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Canon EOS D60
vs.
Medium Format

NewThis is featured in Issue #5 of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal

This page is the second of two a two-part commentary on and review of the Canon EOS D60.
The other segment is a field-use report and portfolio.
Both should be read together for a complete picture of what I think about this camera.
An article on macro-butterfly photography also forms part of this report.

Value = 6MP for $2000

Photograph Courtesy Canon Corp.

It was only a couple of years ago that a 6+ megapixel camera cost over $15,000. How times change. The D60 is currently (May, 2002) available for well under U.S.$2,000 from mail-order dealers, even though supply is still short. (This is for the body only, suitable for someone upgrading from a D30. The full kit is two hundred dollars more).

With the mass-market explosion in digital photography Moore's Law is now fully at work in the photographic industry. (This states that every 18 months computing power doubles or the price for the same power drops in half. This has held true for the past 20 years). It has been said that if the automobile tracked the computer we'd be driving Rolls Royces that cost $5 and getting 300 miles to the gallon. Translated to the photographic world I suppose that we'd be shooting with Hasselblads that cost 50 cents.

This isn't about to happen, but the digital aspect of cameras certainly is tracking the declining price curve of microchips, and this is evident with Canon's newly released (Spring 2002) EOS D60. At this rate it won't be more than a couple of years until the cost of a digital SLR is not much more than an equivalent film-based camera, and then not long after that, because of declining demand, high-end film camera bodies will actually be more expensive than digital ones.

But, for now we have the Canon D60, a 6.3MP digital SLR at a very attractive price in today's market. Let's see what it's about.

What's Changed?

There have been several well done and comprehensive online reviews of the D60 prior to this report, so there's little point in my repeating the information that's already available. At the bottom of this page I have provided links to a few of the major online reviews to date. My field report should also be read at the same time as this article.

So, what has changed from the D30? More resolution to be sure. An illuminated LCD panel, illuminated focus points in the viewfinder, slightly improved autofocus (though still sub-par), and some firmware tweaks. Cosmetically the D30 and the D60 are almost identical, and they take and use all of the same accessories.

One firmware change is that long exposures no longer require the use of a special noise reduction mode. This required a processing time equal to that of the exposure time. Long exposure noise levels with the D60 are indeed reduced.

Much of what I wrote in my original online D30 review and also my subsequent review for Photo Techniques magazine holds true for the D60. So, rather than rehash what you either already know, or can read elsewhere, let's move on to the heart of the matter — image quality.

The Five-Way Test

Birds of  a Feather — Bosque del Apache

Canon D30 @ ISO 100 using a 400mm f/4 IS DO lens. 1/250 sec @ f/5.6. EFL= 640mm

I had been very impressed with the image quality produced by the D30 when in late 2000 I published one of the first reviews to appear anywhere. In fact my comparison, titled D30 Vs. Film, has had more than 100,000 readers since it was first published, not to mention being one of the most controversial things I've ever written.

I still stand by much of my original assessment of 18 months ago — the D30 produces images that equal scanned film in almost every respect, except ultimate resolution. Using Genuine Fractals these files can be ressed-up to about 11X14" print size and still stand up well. Not all images; not all the time, but enough so that there are now countless pros as well as amateurs who have left 35mm film behind and who use the D30 for most of their commercial as well as personal work.

I'm not one of them though. I do most of my landscape work in medium format, and whereas I still use 35mm and the D30 for some wildlife and nature (not to mention a Leica outfit for documentary and street photography), medium format is always preferred when possible because of the superior image quality.

So, would the D60 with its 18MB files and ultra-clean CMOS sensor change this equation?

To test this out I decided to do a five-way test, pitting the new Canon D60 against the Canon D30, the Canon 1V film camera, the Pentax 645 and the Pentax 67. There would be a lot of variables to consider and to try and eliminate, but it would be informative and fun to do. Here then was my methodology.

Methodology

The two digital cameras were set to ISO 100 and RAW mode, and in the film cameras Fuji Provia 100F was used. Film was subsequently scanned using an Imacon Flextight Photo. All digital files were handled in 24 bit mode. All cameras were mounted on a substantial tripod. Exposure was essentially the same on each camera — 1/500sec at f/8 on a cloudy bright day.

The D30 and D60 digital files were converted and imported into Photoshop 7 using BreezeBrowser. Once in Photoshop I used iCorrect EditLab 2.0 and tried to equalize a neutral color balance between the frames. NIK Sharpener Pro was also used for USM, with a thought to once again trying as much as possible to eliminate subjective processing judgments.

Focal Length and Lenses

Naturally when shooting with four different image formats on five different cameras the only thing that made sense was to vary the focal length used so as to keep image size constant. That was done using a zoom lens set at 90mm on the Pentax 67, a 75mm lens on the Pentax 645, and the Canon 28-70mm f/2.8L zoom lens on the three Canon bodies. It was zoomed to the 50mm setting on the 1V and to 32mm for shots taken with the D30 and D60.

These all produced an image covering roughly the same subject width, as seen below, though because the aspect ratios are so different overall image coverage can be quite different. This was also made problematic because with the exception of the EOS 1V none of the camera's viewfinders exactly show their field of view.

Relative Sizes

Here are the files sizes produced by each of these systems, along with the largest print size that can be produced at a printer resolution of 240 PPI. Scans were done at 3200 ppi. Obviously scanning at higher or lower resolutions would change these figures, though 3200 is typically considered sufficient for most applications, and is close to resolving all of the information on colour transparency films.

System Canon D30 Canon D60 35mm Film 645 Film 6 X 7 Film
File Size 9 MB 18 MB 35 MB 100 MB 165 MB
Print Size @ 240ppi 6" X 9 " 8.5" X 12.8 " 12" X 17.5" 21" X 29" 28" X 35"

Immediately below is another way of looking at it. Each of the files is shown at relative size. The smallest, the D30, is shown at an on-screen width of 140 pixels, and the rest are scaled accordingly.

D30

D60

35mm

645

6 X 7

Impressive isn't it? But what does it tell us? Clearly bigger is better, and more data is better than less. But, how does this translate into image resolution on a typical print? Because of the limitations of human vision, as well as that of printers and printing paper, things are not always as they might appear at first. My tutorial on Understanding Sharpness, which is linked at the end of this review, explores this subject in some depth.

Constant Magnification

Here's yet another way of looking at it. The magnification ratio has remained constant (Actual Pixels in each case) as has the reproduction size. This way you can see the increase in detail magnification that each format provides.

D30

D60

 

35mm

 

645

 

6 X 7

 

Color Balance

The samples above show quite a difference in colour balance between the two digital cameras and the film scans. The D30 and D60 frames are warm while the scans are fairly neutral, and in fact very closely mirror what the light was like when the shots were taken. (All frames were shot within 15 minutes of each other on a partially overcast day). What's going on here?

Firstly, the scanner has been profiled, while neither of the digital cameras have been. The D30 and D60 shots were both shot with Auto White Balance and imported "As Shot". On an average day like this there should be no problem with this common setting. I also deliberately didn't individually adjust color balance for each frame, preferring instead to simply choose a neutral white point in Photoshop and let the rest of the colours fall where they may.

While the D30 and the D60 produce very pleasing colours, and can easily be "tweaked" to produce a more neutral and accurate colour balance when printing, the scanned film produced extremely accurate images that would only need minimal work in Photoshop to produce both highly accurate and pleasing prints.

Shadow Detail

The D30 and the D60 appear to be able to dig into the shadows much better than the film scans, even though the Imacon Photo scanner is rated as having an excellent dynamic range. I've noticed this over the past 18 months when using the D30. My experience can only be reported anecdotally, and I have no hard evidence to back it up, but I've now seen it enough to be confident of my original conclusion made when testing the D30 that it appears to offer about 1 stop more dynamic range than high-quality scans from transparency film. The same appears to apply to the new D60.

For many photographers this will be as important an advantage to digital as is raw resolution.

Print Evaluation

Evaluating images online is one thing, but for most photographers prints are what ultimately count the most because that's what our customers and viewers see. Here then is my personal evaluation of prints made both with an Epson 1270 and an Epson 5500.

Each of the frames was printed at a width of 13 inches on A3 paper. This is a typical print size for most people. The D30 image though was printed at 9" wide, since it would have required ressing-up to be able to make a 13" print. The film scans were ressed-down to 360 ppi, and all were printed at a width of 13 inches.

Examining the prints was very interesting. The D30 is now history, so I didn't spend much time on it. Image quality is very good, but it simply doesn't have the resolution to make large high-quality prints that can compete with the D60 or scanned film at larger print sizes.

The D60 and the 35mm (Canon 1v) image were very close indeed. There is slightly more detail in the scanned image, but it's quibbling to say that one is appreciably better than the other. Of course in prints any larger than 13" wide the D60 file will need to be ressed-up, while the 35mm frame will support prints made up to an image width of nearly 18 inches. Essentially Super-A3 (13X18")  prints are possible from 35mm while A3 (11X17") is the limit from the D60. Still, remarkable performance on the part of the D60 digital camera.

I'd like to parenthetically add that most people find that 35mm film runs out of steam on prints reaching 13X19" (or 16X20" when printing in the chemical darkroom). Only with the absolutely finest lenses, highest resolution films and first-rate shooting and image processing technique do prints this size hold up to critical examination. This being the case, the D60 is very close to matching the capabilities of common films, lenses and most photographer's technique. Any advantage that scanned film has is therefore more theoretical rather than practical. (See my commentary on the quest for Lens Sharpness, linked below).

The amount of difference between the 645 print and the 35mm print were about the same as those between 35mm and the D60. On a 13" wide print at 360 ppi the 645 image appears "slightly" sharper. So, what about comparing the 645 print to that from the D60? Here the cumulative difference is immediately noticeable. The 13" wide 645 print is clearly seen as being crisper and it shows more fine detail. Of course while the D60 runs out of steam (pixels) at a width of 13" and the 35mm frames does so at just under 18", the 645 file can make prints up to 29" in width.

Finally, the 6X7 print. On a 13" wide print there is no visible advantage over the 645 print. They are very similar. Clearly the limiting factor here is the printer. There is not enough print resolution to show a difference. But of course the 6X7 file is capable of a 35" wide print without ressing-up so there's a huge amount of detail available in the file that most people will rarely utilize.

See the bottom of this page for a link to my article on Understanding Sharpness for explanations of some of the above assumptions.

Begging The Question

Butterfly 56, Niagara Ontario — April, 2002

Canon EOS-D60 and Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM with MR14EX Ring Lite. ISO 400

If you've managed to wade through the above you're probably still wondering who won. Actually, no one. As always, different tools provide differing capabilities. If you are satisfied with 8X10" (A4) prints then the D30 remains a fine tool, but it is clearly surpassed by the D60 when making prints up to A3 (11X17") in size. For most people, including a lot of pros, the D60 has enough resolution for the majority of their needs.

If you habitually make 13X19" or larger prints then a 6MP camera isn't quite enough, though with the use of Genuine Fractals quite acceptable prints of that size are possible. But for ultimate image quality, the need to crop a part of an image, and making prints bigger than Super A3, there's no doubt that medium or large format is the way to go.

But there are other factors. Cost for one. For anyone who does a lot of shooting, like a busy pro, digital quickly pays for itself. Scanning is also time consuming, and spotting scanned files is also a labour-intensive annoyance. Variable ISO capability, along with high-ISO image quality that clearly surpasses film in terms of grain/noise, are both very important digital advantages for some photographers.

Finally, photographers who travel a great deal are finding that not having to worry about the issue of airport and luggage X-rays when they shoot digital is a real plus. (Of course having to travel with a laptop computer, extra batteries, chargers and cables brings a different set of downsides).

So how about a straight answer? Is the D60 better than 35mm film, and does it (and similar 6MP DSLRs) start to come close to medium format quality?

For many the answer to the first question is yes. When all of the factors are weighed in the balance the D60 really does give scanned 35mm film a run for the money in terms of image quality and convenience. Certainly the 1.6X magnification factor is a downside for many, limiting wide angle versatility. But with prices that are increasingly affordable for a wider segment of the market cameras like the D60 really do threaten 35mm SLRs on most fronts.

As for medium format, if A3 or smaller prints are your norm, comparable quality is starting to get close. It isn't completely there yet, and photographers who make Super A3 and larger prints are still ahead of the game shooting medium format and scanning with a high quality film scanner. But next round — who knows?

Canon's rumoured 6-9MP full-frame 1D variant, supposedly coming this Fall, may well tip the scales for many medium format photographers toward digital. But then medium format digital backs are steadily dropping in price and already offer 16 MP size, producing 48 MP files. Indeed these are interesting times.

Viewfinders

Using these five different cameras alongside each other brought to light something that I've certainly noticed before, but never tried to quantify till now. That is the size and brightness of various camera's viewfinders.

What was immediately apparent when using these five cameras together was that the D30 and D60 viewfinders, which are essentially identical, are dim and small in comparison to the three other cameras. The Pentax 645's viewfinder was the largest and brightest. Second was the Canon EOS 1V — it was almost the equal of the Pentax. The Pentax 67's viewfinder image was large but somewhat dimmer than the previous two. The D30 and D60 were a distant tie for 4th place.

Recommendations

D30 Owners: If you've been using a D30 for a while and are wondering whether or not to upgrade to a D60, the answer will depend on whether or not the D30's main limitation for you is image size. If that's it then the D60 will thrill you since it's essentially the same camera but with a much larger output image. Poor autofocus, limited shooting speed and so forth are all still there. But, so is the vibrant image quality and freedom from dust on the sensor.

35mm Photographers: If you've been waiting to make the move to digital but haven't felt that the cost / quality / image size equation worked for you yet — well, I think the time has come — especially if you already own some Canon EOS lenses. On A3 (11X17") and smaller prints the D60 is a champ and there's little advantage to film anymore.

Medium Format Photographers: No, the revolution isn't over yet. If you shoot 645, 6X6 or 6X7 and have a high quality scanner, such as a Nikon 8000ED, Polaroid LS120, Minolta Dimage Multi or Imacon Flextight, then you are getting image quality and print sizes that digital SLRs can't yet touch. But, it's getting close. Give it maybe one more digital camera generation and the tables may well turn for many users and applications.

BreezeBrowser

At just about the time that I received the D60 Chris Breeze announced that BreezeBrowser was available with D60 support. Since I am not a big fan of Canon's ZoomBrowser software this was great news. If you own a D30 or a D60 then you owe it to yourself to download a copy of BreezeBrowser. It's an extremely well designed application and makes working with digital files a breeze (pun intended). I especially like the new ability to automatically convert RAW files by combining a Linear with a normal file. This attempts to extract as much highlight detail as possible from the image, and on many frames does a very credible job.

Review Links

A great many products, programs and relevant tutorials are mentioned above. Here are links on this site that contain further information on these.

Canon D30 Test & Notes Canon D30 Magazine Review Canon D30 vs. Film Canon EOS 1D Review
Pentax 645nii Review Pentax 67 Review BreezeBrowser Review BreezeBrowser Web Site
Understanding Sharpness
A Tutorial
Understanding Resolution
A Tutorial
Counting Megapixels
A Tutorial & Commentary
Lens Sharpness
The Never-ending Quest

In-depth reviews of the D60 are now appearing on the Net. Here are links to some of the better ones.

Imaging Resource Digital Photography Review Steve's DigiCams Review PhotoFocus Review

This page is the second of two a two-part commentary on and review of the Canon EOS D60.
The other segment is a field-use report and portfolio.
Both should be read together for a complete picture of what I think about this camera.
An article on macro-butterfly photography also forms part of this report.

NewThis subject is featured in Issue #5 of  The Luminous Landscape Video Journal

Filed Under:  
Cameras       Product Reviews   

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Concepts: Camera, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Single-lens reflex camera, Digital camera, Photography, Canon EOS D30, Exposure, Nikon

Entities: Canon, a 75mm lens, Moore's Law, autofocus, sec, Michael Reichmann, EOS D60, SLR

Tags: camera, image, Canon D30, Canon D60, digital, print size, film cameras, reviews, image quality, Canon EOS D60, 35mm film, digital slr, relative size, long exposure, zoom lens, Canon 1V film, new canon d60, medium format, megapixel camera cost, digital files, equivalent film-based camera, film camera bodies, Pentax, cameras fuji provia, digital photography moore, Long exposure noise, report, online d30 review, noise reduction mode, largest print size, CMOS sensor change, NIK Sharpener Pro, colour transparency films, overall image coverage, Imacon Flextight Photo, subjective processing judgments, neutral color balance, superior image quality, System Canon, Canon bodies