DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon D60 Review
by Howard Creech -  4/21/2008

The very first 35mm SLR, the Kine Exakta (introduced in 1936), was an essentially hand-built mechanical engineering marvel. As the popularity and importance of mini-cam photography grew, a steady parade of innovations like pentaprism viewfinders, instant return mirrors, built-in light meters, and auto focus lenses made capturing good pictures easier. The ultimate innovation, the introduction of the first commercially available digital SLR camera (the Kodak DCS 100) in 1991, sounded the death-knell for 35mm film cameras and changed the practice of photography.

Nikon D60
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When compared to a new entry-level DSLR, like the Nikon D60 up for review here, the DCS 100 seems remarkably primitive: the first DSLR featured 1.3 megapixel resolution, used different camera backs for black and white and color images, and saved captured images to an external storage module. It was outrageously expensive (more than $20,000) and the images it generated were absolutely horrible – so bad that many veteran photographers considered the whole "digital imaging revolution" a joke. Once the genie is out of the bottle, however, progress and innovation can't be arrested. Digital SLRs have consistently and dependably gotten better and prices have dropped precipitously since the DCS 100. It took 35mm SLRs almost 60 years to reach their developmental zenith, but Nikon's new D60 is a prime example of just how much digital SLRs have improved in less than two decades.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The D60 is a 10.2 megapixel DSLR featuring an optical viewfinder with Eye Sensor (which automatically turns off the LCD when the user brings his/her eye to the viewfinder eyepiece) that stores images to SD/SDHC/MMC memory media. Other leading features include a 2.5-inch LCD, the new Expeed processing concept (first seen in the pro level D300 and D3 models), 3D Color Matrix Metering II (with 420 pixel sensor), Multi CAM530 three-point auto focus, a digital rangefinder (for more accurate manual focusing), Active D-Lighting (for improved dynamic range), Nikon's new Airflow Control sensor cleaning system, and a new stabilized version of the popular AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G kit zoom.

A nifty new feature that I really like, since I shoot about 70 percent of my images vertically oriented, is the D60's automatic LCD rotation to match the shooting orientation of the camera – turn the camera 90 degrees and the LCD display rotates 90 degrees – no more scrunched up verticals when reviewing captured images.

All of the D60's fairly conventional shooting modes are accessed via the camera's mode dial:

Like most entry-level DSLRs, the D60 provides a short, focused list of scene presets, including landscape and sports modes, a night portrait setting, and a flash suppression preset.

In addition, the D60 provides some fairly useful in-camera image adjustment/editing/processing options:

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

The stylish pro-black D60 is a fairly compact (slightly smaller and lighter than most of its competition) and very conventional looking DSLR. Current D40 and D40x (the D60 replaces the D40x) owners won't see many readily discernible differences between their cameras and the nearly identical D60. This DSLR is clearly aimed at amateur shooters looking to get serious about photography and casual shutterbugs looking to make the jump to a digital SLR without giving up all the convenience, consumer features, and ease of use of a point-and-shoot digicam.

Styling and Build Quality

While the D60 is impressively compact and lightweight, build quality (polycarbonate outer shell over a metal alloy frame) and fit/finish are very good, especially for an entry-level model.

Nikon D60
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The D60's rather conventional looks may not turn a lot of heads, but it is tough enough to go just about anywhere and capable of absorbing some fairly substantial punishment in the process without any diminution of capability.

Nikon D60
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The D60's weather and dust seals seem more than adequate for general photography – I had the camera out in the rain a couple of times with no negative effects.

Ergonomics and Interface

Not surprisingly, in hand the D60 looks, feels, and behaves exactly like the D40/D40x it derives from – in fact the D60 is essentially a "turbo charged" D40. The ergonomic handgrip provides a secure grip and very nice balance point – noticeably better than the skinnier handgrips on its closest competitor, the Canon Rebel series. The D60 isn't cluttered looking, and basic camera operations quickly becomes intuitive.

Nikon D60
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The D60's user interface has been slightly redesigned: some new controls have been added, the mode dial has been reworked, and there's still no top-deck status LCD. The D60's user interface is relatively straightforward, with all controls logically placed and easily accessed. On the right side of the camera's top deck, directly under where the right index finger naturally falls (with the fingers of the right hand wrapped around the hand-grip) is the combined on/off switch and shutter button. Conveniently located behind the shutter release are the Active D-Lighting button and the Exposure Compensation button, and behind these is the mode dial.

Nikon D60
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Behind the mode dial and directly under where the right thumb naturally rests is the rotary command dial and the AE/AF lock button.

Nikon D60
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The D60 provides quick and easy access to several exposure-specific adjustments as well. Hold down the Exposure Compensation button with the right forefinger and turn the rotary command dial (with the right thumb) to quickly and easily make minor exposure adjustments. The new Active D-Lighting button (also conveniently located directly behind the shutter button) allows users to apply a software fix to extend the D60's dynamic range to preserve detail in both shadow and highlight areas of high-contrast subjects, pre-exposure.

In short, this camera was clearly designed by photographers, for photographers, and the D60's target audience shouldn't have problems with the camera's menus. They are logically laid-out, easy to understand, and navigation is pretty straightforward. It would have been nice if Nikon had given the D60 a dedicated FUNC button for direct menu access to the most commonly changed/adjusted operations and functions, but many of the options available with a dedicated FUNC button (tweaking white balance and sensitivity) can be accomplished via the D60's shortcut buttons instead.

Display/Viewfinder

Several of the D60's primary competitors (including the Canon Rebel XSi and the Olympus E-420) feature live view LCDs, but the LCD screen on the D60 can't be used as viewfinder – functioning primarily for menu navigation and post-exposure image review.

Nikon D60
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The D60's 2.5-inch, 230,000-dot LCD is bright and hue accurate (brightness levels can be adjusted via the menu) and shows almost 100 percent of the image frame. There's a full info display and a histogram option for checking over/under exposure and tonal range. A nifty feature for digital neophytes and beginning photographers is the flashing question mark icon displayed when the camera determines there may be an exposure problem: simply press the "?" button and the camera offers helpful suggestions via the LCD.

The D60 features what is apparently the same through-the-lens (TTL) pentamirror optical viewfinder as the D40x used. The D60's optical viewfinder is fairly large and impressively bright. Clearly visible through the eyepiece are the camera's three horizontally arrayed AF points and a comprehensive information/status/function readout. New to the D60 is the proximity-detection eye sensor, which automatically turns off the LCD when you lift the camera to your eye. Viewfinder magnification is 0.8x and coverage is approximately 95 percent of the recorded image frame. The D60 provides diopter correction for eyeglasses wearers.


PERFORMANCE

Lots of carryover from the D40x is a mixed blessing for the D60. On the one hand, the D40x is a known, solid performer with a lot going for it in terms of speed and responsiveness. On the other, there's not much that could be considered news on the D60's spec sheet. In terms of performance specs, keeping pace with the competition is the name of the game in the digital camera wars and Nikon seems to be in danger of falling behind in a few areas. Even so, Nikon's long-running formula has held up well over time and still makes for a positive shooting experience on balance.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The D60 is about average (or a bit better) in the speed department – even with the Airflow Control sensor cleaning system engaged at start-up the D60 is ready to shoot in about a second. AF lock (in good light with the 18-55 zoom) is about 1/3 of a second from scratch and essentially real time with pre-focus. Shutter lag with pre-focus is .08 seconds and without pre-focusing between .15 and .25 seconds. Continuous shooting: 5 shots in 1.7 seconds. Shot to shot times in single-shot mode are on the short side of the average range – about 1 second for a full resolution JPEG.

Nikon D60
The D60 was quick enough to capture moments precisely, with no apparent shutter lag (view large image)

Auto Focus

The Nikon D60 features the same TTL Multi-CAM 530 three-point phase detection auto focus system as its predecessors. Like the D40 and the D40x, the D60 body doesn't include a focus drive motor, so full compatibility and auto focus can only be achieved with AF-S and AF-I series lenses which have a built-in drive motor.

The D60's auto focus system works well enough in most cases, and AF is consistently and dependably quick and accurate – even in dim/low light – with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR kit zoom.

Nikon D60
This tough through-the-glass iguana shot from the Louisville Zoo nicely demonstrates the efficacy of the D60's AF system (view large image)

That said, many of the D60's competitors are offering 11-point AF systems, while Nikon's entry-level DSLR only provide three AF focus points. More AF points aren't necessarily better, but the Nikon's more limited array of points makes selecting a point that fits the desired compositional focus point challenging at times.

Note also that other Nikon F-Mount lenses may be used with the D60, but shooters will have to give up some functions and non AF-S/AF-I lenses will only work in manual focus mode. Unlike its predecessors, the D60 features an electronic rangefinder for more accurate manual focusing with non AF-S/AF-I lenses.

Flash

The D60's built-in TTL auto/manual multi-mode built-in flash (guide number: 12 meters at ISO 100) provides slightly lower than average range of lighting options, including off, auto (fires when the camera determines that ambient light isn't sufficient), auto with red-eye reduction (using a pre-flash), slow sync (balances flash output and a slower shutter speed with ambient light for a more natural look), slow sync with red-eye reduction, and fill flash (useful for close-ups and backlit subjects).

X-sync is 1/200th of a second, down from the D40's 1/500 speed. Flash compensation is available over a four stop range, from -3 to +1 EV in 1/3 EV increments. Like most built-in flash units, the D60's on-board flash is positioned too close to and on essentially the same plane as the lens, so red eyes may be a problem for informal portrait shooters. The D60's red-eye reduction mode helps to ameliorate red-eye problems, but the pre-flash cycle slows down the exposure process. Recycle time with the built-in flash is about 2.2 seconds.

Nikon D60
This hardware store shot accurately displays the slightly better than average auto mode performance of the D60's built-in flash (view large image)

The D60 also provides a dedicated hot shoe. Nikon speedlites (SB-400, SB-600, or SB-800) can be used with full flash compatibility, including support for the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS), which provides iTTL flash operation and wireless control for compatible Nikon flash units. Given that Nikon has arguably the most flexible flash system around, if you're looking for an entry-level DSLR with plenty of hot-shoe and independently mounted strobe options, the D60 is one of the best.

Image Stabilization

Unlike earlier versions, the D60's slightly reconfigured AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR kit zoom now provides optical image stabilization (which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction, or VR).

Nikon D60
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This allows D60 shooters to shoot at shutter speeds up to three stops slower than would have been possible absent OIS, without having to buy one of Nikon's pricier VR zooms.

Battery Life

The D60 uses the same Nikon EN-EL9 Lithium-Ion (1000 mAh at 7.4 V) as its predecessors. Nikon claims a fully charged EN-EL9 carries sufficient juice to power the D60 through up to 500 exposures (with the kit lens mounted and VR engaged, occasional flash use, and regular LCD image review).

Nikon D60
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I have no reason to doubt the manufacturer's numbers: I carried the camera with me pretty much full-time through three weeks of fairly heavy shooting and only had to charge battery once. The (included) Nikon MH-23 charger needs about 90 minutes to fully recharge the battery.


IMAGE QUALITY

Even with the kit zoom, the D60's default image quality is surprisingly good, especially at the ISO 100 and 200 sensitivity settings – with noticeably better than average sharpness and vibrancy for an entry-level DSLR.

Nikon D60
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A few thoughts on the D60's kit lens: the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18mm-55mm/f3.5-f5.6G VR Zoom included in the D60 kit is an updated (to incorporate optical image stabilization) version of Nikon's venerable kit lens. It is a bit slow, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5, but is capable of producing near pro quality images. Resolution (sharpness) is remarkably good, edge transitions are distinct, corners are sharper than average, color transmission is hue accurate, and contrast is balanced.

Nikon D60
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I didn't notice any vignetting (darkened corners) at the maximum aperture. There is some minor barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom, but there is no visible pincusion distortion at long end of the zoom. Images are acceptably sharp in the corners at the wide-angle end of the zoom, but very slightly soft at the telephoto end of the range. There is some visible light fall-off, but chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is remarkably well controlled. Optimum aperture appears to be around f/8.0. Zooming is smooth and focusing is quick and surprisingly quiet.

Nikon D60
The background area of this Magnolia shot shows (essentially) no chromatic aberration – absolutely remarkable optical performance for a relatively inexpensive kit zoom (view large image)

Exposure, Processing, and Color

Colors are bright, hue accurate, and slightly oversaturated at the default setting. Images tend to be (marginally) on the warm side of neutral and a bit contrastier than the average. Detail capture in both shadow and highlight areas is excellent and active D-lighting actually improves on this already impressive dynamic range performance.

The D60 uses the same 3D Color Matrix Metering II system found on Nikon's professional DSLRs. Matrix Metering is an evaluative system that is purpose designed for general photography. More advanced shooters can opt for spot metering (for more complex shots) or center-weighted averaging for more traditional metering performance in conventional shooting situations. Based on my experiences with the camera, the D60's 3D Color Matrix Metering II system is reliably accurate in the vast majority of lighting situations.

White Balance

The D60 provides a comprehensive range of White Balance options, including TTL Auto WB with 420 pixel RGB sensor and user selected settings for Incandescent, Fluorescent, Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade, Custom (preset), and WB fine tuning. The D60's Auto WB setting is dependably accurate in a surprisingly broad range of lighting situations.

Sensitivity and Noise

Noise is very well controlled, especially at the ISO 100 and ISO 200 settings.

Nikon D60
ISO 100
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Nikon D60
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Nikon D60
ISO 200
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Nikon D60
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Nikon D60
ISO 400
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Nikon D60
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Nikon D60
ISO 800
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Nikon D60
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Nikon D60
ISO 1600
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Nikon D60
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Nikon D60
ISO 3200
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Nikon D60
ISO 3200, 100% Crop

ISO 400 images show visible but minimal noise. ISO 800 images are noisy, but better than expected. ISO 1600 images are slightly better than average, but noise levels are irksome, colors are flat, and fine details are noticeably soft-edged. I didn't try the ISO 3200 setting for regular, real world shooting.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D60
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Nikon D60
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Nikon D60
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Nikon D60
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Additional sample images by David Rasnake


CONCLUSIONS

For more than a decade, point-and-shoot digicams dominated the digital imaging revolution, but in recent years entry-level digital SLRs have become one of the most popular products available in the digital camera marketplace. Canon got the jump on Nikon in the entry-level DSLR wars with the introduction of the the Digital Rebel, but since the introduction of the pioneering little D40, Nikon has been back in the game. The D60 capitalizes on the strengths of the D40 and adds a few innovative and useful improvements without tampering too much with the basic formula. The D60 (like the D40 and the D40x) is reasonably priced, robustly constructed, incredibly easy to use, and most important of all produces great images, even for absolute beginners.

For the naysayers: the D60 was designed specifically for those graduating from compact digicams to their first DSLR, budget constrained photography enthusiasts, photography students, and more demanding casual photographers. It was never meant to be used by pros or semi-pros, and thus its Nikon/Nikkor system limitations are not genuinely relevant for its target audience. D80/D70 owners looking for a cheap back-up body can focus accurately with their non AF-S/AF-I Nikkors in MF mode with the D60's new digital rangefinder.

The question potential purchasers want answered is, "how does the D60 stack up against the Digital Rebel XSi?" Overall, the D60 should hold up nicely (if the lack of a Live-View LCD and three-point AF aren't deal breakers) when compared to the XSi. I've never been a fan of LCD viewfinders (or arm's length composition), so the lack of a live view LCD isn't a major omission in my opinion. The D60's AF is adequate, the kit zoom is a solid performer that should go head to head with Canon's new kit offering at the very least, and the D60's hand-grip is more comfortable. Nikon plans to continue selling the groundbreaking little D40 as their bargain priced entry-level DSLR, so shooters who don't want/need 10 megapixels and the D60's other more advanced features can save enough by purchasing the D40 (with the standard kit lens) to buy a nice quality second zoom.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Nikon D60 Specifications:

Sensor 10.2 megapixel, 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD
Lens/Zoom
Nikon F-mount (AF-S or AF-I only for full functionality)
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 230K-pixel TFT LCD with Eye Sensor; Penta-mirror optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment
Sensitivity ISO 100-3200
Shutter Speed 30-1/4000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Scene, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close Up, Night Portrait, Flash Off
White Balance Settings Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash
Metering Modes 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes AF Single, AF Continuous, Auto Single/Continuous, Manual; Single Area, Dynamic Area, Closest Subject
Drive Modes Single, Continuous
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye, Slow Sync, Slow Sync w/ Red-Eye, Fill, Rear Curtain
Self Timer Settings
20 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG, RAW (NEF)
Max. Image Size 3872x2592
Max. Video Size
N/A
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 1000 mAh
Connections USB 2.0, video output, DC input
Additional Features EXPEED Image Processor, Stop-Motion Video Recording, Active D-Lighting, Eye Sensor LCD Control, Dust Reduction/Airflow Control System