The 10-megapixel Canon EOS 400D is also known as the Digital Rebel XTi in some markets. Our Canon EOS 400D review tests this camera
Now, in a game of ‘Top Trumps’, the 400D, Sony Alpha 100 and Nikon D80 would all draw if you picked pixels, but the Canon would probably win the popularity contest.
The EOS 400D is much more than just a more-populated sensor however, with a whole host of new features to make this diminutive camera stand out from the crowd. And those features aren’t just for the ordinary, everyday user, but may well appeal to the enthusiast and camera geek too.
Canon has stuck to its guns, and maintained its allegiance to CMOS, continuing to be the only manufacturer to use this type of sensor in a consumer camera. And Nikon is now using CMOS in its high-end cameras, leading us to the conclusion that this may well be the way forward for image quality and fast processing. It would be interesting to see how many cameras have CCDs in the next few years.
As before, Canon has also placed its DIGIC II processor inside the camera, so the image quality and processing speed will continue to maintain the quality that Canon users have grown to love.
Canon has finally addressed one of the big concerns of DSLR users, that of dust on the sensor. This is not new – Olympus has its Supersonic Wave; Sony and Pentax shake the CCD; and Sony also has anti-static coatings. Sigma, meanwhile, has always placed a wipe-clean filter between the lens and sensor.
This is the first time Canon has supplied a solution, and has taken a three-pronged attack. First the low-pass filter now vibrates to shake off any debris, using a piezo element. Second, the sensor has an anti-static coating to repel dust in the first place. Finally – and this is the most innovative – the camera features a sensor mapping feature. Essentially, this is achieved by taking a picture of something like a white wall, and activating the mapping feature. The camera can then see where the dust is on the sensor, and then the Canon software can remove the offending articles automatically in subsequent shots. Simply put, it’s like an automatic Clone tool.
Cleanliness isn’t the EOS 400D’s only virtue. Canon has also added a new single 2.5inch LCD, which has replaced the dual LCD system of the 350D. Instead of the camera and exposure information being shown on the small grey LCD of old, the large LCD displays this information. A proximity sensor beneath the viewfinder detects when the camera is at your eye and the LCD shuts down when you’re shooting. Take the camera away from your eye and it lights up again. Obviously this information is also hidden when you’re in menu or preview modes.
This is a good system, and one we’ve admired since Konica Minolta used it on the Dynax 7D, and Olympus on the E300. Unlike the Konica Minolta or Sony models though, the text doesn’t rotate when the camera is in portrait mode, which is a shame, but it’s still a nice system.
Nine-Point AF System
Another big addition to the camera is a new AF system. The EOS 400D now has nine individually selectable AF points across the frame, to make focusing faster and more accurate. The centre point is enhanced with f/2.8 sensitivity on compatible lenses for better focusing in low light. As is often the case, the technology for this new AF comes from a higher source, in this case the Canon 30D.
One of the bugbears of the older model was its limited burst mode, especially in comparison to cameras such as the Nikon D70. Faster processing and an improved buffer have improved the situation. The new model offers 27 JPEGs or 10 Raws at 3fps; and this is all the more impressive when you consider the extra processing speed that is needed for the larger file sizes.
Like other recent EOS models, Canon has added its Picture Style feature to the 400D. This adds a set of preset ‘looks’ to the images using a combination of colour, tone and sharpness, which can be added in camera or on the PC via the Picture Style software. There’s a choice of Standard, Landscape, Portrait, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome or three user-defined curves, which you either can make yourself or download additional options from the Canon website and add to the camera via the supplied software. Of course, as this is an ‘entry level’ camera, there are also scene modes covering the usual Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Action and Night portrait.
Other exposure options include Auto, Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority AE modes and Manual, as well as Canon’s own A-Dep mode, which automatically sets the correct aperture for maximum depth of field when subjects are in different planes of focus – for example, group photos. This is nothing new, by the way: Canon has had this since the bygone days of film. It does come in useful sometimes, though. For the histogram addicts among us the EOS 400D now offers not only a brightness histogram but also an RGB histogram display in preview mode.
For the less PC minded, there are more PictBridge options – including in-camera redeye removal, face brightening and dual contact sheet printing options (20 or 36 images per page) – so users will find this the easiest Canon SLR yet from which to make direct prints without a PC.
So, will the leap from 8 to 10 million pixels make a difference? Not that much: there’s only a slight increase in image resolution, and only a narrow margin of difference in the amount of detail recorded.
Colour and Saturation
The Jpeg processing corrects most exposure errors quite well, as can be seen by the difference between Raw and Jpeg files – the Raw images are slightly darker by about a third of a stop. Colours are good, though there’s a propensity to over-saturate – the test charts show 112% saturation, which is higher than its rivals, and a tendency for colours to be warmer. This can also be seen in the Auto White Balance charts, which show a much higher shift than we’ve seen on other cameras.
Noise and Chroma Control
When it comes to noise, the CMOS sensor behaves very differently to the recent CCD-based models, with more chroma noise. Overall noise levels are very low, especially the luminance, but certain colours and the shadow areas show spikes of noise that we don’t get in other models. This can make images look noisier, especially low key or images with a lot of shadows. It’s easy enough to fix in Photoshop CS2 too, though.
Noise is better controlled in Raw images than Jpegs. Overall, images have a smooth tonality, with well-controlled highlights and an almost silky look which is attractive. Canon tends to produce lower-contrast images than other manufacturers, but the 400D seems to up the contrast just a little, producing (in my view) a better image than that of the 350D.
Value For Money
The latest round of cameras are all selling at the £600-£700 mark, and the Canon EOS 400D fits well into this price bracket. This is a new sector really – positioned between entry-level models like the Nikon D50 and prosumer models such as the EOS 30D or Nikon D200, even though this is Canon’s entry-level model. However, the build, design and features all add up to a well-rounded package that’s worth every penny.
There’s no doubt that the 400D will be just as successful as the 350D, if not more so. Canon has added some really useful features and made a camera different enough to warrant an upgrade, without changing the basic functionality of previous models. Different but familiar is always a winning formula, and we doubt Canon will be knocked off the top spot by the young pretenders just yet.