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Nikon D600 Ken McMahon & Gordon Laing, Nov 2012
 
 

Nikon D600 vs DX JPEG quality

We chose the D3200 to represent possible future 24 Megapixel DX models. See contents below for D800 comparisons.

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To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Nikon D600 and the Nikon D3200, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

Initially, both cameras were fitted with their respective kit lenses. The D600 was fitted with the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-5.4G ED VR lens and the D3200 with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G VR.

Later I used the same AF-S 24-85mm lens on both bodies for an additional test.

Note RAW comparisons are available from the results menu above right.

  Nikon D600 results
1 Nikon D600 vs DX Quality JPEG
2 Nikon D600 vs DX Quality RAW
3 Nikon D600 vs DX Noise JPEG
4 Nikon D600 vs DX Noise RAW
5 Nikon D600 vs D800 Noise JPEG
6 Nikon D600 vs D800 (down-sampled)
7 Nikon D600 vs D800 Noise RAW
8 Nikon D600 Sample images

Normally we'd compare the 'entry level' full frame D600 against the equivalent model from Canon, the 6D. We'll certainly be doing that as soon as the 6D is available, but in the meantime the Nikon D3200 provides a useful comparison. Not because these two models compete or that D3200 owners are likely to upgrade to a D600, but because the D3200's 24 Megapixel sensor will likely be at the heart of replacement models at the upper end of Nikon's DX line up. When Nikon introduces replacements for the D5100, D7000 and D300s, they will most likely have this sensor, so the question for those upgrading from those models as well as new entrants to DSLR market will be whether to opt for a high end consumer DX model, or go the extra mile and get the full frame D600 (or alternatively opt for a Canon 6D).

Both cameras were set to Aperture priority exposure mode, stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and tone enhancement and lens correction features were left on the default settings. On the D600 Active D-lighting is disabled by default whereas it's enabled on the D3200. Again, for comparison purposes I disabled Active D-lighting on the D3200.

The image above was taken with the Nikon D600 in Aperture priority mode with the aperture set to f8 and the sensitivity set to 100 ISO. The D600 metered an exposure of 1/100 at f8. In order to avoid diffraction and to produce a broadly equivalent depth of field, on the D3200 the lens was set to f5.6. The D3200 metered the same exposure i.e. 1/200 at f5.6.

First let me just say a word about how both cameras handled the exposure. There is some clipping in the sky area, but I don't think that either camera has over-exposed - something Nikon DSLR's are prone to as we've seen in the past. This scene has a very wide brightness range and although the sky is blown in places, the histogram reaches almost to the very left edge. Arguably -1/3EV might have produced a slightly better result, but the slight clipping on the right would be no problem to recover if you're shooting RAW.

Now to the crops. It's clear from even a casual examimination of these crops that the image quality from the D600 surpasses that of the D3200. Both cameras share the same 24 Megapixel resolution, but detail in all of the D600 crops is well resolved with crisp edges, while the D3200 crops look soft and blurry. The difference isn't massive, but in many people's minds it will be enough to warrant the extra expense of a camera with a full-frame sensor and a better quality lens. The question is, how much of the quality difference is due to the lower photosite density on the D600's full-frame sensor and what impact is the lens having. The quality margin appears to diminish a little in the final crop from the centre of the frame, so maybe simply fitting a better quality lens to a DX body will get you most of the way to the kind of quality results you can expect from the D600?

To eliminate lens differences and concentrate on the relative performance of the sensors, I fitted the D600's 24-85mm kit lens to the D3200. On the D3200, at its wide angle setting, the AF-S 24-85mm zoom lens has an equivalent focal length of 36mm, so on the D600 the lens was zoomed in to produce an equivalent field of view and the 100 percent crops from the resulting images are shown in the second table lower on the page.

Remember that here we're comparing two sensors with the same 24 Megapixel resolution but different physical sizes shot with the same lens zoomed in a little on the 600D to account for the 1.5x crop factor on the D3200. So, as before, both sets of crops show the same area with the same sized detail. Across the board, though, the D600 crops are still significantly sharper and show more detail than those from the D3200. And this time the qualitative difference is consistent from the centre to the edge of the frame and from the foreground detail closest to the camera in the third crop to the distant lighthouse in the second one. So, while the different lenses played a part in the quality difference in my first test, here we can see that the D600's full-frame sensor is also playing a significant role in producing more detailed sharper images.

Check out my Nikon D600 RAW results on the next page or see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Nikon D600 Noise results. If you're looking for comparisons with the D800, please start at my Nikon D600 vs D800 noise page.

 


Nikon D600
with AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-4.5G ED VR
 
Nikon D3200
with AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 VR
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Below are results when both cameras were fitted with the same AF-S 24-85mm VR lens.

Nikon D600
with AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-4.5G ED VR
 
Nikon D3200
with AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-4.5G ED VR
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Nikon D600
results : Quality / RAW / Noise / D600 vs D800


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