Canon 5D vs 7D vs 60D vs 50D vs 550D / T2i

I previously wrote a post to compare these cameras, the Canon 5D vs.7D vs. 50D vs. 550D / Rebel T2i – with the exception of the Canon 60D – which you can read here:

It still applies to helping you make the decision between these cameras, including the 60D, but it doesn’t yet address its specific new features. Those can be read about in this post. So I hope those two posts together can start to answer your questions. And until I rewrite it to include the 60D, here is some additional input.

canon t2i 550D vs 50d vs 60d
photo by author, courtesy of Newtonville Camera, Newton, Mass.

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 determine if you really need or will use them. I will discuss how to go about this in more detail below.

Canon 60D vs. 50D: Since the Canon 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 FPS 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. Or a 7D instead of a 50D if your needs require it and budget allows it. (Find out below if your needs require it!)

So the decision now comes down to the Canon 7D or 60D or 550D / Rebel T2i. (What about the 60D vs. 5D Mk II? Just wait, I’m getting to that!) This decision has become infinitely more difficult (or perhaps infinitely simpler?), as all three of these cameras now share so many specifications and features. And because they share an image sensor that is very similar, and all with 18 MP, the image quality of these three cameras will be nearly identical. The Canon consumer/ pro-sumer lineup has never been so alike as it is now. 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.

Here is a brief, mostly serious summary to help you make this 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.

Canon EOS 60D

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 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. Please save the money or use it towards a better lens.

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 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. 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.

(Please note, the 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)

Canon EOS 5D Mk II mark 2

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. And besides, it is becoming old technology. You should wait for the 5D Mark III.

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.

For example, I began shooting with a Rebel XT and took it on an extended trip where I shot lots of travel photos, plus outdoor festivals and dance (see the Peru and Dance galleries here for the results – those are all shot with a Rebel XT.) I soon discovered this camera wasn’t fulfilling my growing needs and I made a mental list of what my next camera needed to serve me better in the specific ways that I work and take photos:

  • more focus points which are more strategically positioned (the Rebel XT only has 7 focus points in a simple cross pattern which did not suit the way I focus and compose)
  • faster frame rate in continuous shooting mode (it only has 3 fps which wasn’t good enough for catching a good burst at the peak of action)
  • better sealed body (I ended up in several very dusty or wet situations)
  • integrated sensor cleaning (see “dusty” above)
  • more megapixels (the 8 MP of the XT just weren’t sufficient when it came to cropping and post-processing)
  • battery with longer capacity (I used it on weekend trips to the middle of nowhere but didn’t want to have to buy and take more than 3 batteries)
  • larger LCD screen to better review photos (the XT has a tiny screen)
  • grid in the viewfinder (I just can’t keep it straight sometimes)

These are the features I looked for in my next camera. I didn’t work backwards and wonder, “Do I need or will I ever need auto lighting optimizer and highlight tone priority?” If I had exposure issues on my list, I would have looked for these kinds of features, but I didn’t. I didn’t wonder, “Do I need multiple flash remote firing? Should I worry about that?” That wasn’t on my list because it wasn’t a need I ran into, ever, in months of daily shooting. I don’t even own multiple flashes and wish to minimize using the one. I didn’t ask myself, “Do I need an extensively redesigned focus system with AF Point Expansion and Zone focusing?” I nearly always choose my own focus point – I don’t want the camera choosing the closest point which is bound to be a dancer’s flying hand and not their face, so I don’t need that. No matter how awesome and advanced it is. Even if the subjects are moving. I’m pretty quick with the focus point selection. I just need more and better placed focus points. If you haven’t run into a need for certain features in your months or years of extensive shooting, you aren’t going to suddenly need it just because it is now offered on a camera. Sit down and make your list, then look at the cameras’ offerings.

And please be aware, none of these cameras will help you instantly create better photos. Or better yet, all of these cameras will help you take better photos, but equally so, none any better than the others. If you wish to take better photos, just chose one of the cameras and get out and shoot. Learn how to use the basic settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focusing modes and focus points, exposure metering modes, histograms) and then concentrate on composition and telling a story through your images. See the posts listed below to help you on your way.

How Pros Photograph

Deconstructing the Shot

Need a lens to go with your new camera? Read about choosing a lens other than the kit lens in this post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, and learn about the Best Lenses for Travel Photography here.

If you do choose the 60D, it is always wise not to buy a Canon dSLR or lens in the first several months after it is introduced. They have a solid history of quality control and design flaws in early models, including, most notoriously, their top of the line offerings (autofocus issues with cameras, flare issues with lenses). I myself took this risk with the 7D, brought it on a trip, and suffered the consequences (see the bottom of this previous post).