Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Nikon N60

Admittedly, there is much to be spoiled about for those who shoot today's digital SLR camera technology, permitting feature after feature that simply didn't exist in the heyday of film.  And while there are some film cameras from the later years that show some pretty remarkable uses of technological advances of their era, there are any number of other models that would seem to compete for the title of the most "plain vanilla camera" of their respective categories.  And if indeed such a contest would have existed for later model film cameras, Nikon's N60 would have certainly been among the stronger contenders for capturing the title of "Most Plain Vanilla SLR Camera Model."

Facing the reality of it all, the N60's feature set admittedly is a pretty short read rooted in the basic, carrying the usual suspects of a handful of "scene" modes in addition to the expected presence of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes.  It seems that aside from an EV compensation button, the N60 offers nothing in the way of extras.  If the N60 were a car, it would almost certainly be the "base model" that lacks the panache of the deluxe trim package.

Despite this rather bland feature set, the 1998 vintage N60 does convey a surprisingly solid feel that seems a touch above the typical basic consumer cameras of other makers.  While the camera body would hardly pass as professional grade, it still seems sturdy to the touch. However, a quick glance through the buttons and settings on the N60 by the film photography "prosumer" enthusiast reveals a wealth of missing features and an experience that I'd best describe as "coarse."

With the N60, you get one metering pattern, one advance mode, and one focus mode.  You won't be firing away in a spot-metered burst mode with continuous predictive autofocus applied with this camera.  Instead, you'll be lining up your shots, focusing, and firing, provided that you don't wish to enable any tricks to modify exposure levels prior to pressing the shutter release.  Your camera won't be friends with your old Nikon AI manual focus lenses, and you'll read your exposure settings through the basic viewfinder, or via the topside LCD that is particularly clunky in appearance among modern SLR cameras.  This same coarseness in the LCD does make for a readable display, though it's not a backlit one.

The top of the N60 is pretty much "builder basic," with a simple command dial at left, accompanied by a small self-timer button.  The left side has the shutter release encircled by the power switch, and a pair of buttons for EV compensation and aperture control.  Behind the somewhat kludgy looking LCD screen is a button to lock exposure and the control dial.

Despite its seeming lack of options to choose from, the N60 does seem to hide some excellent features beneath its basic interface.  The metering is of an advanced "matrix" style, while the camera automatically detects a moving subject to choose between single and continuous autofocus behind the scenes.  The N60's lack of feature selection may make it seem a tad overbearing, but keep the faith that this Nikon is making these choices with the interest of rewarding the user with the best possible photos given the situations at the time, without bewildering the novice user into choosing a setting that complements each situation they encounter.  

And while the N60 is frustrating for its lack of compatibility with manual focus Nikon AI lenses, it works quite competently when paired with its native Nikon brand autofocus lenses to provide a dependable if basic experience behind the eye piece.  

The N60 was a camera model that never struck my fancy as something of interest to me. From all indications, its no-frills operation would serve only to bore me.  However, when I stumbled across an N60 paired with a sturdy Nikon 35-70 f/2.8 lens for a bargain price, I had to jump on the chance, if only to snag the lens. And while the lens thrilled me more than the camera, I certainly thought it worthwhile to try out the camera a couple of times just to see what it could do.  

Viewfinder of the N60 is basic and not terribly intimidating.  The simple [+/-] indicator to show the use of any exposure compensation rather than having a scale was a bit irritating to me. 

Admittedly, the experience of handling the N60 was by no means a disappointment to me. It delivered just as it promised with nothing more in the way of bells and whistles.  Knowing its limitations, I rather contentedly plugged away with the N60 armed with a roll of Fuji Superia 400, which I whimsically considered as my point and shoot with the most awesome lens ever.  I later had the chance to pick up a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF mounted onto an N4004S body, and still felt the interest in shooting a bit more with the basic N60 in order to finish out a roll of Agfapan 25 I'd been sitting on (not literally mind you) for nearly a year.

While the results that surfaced were largely attributed to the the fine Nikon lenses that accompanied this basic camera through these two rolls of film, the camera's performance in its proper recording of in-focus well-exposured images was more or less flawless.  This camera seemed to deliver exactly what I'd hoped out of nearly every image, something that I often can't say of more feature rich modern SLR cameras. 

I actually start with the later set of images in this review.  Pairing some fast glass on the N60 with the slow fine-grained film from Agfa, I was greeted with some sharp and lovely toned results.

I love it when a camera just seems to do exactly what I want it to do.  The image above was focused at father distance than the image below, resulting in a desired shallow depth-of-field image in the latter shot.  In both cases, the N60 picked up what I was aiming to do, and delivered the best possible image. 

Again, I meant to do this.  Looking to see what the 50mm f/1.8 would do on Agfapan 25, I focused on the tree in the foreground, and let the backdrop render in a soft focus.  The tree is tack sharp and the backdrop carries the perfect amount of softness to create a very idyllic scene. 

And when I actually wanted a backdrop scene in focus, the N60 confidently said "Yeah, I can do that!" And it did indeed. 

And another for good measure. The fishermen in the foreground really make the scene.

The N60's stumbles, while occasional, did occur periodically.  Not sure just what the camera was seeing to focus upon with this scene. 

By and large however, the N60, armed with the Nikon lenses, delivered shots of all-around excellent quality, such as the one above and below.  The Agfapan offers a very good tonality, despite being expired. 

Another deliberate focusing exercise on the tree in foreground.  Yet again, the N60 nailed it.  

Shot wide open, the 50mm delivered nicely narrow depth of field as evidenced by the fuzziness in the poles closest to camera, and remarkable sharpness, as seen in the distant trees, with some mushiness around the edges. 

Scenes like this make Frederick County a great place for a ramble armed with a competent camera like the N60.  

Stopped down, the 50mm paired with the Agfapan delivers a good result in a contrasty scene. 

Last shot on the roll was this one, again a great example of the sharpness of the Nikon lens wide open.

Very challenging light, and yet the N60's matrix metering performed rather admirably to capture this shot near Union Station on the Fuji Superia 400.

I rarely take hobby shots indoors, but when armed with a fast lens, fast film, and holiday decorations, I had to give it a try.  The N60 and the 35-70mm lens delivered in available light. 

Grab shot.  Not perfect, but better than most. 

Another quick grab.  In tough light, the meter and film did well in recording the colors in the sky while maintaining detail in the foreground. 

The rendition from the 35-70 on even consumer color film is quite impressive. 

Another one that works despite a little loss of detail in the shadows. 

Yet again, this came across decently in available light.

An attempt at a "pan and scan" at slow shutter speed that worked quite well. Despite my lack of interest in this basic camera, it willingly proved it was a capable beast! 

I also tried a few night scenes in the holiday season.  While the composition here is a bore, I can't terribly fault the results from a technical perspective. 

Better composition and an even better feel technically speaking. 

Yet again, the N60 did more or less just what I'd hoped. 

I've tried a few of these shots at times when the conditions warranted on different cameras, only to have them deliver poor exposures.  The Nikon camera and Fuji film delivered a great tag team tandem on this image! 

A last shot taken at f/2.8.  Yet again, I am extremely pleased with the results!

Given the affordability of more feature packed Nikon film SLR's like the N8008 and N90, it is hard to readily recommend seeking out a Nikon N60 for purchase.  However, there is just enough endearing about this camera to make it a difficult camera to simply walk away from should you happen across one when camera shopping.  Should this camera be paired with a decent Nikon lens at a decent price as this one was, RUN, do not walk, cash in hand to add it to your collection.  You won't be overly captivated by its features, though you are bound to be pleased with the results it provides for you.  The N60 is a camera that stealthily manages to do surprisingly much when its interface would make you presume that it can do sparingly little. 

Perhaps more fitting for me is to look through the photos I took with the N60 and wonder if they could be any better than they are were they shot with a higher end camera such as the F5, F100, or N90.  While I can't know for certain, my general inference is that these shots are more or less about as good as they can be. 

It also merits mentioning that the simplicity of the interface of the N60 may make it actually a more attractive option than the more feature rich models.  Given that this camera seemed to do a particularly good job of reading my mind on most shots, it will certainly be one to consider taking along on family outings when I want photos of exceptional quality that don't require much in the way of thought on my end.  

Thus, depending on what you may be seeking, I can either recommend this camera in a lukewarm fashion, or with a fervent passion.  Either way though, this camera certainly embodies the term "extraordinary in the ordinary!"