down.
- Incorrect White-Balance: The Live-View changes according to the selected WB option but it does not reflect white-balance fine-tuning.
- Inconsistent Metering: The metering system used in Live-View differs from the one normally used.
There are a high number of controls on the front of the camera. On the left side, starting at the top is the Flash button. Pressing it releases the popup flash. When used in conjunction with the control-dials it can also change the flash mode and flash compensation. Below it, one finds the Bracketing button which is used with the front control-dial to set the bracketing increment and the rear control-dial to set the number of frames. The increment depends on what is being bracketed. For AEB, it is up to +3 EV with intermediate values according to exposure-steps except between 1 and 3 EV where only full-stops are allowed. The number of frames can be set to 3, +2 or -2. This means 3 frames, 2 frames with one of them over the metered exposure, or 2 frames with one of them under, respectively. Further down is a typical lens release button.
Near the base of the lens mount is the focus controller which configures the highly versatile 39-point autofocus system of the Nikon D600. The outer part of the switch rotates between AF and MF mode. At the M position, AF is obviously disengaged and no further AF functions apply. At the AF position, the central button enables the front control-dial to set the focus-point selection mode and the rear one to set the focus-drive mode.
There are three focus-drive modes, AF-S which is single-shot autofocus, AF-C which is continuous autofocus and AF-A which automatically switches between the two other modes depending on subject movement. There are six focus-point selection modes with only the first two available in AF-S:
- Auto: The camera automatically selects among its 39 AF points and highlights all those in focus.
- Single-Point: The user selects a single point among all 39 using the 8-way controller on the back of the camera. Pressing the central button resets focus to the center point.
- 9-Point Dynamic Area: The user selects one point among all 39 and the camera tries to keep the subject in focus at one of the 9 closest points.
- 21-Point Dynamic Area: The same thing except that the camera tries to keep the subject in focus at one of the 21 closest points. There is greater risk of focusing on the wrong subject while allowing to follow faster movement.
- 39-Point Dynamic Area: Again the user chooses a single point but the camera looks at all 39 points to focus on the subject. The camera can more easily focus on the wrong subject but it can handle erratic motion.
- 3D Predictive Tracking: The camera locks onto the subject under the selected focus-point and follows it around the frame.
The last two buttons on the front are unmarked. The top one is the DOF-Preview button due to its default setting and the bottom one is simply called Function button. Each button can be unassigned are take on any one of 22 functions: DOF Preview, FV Lock, AE/AF-L, AE-L, AE-L Hold, AF-L, AF-On, Flash Off, Bracket Burst, ADL, RAW, Matrix Metering, Center-Weighed Metering, Spot Metering, Framing Grid, FX/DX Image Area, Virtual Horizon, My Menu, My Menu Top-Item, 1 EV Step, Non-CPU lens or Playback.
Customizing one of these buttons is the only way to access DOF Preview or the digital level in the viewfinder, so these are the most common assignments. Still, there are plenty of very useful functions here and one can have separate AE-L and AF-L or AF-On buttons this way.
Like all DSLRs, the Nikon D600 includes a metal tripod-mount aligned with the center of the lens. The battery-compartment is weather-sealed and has a small latch to prevent the battery from falling. The battery used in the D600 gives detailed information about its status. An item in the Setup menu shows the current charge and its age on a relative 5-step scale.
The Nikon D600 handles rather well outside of Live-View. Playback mode has plenty of features but is rather slow, particularly for a camera of this price. Button presses for advancing or deleting frames sometimes get ignored. Even when not ignored, there is a noticeable delay switching frames. When zoomed-in, the front dial inspects faces and the rear dial switches frames. Not sure why it does not work without being zoomed-in first which is inefficient.
The main usability complaints are a hidden Exposure Delay Mode and poor digital-level experience in the OVF. At least the delay mode can be set as the first item in My Menu and then one of the front buttons can jump to it directly. Things would be further improved if images could be deleted simultaneously from both cards.
Nikon D600 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 36 x 24mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|24 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 50-25600|
|Nikon F Mount|
Extra Large Viewfinder
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Hot-Shoe|
|5.5 FPS Drive, 57 Images||Stereo audio input|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3.2" LCD 920K Pixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity x 2|
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