Nikon D600 review : sensor performance, impressive !

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Nikon D600
The Nikon D600 : a prosumer Full Frame DSLR

After the record high score obtained by the Nikon D800 sensor review, I had some doubts about the D600’s ability to reach such great performances. I was suspecting Nikon would be able to cut down the performance level of the D600 in order to let its bigger brother D800 an advantage. The first images I took with the Nikon D600 from ISO 100 to ISO 102,400 did not make me feel very ethusiastic about the DSLR… but I was wrong. The DxO benchmark spoke. The Nikon D600 sensor is outstandingly a good performer and simply, the 2nd best sensor ever designed, right after the Nikon D800 36MP sensor, whith which it makes almost a tie.

 

Nikon D600
The Nikon D600 sensor scores. See all sensor Nikon D600 scores at dxomark.com

 

Nikon D600 sensor test results

DxOMark Score: This is the overall synthesized score that summarizes the performance level of the sensor. With 94 points, the Nikon D600 is ranked third, just behind the brilliant D800 (96 points) and D800E (95 points). The results are of the ame standard, one can say all 3 Nikon DSLRs are even and this is a huge surprise. Considering that both the D800 and the D800E share the same sensor, the sensor of the D600 is therefore the second best sensor ever designed and tested on the DxO Analyzer benchmark.

Color depth : with 25.3 bit measured, the Nikon D600 also offers a very subtle color gradation. It is ranked the sixth camera behind the D800/D800E duet and nothing less than the Phase One P40 Plus and P65 medium format cameras.

Dynamic range: the D600 covered 14.2 EV. That is impressively high.The same kind of dynamic range as the world record detained by the D800 (14.4 EV) and D800E (14.3 EV). – Low light sensibility: I was not sure about the performance level of the 24MP sensor of the D600. But these are over now ! The D600 performed very well on this criteria and with an ISO 2,980, it is right behind the D3s, the record camera on this field, meaning it is even slightly more sensible than the 36MP D800, yet, with 1/10EV of difference, they are actually even.

 

Nikon D600 vs Nikon D700

Many photographers equipped with the Nikon D700, a “mini D3” , were a bit frustrated by the price and huge pixel count of the D800 and had the feeling to have been let down by Nikon. But nope ! They released the D600, a Full Frame D7000 or a more affordable an compact D800. So if you own a D700 and are wondering whether it is worth upgrading or not… here are a few hints that will help you making up your mind.

The Nikon D600 review : vs D700
The Nikon D600 sensor performance compared to the Nikon D700. This helps making a decision when it will come to giving the D700 away and buying the new D600…

The Nikon D600 obtained 14 more points on the DxOMark Score which propels the camera into an other category and means that it will offer a substantial gain of image quality and that the Nikon D600 benefits of the extra 4 years of sensor R&D. That is a lot in our digital photography era. If the D600 adds an extra 1.5 bit of color depth, it is 2EV of extra dynamic range that are going to benefit the photographers. That is a lot more of exposure headroom and RAW adjusting freedom when using Capture NX2, Lightroom… to provess the RA files. The D600 dynamic range progress is also helped by the availability of an ISO 100 setting while the minimum sensibility of the D700 was ISO 200. Studio, landscape photographers will appreciate. But you may also like your D700 for its low light image quality and you can fear that with 12 more megapixels on the same sensor size, meaning a pixel pitch of 5.9 microns only versus 8.4 microns on the D700, the D600 would not be as good in this field. But  Nikon / Sony sensor engineers did well once again and the D600 sensor outperforms the D700 sensor. The progres is only worth 1/3EV, but considering the extra resolution, that is a success.

Nikon D600 vs D700
The Nikon D700 Dynamic Range. The D600 wins 2EV. The ISO 100 setting availability will be precious.

 

Nikon D600 vs EOS 5D Mark III

The Canon EOS 6D is only due in December and we won’t have any camera to review before then. So I am comparing the Nikon D600 to its current competitor, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The overall score of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is 13 points behind the D600’s score, the gap is pretty big for two full frame DSLR of the same era ! If the color depth difference between both cameras is only 1.1 bit, the dynamic range is higher on the Nikon D600 than on the EOS 5D MKIII, and the difference is 2.5 EV. Yes, that is a lot. The difference is very substantial. As for the low light sensitivity, measured at ISO 2,980 on the Nikon against ISO 2293 on the Canon, the difference is about 700 ISO, meaning i is only 1/3 EV, in favor of the Nikon. The difference will not be noticeable on prints.

Nikon D600 vs EOS 5D Mark III
The Nikon D600 sensor scores are quite ahead of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

 

Nikon D600 review vs Canon EOS 5D mark III
The Nikon’s dynamic range constantly expands as you dial the ISO value down while the Canon’s tends to remain at the same level at ISO 1,600 and under.

 

Nikon D600 review : sensor performance conclusion

Again, Nikon delivers a well designed camera with an impressive sensor. One could fear this cheaper camera would embeed a less impressive sensor than the D800. But it is absolutely not true and the D600 sensor offers the same strengths as the Nikon D800.

What did we learn from the benchmark ?

  • 2nd best sensor ever tested
  • Record high dynamic range
  • 1/3EV low-light ISO proress over the Nikon D700 in spite of th edoubled megapixel count
  • The Nikon D600 beats the Canon EOS 5D Mark III : +2.5EV ore DR, 1.1 bit color depth and a slight advantage of 1/3EV in low light

I am looking forward to have the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 and SLT-A99 in hands and tested on dxomark so that we can compare their performance level and verify that Nikon is indeed using Sony sensors which I am pretty sure is the case.