Here are a couple of those shots again:
Here are how those shots looked like straight-out-of-the-camera:
If you're wondering why the SOOC shots looked underexposed, it's because I wanted to protect the highlights. With digital sensors (or slides), when highlights are blown, they are lost forever. To avoid clipping the highlights, the shot has to be underexposed to the point where the highlights are not clipped. See this post discussing this. As you can see in the final shots, the highlight details were preserved. The downside of this approach is that the image will have more noise on those areas where the shadows were lifted. In the case of the D600, however, the shadow recovery is so incredible that there is not a lot of noise even for extreme adjustments.
Here are a couple of other, more extreme examples, comparing the SOOC version and the final result. The noise in the final versions looks negligible to me. I did not apply any noise reduction.
You might wonder how the exposure is set to avoid clipping highlights. Setting the Active D-Lighting to 'Auto' or 'Extra High' is sometimes sufficient. Check out this example:
Here is the SOOC version. The camera chose an exposure that avoided clipping the highlights on the glove.
Here is the glove (exposure decreased to show that no detail was lost).
Other times, especially for very contrasty light, the D600 tries to make a guess: it either thinks you're doing a silhouette in which case all highlights will be preserved, or it thinks you're doing a more typical image, in which case it will try to get a correct exposure for the subject (based on where the focal point is) and let the highlights clip. If the camera does the latter, I just have to rein in the exposure by dialing it down:
The second part of this solution is how to lift the shadows to where they should be. I'll discuss a few alternatives in the next post.