Choosing between the D600 and D800

Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 13:07

I had the chance to test Nikon’s D600 a few months back (thanks Nikon Belgium!).

I was a D7000 user looking to make the jump to full frame, so basically the ideal customer for a D600.

Testing the camera, I was very impressed by the D600. Check out these photos of Ireland to get an idea of the output. The dynamic range is great. It’s a solid product.

However, in the end I decided to go buy the D800. The cameras are very much alike: the D600 is really the D800’s little brother, and shooting with them is about 90% the same. In this article I’ll try to outline the reasons why I chose the D800 in the end.


First and foremost, I went for the D800 because of the controls.

The D800 has the “pro” style controls on top with buttons for white balance, file quality, bracket and ISO.

On the back there is a dedicated AF-ON button, which is very helpful. On the D600/D7000 I had to map some other button to AF-ON and then forego easy AF/AE lock. On the D800 you just have both AF ON and AE/AF lock next to each other, easy.

Looking at the controls on the D600, I don’t understand what Nikon was going for here. The D600 treats the photographer as a newbie. First there are the typical sports, portrait etc modes which I never use. I mean, if you’re buying a full frame you probably know how to set your shutter speed and aperture in a way that’s appropriate for what you’re shooting?

Then there’s the “retouch” button on the back. I wonder, who edits RAW files on their camera?

Another back control (the one that is white balance on the D7000) changes the quality setting of your photographs. It’s much too easy to acidentally switch the quality setting of your files on the D600. Not something you’d want to happen in a shoot.

Next to that, the “mode lock” on the mode dial is annoying. I know this has been implemented since there were some problems with the mode dial on the D7000 but seriously, I’ve never had this problem.

One neat thing that the D800 has and the D600 doesn’t is a little setting that allows you to zoom into a picture you just took using the “OK” button. No more pressing zoom 5 to 7 times to check for focus: a simple click on “OK” jumps you to the desired zoom level.

Auto ISO

The auto ISO settings on the D800 are more detailed than the D600 including a minimum shutter speed setting, which is essential to me. When doing event photography just being able to shoot without worrying about the ISO settings is wonderful.


While the D600 resolution is plenty (24MP), I like having a lot of pixels to play with to do some creative cropping. For example, for websites it’s often needed to make a sort of extreme panorama crop (10:1 ratio) to make the content look good on any screen.

The D800 does have the drawback of generating files that are a little too big to handle easily: prepare to wait quite a bit longer when processing and moving around D800 files. It would be nice if there was some in-between setting (set the D800 to native 24MP) but I guess that isn’t how things work.

Minor price difference

At the time I bought the D800 it was about €2400 while the D600 was about €2000. The price difference wasn’t big enough to justify buying the slightly worse D600. For the price of a cheap lens I’d have the D800 so that made the choice much easier.


A few months in I’m still happy with my purchase. The D800 delivers the professional results I’m looking for in a camera. It’s a joy to work with and will be my workhorse for some time to come.

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