The Canon 60D revisited. Funny what a lens will do.....

 I liked the 60D the minute I picked it up and (with a few caveats) I've liked it more and more as I've used it.  But it wasn't until I capriciously stuck the Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZE lens on the front of it that it became my favorite camera to take out shooting.  It's more responsive and feels about one and half generations better than a Canon 5Dmk2.  It's at least as good a camera for most non-ultra-sport shooting as the Canon 7D.  And I like the way it feels in my hands.

I originally bought the 50 Zeiss to use on the 5D2.  I thought it would create very cool looking images with impressive DOF effects and it did that just fine.  But what it didn't do well was manually focus.  And when I used the focus indicator or the focus indicator+obnoxious beep I found that the combination missed the point of sharp focus, no matter how I had the camera set.  The 7D was a bit more accurate but even with the micro adjust feature of both the more expensive cameras I was never quite sure I'd get what I wanted in sharp focus.  Which led me to believe that the mis-focus anomaly must either be non-linear or intermittent.

On a whim I put the lens onto the 60D and set the menu items for "stupid operator in need of much help" or SOINOMH mode.  That means, center focus point, beeping confirmation and steady green light indicator hand holding.  I proceeded to shoot and the oddest thing happened:  Every time the camera told me I was in focus I really was in focus.  I was soon able to lose one set of training wheels.  The beep.

Although I leave the beep on if I'm around a bunch of really pretentious gear nerds because it seems to drive them crazy and, as they flinch and clutch at their 1DS mk3's, I have a moment of selfish entertainment......)

A benefit of this newly realized focusing capability is the new knowledge that the Zeiss lens is sharper wide open than I originally thought and the saturation and color rendering is pretty darn good.  This leads me to leave that lens on that body all of the time.  This combo gives me a solid platform, great images, smaller form factor and the satisfaction of having a tool combination that's working at optimum efficiency.  If you don't shoot sports and you don't need the full frame chops of the 5Dv2 this is really a wonderful little camera with good high ISO performance into the bargain.  I grab it first when I leave the house or studio.  When I'm being reckless this is the combo I keep in the car.

But I'm not writing this with the intention of slagging the 5 or the 7.  It's just that this whole circus of lens  madness and focus brought me to realize that there may be an optimum lens and camera combination for each body.  I spent a while looking through images I've taken and I think it really breaks down like this:

1.  The 60D and the Carl Zeiss 50mm is my favorite combination for casual portraits and walking around  just making photographic trouble.  I like shooting with the rig between f2.2 and f3.5.  I like what it does to the backgrounds when I get in close.  Works for me.

2.  The 7D is the perfect match for the 15-85 and that combination is rarely rent asunder.  For some reason I feel like they ultimately compliment each other.  I love the wide angle end and I find more and more that it's a lens that was made for wide open shooting.  The 7D sensor and AF seem to wring out every scintilla of performance from the optics and vice versa.  If it's commercial and I've got to get the shot this is the camera I'll grab.  Doubly so if it involves "smart flash" or HS flash.  Really.  Almost as good as the Nikons........sniff......(meaning as good with flash as the Nikons are.  Not anything else.)

3.  The crazy anomaly.  The 5D2 has the best overall image quality of the three and not just by a whisper.  But it seems harder to extract that extra five to ten percent of quality for me.  Sometimes, when all the stars line up I get incredible stuff.  And for high ISO I am consistently impressed and amazed.  But it can be a goofy camera to work with.  The body doesn't really feel as solid as the other two.   And instead of one there are two lenses that I think are synergistic with it.  One is the 85mm 1.8 which seems to ride on the body about 60% of the time.  The other is the 70-200 f4 which comes out of the case when we do traditional portraits, lit with softboxes and perfectly metered.  Every frame is sharp from f4 on down and it has no weird CA's or soft spots.  I thought I'd love the Canon 5D2 with the 50mm focal length but that's been a non-starter for me.  I love using it on a tripod and with the mirror locked up.  That's "sharp mode" and it really reaches down and pulls out great performances when used that way.

If I had to choose one of the three to go and shoot personal work with?  It'd be the 60D.  More to come.

I was thinking about this whole subject as I was "nerding" around in the studio getting used to my new LED light fixation.  I decided to do a photograph with which to illustrate this blog and I wanted to see how the new lights would do on a product shot.  I wanted to see what, if any, the advantages of using LED's over florescent or hot lights would be.

Right off the bat I found that I could use the lights closer than I every have before.  That means even a small panel with some diffusion on it yields the same soft light as other fixtures in bigger fixtures used further away.  I could also use fixtures right next to my camera without worrying about being blinded by the flash or heating up the camera.  In the same situation the florescents would probably have held their own.  But compared to tungsten and flash the whole setup, visualization process and shooting was easier, more comfortable and more straightforward.

I even included a set up shot.....just for fun.

not shown is one more light to the far left of the scene which is providing additional illumination on the background to keep it even.

The lights are the ePhotoinc LED 500's I've mentioned before.  I took a chance and it turned out well.  So far I've done a handful of assignments and my only real issue is that getting perfect white balance has to be more intentional at the front end of the process now.  Also, the lights can cause polyester fabrics to go a bit purple.  I'll experiment with some UV filtration when I get back by gear.   For everything else?  Charming.  And cool.


obakesan said...

good result. The focus confirm is handy, but even more handy when it works :-) I've found the modern EOS cameras less reliable in this than the older ones.

I should check the situation on the 5D

Bill Millios said...

Kirk - two things:

To help you set your microfocus, print out the instructions and the focus sheet here, and shoot tethered:


I had a 24-70 that was "always soft" - turns out it was missing focus. Just because the camera thinks it's in focus doesn't necessarily mean it is. The good news is that the 5DII will remember different microadjustments for EACH lens you have.

Now, about the purpling from LEDs - try a polarizer. I had LEDs going from the DJ at a party one time, was getting horrible purpling on a video camera - there was an old-timer ... err ... "experienced photographer" there who told me that the solution was to use a polarizer. I asked, "straight or circular" and he blanked out - he couldn't remember which one he had ... but try it out, and see if that helps.

Mel said...

Been reading your blog for several months and enjoying the learning I get. Curious, though; it seems every camera you use has to have a lens of a different brand "welded" to it via some adapter. I realize from my stereo days that different components behave better/worse than others and sometimes the best system is a mongrel of various brands. But are camera/lens systems the same? You seem to like the Zeiss lens a lot - why not just shoot on a Leica all the time? You're not the only photographer I read who is hybridizing their systems so, as an emerging photographer, I'd like to understand the benefits of doing so before I get too married to one system.

Thanks - keep up the cool words and images.

The Mgmt. said...

Kirk, it seems like you're the only guy in the world who likes the 60D. From what I've read it seems the 60D gives you 60% of the features of the 7D for 60% of the cost. So, if you don't need those other 40% of the features...why pay for it?

kirk tuck said...

Mel, first of all, it's fun to customize stuff. But the real story is that camera companies tend to be good at some things and not as good at others. And then, to complicate matters they constantly leapfrog over their competitors on advancements. I think most people like the way Canon does their chips. Until recently (Nikon's turn to leapfrog) Canon ruled the roost for low noise, high ISO performance. But by most standards their 50mm lenses were nothing to write home about. And their wide angles weren't considered top tier. But they also rule for video. What's a photographer who also wants to do video to do? Well, I'm not alone in thinking he'd look at third party lenses. In fact, Zeiss makes a whole series of dedicated lenses for the Canons. And most reviews peg them as better and sharper. But in the longer ranges Canon is just as good so I'm only looking for focal lengths I use that need improvements. I like Canons 85 and 100 so I won't upgrade to Zeiss for those. But I would consider the Zeiss 28. On another note, manual focus lenses are a lot easier to use for video. They tend to have smoother focusing rings and more linear focus throw. Combine all the attributes and you have a very sensible argument for Canon+Zeiss in your favorite focal lengths. No adapter required. Fully automation (minus AF) at your fingertips. People adapt more things to Canons than Nikons because Nikon has a deeper lens mount to sensor depth. The shallower the depth the more things that can be adapted.

I did throw a $5000 Leica lens on an Olympus recently but that was really just for fun. For the most part I use the lenses that come from the manufacturer. The only other exceptions, besides the Zeiss 50, are a few Nikon lenses like the micro and the fast 50mm 1.2 that are good and I already have from my previous Nikon system.

If your focal lengths are adequately covered by your camera makers there's usually no compelling reason to modify other than curiosity and a change of pace. Thanks.

kirk tuck said...

Mgmt, I disagree with all of the people who say that. The 7D is a great camera but so is the 60D. But here's the deal, it feels more streamlined and low key. It's a handling thing more than anything else. But I don't think you can just weigh features and do a checklist thing. I think the way a camera feels in your hand is just as vital. The 60D feels great. To me.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Interesting. At Photokina, my brother and me stopped for a while to watch some stage shooting demo from Guido Karp - you may have heard of him; he shot lots of CD and covers for Rolling Stone and such.

After his performance, one of the audience asked about lenses, and Guido said he just bought some better ones than his Canon "L". And a tenth of a second before he said it, I told my brother: "Zeiss".

They're legendary. And the glasses on my nose are from them as well - makes a big difference to what I've had before.

On your little crop camera, that 1.4/50mm just looks like the perfect portrait lens IMHO. Can it compete with the Oly ZD 50 macro for this, or with a real 85mm on the 5D?


Matt Beaty said...

The beep does tend to piss a lot of people off. Good for you for having a little lighthearted fun with people who seem to take life a little too seriously.

Of course, if you're shooting next to me and I hear the beep, I'll probably (in the kindest and most respectful way possible) beat you to death with my monopod ;-)

In all seriousness - if the Canon focus issues can be fixed with better glass, I dont understand why so many people make such a big fuss about it.

Anonymous said...

The Zeiss 35mm f/2 is superb on the 5DmkII. Also, at some point, give the Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro a try at the same apertures you are using with the 1.4. Personally, my preference would be for the f/2 lens. Granted, it is more than twice as expensive ...maybe the best 50mm period. The 21mm is also a great lens on both Canon and Nikon FF bodies. Given the problems with Canon wides, Zeiss works great and manual focus is even less of an issue with these focal lengths.

Mel said...

Thanks for the explanation on your thinking; you're way ahead of me on experience. I can understand the pursuit of sharpness and focus control but have never tried the Zeiss products. I have an Olympus E-3 - is there an adaptor you'd recommend to put some German glass on to play with?

kirk tuck said...

Mel, The best thing to do is to get a Nikon to Olympus adapter and then buy the Nikon version of the Zeiss lens. The Nikon one has an aperture ring whereas on the Canon aperture is controlled in camera and so can't be used manually on non-Canon cameras.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, Its cool that you're experimenting with LED lights. I think the Dedolight LEDzilla is quite an interesting light where you can control spill and focus the light. What do you think of it?

I hope you'll write about the Olympus E-5 too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the set up shot! Looks like you're having a ton of fun with the LED's. Are they powerful enough for the most of the studio stuff you want to use them for?

Juznobsrvr said...

wow... appears that you've stumbled into a great combo... i'm in the market for a new DLSR so I'll have to give the cam and lens a try... hopefully, your combo's performance is repeatable with an identical system... thanks for sharing

Patrick Snook said...


On the 7D, I use the live-view focussing often. It's very interesting to use. If you have the camera locked down, portraits are easy to get focus exactly where you want it (eyes, usually). Even handheld it can work. Especially in the dimmest light, when the autofocus struggles (or with aggressive back-lights, and dark foreground subject). At times, it reminds me of shooting with the Hassleblad.

The 7D does make a lot of focussing much easier, including viewfinder focussing--and I wrestle with the notorious Canon 50/1.2 for much of my work, so I know a challenge when it bites.

An interesting thing: if you magnify the point you want to focus, and you have already toggled the button to tell the 7D where to put that focussed matter in the context of the whole frame, you can shoot somewhat blindly (as in, you only see the tiny cropped but sharp detail from the actual full image), which can be rather fun . . . if a little scary. I don't do that often, especially if it's time-critical and commissioned work, but it's a useful exercise.

Coincidentally, I played with the Zeiss 50/1.4 yesterday for a few minutes, on a 5dmk2, at the big PDN photo bash in NYC. Fun. Enjoyed the focussing (ah, the good old days). Had limited success using the beeping and blinking focus confirm, and never got around to investigating the live-view (can you, on a 5dmk2?). Interesting tidbit overheard: gentleman behind the counter asked the gentleman next to me to take care with the lens he was fooling with, and requested he not drop it, or the quarter-million price tag might put a large hole in his pocket. Yikes.

Does the 60D offer live-view magnified focussing?



Bob Krist said...

Kirk: Great post! Have you found a source for batteries for your LEDs? (if you got the type that take batteries...I notice that they have a dual voltage/battery model and a straight 110V version). Also, did you look into the 1000 model? I'm about to pull the trigger on a couple of these and was curious about your experience. Thanks! Bob

kirk tuck said...

Bob, I haven't gotten batteries yet but several of the panel can use them. I'm also amazed at the timing of your question about the 1000 model as I was just unpacking the box from FEDEX. I'll probably stick up a review, walk thru, by the end of the day. I love working with these things. I'm also loving the little panels that take camcorder batteries. Very useful.

Anonymous said...

HI Kirk,
I drove an hour and a half to try the 60D with a 35mm 2.0 Zeiss. I notice you use a 50 (80eq). Is a 50mm better for walking around / general travel photography or is the 35mm better. The store had a used Zeiss 50mm for a Nikon. Would I be better off buying a 300s with the 50?
Thanks for your expertise.

kirk tuck said...

On the 60D the 35mm will probably be better for most people's way of seeing. I like longer lenses and have written a bunch about how I like medium tele's for walking around. Most of my friends prefer a wider angle and think I'm nuts.

The Nikon stuff is good but I think Canon has a better handle on video and I'm starting to use that for more and more stuff.

Anonymous said...

So, are you going to drag us all into LED lighting like you did with small flashes? I just wanted to know in advance to I can get my credit cards ready. It may not be practical but watching you evolve is always fun!

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