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Canon 60Da tackles astrophotography after 7-year hiatus

The camera's modified infrared filter is designed to bring out the red colors of nebulae and other photographic subjects in space.

The Canon EOS 60Da is designed for taking photographs of space.
The Canon EOS 60Da is designed for taking photographs of space.
Canon USA

The ceaseless succession of new Canon and Nikon SLRs has a certain predictability, but an unusual model came out of left field today: Canon's astrophotography-oriented EOS 60Da.

The 60Da is a close cousin to the Canon EOS 60D, a higher-end 18-megapixel model geared for enthusiasts. But the 60Da has one big difference: its infrared filter has been modified so it doesn't screen out so much "hydrogen-alpha" light, a deep-red 656.28-nanometer wavelength of light produced by excited hydrogen atoms.

By letting in about three times the amount of hydrogen-alpha red as a regular 60D, the $1,500 60Da can capture much better photos of energetic nebulae, Canon said. It's due to go on sale this month.

Canon has experience in this market: in 2005, it started selling the EOS 20Da for astrophotography. Canon hasn't released any successors in seven years, though, and it has no competition in this niche. Meanwhile, technology has improved quite a bit.

Resolution has jumped from 8 to 18 megapixels, but perhaps more importantly, maximum ISO has increased too. The 20Da reached ISO 1,600 with an extended ISO 3,200 mode, but the 60Da reaches ISO 6,400 with an extended ISO 12,800 setting. And Canon said today the hydrogen-alpha sensitivity is about one and a half times better with the 60Da than the 20Da.

One of the main features of the 20Da was live view, which lets photographers compose shots using the LCD screen. At the time, live view was virtually unknown among SLRs. Now it's standard, but the 60Da makes it a lot more useful by virtue of its articulated LCD screen. That's doubtless handy to make viewing less awkward, when the camera is mounted to a telescope.

The 60Da also comes with useful accessories: the Canon RA-E3 remote controller adapter, an AC adapter, and a AVC-DC400ST video cable to watch the live view output on a TV.

Updated at 11:45 a.m. PT with comparative hydrogen-alpha performance of the 60Da and 20Da.