The Big 60D Upgrade: Time to Go Mirrorless?

September 2020 will mark nine years since I bought my trusty Canon 60D, the first and only DSLR I have owned and the camera that has traveled everywhere with me and taken around 115,000 photos. This milestone has made me start wondering if it’s time for a replacement. This camera is not holding me back in any hugely significant ways, although there are definitely features that I would like upgraded. But besides that, this body is probably getting quite weary from those 115k shots. The 60D is rated for 100,000 but it’s anyone’s guess as to what the actual number will end up being. My shutter could fail tomorrow or it go for another 100,000 shots. Either way, I’d prefer that I’m not around to see it give up the ghost when it’s my only camera body, which would be quite an inconvenience and make a new camera purchase a much more stressful and rushed experience. 

In these nine years of shooting with the same body, I have developed a pretty good idea of what I need and don’t need in a camera. 

The newly-released Canon R6 seems to hit all the check marks on my list, which I am going to go through in detail here. I would buy the R6 right now if it weren’t $2,500 for the body only. That’s kind of hard for me to justify now, but it will start dropping in price before too long. I also have to remember that when it comes to camera prices, I have gone almost a decade without upgrading. If I expect that to be the case again, a camera purchase is a long-term investment. I want something that will last me to 2030.

Made by Canon

I know, I know. You have no reason to be loyal to a brand name just because you think you should. But I have spent years accumulating Canon gear – lenses, flash, adapters, batteries, all that good stuff. Switching camera systems is a huge investment and one that is often not necessary unless you have a very clear list of needs that are specific to one brand. Despite what clickbaity YouTubers might want you to believe, people don’t go around switching camera brands every single time something new comes out. I will be sticking with Canon.  

Articulating LCD screen

I could never go back to a fixed screen after having it on the 60D. This is a feature that seems to be more common nowadays, now appearing even on the high end R5. Especially for shooting insects, being able to flip the screen around for all sorts of strange shooting angles has become an absolute necessity for me. Touchscreen capability isn’t a must-have for me, but most cameras have that now anyway, so I probably don’t have much of a choice when it comes to that.

Fast continuous shooting speed

The 60D topped out at 5.3fps. In most situations, I was fine with that. I successfully shot college sports for three years with that speed. That being said, just a little more speed would be nice to have. I think for handheld focus stacking sequences especially, a faster burst rate would limit the gaps of out-of-focus slivers in a stacked shot. Of course, when I’m doing that, I’m using a flash so there is still a limit to the shooting since the flash does not have infinite power or instant recycle times. The R6 goes up to 12fps mechanical and 20fps electronic, which seems like plenty for me. I’ve also seen that when the battery drops to 60% or lower, maximum shooting speed also drops, going down to around 9fps. As annoying as that sounds, 9fps is still fast enough for me so I’m not wildly concerned about that.

Low light performance 

Another thing I am looking for is improved low light performance and clean images at high ISOs. When shooting macro with flash, I often find myself bringing up shadows later on, especially when very dark situations give me no choice but to have a black or nearly black background and the flash is producing contrasty images. I want to be able to lift up shadows a little or shoot at a higher ISO to begin with and not worry about resulting noise speckling the photo. The APS-C 60D sensor isn’t great for high ISOs. Typically I try to avoid going above 400 in normal situations. I don’t want to feel restricted by noisy ISOs and everything I have read says that the R6’s full frame sensor and relatively low megapixels results in top notch image quality, even when cranking up the ISO. 

Dual card slots

I don’t have an exceptionally strong emotional opinion about this since I have not had a card fail on me (not yet, anyway…), but all else being equal, I would go for two card slots over one. I don’t have to shoot copies every time I use the camera but I like the idea of peace of mind that comes from having a back up of all photos before they are moved from the camera to a computer. This falls under the heading of “future-proof.” I’m not going to be arrogant and tempt the gods by saying that my cards will never fail. Compared to the $3,900 R5, this card slot setup is preferable for me. The R5 has one SD and, to accommodate 8K, one CFexpress. So even if you never shoot video but still want to take advantage of both card slots, you have to buy spendy CFexpress cards (the cheapest 64GB ones are $100 now). The R6, on the other hand, has two SD slots. That’s what I’m looking for.

Good video

Video isn’t my main thing and I don’t want a stills camera that’s cluttered with video features, but every once in a while I need it. Right now I just want good 1080. I currently don’t need 4K (or have a powerful enough computer to even edit 4K files) but perhaps in the future I will, in which case this is a good “future-proof” item. No one’s making cameras without 4K now anyway, so I’ll have it one way or another. There is much that could be said about camera manufacturers attempting to make bodies that can do professional photo and video and the pros and cons of packing in endless features, but that’s something for a different post. 

IBIS

This is something that’s so useful for photo and video and absent on Canon’s first full frame mirrorless bodies, the R and RP. I am especially interested in this since I have the old 400mm f/5.6L lens, which is not stabilized. That lens is nearly impossible to use handheld in forest conditions or sunrise/sunset since getting shutter speeds of 1/500 or faster usually requires an ISO of 3200 or higher, and even then, images are dark (and brightening them in post only makes the noise worse) And there’s no way I’m shooting at 3200+ on the 60D. It does not turn out well. IBIS would give way more flexibility not only with that long lens, but with my 60mm macro and vintage Vivitar 28mm f/2.0, all unstabilized. 

And then some things that don’t really matter to me…

Megapixels

This is probably a controversial topic for some, but for the vast majority of photographers, megapixels hardly matter after a certain point. So many people get completely hung up on megapixels – camera makers know this and tend to promote that as the big feature on every new camera that comes out. The trio of 24” x 36” prints below are from the 18MP APS-C sensor 60D and they look very nice at that size, even when viewed close. 

At this point in my life, I’m not going to be printing at that size or larger on a regular basis so it’s not much of a concern for me. It’s easy to be tempted by bigger megapixel numbers and otimistically think to yourself, “well, what if I need to fill gallery walls with eight foot wide prints someday?” Maybe that will happen, but let’s be honest with ourselves – most camera owners have no need for 30, 40, or 50MP files, especially considering their photos are only viewed on a computer or phone screen. The ones who truly need those resolutions and higher know who they are. Sure, it’s nice to have extra pixel real estate, especially for wildlife and bird photographers who are often wanting to get closer and end up cropping to do so, but the importance of massive resolution is far overstated. And I don’t even want to think about what would happen to my laptop if I tried opening up a day’s worth of 50MP photos in Lightroom. If my source of income someday is printing wall-sized murals, I will pay more attention to resolution in my cameras. Until that happens, the 20MP from the R6 would be enough for me. 

Sensor size

This isn’t a huge deal to me, although the benefits of full frame sensors (cleaner images, image quality) are definitely positives. However, I would not upgrade to a full frame body like the R6 simply because the internet has said “You aren’t a real pro unless you shoot full frame.” I am much more interested in what else the camera has to offer. Sensor size as a standalone feature doesn’t matter to me. The only negative of full frame for me would be losing the crop factor when shooting with my 400mm. Still not a dealbreaker though.

And some miscellaneous things

Some other things I have been taking into account: I’d have to factor the EF-RF adapter into an R6 purchase. I’m not going to sell all my current lenses and replace them with RF glass. As great as the new lenses are, I have no reason (or sufficient funds) to go around spending $2-3,000 per lens when adapted lenses work perfectly fine. On a related note, I would have to replace my Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. I like that lens, but it is for APS-C sensors. If I bought the R6, I’d have to replace that wide-standard zoom with something else (“something else”… meaning “something expensive probably”…). I’m not sure what I’d do for that since there aren’t many third party options out there yet.

The 90D is also a camera worth considering for a 60D upgrade. Body only price is currently $1,200 – the only real advantage the 90D has over the R6 in my eyes. Resolution is higher on the 90D but as I mentioned above, I’m not riled up over the 90D’s 32MP sensor vs. the R6’s 20MP. Overall, the R6 would be a more noticeable and longer-lasting upgrade from the 60D.

Summary

The R6 seems like it could be an excellent camera for me to go to after nine years with the 60D. The only two cons I can come up with for myself are that I don’t particularly want to spend well over $2,000 in one go (depending on how long I hang around waiting for prices to drop), and decreased battery life in the mirrorless R6 compared to a DSLR. Unfortunately, shorter battery life is just the nature of mirrorless cameras and their power-hungry electronic viewfinders and IBIS. However, all these bullet points still add up to a nicely future-proof camera. If I’m buying a new camera, I’m going to expect to have it for a number of years. It should have enough power, features, and robustness to last me, and the R6 seems to fit the bill. A new camera isn’t something I’ll be going for immediately, but it’s going to have to happen sooner or later and I’d rather be prepared for the change.   

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