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colin levitch media
blog post

The best camera is the one you’ve got with you, sort of – taking a step back

Colin
August 17, 2016

There is an old adage, the best camera is the one that’s with you. And it’s true, the most powerful photos are of that fleeting moment which will come and go before you can get your DSLR out of your backpack or swap lenses.

But, there’s something to be said for having the right tool for the right job, and in this case, that’s a pro level DSLR.

Some of you may recall that I recently drowned a camera body, specifically my Canon 5DMKiii. I went out to a local cyclocross race to play around with some lighting techniques and it started raining cats and dogs. I was prepared with rain covers for all of my gear, but unfortunately, the rain proved too much for the Vortex Media Storm JacketツI was using.

It’s wasn’t a complete write-off as a night in a sealed box filled with kitty litter did bring the camera back to life, but there was some apparent corrosion as the battery was draining at a rate of 10-percent an hour even when the camera was switched off.

So, I sent it away to get repaired, but as it always seems with this sort of thing the part needed to fix my camera was back-ordered and a job quoted to take eight days took over a month.

60D or 5Dmkiii can you tell which body I used for this image? The answer may suprise you

60D or 5Dmkiii can you tell which body I used for this image? The answer may surprise you

So while my 5DMKiii was away I decided to make a challenge for myself, instead of using one my backup bodies, I decided I would use a 60D I had lying around for every project until my 5D was fixed.

Don’t get me wrong the 60D is an absolute workhorse of a body, and features an 18.3mp APS-C CMOS sensor, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12,800), 5.3 fps continuous shooting, and 9 cross-type AF points. With that said, the 5D is also in a completely different league to the 60D which is what made this so interesting and the 60D doesn’t have near the same dynamic range, ISO performance, or processing power among other things.

Crop = reach

Being used to shooting on a full frame platform it took a bit of adjusting to not chop off too much with the 60D's 1.6x crop factor

Being used to shooting on a full frame platform it took a bit of adjusting to not chop off too much with the 60D’s 1.6x crop factor

Other than obvious cosmetic and weight difference between these two bodies is the APS-C crops sensor, which gives you a crop factor of 1.6x. This means that a 24mm lens is actually a focal length of 38mm (24 x 1.6 = 38). It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it’s surprising how easy it is to miss part of the action or chop something out when you’re used to shooting on a full frame sensor.

At the same time, on the other end of things, the 1.6x crop factor give your telephoto lens quite a bit of extra reach. The whale migration has been coming through the Gold Coast the past few weeks, and with the 60D body on my 400mm lens, the crop factor gives me an effective focal length of 640mm (400 x 1.6 = 640). Whales don’t really like to pose for the camera so I’m yet to get anything good, but extra length has given me a much better view of the action.

AF system

The 60D doesn't have great AF tracking, but there's a way around that

The 60D doesn’t have great AF tracking, but there’s a way around that

It’s safe to say the 60D’s AF system is a bit dated. The nine crosspoint system have thankfully been superseded by the current 61-point system which features on all the current pro-level Canon DSLRs.

To be honest this was probably my biggest gripe about using the 60D and it was only because the new AF system has me a bit spoiled. The 60D’s tracking is not nearly as good, and the placement of the points can make certain compositions tricky.

How do you get around this you ask? One-shot AF lock! It so easy so simple and requires you to rely more on your sense of timing that the spray-and-pray technique.

Using the back AF button and One Shot AF mode you pick the spot you want in focus compose the shot and rather than taking 10 photos, hold the button down for two or three as the subject passes through the frame.

With AF tracking being so good on the 5D and similar bodies I’ve become a bit too complacent and having to rely on an older slower AF system has been a fantastic skill building exercise.

ISO vs Sensor size

Because of it's smaller sensor the 60D's pixels are tightly packed, which is why it doesn't perform as well in low light conditions

Because of it’s smaller sensor the 60D’s pixels are tightly packed, which is why it doesn’t perform as well in low light conditions

The other thing the 5D series of bodies does sooooooo well is dealing with noise at high ISOs.

Generally speaking the more room a sensor has on it between pixels will process less noise than a sensor with pixels tightly packed together. So and images shot at 1600ISO a camera that shoots at 22mp on a full frame sensor will have less noise than 22mp images shot at 1600ISO on an APS-C sensor.

The measurement for the space between pixels is called pixel pitch and it’s measured in microns – the larger the pixel pitch the less noise generated at high ISO. The 5DMKiii shoots at 22.3mp on a full frame 35mm sensor and has a pixel pitch of 6.25 microns, and the 60D shoots at 18mp on a 22.30mm x 14.90mm APS-C sensor with a pixel pitch of 4.30microns.

It’s right there in the numbers but in practice, there is a noticeable difference as well, especially in shooting at high shutter speeds. On the 5DMKiii to get that extra bit of shutter speed it’s no issue to bump the ISO and know the image is still going to be usable. Heck, I’ve shot images at max ISO (12,800) on my 5DMKiii and had no trouble getting them back to an acceptable level of noise.

With the 60D there is considerably more noise to deal with starting around 800ISO, and getting worse as you go up. The 5D can do double that before you start to see much noise that needs to be corrected out depending on the image of course.

Final Thoughts

It has really been interesting to take a step back and shoot with a camera body that’s less capable than what I’m used to. Not even addressing the slower frames per second and reduced buffer, these three factors are what I noticed most in my particular requirements for a camera body.

The 60D is an absolute workhorse of a camera body, that can produce fantastic images. However, when a client is paying for images of a certain, though you can definitely deliver with a body like the 60D, I think I’ll stick to the more capable bodies.

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