A review of the D610 and the D750 from a long time D300 user perspective

08.02.16

My digital photography journey started with a 2mpix HP photosmart 315, and went on to a Pentax S4. In 2007 I decided I had to get on the DSLR bandwagon.

Note: I digress quite a bit in this article. As I find background info useful to understand if the writer fits my style and if I should actually give weight to the opinions present, I decided not to shorten it. But if you don't care about why I decided on the D750 and just want to actually read about the D610 and D750, scroll down to The present

The 350D

It all started with the Canon 350D, the kit 18-55 and a Sigma 55-200 which was soon traded for a Tamron 70-300 and a 2x teleconverter. I always liked candid photography but didn't have the nerve to go up close.

Battery

Soon I wanted to play with remote lighting, and the canon needed two flashes to do that, whearas Nikons had commander mode on the built in flash. Since the 580EX cost almost as much as the Nikon D80 and I also needed an extra flash, I decided to switch systems. The basic reason was being able to carry only one flashgun and use it both on and off camera was worth it.

The D80

Enter the D80. The CCD sensor produced lovely colors, and a hard, monochrome noise that looks like film, making high ISO shooting much more useful.

Music

This image is using boosted ISO3200, the highest setting for this camera.

Back then however the advances in camera technology were increasing by leaps and bounds every year, and as I worked part time as a professional photographer, a year later I wanted a new camera. The leaps and bounds were compounded by the fact that I was also jumping a category each time making the improvement even bigger.

The D300.

Sir

That camera was so good, I kept it for 8 years. Even if I then thought I was getting the semi-pro body. Little I knew that Nikon later that year would introduce the D700 and that full frame would be the way of the future.

With this camera I learned that specs that I wouldn't otherwise care about actually did much to improve the experience and results. I very rarely shoot in burst and I don't really care about the max fps. I also keep the setting in single shot because I like to keep the button pressed after snapping to reduce camera shake. However using a camera this fast has a very positive side-effect, even in single shoot mode: The camera becomes ready after a snap much faster, so if you snap a moment and during the next split-second the scene improves in some way you can just press the shutter button and the camera instantly snaps again. With both the 350D and the D80 there was considerable lag before the camera was ready to snap again.

The live view was less useful than I thought until after a firmware update that greatly improved the contrast-detect AF. Since then it functions almost like modern cameras. There was another mode though, that with a slight UI tweak would work wonders, even today. On AF-ON press, the camera focuses, dropping the mirror momentarily. You can then recompose and snap, but this works only if you disable focusing on shutter half press, as normally it will drop the mirror again to focus, ruining the recomposition and preventing the photographer from seeing what the camera sees, right before the exposure. If the camera automatically disabled AF on half-press every time you switch on live view, or if you always use AF-ON-only anyway, live view gets much more useful. Ironically, on the contrast-detect focusing half-pressing the shutter never focuses, regardless of the setting, making AF-ON a required control.

I bought some lenses over the years trying to match my old 300mm with teleconverter, without really thinking about sharpness or actual usefulness in anything but bright daylight. I ended up with a Sigma 170-500 which I have hardly used.

Papyrus

I gradually became a fan of prime lenses and wide apertures. My favorite lens became the 50mm but I couldn't just yet depart from the convenience of the superzoom so I always carried the heavy 18-200 with me. At some time I started losing interest in most subjects and got tired of lagging the camera bag around all the time (a couple of shoulder injuries added to that effect). Still I didn't want to give up completely and the camera was a required accessory during travelling. Travelling alone however to places I'd need a laptop made things hard. Neither gadget fits well in each other's bag and transit flights were especially tiresome. Mirrorless was the new game and the idea of almost-slr intrigued me. I would love if Nikon did a APS-C size camera with classic F-mount. In tandem with the small AF-D's it would be easy to carry and versatile at the same time.

Downsizing

Being in the middle of a crisis, cost was the major factor here and since the J1 was a bargain I went for it. Disaster! The camera just combined the worst of compacts and SLR's. Awkward shape, too small to handle easily yet too big to fit in a pocket. It focused amazingly fast in daylight but refused to even try in low light, and since the lens has no focus ring you had to go into the menu to focus manually, making it virtually useless at night. The PASM modes were well hidden in the menus as if this was the dumbest of point and shoots, while stupid buttons on the back could change video framerate and other obscure settings despite the mode dial having just 4 things on it.

Katowice

The F-mount converter not only was insanely expensive, it was also useless as the camera has a 2.7x crop factor, turning the widest lenses into telephotos. Not to mention the complete disproportionality of lens and camera size.

protect I decided that actually mirrorless wasn't what I wanted. What I wanted was a capable compact. I wouldn't buy anything more than the kit lens for my small camera ever, and I didn't want to carry more things anyway. Thus the obvious solution was one of the RX100's. I went for the Mark II and I never regretted it for a second. The camera is a fine street snapper. The only drawback is the long startup time but even if you keep the screen on all the time the battery is quite potent.

This camera actually fuelled my interest in photography once again. I carried it always, most of the time in a pocket. The image quality was comparable to my D300. Until one day I decided to take a Make-Up artist course. Most of the photos were portraits and I missed my primes.

Nothing beats good bokeh

Nothing beats good bokeh!

My brother had bought a D610 a year earlier and I had done a few snaps with it. Image quality was impressive, low light performance was phenomenal and the full frame exhibited that realistic, encompassing effect. I quickly dismissed it however. Next to the D300 it was a toy. I blamed it on the D80'ish body. The autofocus points were hopelessly cramped at the center of the frame, so much I didn't see the usefulness of anything more than 9 points. The grip was nice but small, the weight balance wasn't good with small and light normal primes, the shutter made a harsh, tinny sound that didn't inspire confidence. Two-key reset wouldn't reset the shooting mode. Even the OK button couldn't be remapped to full zoom to check focus/sharpness.

The spark that ignited my appetite for a new camera was the announcement of the A7RII. I think that mirrorless is the way of the future and the idea of OSS on fast primes was awesome. However I had to start from scratch as no Nikon AF adaptor existed. I read a lot reviews, and while everybody aknowledged the capability of the camera, there were no love letters to that camera. Sony still has (apparently) to iron some quirks, like the quick selection of focus point, or that the camera does not go to sleep when hanging from your neck. Sample images of the D810 around the net looked better, too. All this, along with the insane price and the need to get at least one lens tripped the scales over to staying with Nikon for at least one more iteration.

I wasn't ready to trade the ergonomics of the D300 for the image quality so I fixated on the D810. After all the D750 had (at first glance) the same body as the D610: toy. In the meantime I had stopped using the two button reset because I started shooting RAW, and that resets quality too.

I started reading reviews again, tests, charts and all that. And I noticed a trend: the D750 was getting a lot of love letters. From D800 users, from D700 users that found the D800 not a worthy upgrade, from freakin Canon users that decided to switch systems! It's rarely you stumble upon such glowing reviews including stuff like 'Nikon has made The Perfect Grip', 'the D750 wins by a margin [each camera on the market]', ' It actually puts [the fun factor] back in to photography for me' and 'Nikon has created a Monster'.

I decided to take the D610 for another spin, this time having in mind to just evaluate the control layout ergonomics, since the good stuff (AF Mostly) had trickled down from the D810. I might rarely use, for example, 9 shot bracketing, but I consider it quite important: on one hand I don't know how my shooting style might change through the course of the years, and I'm buying a camera to keep, and on the other if they left that out, they might as well left something else that I do use and I didn't think to test or research (such as the OK button zoom).

Rant intermission: I understand that camera manufacturers need to distinguish between models, but there are plenty of hardware differences to keep up. There are also software differences that might or might not be due to lack of processing power. But please, leaving out the programmability of the OK button is plain insulting; I know that they went to extra effort to comment the code out of the firmware.

This time around I took out both cameras and went for a relaxed, low-stress shooting. And I realized something that shook everything I had been thinking to the ground. Image quality has improved so much, that now my lenses were the bottleneck. There was no point in going to the D810 if I couldn't get sharp images with the D610. I AF-FineTuned all my lenses and tried to improve my technique. Still the AF accuracy of my 50mm 1.4D wasn't up to snuff. In fact, wide open the images were close to unusable.

Kallimarmaron

When you actually have to buy new lenses spending that much on a body suddenly becomes silly. The D810 was out of the question. So I ended up looking at the D750. I went into a store and gripped it. It actually does have a very nice grip. After about a month, I contemplated once again to go mirrorless, this time to the D750 equivalent, the A7-II. But the advantage in image quality of the D750 and the universal love I was reading everywhere ultimately convinced me.

Despite the fact that the new D500 has a brand new AF system and matrix sensor which I believe will end up in the D750's successor some time in 2016 or early 2017 I jumped the gun. 2 reasons: (a) the price of the D750 has dropped significantly since launch, and a successor would probably start from the same point the D750 started and (b) hit products are rarely followed by worthy successors.

The present

We're finally to the point that you might actually came here to read about. Am I happy with the D750? You bet I am.

Is the upgrade worth it?

It is. But not entirely for the usual suspects.

Not because of the extra MP: most of my lenses have a hard time to keep up. I don't have premium glass, but they aren't slouches either. However, between camera shake, AF accuracy and wide open sharpness the resolving power is marginally better than the D300 which is also helped by it's crop factor (it gets the sharpest portion of the image in the center).

Not because of the improved AF: okay, the verdict is not completely out about that yet, but it isn't that the D300 had any kind of trouble focusing. I still have to do some portrait work to make my mind whether the face detection of the D750 actually helps getting ultra sharp eyes more often but I don't see much a difference in other situations.

Partially because of high ISO performance: I like shooting in natural light and especially at night and having more headroom is always welcome, but with wide lenses the D300 was adequate. That said, it opens a good deal of time where you can now shoot that wasn't possible before.

Because of the improved software: Almost all of my My Menu settings are no longer necessary. ISO auto can be quickly switched with the front dial. With auto mode, I never need to touch ISO auto minimum shutter again, as the camera intelligently does one over focal length and this can be further customized to be faster or slower. Especially when using zoom lenses this is invaluable.

Because of highlight weighted metering: this is not usually given enough attention in other reviews, but for shooting in the streets during the night, it's invaluable. The frames at night are usually pretty dark, causing the camera to overexpose, severely, when matrix metering is enabled. Spot is useless as usually middle-lit areas are small and hard to target. That leaves us with center weighted which is also not optimal as it depends on your subject's size in the frame. Highlight weighted makes sure that the highlights get a correct exposure leaving everything else in the dark, replicating the true character of the scene. With the added bonus that you can salvage much more info from the darks as opposed to the highlights.

What I miss and what I don't

I miss

AF mode switch: the settings are too many and I'm never sure which dial is which and towards which direction is the setting I want, so precious seconds are lost, usually at the worst time, when in a rush to get a nice shot. I really miss having the main things selectable with a hardware switch, although my GPS unit kept hitting the AF switch and turning it to AF-C.

The 10pin connector: what? Unfortunately, yes. I had a GPS unit always attached, and I don't think this will be easy to do with the new port without risk of damaging the camera, as it plugs in perpendicularly to the side, with no mechanical fastening, so unfortunately no gps with the D750

I thought I'd miss but I don't

metering switch: it was nice because all mechanical switches are nice, but it doesn't really offer something more than the button+dial. Another use was to quickly switch to foolproof settings in order to give someone else the camera for a snap. This now is even easier, with the full-auto mode in the dial, which also ignores the shutter priority selection (CFa1), a major issue for beginners who just press the button all the way without waiting for focus confirmation.

Flash sync speed: I don't usually use fill flashes, but even if I did, 1/250 is achievable with a crop factor either 1.2 or DX so nothing lost over the D300 in that regard

Soft mode button: I don't miss that too much, the dial is easy to use.

AF-ON: I always use half-press to focus. On the D300 I used AF-ON on live view because (a) half-press didn't focus on tripod mode and (b) see above

Weight: I don't miss the extra heft of the D300 body due to the excellent grip. The D610 doesn't feel so good to hold. Going back to the D300 causes some kind of respect for the hardware but it's still less comfortable to hold, especially if you prefer holding the camera instead of hanging it from your neck.

I don't miss

Shooting banks: U1 and U2 are much better, as shooting banks don't store shooting modes and that's what I'd like to be able to store

The bigger top LCD: It's nice that it's huge but I never really looked at anything more than the basic info on that display, so the D750 one is quite adequate.

I'd like to have

The circular viewfinder: I just like the looks of it. I 3D printed a similar one though. I still have in mind an improvement using the original D800 eyepiece.

circular viewfinder

Interesting observation: The D750 came with the command dials / exposure compensation scale are configured by default exactly as I had customized them on the D300

Interesting observation #2: The D80, D300, D610 and D750 zoom button configuration are all different. You've got to try to achieve such level of inconsistency.

What about the D610?

Maybe then I was too harsh on the D610? I got it for a day once again to see. I walked around with it but I still was not satisfied even despite the fact that I am now used to the control layout. The feel, the shutter sound, the cramped AF points and the lack of OK button direct zoom all were striking omissions that created an experience inferior to the D300. And since I do photography for fun, I want the most satisfying shooting experience, even if image quality takes a hit. Luckily the D750 provides both, very well.

Now time to get some serious lenses.