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Canon EOS 60D Gordon Laing, October 2010
 

Click here to find out about the EOS 60D's Lens, AF, sensor and drive modes


Canon EOS 60D Movie Mode

The EOS 60D becomes Canon's latest DSLR to offer HD video recording, and shares the same core modes as the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D before it. It also features an external microphone input and the ability to manually set audio levels, while the icing on the cake is the fully-articulated screen which allows you to film comfortably at unusual angles.

Starting with the actual video quality, the EOS 60D gives you have the choice of filming at either 1920x1080, 1280x720 or 640x480 pixels.

The Full HD 1080p mode can be set to record at either 30fps (29.97 actual) or 24fps when the Video System is set to NTSC, and 25 or 24fps when set to PAL. The 720p and VGA modes record at a higher frame rate of either 60fps (59.94 actual) when set to NTSC or 50fps when set to PAL. The screen-grabs below show the quality page when the video system is set to NTSC or PAL.

 

   
   

The inclusion of a 24fps option at 1920x1080 pixels will delight independent film makers who were frustrated with the fixed 30fps speed of earlier models. Anyone wanting to integrate footage into PAL projects will also be pleased to find a 25fps option which matches their video standards. And remember while the EOS 5D Mark II can now shoot 1080p at a choice of three frame rates, there's still no 720p options for that model.

The EOS 60D also inherits the Movie Crop mode of the EOS 550D / T2i which shoots standard definition VGA video, but only using the central 640x480 pixels of the sensor. Since these occupy a small cropped area in the middle of the frame, the captured view is effectively magnified by 7.2x, allowing you to get much closer to distant detail.

Before going any further, let's pause for a clip filmed with the EOS 60D's best quality 1080p / 30fps mode under bright conditions with the camera mounted on a tripod. We used the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens zoomed-out to 24mm and with IS disabled. Immediately following this clip we filmed the same sequence using the 1080p / 25fps and 1080p / 24fps modes, along with the 720p / 60fps and 720p / 50fps options for comparison. Registered members of Vimeo can download each video for closer examination; we deliberately started each clip from the same position and kept the camera still for a few seconds to allow frame-grabbing resolution comparisons.

Canon EOS 60D 1080p / 30fps sample video: Auto, outdoors, panning on tripod with EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM at 24mm
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

 

Note if you’re downloading the files from Vimeo using Internet Explorer 8, you may find the file extension is MP4 rather than the original MOV. Don’t worry, the file is otherwise identical, and you can rename the extension to MOV if necessary. As with other Canon cameras employing the same encoding system, the playback may be jerky under QuickTime for Windows; we recommend playing the files under Windows using VLC Player, but even then you’ll also need relatively quick hardware for smooth results.

 

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Like the EOS 550D / T2i, EOS 7D and EOS 5D Mark II, there’s a built-in mono microphone and, impressively for a camera of its class, a 3.5mm stereo mini jack to connect an external microphone. The use of an external microphone, like the Rode SVM, can transform the audio quality and is highly recommended over the internal microphone.

In a welcome update over the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D, the EOS 60D now lets you manually set audio recording levels; indeed in Canon's current range, the only other DSLR to offer manual recording levels is the firmware-updated EOS 5D Mark II. Go to the Sound recording page and you'll find stereo level meters (with peak holds) and the option to switch between Auto or Manual, the latter offering 64 levels of adjustment. This is a very welcome feature to find on the EOS 60D and we can only keep our fingers crossed it's implemented on all future Canon DSLRs, not to mention in a firmware update for the EOS 7D.

The Sound recording page is also where you'll find a wind filter, which can be applied to the internal or external microphones. In our tests around windy Queenstown, the filter certainly cut down on noise, but the result sounded quite artificial and echo-ey like over-zealous digital noise reduction. It's handy to have in emergencies, but much better to use an external microphone with a wind cover where possible.

As before, video is encoded using H.264 with uncompressed PCM audio (at 16 bit 48KHz), and stored in a QuickTime MOV wrapper – and as before, while the mild video compression ensures great quality, the encoding format remains a challenge to edit (or even play) smoothly on many computers. You'll also need a Class 6 (or higher) SD card to support the maximum recording times.

The maximum time per file remains 29 minutes and 59 seconds or 4GB, whichever happens first. You’re looking at about 330MB per minute in any of the HD movie modes, with the 720 option consuming the same as the 1080 due to its higher frame rates. So that 4GB file limit will actually be reached after approximately 12 minutes, regardless of the HD quality setting. A fully charged battery should last for about two hours worth of recording.

 

The EOS 60D may be positioned between the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D, but when it comes to actually start and stop filming video, it's essentially the same as the entry-level model. As such you'll first need to turn the mode dial to the Movie Mode position. This flips open the mirror and shutter to deliver a live feed to the screen, after which you simply press the dedicated Live View button (with a red dot next to it) to start and stop recording.

With the movie mode running, you'll see the image framed with black bars above and below for the 16:9 HD modes and to the sides for the 4:3 SD modes. Like the EOS 550D / T2i before it, the borders when shooting in HD are thinner than on most models thanks to the wider 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen, although this also explains the vertical bars for narrower 4:3 footage.

It is possible to take a high resolution photo while filming by fully depressing the shutter release, and doing so will interrupt your video by about one second. Unlike previous models though, the photo will share the same aspect ratio as the current movie mode – so if you're shooting HD video, any still photos will be 16:9 in shape. They will still be much higher resolution than the video frame, but not 3:2 in shape.

     
     

Pressing the Info button cycles between a clean view, one with basic shooting details superimposed along the bottom of the frame, a third which overlays further settings running down the left side in two columns, and finally a fourth view which adds a small virtual horizon graphic in the middle of the screen. Options in the menu allow you to superimpose one of two alignment grids, although there's no live histogram.

Like normal Live View, you can directly adjust a number of settings by pressing the Q button, then using the rocker to highlight the desired setting before turning the finger dial or thumb wheel to change it. Here you have the ability to adjust the AF mode, Drive mode (for stills), White Balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, Quality (for stills) and Quality for video.

The same options and more besides are available by pressing the Menu button. This presents three new menu pages dedicated to movie options which aren't visible with the camera set to any other mode. So while it can be initially confusing not to find any movie options when casually browsing the menus in other modes, it does at least avoid potential conflicts.

     
     

The first option on the first page is where you can switch the exposure mode from Auto to full Manual. In Auto, the movie mode will automatically adjust the aperture, shutter and sensitivity, and like previous Canon DSLRs, it has a preference for selecting unusually small apertures and high ISOs even under bright light, perhaps in an attempt to maximise the depth-of-field. As such it's not unusual to find the camera shooting at f22 under bright sunlight which has the undesirable side-effect of making any dust marks on the sensor quite visible. In Auto mode you can turn the thumb wheel to adjust exposure compensation in a +/-3EV range. You can even do it while recording, although the stepped design of the control will result in quite audible clicks and even minor vibration.

   

The Manual exposure option allows you to take control and deliberately select large apertures to minimise the depth-of-field, or lower ISOs to maximise the quality. Just like Manual for still photos, the shutter speed is adjusted with the finger dial, while the aperture is adjusted by the thumb wheel. Shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 1/60 (in all the VGA and 720p modes) or 1/30 (in all the 1080p modes) are available, as are sensitivities from 100-6400 ISO, while any aperture offered by the lens can be selected.

It’s wonderful to have manual control over exposures from day-one, as the automatic mode often chooses very small apertures and thereby eliminates any chance of enjoying a nice shallow depth-of-field – one of the major benefits of using a DSLR for video in the first place.

The next clip below demonstrates a shallow depth of field and selective focusing with the EOS 60D. We used the EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM on a tripod at a focal length around 50mm and set the aperture to f4 in Manual mode. We then adjusted the manual focusing ring to focus from a close to a distant subject and back again. If this effect appeals, you can achieve much greater blurring with lenses like the EF 50mm f1.4 and EF 85mm f1.8, and if you get really addicted to it, Canon's f1.2 options at the same focal lengths beckon to those with deeper pockets.


Canon EOS 60D 1080p / 30fps sample video: Manual: 1/30, f4, 800 ISO, selective focusing with EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM at 50mm
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

 

Like the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D before it, the EOS 60D offers auto-focusing while filming, but before you get too excited, it’s fairly useless. First of all, it doesn’t operate continuously like a camcorder. Instead it only refocuses when you half-press the shutter release and worse, takes several seconds to do so using the contrast-based Live mode. So while you can refocus while filming, you’ll just end up recording the leisurely adjustment process. To be fair, it’s occasionally handy for ensuring the subject is in focus without manually adjusting the lens or exiting to make an automatic reading, but it’s a process you’ll definitely want to edit out later. You can disable autofocus while filming if desired.

 

 
 
 
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As mentioned earlier, one of the interesting video options on the EOS 60D is the Movie Crop function, inherited from the EOS 550D / T2i. Again this shoots standard definition VGA video, but rather than take (or combine) pixels from the entire height of the sensor, only the central 640x480 pixels are used. Since these occupy a small cropped area in the middle of the frame, the captured view is effectively magnified over the normal shooting modes. In fact, the Movie Crop mode effectively multiplies the focal length by 7.2x, allowing you to get much closer to distant detail.

Since there's no pixel-binning taking place, the image can become noisy under anything other than bright conditions, and unsurprisingly the focusing becomes absolutely critical. It's like using the magnified focus assistance in Live View, but then actually recording what you see filling the screen rather than withdrawing to a normal magnification once confirmed. But for the right subjects, the result can be impressive.

It's also worth doing the maths to realise the same effect cannot be achieved by simply enlarging a VGS portion of a 1080p clip in an editor later. A 1080p clip has a maximum height of 1080 pixels, so taking a crop that's 480 pixels tall will only result in a magnification of just over two times. The unique thing about the Movie Crop mode is that it's taking a 640x480 window from the full sensor height of 3456 pixels, which is how the 7.2x magnification is derived.

Here's a clip filmed with the EOS 60D in its standard definition movie mode with the EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens fully zoomed-in, and working at an effective focal length of 168mm. Later in the clip you'll see the same view at the same focal length, but taken with the Movie Crop mode, where the 7.2x magnification is effectively delivering a focal length of 1210mm. If you had a 70-300mm, the effective focal length when zoomed-in would jump from 480mm to a whopping 3456mm, allowing you to better see incredible detail. Of course this would require critical focusing, a very steady tripod and ideal atmospheric conditions, but the possibilities are exciting.

 

Canon EOS 60D VGA sample video: Movie Crop comparison with EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM at 105mm

 

The downside is the Movie crop mode is only available in standard definition VGA. Of course if it were offered in HD on a 720p or 1080p frame, the magnification would reduce to 4x or 2.7x thanks to the active area occupying a larger portion of the sensor – but it would still have been a really nice option. Coincidentally, Canon's ageing PowerShot SX1 IS offers a similar facility in HD with a 2x mode at 1080p. So please Canon can we have a firmware update which allows Movie crop filming in HD?

Finally, the EOS 60D completes its movie experience with another feature inherited from the EOS 7D: the ability to trim clips at either end during playback. The shorter file can then overwrite the original or be saved as a new movie. We used this process to trim the clip demonstrating a shallow depth-of-field above.

     
     

As for filming with the EOS 60D, the experience and results are unsurprisingly similar to the EOS 550D / T2i and EOS 7D before it. As such, the EOS 60D is capable of delivering superb-looking results in both bright and low light. It's easy to enter the movie mode and start filming, the choice of resolutions and frame rates allows you to integrate footage into almost any project, the manual exposure control gives you the creative freedom which typical camcorders can only dream of, and the external microphone input allows far superior audio quality. The addition of manual control over audio levels is also very welcome.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Where the EOS 60D really scores over previous models though is its articulated screen. DSLRs aren't the easiest things to handle for filming and the necessity to hold them relatively high in order to see the screen is far from ideal. With the EOS 60D though, you can simply flip the screen out and angle it upwards for comfortable framing at waist-height. Equally you can film comfortably with the camera on the ground or held high over your head. Discreet filming is also possible thanks to the adjustable screen.

Of course DSLRs with articulated screens aren't new to other manufacturers: Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and Olympus all offer them, but it doesn't diminish from the delight of using one on the EOS 60D – and again making it even more pleasant is the excellent quality panel.

So unless you demand (or desire) the full-frame sensor of the EOS 5D Mark II, we'd say the EOS 60D boasts the best movie recording experience of any Canon DSLR to date. The quality is known from previous models, but adding manual audio recording levels and an articulated screen have taken it to a new level.

 
 

As with all DSLR video modes though, there are caveats. First, there's no continuous autofocus while filming. Second, without optional mountings, the DSLR form factor isn’t particularly comfortable to handle for filming, and it’s tricky to pull focus or adjust the zoom without twisting or wobbling the camera. Third, the dreaded jello effect can still rear its head under certain conditions. Handheld filming with wobbly pans or attempted zooms can be particularly susceptible, and if you're into this kind of casual filming style, you'll still be better-off with a dedicated camcorder. Professional film makers who are interested in monitoring or recording over HDMI should also note that while the port outputs a 1080i signal while framing, it's downgraded to 480p once you start recording.

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It's also important to consider the competition. Nikon's D7000 can film at 320x216 or 640x424 at 24fps, 1280x720 (720p) at 24, 25 or 30fps, or 1920x1080 (1080p) at 24fps. Note unlike Canon, the D7000 does not offer 25 and 30fps options at 1080p, only 24fps. Nikon's also switched from the previous Motion JPEG format for the same H.264 as Canon, and allows recording times of up to 20 minutes per clip, depending on available memory; Nikon quotes around 700MB for five minutes of Full HD, or around half that for five minutes at 720p / 24fps, which implies a much higher compression ratio than Canon. This may allow longer clips to be recorded before maximum file limits kick-in, but the higher compression may be harder to edit and suffer from greater artefacts.

Like the EOS 60D, the D7000 also offers an external microphone input, along with the ability to adjust recording levels, albeit with just three presets rather than proper graphical level meters. Most importantly of all for consumers though is the D7000's claim of continuous AF while filming, which could give it a significant advantage over the EOS 60D, depending on how well it works in practice.

So while the D7000 lacks the Full HD options at 25 and 30fps of the Canon EOS 60D, not to mention its fine audio level adjustment and articulated screen, the ability to continuously autofocus while filming could make up for it if it works effectively. We'll have to wait until final production samples are available before making a final decision.

Ultimately it’s the independent film makers or very serious amateurs who’ll really appreciate the EOS 60D's movie capabilities. They’ll already be used to manually pulling focus where necessary and working around the caveats to achieve great-looking footage. The EOS 5D Mark II’s bigger sensor may offer greater potential for shallow depth-of-field effects and low light performance, but by matching the EOS 7D's output with the addition of manual audio levels and an articulated screen, the EOS 60D arguably becomes Canon's most confident and flexible movie camera yet. Now let's see how the still image quality compares in our Canon EOS 60D Real-life results.

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