Monday, April 25, 2011

Mk I Ford Escort Rebuilt - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Of all places, a British Ford Escort Mk I of rallying lore has turned up in Abu Dhabi for a quick restoration. Though, the quick restoration has turned into a 3 year project - it looks like things are going quite well. So far, the major upgrades are a full cage, a replacement 2,000cc Ford Duratec 4 cylinder and the deletion of leaf springs - all for good cause!

If the upgrades aren't enough for you - then hopefully the period orange will push you over the edge.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Because It's Great...

I'm eagerly awaiting the Senna debut on a wider scale in the U.S. - apparently coming this July. However, Top Gear did a great job summing up Ayrton Senna's career in a nearly 20 minute segment from a season or two ago. I happened to watch it again this morning and it gets me excited for the full film on his racing career.

In case you haven't watched this yet - check it out now. Then I won't be alone in waiting in agony to see the full film!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quick Canon 60D Review

I've been a Nikon fan since picking up a D40 during the Christmas of 2008. This was further reinforced by the fact that I'd inherited a large number of older, manual focus NIKKOR lenses.

However, after watching a large number of videos of car reviews and just general camera-related videos I quickly caught onto the fact that Canon makes the best videos you can ask for in the DSLR market. I've gone from a D40 to a D5000 (for video) to my current camera - the Nikon D90 coupled with a handful of lenses. I've been impressed with the image quality of Nikon and I love the build quality of the D90. It feels like a tank and conveys a very solid feel to it with high quality plastics. The replacement camera - the D7000 - reportedly takes things a step further with two card slots and a higher megapixel CMOS sensor and better video frame rates, resolutions and in-video autofocus.

The D90 has unfortunately been a disappointment when it comes to video. With a mono mic and no auxillary port to plug in a external mic, you're more or less stuck with either terrible sound from the tiny onboard mic or having to use an external mic and then sync up the audio with the video in post-production. The other big issue with the D90 video function is the jpeg-based codec which seems to create a significant amount of shutter roll if the camera or subject is moving too much. I've had a hard time trying to work around that.

Hence the 60D. I picked it up from Best Buy during the 14 day return period just to confirm if I would like the camera or not. I've not shot with Canons before but of any other camera manufacturer - they are the most direct competitor to Nikon at every price point and feature. The 60D is said to be an evolution of the 50D and carries with it much of the guts of the notoriously good 7D. All good things - plus it has a 3.0 inch 1.04 million dot VGA screen that articulates. Some don't like that feature but I think its fantastic for shooting video - which was my main interest in the 60D. Speaking of the LCD display - it's quite beautiful, it makes every shot look clean and bright - perhaps deceivingly so as sometimes I was a little disappointed in lens shake I saw on my laptop that I didn't necessarily detect when reviewing a shot in-camera.

Nikon D90 @ 165mm @ f/10.0:
Risi 458 GT

Other benefits are the in-camera audio control, 720P HD video at 60 frames per second and 1080P at 24 and 30 fps. First off, this thing is smooth at 60 fps in 720P. I played with that setting while in a moving car and had significantly less shutter roll and very sharp picture quality. Motion seems far less disruptive to the video than my experience with either my D5000 or D90. The stereo mic is also much less sensitive to my hands adjusting the lens or playing with settings while recording. That said, the autofocus on the EF-S 18-135mm kit lens is very, very loud compared to the Nikons and you will hear some "whirring" while recording if you try to autofocus. However, this can thankfully be offset as the 60D comes with an input jack for an external mic to sync up the sound and video at once. I haven't had a chance to play with this feature yet but it's reassuring to know its there compared to my D90 or even the newer D3100. Canon has made a point of adding this feature to most, if not all, of their line-up and its definitely a feature Nikon needs to get onboard with.

Build quality on the Canon feels a little disappointing compared to the Nikon, though. The body feels plasticy and almost a bit hollow despite a nice overall weight. The lens feels like a bigger disappointment with a lot of play in the lens tube from the body of the lens. It also feels like a lesser quality plastic - that said, the lens does take quite sharp pictures. The EF-S 18-55mm lens has a received a bit of criticism for not doing the most for the user in terms of sharpness but I didn't detect any of that with the 18-135mm. It's also nice to have an extra 30mm of zoom over the similar Nikon 18-105mm lens that comes with the D90/D7000.

Canon 60D @ 135mm @ f/9.0:

My only other qualms with the 60D are the controls - I do prefer Nikon's layout and ergonomics over Canon. The D90/D7000 has two wheels - one just below the shutter button on the front and one at the back and to the right of the view finder - easily actuated by the index finger and thumb without moving the camera from your face to tweak the shutter speed and aperture. The 60D executes the same function but instead of a rear-mounted dial for the shutter speed it makes due with a wheel further down the rear of the camera by the LCD - harder to reach and actuate without moving the camera from your face.

Canon also made a poor decision ergonomically by the need to press a button before you're able to move the camera settings dial on the top left of the camera - hard to do in a snap. Additionally, the menus feel less refined/intuitive compared to Nikon's interface.

I'm still on the fence with the Canon 60D at the end of the day. I really love the ergonomics of Nikon. It's hard to make a justification for the 60D given the picture quality is very similar. The 60D as a video camera AND DSLR is where it really shines for someone who's getting into videography/photography for the first time or needs a slightly more affordable camera than the 7D. I haven't tried Nikon's latest offering in the D7000 yet but I get the impression that the Canons still have the upper hand with video.

I've included sample videos that I shot with the D90 and then the 60D - both were run through Final Cut Express to process. The D90 video is from the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring and shot in 720P at 24 frames per second while the 60D was shot in 720P at 60 fps and a simple video in the car and of the pets. The quality should improve with your own results, I'm still working through how to get the best output possible from Final Cut.

Nikon D90 - shot with 18-55mm VR lens and 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens

Canon 60D - shot with 18-135mm VR lens