Historical step up or just a stop gap? The Canon D60 Review

Canon kicked off the new millennium with the release of their first fully home grown digital SLR – the D30. This marked a turning point for Canon as they focussed all their efforts on the newly emerging digital market. The D30 was an incredible camera for the time, despite being marketed as an “enthusiast” body, it certainly exceeded those expectations. Although only capable of producing 3MP images, the D30 was built to last and despite the auto focus system not exactly setting the world on fire, it performed well enough for many applications and subsequently sold in droves.

After such a great start, enthusiasts had another two years to wait before an upgrade arrived in the form of the D60 and honestly, I think many would’ve been a little underwhelmed. On the surface, the only difference was the 3 megapixel sensor had doubled in resolution to a whopping 6. Make no mistake, this was a highly desirable feature to have and certainly made the camera more useful, but… was that it? In two years?

Canon definitely had far more up their sleeves, with the release of the full frame 11 megapixel monster that was the 1Ds in the very same year. Under 12 months later, Canon revealed their hand by releasing the 10D, a camera so good it must’ve felt like upgrading from a Commodore 64 to a modern day PC.

So how did it feel to be one of the upgraders in 2002? Was it worth the investment or would you have been suffering ultimate buyers remorse mere months later, wishing you’d held off for the 10D? Having reviewed both the D30 and 10D, it’s time to fill the chronological gap and find out.

In this post:

Modern day cost of entry

Sorry, D60 fans, I bought them all. Well, the only one available at least.

To cut directly to the chase, I paid £38 including postage for my D60 from MPB.com. As I’ve discussed many times before on this site, jumping straight to ebay for cheap, old gear isn’t necessarily a good idea. There’s a sweet spot for cheap camera bodies bought from ebay and the D60 isn’t on that list. The cheapest ebay listing as of writing is just about double the cost of going through MPB. I’m not promoting or advertising them as a business, but when you take into account the sheer misery that buying from ebay can descend into, you’re often better off paying a few quid more to buy from a business that has a reputation to uphold, than from an ebay seller that exists to just shift tat.

MPB appear to have upped their game recently. Since my rather poor experience of buying a 5D Mark I from them some time back, they’ve started shipping stuff out in custom made boxes that are not only the right size, but filled with far better packing materials as well. It’s these small details that make the difference and is a bonus when their prices are far cheaper than elsewhere.

Ebay sellers – how does no sound?

I think around £30 isn’t an unfair price for almost any old camera such as the D30 or 60 these days. However, the D60 is sadly one of those cameras going through the eBay “I can’t find many of them so it must be ‘rare’ then” price inflations. There are certainly cheaper options out there that are far more capable to boot, but it’s difficult to complain when you’re getting what was once considered to be a highly competent, well respected imaging tool – if you avoid online auctions that is.

This is a well looked after camera.

Unless obviously very broken in the pictures, what turns up from MPB is generally in really good condition regardless of the grading they’ve applied to it. It’s reassuring that they appear to have such high standards and when you buy something graded “excellent” it usually turns up looking like you’ve just fetched it out of the original packaging. I forget what grade they thought this D60 was, but for a missing rubber port cover, it hasn’t got any defects that I can see.

Unexpected provenance

Valery, would you like your D60 back?!

Since buying a 1d mark ii that once belonged to a Belfast based professional photographer, I’m in the habit of checking out the EXIF information on every new body I buy. This time, I feel like I’ve purchased a camera from royalty. This D60 once belonged to one Valéry Kloubert. Who is that? Well, it turns out he’s an outrageously successful and talented photographer based in Köln, Düsseldorf. This guy has done it all, has the gallery to prove it and appears to be something of a dab hand with glass plate portraiture as well.

It doesn’t really make any difference who owned a camera before you, but it is nice to know where its been and in this case to imagine all the cool photo shoots it must’ve been responsible for in the early 2000’s. I’d love to see some of the images Valery produced with his D60, but a quick glance at his galleries didn’t show anything going back anywhere near that far which is understandable for a fairly well decorated professional.

Being as this body has been owned by a “business user”, we can safely make the assumption that it’ll have approximately six million shutter actuations on the poor thing and on the retirement scale of 1 to 10 I’d say it was pipe and slippers time. Sadly, there is no way of finding out how many times early Canon bodies have been fired, but I’d say going on the occasional reluctance this thing has to actually rattle off a shot, our guess isn’t going to be too far off.

Spot the difference

Really, I just changed the 3 to a 6 on my D30…

As upgrades go, the jump from the D30 to the D60 is a case of blink and you’ll miss it. Visually, the two cameras are absolutely identical except for a one digit difference on the name badge and a new badge in the bottom right corner which says “digital” just in case you needed reminding. Internally the story is fairly similar. Apparently there were some upgrades to the size of the shooting buffer, the addition of an LCD backlight and, of course, the obvious upgrade of the 6 megapixel sensor, but that really is it.

There were one or two deliberate changes in the software from the D30 to D60, most notable is the removal of ISO 1600, with the maximum in the D60 being a rather odd ISO 1000. I can’t find any reason for this anywhere I’ve read about the camera, my instinct would be that perhaps the increase in sensor resolution gave them an unacceptable amount of noise at ISO 1600 and so forced the decision to lower the gain to a more palatable level.

For those who had firmly embraced digital and made good use of their investment in a D30, the D60 must have been something of a disappointment to anyone looking for an upgrade. The jump in resolution of course made it a very attractive proposition, but the lack of ISO 1600, no bump in shooting performance nor AF speed would’ve made the decision to move from D30 to D60 incredibly difficult to justify.


Canon D60, 24-105 F4L, 40mm, 1/60 f5, ISO 1000

Down to the real reason we’re all here – what’s it like to use and how does it fit in to the thrifty photographers’ present day armoury? At this point you’d forgive me for just putting a link to the D30 review and writing “but with bigger images.” There would be some truth in that conclusion but actually its more nuanced than that when taken in the context of its place in the historical Canon line up and other available cheap DSLR options today.

There’s no getting away from the glaring fact that the same frustrations with poor AF performance in the D30 are still present in the D60. Although Canon alleged that there were some subtle improvements made to the focussing system, these must have been all made in software because I cannot see any evidence of the camera being any more capable than its predecessor.

The AF system is the most limiting factor for the D60, it cannot be relied on in any situation to quickly grab focus and keep it whilst you compose a shot. A number of times it behaved rather strangely by giving confirmation of a focus lock and then suddenly deciding it needed another go before hunting around again. All this happens whilst the shutter is held half way which shouldn’t really be possible – once it confirms focus, that should be that until you either let go again or fire off the shot.

Canon D60, 24-105 F4L, 24mm, 30 seconds f11, ISO 100

Little things can indeed make a difference and I did appreciate the brightly lit status LCD which turns blue like a Casio watch from 1995 at the press of the set button. If you’re using the camera in the dark, this really does help and it’s a shame they didn’t carry this forward to later bodies, all of which to my knowledge make do with far poorer lighting than the D60.

The viewfinder is bright, clear and home to the one killer upgrade over the D30 – it has illuminated AF points. The omission of those little red flashing squares on the D30 was utterly baffling, especially when you take into account the fact that even the bottom of the range film bodies preceding the D30 all had this feature. Why Canon did this is anyones guess and it’s so off putting during use that its return on the D60 is a relief more than anything. It may sound silly, but that red highlighting has become so ubiquitous in camera AF that it is almost impossible to turn that kind of learned “look for the confirmation” behaviour off for a body that doesn’t offer it.

Canon D60, 24-105 F4L, 75mm, 1/10 f4, ISO 1000

I think it’s all too easy to forget how far we’ve come in terms of storage technology. These days a 64gb flash card costs pennies and is probably not big enough for the kinds of file sizes modern cameras pump out at 10fps. However, when the D60 was launched, a 1gb CF card would’ve made you king of storage. The manual mentions card sizes of around 64mb which would’ve been enough for only 12 or so RAW images – not really the digital dream, is it?

I mention storage because I lost one of my smaller CF cards and then quickly discovered that the D60 cannot handle anything remotely large in terms of capacity. After some experimentation I discovered that it has a 2GB card size limit. Not only that, but it must be a genuine 2gb card and not a larger one partitioned to be 2GB or it throws a monumental paddy in the form of a flashing “CF ERR” or “ERR 02” which is Canon’s error code for “could be anything, mate.”

Ultimately, I ended up going full film mode and using a 256mb CF card that I happened to have found in a very old Canon Powershot S40 which gave a whole 33 RAW shots. Enough for now. This storage limitation, though, is definitely something to be mindful of when buying older cameras. Lower capacity CF cards are now significantly more expensive new than their larger counterparts and a 2GB card is almost 2/3 the value of the D60 itself.

Image quality

This utterly terrifying image jumped out at me from the window of Specsavers. What on earth were they thinking? What does this image say? “My god! I’m wearing glasses! The shock! The horror!” Poor image choice.

Canon knew they were on to a winner with CMOS sensors right from the off. This improved 6mp variant gives those classic Canon colours and really rather decent RAW files straight out of the camera. Noise performance all the way up to ISO 1000 is more than acceptable and certainly was not intrusive in any of the images I’ve produced with it so far. This aspect of the pictures is genuinely impressive for the era this camera comes from.

The RAW files themselves seem to offer more than the D30 in terms of dynamic range and the ability to recover detail from shadows especially. Highlights were recoverable, but certainly not anywhere near the amount offered by anything more modern. Images straight out of the camera are often a little on the soft side and needed some tidying up with the clarity slider in Adobe Camera Raw and on some occasions the application of an unsharp mask to really bring out the finer details.

The bump in resolution is definitely an advantage over the D30. There is far more room in D60 files for recovering from small mistakes, crops and rotations without losing too much in terms of final image size or resolution.

Despite not using “digic” processors, the D60 does contain a Canon branded imaging chip which does a decent job of creating pleasing images that don’t require a great deal of post processing to polish up. I did find some RAW files were overly warm using the automatic white balance setting, but this is something easily rectified using any editing software.

Conclusion – Refresh or remorse?

Canon D60, 24-105 F4L, 67mm, 1/125 f5, ISO 1000

Taken on its own, out of any sort of context, the D60 is a decent camera that will churn out very usable, detailed, relatively noise free images. There is no doubt that this is a good camera and would’ve been extremely satisfying to own in 2002/3.

From a retrospective point of view, things are not quite so clear. The D30 was great fun to use simply because it was the first in the line, the original attempt by Canon to produce an all home grown digital SLR. The D30 also happens to produce really quite nice images, although you are definitely limited by the resolution of those pictures in terms of editing and printing. The D60 feels like more of the same. There really are no upgrades here to get excited about and those AF frustrations just won’t go away.

Old cameras absolutely still have a place in the hands of budget photographers today, but given the wealth of choice at this absolute bottom of the range price range, I’m struggling to find a compelling reason why anyone would shell out £40 all in including delivery to have one of these when you can get a 10 or 20D for less. The 10D has an AF system light years ahead of the D60 and the 20D is even better still with 8mp resolution images to boot. You can pick up either for around £20 from a variety of sources.

Canon D60, 24-105 F4L, 60mm, 1/8 f4, ISO 1000

And this really is the problem. Although I’m an advocate of making use of old technology, reusing and recycling products wherever possible or practical, there is no avoiding the fact that some old tech is simply too far gone to be attractive or genuinely useful in the modern day. In the case of the D60 it isn’t that it can’t produce images worthy of displaying – it absolutely can produce beautiful pictures. It isn’t the fact that the AF is woeful – if you take your time and understand its limitations you won’t mind at all. The decider here is price.

For some reason, the market has decided that the D60 commands a price premium over better models. It’s not even highly priced, but because it costs a round of beers more than newer, more capable machinery, there is no justifiable case for taking one in preference to a cheaper option and that’s a real shame because if it were pocket money prices, I’d not hesitate to recommend people pick one up simply for a nostalgia hit or the fun and experience of using a 20 year old camera. If only I could find a cheap IR filter, I’d keep this and convert it so it had a real purpose. If you know where to source decent IR filter glass, please let me know.

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