Nikon D60 £530
19th Mar 2008 | 10:10
A wealth of new features leaves us feeling overwhelmed
The D60 is Nikon's new 10-megapixel entry-level digital SLR.
It takes over from the D40x and, outwardly, it's very similar.
Under the skin, though, there are some significant improvements.
Fun new features from Nikon
For a start, the D60 gets a new dust-removal system, in line with most other digital SLRs on the market. It also has an eye-sensor just below the viewfinder eyepiece, which switches off the LCD when you put it to your eye.
The other news is the arrival of a new VR (Vibration Reduction) version of the 18-55mm kit lens, which we've used for our review.
Otherwise, there's not a lot to report. The body design is 'inherited' from the D40 series and is very small - perhaps too small. The lack of height in the body means your grip isn't as secure as it is with a larger camera, and the buttons on the back do feel a bit cramped.
The D60 is designed for novices and for those who want to develop their photographic skills. For beginners, the interface is both clear and attractive, but for more experienced users it may prove irritating. First, you need to press an 'info' button to make the screen display interactive, and then use the navigational controller to highlight the option you want to change.
Once this is selected, you then use the navigational buttons again to scroll up and down a list of options. It's all very clearly laid out, but it's not quick.
It does seem a bit of a waste of the camera's Command dial. Couldn't this be used for changing the options in these menus? It would certainly save some time and mean less of this tedious button pressing.
LCD screen improvements
There's no secondary LCD on the D60, so the main screen on the rear is used for changing all the settings and status information. This was a bit of a nuisance on the D40 and D40x because the LCD stayed illuminated when you put the camera to your eye, only going out when you half-pressed the shutter release.
Nikon has fixed this now by placing a sensor below the viewfinder eyepiece so that the display disappears the moment you put the camera to your eye. The information display rotates when you turn the camera to take vertical shots, too, which is a nice touch.
The D60's body might be small, but the 18-55mm kit lens is fairly long, leading to a slightly unbalanced feel overall. It's hardly a major point, but it does mean the D60/lens combination is noticeably longer than the Canon EOS 400D and the Olympus E-410 especially.
Cheap Digital SLR
There are now two kit lens choices for this camera. The old-style non-VR Nikkor 18-55mm kit zoom is the cheapest option, with a list price of £500, but for just £30 more you can get a D60 with Nikon's new 18-55mm VR (Vibration Reduction) lens.
Nikon's VR works very well indeed, and this is a really good deal. It feels a well-made lens, too, given the price. The zoom and focusing actions are good for a budget lens, though the front element does rotate during focusing, so it's not so good if you use a polarising filter.
The picture quality is really very good. The D60 can shoot RAW files as well as JPEGs, but while you can get a slightly higher dynamic range out of the RAW files, there's very little difference in sharpness.
As long as you get the exposure right, the JPEGs are perfectly good enough. You can shoot RAW files and JPEGs simultaneously, but only with Basic quality JPEGs. This is rather disappointing, and it makes this feature much less useful than it could have been.
There are a number of options for adjusting the image colour and contrast, and this could be confusing for some users.
You can choose one of the scene modes on the mode dial, or set the colour to one of a number of styles, including Standard, Softer, Vivid, Vivid+ and Black and White.
The scene modes are best for those who want the camera to choose the settings, while the manual adjustments will suit photographers who want to use the more hands-on PASM modes and choose to change the colour settings themselves.
But the D60 goes further. In Playback mode it's possible to carry out basic in-camera image optimisation and enhancement.
What's more, if you shoot RAW files you can process these in-camera too, changing some of the camera settings and generating a second, JPEG version of the image.
Alternatively, you can process JPEGs on your computer using the supplied View NX image browser. This only offers a handful of RAW conversion options, but it's still useful.
The Active D-Lighting system is interesting. This is another enhancement over the D40x, although it's already appeared on the D300 and D3. Nikon's D-Lighting system lightens dense shadow detail without affecting the midtones and highlights.
Previously, it was simply a software fix applied after the image was taken. Active D-Lighting, though, adjusts the exposure to make sure the image retains bright highlight detail, and then applies the shadow-lightening process.
Sometimes it works very well, holding good detail both in the shadows and the highlights in high-contrast scenes. Sometimes, however, the shadow 'masking' is visible as a sort of soft-edged 'glow' around the darker areas.
This is typical of this kind of shadow adjustment and not a fault with the Nikon system. Sometimes it's useful and sometimes it's not.
The D60 scores highly for its picture quality and the range of options available for customising photographs, both as they're taken and once they've been saved. But while the control interface is easy, routine adjustments take a little too long.
It's great if you're a beginner, but the D60's appeal may wane as you learn and want to work faster.