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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 Rosberg…small. 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.
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.
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 with…more 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.