Canon EOS 60D £1099

1st Mar 2011 | 12:45

Canon EOS 60D

Is the 60D a successor to the 50D or big brother to the Canon 550D?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Pivoting LCD; In camera editing; Wireless flash control; Good image quality; Good video quality; Solid feeling build

Dislike:

Use of plastic on body; Price; Some fiddly controls;

Introduction

It's only natural to view the Canon 60D as a replacement for the semi-pro EOS 50D.

As well as following on in typical numerical sequence, Canon also pronounced the EOS 50D obsolete at the same time as launching the new camera.

Indeed, the Canon 50D was certainly showing its age, being outclassed even in many respects even by the more novice-friendly EOS 550D, including sensor resolution and the ability to shoot movie clips.

Canon EOS 60D review

Sure enough, the Canon 60D boasts a host of new goodies including an 18MP sensor, 1080p HD movie capture with a choice of frame rates and Canon's new iFCL metering system.

And while the 3:2 aspect ratio LCD has the same 1,040k pixel resolution as on the Canon 550D, this time it comes with full pivoting facilities - a first for any Canon D-SLR.

On top of that, you get an extra stop in the standard sensitivity range, compared with the 50D, offering an upper limit of ISO 6400 (ISO 12800 in expanded mode).

Canon eos 60d

In other ways, the Canon 60D inherits quite a lot from its 50D predecessor. You get the same 9-point autofocus system and DIGIC 4 image processor, making it look a bit of a poor relation compared with the Canon 7D, which has a more generous 19-point AF system and dual DIGIC 4 processors.

And while the 7D is something of a speed freak, offering continuous shooting at up to 8fps (frames per second), the Canon 60D is slower even than the EOS 50D, dropping from 6.3fps to 5.3fps.

Another crucial change in the 60D's design is that, whereas the 50D had a magnesium alloy body that was as tough as old boots, in keeping with its semi-pro aspirations, the 60D has a plastic shell. Couple this with the switch to SecureDigital rather than CompactFlash memory, and the Canon 60D starts to look more like an up-market consumer camera than a semi-pro contender.

Specification

"Of course, Canon digital SLRs still don't have swivelling rear screens…" It might have been tempting fate, but I heard a marketing manager from a rival company gloating about this just a few days ago (said company had just announced their new DSLR series). Then, the next day, comes the Canon 60D, complete with, you've guessed it, an articulated LCD screen and a lot more besides for your £1200 (with 18-55m kit lens).

To recap, the Canon 60D is an update of the Canon EOS 50D, a well-regarded but comparatively venerable DSLR that was conspicuous for its lack of HD video recording. The new Canon 60D fixes all that, as it offers full-fat 1080p HD movie recording with full manual control.

While the EOS 60D has the same-sized 18 megapixel sensor as the EOS 550D, it inherits a low-pass filter from the nearly pro-spec Canon EOS 7D. And as with the EOS 7D, ISO can be boosted to 12800; you get the EOS 7D's iFCL metering system too.

Canon eos 60d

But a lot of attention will be focused on that new 3-inch screen, offering a 3:2 aspect ratio and 1040k dot resolution. Obviously, being able to swivel the screen will be a big help to many photographers, especially those focusing on macro, wildlife and action, and it's surprising that it's taken Canon so long to introduce it on a DSLR body.

Canon 60D vs 7D?

So is this new camera a smarter buy than the Canon 7D, which packs the same pixel count? Canon are no mugs, so they are obviously some compromises. You only get 9 AF points as opposed to the Canon 7D's 19, and the maximum continuous shooting speed is slower at 5.3 frames per second compared to the Canon 7D's 8. And the Canon 60D has a single DIGIC 4 processor compared to the EOS 7D's Dual device.

Build quality is different too; as befits the EOS 7D's pro pretentions, it's encased in a magnesium alloy body while the Canon 60D comes in aluminium and polycarbonate resin. But if speed and bullet-proof build aren't primary considerations, the EOS 60D certainly gives its big brother a close run for its money.

Canon EOS 60D vs the world…

Canon eos 60d

So what about Canon's competitors? It's fair to say that the Canon 60D aces anything that Nikon currently has to offer in the mid-range, with the Nikon D90 and the D300S looking rather old-school in comparison to this. Nikon has revealed an upgraded entry level DSLR in the shape of the D3100, and we fully expect an announcement of a Nikon D90 (read our Nikon D90 review) successor in the run up to the Photokina trade show in late September – watch this space…

Sony could threaten to rain on the Canon 60D's parade, too, which isn't something we would have said even last week. Sony's intriguing new translucent-mirror cameras, the Sony Alpha a55 and a33, seem to offer outstanding AF performance (for Live View and video as well as stills) and a whopping great speed hit – 10 frames per second with autofocus must be causing a few jitters over at Canon HQ. The Sonys are keenly priced too, coming in at under £1000 each.

Of course, all this is speculation until we test all these new cameras side by side, but after a fairly light spring and summer release schedule, it's great to see the big Japanese camera makers doing what they do best – bringing out genuinely innovative new kit. The consumer is the real winner here.

Build quality and Handling

Far be it for us to be snobbish about plastic, we'd never expect to see a modern Formula 1 race car built out of cast iron. Technically speaking, the 60D is built on an aluminium chassis and has a shell that's made of polycarbonate resin strengthened with glass fibre, so it should prove reasonably tough.

It's just that, compared with cameras like the Canon 7D and 50D, or the Nikon D90 and D300s, the Canon 60D really does feel a bit plasticky, more like Canon's line of budget cameras including the EOS 450D, EOS 500D and EOS 550D. The only plus point is that it shaves 67g off the bodyweight of the 50D.

Dials, buttons and switches feel mostly of good quality but some are a little fiddly. For example, the main on/off switch is on the edge of the main shooting mode dial, so it would be easy to switch shooting modes accidentally when turning the camera on or off. Presumably for this reason, Canon has added a locking button to the top of the mode dial, so you need to press this down with one finger while rotating the dial with your thumb and another finger.

Canon eos 60d

One thing that sets the Canon 60D apart from cheaper Canon DSLRs is that it features the time-honoured top-plate LCD. Again, however, this has been downsized from the 50D's secondary LCD and no longer includes quality mode or white balance information. You gain an extra control button along the front edge of the top LCD, making four in all, but they're not Canon's usual dual-mode buttons and have only one action each, comprising AF, Drive, ISO and Metering modes. An extra button activates the top LCD's illumination.

Ultimately, the EOS 60D's plastic build doesn't impair handling and the camera feels solid and comfortable in use. Ergonomics are good and rubberised areas on the hand grip, back plate and left hand side of the camera add non-slip confidence.

Controls and features

Around the back, the control panel has been greatly simplified compared with the 50D, maybe because of the extra space required by the pivoting LCD. The upshot is that you lose the row of buttons along the bottom of the back plate, although a couple of them have been repositioned.

It's not too big a deal because the Canon 60D makes the most of Canon's excellent Quick Control menu, displayed on the main LCD. Press the 'Q' button and you get quick access to ISO, exposure compensation, drive mode, picture style, white balance, auto lighting optimization levels, image quality settings, custom functions and a neat virtual horizon display. Even so, one-touch access to white balance settings would have been nice.

Another bit of redesign is that the separate multi-controller and quick control dial used on most up-market Canon DSLRs have been combined into a single concentric configuration. This includes the Set button at its centre, with an 8-way thumb pad surrounding it, and the quick control ring around the outer circumference. It saves space but can be a bit fiddly in operation.

Canon eos 60d

The pivoting LCD might seem a little gimmicky but actually works really well in Live View mode as well as when shooting movie clips. It's especially useful when shooting from very high or low positions, and makes taking self-portraits a breeze. Another bonus is that you can flip the LCD over and fold it in to protect its surface from getting scratched in transit.

A first for Canon DSLRs, the Canon 60D enables you to edit photos in-camera, as well as adding a few creative effects and, better still, you can process RAW images and convert them to JPEGs. There's also an in-camera rating system, so you can score your shots with marks out of five.

One particularly useful feature inherited from the 7D is a built-in wireless flash controller. This enables you to use off-camera flash without having to use a connection cable, or having to buy a separate wireless flash controller or resorting to setting up multiple flashguns in master and slave modes.

Canon eos 60d

However, the Canon 60D isn't so clever when it comes to studio flash, as the PC socket normally fitted to this class of camera (including the 50D) is strangely lacking, so you'd need to buy a wireless studio flash trigger set or a hotshoe adaptor.

The last feature (or rather lack of it) that's sure to be a talking point is that most cameras at this price point have a facility for fine-tuning autofocus for individual lenses. Again, this feature was present and correct on the 50D but has been dropped on the 60D.

Image quality

With its similar 18Mp sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor and iFCL metering system (see below), you'd expect the 60D's image quality to be pretty much the same as from the cheaper 550D.

Indeed, we tested the 60D throughout a range of lighting conditions and found the results to be all but indistinguishable. The only notable difference was that the 60D produced slightly smoother, less noisy images at high ISO settings, albeit with slightly less fine detail.

Colour rendition is very accurate in the Standard picture style setting and pleasingly vibrant in Landscape mode, where blues and greens in particular are bumped up. Photos are sharp and crisp but there are question marks over the 17-85mm IS lens that's supplied as a kit lens option with the camera, as this suffers from very noticeable chromatic aberrations especially at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.

Canon eos 60d

Unlike most of Nikon's recent DSLRs, there's no in-camera processing to filter out chromatic aberration so the only workable solution is to shoot in RAW mode and make corrections in the Digital Photo Professional software that comes with the camera.

For controlling dynamic range, Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer includes low, standard and strong options, or can be disabled altogether. In our tests, it did a good job of boosting shadows in high-contrast scenes but had a nasty habit of reducing contrast in general shots more than we would have liked. Nikon's Active D-Lighting works rather more effectively.

Metering is based on Canon's new iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) system, which not only takes colour as well as luminance into the equation, but also biases exposure towards the active focus point, even in evaluative metering mode.

Canon eos 60d

It works very well for backlit portraits, where correct exposure of the face is much more important than what happens to the background. For high contrast scenes, however, even when multiple focus points lock on to bright and dark areas in the shot, the 60D often seems to expose for the shadows, making the overall shot far too bright and requiring -1EV or more of exposure compensation.

Again, compared with Nikon's current metering systems, the 60D gives much more inconsistent results and you really do need to keep an eye on exposure settings.

Like the 50D, autofocus is based on a 9-point system but each point is cross-type, so can resolve detail in both vertical and horizontal planes. The lack of fine-tuning for individual lenses aside (see previous page), we found autofocus to be highly accurate, even in very demanding low-light conditions.

An extra bonus is that the central AF point is extra-sensitive to take advantage of fast f/2.8 lenses. Overall, image quality is very good so long as you're prepared keep an eye on metering vagaries, but you need something better than the kit 17-85mm IS lens to make the most of the camera's prowess.

ISO Test

ISO image

Canon 60D Review: ISO 100 test (click here to view full size)

ISO 200

Canon 60D Review: ISO 200 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 400

Canon 60D Review: ISO 400 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 800

Canon 60D Review: ISO 800 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 1600

Canon 60D Review: ISO 1600 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 3200

Canon 60D Review: ISO 3200 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 6400

Canon 60D Review: ISO 6400 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

ISO 12800

Canon 60D Review: ISO 12800 - 100% crop (click here to view full size)

Image quality and Resolution

As part of our review process we've implemented a new testing procedure. To test the Canon EOS 60D image quality, we shot our resolution chart, each with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Canon 60D is capable of resolving up to 26 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files. Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Resolution chart

JPEGs

ISO 100

Canon 60D Review: ISO 100: 26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 200

Canon 60D Review: ISO 200: 26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 400

Canon 60D Review: ISO 400: 26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 800

Canon 60D Review: ISO 800: 26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 1600

Canon 60D Review: ISO 1600: 26/24 (Click to view full size)

ISO 3200

Canon 60D Review: ISO 3200: 24 (Click to view full size)

ISO 6400

Canon 60D Review: ISO 6400: 12 (Click to view full size)

Raw Files

ISO 100 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 100: 28 (Click to view full size)

ISO 200 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 200: 28 (Click to view full size)

ISO 400

Canon 60D Review: ISO 400: 28/26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 800 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 800: 26 (Click to view full size)

ISO 1600 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 1600: 26/24 (Click to view full size)

ISO 3200 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 3200: 24 (Click to view full size)

ISO 6400 raw

Canon 60D Review: ISO 6400: 24 (Click to view full size)

Verdict

All things considered, the Canon 7D seems to have stolen the Canon 60D's thunder as a sophisticated successor to the Canon 50D. The Canon 60D itself feels more like a camera designed to bridge the gap between the relatively simple EOS 550D and the more advanced EOS 7D, as if it's trying to carve out a new niche in the market. As such, it falls slightly short of serious, semi-pro requirements but should satisfy most amateur enthusiasts.

Picture quality is almost identical to the EOS 550D, apart from being slightly less noisy at high ISO settings. However, compared with the dependability of Nikon's current metering and Active D-Lighting systems, the Canon 60D's iFCL metering and Auto Lighting Optimizer often produce inconsistent results, so getting great shots needs a little more intervention. It also places more reliance on shooting in RAW mode, even though RAW files weigh in at around 25MB each, just so that you can tweak shooting parameters at the editing stage.

Features 4/5

Stand-out features include a pivoting LCD, in-camera editing and rating facilities, wireless flash control and Full HD movie capture. However, other features present on the older 50D, like autofocus fine-tuning and a PC socket, are strangely absent.

Build Quality 3/5

The plastic shell is a bit of a disappointment and some of the switches and controls are a bit fiddly, like the concentric arrangement of the Set button, 8-way multi-control pad and quick control dial. Even so, the Canon 60D feels reasonably robust and well put together.

Value 3/5

With the current Canon 60D best price on the street at around £1,000 for just the body, the EOS 60D doesn't look particularly good value when compared with cameras like the Nikon D300s or the Canon 7D. Prices will have to drop a fair bit after the initial flurry of excitement to make the Canon 60D a really attractive proposition.

Performance 4/5

Image quality is very good for both stills and HD movie capture. Colour rendition is accurate in Standard mode and vibrant in the Landscape setting. At high ISO settings, image noise is impressively low.

Overall 4/5

The Canon 60D has some smart features and handling is good overall, but getting the best results can take more effort than it should. Be prepared to interact with exposure compensation and auto lighting optimization settings fairly frequently.

digital SLRs DSLRs EOS Canon
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