Monday, June 17, 2013

Nikon D7000 vs Canon EOS 60D

Canon EOS 60D


Canon versus Nikon; that old saw. The Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 60D are now in a sweet-spot in terms for value for price. If you pay more, you can get more features with the D7100 over the D7000, but unless you are dedicated to your craft, the maximum potential of that difference won't be realized. The situation is different with the 60D; with no replacement in site, the step-up would be to the 7D, which itself is getting long in the tooth. Both the D7000 and the 60D once the top of the serious enthusiast range for their respective companies, but they were also cameras moving in two directions. The D7000 was climbing up-market, with a modest price increase but improved build quality over the D90 in the form of additional weather sealing and a partial metal frame to name a few. The 60D, meanwhile, went downmarket, shedding the metal body construction of the 50D, but adding the "consumer" friendly feature of a swiveling rear LCD screen. Both can be had a discount now, as they are now one generation behind the latest and greatest. (Technically speaking, the 60D is still current, as there is no 70D at the moment, but it's now old enough to be considered a generation behind.)



Nikon D7000


So the question is, if you aren't married into either camera system and want a decent camera, but don't want to pay the premium of having the latest and greatest, which camera would by right for you?

Comparing Pricing and Lens Systems


Here's how the prices (B&H) look like as of June 2013, in USD. Note that Nikon price includes the $100 rebate program that is in effect until the end of the month. In theory, the the Nikon D7000 is a higher spec camera than the Canon 60D, but once you start adding lenses, the price difference because less of an issue.

  • Canon 60D body only: $700
  • Canon 60D + EF-S 18-135mm IS Lens: $960
  • Nikon D7000 body only: $900
  • Nikon D7000 + 18-105mm VR lens: $1,000

Both of these kits are fairly comparable. Each lens is reasonably sharp for its respective camera; my impression is that the Nikon is slightly sharper, but also has more distortion. Though enthusiasts will pass over these lenses, both will do most people well if they are just stepping up to this level of DSLR. The price differences also vary once you start adding some of the more popular lenses on the market, though in each case, not by much:

  • Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED: $585
  • Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM: $650
  • Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM: $760
  • Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX: $810

In fact, prices equalize once you venture into the third party lenses made by Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. So in actual fact, very rarely, do people ever chose a system based solely on price. Of course, most people exam features very closely before making a choice, hence the preponderance of camera sites all over the web (including this one). However, the spec sheets don't really convey the difference between the two systems.... you really have to hold both in your hands and use them for a bit in order to appreciate their strengths and benefits. It used to be true that Nikon consumer lenses were better than Canon's, and that Canon's professional zooms were better than Nikon's... and there's some truth to that... however, it is equally true that professionals and enthusiasts have found happiness using both systems.

One final word about price: The above prices are current for June 2013, and if you have been following, these are more expensive than what we saw around Christmas 2012. Expect prices to soften over time; both Nikon and Canon seem to be having trouble clearing older models out of their distribution channels. (You can still find "new" D90's out their!) My feeling is that the Canon body-only price is about right, but the D7000 price should drop to $800 before I would consider it.

In Your Hand (Menus and Controls)


The 60D is easy to hold on to; the rubberized surfaces are larger and have a "nubby" texture. It's definitively the more easy camera to hold if you have larger hands. The camera is wider than the 60D, but Canon reduced it in size compared to the previous 50D.

Canon 60D Rear Controls

Some people find the grip a little on the small side with the D7000, and the front lip under the shutter button isn't as prominent as it is on other Nikon cameras. However, we're talking about holding the camera in general; once you have the camera up to eye-level the situation changes a bit. My feeling is that when you are shooting with the camera up to your eye, Canon's are still very steady to hold, but are a bit slower to in adjusting settings. Nikon's don't feel quite as secure when you are holding them in general, but when you are shooting, access to the front and rear command dials, exposure compensation and focus selection is better.

Nikon D7000 Rear Controls

There is also another difference, almost a philosophical one. On the 60D, most of your settings can be changed from the right side of the camera, whereas Nikon makes a clear distinction between left/right controls. This means that you can easily adjust ISO on the fly with the Canon, whereas the default setting of the D7000 doesn't allow it. (You can use the "easy ISO" feature and have the alternate command dial automatically adjust ISO depending on whether you are in S or A mode with the Nikon, but it's not a default). Some photographers find the placement of the ISO button awkward on Nikons; most long-term Nikon shooters don't. It's a matter of personal preference. As I've stated many times, I think that ISO and white balance are ambient controls that need to be set before you shoot, but I can see the argument for easily controlling ISO on the fly as well.

Of course, there is no left-side control on the back of the 60D, because of the space taken up by the LCD swivel, but if they couldn't lay out the buttons as they are on the 7D, I would have preferred that they kept a row of menu buttons along the bottom of the LCD as it was on the 50D. Overall, I find either Canon easier to navigate through than the 60D.

Autofocus


Both of these cameras are a joy to use compared to the D5100 and T4i/T3i when you are talking about the viewfinders. These cameras use larger and brighter prisms, compared to the mirrors used in the lessor cameras. The D7000 has the edge with a 100% view-finder compared to 96% with the 60D, and has an on-demand framing grid. This has long been a Nikon advantage, as you need to buy an accessory focusing screen to get the same thing with Canon.

On paper, the D7000 wins over the 60D. The D7000's 39-point system allows for greater precision in placing your focus point, and being the newer camera, it's motion tracking technology is better. If autofocus is high on your priority list, the 7D is a more worthy competitor to the Nikon than the 60D is.The 60D has 9 auto focus points compared to the D7000's 39, but on the 60D, all 9 are cross-type sensors, meaning that they are equally sensitive to horizontal and vertical detail, with the center point being even more sensitive as it can also detect diagonal detail. On the D7000, you start with 9 cross-type sensors in the middle, and add 30 more conventional sensors in the periphery.

Canon 60D AF Array


If there is a well worn path of discussion with the D7000, it's with the sensitivity of its autofocus points, which are either more sensitive or larger in area than those previously used on the D90 and D300. This lead to a lot of discussion about whether or not the D7000 was prone to back-focusing, which it isn't, but with an effective autofocus area larger than what you are used to, the sensor can "grab" something in the background if it's more contrasty than the subject that you are focusing on.

Nikon D7000 AF Array
In contrast, the Canon system is generally very accurate, but my impression is that it's not as fast to acquire focus as on the Nikon, but not by much. The downside with the 60D is not so much the performance as it is the handling, as Canon deleted the joystick toggle for the AF selection and moved the control to the 4-way pad in the center of the rear control dial. The placement is not as natural as it is on the 7D, and even worse, the tactile feel is terrible when you are moving your active focus point around.

There's another downside to the 60D's autofocus system: it can't be fine-tuned like that on the D7000. Previously on the 50D and 40D, you could fine-tune the focus, but in moving the 60D down the food chain, Canon deleted this feature. This means that if you have a body and lens combination that are out of alignment, you will have to send it in to have it corrected instead of doing it yourself.

Image Quality


Once again, the differences in image quality are philosophical as much as they are technical. In general, the default setting for Canon JPEG images tends to be sharper than that for Nikon; this is not only true compared to the D7000, but it's also true when you look at the 60D versus the 7D, with the more consumer-oriented 60D producing crisper looking JPEG's. However Nikon's tend to have more colour saturation and tend to push the exposure metering harder. In practical terms, it means that most casual photo enthusiasts seem to prefer the way that the images appears as they come out of Canon DSLR's, but that Nikon's tend to require a bit more adjusting. Canon's tend to produce more pleasing skin tones, whereas Nikon's produce landscape and architecture photos with more "pop". However, we're talking default settings here, and on both cameras, it's a matter of adjusting the settings to suit your taste.   

There's not much of a real-world difference in resolution between the two cameras; you won't notice the difference between 18.0mp and 16.1mp. My ISO comfort level is the same with both cameras; up to ISO 3200 for most situations, ISO 6400 only in a pinch. However, the sensor in the D7000 was further down the technological path when it was announced, and produces images with a slightly cleaner texture and more dynamic range at all ISO levels. The other advantage with the D7000 is that you can really abuse the files in post processing; if you sloppily under-expose, you can rescue images in a way that you couldn't with older cameras. However, most people focus too much on high-ISO capability, whereas the majority of your shots, if you are conscientious about quality, will fall below ISO 1600.

The 60D offers a live-view histogram, that isn't present on the Nikon. There was a lot of talk initially about how the D7000 seemed prone to over-exposure, which is not the case. Compared to older Nikons and most Canon's, the D7000 produces stronger looking mid-tones than before, giving the impression of a brighter image. Look closely and you will find that the highlights are not more prone to to being blown out, and that the exposure and colour accuracy of the subject tends to be fairly accurate.

There is one last advantage with the 60D that is a long-time known for enthusiasts, but which your average camera store might fail to mention. Canon's are better at astrophotography.... forget better, they can just plain do it. Nikon's have always struggled with this area. I'm not talking about nightscapes or stair trails; Nikon's are notorious for being less able (sometimes unable) to pick out deep-sky objects. It has to do with (again a philosophical choice) how the Nikon engineers chose to process blacks... they have favoured better image noise in still images, at the expense of being able to pick out very faint light sources. This matters if you are planning on doing astrophotography with an equatorial mount, but the differences between the two brands are well known in the astronomy community. If this is an area that you want to pursue, talk to your local enthusiast community and see what they recommend.

Video


This is where the 60D finally has a definitive advantage over the D7000. File output can reach 30fps for 1080p, whereas the Nikon tops out at 24fps. At 720p, the Canon betters the Nikon and will reach 60fps. Audio recording settings are also more comprehensive than on the D7000. Overall, the Canon offers more options in how you want to set up your video shooting.

Both cameras are slow and hesitant to focus in live-view, but the Nikon does have a paper advantage in that it has a continuous tracking mode that the Canon does not. I use the term "paper advantage" because the video tracking on the D7000 is too slow for anything except slow panning shots, and is best for your you are doing still video of subjects that don't move too much, as in an interview settings, for example. Traditionally Nikon has lagged behind in video focusing; I would feel more comfortable with the Canon, but for serious work, you still have to use manual focus. One very real Nikon advantage is that the ISO advantage enjoyed with stills is also carried over for video, making it cleaner for low-light applications. But of course, the big advantage of the 60D in terms of videos is the swiveling rear LCD, which is also a benefit for composing stills in live view. It's a shame that Canon and Nikon consider this a "consumer" feature, neither offer it on their more upscale cameras, and Nikon only offers it on the D5xxx series.

Conclusion


Of course, you would expect me to recommend the D7000 over the 60D because that's the camera that I own and use as my primary. If we are talking technical capability, all of the objective evidence supports that. However, there is more to choosing a camera than how good it is. (Blaspheme, right?)

If you have a group of friends that shoots Canon, that's a perfectly good reason to shoot Canon as well. You'll improve faster if you have peers that can help you along. Of course, you don't have to all have the same camera (my close peer group actually is actually a equal mix of Sony and Nikon), but if you are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of DSLR's, having friends to help you is more edifying than trying your luck on an internet forum. The differences in handling aren't subtle either; these are two very differently shaped cameras, and your comfort level in using them might be the ultimate deciding factor.

At this point you can't go wrong with either camera or system, and there is definitely something right about not having to pay a premium for the newest camera on the market, and yet getting a camera that will last you for many years to come. However, if it's a toss-up for you, try to get a better overall price out of the Canon system if that's the way that you are going, as it is slightly down-spec'd from the D7000. Likewise, with the D7000, pay attention to discounting, as prices have crept back up. Both are plentiful on the used market, but if you can find a good retail price, I would go for that with the peace of mind and added warranty.

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