Nikon D60 Review

 
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Nikon D60 Imaging


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Vibrant color with moderate oversaturation of strong reds, blues and some greens.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Nikon D60 pushes reds, blues and some greens by quite a bit, but actually undersaturates bright yellows and some greens slightly. Thus, color saturation is a but more saturated than most SLRs, but similar to the previous D40x model. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Caucasian skin tones from the D60 lean toward the bright side, a bit more pinkish than in real life. Some users would call this "a healthy glow", others may find it a little ruddy. We found them acceptable, but generally prefer the somewhat more natural tones of the D40. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon D60 showed a few small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, but had pretty good accuracy overall. Most noticeable was a shift in reds toward orange, oranges toward yellow, and yellow (slightly) toward green. Cyans shift quite a bit towards blues, something we see in most cameras we test. (We've speculated that this might be a trick to enhance the appearance of blue skies.) Hue is "what color" the color is.

Saturation Adjustment
The Nikon D60 has a total of just three saturation settings available, one above and one below the default saturation. They cover a fairly wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. One of our few quibbles with the D60 is that we'd like to see more, finer steps of saturation adjustment, to permit finer-grained adjustment over approximately the same range. (We might argue for a slight extension of the range too, in the lower-saturation direction.)

Saturation Adjustment Examples
Click to see ND60OUTSAT01.JPG Click to see ND60OUTSAT02.JPG Click to see ND60OUTSAT03.JPG
-2 0 +2

The table above shows results with the default as well as the two extreme saturation settings. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, though warm results with Auto and Incandescent. About average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.0 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so.) The Incandescent setting was better, but also a bit on the warm side. The Manual setting produced the most accurate results. In the end, the Incandescent setting was just slightly too warm for our tastes, but some users may prefer this, as being more representative of the original lighting. The Nikon D60 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.0 EV. Despite the (very) slight warm cast, overall color with the Manual white balance setting looks quite good, though the blue flowers appear very purple. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the Nikon D60 actually performs a little better than average here.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Bright colors overall, though a tendency toward a warm cast and high contrast under harsh lighting. Slightly better than average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Nikon D60 tended toward a warmer color balance, though overall color was generally pretty good. The D60 performed a bit better than average in terms of exposure, requiring slightly less than the typical amount of positive compensation we're accustomed to seeing among consumer digital cameras. (And the far-field shot of the house came out a little overexposed at the D60's default exposure setting.) The D60's default contrast is a little high, producing washed-out highlights and dark shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of our "Sunlit" portrait test shown above left. The camera's contrast and D-Lighting settings do help tame the highlights and shadows though.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,550 ~ 1,600 lines of strong detail from in-camera JPEG, a little better from processed RAW file.

Strong detail to
1,550 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
1,800 lines horizontal
ACR processed NEF
Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical
ACR processed NEF

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,550 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 1,600 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction didn't really occur, though lines began to merge around 2,000 lines. When processing the D60's NEF files using Adobe Camera Raw, we were able to extract a bit more resolution, about 1,800 lines in the horizontal direction, and about 1,700 lines in the vertical. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images overall, though slight edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects. Some noise suppression visible in the shadows.

Very good definition of high-contrast
elements, though with some edge
enhancement is slightly visible.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
though detail remains strong in
the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon D60 captures fairly sharp images overall, though some minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, and its images can be enhanced slightly by unsharp masking in Photoshop or other image-editing programs. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows some noise suppression in the darkest areas of Marti's hair, though quite a few individual strands are visible in the lighter shadows. The camera's overall response here is noticeably better than average. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D60 does a pretty good job at balancing between sharpness and visible sharpening artifacts in camera JPEGs. A little more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files though, without additional artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, RAW file processed through Nikon's Capture NX software, and RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw version 4.4.1, then sharpened in Photoshop. For the Nikon D60's images, I found best results with 250% unsharp masking with an 0.3 pixel radius.

Note: ACR renders colors somewhat differently than either the D60 or the Nikon software, so the greens in the trees are rather different. There's no mistaking the increase in detail though, regardless of changes in color or tone.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, with good results even at ISO 800. Big jumps in noise at the highest settings, but still very competitive, and results usable for surprisingly high-quality 8x10" prints.

ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400
Noise Reduction Off
ISO 400
Noise Reduction On
ISO 800
Noise Reduction Off
ISO 800
Noise Reduction On
ISO 1,600
Noise Reduction Off
(Minimal)
ISO 1,600
Noise Reduction On
ISO 3,200
Noise Reduction Off
(Minimal)
ISO 3,200
Noise Reduction On

The Nikon D60 produced low noise at its lower sensitivity settings of ISO 100 and 200. The D60's high ISO noise reduction doesn't come into play at ISO 400, so no difference to the small amount of noise visible there with it On or Off. Noise is still quite low at ISO 800 with NR Off, but we do see a slight reduction in noise with NR turned On, with very little loss in subtle detail normally associated with NR. As you'd expect, noise is higher at ISO 1,600, but still quite reasonable, and Nikon's NR does a pretty good job at reducing it without trading away too much detail. Noise levels are much higher at ISO 3,200, but even here detail is arguably pretty good for this level of sensitivity with a 10 megapixel sensor. Note that even with NR set to Off, the D60 still performs "minimal" noise reduction at 1,600 and 3,200, which we for the most part preferred to the more aggressive NR with the On setting. See the Print Quality section below, to find out what the recommended maximum size print is at each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast with strong highlights. Excellent low-light performance, great exposure to the lowest limits of our test, and the autofocus worked that low as well, even without the AF-assist light.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
The Nikon D60 produced high contrast with slightly washed-out highlights and deep shadows under the harsh lighting of the test above. However, shadow detail is pretty good, despite some minor image noise. It's a bit of a toss-up here between the results at +0.3 and +0.7 EV. Some areas look a little hot at +0.7 EV, although many consumer-level users would doubtless prefer the brighter skin tones of that version. Skin tones in the image shot at +0.3 EV are a little dark, but the highlights are much better, with only the strongest of them being blown out. We'll "call" this as best at +0.7 EV, but recognize that some readers might prefer the versions a third-stop on either side of it. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

Contrast Adjustment
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D60's contrast setting meets both challenges.

Minimum Contrast
Contrast set to lowest,
+0.7 EV
Contrast set to lowest,
Auto Exposure

At its lowest contrast setting, the D60 did an excellent job of preserving highlight detail, maintaining fairly natural-looking (if slightly pink) skin tones, and holding nice detail in the shadows. The D60 captures good color outdoors, though again, just slightly on the warm side. Overall, very good results here, especially when the contrast setting is tweaked.

Contrast Adjustment Examples
Click to see ND60OUTCON01.JPG Click to see ND60OUTCON02.JPG Click to see ND60OUTCON03.JPG Click to see ND60OUTCON04.JPG Click to see ND60OUTCON05.JPG
-2 -1 0 +1 +2

The series of shots above shows results with different contrast adjustment settings. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image. The Nikon D60's contrast adjustment worked well, with little effect on color saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. Nikon did a good job here.


Active D-lighting Examples
Off (default)
On
Highlight Retention
Shadow Detail

Nikon's Active D-Lighting

The two shots above show the results with Active D-Lighting Off and On (the D60 only has these two settings). This is different than the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly leaves RAW file data strictly as it comes from the sensor.) The shots were shot in rapid succession, but you'll notice that minor movements by Marti mean that the shots aren't absolutely identical. As you can see from the crops, fewer highlights in the flowers are clipped, while shadow detail is simultaneously improved when Active D-Lighting is enabled.

The effect of Active D-Lighting will vary quite a bit with the subject and lighting: The camera decides what needs adjusting, and by how much, so the effect can be quite a bit greater or lesser depending on what the camera sees. We almost always found ourselves pleased with the changes Active D-Lighting made, the main trade-off to using it being the longer time it takes the camera to process each photo.




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see ND60LL0103.JPG
2.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0104.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0105.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0106.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0107.JPG
30 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0107XNR.JPG
30 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see ND60LL0203.JPG
1.1 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0204.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0205.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0206.JPG
13 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0207.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0207XNR.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see ND60LL0403.JPG
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0404.JPG
1.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0405.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0406.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0407.JPG
13 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0407XNR.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see ND60LL0803.JPG
0.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0804.JPG
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0805.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0806.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0807.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL0807XNR.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see ND60LL1603.JPG
1/6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL1604.JPG
0.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL1605.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL1606.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL1607.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL1607XNR.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see ND60LL3203.JPG
1/13 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL3204.JPG
1/6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL3205.JPG
0.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL3206.JPG
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL3207.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see ND60LL3207XNR.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8

Low light. The Nikon D60 performed very well on the low-light test, capturing usable images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains fairly low, even at higher sensitivities. There are no signs of banding or hot pixels, even when NR is set to Off. Color balance looked good with the Auto white balance setting, and the camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted, and in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D60 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Great print quality, good color, sharp 13 x 19-inch prints.

The Nikon D60's printed output is really impressive, able to output usable 16 x 20-inch prints at ISO 100. At that size, they were slightly soft, but really quite good. 13x19-inch prints were a little better, though. ISO 200 shots printed the same as 100, producing a good 16x20 or great 13x19. ISO 400 images do just fine at 13x19, and of course are better 11x14, but not by much. ISO 800 shots were also quite good at 11x14, as we didn't see the small circular noise suppression artifacts we saw with the D40x in dark objects. ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 11x14, even with the noise reduction turned off, and with it on are quite good. ISO 3,200 shots need to step down to 5x7 or so, but at that size they're great. Turning off noise suppression at 3,200 is not a good idea, as it still produces a lot of chroma noise even at 4x6. Detail at this size is still quite impressive. It's a very good performance from the Nikon D60, quite a nice surprise.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 review for details on that model.)

 

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