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Since the introduction of the Canon EOS 77D, there have been numerous articles comparing the 77D to the Canon 80D. However, most of those articles merely compare the specifications of the two cameras, simply showing information that can be found on a spec sheet without ever having to actually touch the cameras. And most all of those articles completely fail to explain the actual, hands on differences between the 77D and 80D. In fact, based on the information they share (and fail to share), it becomes obvious that most of them have not actually used the new 77D!

Canon 77D body controls button dials

Detail of the Canon 77D body and controls.

While working on my guide for the 77D, Canon 77D Experience, I have found that the important differences between the two cameras lie in their Menus and the Custom Functions. These are the options which enable you to customize the camera for your needs and preferences, and for the different types of shooting situations in which you will be using the camera. (My guide for the 80D, Canon 80D Experience is available here.)

Canon 77D example sample image

Example image from Canon 77D Experience guide – non-cropped image of swan, taken with the 77D.

To review the more “superficial” comparisons, the Canon 77D and 80D share some important features such as the 45-point viewfinder autofocus system, which helps you to locate an AF point on your subject without necessarily having to first focus then recompose, as well as enables you to better track and retain focus on a moving subject. Then both have Canon’s revolutionary Dual Pixel live view autofocus system, which allows for fast autofocusing as well as much more accurate tracking of a moving subject in live view (for stills and video) than previous models. (What most of the comparison articles fail to point out is that the 77D includes a new Smooth Zone AF method in live view, which allows you to place the zone most anywhere on the screen, not just in 9 preset locations as with the 80D – a pretty significant upgrade to be overlooked.) They also both share a 24.3 megapixel sensor, 3″ articulating touch screen, and similar buttons and controls on the body of the camera including a top Main Dial as well as the rear Quick Control Dial. Being newer, the 77D has a faster Digic 7 processor (vs. the Digic 6 of the 80D), an expanded ISO range (up to the unusable 51,200) allowing for cleaner images in low light situations, a larger buffer for more shots during continuous shooting, and the addition of Bluetooth for connecting to a smart phone or tablet. (Interestingly, none of the comparison articles seem to have tried to use the Bluetooth connection with iOS, which will immediately ask you to switch to Wi-Fi in order to use any of the wireless functions. So it is a feature you can really only make use of with Android. Or else you can use it with the new Canon BR-E1 Bluetooth Wireless Remote Control.)

The 77D, however, lacks the weather-sealing and headphone jack of the 80D. The 80D also boasts a better pentaprism viewfinder, slightly faster maximum shooting speed of 7 fps vs 6 fps, faster maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000, and a faster 1/250 flash sync speed vs. the 1/200 speed of the 77D. The larger battery of the 80D will allow for more shots or longer live view sessions. The 77D is also a few hundred dollars cheaper than the 80D.

These various pros and cons can make it difficult to choose between the two cameras, because they mainly present figures from a spec sheet, and for the most part these types of differences are not significant. They certainly don’t tell the full story.

Canon 77D example, sample image

Example image of great blue heron taken with the 77D, from Canon 77D Experience guide.

While the two cameras share the same 45-point viewfinder autofocus system, they do not have the autofocus capabilities because the 80D includes numerous autofocus customizations in the Custom Functions that are not on the 77D, particularly for how the camera responds to moving subjects as you are tracking them and trying to retain focus. The items on the 80D that are absent on the 77D include the options for adjusting Tracking Sensitivity, Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking, and AF Point Auto Switching. These options are adjusted in order to help the camera better retain focus on different types of moving subjects, such as one moving smoothly and consistently vs. one moving erratically and switching speed and direction. They allow you to adjust the camera differently to track the distinct types of movements of (for example) a runner, a race car, a tennis player, or a bird in flight. While the 77D is fully capable of capturing sharp images of moving subjects, as demonstrated in the image of the flying heron above, the 80D allows you the ability to adapt the camera to different types of subjects, to better ensure that you capture more in-focus shots of moving subjects when capturing a burst of images.

Some of the autofocus-related Custom Function options of the 80D that are not offered on the 77D.

The 80D also includes the 1st Image/2nd Image Priority options, which enable you to tell the camera to prioritize shutter release vs. focus. In other words, you can choose if you want the camera to capture all images in a burst in-focus, or if you just wish to maintain the rapid frame rate at the possible expense of missing focus on some of the images. And the 80D offers the option of Orientation Linked AF Point, where the camera can automatically switch AF Point / Zones as well as AF Area Modes (Single Point vs. Zone of multiple points) when you turn the camera to a different orientation. For example, if you are capturing a portrait subject and are using one of the upper-right AF Points, when you turn the camera to the vertical orientation, the camera can automatically select an upper-right AF Point so that you don’t have to move the active AF Point yourself. The 80D also has the AF Point Selection Movement option, which allows you to tell the camera how to address AF Point selection when you reach an outer point. The AF Point selection can stop at the edge, or it can “wrap around” to the other side. I believe that with the 77D, the AF Point selection will always just stop at the edge. Another autofocus-related Custom Function on the 80D that is missing from the 77D is AF Microadjustment, which allows you to adjust the focus of each lens in order to obtain (ideally) exact focus. With the 77D, you are going to have to accept any slight front-focus or back-focus issues with your various lenses.

AF Microadjustment options on the 80D that are not included on the 77D.

Example image from Canon 77D Experience guide – Cropped detail of great blue heron in-flight, with fish, taken with the 77D, showing the ability to capture a sharp, detailed image of a difficult moving subject. Cropped from a similar distance as the above heron image.

Some of these options you can live without and might never miss, but once you start taking advantage of them with a camera that offers them, you might never wish to do without them again! Other features of the 80D that are not included on the 77D are the Silent Shooting Drive Modes that allow for quieter shutter release. The 77D however, adds the Self-Timer Continuous option, which allows you to specify the number of continuous images to be taken with the self-timer. The 80D will only take one image with the self-timer. The 77D is also missing the in-camera HDR Mode, Multiple Exposure shooting, and in-camera RAW processing of images. During image playback, the 77D will display the blinking highlights only when you view the smaller thumbnail view of the image along with the histogram. With the 80D, you can choose to view the blinking highlights on the full-screen image playback. These “blinkies” allow you to see if you have over-exposed parts of an image. The 80D also offers a playback grid, which can help you to assess the composition.

Viewing the blinking highlights on the full-screen image on the 80D (left) or on the thumbnail (right). The 77D only offers the blinking highlights on the thumbnail / histogram view (right).

While both cameras offer Auto ISO, the 80D allows for additional Auto ISO options such as adjusting or specifying the minimum shutter speed that the camera can select when using Auto ISO. For example, if you are using Auto ISO and Aperture-Priority Shooting Mode, you may find that the camera is selecting a shutter speed that is slower than you may want, thus risking blur from camera movement. With the 80D, you can adjust this setting accordingly. The 80D will also allow you to select ISO speeds in 1/3 stop increments, rather than the full stops (100, 200, 400) of the 77D. The 80D also includes the Safety Shift option, where the camera will automatically adjust the exposure settings for you if the current settings are going to result in a poorly exposed image. For example, you may be taking images at a concert or performance using Aperture-Priority mode, and you have set your desired aperture setting. But if the lighting suddenly becomes much brighter, and your combination of exposure settings are going to result in a bad exposure, the camera will adjust that aperture setting to enable you to capture a proper exposure.

The additional Auto ISO adjustments of the 80D that are not included on the 77D.

Some additional features offered on the 80D but not on the 77D are the Custom C1 and C2 shooting modes on the Mode Dial, which allow you to register a pre-set selection of shooting settings and menu settings. For example, you might assign all your sports-related camera settings to the C1 mode, and all your landscape-related settings to the C2 mode, and thus be able to quickly switch to a different camera set-up. The 80D allows you to customize what is displayed on the various Live View display screens as you press the INFO Button (such as the shooting settings, grid, level, and histogram). The 77D offers these various information displays as you press the INFO Button, but you can’t customize what is shown with each click of the button. Both cameras offer Auto Exposure Bracketing, but the 80D allows you to customize the bracketing sequence as well as the number of bracketed shots up to 7 (only 3 shots with the 77D). And the 80D will allow you to set a precise Kelvin (K) White Balance temperature, while the 77D does not have this option. And while the 77D allows you to customize 4 major controls / buttons of the camera, the 80D provides the option of customizing several additional controls. These types of customizations enable you to set up the camera controls exactly how you want them, for quick access to various functions while shooting.

The Custom Controls of the 80D that can be customized. The 77D only enables you to customize the Shutter Button, AF-ON Button, AE-L (*) Button, and SET Button.

Regarding movie shooting, the 80D offers more format and compression options (MOV vs. MP4, ALL-I vs. IPB), while the 77D only records with MP4 and IPB. The 77D however offers the in-camera 5-axis electronic image stabilization for video.

Which Camera is Best for You?

While I’ve noted several of the functions and features of the of the 80D that are not included on the 77D, it is important to realize that you may never miss many of those features. Many shooters never really take advantage of some of these features, or they set them once and then forget they are there. And some of the features are the types of options you will start to realize you need only after using your camera for a while and then getting to the point where you say “I wish my camera would do ___.” At that point, you might be ready for an upgrade, and then choose a higher-end model.

As noted above, even without these added features of the 80D, the 77D is fully capable of capturing high-quality, sharp images, even of difficult moving subjects such as birds in flight. In fact, even without several of the AF customization options that the 80D offers, I was able to capture just as many bird in flight “keepers” with the 77D as I have with higher-end models! Some of this was due to luck and timing, but the 77D can obviously do it. As the 77D shares the same 24.3 MP sensor of the 80D, the 77D is a great camera for enthusiasts who desire great image quality, sharpness, clarity, and low-light performance, but don’t have the time or desire to dig into the menus, settings, and customizations to adjust the camera for different photo shoots. And the 77D has the necessary features and controls for those who wish to take more control of the camera and its settings. The 77D is also good for enthusiast or occasional videographers who don’t need all the movie file type options.

If you are interested in digging into the menus and Custom Functions of either camera, and learning to take full control, be sure to read my guides Canon 80D Experience and Canon 77D Experience!

But if your primary subjects are sports, action, wildlife, or birds, you will want to upgrade to the Canon 80D (or 7D Mark II), particularly for their additional autofocus settings and customizations for tracking different types of moving subjects. Plus those models offer faster continuous shooting rates. And for those who want to take full advantage of the camera controls in order to change and adjust settings on-the-fly, the 80D offers far more Custom Controls options.

If you are planning to purchase your Canon 77D or Canon 80D online, please consider using my affiliate links and help support this blog – thanks!

You can purchase the new Canon 77D from Amazon here. $899.00 body only.

And you can purchase the Canon 80D from Amazon here. $1099.00 body only.

My guides to the cameras, Canon 77D Experience and Canon 80D Experience are available at www.fullstopbooks.com

I was recently conversing with one of my readers – a Nikon D5200 user who was putting the camera through its paces for professional-level video shooting. He has given the camera a thorough field test, so I asked him to put together a review and a tutorial of the camera in regards to its video performance. So for today’s guest post, I introduce:

by Steve MacDonald of 5dhdvideo
I have recently put the Nikon D5200 through its video capability paces, in a couple of different shooting scenarios.  Scenario one was a bright sunny outdoor situation with mixtures of heavy sunlight and shaded areas, and the second was an indoor, controlled lighting situation.

Scenario one was tested with a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 making use of a Schneider 4×4 polarizer and Schneider 4×4 1.6 graduated ND filters. Mind you, these are probably the harshest video acquisition lighting conditions.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

One of the biggest challenges of shooting with any dSLR camera is setting critical focus. One camera feature that can help is a really decent LCD screen. I found the Nikon D5200 screen to be less the stellar, but I suppose that is to be expected from a mid-level consumer camera. Using a Hoodman loupe on the back of this unit, at first, I thought the inability to see a somewhat sharp image was the kit lens. But even with a very expensive Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 zoom lens, manually achieving critical focus was challenging. Using the cameras focus assist the image never really seemed all that sharp, so it’s was a guessing game of finding what would be the sharpest focus point. I quickly abandoned using the LCD for critical focusing and used the cameras viewfinder with a right-angle viewer by Seagull. This worked much better, but it’s something I’m not used to, having come from shooting with many Canon DSLR models.

I decided to give auto-focusing a try, since, a lot of my shots that day were stationary subjects – and that feature seemed to be dead on. The only downside to using this is that in certain lighting situation, the Nikon will throw a beam of light from the AF-Assist Illuminator. Not a big deal, untill you realize the AF-Assist Illuminator is eating into your battery faster than you can imagine.  (Note – you can turn off the Built-in AF-Assist Illuminator using Custom Setting a3.) The battery life of the EN EL14 has already been documented as being less than adequate, which I can confirm.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

Another quirk I found with this Nikon is discrepancies between metering in the viewfinder then switching back to live view. Many times after setting a dead zero meter in the viewfinder and not moving anything, switching back to live view, could at times , show an almost full stop difference. Switching metering methods didn’t seem to change the situation.

We’re all familiar with the nagging Nikon situation of having to come out of live view to change aperture settings, which is indeed a pain, but what I didn’t realize is if you keep the camera pointed at your subject, it will meter that subject in live view. This brings me to the subject of trying to run and gun with this camera: in two words, very difficult. The reason being is having to come out of live view to change the aperture, making a moving subject next to impossible to keep properly exposed. The way around this is to buy manual lenses with the aperture on the barrel and not controlled by the camera. Or, one would think that is a viable work around – not so. Nikon has further limited video functions on this camera by not offering any metering with a manual lens attached, which in my opinion renders this camera far less than ideal from a professional video acquisition standpoint. (Note: the Nikon D7100 and D7000 offers the ability to register non-CPU lenses in the camera, thus allowing access to additional functions including color-matrix metering – though they suggest you make use of Center-Weighted or Spot Metering in these situations.  The D7100 and D7000 also offer the ability to assign aperture selection to the aperture ring on lenses which have this ring, thus allowing aperture change while shooting video.)

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

It goes without saying, for professional use an EVF (electronic viewfinder / monitor), such as the SmallHD DP4 EVF, is pretty much a must with any DSLR. False color, peaking, and many other features they offer make for a better user experience.  Sure, you could rely on an EVF to set proper exposure levels with a manual lens attached to the D5200, but you’re going to pay a grand for a good one.

The indoor shooting scenario was a two camera interview situation, with the other camera being a Canon T3i. One feature I really liked was Nikon’s ability to tweak the White Balance presets in movie mode, in order to dial in a match between the two cameras. The picture quality of the Nikon looks very good, and the ability to output a clean HDMI will no doubt attract many. Shooting the indoor scenario was much easier, although none of the issues mentioned above disappeared.

At the end of the day, my take on this camera is that it just isn’t full equipped for demanding or professional-level videography. It takes fantastic still images, since as with any of these dSLRs, that is their main function. While its video capabilities and performance may fulfill the needs of a casual video user, there are just too many roadblocks with this camera to make it a sensible choice when it comes to professional video work. One should instead consider the additional video capabilities of the D7000 or D7100, which both improve upon some of these video shortcomings of the D5200.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

Manual exposure and white balance for the videographer with the Nikon D5200

Although the Nikon D5200 has the quirk of having to come out of live view to change aperture, and the fact it won’t meter a manual lens, this section of the article focuses on methods to help you gain proper exposure for shooting video.

Recently, I purchased two Rokinon Cine Lenses for the D5200, knowing full well the camera would not meter these lenses. If you don’t know what that means, basically, the built in light meter of the D5200 will not give you a reading with these lenses or any manual lens. My main reasons for buying these manual lenses was to avoid having to come out of live view to change the aperture, not to mention, for the price, these are great prime lenses!

So my quest after buying these Rokinon’s was to find a way to get a proper exposure, without having to resort to buying a light meter. Don’t get me wrong, having a light meter is well worth having,  but I just spent a chunk on these lenses, so that’ll have to wait. What I did buy was a Photovision one-shot target.  Targets are used to set 18% gray level, but with this particular target, it also has a white and black section outside the middle gray, so in essence, it sets your highlight and black level as well. The target works by first lighting your scene, then setting the target in front of that scene and taking a photo of the target.  You’ll want to make sure the white side of the target is towards the key light of your scene, and that the entire target is filling your screen with the white, gray, and black columns in sharp focus.  You’ll also want to make sure your shutter speed and ISO are set for your video shoot at hand. Next, set your D5200 play back display options by accessing the menu, highlighting the display icon, top icon on the left, then making sure all those options have a check mark beside them. Now, hit your playback button and bring up that photo of the target.

By clicking on the bottom portion of the multi-selector you can scroll through the various information provided for that particular photo. What you’re looking for is the histogram display. This histogram display will show you three distinct spikes. The left most spike being the black level, the middle gray, and the far right spike is your highlight. It’s this highlight we want to set so that it’s not clipping.  Clipping would have the far right spike at or very near the far right side of the histogram. Now, by adjusting your f-stop (aperture setting) for subtle changes in exposure, and taking a photo of the target after each f-stop adjustment, you’ll be able to view that photo in playback and determine if that exposure gives you the proper histogram.

After determining which histogram suits your best exposure, you’ll want to set that target photo as a custom white balance within your D5200.  Note: although by default the camera sets the last photo you’ve taken as your white balance, I choose to select the photo just to make sure its definitely the right one. You’ve now not only set a proper white balance, but you’ve also set an exposure level. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to light your scene for proper levels because the target has no idea how light or dark your subject is, it only reflects what lights you’ve set up for a particular scene.

Now, with all that being said, this target wouldn’t work in a run and gun situation, it would just take way to much time. For these types of situations, you can still utilize the histogram feature of the D5200 to get a proper exposure. To do that, set your f-stop (aperture), take a photo of your scene, review that photo and look at your histogram. If the highlights are slammed against the right side, lower your f-stop (aperture), take another photo and review it’s histogram reading.  The advantage of using the histogram in this manner, is that you’ll soon recognize what’s over exposed just by viewing it in the LCD, because you’ve been in these situations enough times and have looked at enough histograms to know what’s over exposed just from viewing your scene from the LCD.Utilizing the one-shot target, as well as, learning to read your histograms will give you a big advantage in gaining proper exposures with your Nikon D5200.

As I am working on my guide to the Nikon D600, Nikon D600 Experience, I realize that it may be very helpful to Nikon users to briefly explain the difference between Interval Timer Photography and Time-Lapse Photography. In the Nikon D600, these features are found in the Shooting Menu.

Interval Timer Shooting

This is used to take a continuous series of photographs at each specified time interval, for a set number of intervals, with the intervals to begin either immediately or at a set time (see Figure 1). It can be used to take these multiple series of shots over several minutes or hours. This is a bit different than the Time-Lapse Photography option (just below) in that Interval Timer Shooting can be used to capture not just one but rather a series of photos at each interval – for example, 4 photos in a row every 10 minutes, for 2 intervals. This will result in a total of 8 photos, as the camera will calculate and show you.

Nikon d600 interval timer vs time lapse photography shooting difference
Figure 1 – Interval Timer Shooting menu, showing 4 shots to be taken each interval, for 2 intervals, for a total of 8 shots. The intervals are to start immediately, with the time between intervals as 10 minutes. The current time is 22:50.

First choose to begin the Interval Timer Shooting immediately (Now), or at a set Start Time. Press left and right on the Multi Selector to navigate through these menus and up and down to set the desired times and numbers.

Next set the Interval, or time period between when each series of shots is taken. Then set the number of intervals (Select no. of times) and the number of shots to be taken at the start of each interval (no. of shots). Press right again when done with the settings, and select On to begin the Interval Timer shooting.

Ideally, set up your camera on a tripod for the duration of Interval Timer Shooting. Note that you cannot use Live View, and that each series of shots will be taken at the frames-per-second rate of the current Release Mode (or the Continuous Low rate if set for Single Frame), although this rate may be limited by a slower shutter speed setting. You can combine Bracketing with this function. Press the OK Button between intervals to pause or stop the process. The camera will need to focus before taking the shots, so it may be best to pre-focus the camera and then set the camera and lens to manual focus.

Time-Lapse Photography

This differs from the above Interval Timer Shooting in that it is used to take a series of individual photos over an extended period of minutes or hours that are then combined into a time-lapse movie (see Figure 2). Thus only one photo is taken at each interval – for example, one photo every 10 seconds, for 8 hours. The resulting movie will use the frame rate setting from the Movie Settings (also in the Shooting Menu), and thus that setting (24fps, 30fps, etc.) will determine to total length of the movie. If 24fps was used in the above example, the resulting movie would be 2 minutes, as the camera will thankfully calculate for you in this menu.

Nikon d600 interval timer vs time lapse photography shooting difference
Figure 2 – Time-Lapse Photography menu – here the camera is set up to take an image every 5 seconds (the Interval), over a period of 25 minutes (the Shooting time). Since the movie frame rate is set at 24fps, the final movie will be 12.6 seconds long (Length recorded). The maximum possible length of a movie here is shown to be 38 minutes and 15 seconds based on the space left on the memory card as shown at the bottom, though note that the actual maximum length of any movie is 20 minutes.

To set up this function, access Time-Lapse Photography in the Shooting Menu.

Press right on the Multi Selector to access the settings, then press right or left to navigate to the various settings, and up and down to change the numbers and times. First set the Interval or time period between each shot. Then set the total Shooting time. You need to set short Intervals and a long Shooting Time to create a lengthy final time-lapse movie.

When done with the settings, press right on the Multi Selector and choose On. The time-lapse shooting will begin after 3 seconds. Again, be sure to set up the camera on a tripod for the duration of the shooting. When the shooting is complete, the resulting movie will be saved to the memory card selected in the Shooting Menu under Movie Settings in the Destination option.

If you wish to calculate the total length of a resulting time-lapse movie without entering the numbers into the camera, you can use the formula below, or use a time-lapse calculator available online or as an app.

Time-Lapse Formula:

trt = H * 3600 / I *FR

trt= Total Running Time in seconds.

H= Total Hours taken for time lapse in real time.

I= Interval in Seconds between photographs.

FR= Frame Rate in which pictures will be displayed (24, 25, 30, 60 etc.).

So for the settings in Figure 202:

trt = 7.5 * 3600 / 30 * 24

trt = 37.5 seconds (shown on the camera as 37.6”)

As you can see, it is easier to just get an app for this! Note that the total maximum length for a movie is limited to 20 minutes. Be sure to replace the Viewfinder eyecup with the Eyepiece Cap provided with your camera to block stray light from entering the camera during this process. Press the OK Button or turn the camera off to stop the time-lapse process. As with Interval Timer Photography, the camera will need to focus before taking each shot, so it may be best to pre-focus the camera and then set the camera and lens to manual focus.

Both Interval Timer Photography and Time-Lapse Photography and their various settings and options are explained in more detail in the Interval and Time-Lapse Shooting section of the Nikon D600 Experience e-book user’s guide.

Introducing the Nikon D600 Full Frame dSLR Camera and the updated Nikon D610:

(With additions made at the end of this article to explain the features added to the updated Nikon D610)

(First, I have been corrected on the title of this post – the Sony a850 was the first “affordable” full frame (meaning ~$2000 price at introduction). But as I unfortunately only have time in my work day to mostly follow, research, and write about Canon and Nikon news and dSLR cameras, this one slipped by me!)

The day has finally arrived!  For a couple years I have been suggesting to my readers that when choosing lenses they anticipate the time that, someday soon, full-frame cameras will be more affordable.  This was both to address the possibility that certain DX lenses could not be used on an FX body, plus how a lens’ field of view will be affected by a full frame vs. a cropped APS-C sensor.  Well that day has now arrived with the introduction of the Nikon D600.  Initially priced at $2100 (body only), it can certainly be considered the first enthusiast full-frame (or in Nikon terminology, FX Format) camera – and which should also be more than rugged enough and capable enough for a semi-pro or a second body.  And as icing on the cake, DX lenses are indeed compatible with this new FX camera (although the resulting image will be a 10MP DX crop).

(Of course the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II is under $2000 at this time, but that is due to it recently being replaced by the 5D Mark III.  When the 5D Mark II was new, it was priced at around $2700, and didn’t go below $2400 for most of its active life.  And you don’t want the 5D Mk II anymore – its continuous frame rate is slow and its AF system isn’t so hot, especially compared to current models.)

Nikon D600 unbox unboxing full frame FX dSLR camera 35mm new kit lens
Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

Sensor, Viewfinder: The D600 sits between the D7000 and the recent D800, being closer – I would say – to a full-frame version of the D7000 (with a few more megapixels).  It boasts a 24.3 megapixel image sensor (over the 16.2 MP of the D7000) and the same 39 point autofocus system with 9 cross type points and similar custom settings options as the D7000. This full-frame size sensor delivers not only improved resolution but also increased dynamic range and improved low light / high ISO performance (6400 max. ISO expandable up to 25,600).  As noted above, the full-frame sensor will also affect the field of view of your lenses.  For those coming from an APS-C sized sensor camera, a 50mm lens will now act as a true 50mm lens – no more 1.5x  crop factor to consider.  This means that your wide angle lenses will now act as true wide angle lenses, but your telephoto lenses will no longer have quite as much reach as you may be used to.  However, the D600 offers a DX setting so that you can act as if you have a DX sized sensor.  This camera also has a nice big and bright 100% view viewfinder so that one can easily see their subject, make use of the AF Points, and frame their images.

Interface and Controls: Much of the user interface (menus, displays) as well as the controls are also similar to the D7000, with a few changes such as the addition of the Live View/ Movie switch, a locking Mode Dial switch, and the addition of a Picture Control button.  The newly locking Mode Dial contains the customizable user modes U1 and U2 so that you can set up the camera to quickly switch to your desired mode and settings, including your desired Custom Settings parameters.  In the“why did they do that?” category, Nikon has swapped the position of the Image Zoom [+] and [-] buttons used during image review.  So overall, any D7000 user will be immediately comfortable and familiar with this D600 body.  Changing the AF Mode and AF Area Mode of the D600 is done with the “hidden” button inside the AF/M switch at the base of the lens, in conjunction with the Command Dials (as with the D7000).  The D600 offers two customizable Function Buttons on the front of the camera to set for whichever functions you desire.

Nikon D610 book manual guide how to autofocus settings menu custom setup dummies learn use tips tricks     Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial

Brief Commercial Interruption: Of course I offer a Full Stop e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D610Nikon D610 Experience, and one for the D600, Nikon D600 Experience.  This first book is currently the highest rated D600 guide on the market, with nearly 50 five star reviews!  Click the links to learn more about the guides and all my other e-book camera guides for Nikon and Canon dSLR cameras.

Nikon D610 D600 autofocus af system full frame use choose decide book guide manual how to dummies
Simulated view of the Nikon D610 / D600 viewfinder showing the location of all 39 autofocus AF Points

Autofocus (AF) System / FPS: As mentioned, the D600 makes use of the 39 point autofocus system with 9 cross-type points of the D7000.  For those not familiar with this system, it is somewhat sophisticated in that it offers several combinations of autofocus modes (for still subjects or a variety of situations with moving subjects), autofocus area modes (how many of the AF points are active and how they track), AF related Custom Settings (to tweak the performance of the system to your subject and needs), and customizable controls (to set which buttons do what).  There is a bit of a learning curve in order to take full advantage and full control of it, but once mastered it enables a photographer to consistently and successfully capture sharp images of still subjects and to track and capture moving subjects in a variety of ways.  You can start to learn about this system in my post explaining how to Take Advantage of the Nikon D7000 Autofocus System.  You can put the AF subject tracking to good use as you shoot up to 5.5 frames per second with the D600.  This is a great frame rate for most action, sports, or wildlife photography – any slower misses important moments and any faster starts to give you nearly identical multiple shots which become a time and memory space drain when backing up and editing. (Of course if you shoot something like motorsports or professional sports, you likely need the faster frame rate of a full-fledged pro camera!)

Body, Size, Battery, Memory Cards: Regarding size and weight, the D600 is slightly larger than than the D7000, but surprisingly 20g lighter (with the battery.)  It shares the same EN-EL 15 battery as the D7000, and offers a new MB-D14 battery grip for the use of two batteries – and to perhaps make the camera more comfortable for some users particularly when using larger lenses or working often in portrait orientation.  The top and rear of the camera body are constructed of strong and light magnesium alloy, and the body is weather sealed against dust and moisture (including the battery and memory card doors).  Although the entire body isn’t magnesium like the Canon 7D or 5D Mk III, it should prove to be more than rugged and durable enough for most any photographer’s needs.  The D600 has two SD memory card slots which can be configured in a variety of ways including overflow (when one card fills images are automatically then saved to the 2nd card), simultaneous back-up (each image is saved on both cards), or stills on one card and movies on the other. The LCD monitor on the rear of the camera is now a slightly larger 3.2 inches (compared to the 3″LCD of the D7000) with 921K pixels, and is optimized for minimum glare and good contrast in sunlight.

Nikon D600 unbox unboxing full frame FX dSLR camera 35mm new kit lens
Unboxing of the Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

Accessories: Nikon is offering a Wireless Adapter, the WU-1b, which will allow you to immediately share your images through mobile devices, remotely save images, or remotely fire the shutter through a smartphone.  It is also compatible with the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit for geo-tagging your images.

Flash: Unlike the full-frame Canon 5D series that forgo the built-in flash, the D600 (like the D800) has a built-in flash that also acts as a wireless Speedlight Commander to control remote flashes (up to two groups).  The camera of course has a hotshoe for optional external Speedlights like the Nikon SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, or SB-600.

HD Video: And of course the D600 offers full HD video with manual control and all the usual frame rates (1080p at 30/25/24 fps and 720p at 60/50/30 fps). As with stills, you can switch to DX (as if you were using a smaller DX sized sensor) for a “telephoto boost,” and it is capable of full time autofocus, though most dedicated videographers still prefer manually focusing. The camera records mono audio but is compatible with optional stereo mics, and has a headphone jack for audio monitoring.

Bracketing: The D600 unfortunately only offers the choice of 2 or 3 frame Auto Exposure Bracketing (up to +/- 6 EV), which doesn’t help the HDR shooters who would prefer 5 or 7 bracketed shots.  There is a dedicated BKT Bracketing Button on the camera body to initiate this process.  There is also a built-in “HDR mode” which combines and processes two images in-camera.

Nikon D600 book guide ebook instruction manual how to dummies field guide
Image of a gorgeous Nikon F taken with the Nikon D600 and kit lens (24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR)  Unprocessed JPEG straight from camera (with watermarks added), ISO 2500.  Image by author – click to see larger.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass. 

Of course the D600 offers the usual Metering Modes, Drive Modes, and White Balance options, as well as the familiar Scene Modes, Picture Style settings, Multiple Exposure mode, Interval Timer for time-lapse photography, and in-camera image processing and filter/ art effects.

I expect the Nikon D600 to be an extremely popular camera, offering an affordable full-frame camera for dedicated enthusiasts, aspiring pros, and semi-pros, or a highly competent second body for semi-pros and pros.  There is nothing lacking in this camera that would prevent any photographer from capturing the highest quality, professional level images in most every shooting situation, be it general photography, portraits, street photography, studio work, wedding photography, or travel use.  Plus it offers the ability, although somewhat limited by its frame rate and centrally clustered AF Points, to capture non-professional sports, wildlife, and other action type situations.  (See the image at the bottom of the page for the AF Points locations.)

As I work on a comparison post of the current Nikon dSLR line-up, have a look at these other Nikon related posts, including how to take full advantage of your autofocus system.

The camera is offered as a body-only or with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens (image stabilized).

And as I mentioned, I will be coming out with a Full Stop e-book user’s guide for the Nikon D600 – Nikon D600 Experience, possibly as soon as November 2012.

Order your D600 today on Amazon or B and H – it is already available and shipping!

Nikon D600 on Amazon (body only or kit)

Nikon D600 at B and H Photo – body only

Nikon D600 at B and H Photo – with the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

Nikon D600 full frame FX dSLR camera unbox unboxing 35mm new kit lens 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Nikon D600 full frame dSLR camera, shown with kit lens Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – Image by author.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass.

The Nikon D610 was introduced in October of 2013, and has added a couple minor, but important features to the camera. The D610 incorporates a new shutter mechanism which enables a faster six frames per second (fps) continuous shooting speed and a new Quiet Continuous shutter-release mode for taking a burst of images up to three frames per second and with decreased shutter noise. In addition, the D610 has an improved Auto White Balance setting which promises more natural color reproduction both indoors under artificial lighting and outdoors. As mentioned above, the previous D600 model marked an important moment in the evolution of digital SLR cameras as the first dSLR with a full-frame sized image sensor to also be priced at about $2000 at release, thus putting it within the reach of far more photography enthusiasts. With the D610, Nikon has retained a similar price. And although a number of D600 users reportedly experienced issues with dust or oil spots on the camera’s sensor, it is expected that the new shutter mechanism of the D610 will eliminate this concern.

Nikon D610 D600 autofocus af system points full frame viewfinder
Another simulated view of the Nikon D610 / D600 viewfinder, showing the location of all 39 autofocus AF Points.  Image of Nikon F SLR by author, taken with Nikon D600 with kit lens – 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR, ISO 2500.  Special thanks to Newtonville Camera of Newton, Mass. 

Canon Rebel T4i vs. EOS 60D

I first introduced and discussed the new Canon Rebel T4i in this recent post, Introduction the the Canon Rebel T4i.  I encourage you to read that first to learn about all the features of the T4i. Then you may be wondering about how to choose between the T4i vs. the Canon EOS 60D, so I go into more detail about that here:

The predecessor to the T4i, the T3i, shared several important features with the 60D including the same 18 MP image sensor and the 63 zone exposure metering mode, both allowing you to get great, high-quality, well exposed images even in challenging lighting situations.  However, the T3i lacked a couple critical features that dedicated enthusiast photographers might eventually find that they would need, even if they weren’t ready or knowledgeable enough to use them right away.  They might have found that the less accurate autofocus system was eventually not up to their needs and that the slower continuous shooting speed limited the moments they could capture.

Canon Rebel T4i EOS 650D unbox unboxing compare vs T3i 60D choose decide

As I discussed above, the new Canon Rebel T4i / 600D demonstrates a significant leap in the “trickle-down” trend by borrowing several additional important features from the 60D, including the more accurate all-cross-type 9 point autofocus system and 5 frames per second, faster continuous shooting speed.  The fact that both of these cameras, the T4i and 60D, now share numerous key features, it is obviously a challenge to decide between them.

There are still a few features, however, that may help you decide one way or the other. The T4i has added continuous autofocusing while shooting video and a couple new Movie autofocus modes to best make use of this.  If you intend to shoot lots of video with your camera, this could be an important deciding factor. The T4i also adds a Touch Screen, allowing you to change settings, navigate menus, and browse through images with iPhone-like multi-touch gestures.  This isn’t a vital feature for taking better images, but it may be a convenience issue that makes a difference.

But the 60D still holds some important advantages for those who intend to be serious and dedicated to their photography, and who wish to use their camera as a versatile tool to fit with how they shoot. The 60D still offers a bigger and brighter viewfinder, additional external buttons and controls which makes changing camera settings on the fly much quicker and easier.  For example it has the metering mode, autofocus mode, etc. buttons right on top for easy access, plus the large Quick Control Dial on the rear of the camera to quickly change exposure compensation or to help with changing settings and rapidly moving through menus, and the all-important AF-ON button allowing more control over autofocus operation.

The 60D also has a slightly more rugged build than the T4i and some amount of weatherproofing seals, where the T4i basically has none.  Even more importantly, the 60D boasts additional Custom Function options, which will allow you to customize the camera and its functions to operate  exactly how you want them to: Safety Shift, Bracketing Sequence, ISO increments at 1/2 or 1/3 rather than full stops, dial direction reversal.  While some of these options may not seem important to the casual user, the heavy-duty user will find them indispensable in increasing their efficiency and deceasing their aggravation. And due to some of the additional features/ controls and stronger build, the body of the 60D is larger, feels sturdier, and is better balanced with the larger heavier lenses that a more dedicated photographer will likely be using sooner or later.

The latest in the Canon Powershot G series, the Powershot G1 X was recently announced, and should be available in February 2012. I wrote a bit about what new features it offers compared to the G12, namely a much larger CMOS sensor and a different lens to go with it. The G1 X is not a replacement to the G12, but rather is a new, even higher-end compact with manual controls, designed for dSLR users who want a very high quality point and shoot for various situations, as well as for dedicated enthusiasts who want the quality and manual control of a dSLR but don’t want the size, weight, and bulk of a dSLR body and lenses. The G1 X should prove to be a very popular camera for many demanding photographers for both everyday and travel use.

Canon g1 x g1x gx1 gx 1 compact asp-c large sensor high end g12
image courtesy of Canon USA

If you are trying to decide between the new G1 X and the older G12, the most important consideration (besides the price difference) is the sensor/ lens/ Digic V processor combo. While not quite as large as the ASP-C sensor of a dSLR like the T3i or 60D, the 18.7mm x 14mm, 14 megapixel sensor of the G1X is six times larger than that of the G12, and thus promises to offer not only higher image quality, but also much improved low light performance. Its f/2.8 maximum aperture at the wide end coupled with the larger sensor will also allow a larger degree of background blurring for portraits, etc. While you shouldn’t expect the degree of out of focus areas (bokeh) as a dSLR due to the minimum aperture becoming f/5.8 at the telephoto end, it will be somewhat improved over what the G12 or other compacts can offer. The 4X zoom lens of the G1 X also does not have quite the reach of the 5X zoom lens of the G12.

Other possibly important differences between the two are the camera size and weight and the battery life. While the G1 X is larger and heavier than the G12, it uses a smaller batter with a shorter shot life (see below for details). The G1 X also offers a high speed burst of continuous shooting, 4.5 fps for up to 6 shots at full quality, or 1.9fps for unlimited continuous shots.

The controls of both cameras are very similar, with some minor tweaks made to the G1 X. The G series is prized by demanding photographers because it offers quick and easy access to many manual controls, similar to a dSLR, as well as a viewfinder. Both cameras have a mode dial to quickly change shooting modes, an exposure compensation dial for quick EC adjustments, and button access to autofocus modes, metering modes, flash, as well as exposure lock. The G1 X looses the ISO dial of the G12, but places it on the rear control dial for relatively easy access. The G1 X however adds a movie record button for rapid start of movie recording in any shooting mode. As a result of these changes, the AE-L button is moved lower, and the self-timer and manual focus functions no longer have dedicated buttons, but can be accessed in the menus.

Below is a further comparison of some of the key specs of each camera:

Canon G1 X

sensor: 14 MP, 18.7mm x 14mm sensor
lens: 28-112mm equivalent, 4X zoom lens
aperture: f/2.8-5.8 maximum aperture
rear LCD: 3″ articulating rear LCD with 920,000 dots
size: 116.7 x 80.5 x 64.7mm
weight: 534 g
processor: Digic V
RAW image file format: yes, 14 bit RAW
ISO: 100-12,800
exposure compensation: +/- 3 EV at 1/3 stops
continuous shooting: 4.5 fps for 6 shots
metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted, Spot
flash: internal pop-up plus hot-shoe for EX Speedlites
battery: NB 10L – 250 shots
video: up to 1920 x 1080 @ 24fps full HD
price: $799

Canon G12

sensor: 10 MP, 7.44 x 5.58mm sensor
lens: 28-140mm equivalent, 5X zoom lens
aperture: f/2.8-4.5 maximum aperture
rear LCD: 2.8″ articulating rear LCD with 460,000 dots
size: 112 x 76 x 48mm
weight: 351 g
processor: Digic IV
RAW image file format: yes
ISO: 80-3,200
exposure compensation: +/- 2 EV at 1/3 stops
continuous shooting: 2 fps
metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted, Spot
flash: internal plus hot-shoe for EX Speedlites
battery: NB 7L – 370 shots
video: up to 1280 x 720 @ 24fps HD
price: $395

So as you can see, the cameras are quite similar in many ways, with the exception of the sensor, lens, and processor, which is going to make a very large difference in terms of improved image quality, higher dynamic range, better low light performance, reduced noise at high ISO settings, longer flash reach, larger image size allowing for more aggressive cropping, and will allow the ability to achieve more dramatic depth of field. According to Canon:

The powerful DIGIC 5 processor in the PowerShot G1 X is able to process six times the amount of information compared to the DIGIC 4 processor used in the PowerShot G12 compact. With this vastly increased processing power advanced noise reduction is possible to provide even better image quality than the DIGIC 4-powered HS System.

The DIGIC 5 processor uses approximately four times as much information as before to resolve one pixel, with the aforementioned six times faster processing speed. For the total performance of noise and image clarity this has an effect of two stops at high ISOs compared to the PowerShot G12 compact at ISO 3200, and three stops at lower ISO.

The 14 bit RAW allows for those who shoot in RAW file format for later post-processing to capture images with more dynamic range, better noise reduction, and more shadow detail.

Most of the other features such as the viewfinder, scene modes, autofocusing systems, creative filters, movie modes, and white balance options are nearly identical on both models. The G1 X also adds improved, 4-stop image stabilization, a built in 3-stop neutral density (ND) filter, and an intelligent face detection system which will give focus and exposure priority to faces it recognizes. It also offers multi-area white balance correction so that different light sources are equally neutralized or balanced – such as the flash lit subject with the fluorescent lit background.

So, how do you decide between the two? Who is the G1 X for vs. the G12? Well, if the price difference doesn’t make up your mind for you, the G12 is for those who want a very high quality point, rugged point and shoot with manual controls and great image quality. If you are going to be viewing and sharing your photos online or on a computer screen primarily, the images from the G12 should suffice. You can still do post-processing and make small or medium size prints for the special images. It is great for everyday use and for travel.

But if you need to take it to the next level – if you need or want near dSLR quality images for more invasive post-processing, larger prints, cropping, or even publication, you will want the G1 X. If you want the ability to more easily create background blurring, and the occasional high speed burst for action shots, you will want the new model. If you want to get as close to a dSLR without the size, weight, and lenses, the G1 X (or Sony NEX-7) is the answer.

Pre-order your G1 X from B and H Photo here! – $799 – expected Feb. 2012?

Pre-order your G1 X from Amazon – $799 – expected March 31, 2010

See the Powershot G12 on Amazon – $395

The official Canon press release for the G1 X can be read on their site here.

I spend a lot of time on photography forums, trying to stay on top of the latest news and equipment as well as to better learn about the concerns and difficulties of those trying to choose or to learn to use their new dSLR.  This always helps me in writing my dSLR camera guides, such as learning which functions and concepts users have trouble with, and figuring out how to best explain them.

tips tricks photography dslr learn use manual instruction tutorial for dummies guide

Unfortunately one begins to see the same posts again and again:

“I want to get my first dSLR.  Which one should I get?”

often supplemented with

“I hear/ read/ am told that Canon is better at XX but Nikon is better at XX.  Which one should I choose?”

and then

“I want to start taking wedding and portrait photos.”

typically qualified with

“I only want to spend $500.”

So to be honest, it is pretty simple:

If you are truly on a budget and don’t want to spend a lot on a dSLR, then get the entry level Canon T3 or Nikon D3100.

But, if you really intend to grow and learn and develop as a photographer, and don’t want to quickly reach the limits of your camera and have to spend more money and buy another one, start out with the advanced-entry-level Canon T3i (also called the 600D) or the Nikon D5100.  These cameras will give you a bit more room to grow with their additional features, capabilities, and image quality.

If you plan to be really dedicated to photography, to pursue it as a serious hobby or even as a semi-pro, and intend to read every book you can find about your equipment, photography, exposure, composition, and Photoshop, and be out there using your camera all the time, then it may be worth your while to start off with a mid-level or pro-sumer camera such as the Canon 60D, Canon 7D, or Nikon D7000.  That way you won’t find yourself reaching the limits of your first camera within a year and having to upgrade so soon.

But know that starting out with a 7D or D7000 is jumping in near the deep end of the pool.  You will have a steep learning curve in order to get to the point where you can take control of your camera and take full advantage of all those features and capabilities you paid for.  As can be witnessed on the forum posts where the new user says

“I just got my ($1500 camera), set it on Auto and took some photos, and they don’t look anything like (pro photographer’s) photos.  What is wrong with my camera?  I guess I should start reading the manual, but what settings should I use to take better photos?”

…spending a lot of money on a “better” camera does not automatically, instantly lead to great images.

If you wish to become serious about photography, you need to understand that “photography” and “budget” do not belong in the same sentence!  If you want to do wedding and portrait/ child/ pet photography eventually, and want to be paid for it, then you need to change your mindset about the cost of the equipment required by a professional photographer.  The camera is a tool required to do the job right, and a professional needs professional equipment.  Not just because it is expected or is the price of admission, but because professional tools are needed to do professional work.  While one can get away with using a mid-level or pro-sumer camera for weddings or when starting out as a portrait or pet photographer, you will find that you really need the quality and capabilities of a pro camera to properly do the job. You need equipment that can perform in all situations (in conjunction with your skills).

I’ve written some much more detailed posts about comparing a choosing a dSLR camera, including:

Choosing Between the Canon 7D vs 60D vs T3i (600D)

Choosing Between the Nikon D7000 vs D5100 vs D3100

These posts go into detail about their features and differences, and why you may or may not need to additional features of the advanced cameras for your photography.

In a previous post I wrote an in-depth comparison of the dSLR cameras in the current Canon line-up, the Canon 7D vs 60D vs T3i / 600D.  To sum up that practical, subjective comparison, here is a brief and somewhat serious synopsis to help you make your camera decision based on your photography experience and needs:

Canon Rebel T3i EOS 600D vs 60D vs 7D vs T2i
Canon Rebel T2i, T3i, 60D, and 7D – photo by author at Newtonville Camera

Get a Canon 600D / Rebel T3i (or older 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 extensive use of it, for any specific additional features, there is no need to look beyond the T3i / 600D. See the T3i 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, faster shooting speed, more precise autofocus system, and more complex 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 megapixels (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 (the T3i has this too). If you typically shoot on Auto or Program mode, you probably do not need a 60D. If you do not manually select your own focus point and have never used exposure compensation you probably do not need a 60D. If you have never used the AE-Lock [*] button to lock exposure you most likely do not need a 60D. If you don’t understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO you may not really 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, consider saving the money or using it towards a better lens. See the 60D on Amazon.

Get a Canon 7D if you have extensive experience with a Rebel like an XTi or T1i (also called the xxxD series like the 350D or 500D) 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 most likely really don’t need a 7D. If you have never used Av aperture priority mode or M manual mode, you should probably gain more dSLR experience before investing in 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 don’t need the sophisticated AF system of the 7D. If you have never used spot metering to determine a critical exposure level or experimented with back-button focusing you probably will do just fine with a camera less advanced and less expensive than the 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, consider saving the money or using 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 T3i/600D, T2i/550D, 60D and 7D all have most of these advanced features I just listed: manually selected focus points, exposure compensation, AE-Lock, auto-focus tracking, spot metering, and back-button focusing. All of these cameras are fully capable of advanced dSLR shooting techniques and are capable of shooting professional quality images. I’m just using the above features as a determination of your experience level and equipment 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 truly need a 5D MkII, you are most likely already in that phase where you are fully aware that you need it and you are merely saving up and/ or agonizing over when to go ahead and spend (or inform the spouse that you need to spend) that $2500.

If you don’t already know that you need a 5D Mk II and specifically why you need it, you probably don’t need a 5D. Plus, as is often the case, many of those who could really take full advantage of a 5D Mk II are those who can’t afford one. (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 T3i/600D. If you don’t already know how to use an advanced dSLR camera and why a photographer needs one, buying a 5D Mk II is sort of like buying a washing machine with the buttons, dials, and writing all in Swahili. You know what a washing machine can do and is supposed to do, and you can sort of figure out the Swahili one. But until you properly learn how to use it, if you start turning the dials and pressing some buttons you could really screw things up. And even though the Swahili buttons all look really cool and impress your friends and the other clothes-washers who see it, and the salesman told you it is a “better” washing machine and has a bigger drum, it probably won’t help you clean your clothes better, especially if you don’t know how to use it. Until you learn how, when, and why to use the controls, features, menus, and custom functions of a 5D Mk II or even a 7D, you may be taking worse pictures! At best you won’t be taking advantage of most of the features and capabilities you paid a lot more for. And besides, the 5D Mk II is becoming old technology. You should wait for the 5D Mark III :) Plus, the large, high resolution sensor of the 5D Mk II pretty much requires that you use Canon’s best L-series lenses, so be sure to take that into account. See the Canon 5D Mk II on Amazon.

Whichever Canon you choose, learn to take control of your camera and the images you create with one of my Full Stop e-book guides!

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

 

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I began to discuss the autofocus modes of various dSLR cameras in previous posts including Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System and Taking Advantage of the Autofocus Systems of the Nikon D5100 and the Nikon D7000

In this post I wish to go into more detail about one of the reasons it is important to take control of your autofocus system, namely not allowing the locations of the AF Points in your viewfinder to dictate your final composition.

As I mentioned in previous autofocus posts, one of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.

In addition, there are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just focusing with the center AF point and then recomposing.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject.  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

One of the additional critical reasons to take control of your autofocus system is so that you don’t let the location of the AF Points dictate your composition. What happens when the subject you want to focus on is not located exactly under one of the AF Points? Even with 9 or 19 or more AF Points to choose from, they will not always be located exactly at or near where you need them to be.  Recomposing or re-framing your shot is often necessary so that you can capture exactly the image you wish to and not one dictated by the locations of the AF Points as you see them in the viewfinder.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 1 – The desired framing and composition of the shot I wish to take, yet no AF Point, including the selected lower right point (the larger point shown in red here) is located exactly at the woman’s head where I wish to focus. (Canon 7D viewfinder shown)

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Image is temporarily framed to place the selected AF Point over the woman’s head, Shutter Button is pressed half-way and held to lock focus at that distance, image is recomposed to the desired framing of previous Figure 1, and Shutter Button is fully pressed to capture the image.

Figure 1 shows the desired framing and composition of the shot I want to take, but the woman is not located under an AF Point. This composition is desired for me because it captures the entire window along with some space around it, as well as some space in front of the woman for her to “walk into” – but not an excessive amount of space. So I manually select the lower right AF Point (using Single-Point AF Mode), temporarily frame the image to place the selected AF Point over her face or head, press and hold the Shutter Button half-way to lock focus at that distance (Figure 2), and see the Focus Confirmation Light illuminate in the viewfinder. I then recompose back to the final framing I want (Figure 1) and press the Shutter Button fully to take the image. Even though the subject is moving, I do not need the sophisticated tracking of AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode to keep her in focus. I can quickly lock focus using One Shot (Canon) or Single Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode, recompose, and take the image without the camera-to-subject focus distance changing significantly.

With the example images above (Figures 1, 2), focusing on the wall would not have been tragic because the distance between the subject and the background is small, and if a medium or narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/16 is used both the wall and the subject may be in acceptable focus. If the background was further away, and/ or a wide aperture such as f/2.8 was used – especially with a telephoto lens, and if the image was enlarged, you would clearly see that the camera focused on the wall and not the woman. Not to mention the fact that the wall is a somewhat consistent area of color and the AF system may have difficulty properly focusing on it. So it is best not to take shortcuts such as focusing on the wall and hoping the subject will also be in focus, because in many other situations you will not have this option. It is best to take the photo properly and to learn and practice the habit of working in the more rigorous manner if you want all your photos to be sharp.

If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems of your Canon or Nikon dSLR camera, as well as learn to use the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes, all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on their titles or on the banner below:
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
T2i Experience.

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

For those with other cameras, check out my Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography which also discusses taking advantage of any dSLR camera’s autofocus system.

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This article mostly applies to the 9 point autofocus system of the Canon 60D and the Rebels including the T5i / 700D and T4i / EOS 650D (and their predecessors), as well as to the new Canon 6D and its 11 AF points.  The Canon EOS 7D also shares the same Autofocus Modes discussed below, but it adds Autofocus Area Modes to the mix as well as additional Custom Functions affecting the AF system, so I will have to address those additional capabilities in the future (or you can learn all about them now in my Canon 7D Experience e-book).  I have written a separate post that addresses the AF system of the Canon 5D Mark III.

You can learn much more about using these cameras with my Full Stop e-book camera guides for Canon dSLR cameras.

Using Auto Focus
One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.  If you are capturing an image of a bird in a tree, the camera has no idea you want the autofocus system to zero-in on the bird so that it is in sharp focus and not the branches or leaves near it, or the leaves closest to you.

Autofocus works by looking for contrast, so try to focus (place your AF Point) on a detail with a strong line or strong contrast between light and dark.  It may not be able to focus on a large area of consistent color – such as a white wall or blue sky or even an evenly colored and lit shirt – or on a subject that is too dark.  It can be disrupted by regular patterns or confused when looking through close objects to objects farther away, such as looking through a fence.  And it sometimes fails to work as well in dim light, though the AF-Assist Beam can assist in this situation.  When photographing people, always try to focus somewhere on the face, ideally on the eyes or eyebrows, then recompose the framing of your image if necessary.

Select an Auto Focus Point, or AF Point, using the Multi-Controller or using the AF Point Selection Button and the Cross Keys (depending on your camera).  If you have a model with the Multi-Controller (such as the 60D with the thumb-pad or the 7D or 5DII with the thumb-joystick), be sure to set the Custom Function setting for AF Point Selection Method so that you can directly change the AF Point without pressing the AF Button first.

Canon 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point select choose set setting
Figure 1 – The selected AF Point is located over the subject’s eye in order to ensure the camera autofocuses where desired.  (Canon 60D viewfinder shown, T3i/600D viewfinder similar)

To see how autofocus point selection works, make sure the switch on your lens it set to AF and your Autofocus Mode, as seen on the top LCD Panel or rear LCD screen, is set to One Shot, then:

•    Tap the Shutter Button with a half-press to wake up the camera.
•    Looking through the viewfinder, use the Multi-Controller or Cross Keys to select the focus point that is nearest to where you want to focus.
•    Place that point over your intended subject.
•    Press and hold the Shutter Button halfway down and see that point blink red.  The Focus Confirmation Light should light up in your viewfinder.  You have locked the focus.
•    Keeping the Shutter Button pressed halfway, recompose if necessary, and take the shot by fully pressing the Shutter Button.

There are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just the center one all the time.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject (think of an arc that is your focus distance, and the tangent line off that arc that is the focus plane which now runs behind the subject after re-composing).  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

It may sound difficult to select the focus point each time, but it is actually very quickly done and should become instinctive.  You may even start to set your focus point as you approach a scene before even bringing your camera to your eye.

Focus Modes
The 60D and T3i (and 5D/ 5DII and 7D) have different focus modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving, or if you wish to track its movement.

One-Shot AF
Use this mode when your subject is still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  This mode can even be used for moving people or objects if you quickly take the shot after establishing or locking focus.

Focus on your subject by pressing the Shutter Button halfway.  The active or selected AF Point will be displayed or will illuminate, and the Focus Confirmation Light at the lower right in the Viewfinder will illuminate as well.  Continue to press the Shutter Button all the way to take the shot.  If you half-press the Shutter Button to lock focus on your subject, the camera will remain focused at that distance as long as you keep half-pressing the Shutter Button.  You can recompose the shot as you wish and then full press the Shutter Button to take the photo.

As just noted, if the Focus Confirmation Light does not light up and the camera does not take the photo, the camera may not be finding enough contrast to focus on, you may be too close to your subject for the lens to focus, or the lighting may be too dim for the AF system to work properly.

However, if you are photographing a subject that is approaching or receding from view at a relatively constant rate, or photographing fast or erratic or unpredictably moving subjects, or photographing sports, action, or wildlife you will usually want to use AI Servo Focus Mode.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Use One-Shot AF mode and select your desired AF Point to capture still or moderately moving subjects.  (Canon T3i viewfinder shown – 60D similar)

AI Servo
AI Servo mode is used for tracking and focusing on moving subjects, and is ideal for capturing sports and wildlife including birds.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance as long as the subject remains under the focus point that was originally active and the Shutter Button is kept half-pressed, and if the subject is moving from side to side or throughout the frame the camera will track it as it passes from one AF Point or Zone to the other ones (if you started tracking with the center AF point on the 60D and T3i or any selected AF point with the 7D).

If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the camera to automatically select the focus point using all the AF points (this is one of the few times you will not be manually selecting the auto focus point), focus on the moving subject with the center focus point, and then as long as the Shutter Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them.  Thus when the image is taken, the subject is in focus.  This will even work in conjunction with continuous shooting.  If you keep the Shutter Button fully pressed and continue to take photos, the camera will keep focusing on the moving subject.  As you can imagine, this is ideal for tracking a player running across a field, a dog running toward you, or a bird moving across the fame.  Note that when shooting with Continuous Shooting Drive Mode not every shot may be in sharp focus as the camera sometimes can’t keep up and accurately predict the subject’s speed or location.  But you should be able to capture many sharp images with this technique.  The more sophisticated Canon 7D will allow you to start tracking moving subjects with any selected AF Point and not just the center AF Point.  These are the types of advanced capabilities you are paying for (and should take advantage of!) with a more expensive dSLR.

As you will see, when using AI Servo mode your compositions will be partially dictated by the positions of the autofocus points in your Viewfinder.  The subject needs to be at one of these AF Points in order for the camera to maintain focus on it.  This is why in some situations becoming skilled at quickly using One-Shot AF – even for action scenes – will give you much more ability to control your compositions.

AI Focus
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in One-Shot AF mode then changes to AI Servo mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, it is typically not the best of both worlds.  If you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and then activate subject tracking AI Servo Mode, and your resulting focus may not be where you intend it to be or may not be as accurate as it could have been with One-Shot AF.  And in AI Focus Mode it may not be as quick to respond to a moving subject as it would in AI Servo Mode.  Typically you know if your subject is still or moving so it is better to select one of the other two AF Modes.  Plus that way you always know which AF Mode you are working in and can either lock focus where you want it or begin tracking a subject without wondering what mode the camera is in and if it will suddenly change.  But there may be situations that call for this combination mode such as a still bird or animal that may start moving unexpectedly, so keep it in mind.

How do you remember which mode is which since the terms “AI Servo” and “AI Focus” tell you nothing that makes sense?  Although I listed them in a different order above to explain them more easily, on your camera they are listed:

ONE SHOT
AI FOCUS
AI SERVO

Remember that One-Shot AF just focuses once and doesn’t change once you lock it in, and AI Servo AF is the other extreme – continuous focus used for moving objects. And AI Focus AF is listed in the middle, between the two, because it is the hybrid, combination of the two.

Checking Focus
You can review your images on the rear LCD Monitor of your camera to try to determine if they are in focus, especially by zooming in as close as possible.  But be aware that this screen has only about one million dots or pixels, while your actual image has about 18 million pixels.  That means that many images will appear to be in proper focus on your LCD screen, but you might discover that the actual images are not really so sharply in focus.

Before continuing, I want to mention that much of this text is excerpted from my dSLR guides for the Canon EOS 6D, Canon 70D, Rebel T5i / EOS 700D, Rebel T4i / EOS 650D, and the Canon EOS 7D. If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems as well as all the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes (Av and Tv), all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on the banner below:

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

 

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, and why the two example photos above actually weren’t my final compositions, see the next post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point?  Even with the 19 or 39 points of an advanced Canon 7D or Nikon D7000, this will often be an issue.  For example in Figure 2 above, I actually wish to capture the entire window and more space around it within the image frame, but moving the camera and framing for that composition leaves me with no AF Point at the woman where I wish to focus.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Focus and Depth of Field

Many functions of dSLR cameras are related to some degree or another, and Focus and Depth of Field are two of these.  The depth of field, based on your aperture setting (and thus related to exposure…) expands forward and back from your point of focus.  Thus, one important aspect of controlling your depth of field begins with focusing exactly where you want to.  To begin learning more about depth of field, have a look at my post Depth of Field Simplified.

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Despite what you may read on countless forums, the “feel” of a dSLR camera is not a valid criterion for selecting one model over another.  At least not without some further explanation of what “feel” and dSLR camera ergonomics entails.

canon nikon ergonomics feel dslr digital slr camera photography

I myself have been guilty of taking the easy road and suggesting to someone, who is trying to decide between a couple models, to go to a camera store and “see how they feel in your hands.”  However, I’ve recently concluded that this statement alone is vague and imprecise at best and more likely potentially dangerously misleading.  And I’ve always contended that this “feel” criterion is secondary to much more important factors. 

First when choosing a camera, one must determine their current and projected needs.  I go into much more detail about this in my earlier post How to Choose a New dSLR Camera (which is thankfully free of the term “feel”).  This involves not just looking at all the new and exciting features and trying to guess if you will need and use them, but rather evaluating what and how you photograph, what features and capabilities you thus need in your camera, then finding the models that fit these needs.  Since cameras boast more advanced controls, features, and capabilities as they move up the line-up (Canon T3i vs Canon 60D vs Canon 7D or Nikon D7000 vs D5100 vs D3100) this will help you narrow down the decision.  The “feel” or ergonomics should definitely not be a deciding factor at this stage.

There are many important differences between an entry level camera and a mid-level camera as far as controls, features, more sophisticated autofocus system, weather proofing, durability, etc., and the fact that one is smaller and lighter than the other is a result of these differences, NOT a feature to be compared.  To take “feel” into account at this point is like someone buying a truck who needs a full-size bed to haul the maximum amount of mulch, but then says, “yeah, but the light-duty truck is smaller so I can park it easier, so I think it ‘drives’ better.”  They wanted a truck to fulfill their needs, yet they decided on another based on the wrong criteria.  No one who needs the full frame sensor, high ISO capabilities, and durability of a Canon 5D Mk II decides instead to get a T3i just because the T3i is lighter to carry around their neck at a wedding all day and “feels” 10x more comfortable in their small hands.

Once you have successfully determined which level camera fits your needs, then you may have narrowed your choices down to the comparable Canon and Nikon models that likely share similar features, such as the Nikon D5100 vs the Canon T3i.  This is where the “feel” argument often comes in.  At this point I will grudgingly allow ergonomics into the picture as one of the deciding factors – but not without further explanation.  What is the difference between “feel” and actual ergonomics?  And what exactly does that mean, the “feel of the camera in your hands?”  For me, initially, before I actually put some thought into it, and for many other people I image, it means just that.  You pick up a D5100 and check out the weight, balance (with the kit lens attached), size of the grip (does your pinky fall off the bottom?), texture of the grip materials (ohh, bumpy!), put it up to your eye and perhaps take a shot.  Then you pick up a T3i (600D) and follow the same procedure.  Some people may prefer the body that is slightly smaller, or the one that is larger – depending on their hand size, and many would prefer a body that was lighter if there was a noticeable difference in weight.  But picking a camera up and holding it in the store is not the same as using it. How it initially feels will likely not be a true indication of how it feels when operating it and using its controls.  It is not a meaningful test of “feel” or ergonomics.

This is especially true for a new dSLR user who has never actually used one for real life shooting.  They don’t yet know how it will feel when using a dSLR because they have yet to do that.  “Feel” needs to take into account more than picking up the camera with the kit lens and holding it to the eye:

  • Ergonomics involves the placements of the buttons and controls that you will access constantly while shooting – the location of the autofocus point selection arrows or thumb joystick, the location and orientation of the main dial that will be used constantly to set aperture or shutter speed.  This is actually a significant ergonomic difference between a Canon and a Nikon that I have never once seen mentioned in a forum about “feel” and if any ergonomic criterion is truly important, I would say it is this one.  I find the top location/ orientation of the Canon dial coupled with the large rear dial a natural, ergonomic joy.  I find the horizontally orientated front and rear dials of Nikons uncomfortable and aggravating to my tenosynovitis.  So until a dSLR user knows where their fingers will be moving and what controls they will want to access with the camera held to their eye, then how can they fully judge “feel?”
  • The ergonomics of a camera body changes, sometimes dramatically, depending on which lens is attached and used.  Most demo cameras in the shop have the small, lightweight 18-55mm kit lens attached.  If this is the lens you will use all the time for the remainder of your dSLR shooting life, then this can be a valid test (see Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens).  If not, you should definitely try it out with a couple additional lenses such as a larger telephoto.  Not only will most other lenses be larger and heavier than the kit lens, but the camera will likely be held differently when using them.  If you are a new user, then you may not yet know which lenses you will want and use in the future.  While a small, light, entry-level dSLR body feels great with the kits lens, it can become nearly unusable with a high quality, large, heavy lens.  As one forum contributor said,

“…my 450D felt great with the kit lens, but almost unholdable with a 100-400 and ultimately I got a battery grip for it which helped a lot with that lens. I will add that at the time I bought my 450D I felt it against a 40D and preferred the lightness and size of the 450D.  Had I known then what lie ahead I would have got the 40D.”

Although the 100-400 is a huge lens that many will never buy, the same weight, size, and balance issues hold true for other more “basic” high-quality lenses such as the Canon 24-105mm f/4L or the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, or even many non-L larger telephoto lenses.  Plus what about putting an optional external flash on top?  That will completely change the balance of any camera.

  • While everyone’s hands are different, etc, I find it hard to believe that Canon and Nikon or the other major manufacturers make a completely un-ergonomic camera for the average range of hands.  I mean other than that Nikon model with the glass shards embedded in the grip and the Canon with the 15 kilo battery.  Sure some can complain about little quirks and button placements, and some cameras are smaller and some are larger and thus feel different to different sized hands.  But remember a dSLR camera is a tool, and I refer you back up to the “full-size bed truck” analogy.
  • When you get new glasses or have dental work done, it always feels funny for a couple days. Then you get used to it and don’t notice. When you work with a camera after a bit, I would bet most would experience the same.  As another forum participant noted,

“When I was buying my first DSLR, the 450D felt weird in my hand, exactly the same as every other DSLR in the shop. The reason?  I did not know what’s what, what will I use and have never hold DSLR in my hand before. It was just a foreign object and felt weird. Got used to the DSLR and after a while it felt like an extension of my hand.”

There are good reasons why cameras and controls are designed with their specific curves, button placements, and materials. And even then, some are more careful, precise, and pleasing to the touch because they are on a pro camera catering to exacting needs.  Some are less rigorously-designed compromises to provide functionality at a lower price-point.  The user just may have to adapt a bit to their tool as they learn these reasons through use and experience.

I agree that in the end, some people just find certain cameras too big, too small, too uncomfortable, etc. for their hands.  But I just don’t think “feel” should continue to be Criteria Number One on every “which camera should I get” forum I read.  I personally have used dozens of different dSLRs, I have handled them extensively as a photographer, salesperson, reviewer, and camera guide author. I have yet to find one I can’t or won’t use due to ergonomics.  They are tools, there are reasons each is designed the way it is, and despite any design/ cost compromises each is fully functional.  In my humble opinion, I believe that ergonomics, and especially “feel,” are over-emphasized in these conversations regarding beginners – or anyone – choosing a camera.

Now don’t get me started on the related issue of “which menu system works best for you.” :)  (Come on, you’ve learned to use dozens of different menu systems with your countless software programs, point-and-shoot cameras, DVD player, TV set-up, Tivo, GPS, etc.  I think you can figure out a well designed Canon or Nikon menu.)

But all of this is moot.  In reality, people should choose a camera based on the brand that their brother-in-law once told them was really good because his father’s friend had one back in ’86 and he took really good pictures with it at a wedding once and he had a really big lens so he totally knew everything about cameras.

Choosing between the Nikon D5100, D7000, D90, and D3100:

A few months ago I wrote a post comparing the Nikon D90 vs D7000 vs D300s. Now that the D5100 is available, I am updating the comparison and include this new model, the highly competent successor to the Nikon D5000.

Nikon D5100 vs d7000 vs d3100 manual book compare choose
Detail of the Nikon D5100 – photo by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

In the Nikon lineup, the D5100 sits just above the D3100, a bit below the aging D90, and a few steps below the highly capable and immensely popular Nikon D7000. You may see some comparison charts that make the cameras appear somewhat (or very) similar at first, but those charts don’t tell the whole story.  They can even be deceptive.  You really need to take a closer look at not just the specifications, but the features and how they are used in real life, and determine which camera is the right tool for your photography.

The D5100 boasts a 16 megapixel image sensor just like the D7000, shoots 4 frames per second in continuous mode, has HD video capability at 24, 25, and 30 fps, and includes a fully adjustable side-mounted rotating screen more similar to the Canon T3i and 60D than to the bottom mounted limited angle screen on the D5000. It is closer in specifications and price to the Canon T3i than the entry level D3100 and should prove to be an excellent option for new dSLR users plus those experienced enthusiasts wishing to upgrade their D50, D60, or even their D3000 to gain additional megapixels, video, and an improved rear LCD screen.

side by side review compare Nikon D5100 vs D7000 vs D3100 vs D90
Nikon 3100, D90, D7000 (D5100, not shown, is virtually the same size as the D3100) – photo by author at Newtonville Camera

Below I will spell out some of the differences in specifications and features, as well as what these differences mean and why they may or may not be important to you and your photography. Generally as the cameras increase in price and capability from the entry level model to the enthusiast pro-sumer model they gain more sophisticated autofocus and exposure metering systems, shoot faster (more frames per second) in continuous shooting mode, have more controls on the camera body for changing settings, have sturdier construction, and offer more menu and custom function options. As I always like to point out, 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. The latest cameras almost always have more impressive features and specifications than the preceding models, and the more expensive, higher-end models will offer more features and options than the lower-end models, but if your needs and shooting style don’t required those additional features and functions then it is possible that you can save some money and be completely happy with a less expensive model.

Sensor and Image Quality: The sensors of the D7000 and D5100 are greatly improved over the older D90 in a couple of ways (it is the same sensor in both cameras). The D7000 and D5100 have 16.2 megapixel sensors, where the D90 has 12.3 megapixels. The relatively new D3100 has a 14.2 MP sensor. This increase in resolution allows for more intrusive editing of the files in Photoshop, the ability to crop a picture and still obtain an image with high enough resolution for printing or display, and allows for larger prints. In addition, the improved sensor results in better performance at high ISO settings and in low light, better dynamic range, tonal range, and color sensitivity. Have a look at dxomark.com to compare the sensors – run your mouse along the red-to-green color bar to the right some of the graphs, such as Dynamic Range, to see how these differences affect images.

Exposure Metering: The D5100, while sharing a similar sensor to the D7000, does not have the same advanced metering system. It shares the less sophisticated 420 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D3100 and offers matrix metering, non-adjustable center-weighted, and spot metering modes. This system may be more than sufficient for many users, especially those not intending to adjust their exposure settings and dig into their menus in reaction to complex lighting situations. But if your shooting demands require more precise exposure metering and control over the size of the areas being metered, you need to consider the D90 or D7000. The 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D7000 is also improved compared to the D90, and will result in more accurate metering performance of straightforward and complex lighting scenes and situations. Both these cameras offer matrix metering, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. With center-weighted metering on the D90, you can select the size of the center-weighted area to be a 6, 8, or 10mm center circle, and the D7000 adds a 13mm circle option to those.  (If you don’t understand what this means or why you may need it, you probably don’t need it!)

Autofocus: The autofocus systems of the D3100, D5100, and D90 all have 11 autofocus (AF) points with the center one being a more accurate cross-type. These AF systems may be more than sufficient for most users, and they can successfully track moving objects in the frame such as athletes, performers, or animals. However, if you specialize in sports, action, wildlife, or bird photography, you are going to want to consider the much more sophisticated, accurate, and customizable AF system of the D7000. The D7000 boasts a significantly improved AF system of 39 AF points with 9 of them (in the center) being cross type. The AF system of the D7000 allows for you to use these points in various ways including automatic AF point selection, single point AF, and dynamic area AF using your choice of 9 points, 21 points, all points, or all points with 3D-tracking. With the D7000 you can also use a custom function to limit the AF system to 11 points, which may be more manageable for someone who wishes to manually select their AF points.  (Have a look at this article for an in-depth explanation of the D7000 AF system and its capabilities)

review compare Nikon D5100 vs D3100 vs D7000 vs D90 side by side
Nikon 3100, D90, D7000 (D5100, not shown, is virtually the same size as the D3100) – photo by author at Newtonville Camera

Body, Construction and Size/ Weight: The D5100 is just slightly larger and a tiny bit heavier than the D3100, both weighing just over one pound. Both have plastic bodies and more limited buttons and controls that the higher end models. The D90 and D7000 appear very similar at first glance, but the plastic body of the D90 has been upgraded to the partially magnesium alloy body (top and rear) of the D7000. This adds slightly to the weight: 1.5 lbs for the D90 vs. 1.7 lbs for the D7000. The sturdier construction of the D7000 versus the D90 – including its nicer rubber gripping surfaces – creates the impression and feel of a more professional body. The D7000 also has weather sealing at the memory card and battery doors.

The higher end D7000 includes not only the 3″ rear LCD screen but also a top LCD panel for viewing and changing your settings. This is essential for photographers who are constantly changing their settings to deal with various shooting situations. It is worth noting that the magnesium alloy body of the D7000 does not fully extend around the front, and thus the area surrounding the lens mount is plastic. See this image of a D7000 skeleton next to one of a 7D for details. For most users, including even those using the camera daily or in rugged travel situations, the non-magnesium construction of the D5100 should be far more than good enough, strong enough, and durable enough.

Please know that the size and weight of these bodies is a result of their build, features, and capabilities.  Those are the criteria that should be compared first, not the resulting size and weight.  (Also be sure to read this post of Why How it “Feels” is not a valid Criterion for Choosing an dSLR.)

ISO: As mentioned in the Sensor and Image Quality section above, the high ISO performance of the D7000 is greatly improved over the D90. The tests at dxomark.com tell this story, along with the fact that the native ISO range of the D7000 is 100-6400 expandable up to 25,600. The D5100 shares these specifications, and should offer similar results. The D3100 has a native ISO range of 100-3200 expandable to 12800, and the range of the D90 is 200-3200. This means that with the D7000 and D5100 you can use higher ISO settings when required, such as in low light situations, and not have as much difficulty with digital noise, particularly in the shadow areas of images.

Controls: As with construction, the buttons and controls vary with these cameras. The D3100 and D5100 offer limited, basic controls on the exterior of the camera. However you can use the rear LCD screen to quickly change many settings, or else go into the menus. The D7000 offers an extensive array of controls on the camera body, allowing one to quickly change a large number of settings as they work, including focus mode and focus area settings, shooting mode, and exposure mode. The controls of the D7000 are similar to the D90 with some changes including the addition of the shooting mode ring under the mode dial (to change from single shot to high speed continuous to self timer, etc.), and the live-view switch with movie record button inside it. The top AF button of the D90 is incorporated into the AF switch and button at the base of the lens on the D7000. The D7000 also offers more white balance options than the other cameras, plus 2 customizable user settings (U1, U2) on the mode dial, and you can assign functions of your choice to buttons such as the Fn Button.

Menus and Custom Settings: These allow for greater control over customizing how the camera functions. The D5100 has less Menu and Custom Settings options than the D90 and the highly customizable D7000, and more than the D3100 (which offers no custom settings). These settings enable you to customize the operation, function, and controls to work how you want them to, including things like exposure increments, Live View options, tweaking how the autofocus system operates, setting more precise white balance settings, and customizing which button does what. There are ebooks such as my Nikon D7000 Experience and Nikon D5100 Experience which walk you through all of the Menu settings and Custom Settings so that you can set up your camera to work best for how you photograph, and also begin to learn to master all the advanced features, settings, and controls of these powerful dSLR cameras.

 

Brief commercial interruption: I would like to mention that I have written an eBook user’s guide for the Nikon D7000, and one for the Nikon D5100. After spending so much time studying, experimenting, writing about, comparing, and discussing these cameras, I decided to put some that knowledge into eBook form! The guides covers all the Shooting, Setup, and Playback Menu settings and every Custom Function setting – 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, focus lock, exposure lock, and more) for everyday and travel use, to help you take better photos.

Click HERE to learn more about Nikon D7000 Experience – and to view a preview, or purchase it!

And see HERE to learn about, preview, and purchase my ebook guide Nikon D5100 Experience.

Wireless Flash: The D7000 includes the feature of advanced wireless lighting using the built in flash as a commander for off-camera Nikon Speedlights. However, the D5100 and D3100 do not have this capability. With the D7000, you can set up one or more Speedlights in remote mode, then trigger them wirelessly with the built in flash of the camera.

Viewfinder: The D5100 has a pentamirror viewfinder with approximately 95% coverage of the actual resulting image, just like the D3100. The higher quality pentaprism viewfinder of the D90 gives 96% coverage of the actual resulting image, while the D7000 has a larger, brighter pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage. While in-and-of-itself, a 95% viewfinder works just fine, when you compare it side-by-side with the large, clear view of the D7000, you can see and understand the advantages of a clearer view of your entire scene with a 100% view, pentaprism viewfinder.

Processor: The Nikon D5100 and D3100 use the fast Expeed 2 image processor just like the D7000. This allows for more video options including full 1080p HD at 24fps, overall faster processing of stills and video files, and the ability to maintain fast continuous speed shooting for numerous frames. The D90 has the older Nikon Expeed processor, which is also fast enough to handle its processing needs.

review compare D7000 vs Nikon D5100 vs D3100 vs D90 size
Nikon 3100, D90, D7000 (D5100, not shown, is virtually the same size as the D3100) – photo by author at Newtonville Camera

Continuous Shooting Speed: As you work your way up the Nikon dSLR line-up the cameras’ continuous shooting speed and maximum shots at that rate increases. The D3100 shoots 3 frames per second (fps) in continuous shooting mode, the D5100 shoots 4 fps, and the D7000 shoots 6 fps for up to 100 shots. The D90 can shoot 4.5 fps up to 100 images. If you often capture action and really need the higher frame rate, such as for sports, action, or wildlife shooting, you are going to have to seriously consider the D7000 over the other cameras. Paired with its advanced autofocus system, this fast frame rate can sharply capture moving objects is all types of situations. A nice feature of the D7000 is that you can adjust the low speed continuous mode to shoot anywhere from 1 to 5 fps, using the custom settings.

Memory Card: The D5100, D3100, and D90 all use a single SD memory card. The D7000 accepts 2 SD cards, where the second card can be used in a variety of ways: overflow when the first card fills up, JPEG on one / RAW on the other, or mirrored backup of the first card. The second card can come in handy as well if one is shooting video files, and one card can be designated for stills and the other video.

Battery and Battery Grip: The D5100 and D3100 both use the EN-EL14 battery, and the D7000 uses the new, higher capacity EN-EL15 battery, which will last for over 1000 shots. The D7000 accepts the optional MB-D11 battery pack/ vertical grip which is constructed of magnesium alloy. The D90 uses the EN-EL3e battery and its optional battery pack/ vertical grip is the MB-D80. The D5100 and D3100 don’t accept a battery grip. The battery pack /grip is handy for providing the ability to use a second battery and thus prolonging shooting time, and also creates a larger camera body which some users find more comfortable, especially when shooting in portrait orientation.

Full HD video: The D5100 shoots 1080p and 720p video at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D3100 shoots 1080p at 24 fps and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D7000 also shoots 1080p at 24 fps only and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps, up to 20 minutes with full-time continuous autofocus. The D90 offers 720p video at 24 fps, with a 5 minute shooting time.

Ease of Operation: While beginners may find all the buttons, controls, and menus of any dSLR difficult and confusing at first, the menus and controls of the D5100 and D3100 are pretty basic and simple to learn for a dedicated user. The additional controls and menus of the D7000 and D90 are all quite intelligently designed and will become intuitive and straightforward for the more advanced user once they are learned and understood. Again, have a look at helpful guides such as my Nikon D7000 Experience and Nikon D5100 Experience to begin to learn to master all the advanced features, settings, and controls of these powerful dSLR cameras.

If you are interested in comparing the D5100 or D7000 to the comparable Canon models, have a look at these articles:

Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i

Nikon D7000 vs. Canon 60D (and 7D)

Purchasing these cameras: If you plan to buy any of these cameras, accessories, or anything else through Amazon.com or Amazon.com UK, I would appreciate it if you use my referral links. Your price will be the same, and they will give me a little something for referring you, which will help support my blog. Thanks! In the USA, use the links throughout this post or use this referral link to Amazon. And for those of you across the pond, click here for my referral link to Amazon UK. Thank you for supporting my efforts!

See the Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm Lens on Amazon $899

See the Nikon D5100 – Body Only on Amazon $799

See the Nikon D7000 – Body Only on Amazon $1199

See the Nikon D7000 and 18-105mm Lens on Amazon $1499

See the Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm Lens on Amazon

See the D90 on Amazon $739 body only or $1049 with 18-105mm lens

Purchasing from the UK? Use my Amazon UK referral link here. If you wish to purchase from B&H Photo, Adorama, or direct from Canon, please click on their logos on the left side of this page or on the Gear page. Thanks!

Accessories and Books: Now that you are on your way to deciding on a camera, you should also start looking into photography gear, accessories, and books. Check out these links, dSLR Photography Gear, Accessories, and Books, which discusses essential gear plus accessories specific to Nikon cameras; Equipment for Travel Photography, which discusses useful and practical photo accessories and equipment for both everyday and travel photography.

And to sum it all up, here is a brief, mostly serious synopsis to help you make the camera decision:

Get a Nikon D3100 if you are new to photography or to digital SLR photography and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a camera because you might only be using it on Auto mode, or if you don’t plan to really “get into” photography beyond taking better photos than you are able to with your compact point-and-shoot and having the ability to use various lenses.  The D3100 is a camera one could outgrow in time if they work at their photography and advance. See the Nikon D3100 on Amazon.

Get a Nikon D5100 if you are new to photography or to digital SLR photography and think you will want to experiment beyond Auto mode, or want to upgrade from an older entry level model 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 basic dSLR camera and have not discovered the need, in your use of it, for any specific additional advanced features, there may be no need to look beyond the D5100.  The D5100 is a camera one can grow with, but it is also one a user could outgrow if they are dedicated to their photography and start to require more advanced capabilities. See the Nikon D5100 on Amazon.

Get a Nikon D90 if you have outgrown the capabilities of an older Nikon like a D3000 or D40 through D60 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 D70 or D80 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 4.5 frames per second continuous rate to shoot sports or action. If you typically shoot on Auto or Program mode, you may not need a D90. If you do not manually select your own focus point and have never used exposure compensation you may not need a D90. If you have never used the AE-Lock [AE-L] button to lock exposure you may not need a D90. If you don’t understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO and don’t intend to learn more about it, you may not need a D90. Or unless you plan to dedicate yourself to learning this camera and the principles of SLR photography and grow into this more advanced camera, consider saving the money or using it towards a better lens.  The D90 is a camera one would not outgrow as it has advanced features and capabilities, but its drawback is that it is now outdated. See the Nikon D90 on Amazon.

Get a Nikon D7000 if you have extensive experience with a D3000, D40 through 60, or D70 through D90 camera, and you know and understand most of the D7000’s advanced features and customization options, and you specifically need some of them for your demanding shooting needs. If you haven’t passed the above “criteria” for a D90, you probably don’t need a D7000. If you have never used A aperture priority mode or M manual mode, you probably don’t need a D7000. 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 might not need a D7000. If you have never used spot metering to determine a critical exposure level you may not need a D7000. Or unless you plan to dedicate yourself to learning this camera and the principles of SLR photography and grow into this very advanced camera, consider saving the money or using it towards a better lens. However, if you often need to take 100 consecutive photos at the rate of 6 frames per second, you do need the D7000. Immediately. Even if you just sometimes need that. Totally worth it. That’s 16.67 seconds of continuous shooting. Who doesn’t need that? You’d make Eadweard Muybridge proud.  The D7000 is not a camera one would outgrow for a long time, and in fact will meet many of the demands of a professional.  See the Nikon D7000 on Amazon.

(Please note, the D3100, D5100, D90, and D7000 all have these features and capabilities I just listed: manually selected focus points, exposure compensation, AE-Lock, auto-focus tracking, and spot metering. I’m just using them as a determination of your experience level and needs.)

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The latest addition to the Nikon dSLR line-up is the versatile Nikon D5100, which replaces the D5000. It sits just above the D3100 in the Nikon consumer offerings, and a bit below the D90 and D7000 – both sturdier and more sophisticated cameras. The D5100 boasts a 16 megapixel sensor (like the D7000), and a swivel screen more like the one on the Canon T3i and 60D, attached at the left side, rather than the less convenient bottom swivel of the previous D5000. (see my post comparing several of the latest Canon dSLR cameras here, and one comparing the Nikons here.)

Nikon D5100 book manual how to instruction download vs Canon T3i
Nikon D5100 – photo by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

The D5100 shoots 4 frames per second, faster than the 3 fps of the D3100, and of course has 1080p HD video with all the frame rate options. The D5100 now has in-camera processing filters like those of the 60D and T3i (including miniature, high or low key, and selective color in the Nikon). And it has the 11 point AF system, with one cross type sensor, like the D3100.

Canon T3i vs Nikon D5100 compare side by side
Canon Rebel T3i on left, Nikon D5100 on right

First, a Comparison of the Nikon D5100 vs. the Canon Rebel T3i specs, to see how they stack up “on paper”:

Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D

  • 18 megapixels
  • Articulating rear LCD screen
  • 1080p HD video with all the frame rate options
  • 9 point autofocus system with 1 cross-type sensor
  • 3.7 frames per second continuous shooting for a maximum 34 JPEG burst
  • 63 zone dual layer exposure metering system – the same as the one in the 60D and 7D
  • In-camera image processing filters plus RAW to JPEG, cropping, and other options
  • Some scene modes
  • ISO range 100-6400
  • 95% viewfinder with .85 magnification
  • 1.26 lbs with battery
  • Accepts optional battery pack / vertical grip – the Canon BG-E8
  • Wireless flash control of external Speedlites with built-in flash
  • Compatible with and autofocuses with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses
  • Depth of Field preview button
  • Full manual video exposure control
  • Exposure Simulation of approximate image exposure and histogram in all Live View shooting modes

Canon T3i vs Nikon D5100 compare side by side
Canon Rebel T3i on left, Nikon D5100 on right

Nikon D5100

  • 16 megapixels
  • Articulating rear LCD screen
  • 1080p HD video with all the frame rate options
  • 11 point autofocus system with 1 cross-type sensor
  • 4 frames per second continuous shooting for a maximum 100 JPEG burst
  • 420 pixel RGB metering sensor like the one in the D3100, not the 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor found in the D7000.
  • In-camera image processing filters
  • A lot of scene modes
  • ISO range 100-6400
  • 95% viewfinder with .78 magnification
  • 1.2 lbs with battery
  • Does not offer an official Nikon optional battery pack-vertical grip (3rd party grip now available)
  • No wireless flash control of external Speedlights with the built-in flash
  • No autofocus motor in body, and will not autofocus with non-AF-S lenses, such as the 50mm f/1.8
  • No Depth of Field preview button
  • Also an auto HDR feature where the camera combines 2 images to create an image with extended tonal range.
  • NO full manual video exposure control
  • Exposure Simulation of approximate exposure in P, A, S Live View shooting modes.  NO Exposure Simulation in M mode.  NO histogram in any Live View mode.

Canon T3i vs Nikon D5100 compare side by side
Canon Rebel T3i on left, Nikon D5100 on right

As you can see, both cameras are incredibly similar as far as specifications, and it looks as if the price may even be nearly the same.  The wireless flash capability, better exposure metering system, and ability to autofocus with all compatible lenses are all definite advantages for the Canon T3i.  But the D5100 offers in-camera Auto Distortion Correction (such as when using a wide-angle lens) and a faster rate and higher number of continuous shots in a single burst.  (But with any camera, consider if you ever really need to take a 100 shot burst, much less a 34 shot burst.  If you shoot like that, you should probably be looking at a Canon 7D or Nikon D7000!)  Another deciding factor may be which camera feels more comfortable in your hands as you are using it and accessing the typical buttons and controls (not simply holding it and and checking its weight and general “feel”), which controls and menus seem better placed and easier to navigate for you (though either are equally easy to learn and to become used to using), and which system you want to invest in for the long term (lenses, flashes, etc.).  The Canon T3i is a slightly larger camera, plus allows for the optional battery grip.  The D5100 is not compatible with an optional Nikon vertical grip (edit:  a 3rd party has now made an optional battery grip for the D5100).  A look at the image quality here seems to show that the Canon’s JPEG images straight out of the camera are sharper, have more clarity, and more color “punch,” but these types of settings are widely adjustable with the Picture Settings or Picture Controls.

Also, while the specs look similar on paper, there are numerous small differences that are encountered in actual use, which begin to add up and become significant if they affect the features and controls you will be using.  For example, one important one is how the settings are changed using the “i” or “Q” buttons and the rear LCD screen. If you change your settings often, you will see on the D5100 Information Display Screen how you have to navigate down the line through each setting to get to the one you want then enter a second menu to change it.  On the T3i Quick Control screen, you can jump quickly to the setting you want then simply turn the Main Dial to quickly change it without opening up a second menu.  So that is a speed and convenience issue that would be noticeable if you are one to change your settings often, on the fly.  And while the rear LCD screens appear nearly similar, the 3:2 aspect ration of the screen on the T3i matches its sensor ratio, so images viewed during playback are seen larger on the Canon screen than on the Nikon Screen, possibly allowing you to inspect the focus and details slightly better.

There are other small but potentially important differences between the two cameras that are worth considering if you have specific needs (especially full manual control of exposure in video mode – see below).  For example, while in Live View, both cameras have Exposure Simulation so that as you change your exposure or exposure compensation settings, you will see the approximate resulting exposure on the image on your rear LCD screen.  However, with the D5100, Exposure Simulation does not function while in Manual M shooting mode.  This could be a deal-breaker if you use and need that feature.  Using the T3i in Live View you can optionally view the histogram to help determine proper exposure, however the histogram is not available on the D5100 when using Live View in any shooting mode.

Also, do you make use of Spot Metering mode?  You may prefer the viewfinder of the T3i, as it indicates the Spot Metering area with a circle, while the D5100 does not.  But, there is a very good reason the D5100 doesn’t have the center spot, and that is because in the Nikon, Spot Metering is linked to the selected AF point, and so not necessarily to the center AF point and center of the frame.  This is obviously a very useful feature and maybe you’d prefer that your camera’s Spot Metering works that way.


Canon Rebel T3i viewfinder with 9 autofocus points and Spot Metering area indicated in center


Nikon D5100 viewfinder with 11 autofocus points but Spot Metering area not visually indicated because it is linked to the active AF point

As mentioned, it is not possible to see actual exposure simulation with the Nikon D5100 in Live View while in Manual M shooting mode. However, in the P, A, or S shooting modes, the live view image will lighten or darken to simulate the exposure settings or the exp. compensation that you set. And to add insult to injury, there is no exposure meter displayed on the Live View screen, so to check your exposure you will need to temporarily leave Live View and switch to the control panel view by pressing the [i] Button.  The Canon 60D and Canon Rebel T3i both have Exposure Simulation in all modes during Live View. On the 60D you can turn this feature off and on. On the T3i it is on automatically while in Live View.

Manual Control of Exposure in Video Mode: It was quickly discovered by D5100 users that the camera does not offer full manual control of exposure in video mode.  The T3i offers this ability.  This is pretty important if you are serious about shooting video.  However, there is a “work-around” for this deficiency.  To manually set your shutter speed, you must set the camera on Shutter-Priority Auto Mode (S) and set your desired shutter speed before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the aperture setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).  If you wish to first set the aperture setting, you must set the camera on Aperture-Priority Auto Mode (A) and set your desired aperture before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the shutter speed setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).

The Canon T3i comes with a much more comprehensive and user friendly user’s manual than the small brochure size user’s manual of the Nikon D5100, although the more detailed D5100 Reference Manual is available as a file on the included Reference CD.

To gain further understanding of what the specs, features, controls, and functions of these cameras mean in relation to real life shooting and camera use, have a look at the articles that compare the various current Canon dSLR models and Nikon dSLR models.

If you decide on the Canon T3i, please be sure to check out my ebook, Canon T3i Experience, and if you choose the Nikon D5100, have a look at my ebook Nikon D5100 Experience.  Each of these guides will help you to take control of your camera in order to consistently capture better images!

See and purchase the Canon T3i with 18-55mm lens on Amazon

See and purchase the Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm lens on Amazon

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks! 

Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon and B&H Photo logos on the left side of this page to purchase from their sites, or click on the links throughout this post to view and purchase those products on Amazon.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

I know a lot of readers are interested in a review comparing the Canon 60D vs. 50D. The EOS 60D was recently released, and has caused a lot of discussion as to how it fits into the Canon xxD lineup and progression. I wrote a bit about this comparison in a previous post comparing several of the dSLR cameras in the current Canon line-up (Canon 5D vs 7D vs 60D vs 600D/ T3i and 550D / T2i), but I will go into a bit more detail about how to choose specifically between the 60D and the 50D.

As I always like to point out, 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.

Canon 60D vs Canon 50D

Canon EOS 60D vs. 50D: The Canon 60D sort of replaces the 50D, so I suppose people are trying to determine if they should get the latest camera (60D), or if they can save a little bit of money and go with the older model (50D), and then maybe use the leftover savings to invest in nice lenses. The 50D is no longer being manufactured, and new stock of them will only be around until they sell out. Don’t expect the price of the 50D to suddenly drop – typically, Canon doesn’t need to lower the price of the older model because they control their manufacturing and the timing of the replacement process very well.

Unfortunately with digital cameras, they are all somewhat disposable. Yes, even $1000 cameras. Within 5 years or less, your new camera will have become “old,” outdated equipment. So the problem with the 2 year old 50D is that it is already approaching that point now. (Actually, in many ways it is 3.5 year old technology, since it shares most every feature of the 40D, including the autofocus system, but with a slightly higher megapixel count.) If you start with one now, in 4 more years its technology will be absolutely archaic! 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. The 40D is still an excellent camera. And I just recently went out with a 5 year old 5D Mk I and was thoroughly wowed at how awesome it still is. But 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. Maybe you will be fine with that and perhaps the 50D will still be serving your needs. But maybe you will have advanced as a photographer and start feeling left behind, wishing you had a more current model. You are going to have to consider that now.

As far as my experience with these cameras, I use a 50D weekly, and on professional assignments. It has the megapixel count and the features I need and which make it a powerful, practical, and useful camera. I just spent several weeks writing an eBook user’s guide for the 60D, Your World 60D, so I also know that camera inside and out. I said in a previous post,

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. 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.

I realize this may not be a convincing argument for some, and that they are still interested in possibly choosing the 50D. So here is a more in depth, side by side comparison:

Sensor and Image Quality: The 50D has 15 megapixels and the 60D has 18 MP. At the time that the 50D came out, a lot of people were disappointed with the image quality and claimed that they crammed too many megapixels on the 50D sensor and that its image quality and sharpness suffered, especially compared to the 40D. This may be most noticeable in a head to head comparison of images, but I haven’t had an issue with this. You need to look at a site like dxomark.com to see actual lab comparisons. It looks like they are incredibly similar, with the 60D having slightly better high ISO performance. Both cameras are capable of taking professional quality images.

Exposure Metering: This is where the big advantage of the 60D lies. The 50D has a 35-zone system and the 60D has the latest, more precise 63-zone exposure metering system. They both have 4 metering modes: evaluative, partial, spot, and center weighted. I have found that the 50D overexposes by about 1/3 stop with evaluative metering, so I always had the exposure compensation on -1/3. However, I switched to center weighted metering, and the exposures have generally been fine. From extensive experience with the 7D, which shares the same metering system as the 60D, I feel the new 63-zone system is noticeably superior and determines proper exposure 99% of the time, even in difficult and dramatic lighting situations like back-lit scenes. The 50D does not perform quite that well, and requires occasional use of exposure compensation and switching of metering modes for better exposures.

Autofocus: The 50D and the 60D share the same autofocus system, with 9 focus points and three auto focusing modes. The 9 AF points of the are all accurate cross-type. This 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 (not the same as spot metering mode) – plus the custom settings of the 7D which will allow one to customize how the AF system works. If you are an avid action, sports, or wildlife shooter, or someone who understands, needs, and will use the elaborate features of the 7D AF system, you should consider the 7D. The next, future camera in the 60D price range will inevitably incorporate a better autofocus system, as this 9 point AF system has become dated.

Construction: The 60D is slightly smaller and lighter than the 50D, in part because its construction is aluminum and polycarbonate rather than the magnesium alloy of the 50D. They both have some amount of weather sealing, for example in the battery and memory card doors. For most users, including even those using the camera daily or in travel situations, the construction of either of these cameras is far more than good enough, strong enough, and durable enough.

ISO: The 60D looks to have slightly better performance with high ISO settings. Again, have a look at dxomark.com to see actual lab comparisons.

Controls:
As with construction, the buttons and controls vary slightly with these cameras. The 50D has the thumb joystick, called the Multi-controller, used to select focus points and other things. With the 60D this control has been moved to the center of the Quick Control Dial on the back. Since I am so used to the joystick of the 50D and the 7D, I find the new 60D control a bit more cumbersome, and raised slightly too high in relation to the surrounding dial. However, it is easier to select the diagonals (corner AF points) with the 60D controller than with the 50D controller, and I have missed many shots with the 50D due to this difficulty. It may be just fine once one gets accustomed to it. The 60D also assigns only one setting to each of the top buttons and I wish they had retained the 2 settings of the 50D. However, the Q Button and Menu of the 60D make it easy to choose any setting. The 60D also has the locking Mode Dial, which prevents it from moving inadvertently. I think this is a great addition. However, it requires 2 handed operation or careful one hand coordination to change it, which has frustrated some.

Menus and Custom Functions: These allow for greater control over customizing how the camera functions. These settings on the 50D and 60D are almost the same except that the 60D also has the additional Movie Mode menu settings. Plus the 60D has the in-camera filters (grainy b+w, toy camera, etc) and processing features (RAW to JPEG, resizing, etc). However, these are all a bit gimmicky and these types of operations can be more easily done in Photoshop and in batches rather than one image at a time in the camera. Since many of the Menu and Custom Function settings can be complicated and confusing, especially to a new dSLR user, my eBook on the 60D, Your World 60D covers 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, which the 50D does not have. It allows you to trigger multiple off camera flashes at different output levels.

Articulating LCD Screen: The big new feature of the 60D that no other current Canon dSLR has 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 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 50D.

Processor:
The 60D shares the same Digic 4 processor as the 50D.

Continuous Shooting Speed: The 50D can shoot 6.3 consecutive frames per second (fps) and the 60D shoots a slightly slower 5.3 fps in high speed continuous mode. They both also offer 3 fps continuous shooting mode. Again, if you often capture action and really need the higher frame rate, you are going to have to consider the 50D or the 7D, with its blazing 8 fps, which is actually overkill in typical real-life use.

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 or longer. The 50D uses a slightly smaller battery with less capacity. There is also a battery grip available for the 60D, the BG-E9 which holds your choice of either 2 LP-E6 batteries or 6 AA batteries, to lengthen your shooting time and give you an easier to handle camera if you often switch between shooting horizontal and vertical shots..

Size and Weight:
The 50D is slightly larger and heavier than the 60D. Both are a comfortable size and weight, but you should check them out in person to see which feels better for you.

AF Microadjustment:
The 50D has this feature, the 60D does 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.

Full HD video: Of course the 60D offers this capability, while the 50D does not.

Flash Sync: A Note to Strobists -the 60D does not have a PC sync flash socket to plug in PC sync cords. The 50D has this.

In conclusion, I would like to mention again that I have written an eBook user’s guide for the Canon EOS 60D (and one for the Canon Rebel T2i and Rebel T3i). After spending so much time studying, experimenting, writing about, comparing, and discussing these cameras, I decided to put some 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, T2i Experience, and Canon T3i Experience. Learn more about the eBooks by clicking on their titles. As a Winter special, both books are on sale!

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Purchasing the 60D: If you plan to buy the Canon 60D or any of these cameras through Amazon.com, I would appreciate it if you use this referral link to Amazon or 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 my blog. Thanks!  If you are purchasing from Amazon UK or wish to purchase from B+H Photo, please see just below for that info.

See the 50D on Amazon.
See the 60D on Amazon.
See the 7D on Amazon.

Thanks, I appreciate your support!

If you are in the UK, you can click here for the UK Amazon referral link. 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.

For those interested in purchasing from B&H Photo, Adorama, or direct from Canon, please click on their logos on the Gear page. Thanks!

Accessories and Books: Now that you are on your way to deciding on a camera, you should also start looking into photography gear, accessories, and books. Check out this link, 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.

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DPReview has an excellent, very thorough review of the 60D. They concluded that “for the Rebel upgrader it’s a better option than a second-hand 40D or 50D in almost every respect.” They indicate that for the 30D, 40D or 50D “upgrader,” the Canon 7D is the way to go.

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.

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When selecting a new dSLR camera, many people seem to look at the latest offerings, attempt to compare their many features, and determine which one, in or near their price range, is “better.” But this is the backwards way to approach it. Of course a continuous burst rate of of 126 JPEGs at 8 frames per second is “better” than 58 frames at 5.3 frames per second. But do you need the ability to take 126 consecutive images in 15.75 continuous seconds? Ever? Certainly the ability to to control both the method and the sensitivity of AI Servo Tracking is impressive and powerful, but do you even understand it, wish to learn about it, need it, and will you ever use it? If a camera’s features don’t fit your needs as a photographer, it is not a better camera for you. In fact, it may be a worse camera for you because its complexities and options may serve to work against you and your image making.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Iquitos, Peru

When you are trying to determine which new dSLR 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.

For example, I began shooting with a Rebel XT and took it on an extended trip where I shot lots of outdoor dance and festivals (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:

  • 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 or wet situations” 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 with no electricity, 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)

Amazonia Shipibo Vendor
Iquitos, Peru

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 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, no new camera will help you instantly create better photos. Or better yet, all of the latest 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. Get a book like Bryan Peterson’s newly updated Understanding Exposure to get a handle on the essential functions and relationships of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  Or have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides for various Canon and Nikon dSLR cameras!  And see the following posts to help you on your way:

How Pros Photograph

Deconstructing the Shot

Pucallpa kids and boat
Pucallpa, Peru

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 are interested in researching or purchasing the equipment or books I use, discuss, or recommend, I would appreciate it if you use this referral link to Amazon. Your price will be the same, and it will help support my blog and my work. Thanks!  And for those of you across the pond, click here for my 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.

I continue to get a large number of visits from people who are comparing the current line of Canon digital SLR cameras – the 5D Mk. II vs. 7D vs. 50D vs. 550D / T2i. I go into detail about comparing the features of these cameras in this post, including the 60D and T3i, so that is probably the post you want to read first. However, it is a long, in-depth post. If you would like to read a summary of how to make this decision and find out which camera is right for you, here it is (however, I still encourage you to read that in-depth post which is a bit more educational than this post).

Before I start I want to mention:

I have written eBook tutorials for the Canon 60D and for the Canon T2i, which cover ALL the Menu settings and Custom Function settings, with recommended settings, plus in-depth descriptions of how and and why to use the cameras’ settings and features in everyday use – Canon 7D Experience, Your World 60D, Canon T3i Experience, and T2i Experience. Learn more about the eBooks by clicking on their titles.

Longfellow House
Longfellow House – Cambridge, MA

-New to digital SLR photography and want a really nice camera for casual home and travel use? Not really sure what all those buttons and symbols are and not really interested in knowing? Get a 550D/ T2i or a Rebel XSi.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to take really great, high quality photos, but don’t ever really plan to totally get into it? Don’t really want to spend months reading about f-stops and metering modes? Plan to use Auto or Program mode most of the time? Fall asleep 3 minutes into reading the manual? Get a 550D/ T2i or a Rebel XSi.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to learn the basics of exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO? Want to learn to take the camera off Auto or Program mode, and experiment with partial or spot metering and manually selected focus points? Eager to read and understand the often confusing explanations of the manual? Get a 550D/ T2i, or a 60D.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to learn everything noted above plus want to take pictures of fast moving action: kids at play, sports, dance? Consider a 60D because it can shoot 5.3 frames per second vs. 3.7 fps of the 550D. This doesn’t mean you can’t focus on and capture fast moving action with the 550D, but it means with the 60D you can fire off a faster rapid series of shots, and thus hope to capture the exact right moment.

-New to digital SLR photography but super ambitious and know you are going to be committed and dedicated enough to learn about exposure compensation and back-button focusing? Ready for Av mode now, and plan to really take your photography to the next level over the next year or two? Already read the manual online? Want to consider the possibility of professional photography in the future? Get a 60D or get a 7D if you are super-serious and if you can afford it.

-Experienced with digital SLR photography and have outgrown the limited speed and menu/ custom options of the entry level cameras? Annoyed with digital SLR users you see on the street whose cameras are nicer than yours but are left on Auto or P mode? Want to take it to the next level and maybe test the waters of professional photography? Get the 60D or get a 7D if you can afford it. Consider a 5D Mk II if you are really, really serious.

-Experienced with digital SLR photography and plan to be a top notch amateur/ semi-pro or work towards being a pro? Carry your camera everywhere and want a sturdy tool that serves you and the way you work? Already have been paid to shoot some photos, portraits, or events? Have stopped trying to read the model number of other people’s cameras because you know your photos are better than theirs even if they have a nicer camera? Get a 7D, or a 5D Mk II if you can afford it, or wait for the 5D Mk III.

-Highly experienced with digital SLR photography and are dedicating yourself to being a part-time or full time pro? Already know and understand 99.6% of what you read in this other post? Just looking for reassurance that spending $2,500 is the right decision? Get a 5D Mk II, wait for the 5D Mk III, or get a 7D if you really can’t afford the 5D yet.

Cambridge City Hall
Cambridge City Hall – Cambridge, MA

You may have been convinced by forums, reviews, or online comments to question and compare image quality, auto-focus speed, high ISO performance and noise, dynamic range, etc., but those factors are all nearly completely irrelevant. All of these cameras have more than enough quality in each of those areas. Your choice should instead be based on your experience level and expected needs as a photographer, and on which camera best serves the way you work. Remember, you don’t need a top of the line camera to take professional quality photos. Instead you need mastery of the camera you have, combined with good knowledge of composition and lighting. I encourage you to have a look at some Flickr users’ photos taken with an “old,” 8MP Rebel XT to confirm this. When you are done selecting a digital SLR body, you canread some of my other posts to learn more about the Best Lenses for Travel Photography or Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens.

Canon 5D vs. 550D / T2i – I get an unusually high number of hits from people searching for a comparison of the 5D Mk II vs. 550D / T2i. As you can see above, there isn’t a scenario where those two cameras are together as options, as they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. It is a strange comparison between an entry level dSLR and a full frame professional dSLR that, quite frankly, confuses me. If the 5D fits your expanding 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. Read more about why I say that here and in the Other Important Custom Functions section here (this post is about the 7D, but it will give you a feel for how a 5D / 7D differs from a 550D in terms of features that you may need but probably don’t).

AF Microadjustment 550D / T2i, 60D – A lot of people also search for AF Micro-adjustment or focus calibration for the Canon 550D / T2i for back focus or front focus issues. Due to quality control issues, acceptable tolerances, or more rarely but not unheard of bad cameras, your camera and/or lens may focus a few notches in front of or behind the subject you focused on. If your camera happens to be 2 notches on the plus side and your lens 2 notches on the minus side, well, you are going to have some issues. While the AF Microadjustment feature is not built into the menus of the Canon 550D or new Canon 60D, here is how you micro adjust for front or back focus: send the camera and/ or lens to Canon while it is under warranty, with instructions to calibrate them. You have to pay for one way shipping and insurance (+/- $30 for one item depending on weight and coverage). Ask them to include a detailed report of what the issue was and what service they actually performed (otherwise they just repeat what you wrote and say “lens was front focusing – electrical adjustment of AF mechanism” and you don’t know if it was the camera, the lens, or your mind that was off). Then send a letter to Canon asking them why a brand new expensive Canon camera paired with a brand new expensive Canon lens that you just bought does not focus properly, and why you have to pay $30 to send it immediately back to them to fix it. This process also applies to the AF Microadjustment of the 7D, 5D, and 50D and soon the 60D. It is best to first determine if the camera or the lens is the culprit, by testing the lens on another body or the body with another lens, but it may well be a combination of both since each lens and camera is uniquely faulty. See this great post, “This Lens is Soft and Other Myths” on LensRentals.com for more info on this.

If you are pretty new to digital SLR photography and you decided on the 7D, check out this really great book I recently came across while browsing the photo section at a bookstore: Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Nicole Young. I think you’ll learn more from it than most other how-to photo books and expanded manual type books. Even if you have another Canon and not a 7D, you’ll still find it helpful for learning how to really use a digital SLR to take better photos. She is currently working on a version of the book for the 60D, Canon 60D: From Snapshots to Great Shots.
canon 60D great shots

And I, myself, have written eBook user guides for the Canon 7D, Canon 60D and for the Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D. You can learn all about them here:  Canon 7D Experience, Your World 60D, plus the mini-guide to the 60D Menus and Custom Functions (excerpted from the full version of Your World 60D), and T2i Experience.

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.

Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about.

If you plan to purchase any of this equipment or books, I encourage you to do so through the site I’ve set up with Amazon, Doug’s Picturing Change Digital Photography Equipment and Books or through this direct link to Amazon.com. Purchasing through any of these links to Amazon.com, or the ones below, will help support my blog and my work. Thanks! And for those of you across the pond, click here for my 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.
See the T2i on Amazon.
See the 60D on Amazon.
See the 7D on Amazon.
See the Canon 5D MkII on Amazon.