Canon EOS 60D Review

The Spec You Get

  • 18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS Sensor ( 1.6 Crop Factor )
  • Advanced Creative Features
  • Vari-angle 7.7cm (3.0”) 3:2 Ratio LCD
  • Full HD Movies
  • Digic Four Processor
  • ISO 100-6400 ( expandable to 12800 )
  • 5.3 frames per second
  • 9-point cross type AF system
  • iFCL metering with 63 zone Dual-Layer Sensor

First impressions

Two things small but significant caught me on first use.

One, the Mode Dial and the other, the memory card slot. The mode dial was an instant hit, its lockable. They used to do this years ago on old fashioned (as they are now) film cameras, or in the case of the last generations, you would pick your mode via the LCD control panel, EOS 1V back then and EOS 1D's now, so this was a welcome addition. Why they don't do this across the range is anyone's guess. I'm told Canon are beginning to offer a service where you can have a lockable mode dial retro-fitted to your 5D MK II, depends how many times you knock it to a different mode to whether you think that's worth it or not, but this is about the 60D not the 5D MK II, so it's a genius touch, albeit a touch of old genius.

Mode dial on the Canon EOS 60D

The memory card slot was a different matter and a bit of a surprise too. I found the first one (that's for an SD card) but five minutes later couldn't find the assumed second one for a flash card. Quick check of the manual, usually better to do this first, to find there isn't one. This is possibly going to be quite a pivotal factor in deciding whether the 60D is for you or not. If you've invested heavily into compact flash cards, you may not fancy reinvesting in SD cards if you were looking to this as an additional camera. If you already have a few from digital compacts or four thirds and are looking to add a DSLR then it's a not really a factor. If you fit into the compact flash category, I'd keep an open mind - you must have at least had a passing interest to get this far into a review.

SD card choice in terms of speed and capacity has been improving rapidly over the last year or so, and it's worth checking the range of cards now available. I tend to stick with more cards at a lower capacity than just one big one - if there was a disaster with a card you wouldn't want your entire day's/week's worth of shots to go on one card - can't say I've had too many of these and most of the time pictures are recoverable so long as you haven't actually lost the card! Canon's flagship 1Ds MK III has slots for both flash and SD cards, so no need for SD card snobbery here then.

The 60D's SD card format may have come as a surprise to some

So we're talking about a camera and we've had two paragraphs on the media storage. It's not the deal breaker I thought it was when the camera first arrived, and I believe that there were a few rumblings around the Wex Photographic office too, but I think that's more from a point of surprise than disdain. I don't think of the media card when I'm shooting, until i've finished or the card is full, its not an issue. The review camera came with a 16GB card, and shooting RAW and jpeg on test shoots there was always plenty of room. The RAW files can be processed in camera, more of which we'll discuss later.

If you're in two minds on SD cards, its worth checking the speeds and storage of new cards here. For those of us that are coming from a flash card background, the guarantees are a vote of confidence too.

Moving on

I think the question is whether this camera is for you or not, and who Canon have decided to pitch the camera at? Now we're passed the SD card storage and we've whopped with joy at the addition of a locking mode dial we can move on. We're now firmly at an age where you do get what you pay for across the board, if you have double the money then you are without a doubt not looking here. The majority of purchases are made via the amount we have to spend, features of the product, trust in the brand name, in this case Canon, and finally confidence in the supplier. All of this whilst maintaining a sideways glance at the other manufacturers for comparison. I think when making your choice narrow it down to two or three and then eliminate the one that suits least. I'm possibly the worst for purchase procrastination, so I know how some of you may feel, this one, that one, this one, that one, this one, no that one.......

The camera feels good

The camera feels good in the hand, and good to the eye (left and right, not that I use both, but always worth pointing out). It feels nice and solid too, which it should. I didn't drop it to find out just how robust, sadly bouncing cameras on the patio is not part of the review. It's light too, so if you tend to wear your camera round your neck most of the day, you're not going get the strain you might from other models. You can of course ditch the lightness aspect and get the battery grip, built in on professional models, sold as add ons on the others, even if you don't need the extra battery life, the grip always improves the handling.

A big difference compared to others with this camera is that the screen folds out and can be rotated, a great feature as the camera comes with HD video. It can fold in to face the camera and thus protect the screen when not in use or lay flat against the camera when shooting stills. I mostly shot stills with the camera so it was left in the latter position, but I can see the reasons for a tilt and swivel in the days when DSLR is the new HD movie camcorder and stills camera rolled into one. On the odd bit of HD movie I did shoot the quality was up there with the 7D for sure.

The rotating screen on the Canon EOS 60D

Regarding the picture quality on the on-camera screen, it?s pretty darn good and arguably better than some higher spec'd models - good colour, good contrast and zooming in to the full size of the image allows you to check for sharpness with confidence. In my humble opinion, what a shame the 1Ds MK III doesn't have a screen that looks as good as this and how much for one of those?

The viewfinder is clear and bright too, with the usual plethora of information inside (battery, shutter, aperture, mode, compensation, etc) and 96% frame coverage compared to 100% offered by the 7D. I?m beginning to think of the 7D as the 60D's bigger brother.

Buttons, dials and controls are all intuitive and by this time in Canon's history that should go without saying. If you're new to Canon a little time spent with the instruction book should pay dividends when you take the camera out for the first time. If you're coming from another system, you'll just be familiarizing yourself with where you find the menu, delete, playback buttons, etc.

A clear viewfinder and all the usual buttons, dials & controls

Off on a tangent

We were trying to work out who the 60D is aimed at and judging by what we?ve seen so far, quite a wide range. If you are looking to move up to a DLSR from a digital compact and already have a few SD cards kicking around, if you're looking for a second DSLR to compliment your existing kit, or looking for this to be your only DLSR, then it's going to cover the majority of bases for you. Sounds like more of a conclusion than a mid-review statement, but it needs quantifying long before we get to the end piece.

I think this is where Canon have been quite clever, the 60D is accessible from all angles and from all levels, whether you're moving up, buying a main or even a second body.

A few surprises bigger than the SD card

Post processing in camera
First up is the RAW image processing. You have three choices of RAW: file RAW, M-RAW (10 Megapixels) and S-RAW, which are 4.5MP's, nothing new there. The change is that you can now process these files in camera, which are saved to card as a new file. Some of the more 'expert' may prefer to do this in Photoshop but for a large majority of people, this will probably prove to be quite a handy feature. Not only can you process your RAW file in camera, you can adjust a multitude of variants in the process : brightness, white balance, picture style settings, colour space, auto lighting optimizer, JPEG quality, vignetting correction, lens distortion and chromatic aberrations. Now that's quite a long list and if you have the need to correct all ten, maybe there's something wrong with the picture in the first place, but to be able to utilise two or three of these by choice when processing the image is pretty neat for circumstances when you don't need to supply a RAW file. You can produce a high quality JPEG in minutes and still have the original RAW to hand on the same card. You'll get a choice of five JPEG settings that you can resize your images to, from 5184 x 3456 pixels for a large JPEG to an S3 JPEG that's a neat web-size at 720 x 480.

Creative Filters
Normally I tend to be quite dismissive of these types of features as they tend to be the “poor mans version of....” and even here Canon don't help themselves with names like “Toy Camera” - that makes it sound like its a bit pony, but I started having a play around with these and ended up thinking they're pretty cool. There's Grainy Black & White, Soft Focus, Toy Camera (ahem...) and Miniature Effect. In each case you can make adjustments that change the level of each effect, such as contrast levels in the grainy black & white, or the colour in the Toy Camera setting. Toy Camera is supposed to create the same effect as old toy film cameras - not entirely sure what that is aside from a vignette and a colour tint. Vignette would maybe have been a better name for this feature. The Miniature effect was my favourite out of these which allows you to select (either vertically or horizontally) a narrow strip of the photograph in sharp focus whilst the rest of the image falls away, it's like a tilt and shift lens for free (and they cost a few quid!) They do take a few seconds to materialise on the camera screen, but I don?t think any longer than they would on your Mac or PC. These are good quality and fun, and I guess sometime shot savers for the duller shots that wouldn't quite make it otherwise... guaranteed to wear these features out in the first month of owning the 60D.

The Grainy Black & White creative filter
The Toy Camera creative filter
The Toy Camera creative filter
The Miniature Effect creative filter

Moving on

The 60D has Canon's tried and trusted 9-point autofocus system as does Canon's highly successful 50D. In terms of focus speed I never felt that it was close to letting me down, admittedly I never had Usain Bolt running head on either. Any different to any other Canon I've used? Not noticeably, although I think the pro-spec 1D MK IV's, etc may take exception here.

The only times the AF would look to hunt would be in the same situations that most AF DSLR's would, low light and low contrast - and for those situations there is the oft-forgotten manual focus, you know, the one where you do it yourself :)

The exposure modes are what you would expect and are considered the norm on a highly spec'd camera. Programme, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Bulb are all accessed via the mode dial on top of the camera. We'll also find here what I'd call 'modern traditional' scene modes: close up, sport, portrait, etc where the camera sets the aperture and priority for you on what Canon's developers have determined are the right settings for a given situation. The latter aren't something that I use too often, but they do provide a great learning curve if improving your photography is what you want to do and a handy or more suited alternative if you are a regular auto shooter. There's a wealth of technology under here, so maybe it's wise to use it.

The top plate display contains the usual info, it seems Canon like to point out that there is now a six segment battery indicator, which does seem a bit 'this goes up to eleven spinal tap style' but I guess six segments are better than three or four, so a more accurate indication then.

Sensor size of the camera means that a 1.6 magnification factor is taken into account. All my lenses are traditional 35mm L-series, so the 24mm becomes approx 38mm, a 50mm becomes an 80mm and so on. This is great for turning your 50mm into a nice portrait lens but a little frustrating at the wide angle end, and as most of my 35mm shooting involves a wide angle...a very wide angle required! Depends how you approach this half empty/half full scenario too as to whether or not it would be an issue. Probably not seeing as the DSLR world is now dominated by sensors and crop factors.

and finally...

I think Canon has made a great camera aimed at the enthusiast/semi-pro. Image quality is certainly at a high enough resolution with great detail across the sensible end of the ISO scales and it still does a great job in the low light situations. And for the situations where the light is low and you can't get the image, there's always the pop up flash and the hot shoe for mounting a separate flash gun. There's the now familiar (at least to Canon users) touch of a button Quick menu that after a while becomes your on screen friend, the locking on/off switch  moved to the underside of the mode dial, live view - mostly the domain of the HD video users, but I guess also good for shooting those awkward angles people always relate to when discussing live view or tilt and swivel screens too. So there you go, a fully featured tilt and swivel screen fitted camera thats great for shooting those difficult to get to angles. Does a pretty good job of the straight stuff too.