Nikon D600 - 500 Shots In

So I have had the D600 for about a week now. I bought it mostly for 50mm+ shooting and when I do location flash work. When I ditched the D7000 experiment I kept my gaggle of SB flashes, and all of my FX lenses. I have had most of those lenses for a very long time and as you know from my previous post was never satisfied with the awkward lens combos and over all aesthetics of Nikons DX lens selection. I guess it was great if you happen to be a super tele kind of guy or needed 8 variations of 18-55 crappy lenses. Even though I did really like the 35mm f1.8 I sold it with the D7000 - probably the only DX lens that remotely fit my own vision of the DX promise. I think that DX promise went the way of the dodo bird about the same time Nikon put the D3 on the drawing board.

I just wanted to offer a few thoughts on the D600 as compared to other FX and DX bodies that I am intimately familiar with. Including the D7000 which is continuously referred to in the every time the D600 is discussed. I will chuck a few snaps in here and there to possibly illustrate some of my feelings - no test charts or brick walls. More real world day to day kind of things that I use to test. Instead of my usual StupidCrap™ I shot most of my getting to know the D600 shots of my first grand-daughter. Her 1 year birthday party is two weeks from now and I happen to have spent some time with her in the past week - the perfect test subject for a new camera.

As you can see from the shot at the top she is now self-mobile on two feet and is amazingly difficult to shoot close up - like most kids. Just happened a bit early for this one. She also has some sort of button/gadget fixation so every time she sees the camera she makes a bee-line strait for me with the intent of making it her own. Hence the angle of this particular shot. Wide open with my Nikkor 28-70 f2.8 AFS at around 50mm. I have owned this lens since the day it came out in the late 90's and used it with my F5 and F100 cameras. I also used it on my D2 cameras as well. On DX cameras it's a normal to short tele zoom obviously. This lens has about 300,000 exposures on it as a best guess and is stunning in it's performance from just about every perspective - too bad it's about 512 pounds and twice the size of the D600. Getting to the point - without a doubt the D600 AF system is pretty fantastic as compared to my D7000 it's much better so my guess is it's a bit different in more than one way to just the same exact D7000 guts - maybe it's the software, who cares it's better. Maybe I had a "bad" D7000 - doubt it - I tried a couple of them informally. Whatever they did it's far better.

Here's a wide open shot with my Nikon 85mm 1.8 AFD another mid 90's acquisition of mine.

And Another…

Oooops here is a mis. Not really - this is me being stupid and grand-daughter #1 doing her thing in a very quick drive by to get whatever caught her eye at this particular second.

The me being stupid part is I was tracking with her closest eye at the close focus limit on dynamic 3d continuous vunder mode and that particular "close eye" moved closer as she flew past - yes even at 11 1/2 months she is unbelievably fast on two feet. The magic 3d focus tracking switched to the far eye since it couldn't acquire anything that close - from it's perspective "the eye moved in the frame" I actually had to up the ISO on these shots to in order to get over 1/500 second to stop the motion blur. No kidding.

The bottom line for me is that the D600 pretty much never mis-focuses in decent light. Honestly it feels more like my D3 did than my D7000. I am sure that's not the case when when you can't even see your subject at ISO 6400 but I don't care, it's far more consistent than my D7000 was. Even better the quality control seems to be up a notch by my measure. Every single one of my Nikon AF lenses needs No AF fine tuning - they are perfect.

Contrast this to every lens needing a between -10 and -15 on my D7000. As you know - while I like being able to fix issues with that AF fine-tuning thing I think the whole "calibration" thing is a bullshit way of outsourcing QC to customers. Hmmm how come on my D3, other peoples D3's and D800's and this particular D600 none of either my or anyone else's gaggle of glass ranging from 14mm f2.8 to a 200-400 f4 have needed no fine tuning to be perfect but my D7000 needed all kinds of negative comp? I'll tell you why - it's bullshit for mostly the camera bodies not having the AF sensor at the same plane as the imaging sensor - a QC issue not the crap about "every lens is different". Yea right. Who cares I am happy with my particular copy of the D600.

To close out the focus thing every single one of my manual focus lenses including my 50 1.4, my 18mm, heck even my 135mm f2 are absolutely amazingly exactly on according to the center focus point. Something my D7000 couldn't do at all. Even my 18mm at f4 was way way off.

Enough with the AF and focus consistency and accuracy - I am happy but that has nothing to do with why I bought the D600. I bought it mostly because it crept into my size and value box that is arbitrarily set and happened to give me a lens selection / aperture / angle of view that I am comfortable with.

What excited me about the camera was solely the dynamic range. I am intimately familiar with the Nikon D800 dynamic range and noise performance. I was floored by the way the D800 handled highlights as compared to previous DSLR cameras. It might not sound like a lot on paper but it is a big deal in allowing me to shoot in real world conditions and have reasonable looking images. One of the reasons I still shoot film. The D600 is about the same from my perspective. Maybe the first 35mm form-factor digital that falls into the category of acceptable to me. I am not a landscape guy - they have always had to use ND grads, HDR, or get excited about pulling detail out of muck. Me - I want snappy mid-tones and highlights that don't look like absolute dog shit when they do start falling apart when I shoot people in what I consider very reasonable natural conditions.

To date I have only had a few choices…

  • Use film
  • Under expose to not blow the highlights and then bring things back from deep dark dank semi black muddy hell in post. Hmmm looks like shit.
  • Never ever shoot in un-modified light. Somehow bring the shadows up significantly. I can do that - too bad some subjects are not really conducive to shooting that way and doing it "quick and easy" with fill-flash tends to look like shit. Make it look "natural" and all of a sudden you have a Hollywood production instead of a "natural" scene. Really not the way I want to shoot a lot of subjects. Especially if I am not getting paid. Heck even if I am it has a whole different feel and flow as soon as you have assistance and lighting gear and reflectors, etc.
  • Severely limit lighting conditions forever more and shoot everything flat - spice it up with post contrast.

Obviously I usually choose option number 1 - just shoot film when I want a certain shooting feel and convenience. That has changed with the D600. Is it magic? No. Is it the same as negative film? No. Does that stop or two of dynamic range make a huge difference… Yes. You still have to be aware and careful not to push it too far but it's enough to make a tangible difference. I torture tested it and was pleasantly surprised. I through things at the D600 that I know would look like garbage on pretty much all of my past DSLR's. I made highlights fall apart on purpose. I'll chuck a couple of examples out there. This kind of thing is pretty much impossible to illustrate without doing very contrived things and is virtually impossible to actually comprehend without doing it yourself and being involved in the shooting through the post production so take it with a grain of salt as these are not any kind of "best of shots…"

Take the above exhibit - backlit by direct sun. When the highlights start to leave they don't look like digital garbage. Hair is particularly strange looking in this kind of shot. The D600 - not so much. Okay - another one below. Again backlighting with direct sun and no crazy hightlight recovery at 100% or shadows boosted nonsense - both of which usually look like crap. In fact this shot has a healthy increase in contrast. If you have studied digital imaging characteristics much and happen to be a highlight freak like I am then you should see that the angle of the sun here ends about mid-way into the subject so it's not smashing into a wall directly behind me and providing great fill - yea like we are so lucky in the real world. You will also notice that I didn't shoot for the highlights and they look really really good for digital without under exposing the shadows like crazy.

Maybe one more with a combo of deep shade and direct sun and just a tiny bit of highlight recovery…

What the heck - I just cannot help myself maybe a couple of more dynamic range abuse shots. How about something pushed even further than the last one…

And finally - just one more. This time something I know looks like shit on previous 35mm type DSLR's and no recovery. This is what the D600 looks like when you just let the highlights leave in a very big way…

Personally I think having just a bit more dynamic range that seems to be affecting typical digital highlight rendering makes a fairly huge leap. For me the lens selection, dynamic range boost, and compact size make $2000 worth every penny. I don't talk about Canon a lot - never have. You definitely know I am a Nikon customer for a long long time. You also know that I am not the typical Nikon fanboy that sings praises for moronic product they shove out the door.

I have evaluated purchasing Canon digital products in-depth at various stages of the digital evolution. It may be a timing thing but never found the product line that attractive to make me jump. I say that because I evaluated the very first 1Ds, the mk2, the 5D, and the 5D mk2. In a very serious way for more than a week each time.The reason I bring this up is to give you a context for what comes next…

As compared to the 5D mk2 - I always thought that the D700 and my D3's were about 5x the camera the 5D mk2 was. I mean this in every way except number of pixels. Coming from a Nikon pro level body perspective I thought the focus was absolute crap on the mk2, the handling was horrendous, the build very very so-so, the pixel level acuity lacking, the noise performance lack-luster and ugly, the speed and responsiveness extremely aggravatingly slow and the glass (with a few exceptions) not really that wonderful. So that leaves pixels - that 20+ megapixel thing that was so holy-grailish for a large number of folks…

Now that there is the D800 and even more so the D600 I can say beyond any doubt that the D600 spanks the 5d mk2 so badly in every way it's not even funny. Seriously. You are thinking "no kidding the mk2 is a dinosaur in digital". I have not personally tried the mk3 as I don't have ready access to one at the moment but it looks like Canon somehow has gone "up market" and decided to charge damn near 2x the price of a D600. Assuming they fixed everything about the mk2's focus and made the high ISO as good as Nikon, and made it speedy, and fixed the handling I have no idea why they would price this camera substantially north of $3000. I really don't - I just don't get it. Frame rate is about a D600 - focusing is about a D600 - well maybe more like a D800 in number of points but the focus performance in my testing is negligible in most conditions but let's say they all blow the crap out of the mk2. The high ISO maybe a stop better - maybe but they are all so good it's crazy. We're not really fighting with that anymore are we?

I just cannot see a substantial difference in shooting between a D600 and a D700 and a D800 and I have shot them all more than most people. I am assuming that shooting a mk3 is not blow-away different better… maybe from a mk2 it is but not the 3 cameras I just mentioned. So why the price? If the new 6D is somehow only on par with the mk2 then the D600 will smack it silly as a camera - if it's a significantly better shooter then who the hell wants a mk3 at the current pricing. I don't get it. Has Canon lost it's way? Back in 5D mk2 land when Nikon shooters had 12 megapixels in the mainstream cameras and it cost $8k to enter 20 megapixel territory I can see the attractiveness of the 5D mk2 - cost effective megapixels while sacrificing a significant amount for that privilege. Talk to any real photographer that has spent time with the 5D, the D3s, and the D700 - even Canon guys will tell you the D3/D700 smack the crap out of the 5D mk2 unless you need 20 mpix. So now we have a very expensive mk3 with performance on par with those old Nikon cameras any probably edges out the D600 by a bit all things considered but not in the same way that the D600 smashes the 5D mk2.

I guess my whole point here is that I cannot wait to see how the 6D actually performs in the real world. I am hoping it blows the 5D mk2 into the weeds - it should and if it does it will be the Canon D600 which I think is great and we will continue to have Nikon/Canon pushing the price performance envelope. If somehow it is slightly better 5D mk2 around $2000 then I will have to conclude that Canon has lost it's way. The bottom line is that you will hear lots of comparisons - most of them are arm-chair spec comparisons and are totally bullshit. You will hear about non-pro-ness of D600 buttons/controls/flash-sync… ummmmm yea - Nikon guys will tell you the D600 is missing show-stopper buttons and controls, yea Canon doesn't do it that way - it's different so is that non-pro. Nikon guys will tell you that the 1/3 stop flash sync is a show-stopper and "non-pro" - same as the 5Dmk3 = yep. Etc, etc. Here is my take - an ex-D3/D2/D-whatever shooter.

In most real world conditions the D600 is freaking amazing and has all the customizability to shoot it just about any way you would ever want to. The U1/U2 mode dial can set up to distinctly different setups and control layouts to simulate what you "need" as there is no freaking way to use all the controls in any real situation they are sort of very specific to what you are trying to do. The D600 has a couple of compromises to trick you into thinking you need a D800. You might if you are dying for more pixels - I hope you use mirror lockup, the best lenses, the optimum Aperture, etc because if you are pushing the "need" for 40 megapixels at that level of magnification you have to do that stuff. If not the D600 is a home run for anyone shooting a DSLR - it's fantastic and performs in a very pro-class league - where it doesn't they are tiny nits not gaping chasms as people might have you believe. Trust me - if you think a 5D mk2 was "pro-performance" the D600 blows it away.

For the first time in a very long time I am satisfied with my digital kit. Satisfied size and weight wise, IQ wise, handling wise, and price wise. I have my X100 for my everyday shooter, my X-Pro-1 for 50mm and wider in a very small go everywhere kit and my D600 for 50mm and longer with strobes. As soon as I get off my duff and decide what fast 50mm AF lens to get (another post) My entire gear kit - all cameras, all lenses, will fit in a Domke F2. Amazing.


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