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Canon EOS 60D Digital SLR

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Cool enough to violate several fairly serious laws of physics, sufficiently intuitive to get you charged with witchcraft if you teleport back to the middle ages while carrying one and only somewhat expensive, the Canon 60D digital single lens reflex camera can’t be adequately described in a single review. You’ll really need to own one to fully appreciate its place in the universe.

Equipped with an eighteen-megapixel image sensor and lots of internal logic, the 60D can produce professional results without requiring that its users enroll in a three-year course to understand its manual. It can be configured to take effortless snapshots, or you can get involved with its many modes, sub-modes, adjustments, refinements, displays, readouts and psychic abilities to make it as creative as you like.

The 60D has been artfully designed to keep its more sophisticated functionality out of your face until such time as you need it.

As with all its high-end digital SLRs, Canon’s 60D will accept any Canon-compatible autofocus lens. Canon AF lenses have been around since a week after the dawn of time, and there are great sweltering hoards of them available – both genuine Canon devices and lenses from various aftermarket manufacturers. This includes a rich palette of fairly exotic toys, such as astronomical telescopes and microscope adapters.

We tried the 60D with a fair number of lenses, including a few scarred refugees of the 1980s, with flawless results. Equipped with a Canon EF 28-135mm IS lens – which includes automatic image stabilization – the 60D can take crisp, solid pictures even if you’re standing on a paint shaking machine.

Unlike earlier Canon digital SLRs, the 60D stores its pictures on SD memory cards, rather than larger, more expensive and harder-to-find Compact Flash cards. This is an important consideration, as at its highest resolution, the sensor of the 60D can create some fairly enormous files. The 60D allows for several lower resolution modes, for those situations in which you don’t need to be able to count the individual skin cells of your subjects.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the 60D knows how to shoot HD video as well as still images – at a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. More to the point, with its sophisticated image sensor and a huge lens area compared to that of a dedicated camcorder, it does so with impeccable quality. This too will fill memory cards with disturbing alacrity, but the results are easily worth it.

It can output its video directly to a monitor with an HDMI interface.

In its simplest shooting mode, the 60D will do pretty much all the thinking for you. Turn its mode selector to the green rectangle icon, power up the camera, find something to photograph and push the big black button. The camera will focus itself, adjust its exposure, pop up its internal flash if needs be and play a sound bite of an old mechanical camera shutter to let you know that something happened. Your picture will display on its rear panel.

Even the rear display panel of the 60D has clearly been the object of someone’s protracted attention. Aside from being a really nice display panel, it can flip out and twist. This means that its working surface will stay hidden, and as such unscratched, when the camera’s not in use. It also allows the display to peek around the side of the camera, should you want to see what the camera’s seeing while you’re standing in front of it.

The 60D uses a particularly inspired focusing system that will let you fudge its autofocusing logic when you want to. It will superimpose a number of autofocus points in its viewfinder to indicate where it’s looking when it focuses its lens. You can use them to force it to focus on specific details.

One of the impromptu tests that most of the cameras that come through here are subjected to involves photographing a sleeping Newfoundland dog. Most of them fail. A large black dog in a dimly lit room with its eyes closed is a digital camera’s perfect definition of hell, as such a subject presents one with few details upon which to focus or correctly meter. The 60D remains one of the few devices to manage the dog perfectly on its first try.

Once you get the fully automatic shooting mode of the D60 surrounded – which doesn’t take long – you’ll probably want to start meddling with its smarter toys. Among these are:

  • Adjustable film speed: The D60 can simulate traditional chemical photographic film speeds of up to ISO ASA 6400. You can override the camera’s choice of speeds in its advanced shooting modes.
  • Subject-specific modes: You can choose one of several shooting modes that have been configured to improve your pictures for specific subjects. The D60 includes modes for portraits, landscapes, close-up subjects, moving subjects and subjects at night. Finally, there’s a creative automatic mode that sets the camera up for what it thinks is the picture you want to take, but leaves it receptive to your input in choosing its depth of field, flash mode and drive.
  • Advanced manual modes: The D60 offers a number of shooting modes with minimal automation. You can set it up to favor aperture or exposure time, or set it for full manual operation, just like a camera from the twentieth century.
  • Selectable metering models: As with pretty much all single-lens reflex cameras built after the late middle ages, the D60 meters its subjects through its lens, so what it looks at to set its exposure parameters is identical to what will be photographed. You can configure it to meter using several pre-defined strategies to allow for different shooting situations. It can meter its entire scene area, most of its scene area, a tiny spot in its scene area or a center-weighted scene, wherein most of the scene is metered, but the center gets more attention that the periphery. The ability to choose a metering model will let you compensate for inconsiderate lighting, and be creative about how you’d like your subjects to appear to be lit.
  • Auto-exposure bracketing: While you can apply all sorts of post-production filtering to digital photographs to fine-tune their color balance, brightness and so on, taking correctly exposed pictures to begin with is always preferable. The D60 can be configured to perform exposure bracketing for you. Specifically, it can take three pictures each time you press the large black button, with a user-definable range of exposure settings.
  • Adjustable white balance: The human eye has a breathtaking capacity for fibbing to its users about things like the color temperature of light. If you think you’re looking at white light, your eye will agree with you. In fact, incandescent light is shifted somewhat toward red, florescent light looks a bit green and so on. Fiddling the color settings for a digital imaging device so white objects really look white is called setting the “white balance.” The D60 does a respectable job of adjusting its white balance automatically. You can also force it to balance for a known white object, and you can set its internal color temperature for a numerical Kelvin color temperature, which is useful if you’re shooting with, for example, tungsten photographic lights.
  • Printing to PictBridge: The D60 has an integrated PictBridge interface, allowing it to print directly to any compatible output device. Plugged into a Canon Selphy dye-sublimation printer, it can litter the best of coffee-tables with glossy prints with the alacrity of a Polaroid camera of epochs past… and no nasty chemistry. We got through several packages of paper the day the D60 was unpacked.
  • Optional RAW storage: Aside from various resolutions and quality settings of JPEG files, the D60 will store its pictures as RAW data files if you ask it to. Bereft of any JPEG image degradation, these pictures look stunning. Their file sizes are also stunning, of course, but SD cards are cheap. You’ll need something like our Graphic Workshop Professional and the RAW Digital Camera Plugin to convert them to something useful.
  • Automatic face detection: No foolin’… with its face detection mode enabled, the D60 will locate human faces in its images and automatically adjust its focus based on them. No one was more shocked than I that this actually worked. It slows down the automatic focusing minutely, but it’s entertaining and kind of spooky to watch.
  • Lens peripheral illumination correction: Lenses are round, while pictures are rectangular. This inconvenient bit of geometry means that the amount of light that gets through a camera’s lens tends to diminish the further one looks from the center of the glass. The corners of pictures often exhibit visible darkening for this reason. The D60 includes built-in logic to correct for darkened corners, based on the specific model of lens that’s been wound onto it. It knows how to correct for several dozen Canon lenses, and the software that ships with it includes additional lens correction information. Darkened corners in pictures are something you’ll probably ignore, and not notice until they’ve been fixed.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the D60 is how well all its technology works together. Its auto-focusing is quick and somewhat clairvoyant, and is profoundly difficult to fool. Its automatic metering and exposure compensation is clever and pretty much always right. Its creative modes offer a wealth of resources for self-expression and cheating.

The manual that accompanies the D60 – without which most of its better tricks will be something of a mystery – is a serious read. Fortunately, it’s been extremely well organized to allow its users to scope out those aspects of the camera’s functions that are pertinent to the moment, and ignore the rest ‘til later. It includes every imaginable detail of the D60’s operation, right down to the strategy for numbering its JPEG files.

The D60 also includes a quick-start leaflet entitled “Great Photography is Easy” that will get you up to speed with the camera’s most productive tricks in about twenty pages.

Admittedly, the D60 is a bit of a brick – attached to a lens, it weighs about as much as a traditional 35-millimeter film camera did in the previous century. Perhaps in compensation for this, it comes with a really nice strap. Asked to do anything more than take casual snapshots, it has a notable learning curve. It also costs more than any ten low-end pocket digital cameras you’d care to mention.

These issues will be but dust upon its image sensor once you fire it up and begin to appreciate how unspeakably cool it is. Needless to say, its image sensor has an automatic cleaning mode to remove dust.