Why the Canon EOS 60D Was Ahead of Its Time and Didn’t Deserve the Hate It Got

Why the Canon EOS 60D Was Ahead of Its Time and Didn’t Deserve the Hate It Got

The Canon EOS 60D was much derided on its release in 2010 for "dumbing down" the venerable xxD lineup compared to its predecessor, the semi-pro 50D.

It's an assessment of the camera that has not stood the test of time. The 60D was actually ahead of its time.

Allow me a moment for this hot take: The 60D was the first Canon DSLR to use a vari-angle screen. It was the first of the xxD line to use the still-current LP-E6 battery and was also the first camera to add video to the series. Its DIGIC 4 menu system still mirrors the ones used in the company's modern mirrorless cameras today. It migrated the series to the now-ubiquitous SD card format. None of that's a bad look, 14 years later.

Why the Haters?

If that's the case, why did the camera receive so much negativity from users and the press on its release? Canon did a poor job of managing expectations. The 20D, 30D, 40D, and 50D were all geared towards professional users who couldn't afford or didn't need a 1D series camera. The controls and magnesium alloy builds of those cameras mimicked the 1D, more or less, minus the built-in battery grip.

Those features migrated up to the newly introduced 7D lineup, and so that left the 60D to straddle the line between that camera and the Rebels. Canon did this by decontenting the camera and constructing the body out of plastic, removing the AF joystick (which didn't return until the 90D), and a few controls and menu options along the way. While the plastic resulted in a lighter body, the rest of the changes weren't met with much enthusiasm, even though the camera sported a lower price tag than its predecessor at $1,099 for the body only.

It was overshadowed by the loss of other features, but the vari-angle screen on the 60D was a game-changer.

How Does It Look In 2024?

I recently picked up a 60D and a Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens as a birthday gift for my son, who is getting more into photography. Naturally, I had to put it through its paces, and so, I've been shooting it alongside my usual EOS R6 Mark II. It was using these cameras back to back where the idea for this article revisiting the 60D dawned on me: The 60D, while a dinosaur in every way compared to the R6 Mark II, feels more "professional" in the hand than the R6 Mark II does. I was surprised to find myself feeling this way, and one of the reasons I think I did was because of the weight of the bodies. Indeed, it was surprising to learn that the 60D actually weighs more than the R6 Mark II: 1.6 pounds to the newer camera's 1.5.

And while the grip and body style is, in the technical sense, not more ergonomic than the R6, it has a classic Canon heft to it. Indeed, the body has aged quite well, which is more than I could say for myself, I suppose.

All that said, while the body feels great in hand, using the camera is a reminder of how far we've come. Switching back and forth between the R6 in a portrait shoot, it's clear how much easier it is to have the entirety of the viewfinder available for eye-detection autofocus. Having to line up a focus point on an eyeball or use the focus-recompose method was a recipe for far more missed shots.

And while modern mirrorless cameras can switch seamlessly between the viewfinder and a vari-angle LCD, that's not the case with the 60D. Canon's stellar dual pixel CMOS autofocus, the technology that underpins all of the very capable focusing systems in modern Canon cameras, didn't exist when the 60D came out, and so while the phase detection autofocus through the viewfinder is fairly quick and accurate, live view focus through contrast detection on the screen was so slow as to be practically unusable. While it ostensibly has face detection capabilities in this mode, it was pretty bad at picking them out and focusing on them. Without a touch screen, the whole endeavor of live view is an exercise in frustration.

Truly, the live view screen was only useful for tripod shots such as these of the Fire Island Lighthouse:

While the phase detection system was fairly accurate, using live-view on a tripod for precise manual focus always works better with stationary subjects.

I used manual focus on these shots, though the contrast detection focus got me there most of the time, eventually.

Despite all these limitations, this was a camera that many of my students were using to produce photos and full HD video work just a decade or so ago, and I'm impressed at what they were able to accomplish with what, today, feels like such limited functionality.

It's amazing how much more usability mirrorless cameras have added to the equation from this era.

Image Quality

All that said about the handling, how do the images hold up more than a decade after the camera was released?

The sensor in this camera was used in several other Canon cameras, most notably the Canon EOS Rebel T2i and Canon EOS 7D. By no means was it a bad sensor, but where you can really dig three or four stops into the shadows to pull out an image on current cameras, that's not really the case here. You can maybe expose a stop or two at the maximum before image quality really starts to degrade and the noise becomes objectionable.

This shot of the same lighthouse was near 8 p.m. with the night and an approaching storm coming. For a comparison that's more of a joke than anything else, I took the same shot with my iPhone (using its raw format and editing in Photoshop):

I raised this exposure by 1.6 stops and it's the furthest I'd feel comfortable pushing the raw file from the camera. All that said, while at small viewing sizes the iPhone looks slightly better, the DSLR and lens run circles around it, especially in the plants in the foreground and the red-roofed building, where the iPhone smeared away all details. An old DSLR still beats an iPhone any day.

While initially I was rather indifferent about the camera's image quality, I gave the camera another shot at the local duck pond near my house, and this time instead of a consumer-oriented super zoom lens, I used my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. I haven't used consumer-grade zoom lenses in many years, and it was a reminder of how much more important lenses are to the equation, above all else:

Using an L-series lens on the 60D really makes a difference in image quality.

The 60D sensor, even in 2024, still slaps. There's a reason Canon kept re-using it.

Conclusion

If you've been shooting a lot of mirrorless lately, it's always fun to take a trip down memory lane. People always talk about how they shoot film to slow down and be more intentional about their shooting, and picking up an older DSLR is just another way to do that. The bonus of using something like a 60D is that you don't have to worry about finding a battery for it, or digging up a CF card reader, or whether your software will be able to read its files. It's modern enough that everything still just works.

While it's now going to be my son's semi-daily driver, I may borrow it from time to time. There's something about the way these older Canon DSLRs feel in the hand and in the way they work that just make them a bit more entertaining to shoot with than when they first came out and I viewed them merely as my tool of the day. Maybe it's the novelty of using something that I was used to at an earlier point in my photo career, or maybe it's something else that I can't quite put into words. Sure, a current EOS R10, the nearest equivalent to this camera today, can run circles around this camera and has better controls to boot, but it's just not as tactile a shooting experience as this offers.

What a time to be alive that a couple of hundred bucks can score a camera that was an aspirational one for many shooters when it was released.

Did you own a 60D? Are you still shooting yours? Leave your thoughts and photos with this camera in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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13 Comments

I bought a 60D in 2012 and used it for stills and video until I upgraded to a 6Dmkii for stills in 2018. I bought another 60D around 2016 or so to enable me to do multicam video shoots. I made nearly all my commissioned videos (artist interviews and coverage of opera and jazz concerts) with those two cameras. I eventually bought 3 second hand Canon C100mkii cinema cameras to replace the 60D's but I still have them and last used them for close ups of performers and their instruments last year when we used 8 cameras for coverage of a philharmonic orchestra's concert. I have 2 grandchildren and on one visit I gave them one each, one with a nifty fifty, one with a 40mm f2.8 and let them take photos around the yard and of their dad...came up a treat!

Oh man the 40mm f2.8 with the 60D is such a great combo.

The 40mm pancake is a gem of a lens. One of the few bits of EF kit I kept when I moved to M/RF.

I dunno why people hated this camera so much. I had to sell all of my Nikon gear to afford a new car back then but once I got back on my feet I financed a 60D and with the 18-105 kit zoom and later picked up the EF 85mm f1.8. Bro I tell you I LOVED that camera with the 85mm f1.8. I got so many great images with that setup. I loved it so much that I bought a second 60D. For it's time it did amazingly well in low light and it's focus system was accurate and fast. I've always had issues with Nikon focus systems (until I bought the Zf) so when I tried that 60D it was a night and day difference for me. I really miss those cameras. The EF 85mm f1.8 also became one of my top 5 favorite lenses I have ever used too.

Probably because it was such a radical departure from the 50D in the way the body felt and its construction. Also CF cards were viewed as more "professional" at the time and the switch to SD on an SLR seemed weird. In truth, these are some of the reasons I passed on it, too, and didn't come back to the series until the 80D brought back some features I missed and added a great sensor. These are just my thoughts anyway.

I was too young and early in my photographic journey to really be paying too much attention to media types and body build so that's probably why I jived so well with the 60D. i can understand why pros would think that way because I catch my self doing that sometimes too haha. I'm going to use this as yet another lesson to never judge a book by it's cover haha.

Love seeing LI getting some love! Especially the Robert Moses Lighthouse!

I think the Big Duck has made it into many an article for me.

Yeah, love that roadside attraction! Flanders \m/

The 60D was my second DSLR (after the 1000D) used it for years with great pleasure. Still have some photos made with it hanging on my walls. Sold it after I got my 6D, still use that along side a EOS R.

Wasim Ahmad wrote,

"The Canon EOS 60D was much derided on its release in 2010 for "dumbing down" the venerable xxD lineup compared to its predecessor, the semi-pro 50D.

The 20D, 30D, 40D, and 50D were all geared towards professional users .....

..... that left the 60D to straddle the line between that camera and the Rebels.

the camera sported a lower price tag than its predecessor at $1,099 for the body only."

"Why the hate?"

Well, in 2010 I could either buy a lightly used 50D for $450 +-, or spend $1,100 for a 60D. You admit that the 60D was not geared toward professional users as its predecessor had been, but rather was intended to bridge the gap between the semi-pro lineup and the Rebels.

Hate for a product tends to come when we feel like we are not getting as good of a value per dollar as we can get with the other options that are available. At $1,099, did anyone really think that they were getting more on a dollar for dollar basis than they would get from a used 50D for just $450? Really?

I had a lot of real hate for the Canon 50D in 2009 when it was $1,500. But I had a lot of love for it a year later when I could find them for less than $500 on the used market.

I was not a Canon person but I used one for 14 years from 1984-1998. It was a nice system. I'm a Nikon person but I own 3 digital Canon cameras. They seem fine to me. After 40 years of film any autofocus seems cool to me. I'm just amazed all of this stuff works as well as it does.

The whole Canon XX series was excellent...for me the 60D was a game changer due to its video capability though its video AF was a hit and run...no hating on my part for this camera but it was the classic Canon 70D that really improved the series...the touch screen AF and ergonomics on this one is supreme, even today the 70D it is my go to DSLR...these 3 samples are taken with the 60D...