I wrote a review back in November that compared the Nikon D3100 to the Canon Rebel T1i. It was not a technical, on-the-bench type of article full of jargon and esoteric detail, but a hands-on field-test by someone who uses cameras to make a living all day long. I just tried to give my best ‘first impression’ of these two very similar pieces of gear, pieces that are frequently the starting point for long relationships with their respective manufacturers.
Thanks to my friends over at Bennett’s Camera in New Orleans, I’m back with another review, this time between the hot, new and very-popular Nikon D7000 camera body and the Canon 60D. Once again, this will be a ‘first impression’ look at both of these two cameras, each of which might be considered as an upgrade from their entry-level DSLR brethren. (Maybe you already own an older Canon Rebel camera or a Nikon D90.) We’ll shoot some photos with each camera and then do a bit of video.
They’ve outfitted me with these two cameras and their respective name-brand zooms, namely, the 24-70mm f 2.8 Canon and Nikon zooms. These are some beautiful setups! Although the lenses could be the subject of a comparison review themselves, here we’re going to concentrate on the two camera bodies.
For starters, the Nikon retails for a bit more than the Canon: around 1200 bucks for the Nikon vs. a cool thousand to 1100 for the Canon. So right away, one of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself is whether you’re getting $100-200 more camera with the Nikon. The specs between the two are very similar: they both shoot big files (16.2 MP for the Nikon, 18MP for the Canon), and 1920 x 1080 HD video. Both are backed up by huge systems of top-quality lenses that you’ll never outgrow. So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and buying one of these two cameras, what should you consider?
The biggest difference is in the body construction. Unlike its predecessor Canon 50D, the 60D is a plastic shell. The Nikon, on the other hand, is a magnesium alloy construction. This is a big quality difference and represents a repositioning down of the 60D in the Canon line. If you want the metal body in Canon now, you’ll need to look higher up the food chain to the 7D. I have to admit though, that using the camera, shooting with it for two days, I didn’t notice the plastic body: the 60D has a heft and weight to it that belied this fact. I learned this only after I was finished shooting when checking the overall specs.
Another slight difference is in the motor drive. The Nikon lists itself at 6 fps speed for this function, the Canon at 5.3 fps. Although this is a small difference, it’s one you might notice if shooting sports. (But keep in mind, the lens that you’re using, and the motor inside that lens, will have a huge impact on any sports shooting you attempt.)
Anyhow, let’s go shoot some pictures! We’ll start with both cameras in Program mode, followed by some Full-Manual shooting. Then we’ll put both of them into Live Mode and shoot some video.
Right away, I find that the Nikon is a bit smaller in my hands. I have big hands, but the whole Nikon rig is a bit smaller—both the camera and the lens. The Canon feels a bit beefier, which is a plus for me. If you have small hands, you may find the Nikon easier to manipulate.
A really great feature on the Canon: the rear LCD monitor can be turned around, twisted, popped into a variety of positions, just like on many video cameras. This is great! If you’ve ever had to shoot ‘hail Mary’ photos, or you want your camera angle right down on the ground, you’ll know why I’m excited about this feature. I wish my Canon Mark IV had this!
Something special on the Nikon D7000: two SD cards slots! I don’t know why the Canon didn’t include this, since it’s included on their higher-end bodies. This is a great feature that really adds to your flexibility when shooting. The D7000 allows you to decide if you want Slot 2 to be an ‘overflow’ slot, should you fill up the SD card in Slot 1, or you can shoot the same image, Slot 1 Raw and Slot 2 jpeg.
Out in the field shooting, a few impressions. The controls are located logically on both cameras, but fiddling with the menus, making adjustments to the setups, I find the Canon menu screens superior. They list all the features in tabs like a file cabinet, right in front of you. There’s no scrolling: if you don’t see it, try another tab. On the Nikon, unfortunately, menu screens scroll down and down and down, out of view. I found that when looking for something in a given menu, it was easy to get lost in the thicket of choices. Granted, this is a small thing, since you’ll probably get the camera set the way you want it and leave it there most of the time.
Both cameras, set on matrix metering, did a decent job in Program mode on overall exposure. I found the Canon produced slightly warmer images with more open shadow detail; the Nikon looked more neutral in color but provided less shadow detail. Both were acceptable in this respect though.
Nikon hypes the D7000 as having ‘Active D’ lighting capability in Matrix metering mode, which is supposed to provide superior shadow detail in backlit situations. I really couldn’t see this doing much though: check out the images of my mask sculpture. The open shadows produced by the Canon were superior here. But truthfully, either of these images would tone up fine in Photoshop.
One thing I absolutely hated on the Nikon: ‘Scene’ mode! I realize that this camera is positioned to be an ‘enthusiast’ camera, not a ‘pro-sumer’ model (whatever that means), but still! Scene mode, listed in the manual under ‘Creative Photography’ (!!), on the dial alongside Program mode, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual mode, assumes you’re not smart enough to make basic decisions about exposure. You can set it for ‘Sports,’ ‘Child,’ ‘Beach/Snow,’ ‘Blossom,’ the list goes on and on. The idea that you’d let the camera decide shutter/aperture/metering based on what an engineer in Japan thinks I’ll want to do in ‘Blossom’ mode! This galls me to no end.
[Editor’s Note: Now I notice, after the fact while writing this, that Canon is doing something similar out on the shooting mode function dial (see overhead photo of both camera bodies above). So I guess this makes it a draw: I’m equally galled.]
Let’s look at autofocus functionality. Those of you who are regular readers of The Discerning Photographer know what a big fan I am of back-button autofocus and why I consider it critical to any camera. Here there is a difference in the two cameras. The ‘AF-ON’ button on the back of the Canon was easy to assign as the focus-only button and worked as expected. On the Nikon, I had to work a bit harder to set this up. The menus were obtuse but eventually, on page 232 of the manual, I found instructions on assigning focus-only to the back ‘AE/AF’ button. It then worked as expected, but its position is closer to the eyepiece viewer than the Canon. I’m a left-eyed shooter and this made squeezing my thumb in to focus difficult. You won’t have a problem with this if you’re a normal, right-eyed shooter, but left-eyed shooters should check this out before purchasing.
Now for some ‘Full Manual’ mode shooting: I love to shoot in manual since it gives me all the control I want over my image and the situation I’m trying to capture. Although both cameras can be easily switched into Manual mode, I have a beef with the Nikon here. The readout in the viewfinder—where you’re going to want to easily see your f-stop and shutter speed—is much, much too small to easily use. I’m talking about the actual graphical displays: they’re tiny! I see no reason for this, other than the Nikon designers must have thought this was an unimportant feature that wouldn’t get used much. The Canon readouts are bigger and easier to read and thus use, so Canon wins on this one.
I shot a couple of things in full Manual with matrix metering. As you can see, both do an acceptable job of exposure, although again I’m getting more open, usable shadow detail on the Canon with no Photoshop tweaking required.
Now for some video! I took both cameras and set them on 1920 x 1080 @ 24fps, since the Nikon didn’t have a 30-frame option at this highest resolution. I thought a good test would be some action-packed video of my hyper young dog, Sam, who never sits still and would be a challenge to follow.
Right away, a tip of the hat to the Nikon: the red switch to click over into Live Mode and video shooting is right there by your thumb, ready to use at a moment’s notice. This is clearly superior to the Canon setup, which requires first turning the shooting mode knob around to the ‘movie’ icon, then hitting one more button before video shooting in Live Mode is available. (For some reason, Live Mode for still shooting is available with only the one ‘Camera’ icon button to the right of the viewfinder pressed, but unlike on the Mark IV, you can’t get into video shooting with another press of this button.)
Both cameras shot completely acceptable HD video with this setup. You can click the movie below to watch the two snippets, one after the other. The one real difference you’ll notice is on the audio. The Canon onboard microphone is ‘hotter,’ livelier. I’m really not sure if this is good or bad; either of these clips would edit fine in any video editing software package.
So, which camera should you buy? That’s a really tough question. There were things I really liked about both of these machines, and things I didn’t. If you already have a Canon Rebel and are looking to upgrade without buying a whole bunch of new lenses to boot, the 60D is a good choice. (Just don’t drop it on the sidewalk. I worry about the plastic body.) If you’re a Nikon shooter, your move to the D7000 will be an easy one to make. You’ll love this new camera with all its features. (Just forget all that stuff I wrote about ‘Scene’ mode and you’ll be good to go.)
If you’re a new purchaser, not tied to either system but wanting to make an initial purchase and this was your price entry point, I would have to steer you to the Nikon camera. I want you to have that metal camera body! If you fit into this group, just don’t buy the camera with the ‘starter lens” that it’s frequently packaged with; you need to plunk down some money for a ‘real’ first piece of glass.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog