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The Nikon D600, D800 and D4 are the same camera inside!
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October 2012   Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses    All Reviews

Nikon D600 Review

Nikon D800 Review

Nikon D800E Review

Nikon D4 Review


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Holy cow, I just realized Nikon's great deception of 2012: the D600, D800, D800E and D4 all have the same insides! They are all the same cameras designed and produced at the same time with the same insides, differing only in exterior casing and when Nikon chose to announce them. Nikon got cheap and really only developed one set of guts that's used for all three cameras, and then announced them at different times to try to hide it.

The D600, D800, D800E and D4 produce the same images with the same processing power, the same LCDs, the same green-shift problems and identical AF controls. They differ only in exterior packaging and when Nikon chose to announce them to make them appear different. It's just like 1980 again!

Back when Nikon ruled the pro 35mm world, all their 35mm cameras took the same pictures. The only differences were how tough and how fast they were. Consumer cameras like the EM were plasticy and worked OK, while the F3 was tough and fast, with the FE in the middle. All took the same film and same lenses, had the same meters, the same automatic modes, all focused the same, and all took exactly the same pictures.

You paid more for speed and durability, and Nikon advertised to everyone implying that if you wanted to be cool or to be a great photographer, you needed the most expensive camera — even if you were shooting portraits or landscapes, none of which require speed. Nikon showed Galen and other sports and action pros, somehow implying that even if you didn't need speed or durability, that you still needed to buy the top pro camera if you could afford it. Nikon never let on that the EM took the same pictures, cost less, and did the same thing with a lot less weight.

Unless you were actually shooting sports with a motor drive, it just didn't matter.

Today, Nikon's 2012 FX trio of D600, D800 and D4 obviously were all designed and manufactured at the same time with the same innards, and merely announced in descending cost order at different times to try to hide the simple fact that they're the same camera inside. Let's explore this.

The D4 was announced in January 2012, but no one saw one or could buy the first one until March, and it wasn't found sitting in stock until September 2012.

The D800 and D800E were announced in February 2012, and likewise, my D800 arrived the same day in March as the D4 I had on order! The D800 wasn't found sitting in stock until September 2012.

The D600 was announced on a Thursday in September 2012, and was in stock on Tuesday as soon as the trucks arrived.

Hmm, all four cameras became in-stock on the same day. Funny how that works.

What's most astounding is how they all have the same processing power. Simple technology tells us that with the D4's big battery that Nikon would put more computing power in it, but let's compare the computing power of each:

Pixels processed per second
% increase from D600
160 MP/s
144 MP/s
132 MP/s

Yes, there's a small difference, but nothing significant. Heck, Nikon didn't even throw double processors in the D4; it's got about the same processing ability as the D600.

For comparison, here are Canon's three different full-frame cameras introduced in 2012:

Pixels processed per second
% increase from 6D
1D X
216 MP/s
132 MP/s
90 MP/s

Unlike Nikon's little ruse, Canon's three new cameras are actually three different new cameras.

Autofocus? It's all the same between the D600, D800 and D4. They all have the same stupid pushbutton replacing the real AF controls of all previous cameras. Even Nikon's first AF cameras of the 1980s had a three-position M / AF-S / AF-C switch we could hit without taking our eyes off our subjects.

At least the D7000 and D600 save and recall the AF settings; the D800 and D4 can't, making their abridged (simplified) AF controls a bit of a joke for still photography.

Firmware? The same. Same menus, same options, same everything — except that the D600 does away with the dopey Settings Banks and replaces them with its U1 and U2 modes.

LCDs? The same slightly yellow ones.

Color rendition? All three cameras are a little too green, begging us to set M1 for white balance shift. Sadly, in all three, M1 is a little too much, and M0 a little to little.

Metering? The same options. Maybe the Matrix has a few more pixels in the D4 and D800, but with over 2,000 pixels in the D600's meter, it's got way, way more than enough. They're all still based on the same 30,000 image reference as the Matrix meters were back 25 years ago. Nikon's simply been adding Matrix sensors as marketing fluff these past 25 years; five sensors is all you need for the Matrix meter, and I haven't yet seen any Matrix meter better than the 1,005 pixels in the F5 and F6.

Flash metering? Same. White Balance options? Same. And so it goes...

16, 24 or 36 MP is all the same. Nikon's simply varied them to segment the market. 10 MP is more than enough for anything. Nikon got the frame rate up in the D4 by reducing resolution instead of putting more processing in the D4, and put way too many pixels in the D800 to attract computer guys who love processing. Honestly, 24 MP is ideal, and we only get that in the D600. I always set my D800 down in resolution; throughput goes to pot trying to work on hundreds of 36 MP images, unless of course you're a guy who builds computers.

So there we have it all blown-open: all of Nikon's current FX cameras have essentially the same insides, put in different bodies. If all you want are fantastic pictures, the D600 does the same thing as the D4 and D800 and D800E, for less money, with less weight and with less aggravation.

Many thanks to Nikon for the D600. I never thought they'd release it. They've given us an absolutely incredible camera for less than ever. Do you remember February 21, 2002, when all of us were falling over ourselves to order Nikon's first consumer DSLR, the D100, which sold for "only" $2,500 considering the effects of inflation? Look what we get today for less money in the D600.

Yip, it's 1980 all over again. The D600 has the same guts, only slightly disguised to segment the market, as the D4 and D800 and D800E. I'm ashamed that the D4 really only has the same foolish AF controls as the D600; a pro camera really needs better, and the D600 lets us save and recall what the D4 can't.

How about the D600E? Not happening; the D600 already has very little anti-alias filtering. I can get moiré on my D600 and it's already super-sharp, just like my D800E.

The D600 is Nikon's best DSLR ever because it's got better image quality that the D4, the same as the D800 and D800E (resolution is irrelevant), and it weighs less and handles faster than the others. Faster handling means more great pictures, and fewer lost fumbling with settings banks. Less weight means you're more likely to have it with you all the time — and catch that one life-changing image you weren't expecting.

Better than the 1980s, none of us need a DSLR to last us a decade or two. We'll all be tossing our D4s or D800s or D600s in a few years, and even my much less expensive six-year-old D40 still works great after years of my own abuse and over 50,000 shots. Even for tough pros, a D600 will hold up, and if you wear it out, send it back under warranty or get a second. You can buy a pair and a spare of D600s for the same price as the D4, giving you 72 MP (24 MP x 3) instead of 16 and 16.5 FPS (5.5 FPS x 3) instead of 10.

If you're married to Nikon, the D600 is it. If not, it's still the 5D Mark III. We'll see what happens when the 6D arrives. I suspect better color, with a good LCD and no green shift, and better ergonomics than the D600, but with only one card slot, the 6D has a big handicap for me. I use my second slots as backup, which streamlines my workflow since I can cheerfully format my shooting card right after I download, without having to wait until after I back up my computer each time. (Never trust having anything important in only one place.)

Sure, if you're a full-time sports or action pro you need the D4 (or D3S), but after shooting my D600 this week, the D600 is missing nothing, and adds things I do need over the D4 and D800.

Long live the D600! Adorama the rest! (Adorama is also a verb, meaning an easy way to turn your old gear into solid cash.)

Far more important than having a nice camera is having vision. Too many people spend all their time researching and buying cameras, instead of spending their lives learning how to take great pictures. Cameras don't take pictures, people do.


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