July 01, 2011 — Soon after I wrote my crystal ball gazing on the state of the industry in last month’s column, a friend told me he had purchased a Nikon D7000 because he could no longer “wait for the D800.” No, unless Nikon has announced it between writing this column and you reading it, there is no D800, or whatever it may be named coming soon. However, it is the logical name for the next generation D700 model. Other than reading the rumors and making logical guesses as to what it might be, I am not any closer to knowing what the camera specs might be than you are.
Mark Elias, a pro photographer friend of mine in Florida, has been shooting with a D300 for the past couple of years and has wanted to upgrade for some time.
Ideally, he was waiting for a full-frame body at an affordable price. Since he works mainly for Web sites he does not get paid enough to justify a Nikon D3S.
He tried the Nikon D7000 when I was testing it several months ago and was impressed by the image quality, but was concerned that the camera would not be tough enough. A few weeks ago he felt it would be some time before Nikon announces anything new, partly because of the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami, so he went ahead and purchased a D7000.
Here’s what he briefly told me via Facebook: “I actually like it a lot! But I don’t like the smaller size of the camera overall. The mode selector on the left-hand side takes some getting used to, but the image quality is excellent, better even than my D300. I love the special filter effects in-camera, but have yet to really figure out the video provisions; actually, I have barely scratched that surface. I did get the grip (MB-D11) which helps balance it out better. And the reduction in weight is a plus too!”
He concluded by saying, “I also think the concept of buying a ‘Pro’ camera like a D3S for $5700 or so, and keeping it for two years doesn’t make sense anymore, versus buying a D300/700 or a D7000, keeping it for the same two years or so, and then buying whatever new tech is out at that time.”
I have to admit, I am a primary cause of Elias’ decision to buy a D7000 rather than wait for a new ‘pro’ camera, as I have been advising people like him that, unless they really need the ruggedness of the high-end Canon and Nikon cameras, the image quality and features on mid-range cameras are now as good or sometimes even better, for all but the heaviest users.
In keeping with my opinion that mid-range cameras are an ideal solution for those who don’t need or cannot justify the price of top-of-the-line cameras, I have recently spent some time with the Canon EOS 60D and the Olympus E-5. As neither of them are significant upgrades, I am only penning brief reviews.
Canon EOS 60D Mini Review
In theory, the Canon EOS 60D is the replacement for the 50D, making it the eighth in this line of mid-range cameras that began with the EOS D30, which was first introduced in 2000.
Like all of them before, the 60D is an evolutionary camera rather than revolutionary. In some ways it is a slight downgrade from the 50D because it has plastic rather than the 50D’s magnesium alloy body. In hindsight, I guess the EOS 7D, which was introduced in 2009, was the upgrade to the 50D even though it cost a little more. In reality, the 60D is a more robust version of the Rebel T2i or the newer T3i. With a price of $1100, the 60D slots nicely in between the $800 T3i and the $1700 7D.
The EOS 60D has the same 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor found in the T3i and 7D, and can record 1080p HD video. It has a rotating rear 3-inch screen, which is a first for a Canon DSLR—and a welcomed feature at that. It can shoot up to 5.3fps and images are stored on an SD card. However, there is only one slot.
The 60D adds some built-in filters that include “Toy Camera” and “Grainy Black and White.” I tried the “Soft Focus” filter but was not as impressed with it as the same filter in the Olympus E-5 (see below). One big advantage of the 60D’s filter set is that they can be applied in-camera after capture. It is also possible to process a RAW file in camera and save it as a JPEG. This could be very convenient out in the field.
When I reviewed the Nikon D7000, one of my criticisms was the lack of a rotating screen—but at least it has two storage slots. It’s kind of infuriating when manufacturers leave off features like these. What are the odds that the next version of the D7000 will have a rotating screen, and the next version of the 60D will have dual storage slots?
Last year I used a T2i for a while and was impressed by the image quality; as expected, the 60D delivers the same quality. Essentially, anyone who uses a Canon DSLR will be happy with this camera, either as a backup to a more expensive model or even as a primary camera. It does feel a little “plasticky” in operation, but less so than the T2i—honestly, it’s more of a subjective sound than an actual problem.
You can see a selection of photos shot in this camera at: www.johnrettie.com/Canon-60D-photos/.
Olympus E-5 Mini Review
A few years ago Olympus seemed to be leading the way in the amount of features on their line of DSLRs. For example, the E-3, which was introduced in 2007, featured a rotating LCD screen and in-body image stabilization.
The E-3 has now been replaced with the E-5 (there was never an E-4), and is yet another evolutionary upgrade rather than revolutionary. The E-5 has a 12.3-megapixel CMOS Four Thirds sensor compared to a 10-megapixel sensor in the E-3. Officially, the E-5 is positioned as a competitor to the big cameras from Canon and Nikon, but because it doesn’t include a built-in grip/battery holder or have a large sensor. It’s really more in competition with the mid-range DSLRs. It’s priced at $1699, which also puts in direct competition with these cameras.
The E-5 has a magnesium alloy body that is well sealed against dust and water. It has a full feature set including a rotating rear 3-inch screen, 720p video and dual storage slots—one for SD and one for CompactFlash. Olympus was the first manufacturer to offer built-in creative filters and it has further improved them in the E-5, as they can be used in modes other than just automatic.
I have to admit that I have been using the E-5 more than I had expected—and it’s all because of one of the ten built-in Art Filters. I do occasional “time-for-print” shoots with models and find these sessions as useful a shooting auto races for testing cameras. Every time I show the image on the rear screen shot with the “Soft Focus” filter, the immediate reaction from the model is “wow, can you use that camera for all my photos.” Naturally I oblige because it makes them feel good, and it also saves me a lot of time as I can just give them the JPEG images straight off the camera and not have to worry about creating the same look in Photoshop after the shoot.
These filters first appeared on the E-30 camera, but it was too slow to shoot in RAW and JPEG using these filters, so I only shot in JPEG. The E-5 is considerably faster so I can shoot in RAW and JPEG. Ironically, I have not had to use any of the RAW images because the models like the JPEG images so much that they have not asked me to edit any originals.
When I first started using the E-5 I thought the filter was not working because the image being displayed immediately on the screen is before processing. It’s only when you hit the payback button that you can see the image with the filter applied.
I had a strange experience when I was shooting the Long Beach Grand Prix, because I accidentally shot several frames with the “Soft Focus” filter left on. I didn’t notice because the screen shots I saw looked fine. It’s funny; I actually liked the images the “Soft Focus” filter produced. The shot of a car doing 100 mph on a racetrack with a glamour glow looked surrealistic and it was somewhat appropriate when I got a shot of Danica Patrick in her car in the pits. You can see this look for yourself.
Unfortunately for Olympus, there is little reason for anyone to choose the E-5 over a similar spec camera from Canon or Nikon unless they already own an Olympus camera or are starting to build a system from scratch. If the E-5 were less costly or offered truly unique features, it might have a chance to go head-to-head with the big boys. Having said that, if you really like the “Soft Focus” filter like I do, it might be worth owning one just for that reason as it can save so much ‘after capture’ time. Also, if you shoot in bad conditions, the tougher body could also make the E-5 a camera of choice at this price level.
You can see a selection of photos shot in this camera at: www.johnrettie.com/Olympus-E5-photos/.
John Rettie is a photojournalist who has been covering digital photography since its earliest days. He resides in Santa Barbara, CA and readers are welcome to contact him directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org