March 4, 2008 -- There was a time, back in the days of film (you remember film, don't you?), when Nikon, competing with Canon as industry leader in SLR cameras, made one flagship model and stuck with it. The Nikon F3 was its top-of-the-line camera for 17 years.
Today, 17 months is a long time. Nikon now manufactures eight different digital SLRs and, in the spirit of the digital age, keeps updating them. Less than a year after the 10-megapixel D40x, here's the 10-megapixel D60.
On the outside you'll have trouble telling them apart. The D60 has the same (nicely compact) body, the same (well-designed) controls, the same (solid) build -- in fact, if you don't notice the small silver nameplate on the right front of the camera, you may not realize you're holding a newer model.
So what's different? A bunch of bells and whistles inside.
The D60 automatically cleans dust from its sensor -- an ongoing issue with SLRs, which, unlike point-and-shoot cameras, one opens frequently to change lenses.
It also has a long menu for editing pictures once you've taken them -- correcting colors, removing red-eye from flash pictures, adding visual effects. And the software that comes with it allows you to make stop-motion movies.
It's all great fun. But it leaves you with a question to ask yourself -- one that you may not be in a position to answer if you've never owned an SLR before.
The D60 is an entry-level camera, meant for people who've found that point-and-shoot cameras weren't enough for them. It is orders of magnitude better for action pictures, and shooting in low light.
But do you really need 10 megapixels? And are you willing to spend $750 for the camera with its 18-55mm vibration-reducing lens? The dirty little secret of digital photography is that unless you print enlargements bigger than 8-by-10 inches, or blow up tiny details of your pictures, you only need 5-6 megapixels.
In that case, you may be happier with Nikon's D40, which can be had with lens for less than $500.
For however long Nikon continues to make it.