Nikon D610 Field Test

Improved in more ways than one

by William Brawley | Posted: 12/03/2013

The Nikon D610's 24.3 megapixel, FX-format, full-frame sensor allows not only for easier ultra-wide shots like this, but also for shots that have a higher dynamic range than those from most crop-sensor cameras.

The Nikon D610 is an interesting addition to the company's DSLR lineup, in that it's not really a new camera per se, but rather just an incremental update to the D600. The primary difference between the new and old models is the D610's new shutter mechanism, plus a couple minor tweaks.

Dust-and-oil problem cleared up. The unofficial reason for the updated model is to fix a particularly troublesome problem that plagued many D600 owners since the introduction of that camera back in 2012 -- dust and oil spots on the sensor, caused by the shutter mechanism. Nikon won't say specifically that the D610 fixes this issue, or that the D600 problem was the impetus for the update, but thankfully the issue does appear to be resolved with the D610's redesigned shutter.

Our colleague and friend Roger Cicala at LensRentals did a thorough evaluation of the Nikon D610 to see if the dust-and-oil issue persisted with the new model. He and his team tested 25 sample units of the D610, checking them three separate times, including after they came back from rental, and found no evidence of the problem.

This composite image from LensRentals shows the accumulated dust found on sensors from 25 different Nikon D610 bodies, after they've been subjected to in-house testing. As Roger Cicala notes, this is a slightly better result than most cameras his company tests. Consider the D600's oil-and-dust problem resolved!

That's great news for those who wanted a D600, but were dissuaded when the reports of dust-and-oil splatter cropped up late last year. It's perhaps a little disappointing for those who already bought the D600; Nikon has to this point offered no trade-in opportunities for D600 owners. Still, user feedback suggests that the problem resolves itself within the first few thousand shots anyway, so perhaps a trade-in would be a bit much to expect.

The Nikon D610's full-frame sensor allows for shallow depth of field, even when shooting with the kit lens.

So, now that the sensor dust and oil issue is out of the way, what else is new with this camera, and what's it like to shoot with? The primary new features of the Nikon D610 are a Quiet Continuous shutter release mode, and a half frame-per-second increase in capture rate when using the Continuous High burst mode. Both come thanks to the new shutter mechanism. Our lab testing confirms the increase in performance, incidentally -- more on that in a moment.

Quiet Continuous mode. The Quiet Continuous (Qc) mode is a nice addition, and, in fact, quite a rare one at that. The D610 is the first Nikon DSLR to feature it. I thought the Nikon D7100 that I reviewed a while back included it as well, but I remembered incorrectly. (It just has the single-shot quiet mode.) The Qc mode setting has been wedged into the D610's drive mode dial between the standard Quiet Shutter Release mode and the Self-Timer mode. Qc mode allows for a 3fps continuous shooting speed, but with a much quieter shutter actuation sound.

Interestingly, I found the default, single-shot shutter release sound of the D610 to be fairly soft and quiet already, even when not in Quiet mode. It's much quieter than my Canon 5D Mark II and 7D bodies, or the 5D Mark III and D800E we have here at Imaging Resource headquarters. Be that as it may, the single-shot Quiet Shutter release and Quiet Continuous modes really make the shutter sound on the D610 even quieter. I can see either of these near-silent shutter modes being very useful to certain kinds of photographers, especially photojournalists, wedding or street shooters, or even wildlife and nature enthusiasts who don't want to scare off the critters they're photographing or simply want to be more conscientious and respectful of their surroundings. I could definitely imagine a photojournalist at a press conference or event, for example, using either of these quiet shutter release modes to help avoid getting in the way of the proceedings.

The single-shot quiet shutter release mode lets you choose when to release and lower the mirror rather than the standard "raise mirror, open-and-close-shutter, lower mirror" process that a DSLR normally goes through. With the D610, you simply keep the shutter release button pressed to keep the mirror raised. (The shutter will already have closed according to your exposure settings) You're free to lower the shutter at an opportune moment by releasing the button. In the new Qc mode, the D610 does reduce the top continuous shooting speed from 6fps to 3fps, but it allows for a better chance to quietly capture fleeting moments -- or those easily frightened animals -- than do the standard continuous modes.

Continuous high burst mode. The D610 improves upon the burst shooting speed of the D600, and Nikon notes that it allows for six frames per second, up from the 5.5fps of the D600. I found the claim to be quite accurate and our lab results confirmed this. In our tests, the D610 achieved just over 5.9 frames per second for best quality JPEG, RAW and RAW+JPEG frames, versus around 5.4fps for the D600. And buffer depths actually improved by one or two frames, despite the slight increase in burst rate. See the Performance page for details.

Although still not a speed demon -- professional sports photographers will surely look elsewhere for their high-speed cameras -- the D610 is quite capable, especially considering the resolution and sensor size. For the majority of users, a solid 6fps is nice and quick for lots of fast action scenarios, like sports or wildlife.

Auto white balance. The last minor change to the D610 is a tweak to its Auto white balance algorithms. The adjustments supposedly help create a more natural look, especially when shooting under artificial light sources.

Auto White Balance in Incandescent Lighting Compared
Nikon D610
Nikon D600

In our Indoor Portrait scene shown above, the Nikon D610's Auto white balance setting performed similarly to that of the D600 in incandescent lighting, producing overly warm results, though skin tones looked slightly improved and greens were rendered a little warmer. It's possible the improvements were targeted at other types of artificial lighting, but for accurate white balance under tungsten lighting, I still recommend using Manual white balance. Of course, if you shoot RAW, then adjusting white balance to your tastes in post-processing takes just a few, simple clicks.

Shooting experience. Overall, I found the Nikon D610 to be a pleasure to use. The large, FX-format, full-frame sensor with 24.3 megapixel resolution allows for fantastic fine detail, great noise control at higher ISOs, and lets you really go wide with ultra-wide angle lenses. It's perfect for landscape photography or low-light shooting.

See our head-to-head image quality comparison between the Nikon D610 and D600,
which proves that they're virtually identical.

I reviewed the Nikon D7100 a while back, and this camera feels very similar; it's almost like Nikon shoved a full-frame sensor inside that camera's body. Nevertheless, it does feel a bit heftier than the D7100, which is to be expected. The ergonomics of the D610 feel comfortable and well thought out, although it still has the same quirky problem that I first experienced with the D7100 -- the eyepiece is almost flush with the back of the camera. Since I'm left-eye dominant, the flatter eyepiece makes my thumb press up against my forehead when using back-button focusing. Furthermore, the lack of a dedicated AF-ON button (hey, the D800 has one!) also seems like a minor annoyance. They're just that, though: relatively minor annoyances.

On all other fronts, the D610 carries over the same design and advanced features of the D600 like dual, locking mode dials, dual Secure Digital card slots, Full HD video at multiple frame rates (no 1080/60p though, just 720/60p), full-time AF for videos, and a headphone jack.

Who should buy it? If you're a Nikon user who's ready to make the jump to a full-frame camera, and you don't need all the bells and whistles and 36 megapixel images of the D800, the D610 is a fantastic, feature-packed camera that produces amazing image quality at an affordable price. Those who are brand-agnostic should also consider the D610, or its close competitor, the Canon 6D.

If you're an existing D600 owner, however, I'm not quite sure the D610 is worth the switch. Unless you're particularly fed up with the sensor dust-and-oil problems (and many accounts indicate that these go away after a certain number of shutter actuations -- not a great excuse, but still), or you're really excited about 3fps quiet continuous shutter mode and an extra 0.5fps from the high-speed continuous burst shooting mode, the D610 is not hugely different from the D600.

The D610's images look highly detailed, with nice, rich colors at the default color and picture settings.

Since the Nikon D610 and D600 DSLRs are almost identical -- except for the features
we've covered above -- see our previously published Nikon D600 review for a more
in-depth analysis of their shared features, real-world performance and image quality.

Bottom line. The D610 is, for all intents and purposes, the same camera as the Nikon D600. Instead of repeating the information and analysis here, please see our in-depth Nikon D600 review for a full recounting of our experiences with that camera. Simply ignore our dust-and-oil commentary, and remember that the D610 can shot slightly faster and more quietly. Despite its flaws, when we reviewed it last year we liked the D600's image quality and performance -- as well as its excellent value proposition -- enough that we still gave it a Dave's Pick. Suffice to say, the Nikon D610 gets an even higher recommendation from us. It's truly a great camera and a tremendous value, perfect for the advanced enthusiast longing to step up to a full-frame model.


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