This post has been revised and updated to include the new Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D. Please proceed over to this post to read the most current information:
Like many others out there, you are asking yourself, “should I buy the Canon 7D or 60D or 50D or 550D / T2i?” It’s a difficult question because at this point the three dSLRs in the current Canon consumer line-up (EOS 60D, EOS 7D, Rebel T2i/ EOS 550D) all share a number of specifications and features, a similar exposure metering system, as well as an image sensor that is nearly the same, and all with 18 megapixels. So how do you choose between the Canon 60D, the T2i (550D) or the 7D? This decision has become infinitely more difficult (or perhaps infinitely simpler?) because the image quality and ISO performance of these three cameras will be nearly identical, and all are capable of taking high quality images. So as I like to profess, you need to choose which camera is best for you based on your needs and experience as a photographer and based on how the advanced features, controls, and customization options fit those needs and serve the way you work.
photo by author
When you are trying to determine which camera to purchase or upgrade to, you need to first consider and determine your needs, and then see which camera fills those needs. Not the other way around where you look at the new features and speculate if you really need or will use them. I will discuss how to go about this in more detail below.
Review of Canon EOS 60D vs. 50D: Since the Canon EOS 60D basically replaces the Canon 50D (well, replacement isn’t exactly the right word because the 60D doesn’t really follow the 20D to 50D progression of improvements…), the 60D or 50D decision is an easy one. The 50D shouldn’t really be considered anymore. While the Canon 50D does hold a couple interesting advantages over the 60D (faster frame per second (fps) burst rate in continuous mode, stronger construction, more comprehensive buttons and controls, complete lack of fun filters like “grainy black and white”), the sensor and exposure metering system have been greatly improved in all the newer cameras (7D or 60D or 500D/ T2i) and I feel these features, along with the increase in mega pixels, outweigh any other 50D advantages. I would definitely choose a 60D instead of a 50D. This is coming from experience, as I use a 50D professionally and on a daily basis. Or choose a 7D instead of a 50D if your needs require it and budget allows it. (Find out below if your needs require it!) Digital cameras are somewhat disposable. Yes, even $1000 digital cameras. Within 5 years, your new camera will have become old, outdated equipment. The 50D is already two year old technology, so if you start with one now, in 4 more years it will be absolutely archaic! (Actually, since the 50D was just the 40D with a couple more megapixels, it is even older technology than that.) With digital SLRs, I advise buying a recent model, at whatever price range you can currently afford. Of course as with everything in digital photography, this is relative. The 50D is still an excellent camera. And camera companies have to keep coming out with new models every 12-18 months because that is what they do. The trouble comes in 2-3 years when your 50D is still perfectly good and still pretty new to you, but it can no longer compete with the latest offerings in terms of megapixels, ISO performance, and autofocus systems. If this hasn’t convinced you and you still want to consider the 50D for cost or other reasons, I write in more detail about the 50D vs. 60D comparison here from a camera features and operation point of view.
Before I get more into it, I want to mention that I have written eBook user’s guides for the Canon Rebel T3i/ EOS 600D, the Canon Rebel T2i/EOS 550D, and the Canon EOS 60D. After spending so much time studying, experimenting, writing about, comparing, and discussing these cameras, I decided to put all that knowledge into eBook form! Each of these user’s guides cover all the Menu settings, Movie Mode menus, and Custom Function settings – with recommended settings – plus discussions of how, when, and why to use the cameras’ settings and features, (metering modes, aperture and shutter priority modes, advanced autofocus use, and more) for everyday and travel use, to help you take better photos – Your World 60D, Canon T3i Experience, and T2i Experience. Learn more about the eBooks by clicking on their titles.
Back to the Comparison:
Review of Canon EOS 7D vs. 60D vs. 550D / Rebel T2i: So the decision now comes down to the Canon 7D or 60D or 550D / Rebel T2i. (What about the 5D Mk II? Just wait, I’m getting to that! And if you haven’t yet committed to Canon and are interested in comparing the Canon 60D vs. Nikon D7000, have a look at this post.) Below are comparisons of some of the similarities and differences of these three cameras. Remember that all of these comparisons and features are relative. Of course the fact that the 7D can take 126 consecutive photos at the rate of 8 frames per second makes it “better.” Advanced features like that differentiate it from the other models and are also why it costs more. But do you ever need to take 15.75 seconds of continuous photos? Ever? (Look at your watch for 15.75 seconds right now and act like you are taking continuous photos. Now what are you going to do with all those imaginary photos?!)
Sensor and Image Quality: As I said above, all three cameras share a very similar sensor and 18 megapixels, and so their image quality will be virtually the same. All are capable of taking professional quality images.
Exposure Metering: The three cameras all share the latest 63-zone exposure metering system and 4 metering modes. That means they will all determine the exposure virtually identically and enable you to take properly exposed photos in most every situation, including difficult back-lit scenes. The size of the areas metered for Partial and Spot metering vary slightly between the cameras, but that isn’t anything critical.
Autofocus: The 60D shares a similar autofocus system to the T2i and the previous 50D, with 9 focus points and three auto focusing modes. However the 9 AF points of the 60D are more sensitive than those of the T2i: all are cross-type in the 60D, only the center is cross-type in the T2i. The 60D autofocus system is much less complex than the sophisticated AF system of the 7D with its 19 AF point system and its additional Zone, Spot, and Expansion focus modes. These various modes address how you want to deal with and group these numerous AF points. Plus the custom settings of the 7D allow one to customize how the AF system works – how it tracks subjects, how it deals with objects that come between you and your initial subject, how quickly it responds to these changes of possible subjects that are at different distances from you, etc. However, if you are not an avid sports photographer, a wildlife shooter, or someone who understands, needs, and will use the elaborate features of the 7D AF system, then this shouldn’t dissuade you from the 60D.
Construction: As you can probably figure out from the prices, each camera is not built the same. The 60D has relatively strong construction of aluminum and polycarbonate. It is better built than the 550D but not as strong as the 7D’s magnesium alloy frame. The 60D also has some amount of weather sealing – more than the 550D/T2i, less than the 7D. But for most users, including even those using the camera daily or in travel situations, the construction of any of these cameras is far more than good enough, strong enough, and durable enough.
ISO: Since they all share a very similar sensor, the ISO sensitivity and performance at high ISO settings is virtually the same for these three cameras. But don’t take my word for it, don’t be swayed by pixel peepers on forums, instead check out the camera sensor tests at dxomark to verify this. As you can see, they all share the exact same overall score, and show very similar performance.
Controls: As with construction, the buttons and controls vary with these cameras. Unlike the T2i, the 60D and 7D have nearly every control an advanced photographer needs on the exterior of the camera and they also have the top LCD panel and rear Quick Control Dial that are not on the 550D/T2i. With all the cameras, any controls can also be easily accessed with the Q button and menu or in the other menus on the rear LCD monitor. The top buttons of the 60D set only one setting each, so this is less complicated than the multiple-setting buttons of the 7D. Canon has removed the white balance (WB) button on the 60D that the 7D and 50D have, but that isn’t a big deal – use the Q Menu. Another change on the 60D is that the Multi-controller has been moved from the thumb joystick like the 7D and 50D and placed in the middle of the rear Quick-control dial. This doesn’t change how it functions, and should just be a matter of getting used to the difference. (Unfortunately, I still really do prefer the old design and location.) If you plan on using your camera on Auto or Program most of the time, then the controls of the T2i are more than sufficient for your needs.
Menus and Custom Functions: These allow for greater control over customizing how the camera functions. The 60D has many more Menu and Custom Function settings than the 550D/T2i and nearly as many as the 7D. These settings enable you to customize the operation, function, and controls to work how you want them to, including things like exposure increments, peripheral illuminations correction for lenses (fixes dark corners) and customizing which button does what. Since many of the Menu and Custom Function settings can be complicated and confusing, my eBooks on the 60D and on the T2i/550D cover all of these options along with my recommended settings to get you up and running quickly!
Wireless Flash: Like the 7D, the 60D incorporates wireless flash triggering. It allows you to trigger multiple off camera flashes at different output levels. The 550D/T2i does not have this feature.
Articulating LCD Screen: The big new feature that the 60D has that the other two cameras do not is the articulating rear LCD screen. This may prove useful for videographers, as well as for setting up compositions while the camera is on a tripod, for macro use, or for using it from unusually low or high vantage points. Some users will be able to avoid buying an expensive angle finder because of this feature. There is also an electronic level in the 7D and 60D, visible in the viewfinder, rear LCD, or top LCD.
Viewfinder: The 60D has a large, bright viewfinder with 96% coverage of the actual resulting image, a tiny bit better than the 95% of the 550D/T2i but not quite as nice as the nearly 100% view of the 7D.
Processor: The 60D shares the same Digic 4 processor as the 550D/T2i. The 7D has dual Digic 4 processors. However, if you don’t need to shoot dozens of continuous images, you probably won’t notice any processing speed issues.
Continuous Shooting Speed: The 7D can shoot a blazing 8 frames per second, in which the photos barely change from frame to frame. The 60D can shoot a respectable 5.3 fps which is actually a more useful rate, and is a higher rate than the 550D/T2i rate of 3.7 fps. If you need the extremely high fps for sports, wildlife, or other action shooting, get the 7D. If not, don’t be swayed by this excessive feature.
Memory Card: The 60D uses the SD memory card like the 550D/T2i, not the CF card of the 7D and 50D.
Battery: The 60D uses the LP-E6 battery like the 7D and 5D, which is a nice feature as this battery can often last through a full day of shooting. The T2i uses a smaller battery with less capacity.
Size and Weight: The 60D is larger and heavier than the 550D/T2i, smaller and lighter than the 7D. Go to the store and hold them to get a better feel for their size, weight, and feel.
AF Microadjustment: The 7D has this feature, the 60D and T2i do not. Many are disappointed that the 60D does not include the ability to micro-adjust the focus so that each lens is completely accurate. However, if you have a focus issue, send your camera and/ or lenses to Canon while under warranty and ask them to calibrate them. Doing AF microadjustment yourself is often a maddening, never ending undertaking. You may make a good calibration under controlled conditions, but this really doesn’t replicate real life shooting.
Locking Mode Dial: This is a new feature for a Canon dSLR, only on the 60D, that keeps the Mode dial from accidentally rotating. A nice touch, and not at all difficult to change quickly with one hand, as some people have claimed: just push the center button with your left index finger, rotate dial with thumb and middle finger.
Full HD video: Of course they all offer this capability. Note that this is not video for your kids’ parties and soccer games. It does not have continuous autofocus while shooting, as a camcorder does. It is not designed for that kind of use, but rather for serious videographers who typically manually focus. You can adjust autofocus while shooting by pressing the shutter button or the AF button, but it may have a less than desired looking result.
Flash Sync: A Note to Strobists -the 60D and T2i do not have a PC sync flash socket to plug in PC sync cords. The 7D has this.
Ease of operation: While beginners may find all the buttons, controls, and menus of any dSLR difficult and confusing at first, the additional controls and menus of the 7D and 60D are all quite intelligently designed, intuitive, and straightforward for the more advanced user.
Purchasing: If you plan to buy any of these cameras through Amazon.com, (or just wish to purchase anything from Amazon) I would appreciate it if you use this referral link to Amazon or one of the camera links just below. Your price will be the same, and they will give me a little something for referring you, which will help support this blog. Thanks! And due to popular request, if you are in the UK, here is my new referral link to Amazon UK. If you are in another country, click on one of my Amazon links, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on your country for your local Amazon. And for those wishing to purchase from B+H Photo, just click here for my referral link to B+H. Thanks for supporting my blog!
I wrote a previous post that also goes in-depth into comparing and choosing between these cameras, but was written before the introduction of the EOS 60D. It does however have some additional info that may prove useful: Canon 7D vs. 5D vs. 50D (Plus 550D/T2i) Part II
Lenses, Accessories and Books: Now that you are on your way to deciding on a camera, you should also start looking into lenses, photography gear, accessories, and books. Check out this link, Best Lenses for Travel Photography, which also applies to general photography, Equipment for Travel Photography, which discusses useful and practical photo accessories and equipment for both everyday and travel photography. This post lists and describes Essential Books for Digital Photography, including the best user’s guides for each of these cameras.
And to sum it all up, here is a brief, mostly serious synopsis to help you make the camera decision:
Get a Canon 550D / Rebel T2i if you are new to photography or to digital SLR photography, or want to upgrade from an older Rebel because you want higher image quality and more mega-pixels (or HD video). If you have been happy with the features and controls of your previous dSLR camera and have not discovered the need, in your use of it, for any specific additional features, there is no need to look beyond the 550D. See the T2i on Amazon.
Get a Canon 60D if you have outgrown the capabilities of an older Rebel like an XTi or T1i due to your greater experience and more demanding shooting needs which require more direct or sophisticated controls and customization options. Or you have been pretty pleased with your 20D or 40D and its features but wish to upgrade for the increased image quality and mega pixels (or HD video). And/ or you need a more rugged camera for your frequent and demanding shooting and off-the-beaten-path traveling needs. Or if you need the increased 5.3 frames per second continuous rate to shoot sports or action. Or you really like swiveling LCD screens. If you typically shoot on Auto or Program mode, you do not need a 60D. If you do not manually select your own focus point and have never used exposure compensation you do not need a 60D. If you have never used the AE-Lock [*] button to lock exposure you do not need a 60D. If you don’t understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO you don’t need a 60D. Or unless you plan to dedicate yourself to learning this camera and the principles of SLR photography and grow into this more advanced camera, please save the money or use it towards a better lens. See the 60D on Amazon.
Get a Canon 7D if you have extensive experience with a Rebel (xxxD series like 350D, 400D) or with an older xxD series (20D, 40D) camera, and you know and understand most of the 7D’s controls and advanced custom features, and you specifically need some of them for your demanding shooting needs. If you haven’t passed the above “criteria” for a 60D, you definitely don’t need a 7D. If you have never used Av aperture priority mode or M manual mode, you do not need a 7D. If you have never used autofocus tracking settings to track a moving subject across your frame and worried how an interfering object would affect your focus you do not need a 7D. If you have never used spot metering to determine a critical exposure level or experimented with back-button focusing you do not need a 7D. Or unless you plan to dedicate yourself to learning this camera and the principles of SLR photography and grow into this very advanced camera, please save the money or use it towards a better lens. However, if you often need to take 126 consecutive photos at the rate of 8 frames per second, you do need the 7D. Immediately. Even if you just sometimes need that. Totally worth it. That’s 15.75 seconds of continuous shooting. Who doesn’t need that? You’d make Eadweard Muybridge proud. See the 7D on Amazon.
(Please note, the T2i/550D, 60D and 7D all have these features I just listed: manually selected focus points, exposure compensation, AE-Lock, auto-focus tracking, spot metering, and back-button focusing. I’m just using them as a determination of your experience level and needs)
The Canon 5D Mark II is in a separate league than the other cameras, being a full frame professional camera, and thus I’m not going to compare it to the others in this context. As I said in a previous post,
If the 5D Mk II fits your expanding and demanding needs as a photographer, you would already pretty much know that you needed a 5D after your extensive time using a Rebel or a 20D, 40D, etc. Otherwise, getting a 5D means most likely you’d be investing in far more camera than you will actually need or use.
If you don’t already know that you need a 5D, you probably don’t need a 5D. Plus, as is often the case, those who could really take full advantage of a 5D are those who can’t afford a 5D. (I’m thinking about the talented photographers I come across on Flickr, etc. who are making amazing images with entry-level Rebels.) Feel free to spend $2,500 on a 5D Mk II if you want, but unless you have extensive experience with photography and with a digital SLR, using a 5D is completely unnecessary and is unlikely to help you take “better” pictures than you will be able to with a 550D. In fact, until you figure out the controls, features, menus, and custom functions of a 5D or 7D, you may be taking worse pictures! And besides, the 5D MkII becoming old technology. You should wait for the 5D Mark III :) See the Canon 5D MkII on Amazon.
As I said above, when you are trying to determine which camera to purchase or upgrade to, you need to first consider and determine your needs, and then see which camera fills those needs. Not the other way around. Here is a post I wrote which discusses this, titled How to Choose a New dSLR Camera.