Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Canon EOS 60D Review

Well I sat around looking back and forth between the Canon 60D and Canon 7D for the last couple of months. With my Canon 40D well on its way towards its advised shutter use of 150,000, I'd felt it was well due an upgrade, making it my backup body.

I'd held out for quite a period for the Canon 60D because I felt the price jump to the Canon 7D wasn't really worth the money if the 60D was going to be an upgrade to the excellent Canon 40D/50D series. But as the launch came closer, it quickly became clear that the 60D wasn't going to be the same breed of camera as its bloodline.

The first difference was the lack of a magnesium alloy body which at first glance sounded like the dreaded "plastic" body. I was quite disheartened at that thought, and was almost ready to purchase a 7D. However, I opted to wait a little while and see what the 60D was like both in online reviews and in my grubby paws.

So having got my paws on one, my instant thought was that it still felt very solid with the aluminium body. It may not have the strength of magnesium alloy, but it still feels a solid camera. I don't plan on flinging it at the ground anyway, so good care and attention is always part of making your equipment last.

Another difference is the flip out screen. I was concerned this was a bit of a gimmick, although my work with video production has me well used to the idea of flip out LCDs. In actual fact, I find that it makes little difference most of the time, and there are occasions where being able to flip the LCD out is very handy. Most importantly, it feels solid and the hinge mechanism doesn't feel flimsy.

Taking a photo, is when I noted a significant difference. The shutter has a more clunky and less controlled sound than the 40D had. This might be reflected in the fact it is only rated to 100,000 shots. It is also significantly louder so if you like a quieter DSLR, this isn't going to hit the spot!

As for image quality, at 18 megapixels I was a little concerned about noise, although I'd heard good things about the 7D, so assumed this wasn't too much of a worry. I haven't really been able to compare like for like with the 40D, because I use Capture One and they haven't yet issued an update for the 60D, but from raw files I've processed with the supplied Canon software, I can say that the detail is absolutely excellent. It has the slight softness that I like, which comes away nicely with a very small touch of sharpening. Anyone used to Canon images will know what I mean.

Low light performance was of significant interest to me, as I often shoot in situations where flash isn't an option. I would say that ISO 3200 is now a valid option for regular use, unlike the 40D where I wouldn't have gone above ISO 800. Roughly speaking, ISO 3200 is the new ISO800 in noise terms from the 40D to the 60D. But given the larger images, I'd say it is actually even a further improvement, because the noise will show even less on a 12x8 print for example, because the pixel count is so much higher now.

But one of the major factors for the 60D is its performance in terms of video work. I can see that the 60D will be one of the new darlings of the video guys. Aside from the obvious - the flip out screen - the quality of video is absolutely excellent with a nice high bit rate. I haven't tested a 7D, but I suspect the quality will be almost as good, even though there are slight file quality differences. Another important factor for some people will be the manual sound level controls which are now featured in the menus. This isn't really an issue for me as I record audio using a Zoom H4n or another video camera, but it is a nice feature to have. Full control over manual settings is excellent to have, and the video mode has a live contrast based autofocus. It works not badly, although you have to be careful in low light. It isn't something you can use while recording though because it changes exposure and has a tendency to seek. That said, if you're recording and want a quick change of focus which will be cut afterwards in editing, that shouldn't be an issue.

For interest, I took it with me to a live dance and singing event which I was recording with the excellent Panasonic AG-HMC151 as a live test and a little bit of a comparison. Focussing is quite hard, but can be done via a monitor plugged into the live feed. This is excellent in standby, but annoyingly it goes to low-res when recording. Trying to do live manual focussing is not something that is made remotely easy. That said, the contrast AF did a reasonable job provided I was careful with it, and the images were pretty sharp even in what was fairly low light (ISO 1600/3200 range).

In terms of quality, I think the image was smoother and less noisy than the Panasonic, but lacked detail in the blacks. I'm going to have to adjust the contrast a little on it to make up for this, but I'm sure it is just a matter of settings. It certainly punches well above its price range, as all the VDSLRs have done so far. If you can accept the limitations of using a DSLR for video work, the quality is more than adequate.

One other thing that I noted was the lack of a sync socket for older flashes. It's a good emergency feature to have, but nowadays with the number of radio trigger and optical trigger options which run off the hotshoe, I think it probably isn't far off time this old system died a death. If it is terribly important, there are also all sorts of adapters available for the hotshoe at relatively low cost.

Like many males with larger hands, I find all the modern dslrs with non-pro bodies a little fiddly and awkward, and the 60D is no exception. I therefore always add an external battery pack, so I purchased a Canon BG-E9 pack which has made a world of difference to the handling of the camera.

In comparison to the pack on the 40D there are a couple of changes. The most noticable is the way you load batteries. The end of the pack at the left hand side (away from the battery connector) has a little lock mechanism which you quarter turn and a drawer slides out which holds the two batteries. This can be replaced with an alternate holder which supports AA batteries. I personally find this a little more fiddly than the back opening to access both batteries because I can't hold the camera with one hand and change batteries with the other. That said, the battery life is another factor of the 60D - I've had the camera a couple of weeks now and only just done a second charge (of two batteries in the grip). That's around 500 images and 1.5 hours of video. I expect the battery performance will improve with a few charges, so I suspect battery life isn't going to be much of a concern!

The other minor detail with the battery pack is the ON/OFF switch for the vertical shutter button. The 40D drove me nuts whenever I went to shoot vertically and it didn't work, because I'd accidentally bumped the small circular ON/OFF switch positioned on the outside of the camera. It is now repositioned to a sliding switch in much the same position as the old battery compartment release switch which means it is almost impossible to knock accidentally. So that's an excellent improvement.

So overall, a bit more clacky on the shutter, and a little strange on the battery grip layout, but in every other way I'd say a vast improvement over the 40D and I assume the 50D given it wasn't a significant change from the 40D. I'm exceptionally pleased with my purchase, so I have no concerns about recommending the Canon 60D.

11 comments:

Sarah said...

I've been undecided of which Canon SLR to get for so long now. I almost had my mind made up on the 5D but now you've swayed me to look into the 60D! Why are there so many choices?! I'm going to go in to the store today and have a play around with a few.

n506 said...

@Sarah

The 5D is a very different animal. The full frame sensor will give you noticably shallower depth of field, and will have better low light performance, as well as make your lenses appear relatively wider than on the 60D.

I personally prefer the APS-C sensors on the 60D/7D etc. While they're not quite so good in low light, it is generally made up for in the fact that you get adequate depth of field at a wider aperture. With the 5D you might have to stop down to get sufficient depth of field, thereby losing you light anyway. When you're paid to get the shot, missing focus because of shallow depth of field doesn't help pay the bills!

Led street lighting said...

best cam ever had

Grandmaster B said...

Hi there, I bought a 60D not long ago and am trying to do product photos. I have looked over your videos on lighting. My first step was to try and get crisp clear pictures and then work on the lighting but cannot seem to get that. I am a novice on SLR but am working in manual mode but still struggling for crisp pictures.

I really like the video you done on photographing the ipod speaker. I am trying to photograph a mouse which is white but cannot get anything like how you did.

Are you able to tell me the type of setting you would normally have for taking that picture on a 60d for example? I have mine under similar lighting (without the remoter flashes you have) and using 100 ISO, 250 shutter, f/30 but no luck. Also using the inbuilt flash, two fluro lights but the photos seem over contrasted.

many thanks and love your videos :)

n506 said...

@Grandmaster B

If I'm correct in understanding that you're using a mix of inbuilt flash with two fluorescent lights, then the problems you're having are the fact that any light you're seeing is simply the flash on your camera.

No continuous light source (short of big cinematic filming lights) will put out anything light enough light to allow you to use 1/250s, f/30 @ ISO 100.

At a guess, if they're reasonably bright, you'll probably be somewhere around 1/100s, f/5.6 @ ISO 400. That might be over or underexposed, so just play with the settings from there and see how you go.

Also, your fluorescent will have to be daylight balanced to have any chance of mixing with flash, or else your flash will look white light and your fluorescent will look a yucky greenish colour. Personally, I'd opt to work with your fluorescents alone, and forget the flash.

Post back and let me know how you get on!

Grandmaster B said...

Yes these lights are just not producing the proper lighting. I think I need to invest in getting some softboxes or do I go the route you were using in your ipod speaker and use the external flashes?

I need to do youtube videos of overview of products too so I guess the softboxes might be a good option and probably easier for me to setup.

I am trying to get my hands on some acetate screens here in Australia to difuse light and get some foam core too. Prob will try and do this route first and invest in softboxes if they dont work.

I had better results though with exposure and getting sharoper images but I think I need to buy a better lens for product photography, more a macro lens as im told they are sharper and can control the depth of field better. Because what is happening I am losing detail on some of the product even at higher f/ numbers, I guess because the standard lens with the 60d is better suited at f/8 to f/11 I read.

My flickr account is at www.flickr.com/photos/ninjab if you want to check out my progress so far. Thanks a lot :)

n506 said...

@Grandmaster B

Flash is generally a good route because it is very flexible due to the bright light output. That said, it is less easy to visualise than continuous light sources. You can get a number of daylight balanced light sources which are excellent for product work as well. You'll also find them good for video work, where flash isn't any use.

Even just using tracing paper or something like this, provided it isn't close to a hot light source, will do adequately for softening light.

A macro lens can be good for certain small things, but often they tend to be longer focal lengths which aren't always required and can sometimes give you more problems than they solve if you have limited space to shoot. In most situations the standard lens will work fine and f/8 - f/11 should be adequate for good depth of field. I'd be surprised if you need to stop down any more anyway.

You're photographing a lot of objects which are shiny. You need to be very conscious that you're reflecting a picture (whether diffused or sharp) of the lights you light with, so in some cases you'll want to light with big light sources to make large highlights, while other cases, you'll want smaller light sources just to create a sharp pop of light on the object.

All of your images are at the point that a lot of images will be taken, and photoshop will be used to make the background white etc. Basically where you need to concentrate is to light the background first, so your product is darker than the background. Then you can start to build up the light on the product to "fill in the shadows".

Grandmaster B said...

Hi N506, thanks so much for your advice. That is pretty much the best advice I have been given so far from the two forums I was requesting help in. You are very knowledgable :)

I am ordering two soft box lights, a tripod and going to get my hands on some opal colour acrylic board possibly but a laminated board I have already so may not need that except for doing flashy backgrounds.

Will keep you updated on my progress once I get my lighting!

Grandmaster B said...

Hi N506.

I got my soft box lights and havent had any luck getting results I want.

If I get my backgrounds white, my products are then too overexposed and too bright.

Those pictures of the ipod speaker you did, did you do any post processing for those results or none at all? You make it look so easy but I cannot come close to it :(

Grandmaster B said...

Any feedback N506?

n506 said...

@Grandmaster B

Apologies, totally forgot I hadn't replied to you!

It sounds like you're trying to light everything with the same lights. It is possible but very complex to do (involving diffusing the foreground etc.)

What you need to try to do is treat the background as a separate "layer", and thereby light it so it just goes to white (switch on the flashing highlight function on your camera and take the exposure as bright as you can without it flashing).

You should now find that the background is bright and the foreground (the product) is underexposed on the front. Now you have to carefully add in light. Depending on the control of the light you're adding, you'll no doubt add some more light to the background, which is why it is good not to overexpose the background at the first stage. You can also add reflectors in which will spill some of the background light onto the front of the product, but they'll usually not provide enough light to make a good exposure. A mix of the two is generally best.

You should now have a pretty evenly lit white background image. Having a semi-reflective smooth white board to put under the product does make things very much easier though, and also gives a nice slight reflection under the product which looks pretty cool. Very Web 2.0 :)

And to confirm in relation to your question, I didn't do any post-processing, although I may well have done a slight curves adjustment if it was needed. Nothing much would have been done on it though because I was demonstrating the method.

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