A few months ago, we spent several days shooting with a preproduction sample—a not-quite-ready-for-prime- time version—of Canon’s EOS 60D ($1,100, street, body only), and described our favorable first impressions in the October 2010 issue of the magazine.
But now that we’ve been able to see how a full production model performs in the Popular Photography Test Lab, it’s clear that this 18MP Canon is going to be a big star.
Canon positions the 60D in a midlevel niche between its consumer-oriented Rebel line and more rugged and pro- oriented 7D. The only truly direct competitor for this successor to the popular 50D is Nikon’s new D7000 (Lab test coming soon).
In the Test Lab
In overall image quality, this time around it’s Canon’s turn to shine, with an Excellent rating from ISO 100 through ISO 800, based on our tests. The Nikon, with a 16.2MP sensor and slightly more noise, scored Extremely High in the same ISO range, just a notch behind.
In our resolution test, the 60D turned in an Excellent 2600 lines per picture height. Plus, it did an admirable job of holding onto that resolution as ISO increased maintaining 2500 lines at ISO 6400 when using the manufacturer’s default level of noise reduction in converting 14-bit RAW images into 16-bit TIFFs. At the camera’s top sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800, under the same test conditions, resolution dropped to 2330 lines, still enough for an Extremely High rating on our scale.
Color accuracy was a much closer race. Both the Canon and Nikon scored Excellent, with a negligible difference in average Delta E, a measure of color variation.
In noise suppression, the 60D pulled a surprise upset. Canon managed to keep noise lower at its default settings than Nikon did, despite the 60D’s extra megapixels. In our test, the 60D scored a Low or better ratings from ISO 100 through ISO 800. It didn’t reach an Unacceptable rating until ISO 6400, while the D7000 did so at ISO 3200. In fact, the Canon turned in lower noise results at every ISO the two cameras share, except at ISO 800, where they tied. (The 60D doesn’t go past ISO 12,800; the D7000 reaches one more stop to ISO 25,600.)
We do all of our tests using the manufacturer’s default setting in its own RAW conversion software. Both the Canon and Nikon RAW conversion software leave plenty of room for extra noise reduction for your images—but you’ll likely sacrifice some resolving power.
When it comes to autofocus, the 60D isn’t the fastest on the market at the brightest portion of our test—honors there go to the more expensive Olympus E-5 and less costly Sony Alpha 55. It squeaked ahead of the D7000 by just a few hundredths of a second down through EV 4. Once we turned the lights down to EV 2 (think a dimly lit interior), the Canon took a stronger lead, focusing in 0.59 sec versus the Nikon’s 0.76.
The gap widened further at EV 1 and EV 0, then narrowed again at EV –1 (like a field lit by the full moon), with both cameras focusing in just under 1 sec. Although Canon rates its system as effective down to just EV –0.5, in our test it managed to focus (in just over 1 sec) in the very dim light of EV –2, where the D7000 couldn’t make it.
Sample images in our Hands-On Report