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Nikon’s 8.1-megapixel Coolpix P60 entices novice shooters to delve deeper into the camera’s functions and gives experienced photographers the opportunity to flex their muscle with its manual controls.
With a nod to DSLR cameras, the P60 features an electronic viewfinder, which, compared to the rather useless and limited optical viewfinders found on most compacts, provides 100 percent coverage. The viewfinder displays the entire image at all focal lengths—with exposure data—and it’s perfect for times when it’s too bright to frame shots with the 2.5-inch LCD.
The P60 comes loaded with features, including 14 scene modes, automatic and program modes, and panorama-assist, in addition to recording 640-by-480-pixel video with sound. The D-lighting function, which helps bring out shadow detail, makes a copy of the image, increasing the amount of detail in underexposed shadow areas. In our tests, this feature added noticeable amounts of noise that increased significantly at higher ISO speeds. Despite this, the function will be useful to photographers who print or post images on the Web directly from the camera, giving additional detail without needing to transfer the photos to a Mac for editing.
The camera features an f/3.6-4.5 and a 36-180 (35mm equivalent) lens with an optical image stabilizer. The optical stabilizer was stellar: We photographed subjects at a 1-second shutter speed and got sharp images. On the flip side, the default Face-Priority auto-focus was frustrating. Using the auto-focus was like playing whack-a-mole—we were never quite sure what the AF would decide to lock on to. For this reason, we recommend setting auto-focus mode to manual or to focus on the center of the frame. Using this option, you’ll notice decreased focus lag at wide to medium focal lengths. At 180mm, however, the camera still had a noticeable focus lag. Shutter lag, on the other hand, was hardly noticeable, and the P60 can shoot up to two frames per second in continuous mode.
The P60 focused well in low-light situations with the assist lamp, but the AF had trouble locking on subjects when the lamp was turned off. The camera has a top ISO of 2000, but, as with most compact cameras, images shot above ISO 400 tend to look more like impressionist paintings, with washed-out colors and substantial noise and artifacts.
Luckily, the higher ISO settings aren’t really needed, and inexperienced photographers can use automatic and program modes with confidence. More advanced photographers can easily access the P60’s manual controls to set their exposure times and flash output. We used this camera in very challenging lighting situations—poorly lit auditoriums, dark clubs, and nighttime street shooting in various mode combinations—without having to resort to an ISO over 400.
Image quality was excellent at the proper exposure, but the P60 offered very little latitude when it came to underexposed photos—highlights got completely blown out and colors were easily washed out.
The camera features a function called Best Shot Selected. In low-light situations without flash, for example, the camera will take up to 10 images and automatically select the sharpest one. Photographers aren’t given a chance to view rejected images, however, so a better option is to choose manual mode and the image stabilizer, bracketing your own exposures for optimum control.
Battery life isn’t the P60’s strong suit. Photographers who shoot in auto mode or rely on the flash need to carry plenty of spares. The camera takes two AAs, and even when shooting with flash off, the batteries drain quickly—we got about 100 shots on a set of rechargeable NiMH batteries. Internal memory is a paltry 12MB, so get a big SD card.