Nikon D610 Review | To Get Or Not To Get, Is Still The Question

Gear & Apps July 30th 2014 12:37 PM 29 Comments

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Before a major camera is released and put on shelves for the general public, its manufacturer performs a dizzying myriad of tests. Pre-production models are dropped, subjected to the elements in cruel ways, battery and card bay doors are opened and shut thousands of times to ensure they’re secured well and won’t break. The buttons are meticulously fiddled with to stand up to dirt and grease from our hands; sensors and mirror mechanisms are subjected to their version of torture, and all of this is done in various temperature conditions to boot.

The result of this rather exhaustive testing is, frankly, astonishing. By the time Nikon or Canon actually release a new camera, by and large, you can be assured it’s going to be impervious to problems. You know that when you take it out of the box and slap in a battery, it’s going to achieve as near as the frame rate marked on the spec sheet; that you’ll get 50-100,000 shutter clicks before you need to think about sorting out that mechanism; you know you can expose the innards to the elements a bit and have your photos be none-the-wiser, and that even being meddled with by your greasy fists of ham, and fingers of sausage, the buttons will continue to work; and a fumble with the body won’t likely mean its death. Compare that to say, a laptop which will rebel if left unchecked for a week, and break if you drop it into an enormous marshmallow. Cameras work. And they’re work horses. The D600 then, was a bit of a paradox, which makes the D610 something of an anomaly.

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When Nikon users worldwide began to wet themselves with the thought of a ‘reasonably priced’ full frame DSLR and writing love letters to Nikon, it was unthinkable that months later those same people would be arming themselves less with letters of adoration, than letters of complaint filled with words of venom. But it happened, and regardless of what anyone thinks, or what Nikon will tell you, the D610 is simply the response to that.

I won’t bother getting all overly technical and yawn-inducing in this review, and fill it with numbers and graphs that no one really relates to real world use, since you can find that elsewhere in spades, and we’ve done a full review on the D600 which should cover most bases. This is a revisitation to see where, after having been around for a little, the D600/610 currently sits in relevancy.

Image Quality – The Only Place To Start

[Insert four-letter vehement expletive here] it’s good. It, the camera, doesn’t look good, since it looks like any other DSLR, but like a hideous man with wealth and a title, the D610 trades on things other than looks. Namely, image quality. For all that’s good about the camera, none stands out more than this, and that’s how it should be. I venture to say, especially for those making the leap from an older Nikon crop sensor to this, the image quality should blow you into the middle of last week. And don’t judge it from the LCD screen on the back because it doesn’t do the photos any justice, especially with the slight green tinge it has that’s so common in Nikons.

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But the dynamic range is really something to marvel at. When compared to, quite possibly its most appropriate Nikon contender, the D7100, it is noticeably better at rendering DR. Shooting in high-contrast situations here in Miami, where the summer sun casts razor edges of the shadows, the D610 provides a certain confidence in shooting. I tend to, in those situations, shoot a bit underexposed in RAW and bring back shadow detail in post. I was able to get away with an extra stop or so due to how well this handled, and I didn’t have to shy away from blowing out some highlights in some lifestyle shooting I was doing.

The D610 also handles ISO with equal aplomb. I’m the kind of photographer who gets irritated with the desaturation and speckling and all the rest that goes along with raising ISO. I never understand why people care, or even ask about the highest ISO of any given camera because it’s beyond me why you would ever want to go that high. To me, it’s similar that way to the con of ‘digital zoom.’ That said, shooting up to ISO 1600 in the D610 was a no brainer, and even pushing past and up to ISO 3200 was surprisingly pretty. Somehow, the camera IQ in this sub $2000 body was pouring out high quality shots like heavy cream pours from the box – smoothly, consistently, and predictably.

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Some Technical Issues & Usability

I’m not a camera geek, and thus am not a pixel peeper, and I don’t have to put a textbook in front of my lap when reading through the list of tech specs from a new camera. But there are some basics that should be mentioned here for those looking to buy.

Looking at the D610 is like looking at the D600. Which, in turn, is like looking at D7100. The differences are so minute they’re not worth mentioning. But if you’re comparing upwards, or perhaps backwards to the D800 and D700 respectively, the differences are clearly there. For one, there is no PC sync socket, which for many of you won’t matter a damn. Frankly, with modern radio triggers coming down in price, this seems to me a non-issue. Those who do wish for it can, however, just get a Nikon AS-15 sync terminal adapter which will give you that functionality back in the form of a small adapter for the hot shoe, at the cost of $20.

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A more costly feature set that you may want, and understandably so, is WiFi and GPS. I really figured the D610 would’ve incorporated WiFi at least, but it seems it’s not on Nikon’s priority list. It’s worth noting that to buy the add ons for this is costly if you go with Nikon, but can be found third party for about $100.

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Then there’s the size and build. It’s part metal and part plastic, though it feels more like the former. It somehow doesn’t have the same feel of the D7100, but doesn’t give the pro feeling of the D800 or D700 before it. I actually like shooting with bigger cameras because I have big hands, so I really enjoyed shooting with the D610 with battery grip attached. Even without it, the feel is good and secure, but I think I would’ve preferred a bit more girth.

Autofocus & White Balance

Then, of course, there is the matter of autofocus. The autofocus points are numerous at 39, and they work well in continuous mode if the subject stays within their reach. The problem is the subject won’t. Not likely. The point collection really does look, as has been stated, like a sanitary napkin configuration. Having been using a Fuji X-E2 (which I adore) that has focus points all over the viewfinder I can say that’s a bit annoying since it takes a trillion clicks to get from one place to the next. I, therefore, would’ve preferred the 39 points, or even 20 points, just spread wider across the screen. Something closer to the D800.

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I wish I could say that’s all there was for autofocus, but it must be said this likes to hunt in low light. In the day, it feels like it locks on target like the radar of an F-22, but at night, it slips back into the struggled hunting of an F-4 (slow). I was mostly using 3 lenses and they were all fast; the Nikkor 85 1.8, 24-70 2.8, and 50 1.8, and each had the same issue in low light. Sure the wider end of the 24 was a bit better but…

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White balance was too supposed to be a bit improved over the D600. I was quite interested in seeing this first hand as I had noticed a few annoyances with the 600. However, there really didn’t seem to be a massive improvement. In fact, and this could’ve been my body, but I found the WB to be off more than a few times in any remotely challenging light. I shoot in RAW mostly, so this matters less, but still I find it a bit odd. It did, however, deal with tungsten light much better than I found the D600 to.

Some Features To Love

Not that 5.5 fps was a slouch, but having it rated now at 6 is nice. It’s about 50% faster than the D800, and still the camera handles it without any buffering issue. There’s then the dual SD card slots which is great with me. I really don’t see the need for CF cards, at least for most people, and when talking about the D600 we are talking about a mass appeal camera, unlike the D4s or D800. Sure, a lot of you may be thinking the D800 is drool worthy, but I beg to differ. Unless you’re doing massive prints or need to be babied with crop ability, it’s not needed for most. And frankly, those who buy it and don’t need it, which IS most, I tend to dread conversing with you. D800 owners always want to drop it into conversation that they have one, and if you don’t run away in time, will tell you why that is.

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The Dx crop mode, is an interesting one. I don’t have a heck of a lot of need for this, but after further thought, and some field testing, I’ve concluded that it’s actually a really nice feature. If I’m shooting aviation, and I want a little more ‘reach’ and shooting high frame rates continuously, it allows me to still shoot in RAW, but with smaller files. So for anyone who is doing high volume shooting, this is actually a sweet deal.

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Dual user modes. U1 & U2 are so hugely beneficial, it amazes me that DSLR’s are made these days without this option. The ability to program two totally different shooting set-ups and switch between the two with a single turn, is just brilliant. The D800 doesn’t have that, and that alone is a big strike for the D800. If you’re a wedding shooter, you’ll appreciate the ability to program those modes, maybe one for indoor lower light, and one for outdoor, allowing you to run in and out of a venue and shoot with speed. You may not use it as much at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll cry to think of not having it.

To Get Or Not To Get – Or Which To Get

If you have a D600, get it fixed and don’t get this. It’s really not much different. The quiet mode continuous is really sort of pointless, since it’s really not that quiet. And the rest of the changes, as discussed, really aren’t that noticeable.

The biggest competitors within the Nikon line are really the D7100, and the D800, and more so the D7100 since it’s in many ways the same camera. It looks the same, same sensor layout, and same body. The D7100 has a faster frame rate, and shoots up to 1/8000 vs the D610’s 1/4000. It also has a faster flash sync speed, though really who cares? If you’re a proper shooter, it’s not a problem. And of course, the D7100 is significantly less expensive.

Now you may be thinking that you can’t compare the FX to the DX, but I assure you, you can. Crop sensor cameras today are a far cry from 4 years ago, and the distance between the produce of one and the other is like the gap between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosbergsmall. I do like full frame more. I like the better dynamic range, and I like the better noise handling, and the ability to manipulate the DOF more, but to be honest, the differences between the two aren’t that significant anymore, so if you’re looking to save more than a few dollars and are mainly a hobbyist, then the D7100 may be fine for you.

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But here’s the thing. If you’re going to be a shooter for life, then buying a full frame is the camera world’s equivalent to a car enthusiast’s decision to buy a V8. It’s just something you have to do at some point. If you’re even considering for a moment making the leap to full frame, just do it, and make this your choice.

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After years of living in a camera world as interesting and varied as your grandfather’s sock drawer of black and white, the D610, like the D600, sits in the mix like a pleasing grey. After too long of weeping over the lamentably pitiable range of choice from Nikon between the 2 formats, this camera is the spice. It’s the equivalent to spicing up a boring love-life withmore options…

And here’s the bigger thing. It’s so good at what it does, and it quenches the thirst of so many types that it’ll catch you off guard. It did for me. Because it’s not a camera that you lust and drool after like you may with a D800 or a Canon 5D Mark III, but you just may fall in love with it.

Do you have one? Love it? Hate it? Think you should’ve found something else? What’s the part most needing improvement to you?

CREDITS: All photographs shared by Kishore Sawh are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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About

Kishore is a photographer and writer based in Miami, though he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. With a passion for beauty and aviation photography his work is all at once focused and eclectic. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

29 Comments

  1. Nick Viton

    I’ve been tempted many times to get this thing, but I’ve been holding off. Those bunched up focus points really irk me. I actually use outer focus points. The hold-focus-and-recompose method doesn’t work when you’re shooting a runway fashion show.

    • Kishore Sawh

      HI Nick, I agree that the focus point issue is annoying, but I have to say it’s not enough for me to really knock this camera. It’s just too good for the price. I know a host of working fashion professionals who use it. I’m surprised that the runway show proves challenging. Do you think the back button focusing may be a solution for you? Took a look at some of your runway shots by the way. Nice.

    • Joseph Anzalone

      How-to for the back button focus setup. I must learn technique for fast shooting.

      http://nikonrumors.com/2014/01/25/how-to-use-nikons-af-on-and-back-button-autofocus.aspx/

    • Timothy Nguyen

      I was initially worried about the same thing as I had jumped up from a Nikon D7000. Learning to focus and re-compose takes time but it’s almost second nature since I had bought it 3 months ago now. Much like Kishore said, there’s so many pluses to this camera, you won’t be able to go back to whatever you had before.

  2. Cha

    nice review kish, especially enjoyed the f1 reference, lewis hamilton all the way.

    • Kishore Sawh

      Kiiid. I didn’t know you were you were an F1 fan. This is the first season i’ve enjoyed in years. No short part due to the fact the Sebastian (punk), is where he belongs, in the middle of the field. Always been a fan of Lewis’ driving – and he’s a Brit ;-) PS – look at the bubble tea photo – I took that for you actually

  3. John McCosh

    Great article and I second this as an amazing camera. I have a D600 and have had to wet clean the sensor 2 – 3 times per year to keep it clean. To me this is not a biggie and maybe now I am more aware of the condition of my sensor. Can’t agree more with your comment on the user settings. I am a Wedding Photographer and upgraded to the D600 from a pair of D90′s that I still have for back up. My initial thoughts were to upgrade one of my D90′s to the D600 and then upgrade the second to a D800. But to be honest the D600 is more than enough camera for my needs and image quality is streets ahead of the D90. I am now rethinking if I really need a D800 / D810.

    I have never had an issue with focus on the D600 mainly because I use back button focus with just the center focus point. This set up seems to work well in low light and is fast and accurate. I like to be in total control of what my camera is focusing on and shooting a wedding I don’t have time to fiddle with focus points. Point the camera at what you want to focus on hit the back focus button and recompose and shoot as many frames as you want without the need to refocus.

    Thanks for the great review Kishore. I think the D600 / D610 is the hidden gem in Nikon’s lineup.

    • Dave Lyons

      I totally agree with using back button focusing, once you get used to it you can’t go back and the “how many focus points” spec becomes a mute point

    • Dave Lyons

      “Namely, image quality. For all that’s good about the camera, none stands out more than this, and that’s how it should be.”

      To me this is absolutely correct! But what I’m amazed at is all these canon users who buy canons and yet when I ask them why they would buy a camera with so bad of IQ & DR they give all kinds of answers but none of them say “because it has great image quality”… blows my mind lol

      As for the dust issues… for one learn how to properly clean your sensor… it’s no big deal and takes about 1 minute to do. I’d rather have a few dust spots that take me a whooping 10 seconds to fix in lr than a canon 1dx in cold weather that freezes up and and not get the shot at all but you don’t hear much about that and thats the TOP dog of canon and people need to remember how much camera they’re getting in a d600 for the price so they certainly shouldn’t expect it to be perfect on first try, if it was the the top dog then yes there is more of a valid reason to bitch. Hell id take a d600 with dust issues over a 5dm2 , its af issues to me are a much bigger issue than a few dust spots… People are just such cry babies anymore… it’s ridiculous! global warming must have erased 80% of common sense from this world.

    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi John, and thank you for the kind words. I actually have heard from other users who have had to wet clean their sensors that the problem wasn’t nearly as bad as press was making it out to be. While there was indeed a problem, it seems to be nothing too serious. Good to hear you’re seeing such high value in the 600. It’s funny, because when I was reviewing it it was the D90 that came to mind in comparison. When that camera came out it was, as you say, a gem, and did so much for NIkon’s digital line.

      I do use the back focusing method myself and, like you, have found that it resolves most of my issues. Anyway, thanks for the post. Be well

    • Kishore Sawh

      Dave, hi there! Thanks for all your input on this thread. You bring up two good points I think are worth addressing seperately. For one, cleaning sensors is such a scary thing for most people it seems, when in reality it shouldn’t be. I don’t know if it was fear mongering by the manufacturers or what, but it’s unneccesary.

      Second, I’ve seen more than a few people comparing the 5D MK2 to the D600, and I think that’s somewhat surprising. While the MK2 was/is a brilliant camera, there’s no sense to me in taking it over the 600/610. Sure it’s great for video, but so is the 610, with its mic and headphone input etc. Sure you can’t change aperture in live more but… I’m with you… give me the D600/610 anyday of the week and twice on Sunday. Cheers

    • Matthew Saville

      Only 2-3 times per year LOL? I’ve been doing at least twice that for ALL my cameras, since the dawn of DSLRs! I’d say you have a perfectly normal D600 camera on your hands…

    • Greg Faulkner

      Is there an article on the site that gives a detailed description of cleaning the sensor for yourself?

    • Dave Lyons

      I change lenses a lot so my sensor gets dirty fast and I usually clean it every couple of weeks at least.

      GREG… I’ll do a sensor cleaning video… The only thing I don’t have and have not used yet is a sensor brush but I just ordered one a few minutes ago and when it comes in i’ll make the video. cleaning the sensor itself only takes a minute or two but video will be long as i make the tools and swabs as well

  4. Emilio Savov

    The problem with Nikon these days is that there is no middle class, there is the entry level FX D610 and then the high end D800/s/D810. Which is odd … back in the days there was D300s, D700 and D3 which were all Pro Body high end cameras. To me the problem with D610 is the AF points, 39 stuck in the middle of the frame … well… this is a FX camera .. it’s not good to *focus-recompose* .. :( .. especially in some close portraits on a wide open aperture :( also it lacks the *Focus Lock* button on the back. I’m not saying D610 is a bad camera, it does take great pictures, but according to Nikon it’s “amateur” level camera, all the D300s and D700 were build like a tank, a real Pro Body. Now a days if you want a Pro Body you gotta go with the D800/s/D810 which is somehow insane on resolution, size of files and so on and so forth .. I don’t know .. to me Nikon created a gap between amateur and pro cameras. These are just my 2 cents :)

    • Dave Lyons

      The problem with this though is that the 400 of us that want those middle camera get trumped by the lil guys or the big guys. What I think Nikon is missing is a kick ass wedding camera to compete against the 5d. Nikons low end camera completely blow canons offerings away where it counts (in IQ) and Canon has no answer for the d810.. If they would make the d710 but spec it out to be a competitor for 5d then i could see some units moving. But to be real, if they came out with lower models with pro bodies everyone would piss and moan about the cost… same as it is now

      “well… this is a FX camera .. it’s not good to *focus-recompose* .. :( .. especially in some close portraits on a wide open aperture”
      When im in this situation i immediately go into manual focusing. Also i rarely see a reason to shoot wide open for portraits, I’ll shoot my 85mm 1.4 at min 2.8.. bokeh is the same, its sharper and has just a tad more width to be sure focusing is close enough

    • Nick Viton

      Dave, I’m in that group of 400 waiting for the middle camera. I hear what you’re saying though, and you’re right – just sucks for folks like me. So I’m holding out until they make something I want. And maybe if they do, things will finally turn around for them::
      http://petapixel.com/2014/05/18/nikons-financial-woes-relentless-prompt-restructuring
      In the meantime, I’ll openly admit to being one of the bitchers and complainers.

    • Matthew Saville

      Emilo, I think the lack of a D300 and D700 “replacement” is still something that is on Nikon’s mind, and something that they’re trying very hard to accommodate 80-90% of with the likes of the D7100 and D610. In almost every respect, these two cameras beat the crap out of their predecessors, for most users. Really, the only ones who are truly missing a D300 / D700 replacement are the ones who were already previously addicted to the build quality and control layout of the D300 / D700. (Myself included, mind you)

      Unfortunately, after having used the D800e for a wedding season, and now in testing the D810, I have to say that my hope is fading for a D400 or D700-s or whatever. There may indeed still be a very small gap in the lineup, however it was always a lineup that simply had no equal from any other lineup practically. No Canon DSLR before the 5D mk3 had flagship autofocus or construction / weather sealing. Sure, the 5D mk2 and 7D delivered similar performance to the D700 and D300s, but they still weren’t truly on the same page. (Maybe, the new Pentax K-3 is on par with what I’d expect a Nikon D400 to be, but that’s another story)

      Simply put, game over. If you’re still interested in waiting, grab a used D7100 or D800e for dirt cheap, and see what Nikon does after Canon releases just one more generation of semi-pro FF and APS-C bodies. If a Nikon D400 doesn’t come out within 12 months of a Canon 7D mk2 for example, I’ll be giving up permanently.

      Which is something I’m relatively OK with, actually. As I said, having used the D800e for a wedding season now, I’m missing both my D300 and D700 less and less. Heck, I still own one D300 and two D700′s, and I haven’t touched either of them in 6-12 months…

    • Emilio Savov

      Dave and Mathew, I get you you guys and I agree with you on 100% I always use maximum of f/2.8 on portraits, keeping in mind that I’m on APS-C, it means something like f/4 on a FF camera. There are few occasions where I have used f/1.8 but it was just for some effect. As for D800E, awesome camera, the D810 even better, but sometimes I shoot dog shows and Swing dancers and I need a fast burst camera, D300 fits absolutely perfect my needs. The D800/E/D810 are not that type of a reporters camera, they are slow burst, humongous MP cameras. You need a new fast PC and tons of hard drives after you buy a D800/E/D810. But in matter of an awesome camera, they absolutely are. 91 000 pixles mettering?!?! I love it! The dynamic abilities are incredible. But the specs of a D4/s is more of a camera for my needs, less MP, sub-machine gun burst mode, but I’m not that high-end Pro to be able to afford a D4/s. For now I will stick to D300, got lenses, some manual lenses too, so I will have to wait see what will come this year. If not, I will get the D700 which I find mostly close to what I need, even thou it’s not such a burst fire gun, but I can use if for my portraits and use the D300 for the dogs and dances :) Thanks for your comments, guys, they’re much appreciated. :)

  5. John Havord

    Have a D600 and love it. Perfect for my needs.
    Only problem is it’s back at Nikon UK for yet another sensor clean. Have asked about a replacement, to a D610 (which is happening in other territories), but the communication from Nikon UK is pitiful.

    • Dave Lyons

      Do you have an extra $50 for supplies and 10 minutes of free time to learn how to clean your sensor?? It’s not hard and takes about 1 minute and $50 in supplies will last year for a lot of years

    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi John, I’ll have to agree with Dave here, that it’s probably worth it for you to just learn to clean it yourself. Unless you’re having a real oil problem (in which case the root of it need be addressed), having that little skill under your belt will serve you well. It takes some delicacy, but not quite horrible. Not as horrible anyway as I’m sure having to continually send your camera to Nikon is… Cheers

  6. Stephen Velasquez

    I own the D3100,D600,D800. I have made huge prints with 75×50 with my D3100 and D600. I don’t know if I’ll ever make bigger prints for my home than that. I shoot mostly with my D600 at wedding and the D800 for a few shots. I haven’t made use of the u1 or u2 modes. As far as nikon calling this an amateur camera. It blows the D700 for image quality and have a better Dynamic Range than 5DM3. I love it. I send it back to get clean twice and had the CPU replaced. My D800 CPU also got replaced too. Great camera coming from a D3100.

    • Kishore Sawh

      HI Stephen, as I mentioned above, maybe think about learning to clean the sensor yourself and save yourself the headache of sending it back to Nikon. Also, give the U modes a go. I hadn’t used them much before, but I tell you, it just became so useful on the shoots i was doing. Just moving between sun and shade made the time go. For some of the shooting I was running and gunning so it helped cut back time to make that easier. I was only stopped by cops once that day, and I can bet if I didn’t have those modes, and was fiddling more, it would’ve been more. Cheers

  7. Chris Nachtwey

    Kish, been thinking about upgrading to the 610 for all my work. I don’t have the crazy crop or print needs. I honestly think it’s a great camera for most wedding and portrait shooters. I might just need to pull the trigger at the end of the season!

    • Kishore Sawh

      Chris, you’ll get no hesitation from me with the green light on that one. It’s a great workhorse. I dunno why I thought you were shooting a D800 though…

  8. Joe Hudspeth

    My D600 was eventually replaced with a brand new D610 which I love. The incredible amount of detail is just something to marvel at. And you are correct about not seeing it on the camera screen, but when you get it on the computer-wow! Just two little things I have noticed: It does hunt some in low light, but finding anything with some contrast seems to take care of the problem and the second is the auto ISO. Goes instantly up way to high for a given situation, even in daylight. So I just leave it set to 100 and adjust manually. I am still learning the camera, but couldn’t be happier.

  9. Mark Fagan

    I couldn’t agree with you more on Image Quality. Every time I use this camera I am blown away with it.

    If readers are looking for a great product to clean there sensors with, I have used this German made “Gel Stick” that I found here: http://photographylife.com/shop

    It is super simple and works great.

  10. Mark C

    Nice review Kishore and some nice photos too! I did a write up of the D610 (which I currently own and shoot weddings with) over on Shotkit, but it was more of an explanation of why I think it’s a good replacement for the D700. So it was good to read your thoughts on the D610 more specifically.

    After shooting with it for a few months, I’m very happy with IQ, and not too disappointed with AF in the dark. The lack of focal points can be annoying, but it’s not a deal breaker. One thing you didn’t mention which annoys me with the D610 is lack of the ‘zoom to 100%’ function that the D700 (and other cameras) featured. That could have been easily added by Nikon, and I’d love them to do a firmware update for it, but very much doubt it.

    Anyway, without wanting to hijack your great review, here’s my version just as something else to think about if you’re stuck on the upgrade fence ;-) http://shotkit.com/nikon-d610

    Cheers, Mark

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