Hands-on with the Nikon D60

Nikon’s newest entry-level digital SLR camera, announced today, is aiming for the jugular of Canon’s EOS 450D which was itself launched only last week. In a confidential pre-launch preview yesterday, we got a hands-on look at Nikon’s latest assault on this hotly contested battleground.

The range

Slated to begin shipping on the 22nd of February, the D60 clarifies Nikon’s DSLR line-up. It replaces the hastily introduced D40X to leave a clear hierarchy of models: the D40, D60 and D80 in the entry-level section of the market; the D300 for the serious amateur; and the D3 at the out-and-out professional end.

The hardware

Once you get the D60 in your hands it becomes clear why it’s destined to replace rather than complement the D40X: the new model is outwardly almost identical to the old. In fact the only external differences between D40X and D60 are a slightly redesigned top-mounted mode dial, and a new proximity sensor below the viewfinder that switches off the LCD screen when the camera is raised to your eye.

Headline specifications are identical to the D40X too, with the same 10.2-megapixel resolution, 3 frames-per-second burst mode and 2.5in LCD screen. Canon’s EOS 450D pips the D60 to the post on all of those fronts, with 12.2 megapixels, a claimed 3.5fps and a 3in screen.

Despite the outward similarity to the D40X, Nikon claims the D60’s insides are markedly different. First of all there’s now sensor cleaning that, uniquely, works in two stages. As well as the usual mechanism to shake dust particles free – as sported on Canon’s EOS 400D and 450D, as well as competitor models from Sony and Olympus – the D60 has a system that takes advantage of the airflow created when the camera’s mirror flips up to take a shot. Nikon claims the internals are designed to direct this air out of the main image-capture area and into a separate chamber, in theory taking stray dust out with it. It’s a feature that no other camera can boast but whether or not it’s effective, only time will tell.

The D60 still lacks the live-view mode that’s quickly becoming a standard feature across Canon’s DSLR range, allowing you to use the rear monitor as a live viewfinder. It’s not a major issue for most people most of the time, but it’s a feature that the first-time DSLR buyer trading up from a digital-compact camera may expect to see.

The software

While the hardware side of the D60 remains largely unchanged from the D40X, its in-camera software has had a pretty significant overhaul. As far as the interface is concerned, rather than faux-LCD segment numbers on the LCD screen, everything is now in an easier-to-read standard font. More importantly, the Active D-lighting system from the D3 and D300 has found its way into the D60, effectively increasing the dynamic range of the camera by altering the exposure level to separate parts of the frame in software. It’s a system that’s proved very popular in the higher-end models.

A newly expanded retouching menu means more RAW editing can now also be done in-camera, including altering sharpening settings, with the ability to generate a JPEG image from the RAW file without needing to resort to PC-based software.

Options

The D60 will come in three basic packages: body-only for £450, with the old 18-55mm ED II lens for £500 or – the default option – with a new VR (vibration reduction) 18-55mm lens for £530. It’s no surprise that the new VR-lens kit matches Canon’s standard offering for the 450D almost exactly, although the SRP (suggested retail price) of the Canon kit is considerably higher at £680.

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