The Saga of the proliferating Nikons. Some thoughts about cameras and camera systems.

Nikon D610

It all started with a comfortable combination. When I picked up an ultra-cheap Nikon D610 I rediscovered my much loved 105mm f2.5 ais lens. Having rediscovered the 105mm I immediately rekindled my love affair with the 50mm f1.2 lens and felt the rush of familiarity in using that lens at its intended angle of view. The experience was nostalgic, sentimental and, well, it reminded me that there's a lot to like about the 3rd best (35mm sized) sensor in the world. Especially when packaged in a good camera body for not a lot of money. 

I probably should have stopped there but I started pressing the D610 into commercial service and that's when I fell down a different rabbit hole. You see, all during my career I've tended to buy and use camera bodies in tandem. One as a main shooting platform and the second as an identical back-up when doing advertising projects. For public relations and event work (math conferences, banking conferences, tech conferences) I usually put a wide to normal zoom on one body and a long zoom on a second body and carry them over each shoulder rather than toting a camera bag around. 

When selecting a second body I want something that is the same format. That way, in a pinch I can use either lens on either body to good effect. No extra thinking required. I would also want to have two bodies from the same maker and the same era; that way I would have a reasonable expectation that the menus would be very, very similar, the nomenclature identical and the operation most rational. And it's always better if each body has an additional strength you can count on. 

I looked at a second, identical D610 body but I decided that I wanted to choose a second body with some additional benefits. While the D610 has one of the best high ISO ratings on DXO and the same high dynamic range as both the D750 and the Nikon D810 what it doesn't have is a complete set of video features. The D610 requires you to exit video to change apertures on non-manual lenses, it also lacks 60 fps in 1080p. Finally, video people in the know tell me that the codecs on the D750 and D810 are vastly improved. All three cameras can output uncompressed files in 4:2:2 so adding a Ninja Star digital recorder gets you into the realm of really, really great video quality at a very low additional cost.

When I weighed the pluses and minuses between the 750 and 810 the 810's higher resolution was a selling point, but so were the higher top shutter speed (1/8000th) and the higher flash sync speed (1/250th). The D810 also added 1.5 and 1.2 crop modes and because of the very high pixel density it is still able to deliver 16 megapixels into 1.5 (DX) and 20-something pixels into the 1.2 crop. 

Any combination of the three cameras would do a great job getting me good, high resolution files for still work but the D810 would add the ability to do really good video with a wide assortment of fast lenses. It also provides an "ultimate" marketing tool when I come across techie clients who are interested in getting the highest resolution files for their work.

I am also interested to see what kind of look the combination of the "flat profile" and high resolution sensor of the D810 will create when making portraits. I am hoping for the endless and subtle cascade of tones I used to be able to get from medium format film files. 

Once I made up my mind in favor of the the D810 I headed up to Precision Camera where I got the camera (as can anyone else) for the exact same price as I would have paid at Amazon.com or B&H Photo and Video.  I love to keep my money as local as I can and I certainly owed the sale to Ian (my regular sales guy) since he spent much time with me going over the assortment of cameras over the last few months. It's always wonderful to have a bricks and mortar resource where I can go in and actually handle the cameras and put them through their paces. Had I not handled the D810 and heard the vast improvement in the sound and feel of its shutter I might have just defaulted to the D750 just to save some money. But I would have missed out on owning the 35mm style camera that currently boasts the best sensor specs and overall image quality in that market. 

It was sunny and warm in Austin today. I grabbed the new camera and a 24-85mm G f 3.5 to 4.5 lens and walked around shooting. It was a blast to shoot in the sunlight with a (native) ISO of 64. Even though the camera's main failing is its lack of an EVF the view through the optical finder was pretty nice. But the real joy was the well behaved shutter mechanism. When I got back to the studio I tossed the uncompressed, 14 bit raw files into Lightroom and took a good, long look. The color in the files is wonderful and no matter how hard I tried it was impossible to find even a trace of noise.

Next week I'll be shooting a dress rehearsal for Zach Theatre. I am looking forward to having one body with a fast 80-200mm ED f2.8 on it and a second body with the 24-85 on it. Each body with a killer sensor. It should be fun. 

Why did I buy the new bodies and attendant lenses? For fun. For the tax deductions. As a differentiator in the market. For the resolution. Just to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Finally, perhaps just to be able to use that old Nikon 105 f2.5 as I remember it from the days when it sat on the front of F2s, F3s, F4s and F5s. Nostalgia pure and simple...

I'll write a review of each camera as I accrue more experience with them both. We've got some low light projects just on the horizon.

Final note: The boy has arrived at his dorm, safe and sound. I can hardly wait for Spring Break...


  1. I just knew the siren song of the D810 would eventually sweep you away. I hope you have a blast!!

  2. In my view, and experience, your choice was the correct on. I did choose the D750. I was, as you considered, "trying to save some money," as well as mesmerized by the tilting rear screen. You wind up saving 25 to 30% on the D750, but the 810 is obvious more than 25 to 35% more camera. Not to mention the fact that you are going to make money with yours.


  3. "Not to mention the fact that you are going to make money with yours."

    Wayne, from your keyboard to God's laptop screen......

    Hope springs eternal.

  4. It will be great to hear your take on the Ninja Star experience with the D810. It should make a dynamite quality, low-weight rig. I am not convinced that 4k fits into my desired end product and storage aspirations. 1080p however, done right, is very much on my radar.


  5. Congrats, I too recently added the D810 to my D600 and Gh4, and love it.
    It feels old fashioned compared to the Gh4, can't keep up with shooting kids as well, is pretty bulky, but man it gives a solid feeling of assurance when I use it.

  6. I think you're going to find that the files that come out of your D810 are drop-dead gorgeous. I've been shooting the D800 for a couple years. The image quality continues to thrill me.

  7. I have gone down the Nikon path as well. Although I have ended up with a D750 after trying the D810.

    You will probably be VERY happy with the D810 files if you shoot in the lower ISO range.

    My only issue with the D810 was the high iso "amp glow". High iso in this case starting at 3200. Underexpose slightly and purple noise is gonna creep up from the corners.

  8. Congrats. I use the same combination (D610 + D810) and am very happy. The D810 is a hell of a camera. EFCS is great for tripod work (no vibration issues) to get maximum sharpness. ISO 64 makes filters less necessary. The shutter is well damped and quiet (using Qc mode it even gets unusually quiet, great for churches or speeches). The AF system is the best thing. Extremely accurate, I hardly have any misfocused shots anymore. As I don't use video I reprogrammed the video button to change ISO, such that I can change e.th. on the fly with one hand without the need to change position or take my eye away from the VF.

  9. @ Kevin: CAF is so good on the D810, I really can't image it to be inferior in tracking to the GH4. Many use it for BIF, too, because of the AF-system.

    1. Like all these discussions you have to actually be there with the same scenario and cameras to really understand what one is writing. You for moving subjects the D810 tracking is slightly faster, but for fleetingly stationary subjects Kirk a child moving around In play area and stopping at various attractions in the room the GH4 face tracking lock on with visual indication of such I find faster and gives a higher hit rate... Hell it even recognizes the faces and can place their name to the images (not especially useful to me but I'm just expressing the amount of rapid processing going on inside the camera). It also can be used in electronic shutter mode enabling covert shooting and extra shots to be obtained before your cover is blown :-)

  10. What a rollercoaster of gear buying you have brought us on over the last cople of years Kirk.
    For 2014 the theme was m4/3 is the future, dslrs were the past, out with ovf in with evf, nikons were for weight lifting......
    2015 and already you have us thinking of doing a u turn!
    But I love you anyway :)

    Dave from Ireland

  11. As to the roller coaster of gear buying...

    "Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead." -- Aldous Huxley

  12. I'm wondering what the combined weight of the D750/D810 plus lenses combo will be around your neck.

  13. People do take your advice and commit to camera systems based on your recommendations. One day the DSLR is dead...to heavy...unnecessary. The next day you are buying the heaviest DSLR made.
    You seem confused.
    You certainly are not helping your readers.

  14. Kent, did any of the systems I've shot with and recommended stop working when I changed to another system?

    You seem to mistake my site which is meant to be a conversation about what I'm doing in my photography and business for a gear review site.

    If you look back over the years that VSL has been around you'll quickly find that switching gear is a consistent pattern all along. When I started writing I was shooting with Kodak and Nikon cameras and then switched to Canon DSLR cameras for a good while which were subsequently replaced by Sony full frame and APS-C DSLRs, etc. In the mirror less space you'll see articles about the Olympus Pens which we then swapped for Sony Nex cameras and then, of course, I spent a year as a tester for the Samsung mirror less cameras and there were many articles about my experiences with the Galaxy camera in Berlin. Then back into Olympus with the EM-5 camera (of which I still have FOUR and a drawer of lenses. To which I added the Panasonic GH3 and GH4.

    That I now am curious and interested in the sensors in the newer Nikon cameras strikes most of my readers as PAR FOR THE COURSE.

    My use of any camera system does not negate the value of any other system but does reflect MY interests.

    I don't know where you came up with the idea that I would be a good source of recommendations for every user of gear. I do photography as a business. The business changes a lot (you may have noticed) and I buy and use what I think is best for different kinds of engagements.

    If you think this "about face" is egregious I have no idea how you are going to handle it when I move to medium format.....

  15. Hi Kirk
    Did you consider the D600 or D700 when you bought the D610? I'm thinking of buying a full frame Nikon for my Ai lenses and am curious.
    An interesting read, as usual.

  16. Hi Roy. I owned a D700 and I eventually switched out of the system partly because that generation of Nikons had such loud shutters that it actually bothered me. Having used really good hybrid video and still cameras like the GH4 also meant that good video was a must have and that omitted the D700. The prices of D600s used weren't that much lower than the current prices for new D610s and the 610 has the shutter fix and the quiet shutter option so that cinched it in favor of the D610. The D810 I added because it is very, very video capable and just because I wanted to own the highest pixel count sensor camera for a change.

    I actually look at DXO numbers and it tickles my enthusiasm to have the best 35mm style camera currently on the market. It's been a long time since I felt the economy would support me buying the defacto top of the line and at this point in my career I wanted to do it. If I were a hobbyist my choices would be much different. A D600 or Canon 6D would have suited me just fine.

    Some of my recent purchase is vanity, some is a response to an ever recovering local market and some is just stupidity and consumerism on my part...

  17. Some missing things on the D810:
    1. EVF.
    2. Usable live view.
    3. Exposure Compensation reset on switching off then on again (why isn't this standard?).
    4. Erm, can't think of a no. 4.
    Some wondrous things about it:
    1. The quiet shutter.
    2. The millions of pixels.
    3. Build quality.
    4. Group focus mode.
    5. 64 ISO.
    6. Good-enough high ISO performance.
    All of which being said, I don't love it, but I do like it. And I will probably get a 2nd one as backup as the differences between it and my now long-in-the-tooth D700s slow me down on occasion; also, the loud shutter you mention wasn't such a problem until I had something else to compare it too...

  18. Kevin, I agree with everything you've written. Proof once again that there is no single, perfect camera on the market. And probably never will be for everyone to agree on.

  19. Patrick, I also agree with your points and would add that I think the D610 is a good back-up for the D810.

  20. Funny that both you and Patrick mention the loud shutter on the D700. I have been really interested in the model until someone brought one into our office. The loudness of the shutter genuinely surprised me, and even prompted one colleague (not especially interested in photography) to remark it was the loudest they had heard!
    Just when I think I have decided on a Nikon, I find something I don't like......

  21. The D810 has an EVF: you just need to add some parts first. In my case, I added a Kinotehnik LCDVF, while others use the Zacuto Z-finder. For my uses, magnified liveview is the only way to use the camera, but it also dramatically reduces battery life. I'm getting about 300ish shots from the battery.

    Besides being big, it does almost everything an EVF does, like exposure previews and level indicators. I'm sure there's more, but that's enough for me.

    I sold off an E-M1 system to get the D810, and I could not be happier. I get a huge increase in image quality and lenses I couldn't get on m43, like the 24mm PCE and Zeiss Otus. And the camera handling is great --- it feels like coming home again after a couple of years with tiny mirrorless cameras.

    I took a 3 hour hike this morning with the D810+24PCE on a tripod slung over my shoulder, and a Sigma DP3M and Voigtländer 180/4 in the backpack. Everything shot at ISO 64 and tiny apertures. It was great!

    It works well handheld with the LCD magnifier too. I had the Zeiss 2/135 rented a few weeks ago, and shot it handheld, though the battery grip is handy for portrait orientation shooting with heavier lenses like the 135.

    Enjoy your D810, Kirk!

  22. I'm curious to hear your review of the 80-200mm 2.8 on both the 810 and 610 if you have the time.

  23. Another mention of MF!

    Go on, rent one at least. I'm properly intrigued to see how the benefits of digital will map on to your experience of film MF - mainly it'd be great to see how the rendering of MF lenses might work in the field (or would your shift in that direction still be studio bound?)



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