Canon D60 First Impressions
By: Harold M. Merklinger
I recently traded my D30 for a D60. I expected the D60 to be better than the D30, but it's 'more better' than I anticipated. Several on-line and in-print reviews of the D60 will confirm that the D60 is an improvement, but I believe all the articles I have read understate the implications of the improvement. As you will read, I believe the Canon D60 is a milestone in the history of Photography.
Based on calculations I did many years ago (about 12), I often told people that I thought digital imaging would equal 35 mm colour film at about 6 Megapixels (6 MP). During the past year and a half, my experience with the D30 caused me to believe the number of megapixels required might actually be higher. On technical grounds, I accept Michael Reichmann’s claim that the D30 (at just over 3 MP) is equivalent to scanned colour film. But my D30's 8X10" prints were not a serious threat to conventional, chemically produced colour prints. And I was satisfied that it was not the digital printer that was at fault (an Epson 1280) because scanned medium format images were essentially everything I wanted. I was beginning to think it might take a doubling of resolution (factor-of-4 in number of pixels) to equal a good conventional 35 mm colour print.
Harold Merklinger — 2002
No points for originality here: thousands, if not millions, of photos just like this have been taken over the years. But I believe this image, taken on an overcast day with a Canon D60 digital camera, supports the statements made in the article. The camera was set for ISO 200: the exposure was 1/180 sec., f/13; about 1/3 stop over that recommended by the built-in evaluative meter. The lens was a Canon 24-85/3.5-4.5 set at 35 mm. A second exposure at f/11 showed less red-green noise in the white boat reflection, and hence is actually slightly better in overall image quality. It’s slightly shaper, too: the name “HARBOUR MIST” on the red boat is quite distinct.
The Canon D60
Well, I have yet to do extensive testing with the D60, but I can say that D60 8X10" prints, and indeed the one D60 11 X 16.5"print I have done so far, are better than any previous 8X10" or larger print I have made from 35 mm colour, no matter how printed. In fact, I would say that the 11X16.5" print is pretty close to similar-sized images printed conventionally (or digitally) from 645 format negatives. In simpler words, I believe the 6 MP D60 is superior to 35 mm colour film–not just the equal. A possible exception might be a really good print from a Kodachrome slide — but I can't claim to have any that are in fact better. To test the issue further, I also converted one of the images to black and white and printed it at 8X10 inches. The eye tends to be more demanding of resolution in black and white prints than it is for colour. Colour contrast helps a lot with the conveyance of information. The black and white print looks fine on sharpness grounds, though it still lacks something — I’m not sure what — that a true black and white image would have. I did learn that I should have converted the file to 48-bits per pixel prior to the simulated filtering and conversion to black and white. My b&w image file has gaps in the histogram of gray levels. That’s certainly part of what I am seeing as deficient.
I have never been sure what it is that makes conventional colour prints from medium format (and larger) better than 35 mm images. With black and white I can fool people into selecting the wrong print when shown two 8X10" images from different formats and asking them to select the 35 mm image vice the medium or large format version. Not so with colour. The medium (or larger) format product has always been easy to spot. Shading is smoother, detail is ‘effortless’, and of course, the gain is tighter for the larger format.
Well, the smooth gradation and absence of grain or noise in the D60 images gives the D60 images a medium-format-like appearance. And I think the nature of the resolution, if not absolute resolution itself, helps these D60 images look more like 645 format than 35 mm.
Canon must have done more than just double the number of pixels. I think they must have done other things to improve the resolution as well. Just what, I can't surmise. One person I know was having resolution problems with his D30. His images were noticeably softer than mine. And sharpening in Photoshop would not make up the difference. It may be that D30s were subject to some adjustment or other quality control issue. Perhaps my D30 was not as good as some. Anyway, I am convinced that Canon has learned something more than simply how to double the number of pixels.
Another issue I can detect in the D60 images is that of lens aberrations. With the 24-85 mm Canon zoom that I have used so far, I can now see colour fringing and perhaps coma at some lens settings. I only ever noticed this with colour film if that film was Kodachrome. I'll have to try single focal length lenses!
I did encounter distinct aliasing artifacts with the D30 in some situations. I’ll be watching closely to see if the D60 offers improvement in this area.
I have not tested extensively, but I am impressed by what I have seen so far.
I believe the D60 is a landmark achievement — or should that be “benchmark”, or “milestone”. My reasoning is simple, if perhaps personal. Prior to now I would not have used a digital camera for ‘serious’ photography. By that I mean I was happy to use digital cameras for snapshots, historical records and such. And I recognize that the D30 is good enough for some professional applications. But when I was trying to make a ‘serious’ image — the best I could do with tools readily at hand —I would always take along a Leica, an EOS-1 or some other equivalent. And, I would feel a little guilty that I was not taking a medium format camera. Well, that’s changed now. I really can’t imagine why I would use a conventional 35 mm camera for colour images. I will probably still use a Leica for black and white photography. Maybe if I want to be completely independent of batteries, I’ll use film with a mechanical camera (and a selenium meter, probably). And I will still think at times that I should be using medium format. But, for me at least, 35 mm colour film is now a thing of the past.
Now to rub this in a bit further, please recognize that the Canon D60 uses a sensor that’s about the size of an APS negative or a 35mm half-frame negative. It should not be too much trouble to double the size of the sensor to give us a 12 MP near-full-frame image. (There’s already at least one digital camera that ‘stitches’ the images from two separate sensors to form a single image.) That, I believe, would seriously challenge the market for medium format cameras.
In my short relationship with the D60 I also learned a few of other details. I’ll mention four of them here.
My first surprise was that the (continuous) frame numbering from my D30 transferred to the new camera! First shot with the D60 was one number higher than the last with the D30! I’m not sure how I would go about achieving this intentionally. What I actually did was this:
1. set the camera for continuous frame numbering.
2. Insert the last CF card used with the D30 and check to see if the D60 would correctly display the D30 images and their related information. It did.
3. Re-format the CF card in the D60. And
4. Start shooting with the D60.
One other fact could be important: I also used the same battery in the D60 as I had last used in the D30. I have no idea whether Canon stores any information in the battery or not, but it’s certainly technically possible.
I did encounter a slight mistake in ergonomics I think. When one inserts the USB cable into the camera, the release button on the connector that mates with the camera is covered by the rubber cover attached to the camera. When I went to detach the cable from the camera, I remembered that there was a button or two somewhere that had to be pressed, but it took me a while to find it. Had they reversed the orientation of the socket, the button would be in plain sight. Obviously I don't use the USB cable much; all I wanted to do was to store my name and phone number in the camera. I use a card reader to transfer images.
I found the older D30 seemed to have two distinct flesh tones and some faces sometimes seemed to exhibit both in a disturbing fashion. There was also a related problem with the rendition of yellows, though it worked really well with natural Autumn foliage colours, I would agree!. My solution was to make a simple Photoshop 'action' that I then used on nearly every D30 image in order to correct the problem. Earth tones and some woods were also affected. The adjustment tended to give me other problems with greens — especially as printed on the 1280. I have not found the same flesh tone problem with the D60, but I think I do still see a yellow problem. The colour of typical marine buoys and floats still requires some (though lesser) adjustment. It's always possible that the problem is at least in part caused by the sRGB profile assumed by Canon vs the Adobe 1998 profile assumed by Photoshop, my scanner, my Mac and, seemingly, the rest of the computerized photographic world. There's a lot I don't understand about ColorSync. (I think I understand the basic principles, but there are still many questions when it comes to what Photoshop and other applications/printers etc. actually do to implement it. And the answer seems to change with each new software version.)
Some reviewers have claimed the D60 images to be noiseless. I can find noise in the images viewed pixel-for-pixel on the computer screen. The noise seems to be less evident in prints, though it is there too. Look in the deep shadows of almost any of the D60 sample images offered and one can find a coloured (especially red-green) speckle. Sometimes it can be mistaken for being a valid image, but often not. I find it’s almost a sure thing to find in images that include cars: look at the tires. In the sample image accompanying this article, look in the darker portions of the reflection of the white boat hull. This effect (noise in the shadows) is counter to what is experienced in conventional photography where the grain is usually most evident in medium-light tones such as faces and skies. Skies are also a likely place to find digital noise with CCD imaging chips. The noise in D60 (and D30) images is different from our usual experience, but it does exist!
My experience with the Canon D60 has been brief, but highly significant. Undoubtedly I will learn more. There probably are limitations I have yet to find. But from this perspective, in mid-June 2002, I doubt that I will ever ‘seriously’ use 35 mm colour film again! When I want to produce a quality result, I will choose digital — or a larger format than 35 mm.
© 2002 Harold Merklinger
Harold Merklinger is a highly regarded scientist and author. He retired in 2001 as Director-General of the Defence Research Establishment Atlantic in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, doing sonar research for the Canadian Navy and Air Force. He has written two short technical books on photography and numerous articles for Shutterbug, View Camera, and Photo Techniques. His article on Bokeh appears on The Luminous Landscape.