Editor's note: Upon further analysis and comparison with competitive models that we didn't have at the time of this review, we have lowered the D60's image quality score from an 8 to a 7 to better place it among the field of entry level dSLRs. This lowered the camera's overall rating to a 7.2
There was a time when the idea of an entry-level dSLR was a bit of an oxymoron. Even the least expensive SLR was a large step up from the digital compacts at the time, but these days entry-level SLRs are being made to be entry level, and their prices line up closely with the most expensive compact cameras. Nikon's D60 is a good example of the current breed of these dSLRs. It checks in with a healthy 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor, a slightly small-by-comparison 2.5-inch LCD, and an upgraded, optically stabilized kit lens. While those features are nice, the D60 falls behind the competition in several areas in terms of its specifications. For instance, Sony's DSLR-A200 also sports 10.2-megapixels, but has a slightly larger 2.7-inch screen, body-based image stabilization, similar in-camera editing and dynamic-range optimization features, and costs less than this Nikon. Its performance numbers were slightly worse than the D60, but not by very much. Meanwhile Canon's Rebel XSi, which we haven't reviewed as of this writing, offers 12.2-megapixels, a 3-inch LCD, 14-bit digital-to-analog conversion, and also comes with an optically stabilized lens, though its list price is higher than the D60. The main issue with this Nikon is that it doesn't feel like a major upgrade over the D40x, while Sony's and Canon's upgrades over their predecessors are easy for consumers to understand, such as the Rebel's shift from 10.1MP to 12.2MP.
The fact that the D60 looks almost exactly like the D40x probably doesn't help Nikon's public perception on this model. In our first briefing on this camera, Nikon even said that it has the exact same form factor as the D40x. Of course, that's not a bad thing, since the design is good. At 19.4 ounces with a battery and an SD card, and without a lens, it's lightweight enough to shoot comfortably for a day, and the kit lens is one of the lightest Nikon lenses I've worked with, so it doesn't add much weight. The body is also quite small and will fit well into smaller camera bags, though the grip will leave your pinky finger dangling off the bottom of the body--something that tends to bother me, but doesn't bother most people. As has become the trend, many of the camera's controls are accessed through a virtual control system on the LCD instead of physical buttons on the camera body.
When Nikon first switched to this system, I was a bit hesitant, but I am now pretty quick with it. I can see why users that are used to a compact camera might find this system more familiar than trying to learn the layout of a hard-button-based system. Nikon also includes a nice visual representation of aperture and shutter speed to underscore the fact that the aperture blades make a smaller opening for light in the lens as you make the f/stop a higher number, while showing bars that wrap around those virtual aperture blades as you make the shutter speed faster. They still make you press the "i" button to get into the control system, which wasn't intuitive to me the first time I encountered it, though there's so little space on the camera back, and the button doubles as a zoom control in playback mode. That double functionality was my biggest gripe about this system though, since I ended up zooming in during the automatic image review quite a bit and had to first press the shutter button halfway to exit that before getting into the control system. I could have turned the automatic image review off in the custom function menu, but I don't think that is an adequate solution to this issue. One thing Nikon could do is relocate the playback button above where it is now, to the left shoulder of the camera, behind the lug for the strap. Then they could shift the other three buttons up one and give the control system its own button.
Given that Nikon prices the D60 higher than some competitors, notably Olympus's Evolt E-510, Pentax's K200D, and the aforementioned Sony A200, you'd think that they would include more than this camera's three autofocus points. Even more so since the Pentax and Sony offer 11- and 9-AF points respectively and, along with the Olympus, offer sensor-shift image stabilization systems that work with all lenses for their respective mounts. Of course, the big benefit of optical image stabilization is that you'll see the stabilizing effect while you frame your shot, which becomes more useful when your lens' focal length becomes longer. However, this shouldn't be a major issue until you reach focal lengths in the range of 300mm and higher, so if you don't plan to get a very long lens, the edge provided by lens-based stabilization may be moot compared with the sensor-shift alternatives.
Nikon's menu system in the D60 hasn't changed much from the D40x, but it now includes a retouch menu, so you can tweak your images in the camera after you shoot them. In addition to the tweaks included in the D40x, such as D-Lighting (to fix minor exposure issues and bring detail out of shadow areas all in one-step), red-eye reduction, and cropping, Nikon has added a couple of new filter effects with the D60. Red, green, and blue Intensifiers let you add some saturation to those colors, while the Cross Screen filter mimics a traditional Cross Star lens filter, adding a twinkle to small light sources and highlights in an image. The Cross Screen can look cool, and Nikon includes controls for the angle, length, and number (4, 6, or 8) of points, as well as the intensity of the effect. Be careful to use this filter in moderation though--it can have a digitally enhanced look to it if taken too far.
Nikon has also built an NEF (Nikon's RAW image file type) to JPEG converter. While this makes up a little bit for the fact that you're limited to shooting basic (highly compressed) JPEGs when shooting RAW+JPEG with the D60, I'd rather Nikon include this and let me shoot fine (lowest compression) JPEGs in RAW+JPEG mode. Still, it's nice to be able to do a basic conversion on the fly if needed.
More fun than the RAW conversion is the D60's Stop Motion Movie mode, which lets you convert a series of JPEG files into an AVI movie up to 640x480 pixels at a frame rate of up to 15 frames per second. The process is really easy, and you can even change the start and end points, remove specific frames from the middle, and change the frame rate before finalizing. A preview option lets you confirm you've got it right before committing. I made a short clip of a couple of subway trains moving through Penn Station, but I got conversion errors whenever I tried to upload it to YouTube.
Another nifty new feature is the Rangefinder function. The feature converts the exposure/exposure compensation scale to a distance-based focus assist when you're in manual focus mode and not shooting in full manual exposure mode. Since the D60, like the D40 and D40x before it, can only autofocus with Nikon's AF-S and AF-I lenses, the Rangefinder feature offers a nice bit of help when focusing with a non-AF-S or AF-I lens, such as Nikon's relatively inexpensive AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D prime lens. That 50mm Nikkor uses a coupling pin to rely on the AF motor built into Nikon's more expensive SLR bodies. Be warned though, in low light, the Rangefinder function may get a bit confused, just as the camera's AF system tends to.