Guest blogger post by Cullen from Cneil.com
The circumstances surrounding my decision to upgrade to a DSLR camera are dire and obscure: they started at a concert when the frustratingly dark conditions prevented me from taking a clear picture with my previously trusty point-and-shoot Kodak, became solidified when I was assigned the job of faculty sponsor for my school’s yearbook (I’m a teacher), and came to fruition when I followed the masses to Comex and decided amongst the consumerist frenzy to indulge my DSLR desire.
After a little research, I decided to go with Nikon instead of Canon. Like Indiana Jones walking across the invisible bridge,I made this decision mainly as a step of faith. I appreciate that Nikon typically has better support for legacy hardware, and in some cases Nikon is just a little less pricey. However, I have also read some articles that claimed that Canon has sharper image rendering and presents more vivid colors, and I’ve read other articles that disagree. My photographic eye is not yet sharp enough to see a distinction. I also consulted a few blogs (such as this one) and several Flickr groups. Based on the end result, I couldn’t determine if one brand really had an advantage over the other. At my beginner level of photography, I’m sure that it doesn’t.
The three Nikon models that were in my price range were the D40, D60, and the D80. The higher end models such as the D300 were simply too expensive. After testing each of these cameras at the booth, I ended up purchasing the Nikon D60. The package that I selected came with two lenses, the 18-55mm VR (vibration reduction) and the 55-200mm VR.
My first few weeks with the camera were happy and joyful. Purchasing the D60 was everything that I had hoped for, and I was completely at peace with my decision. I was able to easily adjust the manual settings and snap pictures that had previously been impossible for me. The form factor was perfect for my hands, and each picture was captured with a satisfying click of the shutter. But as I spent more time with the camera, I realized that these thrills would come with any DSLR camera and the D60 has some serious limitations. I now realize it would have been wiser for me to purchase the more inexpensive D40 or shell out a little more money for the beefier D80 or (now available) D90.
Even with its 18-55mm VR kit lens, the D60 handles panning quite nicely.
The first D60 limitation that I encountered is one that was entirely preventable and entirely due to my lack of research. One of the reasons that I decided go with Nikon, the company’s support for legacy lenses, is almost entirely invalidated with this camera. If you are getting this camera to use some of Nikon’s inexpensive, yet high quality lenses such as the 50mm/f1.8- forget it. The D60 lacks an internal focusing motor. (For the record, the D40 has the same limitation.) The old AF lenses will attach to the camera, but unless you get the newer (and more expensive) AF-S or AF-I lenses you won’t be able to auto-focus. I guess this isn’t a problem if you love carefully manually focusing your shots, but I find one of the great joys of any digital camera is the ease of focusing. Granted, you can buy the more expensive lenses, but you could also just pay more for your camera in the first place and get a model such as the D80 or D90 that has an internal auto-focus motor that supports these lenses.
The second frustration that I have with this camera is that it simply wasn’t designed to handle low light situations well. Taking any picture that requires ISO 800 or higher produces an inordinate amount of noise in the image. I’ve read that this occurs because Nikon decided to cram more megapixels (10.2) in this camera but sacrifice the quality of each pixel. The end result is that in low light situations the D60 may produce a larger image, but a camera with fewer megapixels like the the D40 would produce a higher quality image. As a consumer you can take your pick, but unless you are producing large posters or high resolution desktop wallpaper, you’ll probably want a clear image over a large image. Of course, a Nikon lover could also just get a superior camera like the D90 or D300 that stomps the punier cameras in both picture size and quality. The trick is, of course, you just have to spend more money.
Another light performance flaw in this camera is its limited flash shutter sync speed. Unlike the D40 which can use its flash and take pictures at up to 1/500th of a second, the D60 can only take flash pictures at half the speed, 1/250th of a second. The implication of this is that when taking pictures of hyperactive little kids or fast-paced sporting events, the D40 would do a better job than the D60. This is inexplicable considering that the D40 costs less than the D60, but I imagine it has something to do with the sacrifice in pixel quality for the increase in megapixels.
Another thing that I realized after buying this camera is that I paid for a lot of fluff in the camera’s firmware. The D60 has about a dozen ways to enhance your image or apply virtual filters while the images are still in the camera. It even comes equipped with a feature to render stop motion video. Unfortunately, few people will want to use these functions. If you are seriously into editing your photos you will undoubtedly use GIMP or Photoshop to edit your images; you’ll feel like you’re wasting your time manipulating the pictures on the D60’s modest little LCD screen.
One of the most satisfying aspects of taking pictures with a DSLR is the ability to isolate your camera’s focus. The D60 can do this without a problem.
But Nikon is proud of these features, and the feature that they boast the most about is something called “Active-D Lighting.” They’ve even designated a button for this on the top of the D60. In the manual it says the purpose of this feature is to “preserve details in highlights and shadows to create photos with natural contrast.” After using it a bit, I do think that Active-D Lighting presents a slightly better contrast, but it also slows down your camera as it takes pictures. And virtually the same affect can be achieved by using the camera’s “D-Lighting” image enhancement feature in post processing. My conclusion is that Active-D Lighting may be a good feature, but it certainly doesn’t need its own button. If Nikon had placed a button that allowed me to easily manipulate white balance, ISO sensitivity or AF servo, it would have been infinitely more useful because currently you have to poke around the menus on the LCD screen to adjust these settings.
After I purchased the pricey 50mm AF-S lens, I was able to utilize the full capabilities of the D60. If I had purchased a D80 or D90, I would be able to take the same pictures with a more inexpensive lens.
In the end though, I am satisfied with the camera. I’ve taken some great pictures and had some good times with it. Moreover, my knowledge of photography has increased exponentially during the past six months. It serves my purposes for the school yearbook, and with the 55-200mm VR lens I can take adequate concert and sporting event pictures. If you’re like me and a DSLR newbie, the D60 isn’t a bad choice, but it isn’t the best choice. What sold me on this camera was the quality of the lenses that came with it, but these same lenses could also be used with a D40. If I decided to buy an entry level DSLR again, I wouldn’t buy this model. I would get the more inexpensive D40 and try to buy a few used VR lenses, or I would close my eyes, grit my teeth, and spend more money to get a D80 or D90.
These photos and more are available on my Flickr account.