Nikon Coolpix P60 digital camera review

The Nikon Coolpix P60 is one step up from the P50 we tested back on December 2007. It sits in Nikon’s "Performance" Coolpix range (hence that "P" in the name) and offers an 8.1-megapixel resolution and neat shooting features similar to the P50, but with some significant improvements in terms of performance and some more, rather modest tweaks overall.

Like the P50, the P60’s RRP is £199.99 and as so much is so similar let’s have a look at the key differences. The standout is the longer, 5x optical zoom that offers a focal range that starts from a reasonable 36mm wide end and zooms to the long focal length of 180mm. The P50’s focal range of 28 to 102mm is frankly more useful for both the wider focal length at 28mm and the fact it has a fast F/2.8 maximum aperture, the P60 has a F/3.6 to F/4.5 maximum aperture range.

The sensor shift anti-shake system is in there once more, so this lens’ less bright aperture range is offset somewhat but the P50 has that too of course. Other specification tweaks include a slightly larger but excellent 2.5-inch monitor, coupled to an electronic viewfinder or EVF. Gone is the P50’s gloomy optical viewfinder.

Benefits of the EVF include the ability to display all the info seen on the large screen and it’s not as gloomy, while downsides include its use of battery power; the P60 uses two AAs just like the P50 and is very difficult to use for precise focus assessment. By the way, you get two AA Lithium cells supplied with the camera which, after about 200-shots, still show as being full and is enough for plenty of snapping. In fact Nikon claims they’ll be good for around 720-shots and on this performance, I’d have to agree.

The prominent handgrip houses the dual AA’s and the SDHC storage (the P60 has 12MB of internal storage too) and makes holding and using the camera, even one handed, very nice.

Like the P50, a nice sized mode dial on the top plate just behind the shutter button and to the left of the on/off button provides a start up time of a reasonably fast 1-second, much better than the P50’s 2.5-seconds. The continually rotating mode dial allows you to quickly click through the camera’s shooting modes, which include a full manual option, all auto green mode and program AE.

Like the P50, just three key scene modes can be quickly selected here: landscape, night scene and portrait, with another 15 scene modes in menus; two are image size settings.

Other mode dial features include the "HI ISO" mode that quickly selects the top ISO 2000 mode and what Nikon calls "Electronic Vibration Reduction" and there’s 640 x 480 movie mode for those times where nothing but a moving image will do, with sound of course.

But I had an inkling this is a different beast in terms of performance from the start up time and indeed, it is the performance that impresses. Gone (well almost) is the P50’s shutter lag and the AF here works really well in most situations and the only place it really started to baulk was when I wanted to shoot directly into the setting sun. Macro was a bit problematic too but only because the close focus distance is a very modest 10cm, so nothing to shout about I’m afraid.

Face AF is good too and while it took a little time to key on to faces, once it had them it locked, it was tighter than a hand stuck with superglue. The manual controls on offer provided scope to play with both shutter and aperture settings although the latter provides just two settings the maximum aperture at the wide end of the lens (F/3.6) and the minimum aperture on offer depending on the lens focal length in use. In this case, F/4.5 However, in Program mode or one of the scene modes you do get +/-2EV exposure compensation in all shooting modes to help in difficult lighting.

In terms of image quality, the P50 is pretty darn good with a stunning level of detail captured at top quality and low ISO settings. And although the 256-zone Matrix metering system underexposes by around half a stop when shooting in scene modes, which seemed rather at odds with the superb metering performance in the program mode, I found the exposure compensation rather more useful than I would have wanted.

Throw in the excellent EXPEED processor, D-Lighting control, (for balancing highlight and shadow detail without loosing either) and red-eye fix and the P60 provides a well-balanced specification. Like the P50, the EXPEED processor works well and even over ISO 800, noise while evident is well controlled a lot like traditional film grain in fact. Over ISO 800, noise is more problematic but not as bad as most cameras at settings over ISO 1000 just like the P50 then. Right? Wrong, it’s better; somehow, Nikon has got the processor to work slightly better reducing noise and retaining slightly more detail.

White balance is excellent and the overall level of detail is very good indeed even with noise processing switched on. Colours are natural with plenty of presets and tweaking available in menus including black and white and a variety of other tweaks such as "Vivid", "Softer", and "More Vivid" all helping you to fine tune your results.

Verdict

The Nikon Coolpix P60 is the same price as the P50 and barring the EVF; it’s a much better camera in terms of performance. There’s some noticeable barrel distortion on that lens, a lens which offers, in my view, a less flexible focal range than the P50’s 28-102mm zoom, so if you can live with those caveats, then I cannot see why you wouldn’t want the P60.

A nice, well specified digital compact that irons out all the performances flaws of the P50 making it a very good compact indeed.