Nikon D600 Full Frame Camera : Left Side

Nikon D600 Vs Canon 6D - Entry Level Full Frame Scrap

Photographers should be happy, both Nikon and Canon have released 'affordable' full frame cameras into their lineup. Nikon is already shipping theirs while Canon simply announced a camera with availability in a few months. Nothing like a 'me too' announcement when the competition gets the jump on you. Nikon is first to market with the D600, a $2100 USD, 24 megapixel camera. Canon follows up with the 6D, a $2100, 20 megapixel camera.

This year, there seems to be a shift towards Nikon in terms of technical camera performance. Before the latest models were released, Canon had a highly successful offering in the 5D Mark II, a 21 megapixel full frame camera with high quality video capability for $2700 (at launch).  Nikon could not compete on video spec, or resolution with the D700 and D3S having only 12 megapixels.  The insanely priced D3X had 24 megapixels but at $8000 it did not compete well with Canon's offering.

Fast forward to 2012 and Nikon has a 36 megapixel D800 ($3000), a 24 megapixel D600 ($2100), and a 16 megapixel D4 ($6000).  Canon in turn released the 5D Mark III adding only 1 megapixel for a total of 22 and is now charging $3500 for the body.  It follows that with a 20 megapixel 6D for $2100 and an 18 megapixel 1D X for $6800.  Megapixels are not everything, but looking at the full frame landscape today it's obvious that Nikon didn't like taking a back seat and has come back with a vengence.

All those megapixels don't mean much if they don't perform well.  Not only did Nikon ratchet up the resolution they also developed some high quality sensors as well.  Looking at the DxO Mark scores you can see that Nikon is at the top of the pile in DSLR performance these days.

DxO Mark D600 D800 5D Mark III

 

Looking at the scores, it's a thorough trashing of Canon. The Nikon cameras have a history of good dynamic range, but the new sensors really take it up a notch. Even the entry level D600 beats Canon's 5DIII. Unfortunately, the 6D scores are not available yet but I'm sure they will be lower than those of the 5DIII. Canon has some catching up to do in the next refresh of the lineup though I doubt Nikon will rest on their laurels.

With the sensor discussion out of the way (mostly), we can see how other features of the two entry level cameras stack up. Comparing the physical cameras first.

Left side view

Nikon D600 Full Frame Camera : Left Side
 

Canon 6D Full Frame Camera : Left Side

 

Rear view

Nikon D600 Full Frame Camera : Back

 

Canon 6D Full Frame Camera : Back

 

Front view

Nikon D600 Full Frame Camera : Front

 

Canon 6D Full Frame Camera : Front

 

Top view

Nikon D600 Full Frame Camera : Top

 

Canon 6D Full Frame Camera : Top

 

Nikon seems to put more buttons on their cameras, especially on the front. I can't comment much on the handling of the Canon cameras as I haven't spent much time with them so I'll reserve judgement on ergonomics and accessibility of features only to say that Nikon is clearly better ;)

 

Now looking at the basic specs.

Spec

Nikon D600

Canon 6D

Sensor Resolution (MP)24.3 megapixels20.2 megapixels
Max Image Resolution6,016 x 4,0165,472 x 3,648
ViewfinderPentaprismPentaprism
Viewfinder Coverage100%97%
Built-in FlashYes (with wireless control)No
Storage MediaDual SD cardSingle SD card
Frame rate5.5 fps4.5 fps
Max Shutter Speed1/4000 to 30 sec1/4000 to 30 sec
Shutter Durability150,000100,000
Native ISO100-6,400100-25,600
Boosted ISO50-25,60050-102,400
Autofocus39-point AF with 9 cross type11-point AF with 1 cross-type
Autofocus Detectionf/8f/5.6
GPSVia adapterBuilt-in
WifiVia Eye-FiBuilt-in

 

Nikon is clearly ahead in almost all of the performance specs. It has higher resolution, faster frame rates, better autofocus, and dual storage cards. Canon has better ISO numbers but I suspect the D600 will be clearly superior in low light performance compared to the 6D. Makes no difference if the 6D goes to 100K ISO, those photos are not usable. The DxO Mark scores already show that the D600 is better than the much more expensive 5D Mark III so it's unlikely the 6D will fare any better. Canon throws in some gizmos like GPS and Wifi to try and distract you from the obvious performance gap.

It's unlikely anyone would jump ship form one brand to another as an investment in lenses usually means the cost to switch is significantly higher than simply the cost of the body. I'm sure the 6D will be a capable camera however if you are new to the DSLR world and considering these two models the Nikon D600 is a technically better camera.

Also see: Nikon D7000 vs D600 vs D800.


Nikon D4 Front 220

Nikon D4 Versus the Competition

Now that the Nikon D4 is official, we can compare specifications with its closest competitors.  To me, the two closest competitors are the Nikon D3S and the soon to be available Canon 1D-X.  I'll throw in the Nikon D3XCanon 1D Mark IV and Canon 1Ds Mark III as they are all pro bodies with similar capability.  I don't consider the Nikon D700 or Canon 5D Mark II direct competitors to the D4 so I'll exclude them here.  They can certainly be considered competitors for some applications and are themselves excellent cameras but they primarily target a different market.  I'll also exclude the Sony Alpha A900, it's a full frame camera but it has been discontinued.  Sony is rumoured to be developing a new full frame shooter, but no word on when it will be available.  Also, things like the Leica M9, Pentax 645D, or even more expensive models from Hasselblad are not direct competition.  So let's compare the D4 to five of it's closest competitors.

Sensor

Canon EOS-1D XNikon D3SNikon D3XCanon 1D Mark IVCanon 1Ds Mark III
Effective Pixels16.218.112.124.516.121.1
Sensor Size (mm)36 x 23.936 x 2436 x 23.935.9 x 2427.9 x 18.636 x 24
Max resolution4928 x 32805184 x 34564256 x 28326048 x 40324896 x 32645616 x 3744
Pixel Size (µm)7.36.958.455.945.76.4

Looking at the table, we can see that the odd-ball in terms of sensor size is the Canon 1D Mark IV which does not have a full frame sensor but one slightly smaller and what Canon calls the APS-H.  Prior to the 1D-X, Canon's high speed pro camera used the APS-H sensor and their slower, high resolution camera used a full frame sensor.  The 1D-X is a blend of both, full frame, high speed, and 18MP.  On simple spec alone, the D4 is nothing special.  It's not not highest resolution and Canon's latest flagship is 2Mp ahead in the 'megapixel race', if you are counting.  Pro shooters realize there is a lot more to image quality than megapixels, but it's worth to note.

Resolution is only part of the story, the size of the pixels affects sensitivity and as you cram more pixels in the same amount of space those pixels get smaller and thus less sensitive to light.  The D3S still has the biggest pixels in the list, which makes sense as it's the lowest resolution.  The D4 increases resolution but claims one stop better low-light performance over the D3S.  It remains to be seen if that claim holds up, but one can assume that the new generation of sensors are better than the old so this may be true.  Time will tell.

Performance

Canon EOS-1D XNikon D3SNikon D3XCanon 1D Mark IVCanon 1Ds Mark III
ISO Native100-12800100-51200200-12800100-1600100-12800100-1600
ISO (boosted)50-20480050-204800100-10240050-640050-10240050-3200
FPS10 with AF/AE, 1112, 14(JPG)9-111-5105/3
Autofocus points516151514545
AF f-stopf/8f/5.6

The benchmark for low light performance for the last several years has been the Nikon D3S.  It was one to two stops better than the already good D3 and well ahead of anything from Canon.  The D4 is said to improve on the already impressive D3S by at least one full stop but no real-world testing and comparisons have yet been completed.  The new Canon 1D-X is a wild card here, on spec alone it looks better than the D4 but I personally don't think it will match the performance.  Nikon has had the edge in this department for some time and once both models are available for side-by-side testing I think the D4 will come out on top.  It may be even possible to get relatively clean images from the D4 at ISO 12800 which will be boon to many types of shooters.

In terms of speed, the D4 will shoot at 10 frames per second (fps) with full autofocus and metering in RAW.  The 1D-X has an edge here, shooting at 12fps.  Honestly, I doubt any Nikon shooter would make the switch to Canon for 2fps but if you have no investment in glass and are looking to buy a pro camera it may sway some to Canon.  For my shooting needs, I don't need anything with even 10fps so it's a moot point.

Nikon has enjoyed an advantage in autofocus performance for some time.  Some Canon shooters may disagree, but I see it in review after review that the pro Nikon cameras just focus faster and more consistently than their Canon rivals.  The 1D-X has more focus points and more cross-type focus points but one of the big new features of the D4 is the addition of 11 autofocus points that work down to f/8.  This should mean even better autofocus performance in low light, and combined with it's expected performance at high ISO this should translate to great shots in available light (weddings, concerts, sports, etc.).

At the end of the day, both the D4 and 1D-X are the top of the DSLR pile in terms of features and performance.  The D4 has potentially caught up to Canon in video performance and Canon to Nikon in autofocus and low-light performance.  There is no doubt that both models will make their owners very happy and saying one is clearly better than the other is not possible.  The new D4 is clearly an evolution in Nikon's lineup but not a revolutionary camera.  I'm looking forward to hands-on reviews and sample images in the months to come.

There are a lot of other features worth talking about, but I'll leave that for another post.  Now Nikon, please release the D800!

 

Visual comparison of the Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X

Nikon D4 Front

 

Canon-1DX

Nikon D4

 

Nikon D4 High Res Top Transparent

Nikon D4 High Res Back Transparent