Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality. Also note that all images are down-sampled to the size of the sensor with the lowest resolution (Nikon D700/D3s in this case).
Compared to Nikon D7000
Let’s see how the new D610 compares to the D7000, a cropped-sensor (DX) camera with a 16 MP sensor.
21) Nikon D610 vs D7000 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Take a look at the below crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Nikon D610, Right: Nikon D7000):
As I have previously noted in my other reviews, one thing I was not particularly happy about with Nikon DX sensors was the apparent noise at even the base ISO. As you can see from the above, there is a little bit more noise on the D7000 than on the D610 at ISO 100. Even when I look at the images at 100% view without down-sampling anything, the Nikon D7000 still shows more noise.
At ISO 200, the noise difference is a little more apparent, with the Nikon D7000 producing even more noise throughout the image.
The same with ISO 400 – the Nikon D7000 is visibly noisier.
And by ISO 800, the new sensor technology on the D610 is showing its best – it has almost no visible noise, while the Nikon D7000 shows plenty of it. The Nikon D610 at ISO 800 looks as good as the Nikon D7000 at ISO 100, even when not down-sampled!
22) Nikon D610 vs D7000 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? You can probably already tell what the comparison is going to look like. Let’s take a look:
The Nikon D7000 gets very noisy at ISO 1600, as can be seen from the above image. The difference between the two is night and day.
And there is no need to talk about what happens at ISO 3200…
ISO 6400 on the D7000 is plain unusable, while the D610 is still performing really well. I would say the Nikon D610 is about two stops better than the D7000 at high ISOs.
In comparison to the D7000, the Nikon D610 looks usable at ISO 12800 and 25600…
23) Nikon D610 vs D7000 Summary
Since the first Nikon D600 rumors appeared on the Internet, many DX owners have been contemplating about upgrading to a full-frame camera. A number of Nikon D7000 owners that felt like moving up to something bigger and better did not quite want to shell out $6K on a D4 or half of that on a D800. While the latter is a superb camera, some felt like 36 MP was too much and the 4 fps speed was too limiting for certain types of photography. With the introduction of the D600 / D610, which have the right balance of sensor resolution and camera speed, and a price tag that is $1000 lower than the D800, it looks like a great potential choice as the first full-frame camera. However, since many of the features and components on the D600 / D610 were borrowed from the D7000 and Nikon put some limitations on the shutter speed and flash sync, the question became “is the D600 / D610 worth upgrading to from the D7000?”. I consider the D600 / D610 to be worth upgrading to from any DX camera. Yes, full-frame does make a difference (if you do not understand the difference between FX and DX, check out my FX vs DX article), not just because you are getting bigger pixels and potentially more resolution, but also because you are getting a much bigger viewfinder (which makes a huge difference when composing images or focusing manually). In addition, you regain the lost field of view due to the crop factor, which makes lenses like Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR far more useful.
As you can see from the above ISO comparisons, a full-frame sensor (FX) makes a huge difference. Due to a bigger pixel size and better image processing pipeline, the Nikon D610 also looks cleaner at low ISOs between ISO 100 and 800, even when viewed at 100% without down-sampling.
Compared to Nikon D700
Let’s see how the discontinued D700 performs compared to the D610. Please keep in mind that the Nikon D610 image was down-sampled to 12 MP to match the D700’s resolution.
24) Nikon D610 vs D700 at Low ISOs
I cannot see any difference in performance between the D610 and the D700 at all low ISO levels between ISO 100 and 800. Both look more or less the same, with excellent performance.
25) Nikon D610 vs D700 High ISO Comparison
I still cannot see any major differences at ISO 1600, but the D610 looks a tad cleaner in non-shadow areas.
At ISO 3200, we see more noise on both cameras, but the D610 now clearly looks better, mostly thanks to the down-sampling process (the grain looks smaller in comparison).
You can see for yourself that the D610 looks even better at ISO 6400, retaining a lot of details throughout the image, especially in the shadows.
And even more so at ISO 12800.
Lastly, while ISO 25600 looks pretty bad on both cameras, the D610 still looks way better in comparison. In my opinion, it outperforms the D700 by about a full stop at high ISO levels, which is remarkable, considering that it has a lot more pixels (24.3 MP vs 12.1 MP).
26) Nikon D610 vs D700 Summary
The Nikon D700 has been a very popular camera ever since it came out back in 2008. As I have already pointed out in my Nikon D800 Review, the D700 ended up cannibalizing the sales of the D3, because it had the same sensor, same AF system and fast speed when used with a battery grip. This time Nikon took a completely different approach – instead of keeping a high resolution camera in a very expensive package (D3X), it made it available in a smaller and much more affordable D800, while holding the premium camera line (D4) specialized for sports, news and wildlife photography. The D800 release confused many photographers that wanted to move up from the D700, because it was not the same type of camera anymore. Sports and wildlife photographers wanted faster speed and better high ISO performance, while event photographers did not want to deal with the high resolution sensor that yielded gigantic files. The D600 / D610 releases are another proof that Nikon is not willing to make another D700-like camera. While resolution and speed on the D610 are what many photographers wanted to see on the D800, the AF system is inferior and there are some other limitations and compromises. Sports and wildlife photographers are pretty much stuck with the D4 at the moment. For everyone else, the D610 is an excellent package. More than twice the megapixel count, better dynamic range and colors, video recording capabilities and more.
While I have been a huge fan of the Nikon D700 for many years now (and still own one), I am very impressed by what the D610 can deliver. While both cameras have very similar performance at low ISO levels, the D610 outperforms the D700 at ISO levels above 1600. Thanks to its high-resolution 24.3 MP sensor, the Nikon D610 provides a lot of detail compared to the D700. The advantages of a high-resolution sensor are clear here – the D610 not only show less noise overall, but also provides more details when images are down-sampled. We saw the same thing on the Nikon D800, so it is really not a surprise to see this kind of performance from a higher resolution sensor.
Another thing that is definitely worth talking about is dynamic range. As I have previously reported, the D610 has remarkable dynamic range that is almost as good as on the D800. You can recover some serious data from RAW files (especially in the shadows) on the D610 and the D700 stands no chance there. Hence, the it is a much better camera for landscape photography, where the ability to capture the most amount of dynamic range is important.
Compared to Nikon D800/D800E
Let’s see how the Nikon D610 compares to the superb Nikon D800/D800E. I used the D800E for a comparison here, but you can assume that the D800 will look the same, since both the D800 and the D800E have the same noise characteristics at all ISO levels.
27) Nikon D610 vs D800/D800E ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
As expected, both cameras perform exceptionally well at low ISOs – I cannot see any difference between the two.
28) Nikon D610 vs D800/D800E High ISO Comparison
We see the same thing when looking at performance at high ISOs – both cameras look about the same, even at boosted ISO levels of 12800 and 25600.
29) Nikon D610 vs D800/D800E Summary
Another frequently asked question by our readers, is what to choose – the D610 or the D800. With a $1000 difference between the two, is it still worth spending the extra money and getting the D800, or getting the D610 with better lenses? To be honest, for most photographers out there, I would recommend the D610 over the D800. The D610 has a lot to offer in a smaller package. I consider the D800 (especially the D800E) to be a specialized camera for specific needs. For commercial landscape, architecture and studio photography, the D800 without a doubt is the top choice. For everything else, the D610 is a great camera. Yes, professional/advanced amateur wildlife and sports photographers will still want the expensive D4 for better autofocus and speed, because the D610 might not cut it for them in critical situations (see more on the AF performance for wildlife photography below). Personally, I would favor the D610 with a good lens over the D800 with a crappy lens. In fact, the D800 is more demanding on lenses, so you have to get the best lenses for it if you want to get the best image quality. So at the end of the day it might be well over the $1000 in price difference between the two, once you take lenses into consideration. For those who already own a D800/D800E, I would seriously consider the D610 as a backup camera. Another key factor in favor of the D610 is its colors. The rendering of the skin tones on the camera is as good as on the D800!
I went back and forth and looked a lot at the performance of the two sensors to see if I could spot any major differences. As you can see from the above samples, both cameras perform about the same throughout the ISO range, which is very impressive! We are dealing with the best two sensors here and this comparison is a clear proof of that. The Nikon D800/D800E still has the edge due to more megapixels (36.3 MP vs 24.3 MP), but it only matters to those that truly need them. For portrait and event photographers that do not particularly care for sensor resolution, the Nikon D610 is clearly a superb choice today, while landscape, architecture and studio photographers would still be better off with the D800/D800E. This does not mean that the D610 cannot be a landscape camera! Before the D800, many of us were photographing landscapes with the D700 and not complaining. I have a boatload of beautiful images that I shot with the D700 and some images I can print really large, thanks to the panoramic photography technique. I am sure others have similar stories to tell. I did a quick calculation, and it turns out I can print as big as 40 x 26 inches at 150 PPI with the D610, which is more than enough for most of us out there. We clearly got spoiled with the D800! So unless you are a commercial photographer that wants the best high resolution full-frame camera in the world, the D610 is more than enough for landscape photography.
Compared to Nikon D3s
What about comparing the D610 to the low-light king, the Nikon D3s? Let’s take a look.
30) Nikon D610 vs D3s ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Again, I see no difference between the Nikon D610 and the D3s at all low ISO levels.
31) Nikon D610 vs D3s High ISO Comparison
Similar to what we saw with the D800, there is really no difference in ISO performance between the D610 and the D3s, even at ISO 3200! We only start to see minor differences in shadows at ISO 6400, where the D3s seems to retain a little more details. Other than that, both are almost identical.
When pushed to ISO 25,600, the Nikon D3s is a little cleaner and retains more colors, while the D610 still shows more details (again, thanks to down-sampling). D3s retains more dynamic range at this ISO level. I do not particularly care for the ISO performance above ISO 25600 on the D3s, since it is too noisy for my taste anyway.
32) Nikon D610 vs D3s Summary
As you can see from the above image crops, the D3s is a worthy competitor to the D610 at most ISO levels. At high ISO levels the Nikon D3s shows a little better ISO performance in the shadows, mostly because it retains dynamic range better at high ISOs, thanks to the larger pixels (visible at ISO levels 12,800 and 25,600). At the same time, the Nikon D610 still resolves more detail at high ISO levels, thanks to much higher resolution (24.3 MP vs 12.1 MP) and the down-sampling process.
33) Nikon D610 vs Canon 6D
After Nikon introduced the D600, Canon also brought a direct competitor to the market – the Canon 6D. It shares some of the features of the D610 and adds a couple of very nice extras like built-in GPS and Wi-Fi. Canon decided to cut on many standard and important features on the 6D though. For example, there is no built-in flash on the 6D. In comparison, the Nikon D610 has the same built-in flash as higher-end DSLRs, with ability to remotely control other flashes. Canon decided to use the same old 11-point AF system used on the Canon 5D/5D Mark II with a single cross-type sensor, while Nikon used a much better 39 point AF system, with 9 cross-type sensors. The viewfinder on the 6D has 97% coverage, while the D610 has 100% coverage. The speed of the camera is also inferior – 4.5 fps on the 6D versus 6 fps on the D610. A single SD memory card slot versus dual on the D610 (a serious disadvantage in my opinion). Finally, it falls behind in terms of megapixels (20.2 MP vs 24.3 MP). While megapixels do not really matter, it will be hard for the 6D to compete with the second best sensor in the world (according to DxOMark), which has better dynamic range and colors than most medium format cameras.