15 May 2008

Canon EOS 40D

by Anton Piatek

I started writing this, and then never found time to get round to finishing it – All I can say is late is better than never…

There are plenty of sites giving all the technical details of the new Canon 40D, personally I like, so I will not spend too long going over them and instead want to write about my experience using the 40D (especially as an upgrade to my aged 300D).

The first thing to notice about the 40D when you get it out of the box, is the size of the screen. It is truly enormous compared to the 300D – the same difference as moving from a portable TV to a large plasma. It is a very nice screen too, very useful for reviewing photos, especially with the new full RGB histograms. The only gripe with it is that with auto rotate set (which I want on so that the photos are rotated on my pc) all portrait format photos are fitted onto the screen rotated, so you lose half the space on the screen.

The live mode makes good use of this large screen, however when compared to a compact digital camera or even the Panasonic Lumix DMC L10 it is a very primitive live mode. Turning on live mode requires a setting a custom option buried deep within the camera menu. Then you have live mode turned on or off when you press the right button, but it has no focusing – it is all manual! You can use the autofocus by switching off live mode and focusing, or using the focus button, however this flips the mirror back up, disabling the live mode, while focusing. This all means that the live mode is no good for shooting from the hip or above the head without some preparation, as you cannot see what the camera decided was in focus on the screen.
The live mode however is very useful for macro photography, or any time you want to use manual focus on a tripod. You can zoom in 10x on the screen and get a high-res view of a section of the screen. The section can be moved with the joystick to select the area you wish to zoom in on.

Speaking of the joystick, the camera has 3 input selectors – the joystick, which is 8 way plus push, the thumb scroll wheel, which can be enabled with the second on setting of the power button, and the normal scroll wheel next to the shutter button. The two scroll wheels are used for setting the iso, flash adjustment, drive mode, focusing mode, white balance and metering mode. These settings come in pairs, pressing the set button for that pair enables each scoll wheel to adjust each of the settings, which works very nicely in practice once you have learnt which controls which.

The joystick however is normally only enabled for scrolling around a zoomed in image, or for selecting the focus point after pressing the focus point selection button. There is an custom setting though that allows the joystick to be used to select a focus point without pressing the selector button first, with the selector button used to set it back to auto. Personally I find the joystick perfect for selecting a focus point, as the 8 way plus center arrangement lines up nicely with the diamond layout of the focus points. The same custom option also allows to set the thumb scroll wheel to select the focus point however this means that to adjust the exposure you have to hold the focus point selection button and use the finger scroll wheel, which I find annoying compared to just using the thumb scroll wheel.

The high speed burst mode, 6 fps, and low noise of the camera is obviously far superiour than the 300D, and the larger buffer is quite a change from the 300D. 16 RAW images, or around 60 high quality jpgs without having to pause is great for action shots. The write to card speed is also hugely improved from the 300D, meaning I don’t have to worry about filling up the buffer.

The focus points are more sensetive, though with only my macro lens being f2.8 as needed I have not noticed the difference. The center focus point is super sensitive, though I don’t have any lenses with a large enough aperture to take advantage of this.

The af button is still something I have yet to figure out how to use to my advantage, other than starting auto focus during live mode. There are a lot of options for it in the custom functions, but they are somewhat cryptic, and I am used to not having it. Other custom options include controlling what the manual focus switch on the lens does – you can set it to control extra options on focusing or use it to disable lens stabilising, though most IS lenses have a switch for that too

The one new feature which can be realy useful, is on the main control dial there are now 3 custom modes. Each can be set to use P, Av, Tv or M and all other settings, including custom functions such as mirror lockup can be set. I find this really useful for macro shots, where I set one of the custom modes to M with shutter lockup and the two second timer. This allows me to set all the custom settings at once, and revert back to normal shooting with ease. There are also options like long exposure noise reduction and high sensitivity noise reduction which I have yet to really use as they increase the processing time of photos and often I want to see the photo and get on with the next shot.

The mirror lockup, two second timer, and two choices of drive speed (3 and 6 fps) are all new compared to the 300D, though not new to the Canon range of cameras.

The picture styles mode sounds great, especially being able to shoot black and white photos directly from the camera (something my old Canon G2 used to be able to do), however the settings are not picked up on a RAW file by my software (Bibble) so I rarely use it. Black and white is also better when done in post processing as you have many more options, such as selecting the colour channels to use, which is equivalent to using a coloured filter with black and white mode (or black and white film in a film camera).

Overall it is a fantastic camera, though that should not be surprising. Compared to the 300D it feels very professional, and the extra weight just makes it feel more sturdy in your hands and easier to keep steady. The full control of focusing modes and metering is great and means I don’t have to remember which modes are tied to which camera mode as was the case in the 300D where only the sports shooting mode gave you continuous AI servo focus. If you want to use the Live Mode for anything more than accurate macro focusing, I suggest you look elsewhere though

For me, a 400D was too little an upgrade for the money, wheres the 40D really feels like it is worth the upgrade.

tags: cameras - Photography - reviews