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Nikon D600 or D800?

The 36-megapixel Nikon D800/D800E for $2796 or the 24-megapixel Nikon D600 with 24-85 lens for $1997?

There are other combinations, see the Nikon Buy Together and Save promotion.


Both cameras produce very high quality images. I have a slight preference for the D800E over the D800, in what follows, “D800E” means either the D800 or D800E.

Some things to consider in selecting one or the other:

  • Is this a “final” fixed solution with no more lenses anticipated (one zoom lens)? Or is it the start of building a system with multiple (perhaps expensive) lenses? For the latter, it makes sense to go with the D800E, because the camera body cost difference gets buried in the total system cost.
  • Unless one is shooting top-grade lenses, the 36 vs 24 megapixel resolution advantage is fully realized only with the best lenses. On the flip side, downsampling the D800/D800E images to 24 megapixels produces superior per-pixel image quality over the D600 (fewer artifacts), and even with mediocre lenses, one does get more detail, even if only in the central areas.
  • Operationally, I prefer the D800/D800E over the D600. My review of the Nikon D600 details several issues that make the D600 unattractive for me, see Notable Limitations of the D600.
  • As a single camera, either camera works well. As a two-camera system, I found the D800E + D600 combination to be a headache due to different operational characteristics.

None of the above should be construed as saying the D600 is a bad choice; its image quality is superb. With lens and technical excellence, its 24 megapixel images can be outstanding. But with the same factors, the D800E rewards the shooter.

Budget D800E

Over the years, I’ve wasted a lot of money on buying almost the item I wanted, then almost the item I’ve wanted, etc (think scanners back in film days). This taught me a lesson: get what you really want, even if that means an initial compromise of other sorts, in this case, keeping the lens cost down.

Here then are some excellent lens choices that are not particularly expensive relative to their f/1.4 counterparts; they deliver high image quality on an absolute basis, and when the price is taken into account, they offer outstanding value. Better yet, the lower weight of several of these lenses might also appeal in its own right (vs the f/1.4 siblings). With this lens kit, a wide range of subjects can be covered. If I were to pick two lenses, then 35mm + 85mm is a good starting point.

  • Nikon 28mm f/1.8G.
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM.
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8G.

See the Nikon gear page for direct links.

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