A Mighty Combination

I mentioned in my previous post that we upgraded our daughter camera and that she uses now a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 70-300L zoom. I wanted to share my thoughts about this Mighty Combination.

I mentioned in my previous post that we upgraded our daughter camera and that she uses now a Canon EOS 60D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM zoom. I wanted to share my thoughts about this Mighty Combination.

Today my daughter was attending one of these summer workshop for kids about an electric car (you can imagine my thrill that my daughter is already interested by renewable energy) and I couldn’t resist from borrowing her new kit for a relaxing walk at the MacRitchie reservoir.

First of all there is nothing scientific about this review, if you’d like thorough tests of the 60D you can visit here and here and for the lens you can read here, but rather I wanted to see what’s possible with this combination on its nearly simplest setting: JPEG, Program mode and Auto ISO and using only the exposure compensation to help the camera exposing to the right. My approach wasn’t to check if this combination is overall better than it would be with a 5D Mark III or a 1D Mark IV (it would probably be blown out of the water) but to see what a beginner could do. It is certainly not your typical beginner configuration with a mid-range camera (very cheap now as it has well passed it’s update cycle and a new model is expected sometimes this summer) and the most expensive lens in this category (70-300 non-constant aperture). Regardless you might be able to find the lens and the body for an overall quite attractive price compared to what you’d buy for a consumer level 70-300 and a current camera body (as you’re likely to change your body much quicker than a pro lens that you’ll likely keep for more than 10 years, while using several different bodies with it).

Ok so with this out of the way, here are my impressions. If your schedule is however too tight to read what follow, I’ll give you the conclusion now: this setup is simply amazing! You can read many reviews and continue below, but frankly if you’re beginner or intermediate into wildlife photography: run to the camera shop and grab this kit while the 60D is still available (If given the choice favour a 15-85 as kit zoom). For the 70-300L you’ll probably have to scout to find a good price but with a bit of luck you’ll get a bargain.

Now to my impressions: this setup is quite light at about 1.7kg; this might sound heavy if you’re used to standard camera kit but as soon as you start going into wildlife your equipment weight will climb quite fast. For me, and many of the other wildlife photographers, it is quite common to carry a 10kg rig on my shoulder (tripod included) and have at the same time a smaller 2kg kit on a strap (the Bird-in-Flight camera), this not counting a vest or bag with other accessories: all in all if you go serious about wildlife photography you could well end up carrying 15kg just in photography gear. With this perspective 1.7kg is quite light. My 8 year old daughter is quite comfortable with it and did already take pretty amazing pictures despite having the camera for only a week now, so it’s even gonna get better with time.

Also it is not just about the weight, it is also how the kit is balanced and in this case it is very good. I think that part of it is due to the fact that the zoom ring is placed in front of the lens, as opposed to older models where the focus ring is in the front and the zoom ring is in the back. It makes you hold the lens by the end rather than by the middle (of course if you start using more manual focus you’ll move your hand but then it is likely that you’ll be on a tripod). There seems to be a trend that makers are inverting focus and zoom rings on the barrel of their new lenses (Canon with its 70-300L and their new bazooka the 200-400L and Nikon on their new 80-400 lens), this is probably because autofocus are getting so good that with zoom people are rarely using the focus ring, that’s just a hypothesis but as stability increases as you hold the lens farther away from the camera this would make sense. For those who like me are used to the “old” design this makes some getting used to it but it comes quickly. As to the balance, even if the lens extends at the longer end the balance is not significantly changed, the front lens and barrel seem not very heavy and its extension affects the balance only minimally. Like all pro lenses from Canon, the build is flawless, it has a dust and humidity rubber seal on the mount (but still requires a filter, such as a UV filter, screwed to the front to be fully sealed), the rings are smooth to use.

Canon has been cheap in one aspect with this lens: it does not include a lens collar which must be purchased separately. I find using the tripod collar just ok as its rotation could be smoother, and when using the lens handheld it is more comfortable to rotate the lens collar as to have the foot pointing up as otherwise it comes in the way of using the focus ring. Another criticism is that there is no focus limiter, especially given that the lens has some macro capabilities it can take some time when it hunts from the minimum focus distance to infinity, but that’s being picky given the speed of the AF (more on this later).

All recent lenses from Canon are optically stabilised (except the 24-70/2.8L and earlier the TSE-17mm) and the 70-300 has its own stabiliser. It is rated to 4 stops of assistance and I can testify: it is good, really good compared to older design of IS. It has the usual 2 modes: normal and panning (where stabilisation is active only in the direction perpendicular to the panning) and is tripod aware (e.g. you can let it on when the lens is on a tripod; in much earlier design when the lens was stable on a tripod the IS tended to try to stabilise vibration that wasn’t there… resulting in blurred image when mounted on a tripod: how ironic! This is no longer the case with this lens).

The 60D is physically well designed, its grip is comfortable in the hand from at least small hands (my daughter) to average size (mine), not sure for people with large hands but my guess is that it’s still comfortable. Controls on the back are easy to reach with the thumb while keeping the index on either the front wheel or the shutter button. Selection of the autofocus is done via a multi controller place in the centre of the back wheel and is great for focus point selection: one press and you get the focus point you want, super fast! If you are however used to bigger canon bodies you might start looking for the familiar joystick 🙂 Overall all the necessary controls are there, they are easy to find even while keeping the eye pressed on the viewfinder. The usual question between Canon and Nikon is here, they mostly differ by the way they lay out their controls other than that there is not much difference between the two: they are both very good. Over time Nikon or Canon users are attached to their brand because they are first used to their brand and second they generally could not afford to switch… they have so much money invested in their lenses that a change would make them lose too much. In my personal case even if Nikon were to come with a camera doing in every way twice as much as the equivalent Canon camera for half of the price, I would still not be able to afford a switch…

Getting now to the core: how does the 60D delivers with the 70-300L mounted. Remember I’ve set the camera on Program, with Auto ISO and output is JPG. Hand holding, focus point selection is done via the back multi-controller and I’m using the large back wheel to dial-in exposure compensation. This is basically my first try of the camera (I’ve only played with it for less than 30’ so I knew it was fun to use 🙂 ) and it is really easy to use, well balanced, very reactive and despite being an APS-C format the viewfinder is very clear and not one of those keyholes that can be found in some entry level cameras.

One thing that is immediately noticeable, even for someone used to pro level cameras, is how responsive the AF is. Both the camera and the lens AF speed work together to give you a really usable performance. Of course the camera has only 9 AF points (versus 61 in a full frame Canon 5D Mark III) but they are all solid and for beginners it can sometimes be easier to have only 9 points than an army of them and fiddling so much when selecting them that you lose the shot. But for this to work: they have to be all usable. And they are, of course the central AF is more precise (that’s the case for every camera out there) but you can really use the every AF point as well (I remember my first Canon EOS 300D where the central AF was hunting and the other were there more for decoration…). The amazing thing is that this camera is 3 years old, given how technology advance this camera is still very solid indeed!

Then there is the image quality, again for a 3 years old camera, I find the image quality very good at low ISO to acceptable up to 3200 ISO but with current software the level of noise is quite curable: thus a usable range from 100 to 3200 ISO which is very good given the relatively slow zoom (which opens from f/4 at the short end down to f/5.6 at the long end).

Some examples from today, out of the camera (no treatment except for cropping the images to 100%). Obviously not artistic masterpieces but realistic real life pictures gotten with this combination.

First a pacific swallow

Pacific Swallow (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400, Evaluative metering +2)

Pacific Swallow (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400, Evaluative metering +2)

Pacific Swallow (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400, Evaluative metering +2), 100% details

100% details

You can see that 18 megapixel is plenty even for swallows…


Long tail Macaque in dim light

Long-tailed Macaque (300mm, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200s, Evaluative metering +1/3)

Long-tailed Macaque (300mm, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200s, Evaluative metering +1/3)

100% details of the Long-tailed Macaque image (300mm, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200s, Evaluative metering +1/3)

100% details

Noisy in the shadows yes (and it is JPG so it has already been treated in camera) but it is manageable. Nothing to be completely ashamed compared to current models.

Crimson sunbird in the shadow

Crimson Sunbird (300mm, ISO 3200, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering)

Crimson Sunbird (300mm, ISO 3200, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering)

Crimson Sunbird (300mm, ISO 3200, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering) 100% detail

100% details

Finally an Orange-bellied Flowerpecker

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering)

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering)

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (300mm, ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/400s, Evaluative metering) 100% details

100% details

Again these are real life pictures, I must admit I was looking for some relaxation and I did not particularly try to come up with great pictures. Still without putting much effort (if at all) I have decent quality image which I would have been happy with a decade ago when I started (again) photography. With a bit more habit and effort you could come with really GREAT pictures!

There will always be a better camera, a better lens, but now is one of these special moment where you can easily get an optimal setup for a very small price. I’m not in the secret with Canon, but my guess is: it won’t last long.

A Mighty CombinationChristian C. Berclaz

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