Nikon D610 review

If you scour the internet you will find a series of complaints about some Nikon D600 owners experiencing issues with oil on the camera’s sensor. It’s not an issue we had with our camera, but the sudden arrival of the D610, with only a modest bump in features, suggests that it’s a solution to brush any issues of its predecessor under the carpet.

Like we say, we never had D600 issues after shooting tens of thousands of frames, so it’s likely an isolated issue for a certain batch of product. But if you’ve been looking for an affordable full-frame DSLR and the D600 was on your list then these comments might have led you to cross it off your list. In the D610 there’s a greater assurance of security, because there’s a new shutter unit on board. Slick, but not an oil slick.

Otherwise the camera is mighty similar to its predecessor. But as that was awesome it gives us high hopes for the D610. The little brother of the D800 model, the full-frame sensor on board is often described as the holy grail of photography as it reflects that of classic 35mm film and has the scope to produce top notch image quality.

But with other large sensor alternatives popping up on the market, such as the Sony Alpha A7, does Nikon still hold weight with its DSLR series and is the D610 worth every penny of its £1500 asking price?

Design and D600 differences

The way the D610 looks and feels is just about perfect for our needs. It might not be a small and light camera overall, but it is compared to plenty of other full-frame DSLR cameras. The size isn’t an issue as the proportions and layout see everything fall neatly to the hand.

Nikon D610 review - sample image at ISO 100 - click for full size raw crop

We’ve shot using this camera at trade shows, out in the desert, for product shots and everything in-between - and it’s done us proud throughout. The mixture of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate panels is not only tough, but means it’s lighter than an all-metal body that you would find in a pricier camera. Not that it’s light, as such, particularly with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens plonked onto the front, nor as rugged - but that’s the deal at this price point.

Compared to the D600 not a lot is new though. The major change is that the D610 is faster, being able to shoot at six frames per second (6fps) in both FX (full-frame) and DX (1.5x crop) formats. But that’s not that much faster than the earlier model at all. There is also a new Quiet Release burst mode which reduces the sound of the mirror return mechanism to capture stills at 3fps when noise is an issue, such as when shooting wildlife. A nice touch, if that suits your shooting needs.

READ: Nikon D600 review

The D610 is also compatible with Nikon's WU-1b Mobile Adapter to add Wi-Fi to the mix, should you be so inclined. An optional feature rather than something built in, but the earlier D600 lacked compatibility.

Elsewhere there’s the same 39-point autofocus system, 3.2-inch LCD screen, and 100 per cent field-of-view optical viewfinder. More on how these function later, but if you’re a D600 then, yep, it’s an identical performance. The only minor difference is a slightly faster start-up time, but by point-something of a second to the extent that we wouldn’t have known using just our feeble human brains alone.

And that, ladies and gents, is just about it. Well built, affordable, and ergonomically great, yet so similar to the earlier D600 it’s only really the badge that separates one model from the other.

Performance pro

But just because something is similar doesn’t mean it’s not a good standalone model. Any D600 owner would be borderline mad to buy a D610 unless they require a second body to take on shoots. It’s not really an upgrade camera, unless you’re coming in from the film days and are looking for a digital 35mm equivalent.

On the rear there’s a 3.2-inch 921k-dot LCD that’s large and offers ample resolution, although it should really be a step higher in resolution terms given the model’s release among more modern panels. There’s no fancy tilt-angle, touchscreen or anything like that either - this is no nonsense preview, playback and settings view and that is all.

To complement the screen is that optical viewfinder. Again it’s the same as found in the D600, but that’s also a good thing. With its 100 per cent field-of-view what you see in the preview is what you get in the frame that’s shot. Simple, to the point, and very effective.

But when looking through that viewfinder it’s clear that the 39-point autofocus system is arranged predominantly to the centre of the frame. We didn’t expect it to be any different as autofocus modules get built and installed in various different cameras, meaning the same Multi-CAM 4800FX as per the D600.

Autofocus responsiveness is excellent, though, it’s only the arrangement we’d change if we could. Considering there are over three dozen points it would be nice if a few had been pushed to the further edges to give an even more dynamic system to utilise. However, there’s a strong chance that an upgraded system in the next major Nikon releases will see evolution in this department, with the now top-spec D4 51-point system likely to filter down to "lower" models. But for now, and in the D610, we’ve got to make do.

And make do we have. And not one bleat of a moan have we made since we started using the camera. Because it just works. Autofocus is fast, easy to adjust the active focus point using the rear d-pad when looking through the viewfinder, and rarely falters.

Nikon D610 review - sample image at ISO 1600 - click for full size raw crop

Sensitivity ranges from -1EV up to +19EV to provide a vast range of light conditions in which autofocus can be achieved. It’s not as impressive as the -2EV in the D800 or -3EV in the Canon EOS 6D, both of which can achieve focus in dimmer conditions, but that’s not to say that low-light proved a problem - with the assistance of the AF assist lamp we’ve been snapping without using flash in all manner of conditions without issue.

READ: Canon EOS 6D review

When set to continuous autofocus for tracking subjects the system can utilise 3D tracking with the full 39 points, or select from 21 or 9 dynamic points; in single autofocus it’s 39 or 11 points. Our preference was for all 39-points to be available, but with the single point option active it’s easy to adjust the active focus point for the utmost control.

Image quality

At the core of the D610 is that 24-megapixel full-frame sensor. It’s the same one that was proven in the earlier D600 model, and that brings with it a boat load of image quality class. Nikon has stuck with the Expeed 3 processing engine rather than updating the model to the latest Expeed 4 one, and this results in images identical to what you’d find from the earlier model.

Nikon D610 review - sample image at ISO 500 - click for full size raw crop

Although we don’t think the D610’s shots are quite as impressive as the D800, they are still great. Really great. The lower ISO settings are definitely the ones to stick to where possible, but the higher ISO settings, even at this resolution, are very capable indeed.

READ: Nikon D800 review

We’ve been shooting product shots in all kinds of light at trade shows and it’s been no issue to use these images at a relatively large scale, even as high as ISO 3200 converted from adjusted raw files. Right up to ISO 1600 there’s a limited impact on overall quality compared to the base ISO, which is a great result, although the default JPEG processing can seem somewhat harsh at these middling ISO settings at the expense of detail. We've got far more out of the raw files overall.

Nikon D610 review - sample image at ISO 220 - click for full size JPEG crop | full size raw crop

Full-frame cameras’ images - and we’re talking right across the board here, manufacturer irrelevant - just have this certain look to them. Make the most of a wide aperture for portrait work, or sink down to f/16 for optimum sharpness in a landscape and the results will be eye-catching when shown at scale. We did just that in the Mojave desert as the sun set behind the mountains surrounding the salt flats of Death Valley and the results were exceptional.

Exposures generally came out as we expected, although the 2,016 module metering sensor can result in some slight over- or under-exposure depending on the subject. It’s just a case of practice to get this right - if it’s a black subject against a light background, you’re likely to need to dip the exposure compensation, whereas the reverse of this will likely require a bump in exposure compensation. For us we shot in raw and when things looked a bit over or under found tweaking around half a stop made all the difference.

Nikon D610 review - sample shot at ISO 100 - click for full size JPEG crop

White balance is another thing that seems more accurate than in the D600. That’s not a scientifically researched conclusion, but in all the shots we’ve taken under all kinds of light the results straight from camera in the D610 just seem that much more natural and balanced depending on source lighting.

Did our sensor see any dirt or grime? Just the usual. A couple of spots here and there, only really noticeable in single colour or open gradient areas such as a blue sky, that we typically touched out in post-production. It's the same story with any given sensor we've used, and ultimately comes down to sensor cleaning. Just like our experience with the D600 there's nothing untoward to be found in the D610.

In short the D610’s images are quite brilliant. Lots of detail in raw files, plenty of resolution to play with and all the benefits of a large sensor are reworked in this latest body. Even though it’s the same as the D600 we’ll happily take that any day of the week.

Verdict

The only criticism we can really throw at the Nikon D610 is that it’s nothing more than a D600 with minor tweaks. That may be solely to inspire greater confidence in the company’s entry-level full-frame model, or it might just be part of the machine-like schedule to get Wi-Fi ready cameras into the market. Either way, it makes for a solid camera with lots of positives - but not a camera a happy D600 owner needs to even consider upgrading to.

Over our weeks of use with the D610 we’ve been nothing but pleased. The battery life is crazy-good - a working week of shooting without recharging saw us snap 2,300 images - as are those sumptuous 24-megapixel images. The autofocus array may be a little too tight to the centre, but it’s responsive, fast and accurate in all manner of conditions.

We’re nonplussed about the D610’s Wi-Fi accessory compatibility, and the minor speed bump from the new shutter mechanism is nothing more than just that: minor. But that doesn’t stop this camera being a major success and the perfect footing in the world of full-frame. It keeps the DSLR relevant and affordable in a world where the competition is on the up.

Just like before: this fence-straddling consumer-meets-pro full-frame DSLR is a cracker that offers great value for money. It’s familiar, but it’s still fantastic.