Busman's Holiday
A Day Off & A New Camera:
Part II
by Steve Wood
December 12, 2008

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If you somehow stumbled upon this page without having seen A Day Off & A New Camera, this is part two of that column.

After two months of using the Nikon Coolpix P60, I can offer a bit more information about the camera. I'm still glad I chose the P60, but I'm also glad I didn't pay any more than I did for it. It's a nice, point and shoot digital camera, but it certainly isn't professional caliber.

Since you may be here looking for reasons to scare you off buying this model, let me begin with the shortcomings of the P60. If you're looking for its strengths, you'll need to go to Page 2.

Fragile (4/28/09 update)

After just five months of use, my Coolpix P60 is out of service. The lens cover had begun to stick, so I didn't notice at first when all of my full screen, non-zoom images began being vignetted on the right side.

Vignetting

I'd mentioned in Part I of this review that many Amazon reviewers experienced similar issues with the P60 lens and light meter. While Nikon is going to cover the repair under warranty, this is way too early in the camera's lifespan for such an issue to occur.

(5/18/09 update)

It's been a month since I sent Nikon my Coolpix P60 for service. In that time I've learned that the camera will require a complete lens assembly replacement...and that Nikon "service" isn't very prompt.

After two weeks of seeing a "Parts Hold" on the Nikon status page for my camera repair, I began calling Nikon USA service. I first talked to Oliver in the Dominican Republic. He was polite, knowledgeable, and well spoken, and promised to get a time estimate for the repair out to me in a few days. When a week had passed with no word from Oliver, I called again and spoke to Peter, who called Oliver, who again promised an email, this time before the end of the business day. Peter also advised me that he thought the part had come in, so my wait should be about over.

Now, five days after Peter assured me the part was in and that Oliver would email me a time frame that day for the repair and return of my camera, I'm still waiting. The Nikon service status page still reads "Parts Hold."

While this is a review of the Nikon Coolpix P60, the ramifications of this poor service from Nikon repair extends to the whole product lineup of Nikon. If you have a repair issue with your Nikon product, you may have to wait an unacceptable length of time to get your camera back. Calling Nikon service may prove as useless to you as it has to me, as the people there do not follow through on what they've said they will do.

At some point, I plan to move to a digital SLR. When I begin shopping for that dream camera, the early failure of the P60 (and a similar experience with my old Coolpix 4300) and the utter lack of any effective customer service from Nikon have pretty well tarnished that company's name and products.

(5/19/09 update)

The long promised email arrived today saying my camera had been repaired. We'll see how long it takes for the camera to arrive. I'm not holding my breath waiting.

(5/22/09 update)

I've pulled the nifty javascript counter that appeared here as I awaited the return of my P60 from Nikon repair services. (Thanks again to Robert Hashemian for the free use of his javascript timer code.) Total elapsed time for the repair from the time Nikon received the camera: 32 days, 4 hours.

(6/10/09 update)

P60 vignettingThe P60 worked great...for a week or so. It then began vignetting photos again with a couple of new tricks. In addition to vignetting the right side of photos, the lens will not fully retract. This causes the screen to display a "Lens Error" message that also eats up battery life. The camera also just locks up at times. I had to open and close the battery case to get it to reboot.

So...here we go again waiting on Nikon service to do its thing.

The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight (6/26-27/09 update)

Dark, contrasty imagesSpot meteringThe P60 arrived today via UPS Next Day Air. I quickly got the camera set up and rushed outside to test it. When I imported the first "roll," I noticed some of the pictures were a bit dark and too contrasty. I enabled the spot metering option and tried again. The result was the totally washed out photo at right.

It appears that Nikon has fixed the problems with image vignetting and the lens not fully retracting, but introduced some metering issues that terribly limit the performance of the camera. They did do better on turn-around, only taking 14 days, 2 hours, and 32 minutes to get the camera back in my hands.

To be fair to Nikon, the camera can take acceptable photos in the automatic mode. Unfortunately, it's a crap shoot as to whether the image will be metered correctly or not with each image in auto mode.

Below is a side-by-side of the same scene in auto mode and again with spot metering.

Garden in auto mode Garden spot metering
Auto Spot metering

The spot metering problems may just be a matter of settings messed up at the repair station, but they also could be symptomatic of a far more serious general metering failure. Images in auto often are too dark, have way too much contrast, or simply don't achieve a proper balance between the ground and sky.

As it now stands, my P60 certainly isn't useable for my purposes on Educators' News and especially for Senior Gardening.

(7/12/09 update)

After three months of trying to make Nikon live up to its warranty, I chose another solution to the problem last week. I had emailed and phoned Nikon and even written (snail mail) to the president and CEO of Nikon USA without any response. After two unsuccessful attempts by Nikon service to repair my P60, I wanted a replacement. Instead, I got only silence.

While my six-year-old Nikon Coolpix 4300 that the P60 was supposed to replace has been acceptably handling my photo needs for my Senior Gardening site, I really needed a more reliable camera. The 4300's battery door has been held shut for years with electrician's tape (a common complaint of 4300 users). Its lens assembly labors to open and close, but that is probably due more to its unfortunate trip down our stairs than any design flaw from Nikon. And it is still terribly limited for portraiture by the long delay of its auto-focusing lens.

Canon XSiRather than move up the product line of a company that has proven itself to me to be arrogant, uncommunicative, and unreliable, I chose to move to another brand. While I really like the convenience of a point-and-shoot digital camera, I decided it was time to move up to a digital SLR. Since I live on a teacher's pension, I chose an older, entry-level Canon digital SLR, the Canon Digital Rebel XSi. It was around $120 cheaper than Canon's latest and greatest, the T1i, but has all the features I currently need.

Had Nikon effectively repaired or replaced my Coolpix P60, I'd still be a Nikon fan and would probably be researching "D" series Nikons for my move to a digital SLR. But the combined experiences of several nagging (and one expensive) problems with the 4300 and the total failure of the P60 took any Nikon off my shopping list. If a new Nikon D5000 has a problem, it goes in for warranty service to the same repair facility address that so miserably failed to fix my P60!

 

 

Lens Distortion

Nikon appears to have cut some corners with the lens for the P60. In most cases you don't notice it, but there is some spherical distortion at the edges of some images. Since I use my P60 for lots of plant and product shots, I'm often taking close-ups (but not always in the P60's close-up mode).

The image below brought the issue to my attention in a big way. The tray shown has a bit of outward bow, but not anything like what the image depicts.

lens distortion

The distortion shown here is so bad one almost can't believe it. I kept getting fooled, because other photos didn't show such distortion. But what was happening was that I was looking at straight lines at the center of the image or cropping to that view. I thought I was going nuts when I looked at the photo below until I realized that the distortion occurs at the edges. The straight line in this photo is in the middle and is unaffected (Note inset.).

Cold Frame

Severe distortionNo warp, sortaWhile writing this piece, I grabbed a jacket and the P60 and ran out to the garden, where I'd gotten a shot this summer of some really severe distortion. I wanted to get a straight line shot of the distorted timber to make sure it wasn't really warped.

Actually, there appears to be a little warp in the board, but in the opposite direction of the curve shown at left. Then I reproduced the distortion in another shot. I made sure I had the timber at the bottom of the image. I've added some white lines to the photo to emphasize the distortion.

Wow!

With the board at the center of the image, the distortion was not apparent.

No distortion

To be fair, any lens may produce such distortion at its edges. I was able to reproduce much the same thing with my old Nikon Coolpix 4300 (below). I'd not noticed it in all the time I'd used the 4300. Of course, just as I was getting done with the shots, the 4300 decided to shut off on its own, one of the peculiarities of the camera, even before its trip down the stairs.

4300 distortion

I'd really like to try the same experiment with my trusty old 35mm Canon AE-1.

Weenie Flash

Dim flashThe flash output on the Nikon Coolpix P60 is anemic. But that's the kind of thing that many similarly priced cameras experience. One evening I worked fairly late on some fall soil preparation in the garden. It was still light enough to work, but the light was definitely low. I snapped a shot of the bed I'd worked and was surprised at the low flash output.

garden and houseFor comparison, I turned and got a flash shot of the bed from another angle, and you can see our house still lit by the existing light beyond the flash's range.

A second issue with the flash is that it recharges after a shot extremely slowly. If Nikon were Microsoft, they'd say, "It's not a bug. It's a feature!" (Sorry, Microsoft moonies!) The upside of the weak flash and long recharge times is that the P60 is very easy on batteries. Coupled with the fact that it uses AA batteries, the flash issues are ones I can live with.

Okay, now that I may have put you totally off of this camera, let me go to another page and show you what the P60 can do really well.

Page 2 of A Day Off & A New Camera: Part II

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©2008 Steven L. Wood
last updated 7/12/2009