Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Camera! The Canon 60D

I finally did it.

After years of having camera envy, I have finally gotten myself a decent camera. Back in the days of film, the camera body itself was of less importance than the quality of the lens and the film you used. The camera body just held the film in place, and the biggest difference between models were the bells and whistles each one had.

Today, with digital cameras, the camera body may be more important than the lens. Now, instead of film, you have a digital sensor, and the quality of that sensor can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the quality of your images.

I have been shooting Canon Rebels, (which are basically a cheap line designed for those making the change from point and shoot cameras to SLR's), since I switched to digital. I went with Canon because I felt there were better options down the road, especially when it came to wildlife photography, than Nikon or Olympus or the other major brands offered. I actually really liked my first Rebel, which I bought in late 2005 primarily to take pictures of my artwork to make prints from.  I bought a second one almost two years ago to get a higher resolution (for bigger prints) and to have a second camera body to eliminate switching lenses back and forth while on the trail.

I have not been nearly as enamored with the second Rebel (a T1i) as I was with my first Rebel. I don't know if it is the T1i line or if it's my particular camera but I have fought with the exposure with it since I got it. I have to manually adjust nearly every shot since to leave the exposure at normal usually means shots are overexposed by at least one stop. So I set the camera to underexpose everything, which is fine until I try to shoot something in dim light and forget--I have missed countless shots because of this.

In addition, I have been wanting something that produced sharper images. I don't necessarily need tack-sharp shots for what I do, but, well, I was envious of others' images and wanted those results for myself.

Enter the Canon 60D. While it is a huge step up from the Rebel, it is still not considered a true professional camera. That's OK--pro cameras are big and heavy, and really, really expensive. We picked this one up at Costco--I love Costco--as a kit that came with an 18mm to 200mm lens. As soon as it was home I popped the lens on and ran outside to try it out.

The first thing that I noticed was the addition of a spot meter, something the Rebels do not have. Your meter determines your exposure, and when you are shooting something like a small bird in a tree, how the camera meters the subject is vital. Even with center-weighted metering, too much of the sky is metered and your subject (here some pine cones) will be under-exposed.

(None of the following images have been adjusted except for cropping and sharpening, which I do with all my images. No color/brightness/contrast adjustments were made.)

Center-weighted metering reads too much light from the sky, causing the subject to be underexposed.

My film cameras had spot metering, and I didn't realize how much I missed it until now. What a difference!

Spot metering uses only the very center to take a reading, exposing only for the subject.

I continued around the yard, shooting in different lighting conditions and different subjects. I left the camera on fully automatic and let it do all the work--determine ISO speed, shutter speed, f-stop, even auto-focus, which I never do with my Rebel. I wanted to see what the camera was going to give me without me fiddling with any settings.

Daddy longlegs on black-eyed Susan
We have a new brood of chickens who were out and about, so I used them as test subjects.

Pretty little silver-laced Wyandotte pullet.

So the second thing I noticed about this camera is how accurate the exposure is. Colors are very true, as is the light. I can see that for the most part I will be able to just let the camera do its thing, and not have to second guess every change in light. What joy! You learn to live with the pain until it's gone, and then you utter a long sigh of relief.

Red Star pullet. Generally a cross between a Barred Rock hen and a Rhode Island Red rooster.

I walked around the property, finally ending up at the huge pokeweed growing at the bottom of a hill. No trouble with focusing, metering, or color. Yay!

Pokeweed, one of my favorite plants. Just gorgeous!

The third thing I noticed about this camera is that you can shoot up to ISO 6400. ISO is the equivelant of film speed. The lower the number (say ISO 100) the slower the "film", but the smaller/tighter the grain. Slow ISO means that you need a slow shutter speed to make a proper exposure. The grain is very small so each grain collects very little light. It's great for landscapes and anything that will be blown up really big because it won't be grainy.

The higher the ISO the lower the lighting conditions you can shoot in. Also, it allows for a faster shutter speed so that motion can be stopped (including, of course, photographer motion from hand-holding a long lens). The trade-off is that the image will be grainier. The higher the ISO, the more light-sensitive each grain must be, so they get bigger the higher the number gets.

Shooting at 1600 with the Rebel usually resulted in pretty poor image quality. What I had heard about the 60D was that the grain structure was much better, resulting in better quality images at higher ISO's. So this morning I got out my 300mm and the 1.4x extender to do a little bird photography in the early morning light.

Goldfinch, shot at ISO 5000. At least as good as the Rebel at 1600.

Chickadees make willing subjects, unafraid of me sitting inside the doorwall, the camera clicking away.

ISO 1600 at 1/1000 of a second. Depth of field is short, head is out of focus, but nice tight grain!

Close cropping starts to expose some abberations in color and grain at ISO 1600--notice the sunflower seed. However, the change from the bright white cheek to the dark background is pretty clean, just a tiny bit of ghosting. Since I am using images to draw from this is really an non-issue, just noting what this camera can handle.

A young male ruby-throated hummingbird stopped by for a visit. This is cropped pretty close too, and you can see some noise in the background at ISO 1600 as the grain becomes apparent. This image starts to look pretty soft but again, I need detail and properly exposed images to work from, not necessarily tack sharp images. 

Morning light colors this hummer pink.

Being able to get good quality, properly exposed shots at a high ISO is gong to make a big difference for me and what I can reasonably expect to shoot--thinking primarily birds in motion, being able to hand-hold the camera, shooting in low-light conditions and capturing back-lit subjects. I'm really excited to get out and shoot some more!

*Note: I have to make a correction to a statement I made in this blog, that the Rebel T1i doesn't have spot metering. I was just looking over the settings on the Rebel and see that it does indeed have spot metering. How I never knew this is beyond me--I guess that's why you should always read the manual. What's frustrating is that I would swear I looked for it and didn't find it, but it's right there in the menu. Very silly, really. Can't imagine how many shots I missed because I had to mess with the exposure, or had it set wrong. Ah well, live and learn!

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