Thursday, 25 November 2010

Black Friday deals

Just thought I'd pass on that Jacobs are having some special deals. If you're in the lookout for any of the kit that happens to be on the specials, it might be a good time to buy. Of course, shop around - just because they say it's a special deal doesn't mean it is the best around!
Jacobs Digital

And for the US folk, there are some deals going too. Koo has done all the hard work, so I don't have to!

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.