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

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-
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP CMOS
24.3MP Exmor CMOS/36.4MP Exmor CMOS
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
2.5fps (5fps with fixed exposure)/1.5fps (4fps with fixed focus)
VF Optical
97% coverage
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
AF 11-pt AF
1 center cross type
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
-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
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.

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
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Nikon D7100
Nikon D610
Canon EOS 6D
Nikon D600

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

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