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Disappointment with new Canon EOS 60D digital camera

edited January 2016 Posted in » General Discussion
I purchased a Canon EOS 60D digital camera with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II SLR Lens and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens – Fixed last December. I spent around $1,000 between the camera and the lenses. I must admit, I was expecting a camera that would take spectacular pictures, but I have been disappointed. Here are some of the issues I have had:

For zoom, I am using the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II SLR Lens. Pictures are dark and gloomy. I need to edit every shot in Photoshop to bright it up. In many cases, I have noticed that the image on the camera’s built-in screen is bright but just after I press the snapshot button halfway down, it gets darkened. The resultant image matches the darkened picture that showed up on the screen.

For portraits, I am using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens – Fixed. My quality is set to L (18M 5184x34566), with my pictures coming out to be around 4 MB each and my rotator knob was set to no flash.

I have seen others with portrait lenses take photos so crystal clear that you can make out every eyebrow hair. My pictures appear relatively clear when they cover my full screen, but once I zoom in to around 80% in Photoshop (my portraits are about 34” x 42” at 72 dpi), (i.e., when only about 25% of the face shows up on the screen), there is blurriness.

I thought that perhaps the issue is that I am not using the camera correctly. I am an amateur photographer and was hoping I could essentially use this as a point and shoot. After all, my sister also purchased an expensive camera and she basically uses it as a point and shoot and all of her pictures come out beautiful, as though they were taken by a professional.

Then I thought that perhaps the issue is that I did not use a tripod, but at a professional studio I went to recently, the photographer did not use a tripod and the photos came out crystal clear.

Then I thought the problem could be the lighting. Unlike in the studio, where the photographer had a bright umbrella light flash each time a photo was taken, my photo was taken in natural light, outdoors just at the beginning of dusk, just as the sun was beginning to set. There was no direct light on me. However, I had a professional photographer once take family portraits of my family in natural setting at the same time of day—dusk—without light directly falling on us, and the pictures came out very clear.

Finally, I thought that perhaps the issue is that I was not manually focusing the camera. But after the camera would automatically focus, I would then manually focus it to try to make sure that the camera was focused on the eyes. I must concede I did not exactly know what I was doing here. Maybe I was supposed to put the camera on manual mode to focus it manually. However, even when I let the camera automatically focus, more than ½ of the pictures came out fuzzy.

One extra point: I noted that one autofocus point lit up on the subject’s face and one on each of the shoulders. Perhaps the problem is that the camera is confused and fails to focus on the subject’s face? Is it possible to disable the autofocus points that light up on all areas of the composition other than the subject’s face?

Also, is the no-flash setting the wrong setting for portraits? Am I supposed to use the setting with the face or the setting with the flower? I am 5 feet from the subject.

What am I doing wrong and how can I improve my portraits?


  • edited January 2016
    Not a Canon person, but a couple of suggestions.

    I think that Moose's suggestions likely will give you some ways out of the automated modes and point you in the direction of more manual control. If possible, you should work toward getting out of any of the 'scene' modes and into P, S, A and M, which give you much more choice of metering, focusing, ISO and other options.

    First make sure your auto focus mode is set to a single focus point to start with, if you want certainty on what you focus on. Multi point focus works well for snapshots when you're in a hurry, but the camera must decide on a compromise which is not always your preference. Investigate what focus modes are available, and make sure whatever it is, it only starts with a single dot. It's certain there's some way to do this, but I do not know which modes you can do it in.

    Second, make sure you're metering right and using correct exposure. It sounds as if your subjects are too dark, and for portraits you may need something other than the default matrix metering pattern. Nikons offer center weighted averaging, which is good for portraits and figures that occupy a lot of the frame but not all of it, and spot metering, which is good for a smaller target that's darker than the background. See what is available, and try different exposures. Center weighting works well for, for example, a child on the grass. Spot works well for a bird in flight, or a skier on snow. You can also do exposure compensation, just biasing the exposure with the usual metering pattern. To brighten dark faces, try going in the + direction.

    Outdoor portraits are often very difficult. You may have to compensate considerably if the subject's face is darker than the surroundings, and if there is a lot of sky showing. Study the use of fill flash too. In this, you would set your exposure more or less as it should be without flash, and then add a little flash to remove unwanted shadows. It's probably available to you, but you may have to read up to get it right. On Nikons, when you use the P, S ,A and M modes, the flash defaults to fill, and works pretty well.

    If this is like most current Nikons, the image in the screen has its own exposure compensation. What you see there is corrected even if your exposure is off. It's used only for composition and focus, not for exposure adjustment.

    Finally, as far as zooming the image on the computer: if you are going to crop an image, you'll do best to shoot in Raw form, or if you shoot JPG make sure it's not only the largest but also the least compressed format available. JPG is a compressed format which degrades an image. When you are looking at a full sized image, this is usually no issue, but when you crop, the compression artifacts are magnified, and when you save the crop it may be compressed a second time. If at all possible you should crop a raw image before any compression is applied.

    Many cameras, yours probably included, can make very good point and shoot snappers, but not for every kind of picture. Your sister may be taking the kind of pictures that work well for automatic operation, but this does not mean that you are.

    One final addition which I forgot. On this, as in most SLR cameras, the auto focus mechanism is entirely different between the viewfinder and the live view screen. AF will work faster, and offer different choices, when you use the viewfinder. It may be that some options are not available on the screen. Check what exists on your camera, and try the viewfinder.

    Among other things, it's often easier to get a sharp shot with the viewfinder because it's easier to hold the camera steady and to aim it well. This varies with the user, but there's a really good reason why the best cameras have optical viewfinders.

    Live view focus is often a bit more accurate in good light, and very good for tripods and macro shots when manually focusing, but if the camera is working right, the viewfinder will operate faster, more likely hit what you're aiming at, and follow motion better.
  • edited January 2016
    The 60D is one of the best DSLRs Canon has produced. Because it is regarded as a semi-pro/advanced amateur camera it has an attached learning curve. Sure, if you stick it on the green auto setting and leave it there, it will do its best to act as a point and shoot. What a waste of an excellent camera!
    Turning the control knob to no flash is pointless. Turn the control to P mode and your flash will only work when you want it to and still give you automatic settings for exposure.
    I will not go through @BRUTO advice because everything he says applies to the Canon. I will second his thoughts about moving away from the rear screen and using the viewfinder. It doesn't matter how steady your hands are, you cannot hold a DSLR at arm's length to see the screen and expect to get good shots.
    Looking through your post again, my advice would be to read the manual, learn about the exposure triangle, take lots of pictures in different environments, and find out there is more to photography than simply pointing the camera in the right direction. If you are not prepared to do all that, do yourself a favour and buy a cheap point and shoot.
  • edited January 2016
    Thank you BRUTO and PBked for your comments. Of course, I am aware that I should read the manual. The problem is I have neither the desire nor the time to read a 322-page manual. I expect I would need at least 20-30 hours between reading the manual and then practicing and applying what I read to get to the point where I have a good working knowledge of the camera. That is basically 3 or 4 full-time days that I do not have. Plus, I thought that my pictures would automatically come out much better by virtue of the fact that I am using an expensive, sophisticated camera.

    I would like to post some updates to my previous post to share some of my progress and learning.

    Using the very same settings that I used when taking outdoor portraits (portrait lens, no flash setting), I took some indoor portraits with bright fluorescent and incandescent lights hanging over the subject. I achieved perfect clarity. When zooming in, I was able to see every eyebrow. So I believe the issue may have been with the lighting, which I do not really understand because a professional photographer who took my family’s portraits a couple of years ago in a garden said that we should do it just before dusk because that is when the lighting is the best, which is what we did, and they came out good. However, unlike her portraits, the portraits I have been taking today and yesterday have been close up, right up to the subject’s face (hers were of the entire family). Maybe that had some impact on the outcome.

    Here are some other factors that may have led to the superiority of today’s images over those take yesterday:
    - Today I used a tripod for many of the pictures (I eventually had to abandon the tripod because it was too short for the subject’s height and I couldn’t find an adequate table to put the tripod on top of).
    - Today I set the zoom lens to manually focus rather than autofocus,
    - Today I set the setting to portrait rather than no flash. However, the problem with setting it to portrait is that every time I pressed the shutter button halfway down, the flash would pop up. I would then push it back down to de-activate it, but this was very difficult to do when I had the portrait lens set to manual focus because I had one hand holding the camera and one hand manually focusing the lens and did not have a third hand to manually push down the flash each time (photos with flash always come out terrible for me; the subjects’ faces come out shiny and there are usually shadows behind them). I thus reverted to the no-flash setting when using the manual focus setting.

    Is there a way to set the focus to manual and yet keep the flash from firing?

  • edited January 2016
    The flash operation is not tied to focus, but to the picture mode. In Portrait mode, the camera will decide when to use flash based on its meter reading. If you put it down, it may meter incorrectly when it does shoot. Generally speaking, if you want to control whether the flash comes up, you should use one of the P, S, A or M modes. I suggest P for the closest to point and shoot convenience. In these modes the flash will never open automatically, and the meter will do its thing without expecting flash. If you pop the flash up yourself, the meter will sense it and change settings accordingly.

    You can use either manual or auto focus with P mode, and the flash will not come on automatically. The camera will choose aperture and shutter speed, and ISO if you have that on automatic. Make sure that if you're on Auto ISO you start at the lowest ISO available. Auto will raise it as needed, but lowest is usually sharpest and quietest.

    I don't know what form the manual you get comes in, but if you can get it in PDF form, I suggest you put it on your computer. Then, you don't have to read it all, but have it there to consult when needed.
  • edited January 2016
    Try David Busch's Canon EOS 60D instruction book. It also comes in a smaller field version. Also try Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure" book.
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