The 24.3 MP CMOS sensor in the Nikon D600, judging from the initial sample photos published around the web, has very good dynamic range and relatively low noise even at a high ISO 6400. Nikon representatives state the the sensor was designed to their specification but do not reveal their manufacturer. However, we have heard this line before from Nikon, who use Sony-built sensors in several DSLR including the D800, D7000 and D3200. Sony’s 24.3 MP sensor used in the Sony RX1 seems to be very similar in noise characteristics and resolution. And the Sony A99 which also uses a 24.3 MP sensor, but features an additional layer with built-in with phase-detect auto focus, shares a very similar outward appearance. Another interesting point is that the Nikon D600 and Sony A99 were released just days apart, however the fact that Photokina is next week probably explains the reason, rather than an agreement between the two companies regarding a synchronized launch schedule.
Sony seems to be well ahead of its competition in sensor design and fabrication, able to pull outstanding dynamic range and color depth out of ever-shrinking photosites. Regardless of who produces the sensor, it is clear that Nikon has a winner on their hands.
D600 sample photos show well controlled noise at ISO 6400 indicating improvements in signal-to-noise ratios when compared with sensors produced just a few years ago, not to mention that today’s high resolution sensors are doing more while acquiring less light per photosite than their lower resolution predecessors.
It may be a few weeks before an independent lab such as DxO will get their hands on the latest Nikon and Sony cameras, but we fully expect to see these cameras near the top of the performance charts, if not breaking new ground, when it comes to dynamic range, low light performance and color depth.