About Ben Pitt

Author Archive | Ben Pitt

Canon EOS 6D Hands-ON — Canon Giveth, Canon Taketh Away

Canon EOS 6DIt seems our exploratory swim in the waters of full-frame DSLRs is far from complete. With the ink from his recent reviews of the D600 and the mirrorless Panasonic GH3 still drying, I asked my homie Ben Pitt to put the Canon EOS 6D between his microscope plates and share his findings here. As you’d expect with a lower-priced semi-pro camera, the EOS 6D is a mixed-bag. It’s light and boasts integrated GPS + Wi-Fi, but a couple notable omissions are enough to yank this camera from the “obvious choice” list. Scrutinizing consumers have come to expect a catch with the $2,000 price point products. Does the EOS 6D have a big one? I’ll let Ben take it from here. – Chase

A year ago, a full-frame camera meant a professional camera. They were simply too expensive for the majority of amateur photography enthusiasts. But with the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D, the landscape has changed.

Last month I wrote about the Nikon D600, and whether the inevitable compromises it makes compared to the pricier D800 are worth living with. I concluded that – for me at least – they were. Given the choice of a D800 or a D600 plus an extra $800 to spend on glass (or more realistically, household bills), I’d happily go for the latter.

This month, it’s time to ask the same question about the Canon EOS 6D.

There are no nasty surprises regarding image quality. The 6D’s 20-megapixel full-frame sensor is new, but quality is hard to distinguish from the EOS 5D Mark III’s 22.3-megapixel output. Details are marginally lower, but so too are noise levels. Incidentally, detail and noise levels are very similar to the D600, too. Canon and Nikon each has its distinctive colour processing but there’s nothing much to separate these three cameras’ image quality on an objective basis.

1/320s, f/5.6, ISO 400, 400mm (click to enlarge)

1/60s, f/5, ISO 100, 32mm

1/125s, f/2.2, ISO 320, 50mm (click to enlarge)

1/200s, f/2.2, ISO 12800, 50mm (click to enlarge)

Their video modes are more varied. The 6D’s videos lag a little behind the D600′s for detail levels, and it lacks a headphone out to monitor the microphone input. However, unlike the D600, its aperture setting can be adjusted while recording. Overall, I’d class that as a draw, but both come a distant second to the Panasonic GH3 for video.

As with the D600, the 6D takes its design cues from a cropped-sensor sibling – in this case, the EOS 60D. The 6D is only fractionally larger and heavier than the 60D, although the lack of an integrated flash and articulated screen possibly account for the minimal weight gain. The layout of buttons is very similar, with a generous number of single-function buttons but a few less than on the 5D Mark III. It’s great to have the AF-ON button included – something Nikon chose to omit from the D600. The lack of direct access to white balance settings is disappointing, though.

Some people will lament the single SDXC slot, which compares unfavourably to the D600’s dual SDXC and the 5D Mark III’s SDXC and CompactFlash slots. I can live with a single slot, but it seems that this particular one hampers performance. Testing with an SDHC card rated at 94MB/s, burst mode set off at 4.2fps but slowed to 2.3fps after 26 frames. When I tested the 5D Mark III (which uses the same DIGIC 5+ processor), I found that the 6fps burst rate lasted indefinitely with a 90MB/s CompactFlash card but slowed to 2fps after 28 shots with a 94MB/s SDHC card.

Still, 4.2fps for 26 frames isn’t so bad. If you’re looking for a fast camera for sports or wildlife photography, you should be more wary of the 6D’s autofocus sensor.

As with the Nikon D600, its points are bunched towards the centre of the frame – it’s as if Canon has taken an APS-C SLR’s autofocus sensor and plonked it into a full-frame camera. But whereas the D600 has 39 AF points, nine of which are cross-type, the 6D has a much simpler 11-point autofocus with just a single cross-type point in the centre. That rules out the automatic subject tracking that’s available in the D600 and 5D Mark III – there simply aren’t enough AF points to track moving subjects. It’s also a pretty big drawback for portrait work, where you want to be able to focus on the eye without having to focus and recompose the shot. Then again, the 5D Mark II had a nine-point autofocus system, and it sold by the bucket load.

So far, the D600 is coming out on top for features, but the 6D’s trump card is integrated Wi-Fi and GPS. GPS worked without a hitch in my tests. The GPS radio stays on when the camera is switched off, so it needn’t spend ages recalculating its position when you want to take a photo. An icon on the passive LCD screen reminds you to switch it off (via the menu) at the end of the day – shame there’s no hardware switch.

The Wi-Fi implementation is one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen. With the help of the EOS Remote app for iOS and Android, the camera can be remotely controlled from a smartphone or tablet, complete with live view, touchscreen control over the autofocus point and full access to exposure settings. Image browsing is well catered for too, with responsive full-screen previews, detailed EXIF data and the ability to apply star ratings. There’s no option to transfer photos to the app at the full 20-megapixel resolution, though.

The EOS Remote app running on an iPad

The 6D also supports wireless tethering to a PC or Mac, which worked flawlessly once I’d jumped through various hoops to set it up. There are various other features, such as uploads to Facebook and YouTube over a local network and the ability to stream slideshows to a Smart TV via DLNA.

Overall, the EOS 6D is a heady mix. Image quality is outstanding. Video capture has its limitations but picture quality is certainly flattering. Its controls and performance are decent enough, the autofocus is disappointing and the wireless features are spot on. That might sound like a fair compromise considering the breakthrough price, but it’s very much a case of taking the rough with the smooth. To me, the D600 feels more balanced.

As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Are 11 autofocus points enough, or has Canon misjudged its market here? Bear in mind that Canon wants the 6D to appeal to people who are ready to move up from a cropped-sensor SLR – it’s not designed for potential 5D Mark III owners who are looking to save some cash. Are the Wi-Fi and GPS must-have features, tempting extras or a waste of space? And putting any allegiances to one side, which company do you feel has made the best cut-price full-frame camera?

Hands-On Camera Review with the Panasonic GH3 — [Side By Side Comparos + Can it Beat a $250 eBay Bargain?]

Given the response and discussion around last week’s post on the D600, I invited pal Ben Pitt back to share another hands on review of a camera that has been competing for eyeballs: the GH3. Since the introduction of the Lumix DMC-GH1 back in 2009, the GH-series’ has been gobbling up mindshare for photographers looking for some great technology in a tightly sized and affordable package. I’m a big ol’ fan of the mirrorless category of cameras of late…seems that all the manufacturers are making massive leaps to give us astounding quality in small packages (I’m currently playing with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and loving it…and did a run-down on the mirrorless category — Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Fuji — a few weeks ago here). But now, let’s let Ben do a deep dive on the Panasonic GH3 below. Take it away… -Chase

Thanks Chase. Panasonic has long been the maverick outsider of digital cameras – consumers have long been not quite sure where it fits into their lexicon – but with the GH3 it looks like it’s lining up to join the establishment. Reviewers have been falling over each other to heap praise on this camera, and it’s easy to see why.

The GH3 is bristling with the right sockets, buttons, levers and dials, an articulated screen and a large, high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Autofocus is startlingly quick, and being able to place the autofocus point anywhere in the frame via the touchscreen is a major advantage that conventional SLRs can’t match. There’s 4fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus, rising to 5.6fps with fixed focus, and a large buffer for sustained quick-fire operation. A PC sync socket and optional battery grip demonstrate that this is a reasonably serious photographer’s tool.

Image quality is a big improvement over previous Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, and broadly on a par with the Nikon D7000 for noise and details. However, it’s the video mode that really shines. Its videos are incredibly sharp, and there’s less moiré interference than from Canon and Nikon’s SLRs. They can’t match the GH3′s smooth video autofocus, either. With full exposure control while recording, bit rates up to 72Mbit/s and frame rates up to 60p (50p in Europe), nothing else at this price comes close for video.

Nothing, that is, except its predecessor, the GH2. The GH3 makes big strides for photo quality and ergonomics, but a lot of reviewers have found that improvements in video quality compared to the GH2 are relatively subtle. That’s not a criticism of the GH3 but praise for the GH2, which has been a big hit among independent filmmakers.

I’ve been using the original GH1 since June 2009. I’ve reviewed a wide range of cameras since then, but I haven’t used anything that has tempted me to upgrade. Admittedly, the GH1 is showing its age for photo quality, particularly for noise levels. But for video, it’s very similar to the GH2 and more capable than anything else I’ve used.

However, I’ve recently been shooting with the GH3 (on loan from Panasonic), and I’m seriously tempted to upgrade. But then, the GH3 costs around $1,300 (€1,200, £1,200) and the GH1 is only fetching around $250 (€200, £170) on eBay.

That got me thinking… the GH1 is currently a phenomenal bargain for video producers. Glass tends to keep its value much longer than cameras, so are video producers who are considering the GH3 better off picking up a GH1 and spending the rest on lenses? And should I stop pining over the latest model and be content with what I’ve got?

Frustratingly, the answer isn’t as clear cut as I’d hoped.

In many of my tests, the GH1 and GH3′s videos were hard to tell apart. The GH3 had a slight advantage for sharpness and its colours were a little punchier, but there wasn’t much in it. Here’s a frame from each camera’s 1080p output, split into three to show the GH3, GH1 and Sony’s NEX-5N – another excellent camera for video, but clearly trailing here for sharpness and colour response (click the image to enlarge it and type F to expand to actual size).

 

Next, here’s the GH1 and GH3 again, this time set to minimum contrast in an attempt to capture as much dynamic range as possible. Both cameras excel for detail but neither of them have managed to capture anything in this over-exposed sky. Having said that, the GH1′s murky grey sky isn’t much to look at – I’d prefer to settle for the GH3′s bleached out white.

 

The GH1′s handling of skin tones has always bugged me, with a strange habit of vein-like bands of desaturated colours along the edge of highlighted areas. It’s pretty subtle, but having noticed it, I keep spotting it again and again. It’s just about visible in the example below, but there was no sign of it in the GH3′s output. Otherwise, there’s not much to choose between them here. If anything, the GH1′s colours are generally more flattering and noise is less pronounced.

 

The GH3 really starts to prove its worth in this high-contrast shot. The sky is well exposed in both cameras’ output but the GH3 has captured lots more detail in the gloomy foreground.

 

Boosting the shadows in editing software shows just how much more detail there is in the GH3′s output. There’s no contest.

 

Finally, here’s one more example, with the Nikon D600 thrown in for good measure. The D600 trails slightly for detail in the rushes at the bottom of the frame. However, the GH1′s lack of detail in the dark trees on the other side of the lake brings it to third place here. Then again, I wouldn’t consider the D600 for video because of its moiré problems, fixed aperture while recording and lousy video autofocus.

 

So what’s it to be? I think it’s clear that the GH3 is worth the extra for those who want the best. No other mirrorless or SLR camera can touch it for video quality. As for me, I think I’ll stick with the GH1 for now. It may struggle in high-contrast scenes but it still packs an incredible bang for its buck. And that new Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty tempting too.

You can buy the GH3 at B&H Photo here
You can rent the GH3 at Borrowlenses.com here

D600 the Affordable full-frame DSLR — What’s the Catch? [Hands on Review]

It’s been out in the marketplace for a while now – but the conversation and questions continue to churn around the D600. Is it all that and a bag of chips? Or is there a catch? Is it a good choice for the working pro and how does it compare to Nikon’s D800? At a pricepoint that is majorly accesible, it offers similar features as the DX-format D7000 and seems to represent a big leap for photographers. For those of us who have been around for a while, it’s interesting to think back only 4 years ago when the D90 landed and changed the way we use our DSLRs forever. (Check out that vintage video I made to launch Nikon’s first-in-class here) In fact, it was just over a decade ago that the first full frame DSLR was announced (Canon EOS 1Ds). At that point it was the realm of the elite pro or wealthy enthusiast at $8,000. Today, the D600, can be found for less than $2,000. We’ve come a long way baby. Given the response to my post on the launch of the D600 , I invited my friend Ben Pitt to continue the conversation with a hands on review of the camera. [At this moment, I'm climbing Kilimanjaro with some friends to bring awareness to clean, safe water in Africa. I've loaded up content for this week with the help of experts like Ben.] You might remember Ben’s last post that described How to take a 7-Gigapixel photo. Take it away Ben. – Chase

When Chase asked for your thoughts about the D600 in September, you didn’t hold back. There was a surprising number of negative comments, but perhaps it’s not so surprising. After all, $2,000 is an amazing price for a full-frame SLR, so anyone with a healthy dose of scepticism will be looking for a catch.

I’ve been shooting with a D600 for a few weeks, and I can confirm that there’s a huge amount to love about this camera. The 24-megapixel full-frame sensor delivers what is, for me, the perfect balance of high detail and low noise. It also allows for 5.5fps continuous shooting – a big improvement on the pricier D800′s 4fps. The controls are almost identical to the D7000′s, but that’s not a criticism – all the key functions fall under the fingers.

Having said that, the Auto ISO mode is more sophisticated than on the D7000 (adapting the shutter speed in line with the focal length) and is quicker to switch on and off. The viewfinder is as big as the D800′s, the screen is just as big and sharp, the weather-sealing equally substantial, and it includes mic in and headphone out sockets. It’s a little smaller and lighter than the D800 but it’s still a comfortable fit in the hand.

There’s not much to report about image quality. We know what Nikon’s JPEG processing engine is capable of, and it’s firing on all cylinders here. Details are sharp and noise is far lower than any cropped-sensor camera. It’s a little lower than from the D800, too, thanks to the lower pixel density.

But surely there’s a catch? Otherwise, the D800 is dead in the water. Yes, there are a few downgrades compared to the D800, which I’ll run through below (I’m not counting the sensor, which for me a sideways movement with its lower detail and lower noise). It’s up to you whether you see them as deal-breakers.

 

Smaller, simpler autofocus sensor

The D600′s 39-point autofocus sensor uses the same layout as the D7000′s. I’ve got no issue with the number of points – after all, Canon’s rival 6D only has 11. However, while the array of points largely fills the D7000′s viewfinder, they’re much more bunched in the centre of the D600′s full-frame viewfinder. This makes it harder to track erratic subjects. Subjects towards the edges of the frame require a focus-recompose-shoot technique.

No aperture adjustment during live view or video capture

Live view generally works well, taking about one second to autofocus – not great but better than many SLRs’ live view. However, while you can adjust the aperture value, it only adjusts the aperture blades just before you take a photo, so there’s no real-time preview of the depth of field.

Personally, I’m not too bothered about this. I’m more bothered by the limited aperture control for video. Here, the only way to adjust the aperture is by exiting live view, spinning the command dial and then re-entering live view. It’s not possible to adjust the aperture while composing a shot on the screen or while recording (unless your lens has an aperture ring). Shutter priority isn’t available for video, either – it’s fully automatic or fully manual only.

No 1080p/60 video

On the subject of video, it doesn’t seem unreasonable in 2012 for a $2,000 camera to be able to record 1080p at 60fps. There are enough $500 cameras that can do it. 60fps shooting is great for slow motion, but on the D600 it’s only available if you’re willing to drop the resolution to 720p. Then again, the same applies to the D800 too. Otherwise, this is an extremely capable video camera, with crisp details and the same colour output as in JPEGs.

No AF On button, PC sync or CompactFlash slot. Different button layout to other full-frame Nikons.

These issues might put off people considering the D600 as a backup camera to a pricier Nikon SLR, and who don’t want to have to give a moment’s thought when switching between cameras. For those coming from the other direction – perhaps going full-frame for the first time – there are easy workarounds.

AF-On lets you assign autofocus and shutter release to separate buttons to avoid unnecessary refocusing when taking a string of shots. The D600 doesn’t have a dedicated AF-On button, but either the AE Lock or front-mounted Fn button can be assigned to this task. You still get a dedicated DOF preview button as well as this Fn button.

PC Sync – add this for $20 or even just $3 with a shoe adapter.

CompactFlash – the fastest 16GB SDHC cards costs $40 – it’s not worth worrying about your old CF cards.

1/200s flash sync

A few comment posters complained about the relatively slow flash sync speed. This seems to be more a criticism of the general direction that Nikon, Canon et al are going – after all, 1/200s isn’t much slower than the D800 and D4′s 1/250s. Besides, switching the D600 to Auto-FP mode (short for Auto Flash Power), I had no problem syncing an off-camera strobe at 1/250s. If you want 1/500s flash sync to reduce the amount sunlight in your flash photography, get yourself a D40 – no current full-frame or cropped-sensor SLR that I know of can do it.

Mysterious dust problems

Various reviewers and forum posters have noticed a build-up of dirt on the D600′s sensor. There’s a risk of this with any SLR, of course, but I can confirm what others have found – the D600 does appear to be more prone to it than most, particularly in the top-left of the frame. More worryingly, the dirt seems to be coming from inside the camera. I’ve been shooting with a single lens, which hasn’t come off since the camera arrived, and there are dust spots now that weren’t there earlier. They’re just about visible on plain areas of photos (such as clear skies) at f8, but in most cases I have to shoot at f/16 or higher for them to show up. That doesn’t excuse it, though. I’ve asked Nikon for a comment, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. I’d be tempted to hold out parting with any cash until they do.

The D7000 was – and is – a fantastic camera, but the D600 is a compelling upgrade, delivering the lower noise and extra detail that comes with full-frame but without the usual prohibitive price tag. The smaller autofocus sensor area and dust problems are the only lingering issues for me – hopefully the latter can be resolved. If so, I’d happily pick the D600 over the D800. In the end, it seems there is really no catch.

Professionals looking for a backup camera are probably better off with the D800. It will feel more familiar, and its 36-megapixel sensor is a welcome compliment to the 16-megapixel D4.

_________
You can buy the Nikon D600 from B&H here.

Highslide for Wordpress Plugin