Nikon D7100 vs D600: which DSLR should you choose?

Last week saw the launch of the new Nikon D7100 which presents photographers with an interesting (and difficult) choice: should you stay DX-format or go full-frame? Our friends at N-Photo did their best to answer this question in a compelling Nikon D7100 vs D600 head-to-head comparison. What do you think?

Nikon D7100 vs D600: which DSLR should you choose?

When Nikon launched the D600 it seemed like the dream camera for enthusiasts. It was expensive, but affordable – just – and the perfect step up from the D7000 and the ageing D300s.

But the brand new D7100, announced on February 20th, changes everything. It’s far more than just an upgrade to the existing D7000, as our 13-point D7100 vs D7000 comparison shows. In fact it’s Nikon’s most advanced DX-format D-SLR to date.

It’s so advanced, in fact, that it’s enough to make anyone think twice about the D600. The D7100 offers the same resolution, it’s cheaper and it means DX owners can keep using their existing lenses.

It’s a tough choice, so here’s our point-by-point Nikon D7100 vs D600 comparison to help you make your mind up!

Nikon D7100 vs D600: key points to know (1-3)

1) Resolution

Both cameras have 24-megapixel sensors. The D600 has a full-frame sensor, and the larger size (roughly twice that of the D7100) should give it an inherent quality advantage. But the D7100 dispenses with the usual anti-aliasing filter (just like the ground-breaking Nikon D800E) to provide super-fine sharp detail. We can’t say which camera will be best until we’ve carried out a full set of lab tests, but we predict it’s going to be closer than the difference in sensor sizes suggests.

2) Sensor size

It’s not just about megapixels and resolution. The larger sensor in the D600 produces images with less overall depth of field and, often, a greater feeling of depth and space. It’s easier to get shallow depth of field effects with a full-frame camera, though this can backfire if you want to shoot landscapes or still life shots where everything in the frame is sharp, from near to far. A full-frame camera gives you a reduction in depth of field roughly equivalent to 1 f-stop – it’s neither good nor bad, but something to be aware of.

3) Lenses part 1

If you have a selection of DX lenses, you’ll have to ditch them when you move up to the D600. You can use them in ‘crop’ mode, but then you’ll be wasting most of the D600’s potential. This means buying the D600 itself will only be the start – there will be plenty more expense to come. With the D7100, of course, your existing lenses will be just fine.

Nikon D7100 vs D600: key points to know (4-10)

4) Lenses part 2

The 1.5x crop factor of the D7100 means that your telephoto lenses will have a longer reach. This could be especially important for sports and wildlife photographers. Fast, professional-quality telephotos become exponentially more expensive as the focal length increases, and here’s a comparison that makes the point plainly. On the D7100, Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom offers an effective focal range of 105-300mm, and it costs £1600. To get the same focal length and maximum aperture on the D600, you’d need the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 prime lens, which is a whopping £4000. That’s not all. The D7100’s new 1.3 ‘crop’ mode, which still delivers 16-megapixel images (the same as the older D7000), gives your telephotos more reach still. The 70-200mm f/2.8 we used as an example earlier now effectively becomes a 136.5-390mm f/2.8! The Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens, the nearest equivalent for the D600, costs £6600.

5) ISO range

Both cameras offer an ISO range of 100-6400 but, all other things being equal, we’d put our money on the D600 to offer the best quality at high ISOs. Again, this is subject to a full set of lab tests, but with photosites twice the size of those in the D7100, it’s got a big head start. Besides, Nikon would not want the D600 to overshadow the D800, so it’s possible that its ISO 6400 maximum (the same as the D800′s) is conservative.

6) Autofocus

There’s no competition here. The D7100 uses the latest version of Nikon’s pro-spec 51-point Multi-CAM 3500DX AF system, with 15 cross-type sensors and the ability to work with apertures down to f/8. This becomes very important when you use telephoto lenses with teleconverters. The D600 uses Nikon’s more amateur-orientated 39-point Multi-CAM4800AF sensor. It’s the same as the one used in the D7000, and because the D600 has a larger frame area, the AF points are all near the centre of the frame, whereas the AF points in the D7100 reach practically to the edges.

7) Continuous shooting

The D600 can shoot at a creditable 5.5fps, but the D7100 edges slightly ahead with 6fps. What’s more, if you use the D7100’s 1.3x ‘crop’ mode, this goes up to 7fps.

8) Shutter speeds

The D7100 offers a shutter speed range of 30 sec to 1/8000sec, while the D600 only goes to 1/4000 sec. There won’t be many occasions when that difference becomes significant, but for those shooting super-high-speed action, it could be important. And that’s not all. The D600’s flash synchronization speed is 1/200 sec (or up to 1/250 sec with reduced range). The D7100’s flash sync speed is 1/250 sec (or up to 1/320 sec with reduced range). This gives the D7100 an edge for fill flash photography in daylight, too.

9) LCD and Live View

The D7100 and D600 LCD displays are the same size at 3.2 inches, but the D7100’s screen has more dots (1229k versus 921k) and a new high-intensity display for extra brilliance. The Live View mode has an interesting innovation, too – ‘spot white balance’. We’ve yet to use this properly, but it looks much faster than setting custom white balance in the normal way.

10) Movies

There’s little to choose between these two cameras here – both have formidable movie-making capabilities. Again, though, the D7100 edges just slightly ahead, by offering high speed 50i and 60i (interlaced) full HD movies in its 1.3x crop mode.

Nikon D7100 vs D600: key points to know (11-12)

11) Size and weight

As you’d expect, the D7100 is both smaller and lighter than the D600 – but not by much. The D600 is just a few millimeters larger, and only 85g heavier. And that, in a full-frame camera, is deeply impressive. On paper, the D7100 is the winner, but all things considered we think the D600 deserves the top prize here.

12) Cost

This is the bottom line. The D7100, with 18-105mm kit lens, has an initial RRP of £1300, and that’s sure to fall steadily over the coming weeks and months. The cheapest we can find the D600 with a 24-84mm lens, the nearest equivalent, is £1800. That’s a pretty big difference, and once you factor in the cost of new lenses (if you’re upgrading from a DX format Nikon), the gap grows larger still.

Nikon D7100 vs D600: what we think

Stepping up to full-frame is a big decision, and even though the D600 is Nikon’s most ‘affordable’ FX format camera yet, it’s still a major investment – especially when you take new lenses into account.

But we think full-frame is still the way to go for all-out quality, and if that’s the way you feel too, then we don’t think the D7100 should change your mind. It looks like a brilliant camera, but it’s not full-frame.

However – and this is the most important point – the D7100 now offers an upgrade choice for those who’ve outgrown their D3000- or D5000- series camera, or whose D90 or D300s has just got too long in the tooth.

Before, the D600 was the only way forward – and a very expensive one, too. Now, though, DX fans can get a massive step up in features, speed and quality without having to abandon their DX lenses or spend huge amounts of cash. This is what makes the D7100 such an exciting – and important – new camera for Nikon fans.