Canon Powershot S60 Review

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Canon Powershot S60

Steve's Conclusion

The PowerShot S60 is Canon's 2004 upgrade to its popular S50, incorporating the same 5-megapixel imager and DIGIC processor but adding more versatility in the form of the 28-100mm (35mm-equivalent) 3.6x optical zoom lens. The S60 is an enthusiasts' camera, offering complete exposure control and manual focus, but its automatic and scene modes allow beginners to obtain excellent results without any fuss.

The S60 is an attractive package. Similar in size to the S50, it's small enough to fit in your pocket, yet large enough to house its 1.8-inch LCD and ample controls. The S60 retains the sliding lens cover of the S50, offering sturdy protection for the lens. Both the zoom control and omni selector have been improved, offering better ergonomics than the S50. Canon claims that the S60's new NB-2LH lithium ion battery offers improved capacity; I was able to record 215 images before the low battery warning flashed, including heavy usage of the LCD for testing the camera's menu system, and shooting/reviewing images.

One of the S60's best features is the versatile range of its optical zoom lens. Consumer digicams are frequently called upon to capture interior shots of family gatherings and parties, but most are equipped with zoom lenses having a maximum wide angle focal length in the 35-38mm range. What a difference the S60's 28mm focal length makes! The extra field of view will allow you to capture shots of larger groups without squeezing yourself against a wall or moving so far away that you exceed the camera's flash range. And the S60 doesn't short-change you at the telephoto end of the zoom range, providing a focal length of 100mm due to its 3.6x range. The zoom lens moves smoothly, but not continuously, through its range; it has nine distinct steps, more than adequate for shot composition. Like most camera's in its class, the S60 exhibits noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and slight chromatic aberration (purple fringing) throughout the zoom range. The S60's lens is not only versatile, but razor sharp as well; Canon optics have always been at the sharp end of the consumer digicam spectrum, and the S60's is no exception.

The S60's shooting performance is good. From power-on till the first shot is captured takes about 3.5 seconds, as does waking it from its power-saving sleep mode. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured only 1/10 second when pre-focused and 6/10 second including autofocus delay. In single shot mode, the S60 was able to capture images at a rate of one every 2 seconds without flash, and between 2.5 and 5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. The S60 stores images and movies on CompactFlash Type I or II flash memory cards or Microdrives, it's both FAT and FAT32 compatible so it can use any capacity CF device available.

The S60 offers two continuous shooting modes. Standard Continuous Shooting captured 7 shots in 3.5 seconds, with subsequent shots at 2.5 second intervals; in this mode, the LCD viewfinder displays the last image captured, not the live image. High Speed Continuous Shooting captured 8 shots in 3.6 seconds, with subsequent shots at 2.2 second intervals; in this mode, the LCD viewfinder was blank for the entire sequence. You'll prefer to use the S60's optical viewfinder when shooting in either continuous mode. Things bog down considerably when shooting in RAW mode; shot to shot performance slowed to 2 images in 2.4 seconds with subsequent shots coming at 5 second intervals, while continuous mode captured 3 images in 2.6 seconds with subsequent shots taken at 8 second intervals. The S60's responsiveness is more than adequate for capturing most family events, spontaneous action and children's sports activities.

The S60's outdoor results were very good. The sharp lens and accurate autofocus system produced razor sharp images, while the exposure system delivered consistently well saturated and well exposed shots. The versatility of the zoom range offered enough field of view at wide angle for pleasing panorama's and enough magnification at telephoto to bring your subject closer. The S60's LCD has a brightness adjustment and is quite usable in bright sunlight as a viewfinder, for image review, and to access the menu system.

The S60 performed very well indoors. As I mentioned earlier, the 28mm focal length at wide angle is very useful, offering plenty of field of view for cramped interiors. The flash is quite powerful by consumer digicam standards; its useful range exceeded the 14 feet claimed by Canon. The S60 uses a single lamp for both AF-assist and red eye reduction; it did reduce red eye at close range, but its effectiveness diminished as the subject distance increased. The AF-assist function worked well at full wide angle, but was much less effective toward the telephoto end of the zoom range. With its close-focusing macro mode and effective squelching of its flash at close range, the S60 would be a good camera for photographing your online auction listings.

The S60's movie mode, while an improvement over the S50, lags the competition. It does offer a 640x480 resolution, but that is limited to 10 frames per second and a maximum length of 30 seconds; others offer 15 and 30 fps with clip lengths limited only by the amount of remaining memory. The S60 does provide an in-camera editing function, allowing you to trim movie length to a desired length and content. Movies are recorded with sound; you'll be able to use the zoom lens to compose, but not during recording.

The S60's versatility is not limited to its zoom range; it offers a set of exposure modes that will please both the beginner and the enthusiast. Beginners will enjoy the S60's fully automatic exposure mode, and will appreciate the assistance offered by the camera's 5 scene modes (landscape, portrait, night scene, fast shutter and slow shutter).

Enthusiasts will enjoy using the Creative Zone of the shooting mode dial, where they will find Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and full Manual exposure modes. The S60 offers help, if not automation, in these modes by warning you of potential under/over exposure and camera shake caused by slow shutter speeds. As good as the S60's AF system is, there are subjects and shooting conditions that render it ineffective. For those conditions the S60 offers Manual Focus, which assists you by magnifying the AF frame, and AF lock, which allows you to lock focus on an object at a distance similar to that of your subject. The S60 also provides an AE lock, allowing you to meter your off center subject for proper exposure.

Advanced users will find complete control of exposures, including the ability to set ISO, White Balance (including a unique Underwater setting), Exposure compensation, saturation, contrast, and sharpness. The S60 also offers both exposure and focus bracketing, taking a series 3 exposures with differing exposure or focus settings, improving the likelihood that you'll come home with a good shot of a subject taken in difficult conditions. With such a broad range of adjustments, it can be a daunting task to reproduce the camera settings you like; the S60 allows you to Save Custom Settings and later recall them, minimizing the time necessary to set up the camera, and eliminating any mistakes you might make changing one setting at a time.

With an MSRP of $499, the Canon S60 presents an excellent value for families wanting high quality images from a camera that can be enjoyed equally by beginners and advanced photographers. The average size of a 5-megapixel Superfine image is about 2-megabytes, so make sure that you get a CF memory card (or Microdrive) large enough for a days worth of shots. And because the S60 can not be powered by common batteries, make sure that you get a spare NB-2LH battery, keeping it fully charged so that you don't miss that once in a lifetime photo op. Canon has produced yet another winner in the S60; please have a look at our sample photos to see for yourself what it is capable of.

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Sample Pictures

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