Canon 70D – Hands-on Review and Field Test

I’ve been waiting until I got my hands on the latest new dSLR, so that I could coordinate a camera “field test” with a visit to an exhibit I’ve been wanting to see. The Heritage Museum and Gardens is currently showing an exhibit of concept cars, called Driving Our Dreams, which will be there until October 27, 2013. They have gathered together one of the coolest collections of American concept cars from the 1950’s to the present, ranging from the “space-age” 1956 GM Firebird II turbine powered highway rocket to the solar powered 2009 Infinium – and what better place to try out a new camera?! So thanks to LensProToGo for putting a new Canon EOS 70D into my hands, just as it was hitting the stores at the end of August!

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up 1956 Buick Centurion concept
All images in this post taken with the Canon 70D at the Heritage Museum, Sandwich, Massachusetts. 1956 Buick Centurion concept car. (Learn about the over-saturated red channel below.)

I headed out to Sandwich, Mass., the oldest town on Cape Cod, to visit the museum. I’ve been researching and writing about the 70D since it was announced a few months ago, as I work on my latest camera guide Canon 70D Experience, so I was already extremely familiar with its features and controls.

You can read all about the camera’s new features, and some tips for customizing the settings and controls of your 70D, in some of my previous Canon 70D articles. And if you wish to learn not only the features, functions, and controls of the 70D, but more importantly when and why to use them, be sure to look at my guide Canon 70D Experience. It will help you to take control of your camera, and the images you create!

Canon 70D EOS book manual guide tutorial how to tips tricks recommended settings set up dummies use quick start

Controls and Touch Screen: If you have worked with a Canon 60D, 7D, or even a 50D (or earlier), you should find that the 70D feels very familiar. It has about the same weight and feel, and while some of the controls move around from model to model, most of them are similar. I found that I quickly learned which button to instinctively press for my needs, whether the Image Playback Button, Info Button, or Q Button, etc. Even more convenient is the new Touch Screen, first seen on the Canon Rebel T4i/ EOS 650D. For those who may be skeptical about using a touch screen because of either responsiveness concerns or due to the “purity” of using a camera’s controls, the Canon 70D Touch Screen may very well change your mind. As with the screen on the T4i/650D and T5i/700D, it is as responsive as you have come to expect with an iPhone, and even uses many of the same Multi-Touch gestures – particularly when reviewing images during Image Playback (swipe for the next image, spread and pinch for zooming in and out, etc.). Even though many of the menu tabs, menu items, and function icons of the 70D are tiny, I rarely ever have any problem immediately selecting the right one. And regarding the desire to use the actual camera buttons and controls to change settings, I have quickly gotten into the habit of just pressing the Q Button to access the Quick Control Screen, then using the Touch Screen to change my settings with a few taps. After I have reviewed an image and wish to change settings, I find that it is quicker and easier to do it this way and simply leave the camera in the same position in your hands as you look at the rear screen, than it is to tilt the camera up, locate your desired settings button, press it and look at the small top LCD screen. You can change all the shooting settings on the Quick Control Screen, jump around the menus for various other settings, review all your settings on the Shooting Function Settings screen, and go back into image review all with your right thumb and left index finger, while holding the camera in the same position. Though I still use the dials and controls to change the aperture / shutter speed settings and control the autofocus points as I work through the viewfinder.

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up 1954 Buick Wildcat II concept
1954 Buick Wildcat II concept car

The top Main Dial of the 70D, while solid, has that great “soft” rubber feel to it rather than the harder plastic feel of entry-level models.  And this softer material is much easier on your fingertip after a long day of shooting. I always gripe about the inclusion of the thumb-pad Multi-Controller on the 60D and 70D, rather than the joystick version of the 7D, 50D, and 5D Mark III. I prefer the joystick because of its location, which is much closer to the other buttons on the top rear of the camera that your thumb will also be using. However, I found that after some time with the 70D I eventually got used to the thumb-pad.  While I still dislike the location, it does make it a bit easier to select an autofocus point the diagonal directions. One of the Custom Controls that I found I like is to customize the SET Button for ISO selection. While there is a dedicated ISO Button on the top of the camera, or you can easily select it on the Quick Control Screen, I find that it is also quick and easy to press the SET Button as you turn the top Main Dial to make this adjustment. As described above, it helps you to make this adjustment while keeping the camera in the same “image review” position. Plus you can quickly use this method to change the setting while your eye stays in the Viewfinder. And while you can always use the top ISO button in the same manner, it is much more difficult to determine which top button is the ISO Button without looking at it. (While it has a little bump on it to help locate it by feel, it is not a big enough difference from the other buttons for me to locate it with confidence.)

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up Corvette 1962
1962 Corvette – production model

I decided with this photo shoot to use the 70D just as I would during any normal shoot, and thus concentrate on the controls, exposure issues, and autofocus system (rather than, say, playing with the Multiple Exposure or HDR features). I had earlier experimented with some of the other functions of the camera such as Auto Lighting Optimizer, in-camera HDR, Multi-Shot Noise Reduction, Multiple Exposures, Creative Filters, etc., and those can all be learned about in Canon 70D Experience. There will also be example images of all these features in my Canon 70D Flickr set.

Lighting, Exposure, White Balance, and Noise: One of the first things I discovered is that lighting at an indoor automobile exhibit is very challenging! While they allowed the use of flash, it would not have worked out well due to all the reflections and bright spots it would cause in the car body, glass, and chrome (which of course is well represented in the 50’s cars). Perhaps indirect flash would work well, but as I was going to be taking hundreds of shots, I didn’t wish to disrupt the other visitors with constant flashes. In addition, getting the right exposure was challenging because I was often taking close-up shots of a large area of a light tone or dark tone, which would fool the exposure meter and cause it to want to under- or over-expose the image. Plus some of the cars were bare metal, which is prone to very bright reflective areas and dark non-reflective areas depending on how the lights are hitting it and the angle of view. So the exposure level reading could change dramatically from the initial framing where I locked focus to the final framing when I took the shot. I had to carefully keep an eye on how the light changed based on what area of the car I was photographing, as well as how it changed based on my angle of view as I moved slightly side to side, or crouched down low. I needed to sometimes lock the exposure settings for my final framing or for an important area (using the AE Lock * Button on the rear of the camera), and I had to check the results and the histogram, and adjust the Exposure Compensation to lighten or darken the subsequent shots (while then remembering to set EC back to 0 when I moved on to the next shot!). (If you don’t yet fully understand what this all means, I discuss locking exposure settings, the Histogram, and Exposure Compensation in detail in my Canon 70D Experience guide.)

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up Corvette 1962
1962 Corvette – production model

There was relatively low lighting in the exhibition space, but I was able to make use of ISO 1600. I primarily worked in Aperture-Priority AE Shooting Mode (Av) so that I had control of the depth of field. Sometimes the shutter speed that the camera chose dropped below a desirable 1/100 or 1/125, so I often took a quick burst of images knowing that at least one would come out sharp. In truth, I just looked over my previous ISO tests of the 70D, and there is very little loss of quality between 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO, in the JPEG images straight from the camera.  Some excessive graininess definitely appear by 6400 ISO. So I could have safely increased the ISO well above 1600, perhaps even up to 3200. But it was simply an old habit of never going above 1600, drilled into me with older cameras such as the 50D – and I should have left that prejudice aside when working with the 70D. You can view JPEG test results at the various ISO settings, in my Canon 70D ISO Flickr set.

The images shown here and on Flickr were originally shot in RAW image quality, and converted to DNG using the Adobe DNG converter. They were then processed, sharpened, and saved as JPEG. Unfortunately, I did not apply any noise reduction during processing, and the results are excessively noisy. I am going to have to go back and apply noise reduction to these images, either using Photoshop or Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP). Below are some details of the above image, showing the difference between:

  • the original JPEG
  • the original RAW converted with Adobe DNG and processed in Photoshop and output as a JEPG, no noise reduction
  • the original RAW processed in Canon DPP with noise reduction applied and output as a JPEG.

For any pixel peepers, please note that all of the processing was done relatively quickly, so as to illustrate the overall differences. This is not intended to show definitive lab-quality results that one could achieve with much more careful, patient processing and noise reduction application. Please view the results at DPReview to see their lab-quality tests of JPEG, RAW, image quality, and noise.

Click on these image details to see larger versions:

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test noise high ISO JPEG vs RAW book manual guide how to settings set up
Detail of original JPEG straight from camera, 1600 ISO with “High ISO Speed NR” set for Standard – very little noise seen.

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test noise high ISO JPEG vs RAW book manual guide how to settings set up
Detail of processed RAW>DNG (processed with Photoshop)>JPEG, with no noise reduction applied, and thus excessively noisy.

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test noise high ISO JPEG vs RAW book manual guide how to settings set up
Detail of processed RAW (processed with Canon DPP)>JPEG with noise reduction applied, very little noise seen.

So the lesson of the above examples is that you can confidently shoot in JPEG, up to 1600 and even higher, and achieve clean, low-noise results. You can make use of the 70D in-camera High ISO Speed NR option to assist with this, setting it for Standard or High. View the tests on DPReview to see how high you are willing to raise the ISO before the noise is too much for your tastes or image-output needs. And, if you shoot in RAW, you are going to need to apply noise reduction (and contrast, sharpening, etc. as always) as you process the images, especially when you are shooting in high ISO settings (800, 1600, and higher). Apply noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Canon DPP, etc.

Regarding White Balance, I learned that I should not have forgotten to bring my digital grey card for creating some benchmark images or even for setting a Custom White Balance. Though my post-processing experiments, I discovered that the White Balance color temperature of the exhibit space was very close to the Incandescent setting, but it would have been helpful, and would have saved time, if I had simply taken a couple images with the grey card in the scene. The lighting also varied throughout the space, as some areas had a bit of daylight from large windows. With images like these, I feel it is very important to closely match the actual colors of the cars, as they are documentary images of sorts. While the artificial lighting of an exhibition space vs. natural lighting outside would make these cars, (and images of these cars) appear differently, I wanted to match as closely as possible what I saw. If you wish to create a Custom White Balance with the 70D, you can take an image of a white object or grey card, filling a large central area of the Viewfinder with the card (about the size of the AF Points diamond), then go into the Shooting 3 menu and select the Custom White Balance menu item. It will ask you to select the image of the grey card you just took. When that is set, simply set your White Balance setting to the Custom WB icon, by pressing the Q Button and using the Quick Control Screen.

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up 1956 Buick Centurion concept
1956 Buick Centurion concept car

As is common with many dSLR sensors, the red channel can have a tendency to be sensitive to over-saturation. I experienced this as well with the 70D, though as you can see in the above image there was a large expanse of brightly lit red. In this and other images of the red and white Buick Centurion, some of the brightest areas of red become over-saturated and lose all detail, variation, or shadow, and are simply “pure” red. This is most easily seen in the first image at the top of this post, where there is a large area of lighter red on the top of the rear fender, where all subtle detail of varying color tones and shadow gradation is lost. If you are only watching the Brightness Histogram you may not pick this up, as the overall image – according to the camera – is not over-exposed. In order to keep your eye on this as you work, you can make use of the RGB Histogram. As shown below, the red channel is cut off at the right edge of the graph, and thus all detail will be lost in those areas of the image where this occurs. The sensor has simply reached its limits of what it can capture. If you experience this, you can adjust the lighting and perhaps make use of reflectors or diffusers, or move the subject, or alter your angle of view. In a situation where you can’t control these elements, you will need to adjust the exposure (under expose) before retaking the image, then check the RGB Histogram to make sure the color channels are not cut off at the right side of the graph.  Then carefully work with the image in post-processing to “bring back” or raise the overall exposure while trying to keep the problematic color channel from becoming over-saturated.

Canon 70D RGB Histogram learn use how to book guide manual dummies
Canon 70D RGB and Brightness Histogram, showing that areas of red have been over-saturated.

Aperture-Priority, Lenses, Autofocusing: As I mentioned above, I primarily worked in Aperture-Priority AE Shooting Mode, where I controlled the aperture setting while the camera chose the appropriate shutter speed. This allowed me to control the depth of field of the images, since I was primarily aiming to achieve very shallow, dramatic depth of field in the detail images, as shown in the tail-fin image below:

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up aperture depth of field 1954 Buick Wildcat II concept car
1954 Buick Wildcat II concept car

By working with a Canon 70-200mm F/4L IS lens, I set the lens at or near the 200mm focal length, backed up several yards, and then focused on my area of interest while setting the aperture at f/4. This results in very shallow depth of field and calls attention to the area of detail.  For the images showing a larger area of the cars, I used either the 16-35mm f/2.8L wide angle lens or the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, with the aperture set around f/2.8 or f/4.

I primarily autofocused using One-Shot AF Focus Mode and Single-Point AF Autofocus Area Selection Mode. One-Shot AF is used for still (or relatively still) subjects. As with the Canon 7D, the 70D has an Autofocus Area Selection Button on the top of the camera near the Shutter Button, which allows you to choose between these modes as you look through the Viewfinder (Single-Point AF, Zone AF, or 19-Point Automatic Selection AF), and these modes determine how many AF Points are being used to try to find the subject to focus on. With Single Point AF, I am able to manually select my desired AF Point using the Multi-Controller as I look through the Viewfinder, place it over the exact area where I wish to focus, and then lock focus with a half-press of the Shutter Button or by pressing the rear AF-ON Button. I can then recompose the shot to get the framing I desire, and press the Shutter Button to take the shot. While the 70D has 19 AF Points to choose from, it is relatively quick and easy to select the one you wish. You can even customize the camera so that if you are selecting one of the edge points, you can choose to stop at the edge or “wrap-around” to the AF Point on the other side if you continue to click the Multi-Controller.  I always choose to have it stop at the edge.  That way if I am choosing an “edge” point, I can simply quickly “click, click, click” on the left Multi-Controller, and I know it will stop at the far left AF Point and not “wrap-around” to an AF Point on the other side of the frame.

As you may be aware, the Canon 70D has a brand new, potentially revolutionary Live View / Movie autofocus system. It is a phase-detection AF system called Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which can quickly and smoothly grab focus, and can also be used to very effectively track a moving subject.  Based on my tests and on many test videos found on the Internet, the system is living up to the hype and performs as well as promised. Previously, Live View focus was slow, and the camera often hunted for the subject.  With this new system, it achieves focus on the subject extremely quickly an accurately. I made use of both the rotating rear LCD screen of the 70D and the Live View AF system to take some shots looking down from the first level onto the lower level, as seen in this image:

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up 1956 GM Firebird II concept
1956 GM Firebird II concept car

I held the camera out at arms length, rotated the rear screen so that I could see it, and pressed the AF-ON Button to lock focus. Even in the low lighting, the camera immediately focused. With the Live View autofocusing system you can also select from different autofocusing methods that determine how large an area the camera looks at to find a subject. Again I used the smallest, most precise area, called FlexiZone-Single AF, which provides a small focus square that you can move around the screen and locate where you wish, either using the Multi-Controller or the Touch Screen.

Creative Filters:  In spite of what I said earlier, I did play around with the in-camera Creative Filters and applied them to some of these images. I used the the Art Bold Effect, which affects contrast and saturation, on an image of the Buick Centurion.  By setting it on the High setting, I totally blew out the red (over-exposed), but is also made the interior glow nicely and has a cool effect on the chrome. And I used the Fish-eye Effect on the Buick Wildcat II, which works well if you get in close while having receding lines, as I found at the corner of this bumper.

Canon 70D in camera creative filter art bold
Canon 70D In-camera Creative Filter – Art Bold Effect – High.

Canon 70D eos Creative Filter Fish-eye fisheye effect
Canon 70D In-camera Creative Filter – Fish-eye Effect – Low.

Conclusion: After spending a dedicated week with the Canon 70D, exploring every menu item and experimenting with every function and feature, I have grown tremendously fond of this camera. Part of this is the familiarity I feel from working so long with the 50D and the 7D. But it is also due to some of its new features, which would make going back to either of those cameras extremely difficult. The first is the Touch Screen, which is an extremely quick, easy, and convenient way to change settings on the fly, access menus, and review images. Second is the new Live View autofocus system, which works as well as promised. It mot only makes Live View shooting much less frustrating and much more viable for all kinds of shooting situations, but it also makes autofocusing during movie shooting a reality. In addition, you can now use the Touch Screen to immediately change the area of focus, while movie shooting, simply by touching the screen. And finally, there are some of the smaller features, but these little additions can make a big difference. For example, during image playback you can access the Playback Quick Control screen and quickly set an image Rating. When this first appeared on the 5DIII and Rebels, I thought it might be a bit frivolous. But I have come to make very effective use of it, and will miss it on other dSLRs that don’t have this feature.  It allows you to go through your images and the camera and quickly mark (rate) the best ones, as well as mark the bad ones (with one star) that you will likely be able to quickly delete after viewing them on your computer. It is a simple feature that can provide significant time savings in a busy workflow.

Another simple feature that I discovered I made use of more than expected is the electronic level in the viewfinder. Unlike previous cameras where you can use the AF Points, as seen in the Viewfinder, as a level, the 70D includes a small “level” icon at the bottom of the Viewfinder screen.  (You can also make use of the AF Points as a level, which is sort of a hidden feature I will explain in a moment.) This level icon is simply a camera icon surrounded by either straight or diagonal lines, which indicate if you are on or off level. Or if both the straight and diagonal lines are displayed, you are almost level. I have long had a tendency to hold the camera slightly off-level, so I always appreciate the Viewfinder grid, which can be enabled in the 70D. But this level icon helped even more to keep my images straight. I found that I could compose the image, take care of locking focus and exposure if necessary, and then take a peek at the level icon before pressing the Shutter Button to take the shot.  More often than not, it indicated I was slightly off, so I carefully leveled the camera and took the shot. Again, such a simple feature helped a great deal – by keeping my images straight and level, which eliminated the need to straighten (and thus slightly crop) numerous photos later in Photoshop.

Regarding the “hidden” Viewfinder level that uses the AF Points, you can use the Custom Controls to set the Depth of Field Preview Button to the Electronic Level option. You can then press this DOF Preview Button during shooting and activate a level that uses the AF Points in the Viewfinder to indicate if the camera is level or not. Press the Shutter Button to turn it off and return to shooting.  You can learn about several other Custom Controls and Custom Function settings in my post on the 70D Custom Controls.

Canon 70D EOS hands on review field test book manual guide how to settings set up 1956 Buick Centurion concept
1956 Buick Centurion concept car

Regarding image quality, while I failed to properly apply noise reduction to the RAW images used here as I processed them, my subsequent tests and inspections have confirmed that you can work in high ISO settings (approaching 3200) and achieve a low, acceptable amount of noise with JPEG images straight out of the camera, and with RAW images with noise reduction applied in post processing. This has been confirmed with test images on DPReview and other sites.

Additional concept cars and more images from this visit to the Heritage Museum can be seen on Flickr here.

Remember to check out my other Canon 70D blog posts to find out more about the camera. And if you wish to take control of your Canon 70D, and learn how, when, and why to use its controls, features, and settings, be sure to check out my e-book guide, Canon 70D Experience.

If you are planning to purchase your Canon 70D online, please consider using my affiliate links and help support this blog – thanks!

Order your Canon EOS 70D from Amazon or B and H Photo:


Canon 70D – Body or with choice of kit lenses – $1,199 to $1,549

B and H Photo:

Canon 70D – Body only – $1,199

Canon 70D – with 18-135mm STM lens – $1,549

Canon 70D – with 18-55mm STM lens – $1,349

~ ~ ~

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 AmazonB&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

Hands On Review of the Nikon D5200 for dSLR Video

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.

Assignment: Guatemala – Canon 7D Tutorial and Review

I recently returned from a trip to Guatemala, where I was taking photos for an NGO that works with children, literacy, and education. It gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a bunch of new equipment and really put it to the test in the field.

San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 78mm, 1600 ISO, 1/100, f/5.6

Jump to the Custom Function section

First and foremost, it was the first time I really had the opportunity to use the Canon 7D body (I discuss the additional gear in this related post). The camera performed wonderfully in many ways, however, I did have autofocus related problems – namely a serious front focus issue. With both wide angle and telephoto L-series lenses, the camera was consistently focusing several inches or more in front of the subjects. I played around briefly with the AF Microadjustments, with the intention of taking a closer look at the situation when I returned home.  (Body was later exchanged for another that focuses properly.)

I had another, odd and unexpected complaint in the field, and that is with the high speed shooting modes. One has the choice of 3fps or 8fps, yet I needed something more like 5fps! I’ve included some images throughout the post that are straight from the camera (I merely converted from RAW to JPEG). Anyway, on to the review and instructions for many of the camera’s settings, and how and when to use them in real world situations. And at the end there is some info about video tutorials available for downloading and watching.

If any of the digital photography terms you come across in this post are unfamiliar, be sure to refer to this great glossary for assistance.

Design – The camera is extremely comfortable to hold and use, especially due to the size, shape, and material of the grip, and it felt to be designed perfectly for my hands. It is nicely weighted with both a 16-35 f/2.8L II and a 70-200 f/4, and carries well with an R-Strap attached to the camera body (the 70-200 f/4 doesn’t come with a collar). Due to its similar design and button placement as previous Canon models, it was easy to get used to changing various settings on the fly – everything from ISO right up on top to Flash Control in the menus. There are a few settings that I quickly fell into, but that I would like to experiment with a little more with before I settle permanently into. Here are a few notes, in no particular order of importance:

Av Mode – I set the camera to Av mode for 99% of the time, as that is how I typically work (because I always want to control the depth of field). About the only time I took it out was when I was experimenting in an HDR type situation where I was in Manual and bracketing, trying to properly expose both a dark colonnade I was under and the cathedral in bright sunlight beyond. I haven’t yet worked on combining the exposures, but here is a nice shot that came from that situation:

Antigua, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 16mm, 1600 ISO, 1/500, f/16

(edit – I added the camera and lens information to these images.  Please note that the camera settings used for these various images may not necessarily be the “best” or “ideal” settings to use in the specific situations, but camera settings are always the result of changing situations and lighting, coming from another scene, going back and forth between action and still subjects, adapting, experimenting, and sometime just plain not paying attention!)

ISO – I had high hopes for Auto ISO, thinking I would finally be given the freedom to stop worrying where I left it set, but I quickly found that in Av, I didn’t like the slow shutter speeds that were resulting when I selected the aperture and the camera selected the ISO. So I ended up never using it. I would like to experiment with it some more, and figure out if there is something I can do to keep the shutter speeds in a better range. It is wonderful to have the versatility to change ISO on the fly, but one often gets caught up in shooting, and forgets to change it to an appropriate setting, and thus sometimes the shutter speed isn’t the most ideal. So, I just have to stay in the habit of paying attention to where all three settings are as I go from indoor to out or change lenses, etc. This is aided by these settings being visible in the 7D viewfinder.

High Speed Continuous Shooting – many people marvel at the 7D’s ability to shoot 8fps in High Speed Continuous Mode. However, for my purposes on this trip, that proved far too excessive. I often shoot a burst of photos when someone or something is in motion and I want to capture the peak of action or a flattering pose, or when a gesture or facial expression might change rapidly. Unfortunately, 8fps results in a lot of unwanted files, and as I will soon address, these files are HUGE and rapidly fill up a hard drive. But sadly, the Low Speed Continuous drive setting is only 3fps, which is too slow to capture the rapid changes in a scene. The 3fps speed was one of the main drawbacks of my previous body, and a major reason for upgrading. What I need is something in between, maybe 5fps! Perhaps Canon or someone will tweek the firmware to allow this…

San Miguel Duenas, GuatemalaCanon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 35mm, 800 ISO, 1/500, f/3.5

Custom Functions – In order for you to get the most out of the 7D, and to set it to function best how you work, you need to dig into the Custom Functions. One of the settings I use is customizing My Menu, and then having My Menu always appear first when I hit the Menu button. (My Menu Settings / Display from My Menu=enable) I played around with different items on My Menu, but have settled for now on the ones that I use most often or that I may quickly need and want to access without digging into the menus. They are:

Flash Control
– you can quickly adjust all the settings for the built in flash, external flash, wireless flash. You can even control all the setting of the 580EX II remotely – when it is not attached to your camera. Very cool.
Exposure Compensation/ AEB – exposure compensation is easy to change at any time with the big dial, so this shortcut is for using when I want to bracket (AEB).
Review Time – I found that I was often shooting away without chimping (looking at the LCD), so I often just turn off the LCD review altogether. Other times, however, I want to review.
ISO Expansion – I haven’t used this yet, but I wanted it handy in case I want to use the high ISO. I typically have this turned off because I didn’t want the camera to default to High ISO during any situations. But considering I wasn’t using Auto ISO, this all seems unnecessary, and now that I realize this, I will have to replace this with something else on the menu! I never went above 1600 ISO, which I did have to use sometimes in very dark classroom settings along with the flash. Upon quick review of those images, the lack of noise in these files is really good.
Format – this is to format the memory card in preparation for use the next day. Always reformat the card, never simply erase them or use the Erase All option if your camera had that (the 7D does not). However, after formatting, turn the dial to select another menu item so that next time you hit Menu, Format isn’t still selected and you quickly make a grave mistake of pressing it.
Highlight Tone Priority (II-3) – this is a great setting to use in a high key situation, or with a bright subject or scene. It helps to retain detail in the highlights so they don’t get blown out, such as a white wedding dress, or a snow or beach scene. I never did use it, but I keep it in this menu to remind me it is there for the day when I do need it!

Chichicastenango, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 155mm, 200 ISO, 1/80, f/4

Other important Custom Function Settings

(please note, this post was initially written to explain how I used these settings in a specific travel situation.  I go into more detail about each of the Custom Function settings, with clear explanations of what they are and when and why to use them, in my e-book Canon 7D Experience, which is discussed below.)

Safety Shift (I-6) – I sometimes enable this setting. It allows the camera to shift the shutter speed or aperture automatically, without your expressed permission, in order to get the shot. This is great for situations where the light suddenly and dramatically changes, such as at a concert.  However if you are carefully choosing your settings, or working with a flash, you will want to disable this so that the camera isn’t overriding your careful settings.

AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity (III-1) – This dictates how quickly focus tracking switches to another subject when it momentarily loses the initial subject, such as when another subject passes in front of it. You can choose to have it stay focused on the initial subject (Slow), or focus quickly on a new subject that moves in front of your initial subject (Fast). Typically I want to stay focused on my selected subject, and ignore someone or something that momentarily passes between us. If you want to quickly focus on different subjects at different distances, put it on fast.

AI Servo 1st/2nd (III-2) – Is your priority focusing on the subject, tracking the subject, firing off rapid shots? Look at the manual to see which situation works best for how you shoot.Personally I think 0 or 1, with the autofocus (AF) Priority, is best. (The camera makes sure it focuses first before taking the shot. It may cost you a microsecond of time however.) Regarding tracking vs. drive, I keep it at 0. Setting 0 continues to prioritize focusing possibly at the expense of speed, while setting 1 will prioritize the speed of subsequent shutter releases at the expense of focus.

AI Servo AF Tracking Method (III-3) – This works with autofocus modes where more than one AF point is active. The names of the choices are a little confusing but what they do is Setting 0 will focus on a closer subject that enters into your view, not necessarily in front of your subject. while setting 1 will remain focused on the initial subject. I keep mine on 1, since I want to stay focused on my initial subject.

San Juan del Obisbo, GuatemalaCanon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm, 100 ISO, 1/1000, f/4

AF Focus Mode (III-6) – I enabled all the AF modes in the Custom Functions – by default, several of them are not available to you unless you change that setting. I started out using Single Point, but sometimes changed to Spot for more precision. The cost of using Spot is that it may not focus as quickly or as well when hand held or with a moving subject, and is generally not necessary unless you are trying to focus on a very small, precise area, such as through a fence to a subject beyond.  I occasionally used AF Point Expansion when photographing rapidly moving children. I don’t know how other photographers work (according to a Canon rep who gave a 7D presentation at B+H, there are big name professionals who still just focus with the center point and recompose), but I always choose the focus point I want manually, using the Multi-Controller button. This takes a little longer, now that I am dealing with 19 focus points, but that enables me to quickly get the composition I want, makes sure the camera focuses on what I want it to, and to get subsequent shots without too much reframing. There is an important menu setting so that you can use the Multi-Controller directly to change the AF point without having to press the AF thumb button first – I believe it is on the screen where you can customize all the camera’s buttons. Oh, and I changed the custom settings so that all the focus points always show, and that they light up upon achieving focus, even in bright sunlight (which they would not do if you had this setting on Auto or Disable). That way I always know when it has focused.  And I set Custom Function III-7 to stop focus point selection when I reach the edge and not loop around to the other side. I’m also thrilled that the 7D has a grid display that you can turn on in the viewfinder, which helps me keep my horizons and compositions straight. The viewfinder looks pretty busy, filled up with AF points and the grid, but when you are shooting away and focusing on your subject, you don’t even notice they are there.

Single Point Focus vs. Spot Focus Size – This controls the size of the area being looked at for focusing purposes on the 7D.  With Single Point AF Area Mode, the camera is actually looking at a cross shape area (all focus points are cross type, center point is dual diagonal as well at certain apertures) that extends about 2x as big as the actual square you see in the viewfinder. With Spot AF Area Mode, the size of the cross is about the size of the square you see, I think perhaps slightly larger.  Now you might think that using Spot AF will be more accurate all the time and sounds like a great idea and will get you sharper pictures, but this is not necessarily the case.  Since Spot AF is so precise, and since autofocus works by looking for an area of contrast, Spot AF may not focus as well or as quickly in many general situations (because it may be looking at such a precise area that is all one color or  tone).

Spot AF is for when you need a really precise “focus beam” to pinpoint, for example a bird in a tree, and not the branches and leaves surrounding it and all around it, which may be closer to you and the camera.  Or if, say, you are shooting through a chain link fence and you want the camera to focus on the animal beyond and not on the fence.  If you were to use Spot AF all the time, you would have to continue to act in a slower and more precise manner, so that you ensure you are focusing on an area of contrast or a nice line.  For example, if you capture a shot of a person, you want to focus on the eye typically.  If you do this quickly with Single Point AF, you can aim at the general area of the eye and you will likely include it in the area being looked at by the camera.  However if you grab a quick shot with Spot AF, you may  be a little off and the camera is looking at an area of cheek to focus on, which will be difficult since there isn’t much contrast there.

Orientation Linked AF Point – This setting allows you to choose your favorite AF points, and when you are hold the camera horizontally or vertically, those points are automatically selected. However, it is very complicated to set, so much so that is would seem Canon doesn’t even understand it. The Canon rep did not fully explain it properly at the B+H presentation, the instructions in the manual do not work, and after 3 different instructions by email from Canon, I may finally have the correct way. I still have to try their latest directions. (note- nope, latest instructions still don’t work properly) **12/17/2009** AHA!! Here it is, finally explained in its entirety.

I also changed the button/ dial function settings so that in Manual mode, the big dial controls shutter speed and the top dial controls aperture. The default is the opposite. I changed this because I almost always shoot in Av mode, where the top dial controls aperture, so when I switch to Manual mode, I want that to remain the same.

Additional edit – August 2011:
I have written a popular e-book user’s guide for the Canon 7D
called Canon 7D Experience. It not only explains all of the features, functions, and controls of this powerful, sophisticated, and highly customizable camera, but also when and why to use them in your photography – including EVERY Menu item and Custom Function setting, with explanations and recommended settings for real-life use.  You can learn more about the guide, preview it, and purchase it here.


AF Microadjustments – This is a setting on the 7D which enables you to tweak the auto-focusing to your different lenses. A site about AF micro adjustments that look to be helpful is below:

Here is a micro-adjustment focus test chart you can use.

Viewfinder – The viewfinder on the 7D is big and bright and wonderful. It is nearly 100% view of the image you will capture. The aperture and shutter speed info is of course displayed below, along with the current ISO setting, which one should get in the habit of glancing at often. See the AF Focus Mode category above for more info on what you can view in the viewfinder to assist with focusing and composition.

Picture Style – I had this on Standard, since I shoot in RAW and intend to post-process, however, I would like to do a comparison of the styles to see which one best matches my visual preferences – although the Picture Styles will only affect JPEGs and, it is important to know, the image you see on your rear LCD screen when shooting RAW.

Jalapa, GuatemalaCanon 7D, 16-35 f/2.8L lens at 35mm, 800 ISO, 1/2000, f/8

File Size – I shot RAW for almost the entire trip, and quickly discovered that these files are HUGE. The files range from about 21MB to around 31MB each. I used SanDisk Extreme III 16GB cards, which worked great, and one card often lasted much of the day. I have no good reason for using SanDisk over Lexar, other than the fact that the Lexar people haven’t approached me about sponsorship… :) The Extreme III cards have been replaced by the new Extreme and Extreme Pro cards, and are thus the old ones are much cheaper at the moment, especially with current rebates. At 30MB/s, they were fast enough for the types of shooting and short bursts I was doing. However, downloading them to my computer and external HD were pretty slow using the SanDisk ImageMate CF card reader. Eventually I’m going to have to spring for a card reader that goes right into the PC slot. I used Adobe Bridge to simultaneously save the day’s files to 2 external hard drives. The 160GB Iomega Ego filled up before the trip was over, but fortunately I also had a Lacie 500GB. I am dreading the number of external hard drives I am going to have to buy for travel and for home storage, but once you go RAW, it’s hard to go back to shooting just JPEG. I’m going to have to look into the Drobo system that many rave about.

Battery Life – The battery life of the 7D is excellent. When you get new batteries, first charge them all the way. Do not recharge until they are completely drained. Do this one or two cycles. I know they say you no longer have to do this, but some claim that seasoning the batteries like this will maximize their charge life. Anyway, one battery lasted well into 2 days of shooting, maybe longer, I didn’t keep track. They just keep going, even with heavy use, chimping (LCD reviewing), frequent use of an external Speedlite flash, and use of image stabilization (IS) on the 70-200 lens. I carried 3 batteries, but probably could have gotten away with 2. The spring-loaded battery door that pops right open for quick battery changes is a nice touch.

Antigua, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 78mm, 100 ISO, 1/250, f/4

Automatic Sensor Cleaning – Like most good dSLRs these days, the 7D automatically cleans the sensor at start up and shut down. Since the dust that is shaken off is collected on a tiny sticky strip at the base of the sensor, it seems to me that you should hold the camera straight as this happens. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I think I read in the manual that it even says to place the camera flat on a table as you use this, so I have gotten in the habit of holding it straight and still as I turn it off and on. Yeah! No more having to clean the sensor manually with a Rocket Blower!

Video – I did not have a chance to even experiment with the HD video on the 7D yet…so much to learn, so little time…

The next post will review all the other gear I used on the trip – the camera backpack, R-strap, accessories, etc. – and perhaps some of the other lessons learned. Read it here.

Purchasing: If you plan to buy the Canon 7D or any other camera or equipment from, I would appreciate it if you use my referral link by clicking on the text or logo below. Your price will be the same, and they will give me a little something for referring you, which will help support this blog. Thanks!

See and buy the Canon 7D on Amazon

And due to popular request, if you are in the UK, here is my referral link to Amazon UK.

And for those wishing to purchase from B&H Photo, Adorama, or directly from Canon just click their logos on the left side of the page.

Jalapa, GuatemalaCanon 7D, 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm, 200 ISO, 1/1600, f/4

Again, be sure to check out my e-book user’s guide for the Canon 7D called Canon 7D Experience. It not only explains all the features, functions, and controls of this powerful, sophisticated, and highly customizable camera, but also when and why to use them in your photography. You can learn more about the guide, preview it, and purchase it here.

I’ve run across a nice set of video tutorials (link below) for using the Canon 7D. You can watch them online, or even download them to your camera for viewing. The one on AF Custom Fuctions is especially helpful at clarifying those setting. Be sure to look around on the Canon Digital Learning Center to find all kinds of other cool stuff about using your camera plus useful tips and instructions from pros who use them.

link to Canon 7D Video Tutorials

The distinctive voice you hear in the 7D tutorial videos is Canon guru Rudy Winston, and the photo samples are his images as well. If you are in NYC, you can often find him leading workshops and presentations at places like B+H and Adorama. I went to a wonderfully informative introduction to the 7D that he gave a B+H a month or 2 ago, and these videos are pretty much the same presentation.

Here is additional information from Canon Europe about custom functions of the 7D: