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Nikon D600/610

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Roland Vink:
I was slow coming to the digital age. I like the simple direct experience of using manual cameras and lenses, but I couldn't ignore the advantages of digital technology. So about three years ago I bought a D600. This was the first FX camera that I felt was affordable, and with 24MP there was plenty of room for me to grow into it. Being such a different camera, it took a while to get used to it. Here are some notes from the perspective of a film user, maybe you'll find them interesting. Most of this will be equally applicable to the D610, and to a large extent other similar models like the D750 and D7200.

Shots Remaining
I bought two 32GB SanDisk SD cards for my camera. The cards were set to overflow, shooting Raw + JPG (small medium quality), the camera indicates 556 shots remaining. I actually got over 900 shots before the first card filled. So I'm getting about 70% more shots than I expected. I guess Nikon conservatively assumes all pictures are very sharp with lots of small detail, which don't compress much. In reality most pictures have large featureless areas (sky and soft defocused backgrounds) which compress efficiently and take less space than expected (or maybe my pictures are just soft...)

The other thing which took me by surprise is that the shots remaining is only for the current card. I had the cards set to overflow, and assumed the shots remaining was the total for both cards combined. I only discovered this when I took the first card out to back-up my images. This and the gross underestimation of shots remaining, means I have over 3x more capacity than I expected. I might have bought smaller cards if I knew this, although it's better to have extra capacity than not enough.

ISO control
After using film cameras for years with Velvia 50 and Provia 100F, even shooting at 400 feels blindingly fast. The ability to alter the ISO to current conditions, rather than using a tripod or waiting to finish a roll to load a faster film, is also a huge advantage.

The D600 has an Auto-ISO setting to ensure the shutter speed stays faster than 1/focal length (or multiple thereof) to reduce effects of camera shake. For hand-held shooting in Aperture Priority mode, all you need to do is set the aperture, the camera does the rest – setting the required shutter speed and bumping up the ISO automatically if the shutter gets too slow. Seems perfect...?

Unfortunately this is not available for non CPU lenses, the ISO speed is only increased when the shutter speed drops to 1/30 sec. This renders Auto-ISO useless for lenses longer than about 28mm. This is a strange oversight since the camera knows the focal length from the non-CPU lens data. I'm sure this could be fixed via new firmware. If I understand correctly, the Df, D7200 and D810 fix this issue with non-CPU lenses (if CPU data is entered) so it seems the newer models work better with manual lenses.

Multiple Exposures
I occasionally play around with multiple exposures. For example, when shooting a waterfall I might create and image with many sharp images overlaid so the water retains some texture, instead of a single long exposure with a smooth blurred effect.
With my FM3a and Pentax 645NII film cameras, this is easy. Just switch the camera to multiple exposure mode and adjust the exposure compensation dial down so the number of shots builds up to one full exposure (-1 for two shots, -2 for 4 shots, -3 for eight shots). The D600 does this nicely but I was very disappointed to find it can only take 2 or 3 shots in multiple exposure mode. This feels very limiting, even 4 shots would be a useful improvement.

Keeping it Level
I have the viewfinder gridlines turned on to help me to keep the camera level with the horizon. In spite of this I still have a tendency for horizons to slide down to the left. The D600 also has a virtual horizon which displays on the rear screen. It's buried in the setup menu which seem out of place to me, surely it belongs in the shooting menu? The virtual horizon works well when working on a tripod, but this is precisely when I have time to level the horizon using the viewfinder gridlines, or I eyeball the base of the camera against the horizon, so I this feature seems kind of redundant. I recently added it to “My Menu” so I can find it more easily, maybe I'll try it more often.

The virtual horizon isn't really very practical for hand-held shooting since you really need to look through the viewfinder at all times. A virtual horizon visible in the viewfinder would be more practical. Something like the focus confirmation indicators – left and right arrows to indicate tilt left or right, and a red dot to indicate level. It doesn't need to show the angle up or down since I rarely have the horizon in the middle of the frame anyway, keeping the horizon level is the main point.

Self Timer/MLU – Getting the sharpest shot
My Pentax 645NII has a very cool feature: when the self timer is set to 2 sec it also activates the mirror lockup - you click the shutter, the mirror flips up and camera starts beeping so you know the sequence has started. The camera waits 2 sec for vibrations to die down and then takes the picture. Perfect for getting sharpest shot from a tripod. The FM3a has a similar feature, the mirror flips up at the start of the self timer sequence, and it's possible to set the timer quite short so you don't wait too long. You know the sequence has started because the viewfinder blacks out and you can hear the clockwork timer buzzing.

Yet MLU with self timer is curiously absent from my sophisticated DSLR. The D600 has a 2 sec self timer setting but it does not activate mirror lockup so there is potential for mirror slap to affect sharpness. The viewfinder does not black out so there is a lack of feedback about whether the self timer sequence even started - did I press the button hard enough or not? The AF assist light at the front lights up, but that is useless to the photographer behind the camera, and it uses battery power.

I later discovered the “AE-L” indicator in the viewfinder lights up when self timer is running. It's a useful tip, but small and easily overlooked. Also, after setting up a shot on a tripod I often don't look through the viewfinder when I trip the shutter, so not the best indicator. Besides, if the exposure is locked, why not raise the mirror at the same time? It seems to me the only reason for keeping the mirror down is so the camera can adjust the exposure and focus during the sequence - but this does not happen (I tried).

Finally, I tried setting “Beep” on. This causes the camera to beep when focusing with AF, and self timer. Problem solved. Normally I turn this feature off as I don't like cameras which beep when they focus. However I mostly focus manually so I avoid the issue. The beeping is rather frenetic and the AF assist light still wastes power, but you can't have everything.

The D600 does have mirror lockup - Mup on the drive mode dial. Press the shutter once to raise the mirror, and again to release the shutter. Doing this by hand almost certainly risks vibrations and defeats the purpose of MLU. This feature is obviously designed for hand-free operation using the remote, which I don't have. I don't want buy and carry an extra accessory, especially when other cameras have built-in features which allow sharp hand-free MLU shots.

Manual Focus Lenses
Most of my lenses are AI manual focus, I prefer the way they handle although I am sure the newer AFS lenses are better optically. With film cameras I generally focus using a matte screen with grid lines. I prefer this type of screen as it is easier to focus and compose anywhere in the frame - screens with focus aids tend to produce compositions around the focus point. For static subjects I find the D600 viewfinder is generally adequate, it's bright but sometimes lacks contrast to tell the difference between “in focus” and “nearly in focus”. Maybe my eyes are just getting old. Now I tend to use the AF brackets with the “green dot” focus confirmation, mainly because it's there. It's not perfect however:

* The AF points only cover a small central portion of the viewfinder, so I often have to focus and recompose.
* When manual lenses are used, the AF point can only be moved manually, I often find myself fumbling around trying to move the AF bracket around to the right spot, which wastes time.
* When I'm looking at the green dot I'm not looking at the subject. It would be better if the left and right focus arrows remain green, but the confirmation dot was red, it would stand out in peripheral vision while still looking at the subject.
* The focus confirmation dot seems generally accurate, although I do get pictures which don't seem quite sharp – maybe the focus system needs fine tuning with some manual lenses or the dot is not accurate enough?
* I sometimes use live view when using a tripod but it's not as useful as I thought. The screen can be hard to see in daylight. When viewing the whole scene the screen is not fine enough to assess critical focus. When zoomed in to assess critical focusing you can't see other parts of the scene to see if they are also in focus...I don't know if there are any alternative focusing screens for the D600 which are better suited to manual focusing.

In general I am pleased with the image quality I get from my lenses, although it is easier to spot faults with focusing etc. Certain aberrations such as CA are much more obvious on digital, although looking back at my old film images, it was there too now I know what to look for. Also lenses which were free from flare are not quite as good when used on a digital sensor, I think the sensor is more reflective so ghost reflections sometimes show up on lenses which never occurred on film.

Quick release plate
I have a RRS B82 fore-aft plate on my D600, taken from my AIS 200/4 micro. I prefer the fore-aft arrangement especially for macro since I can move the camera in and out to achieve proper focus/magnification. I've not felt the need for an L plate - my biggest lenses have built-in tripod mounts which allows me to switch formats, and my smaller lenses are light enough that I don't mind hanging the camera sideways from the tripod.

Image Review
When looking at the image, the left-right arrows are used to scroll between images. However when you zoom in, you use the left-right arrows to move around the magnified image, and the rear command dial to scroll between images. This inconsistent behaviour is a bit annoying, it would be nice to use the same control to scroll between images whether you are zoomed in or not.
I like that the magnification stays constant when moving between images – useful for comparing sequences.

I mostly use manual focus lenses with my D600, this is how I have it set up:

* I almost always use aperture priority mode, and use exposure lock or exposure compensation to control the exposure.
* Fn button set for switching between non-CPU lenses. This makes switching AI lenses relatively painless - I still occasionally forget to switch the CPU data ... haven't added CPUs to my lenses yet.
* Front command dial - set to change ISO - since auto-ISO does not work with non CPU lenses this is an  easy way to control the ISO.
* Viewfinder gridlines on - helps me to keep the horizon level and the lines are not otherwise intrusive. I still manage to get sliding horizons though
* My menu - CPU lens data; Battery info; Time zone and date (useful to know what the time is); Multiple exposure; Virtual horizon.
Battery Life
Generally pleased with the battery life. With careful use it can last for days without recharging. This is useful when away on holiday where there is nowhere to recharge. I haven't felt the need to buy a spare battery yet. On the other hand, my FM3a could easily go for a year on a single button battery, although the rate of taking pictures is a lot lower so perhaps it's not a fair comparison.

This is one area I have not gotten into yet ... seems to be so much to choose from and a big learning curve (plus I need a better computer). My Nikon database already takes too much time! For now I shoot raw+jpg - jpg so I have something to see and share, raw so that when I eventually get round to it, I'll be able to take my pictures to the next level.

There is a little rubber flap at the bottom of the grip which sometimes gets pulled out. I assume it is where the battery grip plugs in, but it's not mentioned in the manual.

General Experience and Handling

* Compared to my FM3a the D600 is big. My favourite bag is a Lowepro Orion Mini, it's belt pack. It's big enough to hold my FM3a with 75-150, standard and wide lens with a filter or two. That's my basic kit which covers most of my needs. The D600 fits but it is a tight fit - I would prefer a slightly smaller camera.
* The deep grip is comfortable to hold. When I recently used my FM3a again the lack of finger grip and hard corners were surprisingly uncomfortable.
* It's complicated. The FM3a (and similar models) is completely intuitive, I knew how to use it without referring to any manuals. My Pentax 645NII is a little more complex, but once set up it works like a dream with very well thought out features. The D600 has so many options – not always where I'd expect them to be. It has taken a long time figure out the best setup, and there is still a lot I have not explored. There are also some surprising omissions, such as MLU with the timer.
In summary, I'm  have mixed feelings about my D600. I still feel more of a "connection" with my FM3a, but the D600 easily beats it for versatility. The fact that I've hardly touched my film cameras speaks for itself...

elsa hoffmann:
Thank you for the write up. I found it interesting. Time..... it only takes time to grow on you like sh&t on a woollen blanket  ;D ;D

Frank Fremerey:
You can put virtual horizon on one of the Fn buttons. Then you do "Virtual horizon" in the VF in the same matter you balance exposure manually.

Feature is called: "Viewfinder virtual horizon"

The multi exposure is intentionally castrated on the more "amateur" cameras like the D600. Pity. The D500 supports up to 10 shots with several different "layer blending" and exposure compensation. See my "10 scotch castle" series...

Generally the "less professional" branded Nikons like the D6xx or D7xxx are a pain to learn (I personnally needed more than one year of daily shooting to get her into my intuition system), while the big guns D3, D4, D5 and the "not quite as big" guns like the D8xx and D5xx are better and more logical designed for accessibility of features and reproducibility thus much easier to learn. The D3 was in my system after 100 shots, the D500 after a few thousands.

Mirror lock up. Simply combine Infrared Remote with MUP in the Menu. Then you do not need the self timer at all and can take as many group shots with yourself in them as you want. The IR control is just 8 Euros...

Image review. You can readjust the whole image review to front and rear command dial...

After reading your write up I strongly suggest you read the manual. For most of your points there is a solution in the manual.

Earlier incarnations had much more trouble and the critique would have been more justified.

What I want to change ist the ground glass. The D500 has the F6 ground glass perfect for focussing manual lenses, the D600 ground glass ist kind of okayish, but soso...

Is that any good???

You can have the FM-3a focussing screen from them to fit the D600!!! It is 80,74 Euros.

Roland Vink:
Thanks Frank.

Virtual horizon - I'll check out the virtual horizon in the VF. The problem is, I have already assigned the Fn button to switching between non-CPU lenses, I use that a lot and would be reluctant to give it up. But I'll give it a try just to see how it works.

Multiple exposures - Interesting that higher models allow more exposures, didn't know that.

Mirror lockup - as I mentioned in my post I don't want yet another accessory such as an Infrared Remote, even if it is cheap. It's just another thing to carry/lose/break/run out of batteries just when you need it. It annoys me because other cameras do this so well with everything built-in. Ok, no point in getting upset about it, but still ...

Image review - thanks again, will look into it. As long as it does not mean reassigning the command dials currently set up for shooting.

Reading manuals - yes I did read it when I got the camera. It's one thing to plough through hundreds of pages trying to understand unfamiliar terms and how setting interact with each other, and quite different to get first-hand tips from those who know.

Focus screens - had a look at, a pity they don't have a plain screen with grid lines, but if the FM3a screen fits, that might be an option.

The D610 is my first FX camera; now I mainly use it as a backup camera to my D5; or in situations where a small fill-in flash is needed; or for focus stacking, where I pilot the camera with my iPad via the WU-1b dongle.

Excellent camera; the only (big) blame is the much too small AF-sensor area, which is directly derived from a DX body.


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