Full-frame photography underwent a transformation in 2012. Prices fell dramatically with the appearance of the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D600, both of which cost around £500 About, less than previous entry-level full-frame SLRs. The Nikon 610 is the replacement model for the latter, offering some minor updates and fixes for problems the original experienced.
Originally, the D600 triumphed in our review, as we felt that its more sophisticated autofocus system, dual card slots, faster continuous performance and more sophisticated and elegant controls were more compelling than the EOS 6D, although that camera’s integrated Wi-Fi and GPS functions did give it an edge in other areas.
But the Nikon D600 had technical problems (more on which below) and Nikon eventually replaced it 13 months later with the D610. Since then, the company has also released the Nikon D750, which is a step up in terms of features and has a flip-out screen. We’ve updated our conclusion to include this camera, so you can work out which model is best for you.
D600 dirt problems
After our review was published, reports started to emerge that unusually high numbers of D600 owners were experiencing problems with dirt on the sensor. This can be an issue for any camera with interchangeable lenses, but speculation was rife that the dirt spots were appearing even when the lens hadn’t been changed. This implied that it wasn’t a simple matter of dirt getting into the camera, but that it was coming from somewhere inside the camera.
It wasn’t just speculation on web forums, either. YouTube user Kyle Clements posted a video that showed the build-up of spot over 500 shots captured in a time-lapse sequence. It was also documented by Roger Cicala of Lensrentals.com.
It’s important to note that these spots were only visible when the camera was shooting a plain subject with a narrow aperture. Even so, it’s not something that we’d want to be worrying about after spending £1,500 on a camera.
Nikon took a while to respond to these concerns, finally issuing a statement in February 2013. It was non-committal about whether and why the spots were appearing, but advised users to send their cameras in for a service if necessary. Kyle Clements’ follow-up YouTube videos showed that spot continued to appear after the camera was serviced, but they appeared less frequently the more he used the camera. Across web forums, a consensus appeared to be forming that the problem lasted for a few thousand frames, and eventually became insignificant.
Still, this whole episode clearly didn’t help sales of the D600. This is the back story that brings us to the D610. Its launch comes only 13 months after the D600, and to describe it as a minor evolution would be an understatement.
Continuous shooting is up from 5.5fps to 6fps, extending its lead over the 4.5fps Canon EOS 6D and matching the more expensive Canon 5D Mark III. It maintained this speed for an impressive 53 frames in our tests, before slowing to 3.5fps. Raw continuous mode slowed to 1.3fps after 14 frames. There’s a new Quiet Continuous mode that shoots at 3fps, although to our ears it sounds different but not actually any quieter. Capturing it with a microphone suggested that it was actually 2dB louder.
That’s pretty much it for new features. There appear to be some subtle tweaks to the JPEG engine, with noise taking on a more uniform, monochrome appearance that’s more pleasing to our eyes than multi-coloured speckles. The difference was pretty subtle, though, only becoming clearly visible in areas of dark, solid colour at ISO 6400 and above.
Image quality that’s virtually indistinguishable from the D600’s is hardly a criticism, of course. Both cameras are up there with the best full-frame SLRs for image quality, with exquisite rendering of colours and details and seriously low noise at fast ISO speeds.
There’s plenty of crisp detail in this shot (taken with the 24-85mm lens that’s available as a kit lens), and the autumnal colours have a sublime glow
For maximum fidelity to dense textures, it’s always worth shooting raw (this shot processed in Lightroom 5)
We could easily mistake this ISO 1000 shot for ISO 100
Shutter priority at 1/800s to freeze motion pushes the ISO speed up to 3200 – still very little evidence of noise
Nothing beats a full-frame camera and wide-aperture lens for capturing moving subjects in low light
Depth-of-field effects really benefit from the full-frame sensor, too. We didn’t quite nail this shot, though – the eyelashes are sharp but the iris is a little soft
The most important change is one that Nikon will probably never acknowledge. We found no evidence of accumulating dirt spots when capturing a sequence of 1,000 photos of a white wall at f/16. Roger Cicala came to a similar conclusion on the Lensrentals.com blog, based on tests of no less than 25 D610s.
Back button focussing
As with the majority of Nikon DSLRs, the D610 can use back button focussing, where the auto-focus mechanism is de-coupled from the shutter button and moved to the AE-L/AF-L button on the rear of the camera. Switching the camera’s auto-focus mode to AF-C (continuous), it means that you can quickly focus on a subject when you want, so you’re always ready to take a shot.
This mode is particularly useful for wildlife photography, as you can quickly track and focus on fast-moving animals while snapping off shots. It was using this technique that we managed to capture this leaping impala in Kruger National Park, using a shutter speed of 1/3,200s. You can click the image to get the full-resolution sample shot, which shows that the camera managed to capture the Impala’s every detail.
The D610 coincided with the launch of the Nikon D5300, so it’s a little disappointing that Nikon didn’t add the same 1080/60p video capture, GPS and Wi-Fi functions to this pricier model. We’d also love to have seen an articulated screen, which the Nikon D750 has.
Still, the fact that the D610 offers minimal improvements over the D600 doesn’t detract from both cameras’ strengths. Its sublime image quality, nippy performance, elegant controls and large viewfinder all compare well with pricier full-frame cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800. For us, the only significant drawback is that – as with the D600 and Canon EOS 6D – the autofocus points are bunched in the centre of the frame. This can be a bit of a nuisance when composing shots with an off-centre subject. However, having spent a couple of months shooting with the D610, we were surprised at how infrequently this was noticeably a problem.
If you’re not short of cash, it’s probably worth avoiding this compromise by going for the pricier D800 or EOS 5D Mark III. However, the real competition comes from the D750. This takes several features from the D800, including the 51-point auto-focus sensor, but keeps the same resolution as the D610. It is considerably more expensive, though, so you have to ask if you really need the extra features. If money isn’t the issue, then by all means you should buy the D750. If you’re looking for more of a bargain and want to spend more money on the lenses, then the D610 is still an excellent camera and we’ve had no problems with its smaller auto-focus camera and we’ve rarely been in a position where its screen has been an issue.
Meanwhile, if funds are tight, there’s a strong argument for going for a cropped-sensor SLR such as the superb Nikon D7100, which is otherwise very similar to the D610 and has a superior autofocus sensor. Zoom lenses for cropped-sensor SLRs are cheaper than those designed for full-frame SLRs, too.
There’s no denying the allure of a full-frame SLR. Noise levels are lower, details tend to be sharper and shallow depth-of-field effects are more pronounced. The D610 is one of the lowest-priced full-frame SLRs available, putting it within reach of amateur enthusiasts and letting those with a bit more cash stock up on lenses. It doesn’t feel like a cut-price model, though. If we were looking to buy a full-frame SLR, we might gaze longingly at one of the pricier models for a while, seriously consider the D750 and then we’d buy a D610.
|Sensor resolution||24.2 megapixels|
|Focal length multiplier||1x|
|Optical stabilisation||Lens based|
|Viewfinder magnification (35mm-equivalent), coverage||0.7x, 100%|
|LCD screen||3.2in (921,000 dots)|
|Photo file formats||JPEG, RAW|
|Maximum photo resolution||6,016×4,016|
|Photo aspect ratios||3:02|
|Video compression format||QuickTime (AVC)|
|Video resolutions||1080p at 24/25/30fps, 720p at 25/30/50/60fps|
|Slow motion video modes||N/A|
|Maximum video clip length (at highest quality)||20m|
|Exposure modes||Program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual|
|Shutter speed range||30 to 1/4,000s|
|ISO speed range||100 to 6400|
|Exposure compensation||EV +/-5|
|White balance||Auto, 7 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin|
|Auto-focus modes||39-point (9 cross type)|
|Metering modes||Multi, centre-weighted, centre|
|Flash modes||Auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction|
|Drive modes||Single, continuous, interval, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, flash bracket, ADL bracket, HDR, multiple exposure|
|Lens mount||Nikon F|
|Card slot||2x SDXC|
|Connectivity||USB, mini HDMI, wired remote, microphone, headphone|
|Body material||Magnesium alloy|
|Accessories||USB cable, neck strap|
|Warranty||Two year RTB|
|Price including VAT||£345.00|