Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nikon D600 Hands-On Review Part 2



10/5/12 update: added info re Adobe raw support for D600.  Also added info re using camera profiles from other cameras.

I tried to finish the review last night but couldn't.  So rather than wait to finish the other parts, I'll break this up into part 2 and 3.

Part 1:
Specifications - highlights.  Just want to highlight some of the best and worst parts of the specs.
What's in the box.  Just so you know.
Body.  How the body feels like, etc.
Menus.  I'll highlight some differences from menus of other Nikons.
Shooting.  What it's like to shoot with the D600.
Live View Photo.  Characteristics of the D600's LV Photo mode.
Image Quality.  Noise and dynamic range.
Lighting.  Options for flash photography with the D600.
Exposure.  Tests on the D600's exposure behavior.
Part 2
Video (Live View Movie).  What it's like to shoot a movie with the D600.
Features.  Special features and options of the D600.
Processing the files.  Handling of D600 in post-processing.  File sizes and such.
Sample photos.
Part 3
Comparisons with other cameras.  I compare the D600 with its most likely alternatives, in terms of specs and image quality.
Suggestions for full frame cameras.  My suggestions based on your needs.
D600 Resources. Helpful links.
Speculation about D600.  Just for fun, a look back at our posts about the D600 all the way leading up to its release.

Part 1 of this review is here: http://betterfamilyphotos.blogspot.com/2012/09/nikon-d600-hands-on-review-part-1.html
Part 3: TBA


VIDEO (LIVE VIEW MOVIE)

Until recently none of my DSLRs had a video mode.  I had always been curious about using a DSLR for video because I wanted to be able to have a shallow depth of field.  With the D600’s full frame sensor, the DOF is even more shallow.  I also wanted to be able to use special lenses such as an ultrawide, fisheye or macro lens.

The D600 has video from full HD 1080p at 24, 25, or 30 fps.  It can also take 720p video at 25, 30, 50, or 60 fps.  Using a 24fps frame rate makes the video look cinematic while using 60fps has smooth action shots and can also be used for slow motion.  The D600 can save the video as high quality (24mbps for 1080p or 12mbps for 720p) or as normal quality (12mpbs for 1080p or 8mpbs for 720p).  Video files are in MOV format and compressed with the H.264 standard.

How to record.  To record video, you have to switch to Live View Movie mode, then press the record button, which is near the shutter release.  I’m used to having the metering selection button on that spot, so I have at times pressed the wrong button.  There is an option to instead allow the shutter release for movie recording.  The problem is you won’t be able to take photos during video (see below).

Exposure controls.  You can control the exposure of the video, within limits.

a. Automatic modes:
If you switch to any exposure mode other than manual exposure, then you cannot control shutter speed or ISO.  You can change exposure compensation if you are in P, A, or S mode (you can do it in the middle of a recording as well).  In these automatic modes, ISO automatically adjusts to maintain the exposure level.  You can prevent changes to the exposure by using AEL.

As for aperture, it is possible to specify the aperture but you have to exit live view first, switch to aperture priority, choose your aperture, then turn on live view.  The aperture is then locked at whatever aperture you chose.  Alternatively, if you have a lens with an aperture ring, you can adjust aperture, even in the middle of the recording, and the ISO will adjust automatically.  Just remember to switch to A mode, and turn on the option for controlling aperture with an aperture ring (under option f5).

Note that the D800 can adjust aperture electronically.  You don’t have to exit live view or use a lens with aperture ring.

b. Manual mode:
It is possible to control the shutter speed, up to the frame rate limit (for example if you are using 60 fps, then the slowest shutter speed is 1/60).  It is also possible to control ISO.  To do these you have to switch to manual exposure.  In manual exposure, you control the exposure level using the shutter speed and ISO.  There is no automatic ISO in manual movie mode.

Controlling aperture in manual mode is similar to that of the automatic mode.  You have to exit live view, switch to aperture priority, select your aperture then turn on live view.  If you have a lens with an aperture ring, you can change the aperture in the middle of the recording but the ISO and shutter speed will not adjust automatically.

WYSIWYG.  Unlike in Live View Photo mode, the display in Live View Movie mode is of course what-you-see-is-what-you-get (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, fps).  Exposure compensation changes are visible on the screen within +/- 3EV (but in dim ambient conditions, it is -3EV to +1EV).

Autofocus.   Yes the D600 can autofocus continuously but based on the lenses I’ve tested, don’t expect miracles here.  My Canon HG10 dedicated video camcorder focuses faster.

The same AF modes and AF area modes in LV Photo mode are available in LV Movie mode.  Subject tracking can work but is effective only for slow-moving subjects.

Focusing is about the same speed as for photo.  You can zoom in to confirm focus before shooting the video but once you start shooting, the zoom gets canceled.

(Please note that my Sigma 50 1.4 and Sigma 50-150 non-OS can’t autofocus in live view. Some with newer copies of these lenses say they are able to autofocus.  Sigma might update your lens if they feel like it.)

Picture controls and scene modes with video.  Picture controls (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, etc.) and scene modes (portrait, pets, sports, etc.) can be used in video mode for additional creative control.  On the other hand, many video editors can apply these effects during video editing.

Audio recording.  Sound quality is one important way to elevate the quality of your videos.  The built-in mic is mono and will pick up the camera’s noises (while it’s autofocusing).  Fortunately, there is an external stereo microphone jack.  The audio level of the microphone can be adjusted manually, placed on auto, or simply turned off.  There is also a headphone jack to monitor the audio.  Like the mic audio level, the headphone audio level can also be on auto or manual.

Custom controls.  The Fn, DOF preview, and AEL buttons can be customized to have functions that are separate from their assigned functions in photo mode.  However there are some video functions such as frame rate and DX mode (see below) that can’t be assigned to these functions.  Instead I have to assign them as options in My Menu.

DX mode.  One of my favorite features in the movie function is that you can switch to a DX crop and still take video in full HD resolution.  This means your FX lens can do double duty to have two separate focal length ranges without having to change lenses!  You can also use a DX lens for shooting video in full HD.

Photo during video.  You’ve probably seen those videos where there is a short video clip then a “snap” then it’s followed by a shot of the photo that was taken.  That kind of effect is possible with the D600.  In the middle of recording video, you can press the shutter button to take a photo.  This is not a simple frame grab.  It is a photo at the same resolution as you can take in regular photo mode except that it is cropped to 16:9, therefore you can zoom in the details a la Ken Burns.

When you press the shutter to take a photo during a movie recording, there is a momentary pause then the D600 stops the video recording, takes the photo, then returns you to live view (with recording still stopped).  The resulting photo is in the same format as for photo (i.e., it can be in raw or even raw+JPEG if you wish).

Adding Chapters (Index function).  You can add indices to the video which act similar to chapters on a CD or DVD.  To add an index you have to assign one of the customizable function buttons to insert an index marker.  During playback, in addition to the other controls for advancing or rewinding the video (see below), you can skip from one index to another.

Playback and In-Camera Editing.  When you replay the video, you can advance the movie frame by frame, or skip forward or backward 10 secs (using the main command dial).  At any time you can pause the video then do a frame grab (in JPEG) or to identify a start or end point for the video.  Strangely, it does not appear possible to add an index marker while reviewing the video.

Uncompressed HDMI.  Videographers among you know better than I about how useful this is.

Sample video clip.


 Here is a sample video clip shot with the Nikon D600.  It was originally shot at 720p, 60fps.



After shooting the video, I edited it in Photoshop CS6.  I split the video at the point where I wanted the slow motion to start, then split that second half again at the point where I wanted slow motion to end.  Then I right-clicked on the middle slow-mo segment to change the playback speed.  (I also had to adjust the ends of the middle and last segments to provide a smooth transition from slow-mo to normal speed.)

Although the video segments now have different frame rates, I didn't have to change their individual frame rates to make them consistent.  I just rendered the entire video to a specified frame rate (in this case 30fps), making the frame rate consistent throughout the video.


FEATURES

1. Multiple photos: Self-timer, bracketing, multiple exposure, image overlay, HDR, interval shooting, and time lapse.  These options are interrelated.

a. Self-timer.  The D600's self-timer is more sophisticated than what I've seen before.  In addition to specifying the delay before the shutter is released (2 secs, 5 secs, 10 secs, or 20 secs), the self-timer can take up to 9 shots.  In addition, you can specify the interval between the shots (0.5 sec, 1 sec, 2 secs, 3 secs).  These are all in custom setting c3.

b. Bracketing.  There is a dedicated bracketing button below the flash button - it can be adjusted with the command dials, just like many of the other functions.  You can bracket exposure, flash exposure, both exposure and flash exposure, white balance, or Active D-Lighting.  You can only bracket 2 or 3 frames (with my D300 and D3 I could bracket up to 9 frames).  However, the bracketing increment is up to 3EV.  On the D300 the bracketing increment was only up to 1EV.  So, bracketing 3 frames on a D600 with a 3EV increment captures a similar range as a D300 with a 7-frame bracket at 1EV.  Bracketing can be combined with the self-timer.

c. Multiple exposure. In this mode you can take 2 or 3 shots that will be overlaid over each other.  (Compare: a D3 can do a 9-shot multiple exposure).  This can be useful for showing motion, or other effects.  This function can be combined with interval shooting (see below) so that the shots that comprise multiple exposure can be taken at specified time intervals.

d. Image overlay.  This is similar to multiple exposure, except that it is done after shooting.  It only works with raw files, and you can combine only 2 images.

e.  HDR.  The camera can take 2 shots and combine the exposures to get detail in both highlights and shadows.  Unfortunately this only works in JPEG mode, and the 2 shots that comprise the HDR are not saved.  The HDR function can work with interval shooting so that the camera will shoot HDR photos at each selected interval.

f. Interval shooting.  You can take several shots at specific time intervals automatically.  This mode has several options:
- You can specify when the interval shooting begins (now or at a specific starting time).
- You can specify the interval in hours, minutes and seconds.
- Finally, you can choose the number of intervals and the number of shots per interval.  If you are using interval shooting together with bracketing, then the camera will ignore the specified number of shots per interval and instead take the entire bracketing sequence at each interval.

g. Time lapse movie.  In this function, the camera takes several photos, similar to interval shooting, but combines the shots into a movie.  The options are similar to interval shooting except that instead of specifying the number of intervals and shots per interval, you specify how long the camera will take photos (up to 8 hours).  The movie will be recorded at the frame rate specified for movie settings.

2.  Steady shooting.  To minimize vibration during shooting, the Nikon D600 features a mirror up release mode (press the shutter once to raise the mirror, press it again to take a photo and return the mirror), and an exposure delay mode (specify a delay of up to 3 seconds from the time you press the shutter to the time the shutter is released).  Both functions can be used together.

There is also a remote delay option (2 second delay) and a remote mirror-up option (similar to mirror up except you use a remote).  Unfortunately, the D600 only has an IR remote (on the other hand, it has an IR receiver in front and behind the camera).  Alternatively, there is also a separate wireless adapter, the WU-1b that can function as a wireless remote release and in addition, remote live view.

Notably, the mirror action also appears to be smoother/more gentle than the one on my Fuji S5/D200, and is about the same as the one on my D90, even if the D600 has a larger mirror.

3.  Older lenses.

a.  Lenses without AF motors.  Some lenses for Nikon don't have autofocus motors.  Like mid-level and high-end Nikons, the D600 has an autofocus motor that will allow you to autofocus even with these lenses.

b.  Non-CPU lenses.  Old Nikon lenses lack a chip inside that is needed for communicating with the camera.  These lenses can still be mounted on Nikon F-mount cameras but normally they won't autofocus and can't be metered.  However, on the D600 and high-end Nikon bodies, these lenses can be used, with color matrix metering.  You just need to specify the widest focal length of the lens and its widest aperture.  

I've tried this with a Nikkor 50-135 f/3.5 AI-S and it works.  The lens can meter just like a modern lens, and although I can't autofocus, there is focus confirmation.

PROCESSING THE FILES

Raw files now supported in Lightroom 4.2.  Adobe now offers raw support for the D600 in Lightroom 4.2.  Windows version
Mac version
If you have a previous version of Lightroom or you use Photoshop, you can convert the D600 NEF raw file into DNG using Adobe's free DNG Converter 7.2.  Note that D600 raw support is only in beta phase and Adobe warns that your images may change slightly when the final version is released.

Camera Profiles.  Since the D600 raw support is only in beta, it doesn't have camera profiles (to emulate picture styles such as Standard, Neutral, Portrait, Vivid, etc.).  You can, however, use the camera profile from a different camera (even a non-Nikon one) and apply it to the D600.  Here are the instructions.

Custom file names.  Just like D3, you can change the file prefix.  For example, instead of DSC_xxxx.NEF it could read MIC_xxxx.NEF.  If you have more than one camera, this can help you distinguish between files from different cameras.

File sizes: Raw files are are anywhere from 20.7 to 29.2 MB depending on whether it is 12- or 14-bit, and whether it is just compressed or it is losslessly compressed (there is no option for uncompressed).  JPEG fine, large is 12.4 MB and JPEG basic, small is 1.0 MB.  These sizes increase if JPEG compression is set for optimal quality instead of size priority.

Computer upgrade?  One of my concerns with the D800 and now the D600 had been that I would be forced to upgrade my computer to handle the files.  I actually upgraded my laptop anyway.  Whether I would have been forced to upgrade or not is up in the air.  The only software I've used for the D600 files is ViewNX2 which is terribly slow.  On my upgraded computer, processing the files in ViewNX2 is workable.  I am sure that with LR4, processing the files will be painless.

If I had not upgraded, I imagine that with my previous computer, using ViewNX2 would not have been practical.  As for LR4, if I had been using LR4 with my previous computer, which is much much faster than ViewNX2, I'm not sure whether an upgrade would be required.  I'll update this section when Adobe provides raw support for the D600.

SAMPLE PHOTOS
Below are sample photos from the D600.  Most were taken in raw, then processed in ViewNX2.  I kept the adjustments to a minimum.  Mostly, what I did was to tweak exposure (to give you a better idea of the camera's metering, I tried not to adjust exposure too much), adjust highlight and shadow protection, adjust white balance as necessary, switch to one of the preset picture modes (typically, Standard or Neutral), and increased sharpening to around 6 or 7.  The files were saved in the highest quality JPEG available in ViewNX2 then uploaded to Picasa at the highest available resolution.  I think Picasa might also have applied its own adjustments when I uploaded the shots.

NOTE: ViewNX2 doesn't seem to have noise reduction.  So I have not used noise reduction on any of these.

Nikkor 24-70.  

Update: Here is a more detailed post about the D600 with the 24-70, including AF performance, etc.

These shots were mostly JPEG.  They were taken in Hermosa Beach, California during a cloudy afternoon.






Bounce flash used for this shot.  I was testing the new option to adjust exposure compensation without affecting flash exposure.





These couple of shots look like they were taken with a 70-200, but were just heavily cropped shots from the 24-70.  Still had plenty of detail.



Tokina 11-16.  This DX lens is not intended for use with a full frame camera but it can be used with the D600 and other full frames from around 15mm without vignetting.  However, as you can see the corners are very soft.




Sigma 50 1.4.  These were taken at Manhattan Beach in California.  For some of them I experimented with average metering.



See what details you can spot when you zoom in these shots :)


Take a look at the sky in this intensely backlit scene.  Incredibly, the D600 appears to have captured the range of the entire scene.  Exposure comp +2, highlight protection: 100.  The highlight rolloff also looks very smooth.




This scene was very challenging for the camera and I needed to adjust both the highlights and shadows.  A large part of the sky was blown out but there was actually no detail there anyway.  However, note again the smooth highlight transition to blowing out:





Sample shots with the Nikkor 85 1.8G here.
Sample shots with the Nikkor 28-105 3.5-4.5D here.

OTHER SAMPLE PHOTOS
DPReview samples

RELATED POSTS:
Nikon D600 Resource Page .  All the Nikon D600-related posts on one page, organized by topic.