Nikon D610 review

The Nikon D610 is a very minor update to the D600; its burst rate is slightly faster, but otherwise it's the same camera.
Photo of Nikon D610

The Nikon D610 ($1,999.95 direct, body only) is a minor update to the company’s first entry-level full-frame D-SLR, last year’s D600. The only notable change is a new shutter that supports a slightly faster burst rate. In every other regard it’s the same 24-megapixel camera that we reviewed last year. That’s not a bad thing, and its asking price is a $100 lower than its predecessor, but that’s not enough to make it our Editors’ Choice for full-frame D-SLRs. That still belongs to the Canon EOS 6D, another entry-level body, but one with built-in Wi-Fi and GPS that is priced $100 less than the D610.

Design and Features
After extended use many D600 shooters discovered that a higher-than-normal amount of dust spots showed up at the edges of the camera’s image sensor, to the point where Nikon felt the need to issue a service advisory for the issue. Dust spots are something that owners of interchangeable lens cameras should be familiar with, but the Internet chatter around this particular issue indicated that the amount of dust that D600 owners were dealing with was above average. I didn’t have any issues with dust when I reviewed the D600, but I only had it on hand for about two weeks. Nikon isn’t saying the new shutter is there to specifically address the dust issues—when asked directly a spokesperson indicated that the change in the shutter is simply to enable a slightly faster burst shooting rate. Time will tell if the dust issue rears its head in the D610, but it’s not something that popped up in lab or field tests.

The D610 measures 4.4 by 5.6 by 3.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.7 pounds without a lens. It’s a little bit smaller and lighter than the pro-level Nikon D800, which weighs about 2 pounds and measures 4.8 by 4.7 by 3.2 inches. The control layout is similar to that of its larger sibling, although a bit more compact and with fewer buttons. The top-mounted mode dial is absent on pro Nikon FX cameras—those models require you to hold down a button as you adjust the shooting mode via a control dial. On the D800 body the corresponding space for the D610′s mode dial is occupied by a group of buttons that adjust the output format, white balance, bracketing, and ISO. From my perspective this is a welcome change—bracketing is now controlled via a button on the front of the camera, directly below the flash release, and the other three functions have been moved to the rear, to the left of the LCD.

Where the compacted control suffers is to the right of the LCD. The directional pad, used to select the active focus point, is significantly smaller than on the D800, making it a bit less comfortable to operate. There’s no dedicated AF button, so you’ll have to choose between using the AE-L/AF-L control for locking exposure or activating the autofocus, another departure for longtime Nikon FX shooters. If you’re moving up from a D7100 or other APS-C camera, you’ll likely feel right at home with the D610, but owners of pro FX bodies who are considering it as a second camera for events may struggle a bit when moving back and forth between bodies.

The focus mode is controlled by a toggle switch, just to the left of the lens mount. It has AF and MF positions, as well as a button that, when pressed, allows you to change the AF mode and AF point selection by turning the front and rear control dials. On the top plate, under the mode dial, is a toggle wheel that changes the drive mode, and there are also metering, exposure compensation, and video record buttons up top, in between the shutter release and monochrome information LCD. Other control buttons include a depth of field preview button (next to the lens mount) and below it, the programmable Fn1 button.

The viewfinder is the same 100 percent pentaprism that’s found in the D4 and D800, but it does have a different eyepiece. Its eyepoint (the measurement of how far away your eye can be from the finder and still see it in its entirety) is 20.6 millimeters, or 1.1 millimeter longer than the D4 and D800. This makes it easy for eyeglass wearers to see the entirety of the frame, but does make the viewfinder appear just a bit smaller than an identical one with a shorter eyepoint.

The 3.2-inch 921k-dot rear LCD is sharp and bright. It doesn’t quite measure up to the million-dot display found on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, but is sufficient for framing shots in Live View, as well as confirming critical focus in playback mode. Nikon includes a removable hard plastic cover to protect the LCD, so you won’t have to worry about scratches. The display is fixed; right now, the Sony Alpha 99 is the only full-frame D-SLR with an articulating rear display.

If you’re looking for GPS or Wi-Fi, keep looking. The D610 builds in neither, although the $60 WU-1b adapter plugs into the side of the camera to add Wi-Fi, and the $312 GP-1A can add GPS coordinates to your photos. The WU-1b is functionally identical to the WU-1a, which delivers a disappointing user experience. You can add an Eye-Fi Mobi memory card to one of the SD slots if transferring images to a smartphone is important. The Canon EOS 6D integrates Wi-Fi and GPS.

One advantage Nikon users have over Canon shooters is lens compatibility—you can mount APS-C DX lenses on the D610 via a mode that crops the image in-camera, but Canon shooters can’t move APS-C EF-S lenses to a full-frame system, as the mounts are incompatible.

Performance and Conclusions
The D610 is no slouch when it comes to performance. It can start and grab an in-focus shot in just 0.3-second, and in good light it can lock focus and fire in less than 0.1-second. Focus speed slows in low light, requiring up to 0.9-second. If you use Live View the focus speed is about 1 second in ample light, and it slows to 2.9 seconds in very dim light. It’s a bit speedier than the full-frame Canon 6D; it requires about 0.4-second to focus in bright light, and 1.6 seconds to do the same in dim light. The 6D’s Live View focus speed is slower in normal lighting conditions (2.3 seconds), but about the same in dim light (2.7 seconds).

The D610 is a bit faster than the D600 in burst mode. It shoots at 6.1 frames per second, although the number of shots is limited depending on what format you are using. If you shoot in Raw+JPG it captures 13 shots before slowing, and it gets a little better in Raw (14 shots). In JPG mode the buffer can hold a more impressive 48 shots. Be prepared to wait 13.9, 11.3, and 8.4 seconds, respectively, for the complete burst to be recorded to a memory card. I tested the camera with a SanDisk 95MBps card.

I tested the D610 as a body only, but it’s also available in a kit with the AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR. That lens was tested with the D600, and as the D610 shares the same image sensor and processor, you can expect near identical performance with either camera.

I used Imatest to check the noise performance of the D610′s 24-megapixel full-frame image sensor. Its top standard ISO is 6400, and it shows only 1.6 percent noise using default noise reduction settings. That’s just a tenth of a percent higher than our standard cutoff for acceptable noise. I took a close look at images from our ISO test scene on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display. With default noise reduction enabled, image detail does suffer a bit at ISO 6400, but it’s much better when dialed down to ISO 3200. Standard JPG output is a little more muted than Raw, but if you prefer more color saturation that’s a quick in-camera change.

Raw images hold up well in terms of detail through ISO 6400, with some noise that shows up as slightly rough, tightly packed grain. Pushing Raw images to ISO 12800 continues to preserve detail, but the grain looks a little rougher. At ISO 25600 the noise starts to take over the image; fine lines start to disappear from Raw files, and in-camera noise reduction plays havoc on JPG output. If you prefer to shoot JPG and aren’t happy with noise reduction, it’s possible to turn it to low or to disable it completely. The D610 isn’t the best low-light shooter in Nikon’s arsenal; the top-end D4 controls noise through ISO 20000, and the less expensive, retro-styled Df should perform similarly, as it shares the D4′s image sensor and processing engine.

Video quality is excellent all around, topping out at 1080p30 and 720p60 in QuickTime format. When set to AF-F mode the D610 supports continuous AF, or you can use AF-S and enable autofocus as you see fit via a half-press of the shutter button during recording. Focus is as speedy as it is in Live View mode, and since it’s a contrast system it has to hunt back and forth before locking. If you want a smoother video focus experience with a full-frame camera, the Sony Alpha 99 SLR or the Sony Alpha 7 mirrorless camera are both good choices. They delivers full-time phase detect focus during video recording for fast, automatic, and accurate autofocus.

There are a few ports on the camera, including standard mini-jacks for headphones and microphones; a mini USB 2.0 slot, which can be used to connect to a computer or to plug in the optional Wi-Fi module; and a connector for a wired remote control. The mini HDMI port can be used to plug the camera into a TV, and video pros will be able to connect it to a field recorder for true uncompressed HD video acquisition. One interface that is missing is a PC Sync socket, used to connect to a studio lighting setup or to an off-camera flash. You can add one via a hotshoe adapter, but it is really something that should be included on a full-frame camera body.

You get two SD slots, each supporting the latest SDXC card format. You can use one slot for JPG and one for Raw, one for images and one for video, create a real-time backup of all of your shots onto two cards of identical capacity, or simply use the second slot as an overflow card that becomes active when the first card is full.

The Nikon D610 is a solid camera for shooters who are looking to upgrade to a full-frame body. It supports APS-C DX lenses, albeit in a lower-resolution crop mode, so a full lens library upgrade is not an immediate requirement, and if you’re coming from a D7000 you’ll find the control layout familiar. It’s no slouch in the speed department, does well at higher ISO settings, and is noticeably smaller than pro-level full-frame bodies like the D800 and D4. If you’re already a Nikon FX shooter and are considering it as a second body or a backup to one of those beefier SLRs, you may find yourself struggling due to the D610′s control system; it’s a bit different than that of Nikon pro bodies, which can prove troublesome if using it side-by-side when covering an event. If you haven’t yet invested in a lens system and are considering a full-frame camera, there are a couple other entry-level bodies that are worth looking at. We give preference to the Canon EOS 6D as our Editors’ Choice SLR; it’s a better value, especially when you take its GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities under consideration. And if you’re willing to forego the optical viewfinder and use a mirrorless camera, the full-frame Sony Alpha 7 is also worth a look.

Specifications
Dimensions 4.4 x 5.6 x 3.2 inches
Interface Ports mini USB, mini HDMI, Mic, Remote, Headphone
Megapixels 24 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.16 seconds
LCD dots 921000
LCD size 3.2 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type D-SLR
GPS No
Boot time 0.3 seconds
Sensor Type CMOS
Weight 1.7 lb
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Lens Mount Nikon F
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size Full-Frame (24 x 36mm) mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Nikon D610 is a very minor update to the D600; its burst rate is slightly faster, but otherwise it's the same camera.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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