Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nikon D600: The Camera that Needs no Review

By now the enthusiasts have been saturated with full frame coverage coming out of Photokina 2012, and it's very good news for DX shooters looking to upgrade to full frame. With the Nikon D600, the chance has never been more affordable, notwithstanding the mild sticker shock when people found out that the camera wasn't going to retail for the rumored (and midly ridiculous) price of $1,500 USD.
Camera people love pouring over reviews and tests, but I'm going to say something very Ken Rockwell here:
The D600 is the greatest camera ever.  
Ugh. I threw up in my mouth a little. (Update: On his October 3, 2012 posting, it only takes two sentences for the magic to happen. Am I good or what?) But the point still stands: All signs point to the D600 being the perfect camera if you've been waiting to upgrade to full frame, and realized long ago that the D700 was still a very expensive piece of equipment for pro use.

*** Update: The hands on review is here.***

I'm not saying that I have no use for objective tests. I pour over the Imaging-Resource Comparometer page just as much as anybody else. However, rarely do you get this confluence of camera components, where each part is a known quantity, that you can look at a product launch and have a fair sense of what you're getting. To recap:
  • Similar body to the D7000
  • Similar AF to D7000 (improved actually)
  • Same sensor as Sony A99 and RX1
  • Three years have past since the D3x

If you think about what those factors mean, you get the following
  • There isn't going to be a big increase in cost because of the body and and construction, and the frame of the D7000 was already an improvement over the purely consumer D90, adding a partial metal skeleton and more weather sealing
  • The electronic component costs aren't going to increase because they share economies of scale with an existing product line
  • The sensor shares economies of scale with at least two other cameras
  • Enough time has gone by that you would expect a cost reduction and image quality improvement since the the last time Nikon sold a sensor with similar specs
 In other words, it's very rare that it's actually the case, but the spec sheet does a very good job of selling the camera. Any time you have a spec sheet for a brand new product launch, you don't know what you are getting until it's objectively tested (The new Leica M looks better than the M9, but you just have no idea what you're getting until you use it). Chalk this up to an intelligent re-use of the parts bin on Nikon's part.

And I do mean intelligent. Canon land does not seem like a very happy place with the launch of the Canon 6D. On paper, Canon users should be rejoicing because they too will have an affordable full frame option, but it's been anything but giggles on the DPReview forum. On one hand, the D600 outspecs the 6D, but I maintain that that's not what the real friction is. The problem is that the 6D feels like a crippled camera (I'm sure it's, in fact a very capable camera), but it seems as if the 6D suffers from Porsche Cayman Syndrome. It's a very capable mid-engine pure sportscar, and it seems that the Porsche marketing people are forever dumbing it down so that it doesn't outshine its big brother, the 911. So it is with the 6D... but only worse. The button reconfiguration gives it a palpable dumbed-down appearance. If you never saw another nikon, you would not know that the Nikon D600 is downmarket from the pro cameras. One look at the 6D and you can automatically tell that it's a junior version of something else. But it's muddled... they left off the built-in flash, because in Canon land, full frame cameras don't have flashes. I'm pretty sure that the target audience is going to miss it... after all, even the D700 and D800 users still find a use for it.

All of which is very unfair: if you went from 60D to 6D, you'd be getting much more camera. The only problem is the 7D, which is cheaper than the 6D. They really ought to have stuffed their new full frame sensor into the 7D and kept all of it's functionality. This is what I mean by intelligent re-use of parts. On the D600, everything makes sense and falls into place... the sum of the parts makes the whole better. With the 6D, the sum of the parts still feels like it's just parts cobbled together.

The real issue is that Nikon is now the more forward thinking of the two companies. The 5DmIII ought to have been received better, it's a very good upgrade to the MarkII, but the price point has really limited its forward momentum. Nikon has gone for periodic market disruption with each generational launch. The D7000 really shook up the consumer DX line, pushing it further than anybody expected. The 36mp D800 seemed completely out from left field, but now look light as rain. Imagine if they had given us what we all wanted, the D3s sensor in a D700 body... no matter what the ISO performance, a 12mp full frame camera would look dated in 2012. And now you have the D600, which is in a way, a consolidation of all this market disruption. So, as I said, it's a product that almost needs no reviews, because the good points about it have been preached already. In terms of product development, your virtues have to be consistently applied across all offerings... if you have 9 quality products and one dog, you will not be seen as a quality company. And what is Nikon's pervasive virtue? Right now, it's meeting or exceeding expectations. The D7000 went above what we expected a consumer DX to be. The D4 was an expected consolidation of the gains made with the D3s. The D800 exceeded what we expected in terms of sensor performance, and also beat our expectations about price, coming in lower than the D700 introductory price. And now the D600, meeting expectations by building on the known quantity of the D7000, and hitting that affordable price range that people had been looking at for some time.

This is actually a very historic thing for Nikon in the digital age. They haven't always matched their competitors spec for spec, notably letting Canon get a jump on the early full frame market, but if there is one thing that Nikon does well with its serious enthusiast cameras, they don't make their customers feel like chumps, no matter what the price point. The D100, D200 and D300 cameras were ground breaking, but you never felt that the D70, D80 and D90 consumer versions were crippled in comparison, you always got the feeling that you were getting a fair value for what you were paying for. 

I've likened this year's Photokina to final exams in college. Remember when the exam was over, and everybody congregated outside in the hall comparing answers? You either got a great feeling or  you got a sinking feeling. One girl I know dealt with it by covering her ears, saying "LA LA LA LA I DON'T HEAR YOU!!!" as she walked out the door. This year Photokina is the exam hall and consumer full frame is the test. Nikon is the kid who did the homework and who knew the material. Canon is like the kid who got hold of some old tests, and studied them as if the prof wouldn't change things up from year to year.


One house keeping thing: This interview indicates that the D600 can focus down to f8 instead of the usual f/5.6. What full frame takes away, it gives back. This will be good news for Sigma Bigma lovers; looking forward to hearing how the AF does on the APO 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM.

And one more thing.... 

The price bap between the D7000 and the D600 is over $600 USD at the moment. Those of you who have marketing textbooks have probably clued in that the gap is comfortably big enough to slot in a D300 successor now. My bet is that the D400 will come in at the inflation/currency adjusted price of the D300 introduction. The D7000 looked to be more expensive than the D90, but the Japanese yen had appreciated in the interval, so the price was actually not that much different. And here's the really big catch... my bet is that Nikon won't just recycle the Sony NEX-7 sensor. Too much time has gone by; it wouldn't be moving the game forward. The next Nikon sensor might be 24mp, but my guess is that it will be better than what we see today. Here's where you have to think.... If you were looking at a D700 before, and decided that the D7000 was almost (but not quite) that level of performance? Sensor technology keeps moving forward.... if I were a betting man, my guess is that in much the same way, the next DX semi-pro camera will be close, but not quite the level of a consumer FX camera... and that will give budget minded people even further pause for thought.

1 comment:

  1. Nice technology for Photography and digital pictures so really every person used the latest Nikon digital camera and Thanks for providing the information on your blog.