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Nikon D610 review: Still lots to like about this entry full frame

There are some internal differences, but from a user perspective it's pretty much the same as the D600.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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10 min read

Editors' note: Given that the D610 is nearly identical to the D600, I have borrowed substantially from my review of the latter camera. I did retest for performance and selected photo quality aspects, however, as noted within the review.

The Nikon D610 is fast with generally excellent photo quality
8.2

Nikon D610

The Good

The <b>Nikon D610</b> continues the D600's tradition of a great set of shooting features, comfortable and intelligent design, and excellent photo quality and performance.

The Bad

Photos still display some unrecoverable clipping in the highlights that you don't expect in a camera of its caliber, and unlike the overhauled D5300, the D610 requires an extra-cost Wi-Fi dongle for connectivity.

The Bottom Line

Though competition's increasing for low-end full-frame cameras, the Nikon D610 holds its own; that said, while slightly faster than its predecessor it's not a whole lot different.

About a year ago, Nikon introduced the D600, the first sub-$2,000 full-frame dSLR to hit the market. Unfortunately, there were some issues that subsequently surfaced, like a problem with dust and oil spots caused by the shutter mechanism that a large number of owners complained about and some frustrating limitations for flash photographers. With this update, Nikon's implicitly addressing the former problem with a completely new shutter mechanism, but flash photographers hoping for an improvement on the latter are doomed to disappointment. On the upside, if you've been waiting for a price drop on the D600, that model seems to be available for about $1,600 in a variety of places.

The new shutter is rated for the same number of cycles as previously -- 150,000 -- but now enables a slightly improved burst of 6fps (from 5.5fps), and adds a new quiet-shutter continuous-shooting mode of up to 3 frames per second. Nikon has also tweaked the white balance, for theoretically better results under artificial light and brighter blue skies. In portrait mode, the company claims more natural skin tones and improved facial depth-of-field by incorporating contrast information.

While I didn't test the D610 as extensively as the D600, I did repeat our lab tests, checked out the white balance for the indicated changes, and compared the portrait quality in the scene program mode against manual settings. Whether the new shutter mechanism fixes the oil-spot problem will require either someone who can test significantly significant quantities of the camera or for large numbers of anecdotal complaints to surface.

Image quality
For some reason, my D610 evaluation unit seems to meter about 2/3 stop brighter than my D600 evaluation unit; in other words, whenever I chose to let the camera determine exposure using matrix metering, its choices are generally brighter for the D610 than the D600, and it chooses to do so by using a wider aperture.

Aside from that however, the images from the D610 look pretty much like those of the D600, including the problem with clipped highlights; it still doesn't preserve blown-out highlight data as well as I'd like, even using the 14-bit lossless-compressed setting, but the D610 does deliver the same terrific photo quality for the price. It produces relatively clean image data at low and midrange ISO sensitivities, and has very smart JPEG and noise-reduction algorithms. You get very clean JPEGs up through ISO 400. I start to see a little degradation in shadow areas at ISO 800, though there's no corresponding degradation in well-lit areas until about ISO 3200. JPEG images are generally quite usable through ISO 1600; depending upon the scene and lighting you can probably push it as high as ISO 6400, though I'd recommend working with raw to be on the safe side. I was a bit surprised that it wasn't significantly better than the 5D Mark II at ISO 12800, but the D610 does have less clipping in the shadows and I couldn't find any hot pixels.

Like most full-frame cameras, the D610's photos have a nice, natural sharpness and tonality. It renders a broad dynamic range, although interestingly there's a lot less recoverable detail in clipped highlights than more expensive models like the 5D Mark III and D800 as well as the 6D under similar circumstances. It does very well with shadow detail, however.

The D610's reds are a lot cooler than the D600's. That's partly attributable to the time of year -- I tested the D600 in October and the D610 a year later in November -- but the white balance should still compensate better.

The color differences between the Standard and Neutral Picture Control color settings have diverged a bit since the D600, possibly related to Nikon's tweaks to get bluer skies, and the Standard setting still seems to push the contrast a bit. (For more samples, look at the images for the D600.)

Performance
The D610 does seem to perform a hair faster than the D600 all around. (Caveat: we tested the D600 when we were first working out the new methodology, and some of the differences, with the exception of burst shooting, might simply reflect subsequent tweaks to our procedure.)

It takes less than 0.3 second to power on, focus, and shoot. In good light, it runs about 0.4 second to focus and shoot using the viewfinder (phase-detection autofocus), which rises to about 1.5 seconds in Live View mode (contrast autofocus); in dim light it's a reasonable 0.5 second through the viewfinder. Two sequential JPEG or raw shots take just under 0.2 second, and with flash enabled it's a zippy 0.7 second. With the D610 and its new shutter mechanism, Nikon increased the continuous-shooting speed to 6fps, and indeed the JPEG burst with a 95MB/sec SD card clocked in about about 6.1fps for at least a 30-shot buffer. It can only shoot about 14 raw shots without slowing -- oddly, down from 16 on the D600 -- but it can do so at about 6.3fps, likely because there's less processing overhead for the raw vs. the JPEGs but the bigger files fill up the buffer faster. Once the buffer fills it drops to about 3.3fps. The camera maintains those rates regardless of whether its in single or continuous autofocus mode.

As with the D600, the LCD definitely requires some shading and magnification via a loupe for shooting video, if not for basic Live View operation.

Design and features
As it's identical to its predecessor, I still really like this model's design and operation; I really enjoy shooting with it. It's a little bit lighter than other full-frame bodies -- but not significantly so -- except for its newest competitors. It's got a similar build quality, constructed from a magnesium-alloy chassis covered in polycarbonate, with moderate dust-and-weather sealing.

On the camera's left shoulder sits the exposure mode dial on top of the release mode dial (which is how Nikon refers to its drive modes); the former has a lock button in the center and the latter has it adjacent. As with Canon's, I don't really like the lock button in the center, as I find it a little awkward to operate single-handed that way, and with the Olympus E-M1we've seen a way to do it better. There are two user settings slots on the mode dial; that's one way in which the D610 differs from the pro bodies, which have a much more sophisticated (and complex) set of options. I happen to like them better on the mode dial, but I also find that three slots is my optimal number of custom sets.

On the right shoulder sit the status LCD, dedicated metering and exposure compensation buttons, power switch circumscribing the shutter button, and a tiny video record button. I'm not a big fan of the tiny top record buttons that seem to be becoming vogue, and am a little disappointed that you can't program one of the buttons on the back for this function.

As with other modern Nikon models, there are two programmable buttons to the right side of the lens; to the left side are the flash popup/flash compensation button, bracketing control and the focus mode switch plus focus area button. One feature I wish Nikon would incorporate (and that Canon finally has): Zone and/or expanded AF area options.

It's notable that even though Canon droped the column of buttons to the left of a smaller LCD on the 6D, the D600/D610, which retains them, still manages to be narrower than the 6D. Menu, Picture Controls, white balance, quality and ISO sensitivity line the left side. You operate the Live View/Movie switch and the focus-point-selector rocker with your right thumb.

The viewfinder is really nice, big and bright with the useful overlay grid that's in many of Nikon's dSLRs. You can assign one of the buttons to activate a digital level in the viewfinder that uses the exposure bars, which I like, but I wish it didn't have to toggle between that and the typical exposure information, and that there was a vertical indicator as well for front-back tilt.

Canon EOS 6D Nikon D610 Sony Alpha ILCE-
7
/7R
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP CMOS
14-bit
24.3MP CMOS
14-bit
24.3MP Exmor CMOS/36.4MP Exmor CMOS
14-bit
35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes/No
ISO range ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ 102,400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50
(exp)/ ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 4.5fps
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
6fps
n/a
2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure)/1.5fps (4fps with fixed focus)
n/a
VF Optical
97% coverage
0.71x
Optical
100% coverage
0.70x
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.71x
AF 11-pt AF
1 center cross type
39-pt
9 cross type
(Multi-CAM 4800FX)
Hybrid AF system
25-area contrast AF;117-pt phase-detection/
25-area contrast AF
AF exposure range -3 - 18 EV
(center point)
0.5 - 18 EV
(other)
-1 - 19 EV 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles n/a
Metering 63-area iFCL 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II 1,200 zones
Metering exposure range 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
IS Optical Optical Optical
Best video H.264 MOV
1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p/ 25p/24p
all at 24, 12Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/60i/24p @24Mbps
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 29m59s 20 minutes n/a
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches tilting
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash No Yes No
(No on-camera flash)
Battery life
VF/
Live View (CIPA rating)
1090/220 shots
(1,800 mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,900 mAh)
340 shots
(1080 mAh)
Wireless connectivity Wi-Fi Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter $59.95 Wi-Fi, NFC
Size (inches, WHD) 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 5.5 �- 4.5 �- 3.2 5.0 x 3.8 x 1.9
Body operating weight (ounces) 27.2 30.1 16.7 (est)
Mfr. price $2,099 (body only) $2,099.95 (body only) $1,699.99 (body only)/$2,299.99 (body only)
$2,899 (with 24-105mm lens) $2,699 (with 24-85mm lens) $1,999.99 (with 28-70mm lens)/n/a
Ship date December 2012 October 2013 December 2013

As previously mentioned the D610 adds a quiet continuous-shooting mode, which does feel and sound a little softer than the normal continuous-low mode.

Although it's missing desirable features like built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, the D610 has a full complement of shooting options. Unlike the 6D it has a built-in flash; while I don't recommend using on-camera flash, it's useful in a pinch and it enables in-camera wireless flash operation. It also gets props for dual SD card slots and a headphone jack, other features the 6D disappointingly lacks. And it retains Nikon staples like time-lapse shooting and an intervalometer, plus the clean and uncompressed HDMI output first offered by the D800. For some, however, the biggest advantage the D610 immediately offers over the 6D is the ability to use all variations of both DX (with APS-C cropping, of course) as well as FX lenses.

It's interesting to see where companies draw the line on features. For instance, as mentioned before Nikon only supplies two custom settings slots, and you can't save them to a card for sharing across bodies (though you can do it with Picture Controls). It's also limited to a three-shot/3EV bracket, though that might be wise given the highlight clipping. It uses the same, somewhat limited 2-exposure sans raw HDR as in the D4.

Those are just the highlights. For a complete description of the D610's features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.

Conclusion
The D610 is essentially the D7100 with a full-frame sensor and some more modern video capabilities. That's what you're paying all the extra bucks for. Whether it's worth it for you depends upon what you photograph. If you primarily shoot telephoto, for example, the D7100's focal-length magnifier of 1.5x means you can use a shorter -- and generally lighter -- lens to achieve the same framing. The D610 does support DX lenses and will automatically frame to APS-C, so you don't lose any of that flexibility, but if you're never going to take advantage of the wider angle of view or use fast lenses, then you're better off sticking with the cheaper D7100 and spending the extra $800 on a nicer lens.

As a vastly less expensive alternative to the D800, that's a little tougher. The D800 has a broader dynamic range, better AF system and more durable build, but whether or not they're meaningful tradeoffs depend on what you photograph.

As for the Canon EOS 6D versus Nikon D610 decision for people who haven't committed to a system yet or are thinking of switching, overall I think I ultimately prefer the D610. I think the highlight recovery issue is fixable -- at the very least, just by watching how you configure your exposure settings -- and the superior performance and more shooter-friendly feature set weigh in its favor. That said, either camera will deliver the quality benefits of a full-frame model at a less painful price than the higher-end siblings on both sides of the aisle.

An even harder comparison crops up now that Sony's A7 and A7R are on the horizon -- they haven't quite started shipping yet -- but both are significantly more compact with smaller lenses. The A7 is cheaper, with roughly comparable photo quality and better video autofocus and options, although it's not a camera I'd pick for action stills. I think the more expensive A7R delivers better photo quality (that has to wait for my formal testing for confirmation) but it isn't as good for video and is a lot slower with a middling AF system.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Nikon D800
0.1
0.3
0.3
0.4
0.2

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
0.3
0.4
0.3
0.4
0.2

Nikon D7100
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.5
0.4

Nikon D610
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.5
0.4

Canon EOS 6D
0.6
0.3
0.3
1.3
0.4

Nikon D600
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.6
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The Nikon D610 is fast with generally excellent photo quality
8.2

Nikon D610

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8
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