By Eugene Lee
These days, for me, photography is about documenting the life of my young family and the places we go. I mostly shoot as I'm going about my normal life — taking pictures as I walk to work or between helping my children get dressed or waiting for them to finish an activity.
So in recent months, the D610 has been my tool of choice to capture those images. The D610 is nearly the same as the D600. The only differences are a new shutter mechanism that bumps up continuous shooting rate and adds a Quiet Continuous mode, plus it has an updated auto white balance system. It's still a camera that gets out of the way and lets you focus on your subject whether it's landscapes, portraiture, photojournalism or something in between.
All the photographic essentials can be checked off the list for the D610: Good low-light image quality, fast enough frame rate for most situations, tough weather-sealed body, accessibility to good glass, and well laid out controls for quick operation.
The following images are straight out of the camera JPEGs shot in RAW+JPEG mode.
One Saturday afternoon, I took my sons to the Seattle Central Library. Along with a few snacks, I tossed the D610 and the 24-85mm F3.5-4.5 kit lens into my backpack and off we went. While waiting for the elevator, I looked over railing and quickly grabbed the above frame before having to corral my kids through the doors that just opened for our ride down. The D610's matrix metering in did a fine job here.
As one familiar with Nikon and Canon DSLRs, shooting with the D610 felt like riding a bike — you never really forget once you learn. The controls and ergonomics were all familiar and quick to access since the D610 borrows a similar layout as the D7100. And there are enough customization and menu options to set the camera up just the way you like it. For me, I tend to set ISO higher than most to maintain a fast shutter speed since I'm usually shooting while walking (or sometimes running) after my kids or one of them is hanging on me — it's rare I'm left alone so I want to reduce any opportunity for camera shake.
So once the elevator doors opened, I adjusted settings and fired off a few frames without stopping my stride while in pursuit of my kids in the red room area of the library. No learning curve needed.
The new shutter mechanism in the D610 bumps up the continuous frame rate from 5.5 fps to 6 fps. This isn't a huge increase and many dedicated sports photographers aren't going to use the D610 as their primary body, but in this situation it — along with the continuous tracking of the 39-point AF system — was plenty fast enough to get my son in mid-stride.
Dust and oil
I think it's safe to say we consider the oil and dust issue fixed. During my time shooting with the D610 I didn't see the build up of oil or dust that many D600 users found (we covered it in our D600 review). The only dust I encountered was accumulated from fairly typical use. This included frequent lens changes and use by various members of our staff in a variety of conditions. A few blows from a Rocket Blaster took care of any particles. We've shot more than 15,000 frames with our D610 so far.
In addition to the minor increase in the continuous frame rate, the new shutter design also brings a new Quiet Continuous mode to the D610 that fires at 3 fps, in addition to single shot. The shutter sound isn't nearly silent like the Fujifilm X100s or Leica rangefinders, it's just not as recognizable as the traditional shutter clack heard in the normal setting. Compared to the D610's Canon counterpart, the EOS 6D's 'silent shutter' mode is still noticeably more muted and unobtrusive.
Both Quiet modes can be useful for sound sensitive situations such as weddings or certain street settings (and in the above example, not waking up my sleeping son). In practice, many will probably opt to shoot in single shot mode, tripping the shutter and delaying the return clack of the mirror at discerning moments because any sort of rapid fire or sustained noise — even if it is quiet — will draw attention.
Nikon says the auto white balance is improved in the D610 — especially under artificial lighting conditions. Other Nikon DSLRs I've used often struggle to find the right white balance in the auto setting (tending towards being too orange). In this image, lit only by the incandescent bulb in the lamp, the D610 gets it right for my taste.
It's also worth mentioning in this low-light scene of my son playing with the phone, the D610's second most outer left AF point locked on for most of the 22 frames I shot. Only two frames produced visibly soft images.
One area the D610 disappoints is live view shooting. The lens is automatically set to the aperture selected at the time live view is turned on, giving you an accurate preview of depth of field. However, you can not preview any further shooting adjustments even though the shutter speed and aperture figures change. The exposure indicator scale is your only guide to how changes affect the final image. So the only way to get an accurate depth of field preview is to exit and re-enter live view. Also, since the D610 uses contrast detection AF in live view (instead of phase detection AF), it's really only useful where critical focus is more important than speed.
In the above example, in live view mode, I used the zoom buttons on the rear of the camera to magnify the flower's center and adjust focus manually — something live view is very useful for. It would be nice if the D610 had features such as a histogram view (in the D800) and the option to show real-time depth of field preview on the LCD (in the Canon EOS 6D). For a more in-depth look see our original D600 review since D610 live view functionality is identical.
Being exactly the same as the D600 on the outside, there were no surprises in handling the D610. It's operation is tried and true. The 24.3MP full-frame sensor produces files full of detail, in any condition you can throw at it. The twin-dial controls are in comfortable positions and the shutter button action is solid. With the 24-85mm F3.5-4.5 lens attached, the D610 feels well balanced in hand and the magnesium alloy top and rear plates instill confidence that it can handle a few knocks. And while it's not small like mirrorless systems or the Canon SL1, the D610 is smaller and lighter than the D800, and can feel compact with the right prime lens.
One advantage of the full-frame sensor is the variety of wide-angle lens options that are available — especially primes. One of my favorites is the Nikkor 20mm F2.8. Since it's so short, when mounted on the D610 it makes a really light DSLR setup that can be easily carried anywhere.
In using the D610 I didn't feel limited by the shortcomings of technology or body design. I only felt limited by my own vision and skill — which is a good thing. With the D610 I was able to focus on creativity versus what my gear can and can't do.