7 Nov 2014

7 Nov 14 - Testing My New Canon SX60 Camera

I was worried that taking a single camera on the Pitcairn tour could prove a problem if I had a big problem with the camera. With no camera shops except on the first & last day, then there would have been no opportunity to replace a broken camera. Given we were doing a number of salt water landings, then there was always the risk of the camera getting soaked with salt water & dying. Therefore, as an insurance policy I decided to get a second backup camera for the trip. Rather than pay out the high prices for a heavy second DSLR body & concerned about the weight restrictions on the flight, I settled for the Canon SX60. This has only recently been launched in the UK. I hadn't seen anybody using it (but then I hadn't really looked), but I was familiar with the consistently excellent results from local Poole Harbour Birder, Ian Ballam, with the previous SX50 model. I also saw some favourable feedback on the SX50 by Richard Fairbank on his great Birding Never Sleeps Blog during a recent trip to Colombia (albeit it was Richard praising somebody else's SX50 compared to his DSLR set up). Therefore, I thought getting the SX60 should be a safe bet, especially as the camera shop I tried didn't have any SX50s left.

I have found it to be very useful having this lightweight camera on my waist belt & it certainly made it convenient to take scenery shots, without having to constantly swap between the 400mm lens & the 15-85 macro lens on the Canon 7D (which I was having to do on other trips unless I resorted to using the Iphone for scenery shots). But on this trip, the Iphone stayed on the boat throughout the trip: one less thing to worry about getting covered in salt water. So nearly all of the scenery shots were taken with the SX60.

With reasonable numbers of White Terns nesting in the trees along the island's edge, there was the opportunity to compare the Canon 7D with the Canon SX60 for Bird photography. The first thing that frustrated me about the SX60 was the user manual. I had brought out the thick manual it came with, but hadn't had time to open it till we were at sea. I then discovered, there was nothing useful in the manual, apart from telling me how to insert battery & memory card, how to switch it on & take a photo in the automatic mode. All very basic stuff, that I had worked out without reading the manual. The rest of the manual was taken up with the usual lengthy safety instructions to try & fend off legal claims from those people who are too stupid to own anything. These are the type of people who whilst driving a campervan in cruise control on the freeway, leave the driving seat to go to the back to make a drink & then try to sue the manufacturer when it crashes: as the manual didn't make it clear this was a stupid thing to do. So I discovered to my cost, that the large manual, had some basic set up steps, followed by lengthy safety instructions in about 25 languages. To find out how to use the camera, I needed to go on line, but that wasn't possible in the middle of the Pacific, several hundred miles from the nearly wifi area. So I had to work things out for myself how to use the other features on the camera, how to under & over exposing photos etc. I figured out quite a bit by trial & error & trying to over time, but it would be harder for anybody who was starting out with their first camera in this scenario.

The nesting White Terns provided a good opportunity to compare the two cameras. They don't build a nest in the trees, they just lay the single egg straight onto a branch where there is a small notch to help hold it in place. They clearly have an extended breeding period, as I saw some White Terns incubating, whereas others had chicks of varying sizes, including some close to fledging. The White Terns were approachable with care & they gave good photo opportunities. It is a real pity that the light was poor due to the regular rain showers. But they are just really great to see up close.
White Tern: Adult (SX60)
White Tern: Adult. Their eyes look too big for their body (7D)
White Tern: Adult putting up with the rain (7D)
White Tern: Adult going back to incubate its egg, which is in a hollow where the branch bends (7D)
White Tern: Adult (7D)
White Tern: A young fluffy chick (SX60)
White Tern: Later on I found this nearly fully fledged chick (7D)
White Tern: The same, nearly fledged chick (SX60)
White Tern: Nearby was this younger chick (7D)
Overall, I have been very impressed with the SX60 camera as a good & backup camera. It has an impressive optical 65x zoom & being a lightweight camera, there is less camera shake on comparable magnifications to the Canon 7D & 400mm lens. It will be interesting to compare it around Poole Harbour for sites like Middlebere or Brands Bay, where the 7D struggles with the distance & the digiscoping hasn't really impressed me. One thing I have found is it is slower to focus & lock on compared to the 7D, but given the relative costs, I'm not surprised about that. 

I have noticed the colour set up looks a bit different compared to the Canon 7D. For those who remember film cameras, I think of the colour of the Canon 7D as being the same as using Kodak film. Whereas, the Canon SX60 is more like using Fuji film, being richer in colours on a comparable subject. It's possible this might be because I've got the two cameras set up slightly differently, but as I said there was no internet access to read manuals in the middle of the Pacific. Finally, I haven't tried to use the Canon SX60 to taking a series of photos in a burst mode. Given how good the Canon 7D is for that, then I suspect I would be better sticking to the Canon 7D. But for anybody who wants to start with photography & doesn't want to fork out the money for a DSLR camera & lens, then the Canon SX60 is a great camera to starting out with. Especially considering for the cost of the Canon 7D with the 400mm lens & a smaller lens, you could probably buy a different Canon SX60 for each day of the week.