Canon EOS 60D: A Superb DSLR for Control Freaks
At a Glance
Canon tends to be conservative with its DSLR upgrades, but it has made a big departure from the norm with the release of the EOS 60D. The 60D ($1100, body only) is a new class of Canon DSLR that’s quite different from Canon's EOS 50D and other existing models. As with any big change, the changes in the 60D thrill some photographers and frustrate others.
The 60D doesn't have the 50D’s magnesium construction, which has been replaced with an aluminum and polycarbonate resin body. Also missing is the flash sync socket, AF micro-adjust, and joystick. But gained is a better sensor and new set of features that should appeal to many of today’s enthusiast photographers. In fact, many will like the 60D because it is different.
First, let’s look at the basics: The 18-megapixel 60D is built around an APS-C sensor powered by a DIGIC 4 processor. This sensor is an upgrade from the one found in the 50D, and is the same sensor found in the T2i and the 7D. At maximum resolution, the camera produces photos that are 5184 by 3456 pixels.
The 60D has 9 cross-type autofocus points and can fire 5.3 frames per second (FPS) in burst mode. The ISO range goes from 100 all the way up 12800. And the new vari-angle 3-inch LCD supports over a million pixels. For memory, the 60D accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards. The camera works with both EF and EF-S lenses with a 1.6x field of crop.
The 60D also records full HD video using auto or full manual controls at 1920 by 1080 (24 or 30 fps) and 1280 by 720 (50 or 60 fps) sizes. It can record standard definition movies at 640 by 480 (50 or 60 fps). You can select your desired shooting mode and frame rates for video by switching to the video mode and navigating to the shooting menu.
Size wise, the 60D fits perfectly between the Rebel T2i ($900) and EOS 7D ($1700). The textured grip should fit comfortably in most hands, and on the top of the camera is the information LCD that includes a backlight for easy viewing in dim light. Controls are even easier to see if you use the Q Screen (for Quick Control) on the back 3-inch LCD that displays all of the primary settings on the bright, colorful 3-inch screen. A multi-controller/rear dial combination on the back is used for navigating the well-designed menu system. The mode dial on the left side of the top panel now has an unlock button that you must push to change shooting modes. Overall, the 60D is about 8 percent lighter that its predecessor.
The EOS 60D is quite battery friendly, allowing for an entire day’s shoot without a change. It also uses the same Lithium-Ion LP-E6 cell that is found in the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II.
For a $1,000 DSLR, the Canon 60D has the specifications most would expect. But if you dig a little deeper, you begin to see some of the unique features that give this camera its character. In addition to the usual specifications you should look at when buying a DSLR, consider these features on the 60D:
Vari-angle LCD: After just a few minutes of playing with the swing-out LCD (sometimes referred to as an articulated LCD), it’s pretty clear the direction that Canon is taking this camera: video recording and creative photography. You flip open the LCD with your thumbnail and then swing it out. You can angle up or down, or turn it completely around and fold it against the back of the camera. The resolution is terrific both for Live View capture and playback. When you’re done, turn the screen around and secure it face-first against the back of the camera to protect it during transport.
Built-In wireless flash control: If you have an external Canon flash with wireless slave capability, such as the Speedlite 430EX II, you can fire it off-camera with the 60D—you don’t need a separate wireless controller. Options include firing a single off-camera flash, balancing the off-camera flash with the built-in flash unit on the 60D, or operating multiple external flashes. The upshot is that with just one external flash and the 60D, you have a number of flexible lighting options.
Setting maximum speed for Auto ISO: Existing light photographers will appreciate the ability to set the maximum speed for Auto ISO. The available range is from 400 to 6400. If you’re conservative about how high you want the ISO to go, then you can choose a setting such as 800 for the top end limit. But because this camera performs so well at higher ISOs, you can easily set the limit to ISO 1600 or 3200 and still get very good image quality. The choice is yours.
In-camera raw processing and filters: You no longer need a computer to process raw files if you’re shooting with the 60D. By using in-camera raw processing, you can view a raw file in playback mode, choose from 10 settings such as exposure and white balance, then create a JPEG that is written to the memory card. Other in-camera editing options include a host of creative filters such as Toy Camera and Soft Focus.
Audio control for video recording: In addition to the built-in mono mic, the EOS 60D includes a 3.5mm stereo mini jack with manual audio control. When you switch to Movie on the Mode Dial, then press the Menu button on the back of the camera, you have access to the Sound Recording tab that lets you choose between Manual or Auto sound recording. If you choose Manual, you can then set the gain level to what you want. There’s even a built-in wind filter setting available.
Copyright Information setting: When you access the Copyright Information tab in the Menu screen, you can set the author’s name and copyright details for every shot that is recorded with the camera.
Electronic level: Never have a slanted horizon again. The 60D includes an electronic level that can be displayed on the top LCD, in the optical viewfinder, and on the back LCD monitor. You can turn the level on and off with just the press of a button.
Eye-Fi card menu: Eye-Fi card users will be happy to discover the menu screen on the 60D that displays the Access point SSID, connection status, MAC address, and even the Eye-Fi firmware version. Plus, the connectivity of the card can be turned on and off via this menu, putting you in complete control.
Included software: Lots of good software is bundled with the camera including Digital Photo Professional for processing raw files, EOS Utility, PhotoStitch for panoramas, and more. Raw files can also be processed in the latest versions of Apple Aperture and iPhoto with Mac OS X 10.6.5, Adobe Camera Raw 6.2, and Lightroom 3.2.
Image Quality and Performance
The EOS 60D produces excellent image quality up to ISO 1600, and very good at ISO 3200. Even though noise is present at the higher ISOs, if you look closely in shadow areas you'll see that it’s well controlled without smearing fine detail. Color is generally good with the exception of tungsten lighting in Auto White Balance mode, a traditional Canon weakness.
In our subjective lab image quality tests, the 60D received a word score of Very Good for Exposure, Color, and Distortion, and a word score of Superior for Sharpness. You can view large versions of our lab's test photos by clicking on the thumbnails at left.
The video quality on the 60D is also top-notch. It received a word score of Superior for video quality and Very Good for audio quality, which was tested using the built-in mono microphone.
Here are sample clips that we shot in bright indoor lighting and in low light with the Canon 60D. For the highest-quality clips, select 1080p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of each player.
For such a well-thought-out camera, it’s surprising that the Movie setting is at the far end of the Mode dial. If you’re shooting in Program mode, you have to move 9 clicks clock-wise to change to Movie mode. That might not sound like a big deal until you try to do it in a hurry. And since there’s no “quick movie” button, you have no other option. This aggravation is further fueled by the fact that you have to hold down the Mode dial lock but-ton while doing so. This is surprising for a camera that is clearly designed to record top notch video. Live View shooters will also notice no improvement in focusing speed when composing on the 3-inch LCD. This feels like a missed opportunity for an otherwise excellent LCD.
The Canon EOS 60D is an excellent upgrade for Rebel shooters looking for more control, an articulated LCD, wireless flash, and a more substantial body. If you're interested in recording video, this DSLR is a natural and smartly priced choice. Owners of the Canon 40D or 50D looking to upgrade might want to consider the 7D instead if body heft and fast burst rates are a priority.