Canon EOS 60D review

Replacing the popular Canon EOS 50D, Canon’s latest 60D has a whole lot to live up to. Reviving the vari-angle screen for DSLRs of this level seems to be a significant focus point, not least that none of the competition at this price-point offer such a feature. Mix in HD video and a variety of features plucked directly from the 7D and the 60D looks to live up to the hype – but just how good is it?

The 60D has the same 18-megapixel resolution that’s found in the EOS 550D below it in the range, though it’s not a direct carbon copy, as the same low-pass filter found in the 7D also features. Pair this with the DIGIC 4 processing as per the previous 50D model and this opens the path for ISO 100-6400 (12,800 expanded) sensitivity and a 5.3 frames per second continuous burst mode at full resolution. The eagled-eyed among you will notice that this continuous burst is actually slower than the 50D’s 6.3fps rate, which is due to the upping of the resolution from 15.1 to 18 megapixels. 

Metering also sees the latest iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) system pulled directly from the 7D. This 63-zone metering doesn’t work in exactly the same fashion however: as sensors are typically sensitive to red light, the 7D utilises a dual-layered system where one layer is sensitive to red and green light and the other to blue and green for a more accurate exposure. 

Those hoping for a more advanced autofocus system will see that there’s no update over the previous 50D model. The same nine-point AF system features which does benefit from every point being cross-type for enhanced sensitivity in both portrait and landscape orientation. It’s fast in use and the outermost AF points remain suitably sensitive even in lower light. If it’s not broken then why fix it? But with models such as Nikon’s D7000 offering a 39-point AF system for more advanced subject tracking, it seems as though there’s still room for improvement. Also on the downside is a move to using pre-flash rather than continuous light from an AF-assist lamp when attempting to focus in darker-lit scenarios. As the pre-flash fires multiple times it’s far from discreet.  

Move into live view and the 60D relies on contrast-detection based autofocus system that, although far slower than when shooting using the viewfinder, provides a decent coverage across the camera’s screen for focus in all but the outermost edges.

It’s the vari-angle screen that’s the jewel in the 60D’s crown. With so few advanced DSLRs offering such a feature this will certainly please many. Even for those unlikely to use the 180 degree horizontal and 270 degree vertical angling to their benefit, it is possible to turn the display into the camera body for safe stowing when not in use. All this doesn’t come with any expense to quality: the 3-inch screen has a 1040k-dot resolution (that’s just over a million dots) that shows a great level of detail and colour reproduction.

Above the screen is the 60D’s viewfinder that offers a 96% field of view coverage that is marginally increased over the 50D’s 95% offering. In real terms this means that some 4% of the image you’re composing in the viewfinder won’t be visible at the edges but will be captured in the final frame. It’s very common for DSLRs to have 95-98% coverage, with a full 100% field of view the ideal figure for exact “what you see is what you get shooting”. As the 60D is around £1000 it’s disappointing that this figure isn’t higher, but it’s very much in-keeping with the range’s heritage.

As most up-to-date releases come equipped with HD video capture, this is one area that the 60D excels in. With a similar feature set to the 7D’s Full HD 1080p capture, there’s the choice to shoot at a 30, 25 or cinematic-like 24 frames per second too. Exposure can be controlled in any shooting modes, and autofocus will only action upon pressing the AF-ON button on the camera’s rear to ensure fuller control. Although technically of great quality, there’s the on-going issue of manual control that all DSLR cameras suffer from (not just the Canon by any means). Holding the camera steady, zooming while maintaining focus and subject tracking are all tricky to master due to the layout inherent in the DSLR design and the contrast-detection autofocus system that can easily over- and under-focus on subjects noticeably in final capture.

One thing you certainly won’t be worried about is battery life however. Whether shooting stills, video, using live view or playing back images and video the overall battery life meant several hundred shots and numerous video clips could be shot while not even nearly fully depleting the battery. Plenty of stamina here indeed. 

Design-wise and the 60D has changed a fair amount over its previous 50D incarnation. Some parts for the better, others arguably for the worse:

First up is the body’s aluminium and polycarbonate resin with glass fibre construction. Unlike tougher magnesium alloy, this means no weather-sealing and, despite being lighter in weight, won’t withstand as much of a beating as even the older 50D body would. A possible sticking point as, when spending around a thousand pounds on a camera, toughness will likely be of relative importance. However, the 60D is targeted at the consumer/enthusiast market and, as such, this isn’t a “pro” camera. Indeed the fact that it’s so very much targeted at this level may leave it feeling more than a little squeezed when considering that the more budget EOS 550D specification is largely similar in a number of areas.

Next up is the rear rotational wheel on the 60D’s rear. Combined to operate as both a d-pad and “rear thumbwheel” it has a lot of jobs to do in a small space and can all get a bit overly-crowded for our liking. The joystick-based design of the 50D worked just fine. Where the 60D does improve is with four dedicated (not dual-use) buttons on the camera’s top for AF, Drive, ISO and metering control. This means quick and easy adjustment is never far away and simplifies use. 

Shooting offers the usual PSAM manual modes, as well as Auto and Scene modes and the 60D now even includes a variety of creative options too. From Black & White through to Soft Focus, Miniature and other effects – there’s plenty of scope to make an abundance of adjustments in camera.

Image quality stood up strong, with the 60D’s images crisp, clear and punchy straight from camera. The metering operates well and avoids overexposing in almost all scenarios, with highlights more well-catered for than in many previous EOS releases.

Studio lighting conditions were occasionally a little on the “cool” side when using Auto White Balance, but colour was otherwise well handled.

Image noise is well-controlled and JPEG images straight from camera exhibit little to no interfering image grain from ISO 100-800. Noise reduction does begin to soften images hereafter, though it’s only really the new ISO 12,800 extension that struggles considerably with a variety of softness and colour noise.  Shooting in RAW allows for no noise reduction to be applied and, although higher ISO images will show more pronounced image noise, those more precise users will relish the chance to use this untouched data for more detailed results.

With the release of the 7D it’s perhaps a little tougher to place the 60D within Canon’s array of EOS releases. The price difference between the pair is some £300 which, when considered as a percentage, does certainly separate the two and there’s just enough of a step-up over the EOS 550D (mainly the more responsive, all cross-type AF system) to warrant seriously considering the higher-spec model.

A common question, and one that’s certainly rife among the Web, is how the 60D stands up against the Nikon D7000. The simplest way to look at this is by price: the £1300 Nikon D7000 is more closely priced to the Canon 7D and, as such, leaves the £1000 60D in a position that’s relatively all of its own. Head to head and, apart from the high-resolution vari-angle screen, the D7000 otherwise does outclasses the 60D in a number of areas, but pricing reflects this.

Verdict

There’s no escaping that the 60D is a quality release. But with Canon’s own 7D and Nikon’s recently-released D7000 there’s a whole lot of pressure that may dumb-down its release. Squeezed between the EOS 550D and 7D posts gives the 60D a bit of a hard sell – but it succeeds by reintroducing a vari-angle LCD screen to this level of DSLR once more. And that may well be the tipping point to make many invest.  

The pictures are great, HD video is a bonus and, despite one or two hiccups in design, there’s a fair whack of specification here for the money that’s certainly not to be sniffed at.