Canon EOS D60: More Pixels, Less Bucks, Great Camera
Released in the fall of 2000, the Canon EOS D30 was the first high-quality digital SLR camera with interchangeable lenses to sell for less than $5,000. At about $3,000 (without lens), it undercut by far the previous price leader, the Nikon D1 (which sold for $5,500 also without lens), and though the Canon model lacked the rugged professional features of its Nikon competitor, the D30 offered extraordinary 3-megapixel image quality and a true SLR feel.
Now, two years later Canon has upgraded the D30 with a 6-megapixel image sensor, added a few features, and made a number of tweaks. Most importantly, though, the price has dropped to about $2,000, making the D60 an even better value than its predecessor.
While the D60 lacks some of the features that hard-core photojournalists need -- weatherproof body, high burst-speed, FireWire interface -- it's well suited for professional photographers as well as for serious amateurs.
What's the Same
In terms of camera body, very little has changed from the D30 to the D60. It's still roughly the size, shape, and weight of a Canon Elan-7 making it a somewhat heavy camera that's a little larger than the competing Nikon D100. Canon has added a backlight to the status LCD on the top of the camera and changed the color of the mode dial on the left side of the camera.
Otherwise, the design of the D60 is identical to the D30. The camera maintains its predecessor's excellent ergonomics and interface, as well as its support for Canon EOS lenses, including the company's exceptional L-series lenses. (For more about the camera's design and interface, see my previous review of the D30.)
Figure 1: The design of Canon EOS D60 resembles that of the D30 including its excellent ergonomics.
Standout features of the D30/D60 design include:
- Easy playback and shooting. Instead of separate playback and shooting modes, you simply hit the play button when you want to look at pictures. When you're ready to shoot again, a slight press of the shutter button leaves you ready to shoot.
- Overall speediness. Viewing images, choosing items from menus, and switching from playback to shooting are all almost instantaneous. Once you get used to how quickly the camera responds to your actions and scrolls through pictures, it's hard to use any other camera.
- The reciprocity dial. The camera's top-mounted dial lets you cycle through reciprocal exposures after metering. This, and the exposure compensation dial on the back of the camera, provide most of the exposure control you'll ever need. Plus, these controls are easy to find and use while looking through the viewfinder.
- Easy access to all shooting settings. Metering mode, drive mode, white balance, and flash control are all easily accessible through external controls on the top of the camera. In addition, a reprogrammable button on the back of the camera can be set to control any one of a number of features including ISO speed. These controls mean you don't need to enter the camera's menu system to make everyday adjustments.
- Support for IBM MicroDrives. Without a doubt, IBM's MicroDrives -- tiny hard drives the size of a CompactFlash card -- offer the cheapest price per megabyte of all portable solutions. However, be warned that MicroDrives do drain your battery faster, get pretty hot, and are a little slower to wake up from sleep than flash memory cards.
- Excellent image buffering. The camera is almost always ready to shoot.
Though the D60 looks and feels like its predecessor, Canon has made a number of tweaks to the camera's controls. The most immediately obvious change is the addition of focus spot indicators within the camera's viewfinder. Although the D30 included the same three focus spots, the camera's focus-spot indicator was a simple graphic display in the lower part of the viewfinder. With the D60, three squares in the viewfinder's ground glass are always visible. At focus time, the selected focus-spot lights up red to indicate its selection.
This three-square approach is certainly a better interface than the D30's indicator, although some users will rightly point out that Canon's three-spot focus lags behind the five-spot autofocus mechanisms of less expensive cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix 5000.
As with the D30, we were pleased with the D60s autofocus mechanism. In addition to multi-spot autofocus, you can choose to manually lock the focus on to any one of the camera's focus zones. Canon claims to have improved the autofocus mechanism, but we could tell little difference between the D60 and the previous model. If it has been improved, it is still a little sluggish when compared to cameras such as the Nikon D1 series (granted, those cameras are more than twice the price). In general, the camera's autofocus speed will only be of concern to sports
photographers and other users who need to be able to quickly autofocus while shooting moving subjects. As with the D30, the D60 does a very good job of focusing in low light, thanks to its autofocus assist lamp.
Canon has managed to speed up the burst mode on the D60, which allows you to shoot multiple frames in rapid succession. The new model can now manage roughly 8 frames per second at full resolution -- plenty speedy for most users.
While the D30 had adjustable Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation, these adjustments could only be made by connecting the camera to your computer and using special software to make the changes. With the D60, you can now perform these changes in the camera. This is a great feature that should have been included in the D30. The D60 adds an additional Color Tone setting in the camera's menu which lets you alter the color of reds and yellows to improve skin tones.
The Canon D30 included a feature called Long Exposure Noise Reduction that used a dark-frame subtraction process to eliminate stuck pixels in long exposures, although it operated slowly, doubling your exposure time. The D60 now performs some other kind of noise reduction. The practical upshot of the D60's noise reduction is that it's faster and seems to do a better job. So, where the D30 would spend an extra 15 seconds removing the noise from a 15-second exposure, the D60 now does it on the fly, and produces results with practically no visible noise. The D60 is, simply, the best low-light camera that I've seen.
Finally, Canon has reduced the shutter lag on the D60 (shutter lag is the duration -- hopefully brief -- between the time when you press the button, and the time when the camera shoots the picture). Having never experienced noticeable shutter lag with the D30, it's difficult to say if the D60's shutter lag is actually improved.
After a year and a half of shooting with a D30, I had few complaints about the camera's feature set and interface. In other words, there was very little for Canon to "fix" in an upgrade. So, though the D60 may not have a tremendous number of new features, this is largely because the D30 feature set was so sturdy.
In addition to its price, the D30 was revolutionary for its use of a CMOS image sensor. While most cameras use CCDs, a few vendors have tried using less expensive, more easily-manufactured CMOS chips, but with little success. Canon, however, got it right and the results were images with astoundingly little noise and excellent color.
With the D60, Canon has stuck with their CMOS technology, but increased the resolution of their sensor to 6 megapixels. At full res, the D60 outputs a 3024x2048 pixel image. From the camera's menu, additional resolutions of 2048x1360 and 1536x1024 are selectable. Three compression options are available for each resolution: 2 JPEG compressions and Canon's RAW format, which outputs unprocessed CCD data that can be color processed using Canon's special software.
As with the D30, the D60s images are silky smooth, with practically no visible noise, even at high ISOs. Color reproduction is slightly different from the D30, mostly in terms of saturation -- some colors seem more saturated than the D30, while other seem less. The D60s extra resolution pays off when blowing up images, but it also seems to improve image detail, contrast, and quality overall, particularly if you have a lens that's good enough to take advantage of the camera's extra pixels.
EOS D30 To see the full-size D30 image, click here.
EOS D60 To see the full-size D60 image, click here.
Figure 2: These two images were shot with the same lens (a Canon 16-35 EF) using a Canon EOS D30 (top) and EOS D60 (bottom). The D60's extra resolution definitely improves image detail, sharpness, and contrast. Both of these images were underexposed by .3 to improve color saturation.
The D30 was noted for the softness of its images and the D60 maintains this quality. While many complain that it's images are softer than some competing cameras, it's hard to complain about this given that it's so easy to sharpen the images using a simple Unsharp Mask filter. Canon has erred on the side of caution, allowing the user to sharpen as they see fit, rather than applying their own sharpening -- a process that cannot be undone if you feel your images are too sharp. Given that D60 users will probably be picky
enough to be editing their images anyway, taking an extra sharpening step is not much of a hassle.
While the D30 featured ISOs of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600, Canon has reduced the 1600 speed to 1000 on the D60, limiting its low-light shooting capabilities. As with the D30, there is practically no increase in noise even at ISO 400, and only minimal noise at 800. ISO 1600 on the D30 definitely produced noisy images, but it was also very handy for shooting in extreme low-light conditions. As one would expect, the D60's ISO 1000 is not as noisy as its predecessor's 1600 speed. Nevertheless, we lament the loss of the faster ISO.
Though the D60 may not be packed with a long list of new features, it is still an impressive upgrade. Packing the same great image quality of the D30, with more resolution and a lower price, it is the camera of choice for any photographer who wants an affordable digital SLR.
Read more by Ben Long.
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