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Nikon D600: Think Twice Before You Jump

UPDATE 9/25/12: Upon testing, the D600 appears to have a pretty sweet sensor -- if the issues noted below are not a concern for you.

Nikon has just officially announced their long-awaited entry-level full-frame body. Full spec reports are everywhere, as Nikon seeds lots of sites with advance info and embargoes them until the hour of release. So I won't duplicate that content here.

But for lighting photographers, the camera has two issues that are of concern. One is minor and (sadly at this point) expected.

But the other is major and quite unexpected.

I'll be honest with you, I had been looking toward this camera as my next "second body." I love full frame, but the D4 is just too much money and the D800 was too many megapixels for my needs.

So the D600 was gonna be the sweet spot. It did not need to be super rugged. My D3 would do that. At $2100 (UPDATE: now shipping) this was to be a second body, and/or a backup.

So, What's Not to Like?

The first thing, and given recent history something not unexpected, is the lack of a sync jack. I was pissed off surprised when the D7000 didn't include it. But a full-frame body without a sync jack? That's just a little weird.

It's almost like Nikon is not really considering their lighting photographers unless you are willing to fork out over $3,000 anymore. Which leads me to the absolute deal-breaker for me for this camera...

Out of Sync

The Nikon D600 has a 1/200th sync speed. Which for me means game over.

And as soon as I mentioned it on Twitter, I got a flurry of "Why does that matter?" tweets back. Here's why it matters.

When you are balancing flash in bright ambient, you start at your max sync for your shutter speed. That will give you the most flash-friendly corresponding aperture, whether you are normally exposing or underexposing the ambient.

Some cameras, including some Nikons (remember when you really cared, Nikon?) had standard syncs of 1/500th of a second. Which instantly made every flash you owned twice as effective.

Think about it: 1/250th at f/16 equals 1/500th at f/11. Since the flash only cares about the aperture, you could balance in the same light with half of the flash power.

Put differently: an Einstein 640ws monobloc, when used with a 1/500th syncing body, effectively becomes a 1280ws flash because that power is going up against an easier aperture in a daylight balancing situation.

Even better, due to the magic of some Nikons' electronic shutters, they could sync at any speed so long as the speed was longer than the flash's pulse length. Higher sync speeds equal much more flexibility with your flashes. Which means you can nuke the sun at distance with just a speedlight. Which is awesome.

The D600 takes a step backwards, with a max sync speed of 1/200th. This is the same math, but working in reverse.

True, it is only a third of a stop as compared to 1/250th. But with speedlights and daylight, that is a critical third of a stop. To be clear, this camera makes every single flash you own less effective.

Also, the difference between 1/250th and 1/200th sync is deadly when it comes to stopping action when balancing flash and ambient. 1/250th is dicey enough. 1/200th just doesn't work.

Granted, the feature set and price is going to be very tempting for many. And not to say it is a bad choice—they will sell a lot of these cameras.

Just take a moment to fully understand what that 1/200th will mean every time you flash outdoors in full ambient, so you can go into the purchase with both eyes open.

UPDATE: Not to be outdone, Canon has lowered the bar even further. Looks like the upcoming 6D will have a sync speed of 1/180th. Who's got my next bid? 1/160th? 1/125th? #Yeesh


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