My New DSLR, the Canon 60D

I know the 60D isn’t really new. I have recently been searching for a new video capable DSLR. I had planned to bide my time, but frankly I found a good deal and couldn’t pass it up. I had sold my Pentax DSLR and lenses, and a few other odds and ends. I had the cash on hand, and saw a deal. I had planned at the very least to wait until a new body came out, which should in turn drive prices down on older bodies.

I settled on a Canon 60D. Not because it’s the best video DSLR ever made, but it fits my needs. It has full function video capture, and takes great pictures. And it’s available for under $1000. Since this is my personal camera, video is important, but it is also the one I’m going to be capturing family memories on.

I had been considering the Panasonic GH2, which is an incredible video camera. There are tons of advantages to it. But it finally came down to comfort with the Canon bodies (we use them at work) and access to great lenses to borrow (most of my friends shoot Canon), and comfort with still image quality from Canon. There is no store locally that carries the GH2, so I could not look at it in person. The ability to adapt all sorts of lenses to the body is great, but you do lose the auto functions. Bottom line, it would be a risk to buy it. I was able to find a 60D with some great accessories for less.

I bought a used 60D with a Canon Grip, an EF-S focusing screen and an extra battery for less than the GH2 body costs. I’m pretty excited about it.

Of course, now I’m facing the reality of Canon lens costs. I will definitely be collecting some primes. I don’t see myself dropping a grand on a zoom lens any time soon. But a “nifty fifty” is a definite. Probably an EF 28mm f2.8 as well. After that we will see. I can tell I’m going to miss throwing a $20 at an old manual lens like you can with Pentax.

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Geeking Out vs. Creating

I’ve been looking for a new mid level HDSLR. So I’ve been reading the internet a lot. There’s a lot to read.

One thing that strikes me is that there are tons and tons of videos available on Vimeo and Youtube that compare the features of one video capable DSLR to another, but there are not that many simply creative videos that tell a story. Do a search on either site for any major HDSLR and you can see all the video reviews you want. But there are far fewer stories for your viewing pleasure.

It’s easy to geek out on tech specs, and shoot test videos. I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it. But it is much harder to carry a creative idea to completion.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to not get tied up in the technical so much. Learn to use your tools. Make them do what you need them to do. But move past the tech to using those told to create.

Don’t just Geek Out. Tell your story.

It Figures

Right after I sell my Pentax gear they announce the new K-01 mirrorless body, compatible with all K Mount lenses. Oh, and it has the most advanced video capability of all Pentax cameras. Supposedly complete manual control of shutter and aperture. Full HD 1080p at 30/25/24 fps and 720p at 50/50/30/25/24 fps. Price listed at $750 for the body.

Now, there’s not really anything earth shattering about those specs. The Panasonic GH2 is similar. But this is a major step forward for Pentax. If the sensor, very similar to the one in the K5, has the same handling of dynamic range and image quality, it could produce some very nice images.

The K-01 doesn’t have a viewfinder, which is a drawback for a lot of traditional SLR shooters, but for video it’s not really a problem.

It looks likes a great body at a great price, especially if you have an investment in K Mount lenses. For me, even if I had kept my K Mounts I would not be able to afford to make the switch. So, I’m still where I need to be; ready to purchase amid-level HDSLR. I’m waiting a little while for any more announcements to come along.

The Quest: Choosing Canon 60D or Panasonic GH2

I am on a quest. I recently sold off my Pentax gear. After years of using a great kit, I dumped it to buy a mid level DSLR capable of shooting full manual video. I am convinced that Pentax will never consider HDSLR video anything more than a hobby. But what to buy as a replacement? I’m undecided. I’m pretty much just thinking out loud here.

I am looking at a $1000 or less. I seem to have settled on either the Canon 60D or the Panasonic GH2. I am looking for full manual video control and good still image capture. of course, any interchangeable lens camera is going to look better than my Point & Shoot. I’m also not too concerned about workflow, because both have to have their native files converted for work in Final Cut.

So I’ve been reading up on the two. This review from EOSHD gives the contest firmly to the GH2. There are tons of “hacks” you can do on the GH2 to get all sorts of video effects and colors. The GH2 is generally thought of as an amazing video camera. Here is a video from EOSHD comparing it against the $10,000 Red Scarlett. The under $800 body doesn’t fair too badly.

I am still leaning toward Canon because Canon makes a lot better lenses than the 4/3s stuff. And adapters don’t translate the auto functions. So you lose all the auto focus advantage on the GH2, and the GH2s smaller sensor means longer DOF, which means harder to control DOF in our shooting situations. And I don’t think I’m going to be hacking my camera. If I had to pick right now, I’d get a Canon 60D with the 50mm f1.8 “nifty fifty” lens to start.

But the GH2 is so flexible with video. Both stock and with all of the hacks out there. And you can use almost any lens you want. The smaller mirrorless body allows you to adapt a lot of different kinds of lenses. (Pentax K, M42, Canon EF and FD, Nikon, and more.) Canon can convert some lenses too. At work we have an M42 to EOS adapter.

Part of me just wants to be different. I shot Pentax for a long time. I began to enjoy the fact that I was using a system that was not like the rest of the Canikon people. I really liked shooting something with a lens that cost under $50 that made people say, wow that’s a nice picture. But I am not sure I have the time or motivation to test the hacks and get drawn into the techno world of the GH2 community. I see a lot of test videos, and people geeking out about what you can do, more than great video projects that happen to use a GH2. Maybe the same can be said for the Canon bodies.

Being different is fun. But, if I had found a cheap Nikon way back when I got my first DSLR, I would have gotten that system. I was just looking for a DSLR under $300, and I found a Pentax *ist DS with kit lens for $295 (a great deal back then). The rest was just bonus. I’d still recommend Pentax to anyone looking to shoot on a budget that is willing to use manual controls. I never spent more than $230 on any lens in my Pentax kit. Not because all Pentax lenses are that cheap, but because you can find cheaper alternatives to the high dollar ones if you are willing to shoot manual.

So, back to this dilemma. Not sure what is on the horizon for either manufacturer. I am probably waiting a couple of months before I take the plunge, and maybe something will come out before then. Meanwhile I’m reading reviews and watching video. Weighing the options.

[Edit: I made my decision]

Changing Loyalty: Leaving Pentax for… Canon? Panasonic?

I put my entire Pentax DSLR system up for sale tonight.

I know to most people that’s not that big of a deal. And, on many levels for me, it isn’t that big either. I didn’t choose Pentax for any good reason, but I did really like the system. No other system allows you to shoot stills on a budget like Pentax. If you like manual focus, you can get amazing lenses for cheap. Using lenses from 20+ years ago was a real perk of the Pentax world. I spent the last few years assembling a collection of modern and antique lenses to cover everything from 16mm to 300mm.

So, why jump ship?

Because Pentax is never going to take video seriously. Because of my plans and dreams with the show, I eventually need a DSLR that can do full manual, full HD video. I had hoped that Pentax would come along with a great body that could use all my old lenses and give me great stills and video. But every time I turned around a new body had limited video capability. But I kept hoping.

Last week at CES, Pentax, who was recently bought by Ricoh, did not announce or release anything, even though they had a booth. And John Carlson,Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing at Pentax USA, gave an interview where he covered some of the companies views on video in DSLR:

DE: What can you say about features on video in your–either SLR or system camera lines–you were really the first to offer manual aperture control during video capture, but our sense is that since then, you’ve lagged a little bit on features. Things that are becoming common elsewhere, such as full-time auto-focus or manual audio level control. What would you like to see come to product line in terms of video?

JC: I think there’s a couple of things I’ve seen with our competitors that are very compelling, like auto-focus during video, and more manual controls of exposure during the video. However, I think what’s important is to realize that while that stuff is… would be nice to have, it’s not absolutely necessary. We’ve worked with some producers that have done some great videos that we have on our YouTube channel, that definitely show even in pretty complicated lighting situations, you can effectively use a camera like the K-5 to get good quality video. Using things that you may not think of, like the exposure lock button that will essentially let you set the exposure, things like that. Just watching some of these professional cinematographers using the different lenses to their capabilities, and realizing these guys don’t use auto-focus anyway. The true advanced cinematographers out there are doing it all manual, and planning your shot, and really thinking it out. I think you consider those things, and our cameras are definitely very capable.

DE: What’s your sense for how customers are using the video capabilities of the system cameras? This is one thing I have a question about, is how many of them are still photographers that are becoming video enthusiasts, or how many are like, you know, I’m a still photographer and I’d like to take an occasional video snapshot?

JC: You definitely see a lot of the traditional photographers almost questioning why you need video, but then you have the people that have kind of expanded their repertoire of what they can do with a camera, by realizing that you add a little movement to an image and it can add a lot. Definitely in the nature photography, you know… A still image of a snowstorm is okay, but you get a moving image of a snowstorm, a video, and it adds something totally different to it.

I had hoped that with patience Pentax would see the benefit of the large market of video professionals who use DSLRs. It seems apparent that no matter what new body Pentax releases, full manual video control is just not going to be a part of it. Video is seen as a nice way to capture video snapshots. Professionals who want to use Pentax have to trick the body, and Pentax USA is OK with that just being the way it is. That means if I wish to own a more capable DSLR for video I have to look elsewhere. And that is disappointing.

So, I’m going to leave Pentax. I have not decided if I will end up with Canon (likely) or maybe a Panasonic GH2. I don’t know for sure yet. The GH2 can use an adapter to handle all sorts of lenses, from Pentax to Canon. I have a lot of friends who shoot Canon.

I’m leaving a close-knit, if somewhat snarky, community. Because Pentax isn’t as popular as other DSLR systems, there are not that many “Pentaxians.” I’m also leaving the cheap lenses that made Pentax so appealing to a budget DSLR user. Modern, good glass is not cheap.

I am going to gain ability and stability. Which ever body I end up with will have full HD video control. And be from a company that supports the future of that in DSLRs.

Now to figure out which is the best for me.

Quick Edits: In Camera Effects for Still Photography

I have been using DSLRs for a few years now, but never really played around with the internal effects. In some of the cameras I had they were pretty limited. Today I spent a few minutes playing with some in the Pentax K-x. It boasts eight in camera effects: Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Extract Color, Soft, Star Burst, Fish Eye, and a custom filter. Some are fairly usefulness. The fish eye filter is a basic distortion filter, and any photo editor can do more. The Toy Camera and retro filters are like the filters you can find in some popular smart phone apps.

One effect could save you quite a bit of time in Post Processing; extract color.

On the left you see the basic snap shot. Nothing fancy, just a lot of colors. On the right you see the color blue has been extracted. There are six different colors to choose from (Red, Magenta, Blue, Cyan, Green, Yellow) with 5 levels of sensitivity.

If you are looking for this kind of effect, using the in camera filters may work for you, and save you some time. While not all of the in camera effects are useful, they are getting better. With the popularity of smart phone apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, people will continue to want to easily add interesting looks to their pictures. We may continue to see improvements in the in camera effects available in new models.

The Most Unfair Comparison: Canon 7D + L Series 24-70 vs Pentax K-x + Kit Lens

I had a chance to play around, and decided to do the most unfair comparison ever between DSLRs. I own a Pentax K-x with several lenses that I use around the house. It’s a great small DSLR. It cost me $385 used with the DAL 18-55mm kit lens. For work we just got a Canon 7D with a 24-70mm f2.8 L series lens. The L series lenses are some of the best available for the Canon EOS system.

The Canon system, on sale, cost $2700 for the body and lens. That’s seven times more than my K-x with kit lens cost me. There is no way my kit can take a better picture than the 7D with that lens. The Pentax kit lens is nowhere the quality of the L series glass. Don’t get me wrong, Pentax makes a really good kit lens, but there is a reason you can buy one for 1/20 the cost of the L series. Used appropriately, the 7D with that lens will take amazing pictures. But, what if someone just grabbed it and snapped shots in automatic? How does it perform then?

I decided to have some fun. I put both cameras in full program mode. Just let the bodies do what they automatically did. I shot a couple pictures of this fake plastic flower thing in my house.

First up the Pentax. Generally, not a horrible picture. At 55mm, ISO was up at 3200, which is a bit high, but necessary in the low light indoors with the slower lens at f5.6. The K-x does a great job at noise reduction in JPGs.

Next, the 7D. There’s no doubt that the f2.8’s narrower DOF drives focus to the red flowers. At 70mm the closer framing is nicer. Generally, this is a much better image. I could argue that moving the Pentax closer to the flowers would fix some of the framing issues, but the slower f5.6 cannot reproduce the narrower DOF. The 7D also did not have a lot of noise at 3200.

As expected the 7D with L series glass outperforms the K-x with kit lens in automatic program mode. You can get better images from both cameras using different settings in different situations, but both give usable pictures in the most basic mode. The K-x is designed for entry level photography, while the 7D is more akin to the higher level bodies from Pentax like the K5. There is no real comparison of the two lenses. The kit lens from Pentax is great, but it’s not the best lens ever made. The 24-70mm L series is one of the best EOS lenses available. If it didn’t produce a better image than the Pentax DAL 18-55mm I would be shocked.

Plastic HD Video: Pentax K-x and the DA 35mm f2.4

I just got the “Plastic Wonder”, the DA 35mm f2.4 prime from Pentax. This is one of their inexpensive primes. It’s very much like the DAL lenses, so much so I’m surprised there isn’t an “L” in the model. As much of the lens as possible is made of plastic. Just the glass, contacts and focus mechanism. Even so, the images this lens can produce helps make it one of the best dollar for dollar buys in the Pentax line up.

The K-x can shoot 24p 720p video, but it lacks a lot of control many other video capable DSLRs have. One of the things I was keen to do was to try the new lens with video. I shot a few clips of my kids fish. I took the AVI files into Final Cut, threw on some silly sound effect, and desaturated the clips just a bit.

At f2.4 the DOF is razor thin, and I need more practice tracking focus but it’s not bad for a $500 HD rig.

Shooting Pentax in a CaNikon World

Why Pentax? How did I end up shooting Pentax DSLRs? Luck. Blind luck.

A few years ago I wanted to get into a DSLR. I didn’t have a huge budget, so I was looking at used kits on eBay. I wanted high enough resolution so I could print a 5×7. I figured I would buy one and maybe one or two lenses. Then upgrade a couple years later.

I didn’t realize that buying a DSLR body was actually buying into a collection of lenses. I bought a Pentax *ist DS 6.1 Megapixel body with the basic DA 18-55mm f3.6-4.5 lens. At $295, I had gotten into a DSLR for less than I ever expected.

And I was pleased with how it took pictures. The kit lens, normally not the best of lenses, was pretty decent. That’s not to say there weren’t some deficiencies, like vignetting at the wide end. But it’s still a lens I use, years later. [Below is picture from near Rainbow Falls in TN. Pentax *ist DS and kit lens]

When I bought that Pentax, I didn’t realize that I had bought into the perfect lens collection for low budget photography. I started doing some research on what lenses are available for Pentax bodies, and they have some very nice ones. Having spent under $300 for a body and lens, dropping double that on one lens was not going to happen.

I happened onto pentaxforums.com and started reading reviews and posts. Suddenly I realized that every K Mount lens made in the past several decades would work on my DSLR body. And with an adapter, even the M42 screw mount lens would work. That means that any good glass from years past would work on my DSLR. And there was quite a bit of decent glass for cheap available online, as long as you didn’t mind shooting in manual mode.

I first found a Vivitar 75-150mm F3.8 for $30. From my research I knew to look at the serial numbers. For a while in the 80s several of these were made by Kiron, Komine and Tokina. I got one from Kiron. Then I snagged one of Pentax’s fast 50 mm for $20. [Right: *ist DS with Pentax M 50mm f2.0] So my lens collection began to grow. Over the years I have bought and sold lots of older lenses online.

Spending such a small amount on a lens allows you to do things you would never dream of with more expensive lenses. For example, I spent less than $6 on a Ricoh 28mm f2.8 prime lens. I had to take it apart, cut off a flange and remove a pin before I could use it. But I took a great picture of my daughter with it [below]. I ended up selling it because it lacked the multiple-coating others had, and I didn’t like the lens flare.

My most expensive lens is an f2.8 16mm Zenitar fish eye. It was $160. I got it just in time. The main seller on eBay announced they were selling the last of them right before I got mine. In time I upgraded bodies. Mainly because I kept damaging them. Leaving a DSLR where it can be knocked off a ledge is a bad idea. Although upgrading to a video capable DSLR would great.

Right now my entire kit (K10D with 6 lenses) cost less than a Canon T2i body. Shooting in manual is fun, and teaches me a lot about how light an lenses work together. I use my kit lens when I need autofocus. In body shake reduction works on all lenses. I’d like to have better, newer glass, but not on this budget. Pentax makes some great glass today.

Hard to find it though. I can go to any photo store in town and see the latest offering from Canon or Nikon. There’s only one place I have found that has any Pentax gear, and it’s used. I can buy new from B&H, or used from KEH or eBay. Or from fellow Pentaxians. But it’s not like you can check out the latest lens at Target or Best Buy. (Of course, they don’t sell the best CaNikon either)

My friends who are onto Photography have either Nikon or Canon. Discussions about DSLRs end up with me trying to explain why I still shoot Pentax. Now, my photo-interested pals have some very nice kits. I’d love to have one like it. But dollar for dollar, my Pentax kit will take pictures as good as I need for my family memories, and more.

And really, that’s what matters. I specifically chose to post pictures here I took with the oldest, least capable camera I owned, the *ist DS. I like to think they are pretty good. Maybe not award winning, but they please my family and me. I now own more capable equipment. I have a lot to learn.

There are people who own Canon and Nikon (Sony, Pentax, etc…) kits that could show pictures that would blow me away. There are some who have spent thousands and thousands on their kits, and cannot take a decent picture to save their life. Equipment is important, but not as important as the photographer.

So, whatever you shoot with, shoot well. Learn how to use what you have and capture life around you.