DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix P60 Review
by CalebSchmerge -  5/16/2008

There are a ton of digital cameras out there, and quite a few of them are competing with the Nikon Coolpix P60 for position at the top of the general-purpose compact camera heap.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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The P60 has a nice balance of features and size, and with a list of features that includes manual exposure control, will the P60 come out on top? Let's find out.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

Functionally, the Nikon P60 is a complete, well-balanced camera with fairly conventional specs and a broad range of features and functions. It features a 2.5-inch LCD, a 5x Nikkor lens, an 8.1 megapixel sensor, sensor-shift image stabilization, and an electronic viewfinder. All these features come in a semi-compact body. The camera sports manual mode allowing users to take full control. There are six basic modes:

All features and modes are easily accessed, with the mode dial allow for quick settings. I enjoyed having a "setup mode" on the dial: this made accessing camera settings such as VR or clock settings much easier, and also made a logical separation between mode-specific settings separate and camera-wide settings.

Overall, the P60 is a full-featured camera and a joy to use. There were quirks which I will cover later, but in general the Coolpix proved to be a great camera in real-world use. The 5x zoom is almost always enough, the camera is a good size for carrying, and for the most part, the camera just works.

For a detailed listing of specs and features, take a look at the specs table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality

I don't think the P60 is going to win many (if any) awards for styling. It looks somewhat bland – like a basic camera. The body is black with several silver accents. The back of the camera sports the LCD and viewfinder, along with silver buttons and a silver control pad. It's not bad: there's just nothing to write home about here.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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The build quality of the P60 is a bit weaker than I would like to see. The body is made of plastic and you can really feel it. While I like the light weight, I don't like the creaking that can be heard with minimal twisting on the body. You can also feel the casings move a bit if you grip the camera strongly, like some might do while taking pictures. I am also disappointed that after only a little use the lettering on the buttons is already starting to wear off. Before long, the buttons will be unmarked and you will be left in the dark as to what they do.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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In general, the P60's buttons don't feel the best, providing little in the way of a firm, reassuring click when pressed. The power button was also easy to accidentally trip – even through a case. This concerns me as it can kill your batteries and possibly damage the lens if it tries to extend.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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The only door on the camera covers both the batteries and SD card. It, like the rest of the camera, is made of plastic, and feels weak. It took more work than it should to properly close the door. I also felt concerned that the door might also easily break while changing batteries or memory cards. For such a critical piece (you can't use the camera if the battery door is gone), this is bothersome.

Ergonomics and Interface

The shaped grip on the camera makes an attempt at ergonomics, but the grip is a bit too small for my average-sized hands to hold comfortably. Thankfully, Nikon added a textured surface to the grip to help ensure you don't drop the camera.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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The button layout on the camera is not bad. You can easily reach all buttons, and they are a good size for just about all users. The zoom control is easy to reach while your hand is ready to shoot. The viewfinder seemed fine to use with either eye. The mode dial is out of the way for shooting and easy to turn, but not so easy that it will slip on its own.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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Menus were all straightforward to use. Other than reading the manual to understand why you would use a certain settings, everything was pretty self explanatory. I said earlier that I liked the inclusion of a dedicated setup setting on the dial. This really helped clear up the menus: instead of a multi-page, multi-layer menu, options were arranged within a single-level scrolling screen. This design decision made a significant difference in ease of navigation.

The shooting screen did a good job of showing important information while also preserving as much space as possible. I enjoyed having the option of having grid lines displayed, and selecting just how much information was displayed (including none at all).

Display/Viewfinder

The display on this camera was nothing particularly special. While the 2.5-inch size was nice (though many cameras are now moving to 3-inch displays), it was rather low resolution and at times difficult to see. For use framing a picture indoors it was fine, but it became difficult to see outdoors, even at full brightness. When reviewing pictures the display was a little grainy and not particularly accurate.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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I do feel that the wonderful electronic viewfinder helps make up for the sub-par screen. Pictures displayed on the viewfinder looked much better. Shooting through the viewfinder was easy even in bright outdoor conditions. While the viewfinder could have been larger, it was much better than any viewfinder I have used on a point and shoot camera in some time (especially a camera of this small size).


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag

This camera operates relatively quickly most of the time. With a respectable .04 seconds shutter lag when pre-focused, it's hard to ask for more. While press-to-capture lag without pre-focusing was a more noticeable .4 seconds, this is still pretty impressive. Nikon Coolpix cameras have been noted for slow, inconsistent auto focus in the past, but these concerns seem to be largely put to rest in this case. With pre-focusing, even high-speed action shots are possible. With a little luck, you can even pull them off without pre-focusing.

Shot-to-shot time in continuous shooting mode was quite respectable, at just under two frames per second. With my bottom-line SD card I was able to get six shots before the camera stopped to clear the buffer, though it was ready to continue quite quickly. With a quicker card, however, the camera was able to keep shooting for quite some time.

The startup time was a bit slow, coming in at between three and four seconds. If you anticipate shooting anything but completely planned shots, expect to leave the P60 on just in case. The camera did put itself into a power saving mode after a few minutes, which was quick to recover from.

Lens and Zoom

The lens on this camera operated very quietly. In anything but a silent room it shouldn't be noticeable as it operates. I was slightly unimpressed with the operation of the zoom, however. With ten distinct notches across the 5x zoom, things didn't always feel right. Many times the lens would zoom in farther than I wanted, or zoom out a little bit after I released the toggle. This made framing some shots a bit annoying while I tried to find the best zoom location. All of this was complicated further by the sub-par buttons with little feel or feedback. On the positive side, zoom speed felt reasonable given the range.

The zoom's range of coverage, an equivalent 36-180mm, looks like this:

Nikon Coolpix P60
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix P60
Telephoto (view large image)

Auto Focus

The P60 is set apart from many of the previous Nikons in its series with its increased focus speed. As noted, the P60 was able to lock focus and fire in as little as .4 seconds. While this isn't DSLR speed and won't hold up for some action shots (at least without pre-focusing), it's more than acceptable for "normal" usage. I was displeased that in auto mode the auto focus options are locked out; in manual and program auto modes, however, you can select from center, manual, auto, or face priority.

Nikon included a small AF-assist lamp with this camera, but I only noticed it being used when I was trying to force it to be. Auto focus seemed to be able to cope with just about any situation I gave it, and focused quickly both with and without the AF assist lamp. I was glad to see that people weren't constantly blasted by the assist lamp with this camera like they often were with other compact cameras I have used of late.

Flash

The worst part of my experience with the P60 was undoubtedly the flash. The camera's decision-making in using the flash, long charge times, and the way the P60 handled back-to-back flash shots were all disappointing.

Flash recycle behavior was hard to understand: if you try to take a shot requiring flash before recycle has finished, you'll have to release the shutter and wait for the flash to charge (holding the flash button doesn't work), but there is not clear indicator that the flash is charged until you press the shutter button. This made it difficult to grab the camera and snap quick back-to-back pictures, and the P60 auto-mode choice to use the flash at odd times didn't help. Even outdoors on a bright day, when shooting subjects at considerable distance, the P60 defaulted to flash in auto mode: I understand using fill flash, but given this camera's limited flash range, this is simply ridiculous. I missed some shot opportunities as a result of this camera's quirky auto-mode flash behavior, and consequently I'd recommend setting disabling the flash altogether whenever possible.

The flash recharged times were anywhere from around four seconds under ideal conditions (auto ISO, ambient light, etc.) to a full ten seconds for a full-power recharge. On the low end this is bearable (if only just), but often the flash recycle times were simply too long in my opinion – even with rechargeable NiMHs that generally promote quicker flash recycle.

Image Stabilization

The P60 is stabilized by Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR) system – in this case, using a sensor-shifting approach. As always, this welcome feature can help save your shots. I was able to get sharp pictures t exposure times near one second with VR enabled on this camera (normally a handheld one second exposure is a waste of time). The usefulness of the VR is at times masked by the camera's willingness to increase ISO to keep shutter times as short as possible and by the Hi ISO mode (again, where the camera will use very high ISOs to shorten shutter speeds). Regardless of this, I found VR performance to be reliable and consistent across a range of shots.

Battery Life

It took me until about this point in the review (which is to say, several days worth of testing) to finally get a "battery exhausted" message from the camera. Using rechargeable NiMH batteries (and older, weak ones at that) I was able to pull around 300 shots, shoot several minutes of video, and spend plenty of time reviewing pictures. Based on this, I would say that with a decent set of rechargeable batteries you will see battery life that borders on great. Though I usually prefer a camera with a proprietary rechargeable battery, I found that it was easy enough to carry the camera and a spare set of rechargeable AAs (plus, you can always get limited-life replacements in the form of alkaline AAs just about anywhere if need be).


IMAGE QUALITY

I am quite pleased with the overall image quality the P60 produces: pictures look plenty sharp, showing good color and accurate exposure. Unlike many cameras reviewed around here, in the hundreds of photos I snapped, exposure and color issues never really manifested themselves (which is not to say color or exposure were always perfect, though).

Exposure, Processing, and Color

Overall exposure was very good. I was pleased with the camera in almost all aspects. Even in tricky lighting situations the camera handled itself very well.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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Dark foreground subjects did results in some blown highlights on occasion:

Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nothing out of the ordinary here for a compact camera dealing with a shot with this kind of contrast between highlight and shadow. As with other newer Nikon compacts, the P60 provides an in-camera D-Lighting post-processing option (which opens up shadows while preserving highlights), and shots like this with some negative exposure compensation to preserve highlights are perfect candidates for the D-Lighting system.

Colors appear to be well balanced and lifelike, with the P60's default setting avoiding too much saturation. Sharpening also strikes a nice balance, without harsh edge definition or haloing.

Nikon Coolpix P60
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In addition to the default setting seen above, five image tone settings provide a range of sharpening and saturation options: Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, Softer, and Black and White.

Nikon Coolpix P60
Vivid
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Nikon Coolpix P60
More Vivid
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Nikon Coolpix P60
Portrait
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Nikon Coolpix P60
Softer
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Nikon Coolpix P60
Black and White
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White Balance

The P60 did a mostly good job with white balance. A few shots were off, but not enough to make them useless (and they were, for the most part, easily corrected). With auto white balance enabled, flash and outdoors pictures were always dead on. Not surprisingly, indoors is where I had more trouble with the auto white balance being a little bit off, showing a strong but usually correctable yellowish tint under tungsten light.

Lens Faults

Pincushioning at the telephoto end of the lens was noticeable in test shots, though it's hard to pick out the issue in real-world testing. At the wide end, performance was worse, however: barrel distortion was very visible in the wide-angle brick wall test shot.

Nikon Coolpix P60
Wide-Angle (view large image)

Nikon Coolpix P60
Telephoto (view large image)

While it looked bad in testing, once again I did not notice any trouble in any other shots that I made with this camera. For 99 percent of what most of us shoot, distortion from this lens would not likely be an issue, but performance in this area is still a little weak all the same.

Sensitivity and Noise

The P60 performs alright when it comes to sensitivity and noise.

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 80
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 80, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 100
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 100, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 200
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 200, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 400
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 400, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 800
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 800, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 1600
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 2000
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Nikon Coolpix P60
ISO 2000, 100% crop

Pictures look just fine up to ISO 1600 without cropping, though detail analysis shows some grain and fuzziness creeping in from ISO 400 on up. Noise is more grain than blotchiness up through ISO 800 at least.

In spite of some detail loss already, it seems to me this camera would have benefited from a bit more noise reduction to keep things under control beyond ISO 800 (ISO 2000 is nearly unusable as a result of chroma patches that show up even at screen-view sizes). That said, I think most users will be happy with the results the camera produces, and for smaller prints, even all but the highest ISO settings are usable.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nikon Coolpix P60
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Nikon Coolpix P60
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CONCLUSIONS

Overall the P60 is an alright camera, if not a great one. If you are able to work around the flash issues that I experienced and don't worry about a bit of lens distortion, there is not a lot that could be called bad about this camera. Overall, I enjoyed using the P60 – it's compact, it has a good, usable zoom range, it performed quickly and generally flawlessly, and produced nice looking images for the most part.

Unfortunately, with the number of cameras in this category, Nikon needs to step it up a little: strong competition means that being just alright may not, in this particular case, be enough.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Nikon Coolpix P60 Specifications:

Sensor 8.1 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD
Lens/Zoom 5x (36-180mm) zoom, f/3.6-4.5
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 153K-dot TFT LCD; 201K-dot electronic viewfinder
Sensitivity ISO 80-2000
Shutter Speed Not Specified
Shooting Modes Program, Manual, Auto, Scene, Hi-ISO, Movie
Scene Presets Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Sports, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Landscape, Portrait, Night Portrait
White Balance Settings Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, White Balance Preset, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy
Metering Modes Not Specified
Focus Modes Face-Priority AF, Multi-Area AF, Contrast AF
Drive Modes Normal, Burst
Flash Modes Slow sync, Red-eye reduction, Redeye reduction with slow sync, Flash cancel/ flash off, Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Anytime flash
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
12 MB
File Formats JPEG, AVI
Max. Image Size 3264x2448
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Two AA batteries
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Vibration Reduction, EXPEED Processor, D-Lighting