The Nikon D60 replaces an existing model in the consumer DSLR range, but can it keep up with the new models from the competition?
“You’ll not want for options in the custom functions menu ON THE D60: there are so many that Nikon has set the camera to use a cut-down menu to avoid overwhelming new users”
The first thing to know about the D60 is that it’s by no means a completely new camera. In fact, it’s almost identical to the model it replaces, the D40x. The idea is that it clarifies Nikons’s consumer-level range which now consists simply of the D40, the D60 and the D80, each model offering progressively more advanced features and a higher price.
The D60 is outwardly very similar indeed to the D40x. In fact there are only three obvious differences: the silver model-number badge, a slightly different main rotary mode dial and two small rectangular slits above the 2.5in LCD screen (which itself is unchanged). The slits are sensors that detect when you’ve brought the viewfinder up to your eye and switch off the screen.
The lack of physical differences as far as the body is concerned isn’t too much of a drawback: the design is good as it stands. It’s a very compact body but still easy to hold, with a chunkier hand grip than the bodies of other small DSLRs like the Canon 400D. The only drawback of the compact size – which again is unchanged from the D40x – is the lack of an internal motor to power some Nikkor autofocus lenses. But that’s not a huge issue since there’s a decent range of Nikkor lenses that come with their own internal motors.
It doesn’t only look the same as the old model: the headline specifications are also unchanged from the D40x. So you get 10.2 megapixels, a 3 frames-per-second burst mode and only 3 autofocus detection points. That all looks a touch long in the tooth when you compare it to recent models from Canon, Olympus and Sony. Canon, for instance, gives you more megapixels; Olympus and Canon have Live View; Sony has image stabilisation built into the body and so on.
Being aimed at beginners and consumers, you don’t get more advanced features like exposure bracketing, but you’ll not want for options in the custom functions menu: there are so many that Nikon has set the camera to use a cut-down menu by default to avoid overwhelming new users, with all options available only if you explicitly set the camera to show them.
A sheer D-Light
There are two big new features that really make the D60 an improvement over the D40X, and although they take a bit of explaining they’re a lot more useful than a few more megapixels. The first is called Active D-Lighting, a feature that’s been on the more expensive semi-professional models like the D300 for a while.
Active D-Lighting is a system to help extend the dynamic range of DSLR sensors, especially clipped highlights, where bright areas of the image are blown out to white. It also brings out shadow details that would otherwise be lost in solid black.
Second on the list of stunning additions is the brilliant ISO Auto system. Again its use isn’t immediately obvious, but when you get more advanced it’s a massive boon. Rather than being the usual fully automatic ISO adjustment system, it lets you program how low the shutter speed should go before it starts to increase ISO to compensate, and also the maximum acceptable ISO level. It all adds up to the flexibility of a fully automatic system but with the control to tailor the results to your requirements.
Better kit lens
Perhaps the most useful improvement isn’t down to the actual camera at all – it’s the lens that comes with the standard kit. It’s an 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 model, which is par for the course. But the difference is it has VR (vibration reduction), which is Nikon’s term for optical image stabilisation. That lets you take usable images in light that would normally result in hopeless camera-shake.
The VR lens kit is priced around £500-£530; you can pick up a D60 kit containing the standard Nikkor 18-55mm lens for around £30 less, but for the added benefits of the VR lens, it’s worth stretching your budget that little bit further.
The quality of the lens – typically for Nikon – is good for a stock offering, with sharp results and not too many signs of purple fringing. And although it’s made of plastic it feels like it’ll take an occasional knock.
Good image quality
Overall image quality when using the stock lens is very good, despite the lack of a new sensor in the body. At ISO 100 and 200 there’s very little noise, and it’s not particularly intrusive at ISO 400 either. We’d only use the ISO 3200 option in an emergency though. With the default settings colours are nicely balanced and sharp.
The price of the D60 means it undercuts some of the latest models from the competition. A notable exception is the Sony A200 which offers many of the same features for less outlay. For the most hardware per pound, the Sony is the better bet, but that ignores the Nikon’s heritage.
Although the D60 isn’t the best-specified or best-priced camera out there, its design has evolved to make it a great photographic tool. You won’t wow your friends with its megapixel rating, but you may well take better picture with this camera than with its immediate competition.
Nikon D60 Info
Typical price: £449.99 body only; £499.99 with 18-55mm ED II lens; £529.99 with 18-55mm VR lens
Compact & lightweight
Some unique features
Good kit lens
Nearly the same as the old model
Not particularly good value
Specifications look a little tired
Verdict: It’s not going to set the world on fire, but the D60 has a balanced set of features that make it a good photographic tool.
More info: Nikon D60 on the Nikon USA website