Canon EOS 60D DSLR
Shooting from the middle ground
Review In designing the much-anticipated EOS 60D, Canon decided against a simple upgrade of the previous model, the EOS 50D. Instead, the company opted for a redefinition of its range to create a middle ground between the semi-pro EOS 7D and the entry level EOS 550D.
Canon's EOS 60D subscribes to the all-plastic body weight loss diet
The upshot of this strategy is that the EOS 60D sees a number of improvements from its predecessor while abandoning some of the EOS 50D pro features. Among the tweaks, the EOS 60D has an increased sensor resolution of 18Mp; it has an articulated 3in LCD screen; 1080p HD movie capture with manual controls, and an extended ISO range.
However, to keep it in line with its new amateur market, it loses the magnesium alloy case in favour of an all-plastic body which is both lighter and smaller. The continuous shooting rate drops from 6.3 fps to 5.3fps; there are fewer options for customisation and fewer dedicated buttons too. With this new configuration and a shop around price of around £900 for the body only, the Canon EOS 60D's most obvious rival is Nikon’s D7000.
The EOS 60D has rubberised grips that make handling safe and enjoyable and a revised, simplified control layout aimed for better ease of use. The overall control set has been scaled down to make space for the swivel LCD, but the new design is neater and practical.
Thankfully, the first fatality of this rearrangement is the joystick, used in previous models, now replaced by a much more functional and tactile directional control pad sitting between the Set button and the secondary control dial at the back of the camera. Another welcome change is the replacement of the dual function buttons with single function buttons for AF, Drive, ISO and Metering Modes – located on the top plate just above the info screen.
Navigation controls have been changed for the better
Unfortunately there is no one-touch access to White Balance but the Quick Menu – accessed by pressing the ‘Q’ button at the back – provides a shortcut to controls such as ISO, file size, drive mode, picture style, white balance, exposure compensation, auto lighting, image quality settings, custom functions and electronic level display, depending on which shooting mode you are in.
Setting the ambience
When used in scene modes, the inclusion of the Ambience or Lighting options from within the Quick Menu presents a new way to add a creative touch to the settings automatically selected by the camera. Ambience lets you choose the mood of the picture with settings such as Cool or Intense. Lighting allows you to select a white balance pre-set according to the scene, such as Sunset.
With fewer dedicated button, there's a greater reliance on menus
With the EOS 60D set to manual or semi-manual modes, the Quick Menu becomes fiddlier – crowded with less than obvious icons. When using the full menu options, the structure appears the same as on previous EOS models, with logically organised screens and colour-coded tabs that become available according to the shooting mode you are using.
Yet the most striking departure from the EOS 50D – and an unmistakable mark of market repositioning – is the introduction of the articulated LCD screen. The panel has a 1.04million pixel resolution, is sharp and bright, has 100 per cent viewing and an anti-reflection coating. The actual size of the screen is the same of the previous model but the aspect ratio has changed to a wider 3:2 to match the size of the sensor. Now images can be displayed full screen without annoying black stripes at the top and bottom.
The screen folds out 90 degrees to the left and can be turned at any angle of a 270-degree rotation to face upward, downward or forward, enhancing creative and unusual viewpoints capture. The screen can be stored away face down for protection when not in use. The EOS 60D also features an eye-level pentaprism viewfinder with 96 per cent frame coverage and a magnification of 0.95x.
Increased pixel count, but the sensor size remains an APS-C form factor
The size of the EOS 60D’s CMOS sensor (22.3x14.9mm) remains the same of its predecessor but Canon has increased its resolution by reducing pixel size. Despite these changes, the overall image quality and ISO performance appears not to suffer.
To avoid placing the EOS 60D in direct competition with its bigger brother, the EOS 7D, Canon chose not to upgrade it to a dual processor and retained the EOS 50D’s DIGIC4 chip. Given the increased sensors resolution the processor is working harder and it shows with continuous shooting speed dropping by 1fps to at 5.3fps. Yet overall, the camera’s performance is still good with fast start-up, image processing and file writing times.
Powered by a single Digic 4 processor, continuous shooting is slower, but it's still no slouch
The EOS 60D uses a 9-point all cross-type sensors AF system, which in all but the fastest moving subject works swiftly and accurately. In Live View though, its use is more limited. You have two options at your disposal: contrast-detect system, typically found in compact cameras, which is not very fast and a bit erratic, or the DSLR-like phase-detect one. This mode is much faster, but blacks out the screen while focusing as it needs the camera to flip down the mirror.
White Balance performance is excellent, producing accurate colour reproduction in virtually any lighting condition. Aside from the Auto mode, there are 6 available presets: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent, Flash. There are also options for WB bracketing and WB Shift, to lets you manually adjust the balance toward more or less green, magenta, blue or amber.
The EOS 60D upgrades the previous model’s metering system to the 63-zone iFLC (intelligent Focus, Colour and Luminance) found in the EOS 7D, which uses colour as well as lighting for determining exposure. The system is calibrated rather differently than in the 7D though because it needs to factor in information carried by the focusing sensors and the EOS 60D has 10 fewer sensors than its bigger brother. Nevertheless, exposure with the EOS 60D is pretty much spot-on and manual adjustments are rarely needed.
I was surprised by the image quality of this camera, especially in light of the extra pixels squeezed onto the sensor. The picture results are outstanding for this class of camera, with rich colour reproduction, smooth tonal gradation and impressive low-light performance. The 60D has a native ISO range of between 100-6400, extendable to 12800.
Images turned out to be well-exposed, rarely requiring manual tweaks
There is virtually no visible noise at all speeds up to 800 ISO. From 1600 ISO onward noise starts to appear, especially in the shadows, and details start being softened by the powerful noise reduction software. But even at the highest ISO settings images are still very usable and there is still quite a nice level of detail, if a little spoiled by chromatic noise.
18-135mm kit lens tests
Monochrome Sample Shots
Play your cards right
The EOS 60D has full HD video recording capabilities that can be activated at the touch of a button. You have a choice of 24,25 or 30fps in HD resolution or 50/60fps in 720p and VGA. Video capture can be initiated in both Program and Manual mode but specific settings cannot be changed once recording has begun.
The articulating LCD is great for video, if you have SD cards that work, that is
There is no constant autofocus option but you can manually trigger single autofocus bursts by half pressing the shutter. The image quality of the video clips is very good and the built-in microphone produces clean sound.
A word to the wise though, I kept encountering an annoying glitch while shooting videos. Randomly anywhere between 8 and 20 seconds into the recording the following error message appeared "recording has been stopped automatically" and movie capture abruptly halted. According to the manual this is a card speed issue and advises to use cards with writing speeds of 6x or above. I tried a few fast speed cards that have worked perfectly well on many other cameras but the problem persisted.
A quick browse on-line revealed this is a recurring issue and, apparently, Canon suggests using a specific leading brand. I’m many buyers would be none too pleased to ditch their current cards to satisfy the fussy storage preferences of the EOS 60D, especially considering the market positioning of this model.
That said, it is the case that anyone upgrading from the EOS 50D will need to invest in new cards anyway, since the 60D moved from CompactFlash to SD storage. The EOS 60D, in common with the EOS 7D, now uses the LP-E6 battery, which is big step up in battery life.
The 60D comes equipped with a number of artistic options, picture controls and custom settings. There are creative filters (grainy B/W, Soft Focus, Toy Camera and Miniature) that can be applied before or after capture and that have quite a sophisticated, tasteful effect. Also Highlight Tone Priority broadens dynamic range to improve quality of detail in highlight areas and AutoLighting Optimizer automatically improves the brightness and contrast of an image.
Winning combination? A lightweight shell with some semi-pro properties
I tested the camera with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens. It's very much is a consumer zoom, but the build quality is more solid than most lenses at this level and it is sharper than I expected. At maximum focal length it does suffer from softness and colour fringing at the edges, and the lack of a USM (ultrasonic motor) makes it a bit noisy when the autofocus kicks in.
Although not particularly innovative – mostly borrowing features from other EOS models – the EOS 60D nicely fits the market section between beginner and semi-pro DSLR models. With virtually the same image quality of the EOS 7D plus a swivel LCD screen, the Canon EOS 60D is an accomplished DLSR that will no doubt satisfy the most demanding and advanced enthusiast. ®
Catherine Monfils is a professional photographer specialising in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion.
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