Nikon D60 Digital SLR Camera Review
Today’s review will be one that completes the previous DSLR review. Our last review was in regard to the Olympus E-420 Digital SLR that consists of a smaller Four-Thirds sensor produced by Olympus inside a very compact body. I left impressed by the E-420 but it did have shortcomings I was not happy with. For this review l will be looking at a camera that uses a larger sensor (APS-C), is in direct competition with the E-420, is from a company that has a storied history and is currently one of the leading market share leaders in the industry.
I think we all know by now that digital SLR technology is “the standard” when it comes to choosing a camera. DSLR business has and continues to be very strong and popular among consumers and this market will only continue to rise. Read on to see how the Nikon D60 fairs under my ruling.
The Nikon D60 uses the more familiar APS-C sensor format. This format can be found in just about all DSLR’s out there today, with exception to professional models that will utilize the full-frame sensor (king of the hill). The APS-C will obviously have an advantage over the smaller Four-Thirds sensor but have a disadvantage if compared to the full-frame sensor. Measuring it up to the Olympus E-420, I’m inclined to say that the Nikon D60 does have an advantage from the aspect of sensor-size thus resulting in better image quality.
However, having an APS-C sized sensor will mean that you’re at a disadvantage in regards to physical size (for some people, this can be a major factor) compared to a Four-Thirds system ala Olympus E-420. Using an APS-C sized sensor, there’s only so much manufacturers can do to shrink the body since they have to accommodate the size of the sensor. That’s not to say their huge, but compared to something like the Olympus E-420, there is a difference. Like I said in previous reviews, the rule of thumb is the larger the sensor, the better the image quality and better control of noise.
Currently all DSLR cameras use a sensor that falls under three categories. These categories have relation to the film formats we all used in the past. From biggest to smallest is full frame, APS-C, and Four-Thirds.
The size of a full frame sensor (this is the reference/benchmark) is the same size as a 35mm film frame, which is 35mm wide. The size of an APS-C sensor (the most commonly used sensor format among consumer DSLR) is close to 25mm wide and lastly Four-Thirds is about 17mm wide, or about 30% less in size compared to the APS-C sensor.
By knowing the size of the sensor, you have to understand a term called “crop factor”. Crop factor is the ratio between the imaging area offered compared to the imaging area offered on a 35mm full frame format.
Think of three rectangles representing full frame, APS-C, and Four-Thirds sensors and notice how APS-C and Four-Thirds doesn’t fill the whole 35mm frame. What this means simply is that if you compare cameras that utilize full-frame, APS-C and Four-Thirds and place each lens at the focal length of 15mm, you will notice among all three cameras that the distance of 15mm is actually different between each other even though they are at the same focal length according to the lens.
On full-frame, 15mm is really 15mm, while on APS-C, 15mm is actually about 22.5mm (if we use a crop factor of 1.5x), and on a Four-Thirds system like the E-420, 15mm is actually 30mm (using a crop factor of 2x). Using this example we can see one advantage is that the crop factor can actually give your lens more reach, however on the flipside the crop factor can actually work against when needing to use your lens at wide angles.
About Nikon (pulled from Wikipedia)
“Nikon Corporation (株式会社ニコン Kabushiki-gaisha Nikon), also known as Nikon or Nikon Corp., is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan specializing in optics and imaging. Its products include cameras, binoculars, microscopes, measurement instruments, and the steppers used in the photolithography steps of semiconductor fabrication. It was founded in 1917 as Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha (日本光学工業株式会社 "Japan Optical Industries Corporation"); the company was renamed Nikon Corporation, after its cameras, in 1988. Nikon is one of the major companies of the Mitsubishi Group.”
I pulled this quote from Wikipedia because it reflects more of what I wanted to share about Nikon than what was on Nikon’s own website. Truth be told, Nikon has been in business for a long time in the business of optics and imaging. They have been churning out cameras for decades, have extensive experience and have one of the most abundant supply of lenses to choose from (from past to present). What is amazing is that those old lenses can work on today’s Nikon DSLRs provided that the DSLR has an internal motor to drive the lens.
Sometimes when talking to people about cameras, the only names that come up all the time are Canon and Nikon. I think there’s a valid reason why Canon and Nikon have the largest market shares to date, it simply means they have been doing something right for such a long time and it also tells a lot about consumer perception of these companies. Head over to forums and you’ll see heated debates about Nikon vs Canon!
Features and Specifications
Being an entry-level offering, you’re bound to come across competition. Direct rivals include the Canon Rebel XS, Sony a200, Sony a300, Olympus E-420 and the Pentax K200D. These cameras are all in the 10-megapixel range with some models including their own Live View implementation.
But the Nikon D60 does have something missing from some of its competition; a true form of image stabilization - inside the kit VR (Vibration Reduction) lens.
The Nikon D60 is competitively priced in Canada and USA. The cheapest price I came across at the time of writing is $569.99CAD and $520USD for the Nikon D60 DSLR with the 18-55mm VR kit lens.
The Nikon D60 is capable of 3 frames per second continuous shooting. Comparing to the competition, the Nikon D60 is on par. The Olympus E-420 we reviewed previously bests the D60 by .5 frames per second if that makes any difference.
The Nikon D60 features a dust reduction system that uses airflow to lead dust away from the sensor. Unfortunately, with the review unit I had, this wasn’t the case. The dust reduction system could not prevent black dust spots from appearing in photos. I’m inclined after experiencing two review Olympus DSLRs (the 2nd of which will be completed soon) to say that the Olympus dust reduction system (SSWF) is a better system.
The Nikon D60 I have here today was bundled with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens. I’ve had the non-VR version of the 18-55mm lens before with my Nikon D50 so I do have some familiarity with it. The lens is a good quality lens but I disliked how it didn’t sit flat against the body of the camera. Optics and image quality were good though for the price.
This new 18-55mm comes updated with VR (Vibration Reduction) and is one of the things that the Olympus E-420 lacked (any true form of image stabilization). Nikon opted to utilize image stabilization in the lens and I applaud them for doing so on an entry-level offering. Later on in the review, you’ll see how much effect VR can make in less than stellar lighting conditions and in reality does work.
The Nikon D60 comes packaged in a very elegant and enjoyable corrugated box with product feature information at the rear and content listing located at the side of the package.
With your purchase come these items…
I’d like to mention the use of non-proprietary standard for the USB cable. This is something I like but unfortunately no composite video cable is supplied in the bundle but rather can be purchased as an option. Composite video cables are so cheap nowadays it’s any wonder why Nikon chose to leave it out of the bundle while Olympus supplied both for the E-420.
Purchasing a DSLR is never enough as you have to make room to purchase a memory card among other items and accessories if you choose to do so. The Nikon D60 supports both widely available SD and SDHC cards that range from 1GB all the way up to 16GB on one card. SD cards are dirt cheap and you can pick up an 8GB SDHC card for under $20CAD.
Another accessory I recommend purchasing for the D60 is another battery. While lasting much longer than digital cameras, the Nikon D60 battery life left more to be desired. The EN-EL9 lithium-ion rechargeable battery is rated at 7.4v, 1000mAh and recharges surprisingly quick (around 90 minutes) but doesn’t last as long than I’m used to (especially with the LCD on all the time). Compared to the Olympus E-420 shooting easily between 500-700 shots (under mixed shooting), the Nikon D60 mustered less.
General Impressions – Body
Holding the D60 in my hands and going back to my D50 felt like holding an Xbox 1 controller versus a Playstation controller! The D60 makes the D50 feel big. It felt so comfortable in my hands and more so than the Olympus E-420. The metal chassis is very strong and feels like it can handle a thrashing. It does not feel cheap like plastic nor does it have any flex. It feels every way as sturdy as my Nikon D50 body, which has been through a lot in three years.
The D60 maintains fine texture throughout the body and provides extra space for good grip of the camera. The traction of the rubber is top-notch.
The front of the body contains few things. There is the Nikon body cap protecting the internals, a lens release button to the right, the signature red triangle that differentiates a Nikon from the pact, a remote control indicator light right below the red triangle and an AF Assist Lamp that acts as the self-timer countdown indicator.
Whereas the Olympus lacks an AF Assist Lamp and is a stuck with pitiable implementation of AF Assist utilizing the onboard flash, the Nikons AF Assist Lamp works flawlessly under low-lighting conditions and does so almost instantly under such conditions. I have nothing negative to say about it since the AF Assist Lamp allows the D60 to focus almost instantly under low-lighting with no need for the lens to hunt. Kudos Nikon!
The right side of the body lays the memory compartment door that is operated by a spring.
Coming to the rear of the camera, we are presented with a large 2.5” LCD display that offers 230,000 pixels of resolution and boy does it look great! The conventional viewfinder is a decent size but again with entry-level DSLRs, I’d like it to be a little bigger as my eyes need to be shifted to see everything.
The Nikon D60’s LCD is on by default displaying the shortcut menu. The LCD is shut off once you tap the shutter release button and when you place your eye to the viewfinder. The D60 knows when you are doing this because it features a proximity sensor right above the LCD display. Additionally, there is a motion sensor in the camera that allows the screen information to automatically switch between portrait or landscape view.
Six buttons are located in the rear along with a directional pad. All of the buttons have good tactile feel. As I’ll explain later, Nikon has done a great job at giving buttons a specific function. The inclusion of a HELP button works wonders too allowing you to know what each and every setting is made for. Olympus doesn’t have a HELP button like this and makes you refer to your manual.
Over top we see the D60 hold few buttons (with combinations) that can change specific functions. We have the flash release button close to where the D60 logo resides, a self-timer/function button right below, exposure/flash compensation button, Active D-Lighting button, external flash hot shoe, mode dial, shutter release button and power on/off.
The power on/off switch is located with the shutter release button and works without any problems.
The D60’s mode dial rotates continuously in any direction which should help in regards to productivity/time management. These two things are something I disliked about the E-420.
General Impressions – The 2.5” LCD display
The LCD display on the D60 is great. While on paper it has the same 230,000-dot color resolution as the Olympus E-420, the D60 is far superior in every aspect utilizing it to the fullest extent. There is no contest. The D60’s LCD has great color, defined menu and text. Even while outdoors, the LCD looked great and useful under such conditions. It is possible to increase or decrease screen brightness if needed.
Since the D60 features no Live View mode, the LCD is solely used for help and menu function.
General Impressions – AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens
Being one of the starter kit lens moniker usually means budget, and that’s precisely what the 18-55mm is. The construction feels budget but the optics are relatively good. In reality it’s sufficient for most people just starting out. While I feel the Nikkor 18-55mm VR lens is good, I feel the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm ED kit lens on the E-420 is better overall.
The Olympus 14-42mm is an ED lens (Extra-low Dispersion) while this budget 18-55mm VR is not. There’s a reason why lenses that sport ED glass sell all the time for more money.
VR does work rather well under low-lighting conditions/slow shutter speeds and provides up three stops improvement. You can actually see the difference through the viewfinder. With VR off, movements through the viewfinder seem to shake right away. With VR on, the effect through the viewfinder seems fluid and floating in motion. See the VR comparison as it really does work at providing you with more batches of clean photos and not ones that are blurry. It’s not the fastest under low-light (unless you want to up the ISO speed) but for everything else it’s very much adequate and a good walk-around lens. Under really low-light, the lens focuses almost as quickly as it does in day-time because of the great AF Assist Lamp Nikon have implemented.
The construction of the 18-55mm VR isn’t the greatest. The 18-55mm VR has decent construction but it does feel a little cheap. When you hold and touch it for the first time, it feels too plasticky, doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence as the lens mount is made out of plastic and I noticed under usage that the 18-55mm VR did exhibit some creek noise from time to time (flex) as I would grip the lens to keep the camera still. I don’t like how the lens is not flush mounted with the body but that’s my personal preference.
The lens focus ring is stiffer than I am used to and does make the occasional noise like it’s too tight but gets the job done.
I mentioned earlier about how you can use old Nikkor lenses on some of these new Nikon DSLRs and while that is true, they are specific to select Nikon DSLRs that have an integrated in-body lens motor. Unfortunately with the D60, using old lenses isn’t fully possible. Those lenses that are non AF-S/AF-I lenses will work on the D60 without the ability to autofocus. The only way you can use them is in manual mode.
How it performs
Flick on power switch and the Nikon D60 comes to life instantly. The moment you switch the camera on you’re able to take a photo. Focusing on subjects under daylight conditions is quick-like and you can probably take a shot close to a second.
The internal focusing motor on the 18-55mm VR lens is very quiet and never noisy. The lens almost never hunts to focus as this can be attributed to a great Nikon metering system in the D60. Metering and auto-focusing performance is stellar under any condition.
The Nikon D60 offers three matrix metering modes which are standard among DSLR cameras. The metering modes are matrix (default), center-weighted and spot metering (when you’re background is brighter than your foreground).
The Nikon D60’s metering system is one of the best I’ve come across and not surprisingly is that it’s the exact same one on my old Nikon D50. The camera had no problems focusing on even the smallest little stem of a flower. I always had what I wanted to focus on, focused perfectly each time.
The internal flash on the D60 is a good little unit. I find the onboard Nikon i-TTL flash is much better of that of the Olympus E-420 flash system. It nails exposure correctly just about every time. You don’t need to compensate for anything. The D60 on-board flash has a guide number of 12 meters or 39 feet @ 100ISO.
Eventually as you grow in your learning, I would suggest purchasing an external flash unit to take your photos to the next level. With on-board flases you are limited to how far the flash can reach and you're limited in the capability of bouncing the flash off walls to generate a natural picture. All onboard flashes have tendencies to have a "harsh" and "direct" feel to the picture.
The Nikon D60 offers two menus. One is called Quick Settings Display (basically a shortcut menu) and the other is your main menu. This is a common setup that practically all DSLRs have; the Olympus E420 has pretty much the same setup but their shortcut menu is called Super Control Panel.Super Control Panel has got Nikon’s Quick Settings Display beat in terms of simplicity and speed.
Simply put, you can make changes faster in Super Control Panel (Olympus) because you can use the directional pad + OK to change settings or use the directional pad + dial to change settings. Simple is best.
On the Nikon D60, things are not as simple as they are on the Olympus. Quick Settings Display is on all time other than when the shutter release button is activated. You access this shortcut menu by pressing the magnifying glass (+) button on the lower left hand corner, then use the directional pad to navigate to the setting you want to change, press OK again, change the setting and confirm by pressing OK once again. You cannot use the command dial to change settings like you can on the Olympus. There are too many additional steps to change something so simple.
Nikon has got Olympus beat in regards to ease of use (HELP) in the menus. Nikon has a dedicated HELP button (?) that you can press when you’re not too sure about a certain menu option. A window appears and gives you a brief description of what that specific option does. This is brilliant and can be used under Quick Settings Display or in the main menu. Olympus has nothing like this and you’re forced to read the manual if you’re not sure what something does (and since the main menu is complicated, that will happen many times). Nikon’s main menu is made simple, well constructed and manages your time well.
An additional positive regarding the MENU setup on the D60 is that each setting under Quick Settings Display offers a small thumbnail image which indicates what that particular setting is suited for. For example, each white balance icon will show actual real thumbnails pertaining to that white balance setting such as sunny outdoors or a room with tungsten lighting. Or under ISO speed settings, ISO100 will show a flower while ISO1600 will show a child playing the piano at a concert with less than stellar lighting conditions.
The shortcut menu can be turned off in the main menu to save battery life and it’s probably wise to do so as the battery life isn’t great to begin with.
Still speaking about the shortcut menu, Nikon has implemented a cute feature that allows you to change the background of the Quick Settings Display. You can change the default colors of the menu theme or use a photo you’ve taken as the background image.
The Nikon D60 is filled with useful in-camera features and in-camera processing. There are many options in this camera making it easy for the beginner to enjoy their first DSLR experience.
The Nikon D60 features a dedicated Retouch Menu where you can do some in-camera processing which include Quick retouch, D-Lighting to your desired photos, Red-eye correction, Trim, Monochrome (black & white, sepia, cyanotype), Filter effects (skylight, warm filter, red intensifier, cross screen filter), Small picture, Image overlay, NEF (RAW) processing (just like it’s done in Photoshop) and Stop-Motion movie.
The Stop-Motion movie feature left me disappointed. I don’t think much people will actually use this as the camera requires you to have pictures already in the camera to produce a small movie.
The mode dial features 8 Digital-Vari Program Automatic Shooting Modes whichinclude Auto, Auto Flash-OFF, Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close Up and Night Portrait scene modes.
The Optimize Image settings available on the Nikon D60 are: Normal, Softer, Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, Black-and-white and custom image enhancement (where you can modify sharpening, contrast, color mode, saturation and hue).
There are four shooting modes which include P (programmed auto), S (shutter-priority – you choose the shutter speed), A (aperture-priority - you choose the aperture), and M (manual mode – you choose both shutter speed and aperture).
Nikon has a feature on the D60 that I found quite useful. It’s a post-processing feature that derives from the Nikon D300 called Active D-Lighting and can make quite a difference under different circumstances. Basically as you’ll see in the shots down below, Active D-Lighting plays with exposure to recover parts of the image where the highs are blown out and lightens up the lows (shadows) producing an image that is optimized in-camera. I have to say Active D-Lighting does make images look better and the processing looks natural. The more you use Active D-Lighting the more you’ll understand the circumstances where it can work for your benefit. This is a great feature.
The Nikon D60 allows you to tweak its automatic white balance to your liking and offers a preset white balance mode which will allow the camera to measure white balance to the colorcast of your surroundings.
I found the white balance for incandescent to be a little too warm than needed under the automatic and manual setting. It should have casted a cooler color than looking a little yellow. This is the same thing I noticed with my old D50. Using preset white balance did help out but it shouldn’t even need to be done this way.
The Nikon D60 has playback features showcasing how nice the LCD really is. Viewing photos you can choose between individual or thumbnail view. Once you have chosen a photo, you can view information that shows ISO speed, metering, shutter speed and other settings that were used. You can zoom in and out using the magnification (+/-) buttons. Other things you can utilize are the histogram display, highlights, rotation, picture lock and quick retouch menu.
With the Nikon D60, “professional-like” results are possible. For an entry-level DSLR, photo quality was excellent, definitely a step above the Four-Thirds Olympus E-420.
Control of noise throughout the range (except HI 1) was the D60’s high point. First of all noise was remarkably smooth at every range except HI 1. Noise cannot be differentiated between 100-400ISO, 800ISO is where starts to show and at 1600 ISO it becomes a slight problem but still very well usable and still smooth.
Only at HI 1 (3200ISO) is where usability and practicality becomes a problem. Situations where you could use HI 1 to your advantage are when you want a film type look but don’t expect large prints out at this ISO range. Using this ISO range, detail is lost and colors are faded. Overall I came away very much satisfied at the photo quality of the Nikon D60 DSLR.
Although I said professional-like results are possible, how does the Nikon D60’s image detail compare to that of a higher-end mid-range DSLR? For reference purposes only, compared to the Olympus E3 which sports similar megapixel count (10.1MP compared to D60’s 10.2MP), there is no comparison. The Olympus E3 provides more detail in its photos compared to the Nikon D60. Settings for both cameras were set to default (natural/normal) settings.
Please rollover the pictures with your mouse to see comparisons.
Colors produced by the Nikon D60 were saturated and gratifying. Exposure was spot on almost always. The metering system on the Nikon D60 performed exceptional as you would have a hard time at fooling it. I can’t get over the fact at how good it really is.
While the Nikon D60 produces great looking pictures, you’ll find at 100% magnification, pictures are soft (lacking detail). This can be attributed to a number of things including the lens, in-camera default settings but not much really can be done with the amount of detail the D60 can pull in. But making soft photos sharper can be done by adjusting sharpness to your liking.
Since the Nikon D60 has great control of noise, it can perform admirably in conditions where lighting is a concern more so than others.
The Nikon D60 handles dynamic range pretty well out of the box. Blown highlights will always exist to an extent but the Nikon D60 does a good job at keeping it at bay. With Active D-Lighting enabled, handling of these highlights gets better by adjusting parts of the photo where blown highlights exist and restoring them as best as the D60 can.
Picture Gallery and Photo Quality Tests
Full-size "out of the camera" pictures below for download. JPEG Fine, resolution size 3892x2592.
Next we have the modified picture gallery. These are photos that I have taken with the Nikon D60 and with experience you'll learn to modify your photos like I have to express how you want your photos to be presented.
Down below are what you can expect out of the Nikon D60 DSLR.
(Roll over all images with mouse unless told otherwise)
This last picture of the watch is an up/down/over image placeholder. Rollover to see pictures 1+2 and click to see picture 3.
Active D-Lighting Mode (Rollover is in Off/On order)
In-Camera Processing Example - Filters
100% ISO CROPS IN NORMAL LIGHT
100% ISO CROPS IN TUNGSTEN LIGHT
VR TESTS (Vibration Reduction)
We finish off with full resolution images of each picture mode available on the Nikon D60 excluding Normal.
The Nikon D60 is an entry-level DSLR that is affordable, has excellent image quality, great ergonomics and is loaded with features such as in-camera processing and in-camera editing. There’s not much to dislike about this camera. Needless to say I think it will suffice for the people Nikon is targeting. The camera body is strong, comfortable to handle and is light enough that it won’t pose problems during extended shooting sessions. If you’re shopping for your first DSLR, then the Nikon D60 should be on your short list. The Nikon D60 does everything just about right.
I was very impressed with how the Nikon D60 coped with noise in its photos and feel that it is one of the best I’ve seen regarding this aspect. Colors are vivid but accurate and never going overboard to make the photo look too saturated. While photos do lack detail compared to higher-end offerings, in-camera sharpening can be used to bring the photo to your desired taste.
I love the fact that the Nikon D60 menus were very easy to use and navigate. I liked how Nikon implemented a dedicated HELP button that could be used on any menu option you weren’t too sure about. The menu system is simplified and very user friendly.
One of the things I dreaded about the Olympus E-420 was the fact that they dropped the ball when they decided not to offer a dedicated AF Assist Lamp. This hurt its performance in low-lighting and made things really uneasy. Well this is no problem with the Nikon D60. Utilizing an AF Assist Lamp and an amazing metering system allows the D60 to take photos in any situation fast and easy. Great job Nikon!
One of the great things about the Nikon D60 is that it has an actual true form of image stabilization - in the kit lens. The 18-55mm VR kit lens does make great difference at reducing the percentage of photos that come out blurry. Some of its competitors offer no true form of image stabilization and that is disappointing since image stabilization does indeed work and will be needed in just about every “imperfect” situation.
There’s nothing left for me to do but award the Nikon D60 our “Editor’s Choice Award”.
Pros and Cons
Thanks for reading folks. Stay tuned for more reviews.