Field review: Nikon D600 versus D800


FX is all the rage with Nikon at the moment. Last year Nikon introduced four new and impressive FX cameras (D4, D800E, D800 and D600) and with the forthcoming D7100 still denying us a true replacement for the venerable D300, more and more underwater photographers are considering the jump to FX. The main contenders are the D800 and D600.

Nauticam have recently launched their new NA-D600 housing and more housing manufacturer’s will have their versions out soon. So it seemed timely to put this camera through its subaquatic paces. But rather than do a pure D600 review for Wetpixel, I decided to take both the D800 and D600 up to Norway for a comparative test in Nauticam housings. If there is one question I’ve been bombarded with in recent weeks it is “D800 or D600 for underwater photography?” Anyone considering one of these cameras, must surely have thought about the other. Swapping between them in the same housings on alternate dives made the similarities and differences obvious, even through 7mm mitts!

Editor’s note: Alex’s photos have been upsized to fit in with the new website. The change in size was unfortunately not relayed to Alex before he submitted the article. We will replace the upsized images with ones at the correct size soon. Please note that the current images may not accurately reflect the performance of the cameras.

The Nauticam NA-D600 (left) and NA-D800 housings at Gulen. Swapping between them on consecutive dives made the differences and similarities easy to spot.

I decided to use the Nudibranch Safari at Gulen Dive Centre, north of Bergen as my test location. I realize a winter macro trip to chilling Norwegian waters isn’t the sort of diving everyone does, but actually the event attracted no shortage of heavy weight underwater photographic gear. We had several D800s attending and even a D4 (in Nauticam) for a day when the Discovery Channel came to film the event. Plus many DX Nikons and Canon FF cameras.

Widely respected nudibranch expert Bernard Picton was definitely eyeing up the D600 as a replacement for the aging D200 he was using in a Subal housing, and Erling Svensen, co-author of the gospel of North Atlantic marine life had already switched over to the D800 in a Subal housing in the last few months. In short, while this was extreme conditions, they are very much conditions that underwater photographers want these cameras to be able to perform in.

The typical subject matter, Flabellina c.f. pellucida, one of 53 cold water species found by the group in front of Gulen Dive Resort, in Norway. Nikon D800 + 105mm VR + Subsee +10. Nauticam housing, Inon Strobes. 1/320th @ f/25. ISO 200.


Thank you to Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK for lending me both Nauticam housings and the D800 camera for the review. A special thank you to Miho Tsuruoka for lending me her D600 camera. All have now been returned. I conducted the review during the 4th Annual Nudibranch Safari, hosted by Gulen Dive Resort, Norway, which recorded 53 species this year, right in front of the resort. A big thank you to Christian Skauge, Guido Schmitz, Monica Bakkeli and Orjan Sandnes and all on the Safari for their help and company.


The D600 is currently the second highest resolution SLR from the major players, exceeding all of Canon’s cameras and being topped only by the Nikon D800. The D600’s 24MP sensor is for many people much closer to the resolution/file size sweet spot they need, preferable to the hard drive punishing D800.

The D600 produces huge, highly detailed twenty four megapixel files, that have low noise and capture a high dynamic range. Do you really need more? Flabellina verrucosa taken with Nikon D600 + 105mm VR + Subsee +10. Nauticam housing, Inon Strobes. 1/250th @ f/29. ISO 125.

That said, the D800 out specs the D600 in most areas, as you would expect from a camera that is considerably more expensive. I am sure you already know that on paper it has more pixels, as well as better build quality and better autofocus. The D800 also has a 1/3 stop faster maximum flash synch speed of 1/320th on FX, compared with 1/250th on the D600. To save me writing the price in multiple currencies, it seems easiest to say that you can buy three D600s for the same price as two D800s.

On paper the D800 out performs the D600 in just about every specification, the aim of this review is to answer how important these differences are for underwater photography. Flabellina nobilis feeding. Nikon D800 + 105mm VR + Subsee +10. Nauticam housing, Inon Strobes. 1/320th @ f/20. ISO 200.

The question I wanted to try and answer in Norway was how much do you give away opting for the cheaper camera?