Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9/25/12 Updates to Nikon D600 Hands-On Review Part 1

I will be updating Part 1 of the Nikon D600 Hands-On Review with these additional info:

Auto ISO. I learned that the Auto ISO can be activated without the menus.  Just hold the ISO button and rotate the sub-command dial.  Cool!

Speed and accuracy. Autofocus appears to be fast and accurate.  The only time I've seen it hunt is when I was trying to focus on a plain black surface with no texture and a texture-less white surface.  Those would be challenging or impossible for any camera.  In terms of accuracy, the D600 appears to be reasonably accurate but it appears to more likely to misfocus in backlit conditions.

Smarter AF Area Options.  In previous Nikons, I could select any AF-Area (Auto, 3D, single, dynamic 9-point, dynamic 21-point, dynamic 39-point) in combination with any AF Mode (AF-C continuous, AF-S single, or AF-A).  The problem with this is that with AF-S, dynamic AF points and 3D tracking didn't do anything - it was just the same as single-point autofocus.  The D600 remedies this by limiting the available AF-Area modes available under AF-S to Auto and single point only.  It's less confusing.

Highlights display.  Like other cameras, you can display the clipped/blown highlights (aka "blinkies").  With the D600, you can show the clipped highlights for luminosity, red channel, green channel or blue channel.  Just press the zoom out button and press left or right.

RGB Histogram display.  I learned that in the RGB histogram display you can also display clipped highlights, also by luminosity, or any of the RGB channels.  But, while the histogram is zoomable, the highlights are not.  In other words, when you zoom in during the RGB histogram display, the histograms will only show the zoomed portion but the highlights will not be shown.

LCD Tint.  There seems to be something not quite right with the LCD colors in my opinion.  It looks kind of warm under some circumstances.  I'm not extra sensitive about this - I've never complained about the LCD color with any other camera I've owned, even point and shoots.  But this one looks different.  I will try to pin this down.

[Not] WYSIWYG.  Exposure compensation adjustments can be seen on the Live View Photo mode within a range of +/- 3EV but in dim conditions (e.g. at night), I can only see changes within a range of -3EV to +1EV.

I don't have LR4 raw support to test the full extent of the D600's highlight range, but it appears that the D600 has excellent highlight range, much better than I thought.  What is also cool is that the highlights appear to blow gradually (similar to negative film or the Fuji S5, if not quite as smooth) making clipping less obvious.  I will do more tests on these but check this out:
If you look at the sky, you can't easily pinpoint where the detail ends and the clipping begins.  (Actually the histogram seems to show no highlight clipping but I have doubts about the ViewNX2 histogram.)  I will do more experiments on this (among others, to see whether this is true for all channels or just luminosity) but for now I am optimistic about the D600's DR and highlight rolloff.

Along with the D3200 and D3x, the D600 is among the highest resolution Nikon cameras.  Prior to the D3x, Nikon only had cameras with up to 12mp.  Then there was the 24mp D3x but that was considered a specialty camera.  For mainstream shooters, the D7000 broke new ground by upping the resolution to 16mp.  The D4 came out with 16mp, then shortly thereafter was followed by the D800 with a whopping 36mp.

Because the D800 had such high resolution, Nikon released a technical bulletin that cautioned shooters to be careful with their shooting technique in order to take advantage of the D800's resolution.  Thus, you pretty much had to use top-of-the-line lenses, shoot at really high shutter speeds, as much as possible with a tripod, etc. etc.  Diffraction was also visible at wider apertures (though if you resize the image to 12mp or 16mp it wasn't any worse).  That was one of the things that dissuaded me from the D800 - I couldn't shoot like that.

With the D600's 24mp one of my questions was whether it would be more demanding to shoot with it.  My previous cameras had only been 6, 10 or 12mp.  My answer is: it does show imperfections more easily but did not require a significant variation from my current shooting technique:
- Lenses: yes, a lens' weaknesses are more visible at 1:1 zoom.  You can more clearly see chromatic aberration, fringing, that kind of stuff.  Is it bad enough to force me to upgrade my lenses?  No, at least not the ones I have.
- Focus: yes, when a subject is out of focus it is easier to tell at 1:1.  Fortunately, the D600's autofocus appears to get critical focus a majority of the time.  The other times when it is not in critical focus, it still looks ok at my common viewing sizes such as 1600pix.
- Depth of Field:  at 1:1 zoom it is easier to observe when an object is outside the depth of field.  Objects that seem within the DOF at 50% view may be out of the DOF at 1:1.  I just need to be a little more careful with my aperture and focus point.
- Shutter Speed.  These days I try to shoot at as high of a shutter speed as I can get in order to get a sharp photo.  That approach did not require adjustment for the D600.  It also helps that the D600 has an Auto ISO that can be tweaked for 2 stops faster than the 1/focal length rule.
- Tripod.  No I don't feel the need to use a tripod.
- Diffraction Limit: I'm sure it's visible at wider apertures - it's just optics/physics but I haven't noticed it.

If you're thinking to yourself that the high res is more of a burden than a benefit, just consider that you can crop more heavily (therefore carrying fewer lenses is possible), and you can apply noise reduction more effectively.

From what I've read, the D600 is noticeably less demanding than the D800.