Canon Digital EOS D60

Canon EOS D60
Elephant
Introduction

As a professional wildlife photographer I have watched the growth of digital cameras with interest. Most of my professional sports, portrait and editorial colleagues have now made the leap into this brave new world and in their eyes film cameras are as old as West Ham's silverware. Last year, intrigued by the market "buzz", I decided to test out Canon's D30 digital camera, the first released (and affordable) for their consumer market. It performed well in very difficult conditions and with it I took some cracking images. Unfortunately my sector of the market, upon which my living depends, was sceptical at the time about digital cameras, so I switched my attention to the Pentax 645NII medium format system. However, since then I have met many people on my courses that bought the D30 following my review in Outdoor Photography magazine and still love it to this day. Now, a year later, the market situation has changed so I looked at the pre-release data for the new Canon D60 with interest. Amongst the pages of technical specifications, it was the increase in resolution that really caught my eye.


Big Cat
Namibia

I feel sorry for any camera manufacturer that releases a new camera, as the initial reviews seem to concentrate on metering graphs and techno-babble. To be honest, all I really care about is the final image that it produces. So I decided to give the camera the ultimate test and shoot it alongside my Pentax on a month long rough camping trip to Namibia. I shared its usage with my partner Tracey, who on her first trip as a professional photographer and as a new user of digital (rather than being a cynical old pro like me!) gave the D60 her full attention. Now don't think this is an article just for wildlife photographers, the D60 offers advantages for any field of photography, and the findings below will apply to you all.

For the technophiles amongst you the D60 is a 6.52 megapixel (effective 6.3 megapixel) single plate CMOS digital camera. It offers 7 different file sizes, which offer varying degrees of compression. The maximum file size obtainable is using the RAW option (no compression) which gives a TIFF file of 18.2 MB with resolution 3072 x 2048 pixels. From the front and top it looks and operates just like any other EOS camera, with all the usual suspects present - Exposure Modes (AV, TV, M, Depth, Program plus more), Autofocus / Metering Modes and Drive Mode. One look at the back however reveals a different generation of camera entirely, with a TFT liquid crystal display dominating the area. Sounds complex? No, not at all, the D60 is a doddle. In fact neither Tracey or I have ever picked up the manual, let alone opened it, which is a testament to its intuitive user interface. Even a Spurs defender could work it out!

The elusive Black Rhino - EOS 1V or D60?
Rhino

I could list the features of the D60 all day, but perhaps it is best to illustrate them with a few examples. The major purpose of our Namibia trip was to get close enough to photograph the rarely sighted desert black rhino. Less than 100 of this specially adapted species remain, and getting good coverage was vital for our forthcoming book on African Rhinos. Now there is one thing about a black rhino that you should know, they are extremely dangerous, and the desert ones even more so. On foot in the middle of nowhere, one mistake could be our last, as there was nowhere to hide. Running would be suicidal, these guys can sprint faster than most athletes. This particular morning we had tracked a female rhino and her calf to the head of a small valley. The calf was asleep so it was a perfect opportunity to get in close to her and record a unique shot, the problem was 'what gear should I take?'. The lens was easy, it would be my biggest, a 500mm Image Stabiliser, but should I take the EOS 1V film camera or trust the new D60. In the end I decided to take the D60, the two factors below influencing my decision:

1.
With the EOS 1V I could use a 1.4x teleconverter which would give me a 700mm lens but with the loss of 1 stop of light from f4 to f5.6. The D60 increases the effective focal lens of any lens by a factor of 1.6, which turns my 500mm lens into an 800mm lens. Even more importantly it does this without any loss of light (i.e. at f4), which in the overcast conditions would give me a stop faster shutter speed, or a stop more aperture to control the depth of field. I should point out that this increase is only due to a smaller image size in the viewfinder, i.e. it would take an 800mm lens on a normal camera to give the same image size as 500mm on the D60.

2. The light sensitivity of all digital cameras are superb and the D60 is no exception. A couple of days previously we had a long distance encounter with a rhino that Tracey shot with the D60. The light was gloomy so she expected to get a gloomy image, but the resultant shots look bright with all the shadows well defined. Today, with the mother and calf in a much better position, dull grey clouds had reappeared.

70m is about 10 seconds of running time

With the D60 attached we crept silently towards her, eventually deciding that 70m was close enough. To put it in perspective, 70m is about 10 seconds of running time for her at full charge. Nice. Setting up the lens on my trusty Wimberley Head (see last month's review), I attached the off-camera release (to cut down vibration from my shaking hands) and took my first exposure of her. With the film camera I would be guessing the exposure, and for such a unique encounter with such an endangered animal I could not afford to get it wrong. But this was the D60, and with a digital there is no guesswork. Using the aforementioned "doddle" user interface, I pressed the "PLAY" button on the back of the camera and the screen leapt into life with a slightly overexposed image of a Rhino. The D60 is very light hungry and by the end of the trip I found that compensating by -1/3 stop did the trick for 95% of exposures. Before correcting the exposure I used the "MAGNIFIER" button to zoom into the image to check the focus and depth of field. It was perfect so I corrected the exposure, took another test shot, played it back and was satisfied with the result.

Landscapes
Africa

The ability to review images came in very useful when taking landscapes. I could set up all my Lee Filters on the D60, take the shot and see what the effect was. When I achieved the right combination I would swap them all onto the Pentax and take the shot. Clients are still funny about landscapes and they must be on medium format to sell to calendars and for larger usages. The landscapes that we took with the D60 were stunning, and in some cases it picked up details and subtleties that the film missed. So it doesn't matter whether you are up close and personal to a Rhino, setting up a beautiful landscape or taking pictures of the kids in the back garden, being able to instantly review images saves missing that unique shot.

Software

Perhaps now I should have a word about the software used to get your images from the camera. Canon provides several options for processing RAW files into TIFFs or transferring JPEGs from the camera. You can use the graphical Zoom Browser, the RAW Image Converter or the Twain driver interface. All are connected via USB direct to your PC and all are pretty simple to use. All interfaces contain options for post processing images, such as increasing the sharpness, rotating or adapting the tone curve. An additional piece of software, Remote Capture, allows you to control the whole picture taking session from your computer and includes options for interval timers and all sorts. To be honest you are a lot better off not changing the images at all until they get into Photoshop, as the Canon processing is completely black box and you have no idea what it is doing. Maybe it is just my natural cynicism but I like to be in complete control of the images during processing.

So what did I think of the images?
Sand Lion

So what did I think of the images? Converted to 16 bit TIFFs (for the greatest colour range) they looked very sharp and free of any noise. In fact they looked every bit as good as my D30 images, but of course at double the resolution.

Of course if I were to write this piece saying everything was rosy with the D60 then you would be right to doubt my integrity. My only real negative findings about the D60 are really the same as I found with the D30, the buffer size and the autofocus points. All cameras have a buffer that holds images in memory before writing to disk. When the D60 buffer is full (after an 8 frame burst) the camera locks up whilst it saves them to disk, which can be incredibly frustrating if you are faced with that perfect moment. To be honest for all but the most picture hungry photographer this limitation will rarely manifest itself, and can be reduced by careful choice of the storage media (see Accessories section below). The autofocus problem falls into the same category. With the EOS 1V and the 1D I am used to 47 focussing points, but the D60 you get only 3, which occasionally can be limiting. However, I suspect that again, for all but the most demanding photographer, 3 focussing points will be more than enough

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, for Tracey this was a brand new experience and so here are her conclusions about the D60:

"The greatest advantage to the D60 for me has got to be the fact that you can see your images just moments after taking them. Not only does this mean you can show off your stunning imagery to all and sundry at the time but certainly in the business of photographing wildlife you can learn quickly if you are making any fatal errors. Often you simply do not have the chance to come back another day or to ask the leopard to yawn again as you've missed it the first time. The display screen on the back of the camera although small, allows you to see when you have got it right or wrong as the case may be. Wrong and the blessing of this is that no one else need know as you can simply hit the delete button and the image is zapped into the never-never. Back at home it is satisfying to download the files from the camera to the computer with minimal fuss. One of the main questions hanging over digital cameras, particularly in the professional context is that of image quality. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the quality of images taken by the D60 were stunning, even being able to see yourself reflected in the eye of the animal when you zoom in close! Another reward for the digital user is that the images are immediately available for further processing, sending to clients and if nothing else for printing out to pin up on your wall. No painful worry about correct processing, no boxes of slides cluttering the office and no depressing pile of rejects in the bin, all in all a relatively hassle free system that can only be the start of things to come."


OK, back to me now. The Canon D60 is a great tool and will definitely put the fun back into your photography. Although at first you may consider the price tag a little high, think about the reduction in yearly film costs. With an average of 100 films per year, at £7 for the film and P&P, this amounts to a £700 saving per year, forever more! As a result you will see your images improve, as you will be able to fine tune the exposure until you get that perfect shot. So if you are considering changing camera bodies, then the D60, in my humble opinion, is the only one to go for. As for the Rouse household, Tracey has now firmly taken control of the D60 and is using it constantly with our wildlife projects. I am due to return to Africa in July for our ongoing book project, and will use the D60 there as the client requires all images to be taken on a digital camera. So for us the D60 is becoming integrated into our business, and we suggest that you consider it too as it will not let you down, unlike West Ham.

Me and Tracey
Accessories

OK OK, I know what you are going to say, there are always accessories needed!! Well I can honestly say that the 3 accessories below are invaluable to me and I have tried to explain fully why each time, and before you say it I am not on commission!

Battery Grip
BG-ED3
Battery Grip

The standard D60 comes with the standard grip that most EOS models use. This contains a single rechargeable BP-511 battery, which with the extra power requirements of the TFT screen, does not tend to last very long (a problem with all digital cameras, not just the D60). Also when a reasonable length lens is attached to the light D60, the whole combination becomes front heavy and therefore unbalanced. To solve these problems I attach the BG-ED3 pack which contains two BP-511 batteries, into the D60, which considerably prolongs the camera usage time. Perhaps even more importantly this grip really improves the balance of the camera in the hand, and provides a vertical group of buttons for shooting in the portrait format. In my opinion Canon should ship this with the D60, as they do not then it is really essential.

Lee
Display Bellows
Lee Display Bellows

We have already said in this piece that one of the main advantages of digital cameras is the ability to review images as they are taken. Unfortunately in bright light conditions it can be extremely difficult to make out anything on the screen, something which we have found out the hard way. The solution, and the inventor of this will be receiving a personal Rouse medal one day, is to use a small expandable set of bellows which are just the right size to fit neatly over the screen. These great accessories are attached by Velcro, so when you are working in bright light you can quickly fit them to the camera and adjust them to see the images. They work perfectly and are absolutely invaluable.

Storage Media

The D60 is compatible with both IBM Microdrives and Type I / II Compact Flash cards. For our Namibia trip we used a 1GB IBM Microdrive, which worked faultlessly in terms of storage. The downside of the microdrive, as we found out later, was that it accentuated the slow write to disk times of the D60 that we mentioned above. When we arrived back the first thing we did, apart from having a curry, was to buy a Sandisk Ultra 512MB CF card to replace the Microdrive. Tracey has noticed a marked decrease in the write time when using one of these fast cards, which helps to decrease the chances of missing a vital shots.

MindStor Portable Storage Device
MindStor Portable Storage Device
MindStor Portable Storage Device

Now I can hear you saying, "Yeah digital cameras sound great, but I do not want to lug a PC / laptop around with me when I go away". Well this little device, formally called the Digital Wallet, provides the solution. It is really a portable hard drive, just stick your storage disk in (and it supports them all), select Download and it will happily store safely away all those prized images. You are then free to re-use the card again. When you get home, simply attach the MindStor to your PC (via Firewire or USB) and you can transfer and process the images in the usual way. They come in several sizes, we chose a 20GB for our Namibia trip and downloaded a full 1GB microdrive 12 times. The rechargeable batteries lasted for about 4 full downloads, but don't worry, if the batteries are depleted the information is still stored. In the picture shown you can see us downloading in the middle of the Namib desert, that ape like arm by the way is mine.