I wasn't crazy about the consumer-centric styling of the 60D but I liked the textured rubber on its body which gives you a good grip. In short, this camera feels good in your hands.

Camera Review: Canon EOS 60D


JANUARY 03, 2011

By Dan Havlik

Last month I looked at a prosumer level digital SLR—the Nikon D7000—which produced stellar image quality, had a surprisingly tough build, and boasted several advanced features that might appeal to pros. This month we have a camera that seems to lean in the opposite direction: the 18-megapixel Canon EOS 60D, which is a descendent of the 50D, a DSLR some pros used as a lightweight second camera body.

After I got a chance to shoot with a prototype 60D back in August, I quickly realized that Canon is aiming this successor at a less professional-oriented group: the advanced amateur. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with advanced amateur photographers or with the 60D. Consumers who are getting serious about photography constitute one of the fastest growing segments in the photo industry. They’re buying advanced compact cameras with innovative features such as the Canon S95, Sony NEX-5, and Olympus PEN models. They’re also buying digital SLRs like hotcakes and many may have already owned a Nikon D40 or Canon Rebel and now want something better. Enter the Canon 60D which, at a list price of $1099 (body only), fits squarely between the Rebel T2i and 7D models.

COMPARISON SHOPPING
At first blush, the 60D may resemble the 50D—which came out two years ago—but examine it more closely and you’ll find it’s smaller, lighter and has less weather sealing than its predecessor. (The 60D’s introductory price is also several hundred dollars cheaper than what the 50D debuted at.)

Both cameras use APS-C-size CMOS sensors which magnify lenses by 1.6x. The 60D has a slower shooting speed than the 50D however and a 9-point autofocus system that hasn’t changed much in the last few years. But along with being fitted with a higher resolution sensor—18MP vs. 15MP—the 60D adds two key features that put it head and shoulders above the previous model: the ability to shoot full 1080p HD video, and a handy, 270-degree-articulating, 3-inch LCD screen on the back for shooting still or video from hard-to-reach angles. (Heck, the D7000 doesn’t even have a flip-out screen and only offers 1080p HD shooting at 24p; the 60D shoots it at both 24p, 25p and 30p.) So while the target audience for the 60D may have changed from previous iterations in this camera line, it’s in many ways a more satisfying DSLR to shoot with compared to the 50D which was an adequate if dull all-around performer.

You’ll likely enjoy working with the 60D a lot more than its predecessor—especially if you have any interest in shooting HD video—but is it worthy enough to find a place in your camera bag? Let’s take a look.

SLEEK SHOOTER

I shot with the 60D using both the 18-135mm f/3.6-5.6 IS USM zoom lens ($1,399, as a kit) and the new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM portrait lens in a Canon mount (also reviewed in this issue) and, as expected, the sweet Sigma glass made a world of difference. Kit lenses, in general, offer versatile focal ranges but only fair to middling image quality, and the 18-135mm is no exception. If you’re interested in the 60D, I’d say get it body-only and pair it with one of your better pieces of glass. The lightweight 60D—just 26.2 ounces—matched with even one of your heavier lenses creates a pretty nifty portable combo.

The 60D has a more plasticy feel to it than the 50D and that’s no illusion. The camera’s exterior is made from polycarbonate plastic resin wrapped over an aluminum chassis, making it 2.3 ounces lighter than its predecessor. Along with using more plastic in its build than the 50D, the 60D has rounder curves with sloping shoulders for a sleeker overall look.

Though I wasn’t crazy about the consumer-centric styling, I liked that the 60D has more textured rubber on its body which gives you a good grip. In short, this camera feels good in your hand.

The biggest change in the layout of the 60D is the 3-inch swiveling screen which takes up much of the backside. Buttons that had been below the screen on the previous model have been moved aside but nothing feels too squished.

Another change is a revamped mode dial that locks in place to prevent accidental switches. To move the dial to another mode you have to press a button in the center and then turn it. Though it’s an extra effort to switch settings, I never felt hung up by the locking dial as with some other models that have the feature. (And, not for nothing, Canon thinks photographers will be so psyched about the locking dial, it’s now offering to upgrade the older 5D Mark II and 7D DSLR with the feature. The one catch: it’ll cost you 100 bucks to add the locking dial.)

SHORT BURSTS
The thing that bothered me most about the decision to (slightly) downgrade some features on the 60D—while upgrading others—is the drop in shooting speed on the new camera. At 6.3 fps, the 50D was fast enough to keep up with sports—I once successfully used it to shoot a Knicks game—but at 5.3fps, the 60D feels a little slow. (I know that sounds ironic considering that not long ago anything over 5fps would be a very respectable burst speed but times have changed.)

The buffer is also slightly smaller on the 60D, letting you shoot 58 JPEGs or 16 RAW images before it locks up. The 60D’s autofocus system hasn’t changed much in three generations of cameras in this class: 9-point AF with all cross-type sensors. Nothing fancy, for sure, but it gets the job done. The only area where the AF system had a few hiccups, as it has in other Canon DSLRs the past, was in low or uneven light where it occasionally failed to lock in. This is another reason I wouldn’t use the 60D to shoot professional sports.

Another sign this camera is aimed at the consumer is in Canon’s choice to switch to SD/SDXC/SDHC cards to store images on the 60D rather than CompactFlash. Not a big deal—most pros I know have an ample supply of both types of cards—but another downgrade from the previous model.

AN HD-DSLR FOR THE REST OF US
Despite the step-up in resolution—which can degrade image quality when shooting in low light because of the smaller pixel size—I actually found that the 18MP 60D produced crisper images compared to the 50D. Part of that might be from the addition of “gapless microlenses” on the 60D’s CMOS sensor, which absorb light and help reduce noise at high ISOs. Canon’s excellent DIGIC 4 image processor combined with the camera’s 8-channel read-out likely provides some assistance as well.

I also think Canon’s baked in new noise-reduction algorithms into the 60D that rev up when you hit high ISOs. I actually saw lower noise in some of my ISO 1600 shots vs. my ISO 800 images and, fortunately, noticed little pixel squishing that can unnaturally smooth out shots. While ISO 3200 images from the 60D also impressed, ISO 6400 should be avoided and the ugly ISO 12,800 setting—available as an ISO expansion feature in the custom function setting—is not for the faint of heart.

In decent light, the 60D performed well while capturing 14-bit RAW files, though after shooting with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 portrait lenses for a few days I was disappointed with results I got from 18-135mm kit lens; images weren’t particularly sharp and corners were quite soft. But as I said early on in this review, buy the 60D body-only and use your own lenses or get better ones.

If you’re just getting into shooting HD video and don’t, necessarily, want to plunk down a couple grand for a Canon 5D Mark II, the 60D is a great starter HD-DSLR. Though Canon is late to the game with adding an articulating LCD screen to its DSLRs—Olympus has had them for years (see the E-5 review in this issue)—the 3-inch flip-out display on the 60D with its 104 million dots of resolution is a great one. Shooting low-down or over-the-head video and stills with the 60D was not only easy, it was fun and makes me wonder what’s taken Canon so long to add an articulating screen to its DSLRs and why other companies haven’t followed Olympus’ lead.

Video quality was first-rate and, as with most of Canon’s recent DSLRs, I appreciated how easy it was to jump into the HD mode thanks to the dedicated movie button on back. I also appreciated how many video options Canon gives you with the 60D: the aforementioned 1080p at 30, 25, and 24p; and 720p at 50 and 60p.

The 60D offers adjustable stereo sound through the mic jack—only monaural sound through the built-in mic—and Canon’s added a wind filter which helped during videos we shot outdoors on a blustery December day. A movie crop mode will let you trim your clips in camera and zoom in to 7x but it’s only available in standard definition recording.

Canon’s added some arty software filters to the 60D if you like that sort of thing. (I prefer my tweaking images in Photoshop or via plug-ins). There’s a grainy B&W filter, a soft focus filter, a miniature filter, and toy camera filter. Unlike some of Olympus’ recent cameras, however, the filters in the 60D can only be applied to still images.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The year 2010 was kind of an odd one for Canon when it came to digital SLRs. Aside from the Canon 1D Mark IV—which was actually announced in 2009 but didn’t start shipping until 2010—the 60D was the company’s lone upper-tier DSLR release. (The Canon Rebel T2i was released in 2010 but that camera is an entry-level model.) And, as stated at the start of this review, the 60D is actually a more consumer-focused camera than the DSLR that preceded it. All quibbles about who the 60D is aimed at aside, it’s a very decent camera with a useful vari-angle screen that makes an excellent starter model for any pro looking to get their feet wet in the world of HD video. Yes, you’ll need to use it with a decent lens and yes you’ll probably want to add a few video accessories—a camera rig with a follow focus attachment, for one—but at $1,099 list ($999 street), the camera itself is not expensive and the quality of both HD and still capture is surprisingly good. More experienced HD-DSLR shooters, however, will likely find the 60D to be a bit twee.

Pros: Better image quality at high ISOs compared to its predecessor; useful 3-inch vari-angle screen (it’s about time Canon!); first rate 1080p HD video and an abundance of recording features.

Cons: Slower burst rate from the previous model; smaller, less robust camera body; mediocre kit lens; overall, camera is targeted more towards consumers than pros.

Price: $1,099 (body only); www.usa.canon.com

Read all of our camera reviews at www.pdnonline.com/cameras.

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