Nikon D600 Cons and Pros with High ISO Performance Analysis

September 16, 2012

This article is aimed for enthusiasts photographers with a APS-C DSLR thinking about upgrading to the new NIkon D600 Full Frame DSLR. I am an enthusiast photographer like you and own the Nikon D3200 and my father own the D7000. I had a chance to shoot them both for both hobby and for professional use for stock photography. When the new Nikon D600 announced, I was thinking to finally upgrade to a Full Frame DSLR. That comes of course after viewing the official price tag and finally there is a Full Frame DSLR with in my reach.

The thing is that not anyone will enjoy the advantages of full frame cameras, some of you might not even take advantage of those advantages. Furthermore, some of you might even prefer staying with your current APS-C DSLR (ie. D7000, D300s, D90) and not upgrade to the D600. So the question is who is the Nikon D600 SLR for and what are the cons and pros of Full Frame cameras?


The most obvious advantages of a Full Frame DSLR are:

  • Full Use of the Image Circle – Enjoying wide angle lenses to its fullest,  so a 24-85 mm lens for example will be 24-85mm and not 36-130 mm considering a 1.5x crop factor of an APS-C sensor. BIG advantage to landscape and anture photographers, for them it’s not a matter of an option, it’s a must
  • Better High ISO performance – although the D600 has 24.3MP, you can expect better performance and less noise in high ISO sensitivity levels
  • Shallower DPF – For a given exact field of view, distance from subject and aperture, full frame dslrs will give you shallower depth of field.  For example, 85mm f/1.2 on crop is equivalent to approx. 135mm f/2 on Full Frame. To get the same framing you need to be farther away, what increases depth of field and yield less blurred background.  If you are at the same position and shooting with both APS-C and FF, the DOF will be the same, but the framing will be different. So generally speaking,  for the same framing (considering the same lens settings), you have to be further away from the subject, and distance form the subject is one of the variables that effect DOF. Full Frame cameras produces a depth of field that is around 1.3 stop shallower.
  • Sharper optics – lenses that are designed to FF can resolve a great number of line pair per picture height (more information here)
  • Larger and Brighter Viewfinder – An important reasons why many pros and enthusiast want to get their hands on a FF dSLR. The viewing experience when composing the shot is just way beyond what you get with a crop sensor DSLR


These are among the most important advantages and many photographers are basing their purchase according to this.  I remember the first time I went to the camera store to buy my Nikon D3200 APS-C camera. I was very eager to get my hands on the Canon 5D Mark III back then. I remember that the overall experience just WOWed me. The viewfinder was incredibly large and the build quality and the size of the camera was just perfect for my large hands. I really felt that I was using a professional equipment. It’s subjective, but you really need to get your hands on those type of cameras to really understand how it feels shooting with it.

The Nikon D600 is not at the same high standards as the Nikon D800, D3s and D4, but the main advantages still remains and that’s because the D600 has a full frame sensor. So eve if the body construction and other features aren’t at the same level as the D800, you can still enjoy the key advantages that you get by just owning a Full Frame camera.

Before we continue on discussing the D600, there is a nice informative video I want you to watch,  talking about Full Frame sensor advantages and disadvantages.


Nikon Lenses on the D600

Landscape and nature photographers are probably the ones that buy a Full Frame Nikon DSLR without thinking twice. For them this is the only way to fully take advantage of Nikon’s ultra-wide angle lenses like the Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5 mm f/2.8 G ED or the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens.

If you mount the 10.5 mm lens on a APS-C with a crop factor of 1.5x you get a approx. 16mm focal length, so you won’t be able to fully enjoy this ultra-wide angle lens to its fullest potential, the same is true to other wide-angle lenses for the FX format. So APS-C DSLRs like the Nikon D7000 actually put a barrier to how wide you can go with any of Nikon’s excellent wide-angle lenses. Even with the 24-70 mm f/2.8G you won’t be able to enjoy the useful normal range because this lens will turn out to be more like a tele zoom lens on APS-C Nikon DSLR.

Having said that, APS-C might give you an advantage if you want to shoot subjects that are farther away from the camera and want to get as close as possible to your subject. Take the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8G VR II lens for example. When mounted on the Nikon D600 you get a 70-200mm focal length, while on a 1.5x crop DSLR you get a 105-300 mm, this gives you virtually a higher magnification. So if you are enjoying shooting animals in the wild and birds for example, you will probably enjoy the zoom multiplication advantage that you get with APS-C camera, rather than Full Frame one.

Indeed Nikkor 35mm lenses are bigger and heavier compare to some of the equivalents on DX format lenses, but if you already thinking of buying a ff DSLR, this something that might not bother you at all. You are after the advantages of the Nikon D600 and want to have a tool the will help you get the best out of your creative skills. This is what the Nikon D600 is all about and why professional using those type of cameras.

With the Nikon D600 you will feel that you are really taking advantage of all the lens’ potential if you know what I mean. When I bought my D3200 I also bought two lenses, the 18-55mm VR and the 70-300mm VR. The first one is a DX lens and the second a 35mm lens. With the D600 you can still use DX lenses, but the D600 will detect that it’s a DX lens and will work in DX crop mode instead of FX. This is great, because if you already have DX lenses you can still use them with the D600.

So as you can see, there are cons and pros to each approach, and you need to decide whether the D600 can really help you get better photos. Not every photographer might take advantage of it, and for some photographers it’s better to invest in more special high quality lenses than to buy the D600.

I personally prefer the D600 because I really enjoy shooting wide and really like the D600 high ISO performance. In the next section I will talk about the image quality and high ISO performance.


D600 & High ISO

So as you can see, there are many reasons why you want to upgrade to or purchase the Nikon D600. One of the reasons why many people want to get a camera with a larger sensor is high ISO performance. I personally hate seeing noise in my images. This is the first reason why I opted for a DSLR over my old Olympus P&S, I just didn’t like seeing noise patterns in the Sky when shooting at ISO200. I envy those crystal clear images that people got with their Canon EOS 350D (yep, it was a long time ago..) and I wanted to be able to take the same high quality image myself.

The thing is that technology came a long way since then. The Sony NEX-5N and Olympus OM-D E-M5 have proven to be amazing when it comes to high ISO performance, and those are mirrorless cameras, the first with APS-C sensor and the second utilizes a Micro Four Thirds sensor, smaller than APS-C.

Maybe we’ve become spoiled when it comes to image quality. We’ve just wished to have such image quality on an APS-C camera a few years ago. The thing is that it doesn’t really matter, we always want to enjoy what technology has to offer, because it helps us get better photos and open up many possibilities for us. When it comes to low-light performance, there is nothing like shooting with a Full Frame DSLR with a fast lens.

Look at high-ISO images of the Nikon D3s, people shot concert photos and some nigh shots that you just won’t believe. Something that couldn’t not be achieved with an APS-C DSLR (considering the same lens), photos at ISO3200 looked like they were shot at ISO400.

Of course the size of the sensor is only one part of the equation. What matter is the size of the photo diodes / pixel density. The Nikon D600 has a 24.3MP CMOS sensor (10.5MP DX-format when used in crop mode). That’s quite a lot of pixels, even for a full frame DSLR.  Just for comparison, the Nikon D3s has 12.1-megapixels and the Nikon D700 12.1-megapixels. That can explain what even for today’s standards, both of those cameras produce amazing high quality images at high ISO, on par with today’s latest DSLR cameras.

This of course works at the other direction, we can see that the Nikon D800 noise performance is at the same level as the D700 at ISO 6400, but let’s not forget that the D700 was announced on July 1, 2008, that’s more than 4 years ago. So the Nikon D600 was able to produce high ISO images with even while doubling the pixels on the chip.  In some way this made me very happy to see those results and I hope to see the same with the D600 (when comparing photos side by side on dpreview), but at the same time I felt that what if Nikon has used a 12.1MP sensor on the D600..mmm. that would be amazing, just think about the low light performance that we could have gotten?

OK, I will stop dreaming about the perfect full frame camera and one that can shoot completely in the dark :) – maybe I need to do a reality check next time..
So you probably really want to know how the Nikon D600 performs in low light, and see some high ISO sample images?

The first site I’ve visited was This site compared the Nikon D700 vs D600 at various ISO settings including ISO 1600, ISO 3200, ISO 6400, ISO 12800 and ISO 25600. The ISO12800 and ISO25600 are in expanded mode, they are not native ISOs. What I could see from those images is that the D700 produces images with relatively less visible noise than the D600. This lead me to a fast conclusion that the number of pixels, even considering the fact that the D700 belongs to the more expensive FF range.

Putting the differences between the D700 and D600 aside, I was very impressed with the noise performance of the Nikon D600.  I mean look at the the ISO1600 and ISO3200 images, they look very good! – noise is more evident in shadows, but the overall images looks pretty clean in terms of noise, don’t you think?

After viewing more Nikon D 600 sample images on dpreview, I came to a conclusion that noise-levels are kept relatively low compare to other FF cameras. If you reduce the size of the image you won’t even notice that there is noise at ISO6400. When enlarging the photo to 100% the noise is clearly visible. That means that you can produce some amazing low light medium prints with this camera, but if you want a clean image for large prints (And when shooting at very high ISO), you should pass those photos via a noise reduction software.

All in all I’m very happy with the results, which of course are much better than what you get with an APS-C Nikon DSLR, that’s for sure. It’s not a low light beast, but certainly a great camera for low light enthusiasts.

I’m very happy with what I’ve seen until now. I’m pretty sure that by now you know that the D600 has its cons and pros, but for photographers who are going to take advantage of the D600 capabilities, the D600 is a gem. The affordable D600 price opens the world of FF to many more photographers that until now couldn’t afford to enjoy it.

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