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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S60  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 9, 2004
Last Updated: December 31, 2011

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The Canon PowerShot S60 ($499) is the replacement to last year's popular PowerShot S50 model. Just by looking at the model number, you'd think that Canon just stuffed a 6 Megapixel sensor into the same old camera, as some other manufacturers have done. That's not the case here -- the S60 is a 5 Megapixel camera, just like its predecessor. Here's a list comparing the two cameras:

Feature PowerShot S50 PowerShot S60
Lens zoom power 3X 3.6X
Lens focal range 35 - 105 mm 28 - 100 mm
Supports conversion lenses No Yes
Closest macro distance 10 cm 4 cm
Shutter speed range 15 - 1/1500 sec 15 - 1/2000 sec
RAW + JPEG mode No Yes
Max. movie resolution 320 x 240 640 x 480
Print/share button No Yes
Battery used / energy NB-2L / 4.2 Wh NB-2LH / 5.3 Wh
Dimensions 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 in. 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 in.
Mass 260 g 230 g

Those are the major differences between the two. There are a few more that I'll touch on later in the review. And with that, let's begin our look at this new camera!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S60 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot S60 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • NP-2LH lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
  • Camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 32MB CompactFlash card with the camera, which is a good starting point, but you'll want a larger card right away. I'd suggest 256MB as a good place to start. The included card is marked as "high speed", and from my own experiences I think it would be considered 8X. The S60 can use Type I or Type II cards, including the Microdrive, and it supports the FAT32 format for cards larger than 2GB.

The S60 uses a higher capacity version of the NB-2L battery that was used by the S50 -- this one's known as the NB-2LH. Where the old battery had 4.2 Wh of energy, the new battery has 5.3 Wh -- a 25% improvement. Canon estimates that you can take about 395 photos with 50% LCD use (which is up from 335 on the S50), or spend 3.5 hours in playback mode (compare with 3 hours on the S50).

My usual complaints about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive ($45 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.

When it's time to recharge, just drop the battery into the included charger. This is my favorite style of charger -- it plugs right into the wall (yes, I know some don't like this). It takes about ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.

A sliding metal cover protects the S60's lens and doubles as the power switch. It is pretty easy to accidentally bump the door and shut the camera off, though. As you can see, the camera is fairly wide.

The S60 has quite a few accessories available, including conversion lenses (unlike the S50). Here's what options are available:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Telephoto lens TC-DC10 $129 Boosts focal distance by 2X, up to 200 mm; requires LA-DC10 conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC10 $35 Required for conversion lenses
Wireless remote control WL-DC100 $30 Take pictures and replay them wirelessly
Underwater case WP-DC40 $240 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
AC adapter ACK700 $50 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-NB2 $90 Charge your batteries using your car
Soft leather case PSC30 $19 Protect your easily-scratchable metal camera

I should add that the conversion lens adapter will let you use 37 mm filters.

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

ZoomBrowser (Windows XP)

Canon includes version 18 (!) of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the S60. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading images from your camera, basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.

RAW Image Task (Mac OS X)

If you shoot in RAW mode, then you'll probably be using the RAW conversion tool built into Zoom/ImageBrowser to manipulate those images. For those who don't know about RAW, it's a lossless format that lets you manipulate various properties of your image -- a kind of virtual reshoot. Botch the white balance? Just change it in the RAW file, and it's just like you took the photo again. You can also adjust the saturation, sharpness, contrast, tone curve, and more.

RemoteCapture (Mac OS X)

Also built-in to the "Browser" software is RemoteCapture, which you can use to control your camera over the USB connection. Images are saved directly to your computer.

ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac OS X

ArcSoft camera suite 2.1 is also included with the S60. Although it has a quirky interface, there's a lot of tools in this easy-to-use software.

Recent Canon camera manuals have been more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above average. The S60's manual is complete, but expect lots of "notes" and fine print.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot S60 has gotten a bit of a facelift since its predecessor. Let's take a look:

On the front of the S60, things have been moved around since the S50, and there's a brand new lens too. The differences that matter more in terms of usability can be found on the back. For example, the annoying four-way controller that's been on the S-series for years is gone. More on all this below.

The S60 is a midsize camera, fitting in somewhere between the A75 and G3 in terms of size. It's not Digital ELPH size -- not even close. Still, you'll find that it fits in most of your pockets. The camera is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very solid. The important controls are easy to reach, and the camera is easier to operate than its predecessor.

The dimensions of the S60 are 114.0 x 56.5 x 38.8 mm / 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs 230 grams / 8.1 ounces empty. The numbers for the S50 were 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches and 260 grams, respectively.

You'll find out how Canon got the S60 to "thin down" in our tour, which starts now!

I took this shot from a higher angle than normal since that mirrored panel on the right just reflects my camera and tripod.

The PowerShot S60 has a totally new lens design, which is what allowed Canon to make the S60 thinner while adding more zoom power. This new lens uses something called "UA", which stands for ultra-high refractive index, aspherical (say that three times fast). Regardless of the technical explanation behind the name, the bottom line is that UA allowed for a compact lens covering 28 - 100 mm, instead of 35 - 105 mm like on the S50. The focal range of the lens in digital terms is 5.8 - 20.7 mm, and the maximum aperture is F2.8 - F5.3, with the latter being a bit slow. As I mentioned in the previous section, the camera supports 37 mm filters as well as a 2X teleconverter through the use of the conversion lens adapter.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.55 - 4.2 at wide-angle and 0.55 - 2.0 m at telephoto, a little worse than on the S50. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.

Directly below the flash is the receiver for the optional remote control, plus the microphone. To the left of the flash (next to the optical viewfinder) is the AF-assist lamp, a useful feature which has been found on nearly all Canon cameras for years.

The back of the camera has changed for the better. One thing that hasn't changed is the LCD -- it's still 1.8" in size, with 118,000 pixels. Images on the screen are sharp and motion is fluid. You can adjust the brightness of the screen in the setup menu, though it's just normal or bright. Low light visibility is good but not great.

Above the LCD is the S60's optical viewfinder, which is good-sized for a fairly compact camera. It shows 80% of the frame. The viewfinder lacks a diopter correction feature, which is used to bring things into focus.

To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons:

  • Flash setting (Auto, fill flash, flash off) - redeye reduction is turned on in the record menu
  • Macro mode (on/off) - more on this later

Continuing the tour, there are three buttons to see directly to the left of the LCD:

  • Func - opens the function menu; see below
  • Manual focus (see below) / Delete photo
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot) / Voice recording (add up to 60 sec voice clips to an image in playback mode)

Function menu

Pressing the func button brings up -- get this -- the function menu! Here's what it includes:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom) - the underwater option is new to the S60
  • Drive (Single shot, continuous, high speed continuous, 10 sec self-timer, 2 sec self-timer, remote) - see below
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white, custom effect)
  • Bracketing (Off, AE, focus) - see below
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash strength (1/3, 2/3, full) - only shown in manual mode
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)

The S60 has a custom white balance option, which lets you shoot a white or gray card to get perfect color in any lighting.

There are two continuous shooting options on the S60. Standard mode recorded 7 shots at around 1.3 frames/second (based on my experience at the Large/Superfine setting). High speed mode took 8 shots at 1.9 frames/second, though the images will not be shown on the LCD while you're taking them (which kind of defeats the purpose).

Custom effect

The photo effect feature lets you quickly change the color of your image, or turn down the sharpness. For more control choose the custom effect option, which lets you adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation in three steps.

There are two types of bracketing on the S60. The first is the usual AE bracketing, which takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (in 1/3EV increments). Focus bracketing is the same idea, except it's used in manual focus mode (which I'll discuss in just a second). The camera takes a shot at the chosen focus setting, plus one closer, and one further away.

Manual focus (enlargement feature not shown)

Manual focus mode lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus you desire (you must hold the MF button down first). A guide is shown on the LCD/EVF, giving you the approximate focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure that your subject is in-focus. After using manual focus, you can press the "set" button on the four-way controller to have the autofocus see if it can improve on what you came up with.

Over on the other side of the LCD there are four buttons plus the four-way controller. I'll cover the four buttons first -- they are:

  • Playback - you can hit this to turn on the camera for replaying photos without opening the lens cover
  • Print/Share - see below
  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on and off and also what is shown on it

So what's the deal with the Print/Share button? When connected to a Direct Print or PictBridge-enabled printer, pressing this button will let you print your photos. When connected to a Windows PC, the following screen will be shown on the LCD:

Direct Transfer menu

As you can see, you can transfer all images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked, or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option sets the chosen image as the background picture on your PC.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, choosing manual settings, and operating the FlexiZone focus system. This lets you position a cursor almost anywhere in the frame for the camera to focus on (there's margin around the edges which you cannot select). This comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. The controller is a vast improvement over the horrible one that was on the S30/40/45/50.

The final item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller, which is located at the top-right of the photo. It moves the lens from the wide-angle to telephoto position in about 1.9 seconds. There are nine steps in the zoom range.

On the top of the S60 you'll find the speaker, mode dial, and shutter release button. The mode dial has the following options:

Option Function
Movie Mode More on this later
Stitch Assist For help making panoramic shots
Slow Shutter Self explanatory
Fast Shutter
Night Scene For night shots
Landscape For landscapes
Portrait For portraits, believe it or not
Fully Auto Point-and-shoot mode, many options are locked
Program mode Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture. All menu options are unlocked.
Shutter Priority (Tv) You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec - 1/2000 sec. The 1/2000 shutter speed is only available above F4.0 at wide-angle and F8 at telephoto.
Aperture Priority (Av) You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8 and will vary depending on the focal range used.
Full Manual You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.
Custom Settings Your favorite settings, easy to access.

The custom option is a handy one. Pick your favorite settings and access them anytime just by selecting the "C" option on the mode dial.

The only thing to see on this side of the S60 is the I/O ports, which are under that rubber cover. The ports include USB (1.1) and A/V out.

Aside from the hole for the DC coupler cable (for the AC adapter), there's nothing to see on this side of the camera.

We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and metal tripod mount. The plastic door covering the two slots feels as if it could break off if forced.

The tripod mount, located off to one side of the camera, is where you'll attach the conversion lens adapter.

Using the Canon PowerShot S60

Record Mode

The S60 takes 2.8 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.

No histogram to be found

The S60 was able to lock focus in about half a second in most situations. If the camera had to hunt a bit, expect a slightly longer delay. Thanks to its AF-assist lamp, the camera focused well in low light conditions.

Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good on the S60. You will wait for just 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot (even in RAW mode, until the buffer fills up), assuming that you've turned off the post-shot review feature.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button. If you really meant to take the photo in RAW mode, just press the function button, and the camera asks if you'd prefer to save the image in that format instead.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the S60:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(2592 x 1944)
RAW 4.6 MB 5
Superfine 2.4 MB 11
Fine 1.4 MB 21
Normal 695 KB 43
Medium 1
(2048 x 1536)
Superfine 1.6 MB 18
Fine 893 KB 33
Normal 445 KB 67
Medium 2
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 1002 KB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 108
(640 x 480)
Superfine 249 KB 120
Fine 150 KB 196
Normal 84 KB 337

I explained the RAW format at the beginning of the review. The camera embeds a JPEG thumbnail in the RAW files which speeds up the viewing of the image later. More on this in a second.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The S60's menus have received a minor facelift since the S50. They're still basically the same, just with a more modern look. The items found in the record menu are:

  • Flash sync (1st, 2nd-curtain) - when the flash fires when taking slow sync shots
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Wireless delay (0, 2, 10 sec) - delay before picture is taken when optional remote control is used
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what part of the frame is used to judge exposure while in spot metering mode
  • Safety shift (on/off) - described below
  • MF-Point zoom (on/off) - turns on focus point enlargement feature in manual focus mode
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this will reduce photo quality
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec)
  • RAW + JPEG recording (Small, Medium 1, Medium 2, Large) - see below
  • Intervalometer - see below
  • Save settings (to the C position on the mode dial)

The safety shift feature allows the camera to adjust the shutter speed or aperture in Tv or Av mode if necessary, to get a good exposure.

The RAW + JPEG option isn't what it sounds like. The camera doesn't save a separate JPEG image along with the RAW file like Canon's SLR cameras. Rather, it embeds a JPEG thumbnail that allows for the zoom and scroll (AKA playback zoom) feature and image playback on the camera or the PC. Why would you want to use a larger thumbnail? The answer is, to check the detail in the image. If you use the zoom and scroll feature a lot, a higher resolution thumbnail will let you see more detail when zoomed in.

The Intervalometer tool lets you use the S60 for time lapse photography. You select the interval between shots (1-60 minutes) and the total number of shots to be taken (2-100). Using the optional AC adapter is strongly recommended.

There is also a setup menu on the S60, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what you'll find in the setup menu:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn off those annoying beep sounds!
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • LCD brightness (Normal, bright)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The S60 produced a very "smooth" copy of our 3 inch tall macro subject. Colors are accurate and there's enough detail to pick out dust on Mickey's ears. The minimum distance to the subject is 4 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. The minimum recordable area (at wide-angle) is 64 x 47 mm.

The PowerShot S60 did a fine job with our usual nightshot, though I could've exposed it for a bit longer! Noise and purple fringing levels are both low, and the buildings look pretty sharp. With full manual controls you can easily take shots like this -- just don't forget your tripod!

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

As you can see, noise levels start to rise a bit at ISO 100, but they don't become really nasty until ISO 400.

As you'd expect on a lens this wide, there's a fair amount of barrel distortion. Something else I noticed is blurriness in the corners, which you can see in several photos in the gallery as well.

One area in which the S60 did not fare well is in the redeye test. As you can see, there's quite lot of it. With the flash and lens so close together, this result isn't entirely surprising. What can you do about it? Take the picture twice (all that flashing shrinks the pupils), add more light to the room, or just remove it later in software.

Aside from the couple of flaws that I already mentioned, the S60's photo quality is very good. Those flaws, again, are redeye and some softness in the corners. Images have the same smooth quality to them that the S50 did, with low noise levels. Colors and exposure were both accurate. I did see some purple fringing pop up, but for the most part it was not an issue.

As always, don't just take my word for it. Have a look at the gallery and see if the photo quality meets your expectations. You are encouraged to print the photos if that's what you intend to do with the S60!

Movie Mode

The S60's movie mode is nothing to write home about. While you'll get VGA resolution (640 x 480), you'll have a 30 second limit regardless of the size of your memory card, and a glacial frame rate of just 10 fps to boot. Lower resolutions are available too: you can record up to 3 minutes at 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, with a frame rate of 15 frames/second. Sound is recorded at all of those resolutions.

You cannot use the zoom during filming.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the 640 x 480 setting:

Click to play movie (11.3MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The S60 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Everything is very snappy.

The camera has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, image rotation, and zoom and scroll. Playback mode is also the place to print photos when connected to a compatible Canon or PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast!

By pressing the metering/sound recording button on the back of the camera, you can add voice clips of up to 60 seconds per photo.

If you've recorded a movie, an editing function lets you trim unwanted frames from the beginning or end of it.

By default, the S60 doesn't give you much info about your photos. But press the display button and you'll get plenty of details, as well as a histogram.

The camera moves between photos at a good clip, with about a 0.8 second delay between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot S60 is a nice camera for those looking for a high resolution camera with a wide-angle lens, full manual controls, and a fairly compact body. Most compact digicams have lenses that start at 35 - 39 mm, but the S60's lens starts at 28 mm -- great for indoor shots. If the 100 mm telephoto end isn't enough for you, then Canon offers a teleconverter which attaches to the tripod mount. The S60's body is fairly small, but it's huge compared to things like the Digital ELPH. It's not a pocket camera, but it's small enough to carry around for the day. Build quality is good for the most part, though the plastic battery/memory card cover leaves something to be desired.

Photo quality on the S60 is very good, though there are a few issues worth mentioning, namely above average redeye and softness in the corners. There's a bit of purple fringing too. Aside from that, the S60 will take pictures suitable for large prints or web photos. In terms of features, this camera has a whole bunch. It has full manual controls, including focus and white balance. There are plenty of scene modes for more automatic operation, as well. Those who like to keep their favorite settings accessible will be happy to see that the S60 can save them to the "C" position on the mode dial. Folks who want don't mind post-processing all their photos will like the S60's RAW mode -- and there's no performance hit when you use it.

Performance is quite good in all respects. The camera starts up and shoots quickly, and viewing photos in playback mode is snappy. In low light situations, the AF-assist lamp helped the camera focus where other cameras would throw up their arms and give up.

Aside from the image quality issues and plastic battery/memory card door, I have just two other complaints about the S60. While it's nice to see a VGA movie mode on the camera, the limited recording time and choppy frame rate are disappointing. The other disappointment is the lack of a live histogram in record mode.

Overall, though, I'm more than happy to recommend this camera to anyone who wants a wide-angle camera. The S60 is more than that, though -- it's a great camera for everyday shooting.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Lens starts at 28 mm
  • Full manual controls
  • Robust performance
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Supports telephoto conversion lens and underwater case
  • Good battery life for a camera of this size
  • Can save favorite settings to spot on mode dial
  • RAW image format supported (unlike most of the competition)

What I didn't care for:

  • Some softness in corners of photos
  • Redeye
  • Cheap plastic door over memory card / battery compartment
  • Not much telephoto power (but a conversion lens is available)
  • No live histogram in record mode
  • Movie mode limited to 30 secs, 10 frames/sec at highest resolution

Other wide-angle cameras worth considering include the Nikon Coolpix 5400, Olympus C-5060WZ, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 (larger and much more expensive). Most of the 8 Megapixel cameras also have lenses that start at 28 mm, but they're not exactly compact.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S60 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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