Nikon D600 : The Photo Enthusiast’s Dream DSLR
As an owner of several Nikon bodies and lenses, I was very excited when Nikon released the D600 camera.
Finally, an “affordable” full frame DSLR (assuming you consider $2,000 for just the body as “affordable”).
It’s somewhat of a hybrid in performance, features, and cost between it’s older brother, the D800, and it’s cousin the D7100.
The early reviews were very positive on image quality and features. See Popular Photo December 2012 issue for a detailed review, and a November 2012 DPREVIEW does a nice in depth review here. I waited a month or so for the early bugs to be discovered and then jumped in.
The buzz from the early birds was that there was a pattern of spots growing on the upper-left to center of the frame as more shots were taken. Some bloggers suggested it was from oil spots that were spattering from the back of the mirror. They suggested that as the mirror flies up to expose the image sensor, apparently some of the lubrication on the mirror was making it’s way to the sensor.
Meanwhile, Nikon hadn’t officially responded to these claims. Other owners were syaing that Nikon had resolved the issue and in updated versions of the camera, the problem had been fixed. This is very unlikely in such a short timeframe to engineer a fix and ramp up production with the fix, and ship all these fixed cameras around the world. I figured, more likely, that the problem was overstated and/or limited to specific uses – perhaps heavy zoom lens users that pump air in to the camera.
I Had Spots Too
My first images with the new camera were simply stunning. Nothing like slapping a super wide lens on a full frame DSLR. The landscapes were rich with color and the images were startling clean and beautiful. Then, the spots came… And, they came, and they came. And before I knew it, the images were filthy with spots just as the others had written about.
Nikon Official Announcement
On Mar 25, 2013 Nikon finally acknowledged that there was a problem here. The announcement goes like this:
Some users have indicated the appearance of multiple granular dust spots in images captured with the Nikon D600 digital-SLR camera. These granular dust spots are reflections of internal dust generated with camera operation, or external dust particles that have found their way into the camera, either, or both of which, have adhered to the camera’s low-pass filter.
The good news is that they also offer a resolution to the problem:
“As a first step, please follow the guidance from the User’s Manual (pages 301-305) related to the “Clean Image Sensor” function and manual cleaning using a blower. If these measures do not remove all dust particles and you are still experiencing problems, then please consult your nearest Nikon service center.” …
Actually, you can set your D600 to automatically clean the image sensor when you turn on and off the camera – however, that’s not likely going to solve this problem. By the way, here’s a link to the Nikon D600 manual in case you don’t have your’s handy.
Do What Nikon Says to Do!
First thing I noticed about the announcement: they do not mention oil ever. They said there may be “external dust particles”. I do not believe in conspiracy theories. With litteraly thousands of blog posts from users complaining about spots, I’m sure Nikon wouldn’t try to cover it up with lies. You can only fool the public for so long. If there is/was an oil spots problem, Nikon would have to fess up. At least as of now, they are not calling it oil, but dust. That’s good news for camera owners! Dust can be blown away, oil, not so much…
Here’s the Fix – It’s as Simple as 1-2-3
Who wants to deal with the hassle of getting an authorization from the service center, sending it back, and waiting for its return? Instead, just as Nikon suggested, I disbelievingly took out my blower and blew on the inside of the camera, first on the back of the mirror, and then by pressing the live view, which opens the mirror and locks it up, I blew into the sensor area and lightly on the sensor itself. I was not able to see any spots physically accumulating on the sensor before blowing, and didn’t notice any change afterwards. However, to my great surprise, the photos taken after the blower cleaning were spotless. Have a look at the before and after and let me know what you think.
Conclusion & Reccomendation
If you have spots accumulation problems, first check to see if Nikon has issued any new announcements on the D600. They may also release firmware updates, so it’s a good idea to check their website from time to time. Assuming there isn’t a recall, or some new information about these dreaded spots, simply pick up your blower (or buy one at your favorite camera store for about $8 — The Rocket Blower costs about $7.99 online). Clean the inside of the camera where the lens is mounted by pumping air in and around with the opening to the camera facing down so that the agitated dust particles can fall safely out of the camera. If that doesn’t do the trick, then call Nikon for a service authorization. From my experience though, the blower solution should work. Please let us know how it worked out for you.
Update August 2013:
As others have commented, this issue is not going away. I’ve personally cleaned my D600 Sensor 3 more times since first writing about this problem. Fortunately, I haven’t had to send it in for servicing yet. I am using the Digital Survival Kit with Type 3 swabs (24.0 mm) that I purchased on Amazon for about $22. It is a bit tedious, but it does work if you follow the directions.
Although the images are stunning when the sensor is clean, the concern is how to maintain this $2,000 camera body going forward. Having to clean sensors every 1,000 or so images is a lot of work. I also have a lot invested in Nikon glass, so I’m not running to another system just yet. However, I can’t in good conscience recommend others to purchase the Nikon D600 until the spots on sensor problem is confirmed fixed by the user community.
Have a look at the photos below. Wallace Falls National Park near Seattle WA. The falls shots got spotted up, which is clearly seen in the middle photo, as I didn’t check it that morning before heading out. I cleaned the sensor and the bird shots near Tacoma the next day came out fine.
Recommendation: At this point, I would suggest anyone considering purchasing a Nikon D600 body, or any advanced DSLR for that matter, to make sure that these spotting issues have been resolved before you chunk down your wad of money. Try to get a range of serial numbers or manufacture after date that is known to be good. It’s not always feasible to know what serial number you’re getting – especially from mail order. If you want to be sure, go to your favorite local camera store and purchase one there, having inspected the box before pulling out your credit card. It may cost you a few extra dollars (everyone pays taxes, even Amazon customers, right…), but at least you’ll have some peace of mind. Please let us know your experiences…