Nikon D610 High ISO Performance

15 May 2014

One of the improvements I have been most looking forward to utilising with the purchase of my new Nikon D610 is an increased performance at higher ISOs. The benefit of using a higher ISO is that less light is required. This is important for weather photography, in particular with storms because often we are working in conditions of very low light. I remember painstaking nights trawling through images that I’ve just had to scrap because what initially looked OK on the back of the camera lacks detail and is too noisy.

In fact, as a rule of thumb, with my previous camera, my Nikon D90, I tried never to go higher than ISO 200, partly for the reason that storm photos often comprise of large areas of varying tones of grey, flat colour, making noise even more noticeable.

So, to examine this improvements, I performed a number of comparisons. The first set of tests compare the same low light storm scene taken at a range of ISO settings with the Nikon D610.

Following this I compare the high ISO performance between my old Nikon D90 and new Nikon D610, partly to help convince myself that spending the last of my savings on a new camera and lens for this year’s storm chasing trip, leaving me now broke, was the right thing to do!

Test 1 – How well does the Nikon D610 perform at high ISOs?

This is a comparison of images of a scene where the light was low, using a range of ISO settings. The Nikon D610 has an ISO range of 100-6400, expandable to ISO 50-25600. Each time the ISO is doubled, half as much light is required.

The lens used was my NIkkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF lens which is hardly ever off my camera whilst shooting storms. Each of the images were taken at f8 and I adjusted the shutter speed to maintain correct exposure levels. All the images are in Nikon Raw NEF format. Note that images may differ slightly as this was a dynamic subject, but the detail, sharpness, tones and noise are still easily comparable.

I have zoomed in at a 1:1 ratio to the lowest part of the storm, which is often where the most interesting features are found - wall clouds, potentially tornadoes etc. to so this is where it is most important to capture detail.

ISO 50 v ISO 100

This first comparison is ISO 50 (left) which is within the expandable range against ISO 100 (right). There is little difference between the images. Both are extremely clear and sharp. Perhaps the ISO 50 is even a little sharper. This is really useful to know as images taken at an expandable ISO are often regarded as being of poorer quality as the camera is over-extending itself to reach sensitivities that the sensor is not capable of reaching. This is not apparent here, so I will be using this ISO where possible.


ISO 100 V each of the following: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, 25600

For the purposes of keeping within the ‘standard’ range, I have used ISO 100 (always left) as the control for exploring the results from higher ISOs (always right). The results at 200 and 400 and even 800 are very impressive with very little noise visible.

ISO 100 v 200


ISO 100 v 400


ISO 100 v 800


ISO 100 v 1600


ISO 100 v 3200


ISO 100 v 6400


ISO 100 v 12800


ISO 100 v 25600


As expected, noise increases with ISO. However, it’s important to note that results will vary with the subject matter. More variation in colour and tone and how much is going on in the photo will effect a person's perception of noise. This was therefore a very hard test as the colours were fairly muted and the subject flat. Therefore, I am very pleased with the results.

Because of my subject matter, personally, I feel going up to ISO 1600 would yield images that are a little too noisy for the purposes of printing to poster size which is where I have to set my threshold. However, if the images were for digital use only, for example on a website or as a screensaver then it would appear fine. To demonstate this, the below comaprison of a fuller image is ISO 100 (left) with an image at ISO 1600 (left) and clearly detail is visible from the grass in the foreground to the trees in the distance, and the range in tone within the cloud is also very impressive.


 Test 2 – Comparing the Nikon D90 and Nikon D610 at high ISOs?

I set up a shot of a cuddly toy on a dark background in a low lit room to test the differences in how my new Nikon D610 with Nikkor 14-24mm lens (always left) comapred with my old Nikon D90 with a Sigma 10-20mm lens (always right) in low light conditions. All shots were taken at f5.6 and the shutter speed adjusted to maintain the correct exposure levels.

The difference in results were far greater than I expected. I initially compared the results at ISO 200. Zoomed in at 1:1 the image quality was far superior with the Nikon D610. The focus, detail, sharpness, colour and dynamic range were all far greater, rendering the need for comparing the noise a little obsolete.

ISO 200


I performed the same comparison at ISO 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. With the D90, noise was starting to show at ISO 800 and really started to affect the photo by ISO 3200. Loss of detail was apparent in the toy and the darker areas of the image were noisy. In each comparison, the D610 remained sharper and contained more detail. Although the noise was still noticeable at higher levels, a far superior image was produced.

ISO 800


ISO 3200




There is no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice upgrading my camera. I wanted to enter the world of full-frame and the D610 is a great camera to do it with.

In low light it performs well, even when tested on particularly grey, flat subjects. What has been even more interesting is the improvement in image quality, which alone will give me better results using a higher ISO than I would be able to obtain even at a lower ISO with my old D90.

I'm not taking anything away from my Nikon D90. It was a good camera for its time and it has served me well and is definately not being retired just yet. Perhaps comparing performance at high ISOs was a little unfair between models from such different times. What would be a test for the Nikon D610 performance at high ISOs would be a comparison with perhaps the Canon 5d mk iii. Now that would be interesting. Tim, up for a challenge? ...coming soon.


SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Thu May 2014

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SPC storm reports for Thu May 2014

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