Friday, June 17, 2011

Canon 60D vs 550D (and 600D): Real World Usage

Canon 60D Top View - Credit: Canon USA
It's finally time for me to review my two months old Canon 60D and compare it to my old pal, the Canon 550D (T2i). I have been postponing this review for quite a bit until I get used to the 60D, but I have passed the 10,000 images mark just last week, if anything, the 550D lasted with me for 9 months and has only done around 9,000 images. So lets dive into the hands on review, a small warning, this will be quite long. :-)

DISCLAIMER: I have learned from the internet and several forums that it is impossible for everyone to agree on the same opinion (sometimes even the same fact), so if you see anything below that you don't quite agree with then you're totally welcome to tell me about it in a gentle manner. What you'll read below is my own experience with both cameras no matter what others say elsewhere.


Let's get cracking, the 550D was my first DSLR after I sold my Canon G11, I was mightily impressed with the sensor's noise performance and the huge jump in focus speed and shutter lag. The only two cameras with the new 18MP sensors were the 7D and the 550D, the 60D wasn't announced yet, and since this was my first DSLR I decided to get the much cheaper 550D. When the 60D was announced I was really tempted but kept telling myself that my 550D has everything I will ever need and I should better invest my money in good lenses.

Then came Japan's earthquake and the Canon DSLR supply was quite low in Egypt and the prices started to increase, in the meanwhile I was traveling to Malaysia in a business trip and knew that they had very good prices on photography equipment, so on a whim I put my 550D (with the kit lens) for sale and was able to sell it for almost the same price it was sold new before the earthquake, then I traveled to Malaysia with my lenses alone planning to get my 60D body from there which I did as you can see from my first impressions here.

When I bought the 60D, I thought that all the advantages of the 60D over the 550D would be the higher fps, swivel LCD, wireless flash and a couple of things more. But reading technical specs alone or reviews about the noise performance of the 60D compared to it's predecessor (the 50D) is only half the story, there are way too much differences that are very useful in everyday shooting that can only be noticed by someone who used both cameras extensively.

I was able to count more than 30 advantages for the 60D over the 550D, I will list them one by one and tell you how I find it useful in the real world, and at the end of the post I will tell you about 6 features I really miss on my 550D. Unless specified, anything you read about the 550D also applies for the 600D. Through out the review, I will be posting some of my favorite pictures that I took with the 60D in the last two months.

Desk Lamp - I have no idea why I like this photo too much, this desk lamp was shot in my hotel room in Malaysia, I took more than 15 shots with different compositions and WB settings


1- Grip Size

One of my main complaints about the 550D was it's grip, it's too small and causes my fingers to crimp and hurt a lot if I'm carrying the camera for more than 15 minutes, the 60D on the other hand has a much beefier and comfortable grip that never bothered me when using the camera for long periods, it's just great. The 600D should also have a better grip than the 550D although I doubt it would be as large as the 60D.

2- Weight

This might seem counter intuitive, but the added weight of the 60D makes it more stable for shooting at very slow shutter speeds, and it balances the camera nicely with heavier lenses like the EF-S 15-85 which was front heavy on the 550D.

Enough Photography! Journalists Chasing me Everywhere, Smart Village Club, Cairo - 35mm f/2 @ f/2.2

3- Viewfinder

The viewfinder on the 60D is a pentaprism versus a mirror on the 550D, the result is a noticeably larger and brighter viewfinder, this was a major "whoa" moment when I first put the 60D to my eye, I know that it is not as large or bright as full frame cameras or my old Olympus OM30 SLR with the split focusing screen.

The viewfinder on the 60D can display more information like the battery status, the electronic level and one extra stop on each side of the exposure meter. The focus points on the 60D are larger and easier to see than the 550D when they turn red.

There have been several discussions on dpreview recently about whether the larger viewfinder on the 60D would make manual focusing easier, let me sum it up for you, using manual focus on the 60D or the 550D downright sucks. There is too much DoF in the viewfinder, it is not large enough and without a special focusing screen (like a split prism) your keeper rate will be too low. You can of course use manual focus and get good results after a lot of training, but at the end of the day, it is not practical, it is slow and the keeper rate will be way too low, check my experience with the manual focus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8.

Westin Hotel Entrance, Malaysia

4- FPS (frames per second)

The 60D can shoot bursts at 5.3 fps versus 3.7 fps for the 550D, it might not sound like a large difference but it is very useful for me when I'm shooting kids and fast moving subjects, check this 27 frame sequence I took for a car making an accident at an autocross event.

Click to see a larger version

5- Larger Buffer

This is one of the huge benefits for me, despite using a class 10 card with the 550D the maximum burst rate I could shoot in RAW was 6 frames @ 3.7 fps before it slowed down to around 1 fps then slows down even more. With the 60D I am able to shoot 16 continuous RAW files @ 5.3 fps before it starts slowing down, makes a huge difference for me.

A Colorful Duck, KL Bird Park, Malaysia - Shot with the EF-S 55-250

 6- Swivel LCD

The most distinctive feature of the 60D and the 600D, I can't stress enough how useful it is in setup shots using live view, one example is when I use the camera on a mini tripod low to the ground, I just swivel the LCD so I can clearly see everything without putting my head on the ground. Another useful example is when you're taking a self portrait with the camera on a tripod or arranging some stuff that you're going to shoot in front of the camera, you can easily tilt the screen 180 degrees and you'd be looking at yourself in the LCD (the camera automatically adjusts the orientation). The LCD can also be turned to face the camera body (closed) so that it's protected.

7- Top LCD

I didn't think I'd ever need this screen since I was used to Canon's quick menu at the back LCD, but after spending some quality time with the 60D, I got used to it that I miss it when I use another camera without the top LCD. The other advantage of the top LCD is that it negates the need to use the back LCD for adjusting settings which saves a lot of battery power, even the top LCD turns off after some inactivity time and turns on again when you half press the shutter, that way I have my 60D on and ready all the time without consuming too much power. On the 550D I used to turn the camera on and off all the time.

Zen, Sharm El Sheikh - 15-85 @ 15mm f/8

8- Battery Lifetime

The 60D uses the same battery as the 7D and the 5D, this battery holds a lot of juice compared to the 550D battery, I was able to get a maximum of 400 shots out of the 550D with very little use of the LCD, while I easily passed the 1000 shots with the 60D with around 19% remaining, damn impressive.

The 60D battery also has a much more accurate battery meter and you can check the percentage, the 550D had only three bars, the first one stayed for a long time, then when it goes off and you think that you still have like 50% of the batter remaining, you'd quickly discover that the last two bars represent around 20% of the battery capacity.

Elegant Egret, Sharm El Sheikh - 15-85 @ 85mm f/8

9- Wireless Flash Control

I have three Canon flashes, so this feature was a heaven send for me, I can now use my flashes much more quickly in E-TTL or manual mode without setting up any triggers, all I have to do is turn on the flashes, make all the necessary settings from the camera's back LCD and shoot away. I am very glad Canon introduced this feature in the 600D which is considered an entry level DSLR, way to go Canon, you have some catching up to do.

A Winning Shot, Sharm El Sheikh - 15-85 @ 22mm f/5.6, 1/15sec, ISO 1600

10- 1/8000 sec Shutter Speed

The 550D's shutter was only able to go as fast as 1/4000 sec which forced me to stop down my aperture when I wanted to shoot at f/1.8 or so in daylight, I know I could've used a ND filter, but it's an extra hassle and would slow me down.

11- 1/250 sec Sync Speed

The 550D has a sync speed of 1/200 sec, the extra sync speed on the 60D makes a difference when you're trying to completely kill the ambient indoors without having to stop down the aperture a lot.

Are You Looking at me Punk? KL Bird Park Malaysia - 55-250 through a fence
12- More Hardware Buttons / FEL Button

The 60D has more buttons than the 550D which makes it easier to change settings directly without having to look at the screen or use button combinations. One significantly important button for me was the extra FEL thumb button, the 550D has only two thumb buttons (top right of the camera back), one for the AF point selection and the other for the AEL (exposure lock), and since I am using back button focusing (will write about it in a separate article) I was using the AEL button for focusing, so if I wanted to lock the exposure I wasn't able to do it unless I paired it with the shutter button for example which I don't want, however the 60D solved this one easily by adding a third thumb button labeled with an "*", this is the button that I now use for focusing and I have the AEL button free anytime I need it. The ISO button has a nice bump so you can find it without lifting your eye from the viewfinder.

13- 8-Way Control Dial

This dial has 8 directions, right, left, up, down and 4 directions in between, this makes it very easy to directly select any AF point, you simply press the AF selection button then choose any of the 9 AF points by pressing any of the 8 directions or the center point for selecting the center focus point. On the 550D you have to first choose one of the four points (left, right, up and down) then use the wheel to move to an adjacent point. I will make a post soon about the focus-recompose versus choosing a different AF point.

14- Two Dial Wheels

The 550D has only one wheel at the top of the camera, the 60D adds one more at the back (around the 8-way control dial), it is very useful that when you're in manual mode you can change the shutter speed with one wheel and the aperture with the other, or when you're in aperture priority mode for example you can directly change the exposure compensation by using the back wheel. On the 550D you have to press and hold a button at the back and turn the top wheel to change the EC or the aperture.

15- Button Locks

The 60D has locks on both the rear dial wheel and the top mode dial to prevent accidentally changing any settings, I think I can live without them although I discovered that others find them very useful, maybe I am just more careful.

iPhone FTW, Al Ain Al Sokhna - 35mm f/2 @ f/2.5

16- Custom Mode

One of the things I missed from my Canon G11 was the custom modes, these are modes where you save all the camera settings so you can directly come back to it, let me give you one example, I already told you that I am using back button focusing, so whenever I hand my camera to someone to take a picture of me, they aren't able to focus using the shutter button, so I turned my custom mode to use aperture priority, auto ISO, focusing via the shutter button and all auto focus points active, this way when I handover my camera to someone who's not used to DSLRs I just turn the mode dial to custom mode and increase the aperture to f/8, this way I can guarantee that the pictures they will take will be sharp and in focus.

The Canon 60D has only one custom mode, the 7D has three and the 550D has none.

Fire Show @ Sharm El Sheikh - 15-85 @ 55mm, 1/60sec, ISO 3200

17- WB in Kelvin

On the 60D you can set the white balance using the desired color temperature directly in addition to the standard presets and the custom white balance, this is not available on the 550D.

18- 1/3 Stop ISO Increments

This one used to drive me crazy on the 550D, especially when shooting movies, the 550D can manually select full stop ISO values only (100, 200, 400, etc...), with the 60D and the 7D you can set it in 1/3 stop increments (100, 125, 160, 200, etc...), this is a very debatable topic that I intend to cover in a later post but some say that using multiples of ISO 160 will result in less noise, but not now, maybe later.

19- Slightly Better Noise Performance

I have no scientific proof on this one, but I feel that I am getting slightly cleaner ISO 1600 up to ISO 6400 RAW files, but this might be a visual trick. I can comfortable shoot the 60D at ISO 3200 without worrying about noise too much.

Guava Juice, Thai Restaurant @ Malaysia - f/2, 1/15 sec, ISO 3200, hand held

20- mRAW, sRAW

With the Canon 550D you can shoot either JPEG only (several sizes and qualities) or RAW only or RAW + JPEG with the JPEG set to the highest quality. The 60D gives you the option of shooting any combination of RAW + JPEG you want. There are three RAW settings, the full 18 megapixel RAW, and two smaller RAW sizes (medium and small), have you ever wondered whether you can get reduced megapixel RAW files like you can do with the JPEGs? With the 60D you can when you don't need the 26 megabyte full 18 megapixel RAW files.

21- In-Camera RAW Processing

With the 60D you can process RAW files directly from the camera and save them as JPEGs on the memory card, I never used this feature before but it might be useful for someone, an easier solution is to shoot RAW + JPEG directly and make sure you get your WB correct.

Thai Restaurant, Malaysia - 35mm f/2 @ f/2.2, 1/30sec, ISO 1600

22- Shutter Lifetime

Up to the 500D, Canon claimed that they have a 100,000 click shutter lifetime, with the 550D and the 600D they didn't give any numbers, but with the 60D they claim the 100,000 actuations, not sue what to conclude from this, especially that a shutter can fail prematurely or last for a very long time, but psychologically I feel better with the 60D.

23- Shutter Lag / VF Blackout

The 60D shutter lag is 60ms versus 90ms on the 550D, this is 50% faster and you can feel it when using both cameras, the viewfinder blackout (when the mirror is up during an exposure) on the 60D is a 100 ms versus 130 ms on the 550D.

24- Shutter Sound

This is a totally subjective issue, but one of the attractions of a DSLR is it's shutter sound and feel, the 550D shutter sounds like a small whiny motor (reminds me of my 50mm f/1.8 focusing sound) whizzing to move the mirror, while the 60D has a deeper satisfying thunk. I have compiled a very short clip to show you the difference.

25- Improved AWB

I was usually cross with my 550D's auto white balance, and I envied all the reviews that claimed the 60D has one of the best AWB systems amongst Canon' s  DSLRs, and it's true, I can leave the AWB on and depend on the camera to get the WB correctly.

26- Electronic Level

The 60D has an electronic level which helps you get a straight horizon, it can be displayed in either the back LCD or inside the viewfinder (replaces the exposure meter at the bottom).

Twin Towers seen from KL TV Tower, Malaysia - 15-85 through glass

27- 9 Cross AF Points

While Canon might seem behind Nikon in terms of the sheer number of AF points (they sort of caught up with the 7D), I find that 90% of the time I am using the center point only, the extra points are useful when tracking moving subjects. On the 550D the center focus point was the only cross AF point, this means that the 60D can track moving subjects more accurately than the 550D, and I can use any of the other AF points in very shallow depth of field situations and be sure that I will get my focus spot on.

28- Show AF Points in Review

The 60D can show you the AF points used to take a picture when you are reviewing your pictures on the back LCD, with the 550D I was only able to view it on the computer using Canon's RAW processor.

I can see you from up here, KL Bird Park, Malaysia - 55-250 @ 250mm
29- Audio Gain Control

On the 550D, when shooting videos using the the camera's built-in mic or an external mic, the camera's automatic gain control was forced upon you, so if there's complete silence during shooting the camera will increase the audio gain and you will hear a hissing sound, this could be solved on the 550D using a hardware hack or the magic lantern firmware, on the 60D and the 600D you can enable manual gain control from the camera directly with sound level bars to judge your recording level.

30- Weather Sealing

There were lots of complaints about the 60D not using a magnesium alloy body, but until now I have not seen any proof that the 60D is inferior (body strength wise) to it's predecessor or the 7D. Anyway, the 60D is weather sealed, but you'll need weather sealed lenses to be able to benefit from it. I am now much less worried when water splashes on my camera body.

31- Playback & Sorting Options

The 60D has more playback and sorting options than the 550D, you can find your pictures by date for example, and you can also give ratings to the pictures directly from the camera.

32- Creative Filters

The 60D has some creative built-in filters like B/W and miniature effect (simulates tilt-shift effect), I have never used them and I doubt I will, but someone might find them useful, check the entrancing video below, will surely make you fall in love with the 60D. :-)

  • Tactile Buttons: the 550D buttons had more feel to it and a satisfying click, but I got used to the 60D.
  • Different LCD Themes: the quick menu at the back LCD had several themes on the 550D, and I really liked the amber one, the 60D has none and frankly it looks much uglier than the 550D but I am not using the quick screen anymore now that I have the top LCD.
  • Weight/Size: despite mentioning the 60D's weight as an advantage, sometimes I miss the less weight of the 550D with the kit lens.
  • Bulb Counter: on the 550D when using the bulb mode, you got a nice counter on the back LCD, on the 60D you get it on the top LCD which is not illuminated, this makes a pain to see in the dark, one solution is to use an external intervalometer.
  • Multiple Shots: this is the feature I miss the most, on the 550D I can tell it to run a self timer for 5 seconds for example then take 10 (or any number) continuous shots, on the 60D self timer only takes one shot. Can also be solved using the inervalometer.


This was one of my longest posts ever, and it took me a long time to prepare and write, what I hope to achieve with this post is to show people still hesitant between the 550D/600D and the 60D that there are much more benefits to the 60D than what is widely known, you may be able to collect these differences from several places, but having them all collected like this shows you where will your extra money go with the 60D.

I am not dissing the xxxD series, I had the 550D and I loved it, but I never imagined the 60D would be this much more satisfying until I bought one and used it. The 600D (body only) is selling for $200 less than the 60D (body only), and for my usage I can totally justify spending the extra $200 to get the 60D.

Any comments or feedback are totally welcome.


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Canon Lenses Chat - Part 3: Prime Lenses
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