Shooting with the Canon 60D

I’ve been getting to grips with the 60D properly for the first time this weekend, here is what I think of it.

Canon’s drastically conservative approach of late has meant a huge amount of coverage going to non-EOS cameras this year, but it’s swings and roundabouts and none of this really matters. Right now is the moment to use a GH2 and what will happen next year, is that the 5D Mark III is going to come out and smash down the image barrier hurdles with a sledge hammer. So suddenly, I’ll be talking about Canon again in a more positive light.

I see the 60D as something of an early generation quirk from the company’s efforts in DSLR video.

The 60D is now desperately dated when it comes to live view and video.

Still no Canon mirrorless, no progressive future hybrid, no improvements to image quality, no moire fix, no proper recording format. But at least we DO now have that hinged screen! Thank you Canon – no thank YOU!

Seriously going from the GH2 to the 60D, every time I hear the mirror clunk upwards as I enter video mode, it makes me wonder why I have a 61 year old design concept inside my video camera. And no I don’t want to be sold a Canon EF mount camcorder for 4 times more. I love the DSLR form factor. It’s just that Panasonic have got it right where video is concerned, and on a Canon it STILL feels like an awkward after thought, 2 years after it’s introduction on the 5D Mark II.

I can forgive Canon the mirrorbox (too many traditional photographers to please) and the lack of fast live view AF (needs completely new lens mount and lens support)… but still DIGIC 4 and the exact same overcrowded 18MP sensor as in the 1 year old 7D? That’s a shame, but understandable if the true next generation is going to be a big leap.

This is why it’s very important not to be too hung up on brands. At one moment Canon is revolutionising video with the 5D Mark II, and at the other moment Panasonic are producing future concepts in the ‘now’ and Canon are rehashing the 550D with a hinge. Again… swings and roundabouts.

That’s not to say the 60D is a bad camera. Far from it. There are some quirks though…

I rely on the focus assist, a good live view implementation and a good screen. The 60D has one of these right. The screen’s beautiful, and we’ll get to image quality in a minute…

The focus assist is a ball ache though. The only button on the entire camera that gets you back out of it is the zoom control, and even that takes two presses. How is that intuitive? A simple brush of the shutter release button like on the GH2 would mean you’re out of focus assist, reviewing the shot on the live display and ready to start recording all at a single stroke with no repositioning of fingers.

On the GH2 as soon as I hit my focus sweet spot with a tricky 85mm F1.4 I am ready to start shooting within a tiny instance, trigger finger already in position.

Then there’s the fact that contrast detect AF is about 50x slower than the LightSpeed system on the GH2. Canon need to bring out optimised lenses with internal focus and silent AF motors. It seems that isn’t a priority. Yet Panasonic have had them for nearly 2 years.

In terms of stills mode in live view, when taking shots the screen blanks out for so long you, you have lost any kind of moving object in sight.

Some usability issues are not just down to a dated and conservative camera concept.

The menu info seems to either dominate the screen, or miss crucial info. For example if you put info at a minimum so you can actually see the damned screen, the recording time counter disappears. Also, what is hugely daft is that although there are black bands top and button in video mode, the basic info display overlaps onto the frame slightly in an opaque grey bar. So the bottom edge of your shot is underneath it. This makes critical framing a real ball ache, because you’re never quite sure what’s lurking under the ISO and shutter speed information.

Add to this, the fact that the Canon 60D is heavier and bulkier than the GH2, and that it’s more limited in terms of lens adaptability (goodbye 25mm F0.95, etc.) and you have a camera which is seriously lacking in video ergonomics and usability.

So how about the image quality?

What the 60D does seem to have in abundance is good colour. Yes, it’s 14bit sensor is being compressed and hacked down by absolutely vintage image processors by 2010’s standards, but the footage does maintain a fair level of cinematic colour and I prefer it’s colour out of the box to the GH2. The GH1 always had a slight greenish tinge to deep oranges and warm yellows and the GH2 continues that trend.

Everything else is absolutely 2nd rate compared to the GH2. Poor resolution, coloured rainbows thanks to our favourite DSLR video actress Betty Moire, a dodgy implementation of 24p (it just doesn’t look quite true) and H.264 files which take up enormous amounts of drive space.

I usually use 80% of what I record onto the card, but even so – if you use it often enough a 60D will cost you almost double in new drives over the course of a year. The GH2 produces AVCHD files which can be edited natively in Premiere CS5, then stowed away at roughly 10x less the cost in drive space.

We’ve all forgiven Canon DSLRs for their video foibles for a good 2 years now since the 5D Mark II came out. 2 years is too long, and I have lost patience.

This isn’t a review which sets out to bash the 60D for the sake of hyping the GH2. It’s just a healthy dollop of truth I’m afraid.

The 60D is a camera made for a market, to complete a corporate objective, and it feels like it. It’s the mainstream film Robert DeNiro makes in-between masterpieces to bring in the money. It doesn’t mean they’re any less well respected or popular because of it. Likewise Canon have had a fantastic 2010 which saw them way out ahead of Panasonic in the video DSLR popularity contest.

But this is purely thanks to good marketing and not good new product releases.