There is no disguising the fact that Nikon make great cameras. Sure, like everything in life, you get what you pay for, so a £3000 camera is going to give you exceptional results; but not all of us want to spend that much on perfection if there is a very acceptable, less expensive alternative. And the Nikon D60 kit is just that.
This camera is an entry-level DSLR aimed at photographers who are maybe stepping-up from a point and shoot or film camera to a more serious and creative tool. Its body is light, compact and ergonomic and offers a 10.2 megapixel image capture and 2.5 inch screen that rotates its information according to the cameras orientation.
The camera has the familiar Nikon user-friendly navigation system that allows you to move around the various menus with ease. This is helped by the reduced number of buttons on camera and a combined monitor and information display. This makes for less ’intimidation’ when shooting and you can concentrate on the content of your image more, which I always think of as the primary importance.
The Nikon D60 digital SLR also has some new features such as the stop motion recording mode, eye sensors which switch the screen off when you’re looking through the viewfinder and an anti-dust system which vibrates the low pass filter along with using Nikon's new airflow system to move particles from the image path. There is Active D-Lighting for preserving details in the bright highlights and the darkest shadow area, which aids the photographer in gaining the ultimate image capture and gives them the best material to work with. However, the Nikon D60 does offer ‘on-board’ creative features that allow you to make adjustments to your captured image without the need to run to your laptop. I’m afraid I still run to mine!
That said, features like automatic red-eye correction when using built-in flash, or creation of stop-motion animation files from a series of images are a great bonus and represent real creative value for money.
The image processing and quality of the Nikon D60 is controlled using Nikon’s EXPEED technology and is as it “says on the tin’, fast and accurate. The Nikon D60 digital SLR offers continuous shooting of 3 fps and can work up to an ISO sensitivity of 3200 which is handy for those low light situations.
The Nikon D60 performed very well for the images I shot here. The images were processed quickly and were displayed on the 2.5in screen with bright clarity. I was able to assess the results easily for both the technical and creative standards that I was looking for. Nice clean images, evenly lit with the trademark shadow created by the ring flash. I adjusted the exposures ever so slightly as I went along, using the exposure compensation facility on the D60 to give me an adequate range of final exposures to chose from.
The Nikon D60’s build quality is not as substantial as some of it’s ‘big brother’s’, but for general shooting especially in a still-life situation like this, it was perfect. You only need to worry seriously about build-quality of your camera if you are likely to be regularly using it in ‘rugged’ situations where there is likely to be a bit of rough and tumble!
The VR 18-55mm lens gives a reasonable focal length to shoot a variety of subject matter with, from landscapes to portraits and was more than suitable for the images that I have shot here. I tended to shoot at around 55mm which fitted the fairly tight, still-life approach that I wanted to achieve and to utilize the quality of light given by the ring flash. The vibration reduction ability of the lens was not really necessary with these images as the flash was always going to allow the right amount of light to give pin-sharp images, whether the camera was hand-held or mounted on a tripod. However, the VR capability is always going to come in handy at some point in time in your shooting and is a great asset to ensure that you are not too disappointed that your prized image is ‘soft’.
The Marumi ring flash was more than adequate for what I had in mind. It gives a clean, even, flat light that suits a very graphic image style, allowing the object that you are shooting to do most of the talking. As with any still-life situation, making it look simple and is not always that easy. Still-life is very much about attention to small detail. I remember spending hours getting the bubbles to look right on top of a cup of Tetley tea for an advert that we were shooting when I was an assistant to a still-life photographer many years ago!
The flash comes with a main control unit that is mounted onto the Nikon D60’s hotshoe. The flash element itself is secured onto the front of the lens with an adaptor ring. Marumi supply several adaptor rings to fit a variety of focal length lenses which is very helpful; in the past I’ve spent a good deal of money on buying additional adaptor rings for various filter kits.
The ring flash can be used in fully automatic, semi-automatic and manual camera modes with the TTL exposure. I shot with the camera set-up in manual mode as I wanted to be able to control all the variables myself. The green light on the back of the control unit confirms that the subject is within the effective TTL range of the flash unit. Even though the macro ring flash exposure is fully automatic, it is still possible to control the lighting intensity by way of enabling the flash exposure compensation on the Nikon D60 digital SLR camera body which allows the flash exposure to be adjusted up to +/- 3 stops in +/- .3 increments.
I wanted to shoot some very simple still-life images as seen here that allowed the ring flash to produce its inherent ‘halo’ shadow. This was an intentional creative choice to help illustrate the beauty and detail in what may seem fairly ordinary subject matter. But my motto has always been that simple is best, especially in still-life.
I shot these still-life’s in my studio at home; I’m lucky, I have a lovely converted billiard room to the back of the house which is a fantastic space that suits most of my needs. For these shots of the balloon, iced gem and an iPod, I worked with them on the floor with various types of paper as a background. I was shooting from directly above the objects, important here to draw your eye directly to the point of focus and had the Nikon D60 mounted on tripod with an extension arm to allow me to get into this position.
For those not familiar with a ring flash, it is pretty self-explanatory: it is a flash that is round and surrounds the lens with which you are taking your photograph. The idea behind it is to reduce distracting shadows and it is used primarily in areas like forensic photography to record exact detail with an even light. But like most things in the photographic world, it can be adapted for other more creative uses. If you want to shoot general macro-style images and are in low-light situations, the Marumi ring flash is a very useful addition to your kit. Maybe it is a beautiful rose that you want to capture an image of but the weather is a bit gloomy; the ring flash will allow you to shoot a nice, clean, bright image.
The ring flash is not limited to still-life photography, although it is very much suited to this type of work. It can also be used in more general photographic situations. The even light that the ring flash emits is more closely linked to that slightly ‘forensic’ look; uncompromising, bold, not always pretty to look at, that makes an ‘in-your-face’ statement. If I were asked to shoot some images to illustrate a topic like obesity, then I’d probably use a technique like this with the ring flash to make it ‘up-front and personal’, no escaping the detail.
For those of you who know their photographers, you will see a similarity in the work of Martin Parr who likes to shoot his imagery with this very vibrant often harsh color and uncompromising flash light. It is distinct; often hard-hitting, not always glamorous; but there is a real sense of authenticity about the work.
Here in my still-life images, I have altered the effect of the ‘halo shadow’ by means of increasing or decreasing the distance between the object and the background and/or the distance between the flash and the subject.
There is no magic formula for this and so you really need to experiment in order to achieve a particular ‘look’. I used small blocks of wood and bits of Lego as supports for the various objects and with these it is easy to alter the subject to background distance.
With the best possible in-camera information gathered, I was able to bring the images into Photoshop and do a small amount of alteration to them; I adjusted the Levels a touch and altered both the Hue and Saturation to give the overall look I was trying to achieve.
The Nikon D60 and the Marumi ring flash were very user-friendly in this test shoot and both performed well to produce satisfying results. For me, the beauty of these shots is in their simplicity; it is always best to try to work ‘with’ an object, to enhance its inherent beauty or style, if you can call an Iced Gem beautiful! Well, I think it is.
9/10 image quality
7/10 build quality
9/10 build quality