Nikon D610 Digital Camera Review
Nikon fortifies the D600 with minor updates.
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By the Numbers
Since the Nikon D610 is basically a lightly refreshed D600, we expected to find similar performance. The D610 didn't let us down, pushing past its predecessor to take a higher score in our system. Improved color, faster continuous shooting, and slightly better white balance all helped the D610 in our lab tests.
DSLRs are under attack. There’s absolutely no doubt that with its A7 and A7R, Sony’s aiming for the low-hanging fruit—enthusiast shoppers looking for the latest and greatest thing. And we’re not even entering the scrappy smaller companies into the equation. Sexier, svelter, lither cameras lurk around every corner of the modern camera market, making the established Canon/Nikon duopoly look downright dowdy.
But for experienced DSLR owners, the whiz-bang mirrorless bunch still can’t beat the traditional feel provided by Nikon's new D610. Improving upon the D600 enough to give the camera a new name (but not a new D700 designation), this is the least expensive way to get into the Nikon FX family, giving you the complete experience without having to shell out for the spendy D800.
The D610 is an especially important model as a bump-up from the D7100. This is the next rung up the Nikon F-mount ladder, trading the smaller APS-C image sensor for a pro-level 35mm imager in a body that experienced Nikon shooters will know immediately. It's easily the best full-frame camera at this price point, in any system.
Design & Handling
Solid, sizable, and less-than-straightforward
This camera is a Nikon shooter's Nikon, no doubt about it. Featuring a chunky body, a prominent grip, a mode dial with a continuous mode selector, and two control dials, the D610 looks and feels like it's a grown-up version of the intermediate D7100. While it's a tad bigger in every dimension, and about 10% heavier, the D610 has a legitimate excuse—that bigger full-frame FX sensor inside its chassis. So, while the D610 feels heavy around your neck, it's totally worth it for the killer performance you're getting.
While the Nikon faithful will adapt instantly, we have to raise a question regarding the button layout of the D610. Instead of the layout we've seen on some of the modern competition, the D610 requires you to use both hands to change crucial settings on the fly. Even the handy front function button can't be remapped to correspond to white balance or ISO. We found that, coming off time spent at CES and CP+ with a revolving list of cameras from competing brands, the Nikon's control scheme was easily among the more disruptive, unintuitive control schemes to adapt to. Crucial settings like white balance are so obtusely designed that on more than one occasion we had to turn to the thick user's manual just to remember what to do.
Like the intentionally hard-to-read old-school LCD look of the info screen, tradition seems to trump everything else in regards to Nikon's design principles. Instead of creating an easy-to-operate, pick-up-and-shoot camera, this camera is designed to appease the ancestral spirits of Nikon, hemmed in by what came before. The menu is a perfect example of this. Though the customizable section is a nice nod towards functionality, this is otherwise the same menu that debuted with the D1X back in 2001—Nikon's first real DSLR with a graphic interface. Imagine if your phone had the same interface that it did in 2001, or Microsoft called it a day after unveiling Windows 3.1? That's where Nikon still is after 13 years.
All that aside, the D610 is a camera that sells you on its credentials the second you pick it up. Completely weather sealed, and based around a magnesium frame, you can't mistake it for anything but the real deal. The dual SD card slots live underneath their own flap. The shutter and mirror move with a satisfying clink-crunch when you press the shutter button. The D610 is conspicuous and feels like you imagine it would. The shooting experience is so refined at this point that we can give it no higher praise than to say that it's good enough that you'll put up with the Byzantine menu system.
Color & White Balance
None of the D610's JPEG color modes thrilled us, even though they exhibited improved performance from previous models. The most accurate color mode was Portrait, with a ∆C00 color error of 2.11 and a saturation of 99.69%. Any color error less than 2.2 is considered clinically accurate, so the D610 doesn't disappoint here.
White balance was a weak point, however, considering how good it's gotten on interchangeable lens cameras from companies like Panasonic. Auto white balance was consistently off by a wide margin, up to -2948K in the very tricky tungsten test. You'll want to shoot RAW and adjust in post, or set manual white balance, which gave us significantly better results.
The main issue, as with previous Nikons, is that the camera tries to draw white balance information across the entire frame when capturing a custom reading. That means that if you're shooting with a wide or normal lens, you'll need to have an exceptionally large white or gray card to get the camera to cooperate. It's also painfully complicated to even take a custom reading unless you know the exact sequence of button presses and holds. A re-do of this system is long, long overdue for Nikon.
The D610 includes a few continuous shooting modes. While Nikon promises 6 frames per second, we were able to eke out 6.3fps when cranking the shutter speed up to the max 1/4000th rate. A new Quiet Continuous mode roughly halves that rate to achieve its slightly quieter noise. The built-in buffer can fit between 13 and 15 shots generally, either with JPEG or RAW+JPEG.
Continuous shooting modes also have their own dedicated control just below the dial on the left side of the top plate of the camera. This mode locks into place as on previous Nikons, giving you a way to quickly adjust how you're shooting on the fly. While 6.3fps doesn't seem earth shattering with many cameras able to crank out up to 10fps, those are generally with smaller sensors. Among full-frame cameras the D610's rate is better than any of the other affordable full-frame options on the market, also besting both the D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III.
More of a good thing is still a good thing
If you've been following Nikon's camera development, you'll know that the D610 isn't a revolutionary camera. In fact, it's reactionary. After the D600 got a bad reputation for accumulating oil on its sensor, Nikon had to do something. Featuring a redesigned shutter mechanism, it shouldn't have the same issue. Whether or not the D600's problem was as widespread as the echo chamber of the internet's Nikon forums would indicate, the D610 probably will go a long way to put the D600's problems to bed.
The difference between a D600 and a D610 is not a whole lot. There are few new and exciting features to geek out about in the revised version. If this DSLR were Windows, the D610 would be Service Pack 1. Physically, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it from its predecessor. The 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor is the same. Even though it's en vogue to ditch the low pass optical filter, the D610 keeps on trucking with the same befiltered sensor.
You'll still find everything that was great about the D600 here on the D610. Dual control dials, a big 3.2-inch, 921k-dot LCD with great viewing angles, a backlit top info LCD, a bright, pentaprism optical viewfinder...everything that Nikon got right the first time still shines.
Without a doubt, the biggest of the minor improvements is a new Quiet Continuous shooting option. Using the same technique that Nikon developed for Quiet Shutter mode (reducing the motion of the motor when moving the mirror), you can get slightly quieter burst shooting from the D610. Instead of the typical machine gun sound, you get a popcorn popping, rock tumbler noise that is, indeed, a bit less of a racket.
The D610 is a decent choice for video, sporting a headphone jack, mic jack, and a 1080/30p and a native 24p rate. While you could get a better dedicated video camera, the D610 presents a pretty complete package for hybrid shooters. It's at least nice to see that Nikon is willing to give its "low cost" full-frame sensor as many features as the higher-end cameras, especially since Canon is apparently allergic to putting a headphone jack in anything other than the 5D line.
Better than its predecessor, if only by this much
Where the D610 really shines is when you start to think about what you're getting for a price lower than the D600. For a hundred dollars less, you get an improved camera with slightly better performance and (hopefully) none of the teething issues that D600 owners have had to deal with.
Its full-frame sensor outputs plenty of dynamic range. This 24-megapixel sensor scored 9.46 stops of DR at ISO 100 in our stricter-than-standard test. While color JPEG performance was an improvement over the D600, the profiles on the D610 are still less than ideal. It's clear that even though the sensor is still one of the camera's strong suits, if you're not shooting in NEF RAW, you're barely scratching the surface of what this camera is capable of.
Nikon highlighted boosted continuous performance as part of that extra "10" you're getting in the D610's newly-minted model number. In our test, we found that the continuous rate of 6 FPS was about right, measuring 6.3 fps in Continuous High mode with RAW+JPEG on. The new quiet continuous burst mode is good for about 3 fps with reduced noise. All modes, whether JPEG or RAW were able to capture at least 13 shots at top speed before the buffer called it quits.
Video looked surprisingly sharp, even if the camera can only shoot at 1080/30p. With the 24-85mm kit zoom lens, we also got a solid low-light performance score and an impressive minimum required illumination of 4 lux. The only annoyance we found with using the D610 for video was the loud autofocus, easily picked up by the onboard mics (and, probably, also quite audible to any hot shoe mounted microphones, too).
Noise performance on the D610 was decent enough. The standard settings will net you decent-looking high ISO snaps, keeping noise under 2% for every ISO except for 25600. With NR off, you'll greater than 2% noise after ISO 6400. With default settings on, we think you'll be safe shooting up to ISO 3200. If you're shooting in RAW and developing later you can afford to push things a bit, but ISO 12800 and 25600 are both for emergencies more than everyday shooting.
A great full-frame DSLR
While smaller, lighter, full-frame mirrorless cameras might be an inevitability, the D610 is as good as enthusiast-grade full-frame shooting gets for the time being.
The D610 acquits itself quite nicely, pairing up rugged construction with a quality sensor and fast tracking autofocus—not to mention the huge advantage of Nikon's vast F-mount lens library. While Sony's A7 twins might seem like a viable solution, the fact of the matter is that those cameras still aren't quite up to the challenge of knocking off a camera this good...yet.
That's not to say that the D610, and DSLRs like it, couldn't take a page from Sony's book. For instance, why not shrink the D610 to the size of the D7100? We've seen rugged, durable crop-sensor DSLRs like Pentax's K-3 come in at a way smaller size than the D610 without sacrificing performance. A shrunken-down full-frame Nikon might be an even better entry-level camera. What better way to differentiate this price tier from the D800 and D4S than to make it even smaller and lighter?
But, we digress. The D610 is a terrific DSLR in a well-established system at the right price. Even when compared to the direct competition, the Canon EOS 6D, the D610 keeps ahead by a decent margin on features, making it looks even better if we consider this a definitive 'fix' for the D600's issues. Of course, 2014 being a Photokina year, we'll see how things shake out this September.
Your move, Canon.
The D610 put out very good video, which was sharp and clear. Motion looked smooth enough, but we always hold out hope for a 1080/60p top shooting mode, which the D610 doesn't have. In our low light test, the D610 needed only 4 lux to produce an image at 50 IRE. In our bright light scenario, the D610 produced solid detail numbers of 650 lw/ph horizontal and 600 lw/ph vertical. When subjected to our low-light test, the D610 kept it together with slightly diminished numbers of 600 and 550 lw/ph.
The D610 scored slightly higher than the D600 in our resolution test largely thanks to augmented JPEG sharpness. The kit option for the D610, Nikon's 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 isn't a terrible lens, but you can do so much better in this system. Our main issue with this lens is the ridiculously high amount of distortion you get from it if you turn off the software correction. At any focal length, you'll see noticeable either barrel distortion or pincushion—take your pick.
We saw our sharpest numbers around the middle of the focal length, stopped down to between f/5.6 and f/11, at which point resolution just begins to hit the diffraction limit.
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