Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nikon D600 + Nikkor 24-70: A Day with My Precious Ones (and my kids too)

Last weekend I took our kids to Disneyland - just the three of us.  It was my first time to bring them there by myself, so instead of my usual two camera combo, I just brought one camera and one lens - the Nikon D600 and the Nikkor 24-70 2.8G.

In this post I will discuss how the combination performed in terms of:
- versatility
- image quality
- autofocus speed and accuracy
- low light performance (autofocus and image quality)
- dynamic range

(Click on the pictures for higher-resolution versions.  FYI no additional sharpening was used - only LR defaults.  All shots were handheld with no flash.  Except as otherwise noted, I did not apply noise reduction, clarity, vibrance or saturation.)
I was initially concerned that I didn't have a telephoto lens or ultrawide angle lens with me, but the Nikkor 24-70 2.8G covered many kinds of shots, from scene setters to close-up portraits.  To me, the 24mm had a similar feel to my Tokina 11-16 and the 70mm portraits felt tight enough to isolate the subject.
Traffic Jam.  24mm
36mm. Clarity +15

For controlled shots, I found the images were sharp, even wide open at f/2.8.

The 24-70's bokeh is reasonably good in my opinion, though not in the same league as the Sigma 50 1.4:

The one thing that I was not impressed with was the amount of flare I was getting.  Please note that I did have a UV filter on (reviewed here), so I will look into this again in the future, without a UV filter.  UPDATE 10/12/12: I found that the rear element of my lens had a smudge in it.  I have since cleared the smudge, but I suspect the flare that I saw was from the smudge.  Will retest.

Consistent with previous tests, I found the D600's autofocus to be very good, speedily acquiring focus on active subjects.  Although the focus point was not always perfect, a high percentage of the shots had more than acceptable focus.  As expected, it was a lot easier to get good focus with an aperture of f/4.0 or f/5.6 than f/2.8.

I was surprised that the D600 and 24-70 were able to focus quickly enough to capture fast-moving subjects, even when I had no time to select the AF point.  The ride was at full speed in the shot below and IIRC the camera was on Auto Area AF with AF-C:

Although we visited Disneyland in the daytime, we did drift into more dimly lit areas and it also got dimmer toward the end of the day.  On previous trips, I probably would have used flash under the same circumstances but on this occasion, I wanted to see what the Nikon D600 could do.  In my opinion, using high ISO in dim lighting is a more realistic test of a camera's high ISO performance than using a well-lit test scene.  (Note: The scenes below might look brighter than they actually were because I adjusted the contrast.)

From prior testing, I found that the D600's high ISO performance was exceptional for the viewing sizes that I normally use.  I therefore allowed the Auto ISO to choose any ISO, all the way up to 25600.  Sometimes, the camera would choose weird ISO settings like 8063.  Not sure why but it wasn't an issue for me.  Anyway, here are some high ISO samples.  No noise reduction used except as noted.

2800 ISO

8063 ISO

I can play too! 10,159 ISO
One thing that I like about the D600's high ISO is that it can still retain detail.  I prefer a noisier but more detailed image than one that has no noise but also no detail.  Another benefit of the D600 is that because of its high resolution, noise reduction is more effective if and when applied.

20,000 ISO. Noise reduction +30. Saturation -22.
25,600 ISO. Noise reduction +50. Clarity +31. Saturation -20.
I also want to note how well the D600's autofocus performed in these low light conditions.  The last couple of shots above were in a very dim room lit by a low-wattage incandescent bulb.  The last shot was at 25600 ISO, f/2.8, 1/80, or about an Exposure Value of 1.  It was dim enough that it was hard to see into the shadows with my naked eyes.  IIRC the AF assist did not activate because the AF point wasn't in the middle.  Even in such extreme circumstances the D600 and 24-70 focused with no hesitation at all.

One thing that I was looking for in the D600 was its dynamic range.  I have a Fuji S5, which I love, and I wanted a camera that would have a dynamic range that could match that of the S5.

When we visited Disneyland, the sun was blazing, providing a good opportunity to test the D600's dynamic range.  Here are some examples that amply demonstrate the D600's DR:

In this shot, Belle was wearing a satin-like glove which fell under direct sunlight.  Nonetheless, none of the details of the glove were lost.

This following scene was extremely backlit.  It was hard for me to see much more than silhouettes against the sun's glare.  It was the kind of scene that is the specialty of the S5.  The D600 performed just as well, retaining all details with the exception of specular highlights (note that the delicate diffuse highlights, such as the glossy surfaces of Dumbo were not blown out).

Now I have to come clean about a couple of things.  For these DR shots, the straight-out-of-the-camera didn't look like the final images that you see here.  Second, I had to adjust the automatic exposure of some of these shots.  You'll see what I mean when I post in more detail about the D600's dynamic range.  In the meantime, here are more samples.

Smile for daddy!


  1. I'm pretty impressed with the high ISO samples you posted regarding the amount of detail retained without ending up with splotchy-ness. I'd like to see some 100% crops though (yes, I'm a pixel peeper).

    I've also got the Tokina 11-16mm on my D90 and yes the 16mm end (24mm equivalent on 35mm) will feel like the 24mm end of your 24-70mm on your D600, so you've got some good wide to moderate telephoto coverage with that lens.

    1. Thanks Francis. I'll upload full resolution shots by tomorrow. On my way to work...! :)

      Best regards,

  2. Seems like if you had one lens to take to Disney land, this would be the one you want! Covered all the basics, the close up shots of the kids and being wide enough to show the park behind! Looks like a fun day, great pictures!

    1. Thanks Amy! Yeah the 24-70 was quite versatile, something I had almost forgotten because I usually bring two lenses. Having just one forced me to push the lens to its limits, which helped me improve my composition skills.

      Best regards,

  3. Hi, thanks for this post. May I ask how you feel about the AF coverage on the d600? It is the only part of this camera that really scares me, as it looks like that for rule of thirds style focusing none of the cameras AF points come close enough. Whats you real-world opinion?

    1. Hi Stew! Good news: I have an in-depth post about exactly that question. :) Here is the link:

      Best regards,

    2. Oops, yeah have just seen that! Its a shame that the AF coverage is so limited, was looking forward to this camera for ages. Oh well, thanks for your insight.

  4. Nice post and pictures Mic, but it's no Sigma 50 f/1.4. ;-)

  5. Looks like a great day was had by all - thanks for posting!

    Would love to take a DSLR to Disneyland some day, but since I love going on all the rides w/ the kid (including water splashing, etc!), i've only ever taking a tiny p&s (Canon S100 for now, perhaps Sony RX100 soon) which does limit how & what one can shoot.

    My minimal 'travel light' DSLR kit at the moment is D600 + 24-85 AF-S that is compact & quite capable (my lens is still the nice & sharp, but older non-VR version, but no plan to upgrade at this point)

    1. Thanks, yes we had a great time. It was a bonding experience for me and my kids.

      You're right about the camera, and for me that's a dilemma that I often face -- experience the event and the moment or focus on preserving the moment for posterity. It's very hard for me to do both at the same time. Often I choose to play the observer role, though on occasion I'll try to get myself in the shot. I hope my kids don't look at the pics and wonder why I'm not in them, instead of remembering that I was with them right there, except that I was also trying to preserve the memory for us.

      Thanks for the info re 24-85!

      Best regards,

  6. Hi Mic,
    I bought a D600 and a 85mm 1.8G for portraits of my kids and I'm happy with the results.
    My main use will be to take pictures of my family outdoor and indoor.
    I'm wondering what would be the second lens to buy ...
    A 28-300mm? Some more wide primes? 24-70mm?
    Give me some ideas, please.

    1. Hi Marcel. Congratulations on the 85 1.8G - I seems to be an excellent lens from the shots I've seen paired with the D600.

      Re another lens it really depends on your objectives:
      - What kinds of shots do you want to take? Ultrawide, wide angle, normal, telephoto, etc.
      - How important is image quality compared to convenience?
      - Do you need or want a wide aperture?
      - Do you need image stabilization?
      - Budget?
      In my case the answer to the first question was based partly on the age of my kids. When they were babies I wanted tight portraits (so I used a 50 1.4 on APS-C, i.e. 75mm equivalent). When we started taking them out, I wanted a wider lens, so I got the Tamron 28-75 (on APS-C, so it was like 42-112.5) then later the Tamron 17-50 VC (24.5-75). Later on when we traveled farther and the location became even more important I got ultrawides. Now that my son is old enough to do sports, I am interested in a telephoto lens.

      If you don't know the answers yet to the first question, the safest bet is a lens with a focal length like the 24-70 which as you can see can be very versatile. There are many out there it that class such as the Nikkor 24-70 2.8G, Nikkor 28-70 2.8, Nikkor 24-85 VR, Tamron 24-70 VC, Tamron 28-75. In that group, I only have experience with the Nikkor 24-70 and 28-70, and the Tamron 28-75 (but only on APS-C). The Nikkor 24-70 performed great, while the 28-70 performed very well also (but I only tried it on a D3, which has only 12mp so I don't know how well it performs on a 24mp camera). The Tamron 28-75 was excellent on my APS-C camera but I don't know how it performs on full frame.

      If convenience is not important to you and you don't mind changing lenses, you could get a 28 1.8G and/or a 50 1.4G instead of a 24-70. I don't have experience with those particular lenses but they seem to have good image quality. I like using my Sigma 50 1.4 instead of 24-70 when I have the space to walk around.

      For telephoto, there's the upcoming 70-200 f/4 VR, and the 70-200 2.8 VR I and VR II. I liked the 70-200 2.8 VR I but it was too large for me. Another alternative is the Nikkor 70-300 VR. My telephoto lens for full frame is now the Tamron 70-300 VC. I just got it recently so I am still checking it out but for now my impressions are positive and the image stabilization is incredible.

      One way to get an idea of what lens to get is to think of some candidates, check out the Flickr forum for that lens and see if you like the samples (not just for image quality but also the field of view and perspective).

      If you have other questions on this pls. feel free to email me at info AT

      Best regards,

  7. Hi Mic

    Great photos you have. I have two kids myself and interested in getting the D7000 or D600. Looking for steady video shooting, good low light shooting and SPEED. Wonder if you can help provide some advice to me on selection for body/lens.

    Thanks so much

    1. Thanks Silvia!

      For low light, both the D600 and D7000 offer best-in-class low light capabilities. You just have to decide whether the D600 is worth getting about 1.5 stops better low-light performance.

      To get steady video shooting, you need a stabilized lens. For FX, Nikon has either the 24-85 VR, the 24-120 f/4G VR (not to be confused with its predecessors), or the 28-300 VR. Alternatively you could also try the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC. For DX, there's the 16-85 VR, 18-105 VR, 18-200 VR, or the new 18-300 VR. Or you can go with the excellent Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC, which I absolutely love and has very effective stabilization (but you need to use an external mic because of the stabilization sound). Other than the Tamron 17-50 VC, I've never used any of these lenses personally, so you'll have to double check if these lenses are good enough for you.

      For speed, I'm supposing you mean in terms of capturing subjects. You need both a body and lens with good AF speed. The D600 is pretty fast for me. I don't have personal experience with the D7000 but I've read that people who have both the D600 and D7000 say the D600 is faster. As for the lens' AF speed, again I don't have personal experience with any of the stabilized lenses above (other than the Tamron 17-50 VC) so you'll have to check. I can say that the Tamron 17-50 VC has reasonable AF speed though you have to pre-plan at least a second ahead to allow the image stabilization to "settle".

      Hope this helps!

      Best regards,

  8. Nice review. I have a question regarding the post processing. I do feel your pictures are glossy. How to do achieve this look. Thank you for the reply.

    1. Hi! I use Lightroom to edit my photos. Try this book:

      Best regards,


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