After spending just over a month of shooting with this camera body in Yellowstone for the winter I can honestly say that I am impressed with certain aspects of this little camera. First and foremost I think that if you are at all considering the Nikon D7100 you should take a look at this camera instead.
First and foremost the d610 is an FX or full frame camera. So if you are looking for a digital cropping factor, don’t look here. With that said though, the Nikon D610 does harbor 24mp which gives you the latitude to crop in some.
Why this camera is head and shoulders above the D7100 in my opinion is because of the 30 frame buffer. Compare this to the D7100’s 7 frame buffer. Why is this important to me, a wildlife photographer? Both of these cameras shoot at a little over 6 frames a second. If my camera is going to buffer out and hang up after just 7 frames, this means that I can get 1 (one) single burst of frames on Continuous High before the camera locks up. With 30 frames a second, the problem is eliminated. Add a memory card that writes at 90mb/s and you are in the clear.
One thing that the D610 does share with its D7100 cousin though is the lake of a AF-ON button on the back of the camera. For wildlife photography this is such a crucial part of how I do business that it just about kills the camera for me. There is an AF-L button that can be re-programmed to function as an autofocus on button, but I don’t want to give up the AF-L (autofocus lock button) which is so important for keeping focus locked where you want it while recomposing. With limited number of sensor points in the Nikon D610 (39 vs 51 as found in other pro and prosumer models) the AF-L button is absolutely crucial unless you like to bulls eye your subject smack dab in the middle of the composition.
The ISO and WB buttons are also funky. These are set over along the side of the LCD and double for other functions as well. Give me dedicated buttons for the most important stuff. ISO and WB are critical buttons. To hide them elsewhere makes for awkward fumbling with the camera when the action is hot. This in turn means missed photographs.
Shooting in the snow like this, you will quickly blow out your blue channels on the RGB histograms. Thus, as the light changes, I need to adjust my Kelvin scale to adjust the blue channel. Auto white balance and even cloudy presets do not cut it. So when I started shooting in the morning my white balance would often times be at over 9000k. This number went down quickly as light changed. Having to stop, look at the back of the camera, and fumble with the little buttons that are designed for controlling what you see on your LCD just made for clumsy work.
AF-On, AF-L, WB, and ISO… these all need to be separate buttons.
Surprisingly I did find that the autofocus on this camera was a bit more accurate than the D800. Where the D800 searched endlessly through falling snow at times, the D610 snapped in place. In heavy falling snow all of this is a mute point though of course and manually focusing your lens is THE ONLY way to obtain focus on your subject. However, there was no doubt that the D610 outperformed the D800 at times in these conditions.
The D610 is no Nikon D4 when it comes to construction and weather proofing. However, it is built to the same weather proofing specs as the D800. I did not use my rain cover at all on this trip despite the significant amount of snow we experienced – especially during the first workshop. This camera held up just fine and I feel confident that I could drag it around the world and it would hold up.
The only point in which the D610 started to get weird on me was when temperatures dropped to minus 37 degrees. Everything became extremely sluggish, focus points in the viewfinder would disappear and then reappear, the LCD moved in some sort of funky slow liquid motion. But then again its almost minus 40 degrees out – that point where Fahrenheit and Celsius reach the same temp. The LCD? Remember, this means Liquid Crystal Display. At these temps, that liquid is freezing. That same day the cold also destroyed a Phantom drone, and shut down operation of video equipment and other electronics until it warmed up some. So this is not something I am really worried about.
The Nikon D610 did produce some weird color casting that I did not find on the other cameras. Purples and magentas would come out of now where and were not universal across the pictures. This meant added time spent in post processing trying to remove the weird colors from various parts of the scene. I never saw issues with green, just magenta.
This is a great little camera, but it does have its drawbacks in terms of color cast, button layout, and lack of a dedicated AF-On button. I would recommend this camera over the Nikon D7100 in a heartbeat. I would also recommend this camera over the Nikon D800 for 99% of photographers. With 24mp vs 36 like the D800, this camera is much more user friendly and actually far more than camera than most photographers will ever need. The D800 fills a very specific niche. The D610 is designed to be appeal to the masses.
Personally I liked the camera and enjoyed shooting with it. As noted above there are a few features on this camera that are obnoxious. For wildlife photography it’s the only thing out there that fills the gap between the older Nikon D300 and the flagship Nikon D4 since Nikon has not released a D400 or some sort of upgrade for the D300 yet. So with this in mind, if you don’t want to pony up $5K or more for the D4, this is your best alternative for wildlife photography right now – even though it doesn’t have some of the features that wildlife photographers need.
Sample Photo from the D610
This is a photograph of one of the Madison River bobcats that we photographed while in Yellowstone. This was taken in low light. Specs are:
ISO 1250 | 1/400 | f/4 | 600mm