The 12.2-megapixel Canon EOS 450D features a 3in LCD screen, live view and a revised 9-point AF system.
Prior to the 40D the previous model in the range was the 30D and this proved to be something of a disappointment as an upgrade, with comparatively minor enhancements over the 20D. This new model seems to be a proper upgrade with some significant new additions to the feature set. Canon has introduced a range of new developments, some of which also feature on its new pro SLRs and some which follow current trends or include technology seen on cameras from other manufacturers.
For the first time too, we are seeing a dual-digit Canon enthusiast camera launching at a price below the £1000 mark – the Canon EOS 40D is £300 cheaper than its predecessor at launch, with an RRP of just £900.
Features And Handling
Like all Canon DSLRs, the EOS 40D features a CMOS sensor, this time offering 10.1 million pixels on a APS-C-sized sensor. Like previous models, the Canon sensor performs a 1.6x magnification effect on lenses, so a 50mm lens offers the same angle of view as a 80mm lens would on a 35mm camera.
Canon has redesigned its CMOS sensor for the 40D, with smaller gaps between the photosites and larger microlenses. Despite the repositioning of the pixels, the increased number of photosites has led to a reduction in the pixel pitch from 6.4 microns in the 30D to 5.7 microns in the 40D.
Technology from Canon’s professional line-up has been incorporated in the 40D, such as the DIGIC III processor that allows continuous JPEG shooting at 6.5fps up to 75 frames, with Raw shooting at up to 17 frames, Canon claims. In addition, the analogue/digital conversion has been updated, and now performs at 16-bit instead of 14-bit.
Sensor cleaning is a digital hot topic and the EOS 40D includes Canon’s EOS Integrated Cleaning System, which includes a Self-Cleaning Dust Sensor Unit to shake dust from the sensor each time the camera is powered up. This is backed-up by the Dust Delete Data system which is incorporated in the Digital Photo Professional software to map the sensor and digitally remove any dust from the images automatically.
A big addition is the 3in LCD screen, albeit with a disappointing 230,000 pixels. However the camera now features Live View, first seen on last year’s Olympus E-330 and Panasonic L1. The larger LCD screen has also improved the menu interface, adopting the same form as that on the EOS 1D Mk III, with tabbed browsing and a larger typeface than that found on previous models.
The autofocus system has been redeveloped, which still has nine selectable AF points, but they are all now of the cross-hair type. This means they can detect changes in contrast across the horizontal and vertical axis of the AF point to allow for more accurate focusing, especially for off-centre subjects.
Wireless File Transmitter
One further development is the wireless file transmitter, WFT-E3, a separate unit that allows users to not only transfer images wirelessly from the camera to the PC or laptop, but also to fire the trigger via the computer. This technology has proven popular with pros shooting news and sport though it hasn’t really taken off yet among enthusiasts.
Shutter Speeds, File Formats and Custom Settings
In other respects, the 40D matches its semi-professional criteria. There’s a top shutter speed of 1/8000sec, a magnesium alloy chassis and a PC socket for studio flash. It also has simultaneous Raw+JPEG recording and, like Sony, Canon has added a compressed Raw format – sRAW.
Like its previous incarnation, the 40D has Canon Picture Style included, allowing customisable settings for different subjects, with options to change tonality, colour, sharpness and so on, as the scene or creative juices demand. These are also available in the DPP software, so you can add them to the image post-capture if you prefer. More traditional scene modes are also available for the newbie or terminally lazy.
If you’re coming to the 40D from another Canon camera, you shouldn’t find much to put you off and it will be quick and easy to get acquainted with it. Canon ploughs its own furrow to some degree though, so if this is your first DSLR or you’re changing brands be prepared to keep the manual handy.
‘Hidden’ EV Compensation
The first complaint we always have is that after a few months’ gap of using other cameras and coming back to Canon, some features aren’t clearly marked or are less obviously placed. This usually involves time spent in the menus or pressing buttons and turning dials that don’t do what you think they should.
A case in point is the exposure compensation, something we use all the time. The top-plate has the flash exposure compensation clearly marked, but no standard ± button can be seen, with nothing on the back of the camera either. The trick is to shift the power switch to its third position, above ON, indicated by a line. The rear control dial then allows fast and easy exposure compensation. When you know this it’s easy, of course, but if you didn’t read the manual and memorise its 193 pages it might take you a while to figure it out.
Hard to Reach Buttons
Back to those buttons on the top-plate which are set a little too far back for the forefinger to comfortably reach. They’re dual-function buttons to operate metering and white balance, AF and drive modes and ISO: and flash exposure compensation. The first symbol function is operated by the front command dial, while the second function’s changes are made using the rear control dial. The latter is easy to operate – press the button with your forefinger and turn the dial with your thumb. The former, however, is a little less comfortable – press the button and then reposition it to the front dial and then reposition to the shutter. It’s all so long and because of the buttons placement, a little uncomfortable.
Other buttons to remember are the AF/AE lock, marked with a * (other companies use the term AE/AF) and an AF button, which begins focusing – but since a half depression of the shutter button does it too and your fingers are generally over the shutter button anyway, this is somewhat redundant. Maybe if you want to get the exposure from a different area, and then refocus so both buttons come into play, but it’s not the most common scenario. There’s also the AF point selector button, which works in conjunction with the joystick; in use, this system works very well.
Autofocus and Memory Buffer
Autofocusing is quick and, in conjunction with the 24-85mm L USM lens we used for this review, quiet. The shutter too is pleasantly soft and whirrs along at a blistering pace. We used it with a SanDisk Extreme III CF card and shot off the stated 75 JPEGS of continuous shooting in 15 seconds before the camera slowed to around 1.5fps. The buffer clears quickly, though.
The camera’s body is generally good to hold; it feels like a proper camera, without the weight and bulk that the 1D models have, and it’s also constructed well, with secure dials and doors.
The new LCD monitor is a draw, but the resolution fails to live up to that of the Sony Alpha 700, or the pre-production Nikon D300. Similarly, We don’t see the entire point of the Live View function day to day when it’s on a fixed LCD screen. We prefer the hinged screens of the Olympus E-330 or Panasonic L10 because then the camera can be used at waist level or over your head.
However, there are merits to the magnification system for accurate manual focusing and I’m sure some people will find a use for the Live View and transform the way we think about photography – just like texts on a mobile phone!
Image Quality And Value For Money
The Canon CMOS sensors have always been good at controlling noise, but the competition are catching up fast. The top speed of ISO 1600 uses a signal boosting – or electronic – method to increase the speed, while the Hi speed of ISO 3200 is probably performed mathematically, known as bit-shifting. Noise is well controlled throughout the standard range, with excellent shadow control in the lower ranges of sensitivity. Up to ISO 1600, images are always usable, but noise does get intrusive at ISO 3200, particularly the chroma noise.
Tone and Contrast
As with colour, we always find Canon models somewhat lacking in punch, and the 40D shares this characteristic though not as obviously as older models. This is probably a decision by Canon to maintain even tone across the range, especially in the highlights, which can blow out if the contrast is set too high. With this in mind, images from the 40D straight out of camera can sometimes look a little flat, though shadow detail and the highlights are held well. A little boost in contrast in Photoshop helps the images to garner some impact, while a touch of sharpening using the Unsharp Mask tool will also add bite. The JPEG processing in the camera does handle the images very well, though.
Colour and White Balance
Compared to some other manufacturers’ models, Canon cameras have usually produced marginally cooler images, with a tad less saturation, and the 40D is no exception. Of course this neutrality could be perceived as a good thing, but if you want to make direct prints with no post-processing, you may want to tweak the colour in-camera slightly to add a bit of warmth.
Sharpness and Detail
The smaller gaps between the photosites should enable sharper images – less information of the fine detail in a shot should be retained, or isn’t ‘falling through the gaps’. And despite the lower pixel resolution of the sensor compared to its main competition, the 40D produces sharp images.
Value for Money
The market has shifted slightly since Canon first began this range, and while models such as the EOS 10D were originally pitched against Nikon’s D100 for example, the introduction of the Canon EOS 5D is more the natural competitor to Nikon’s new D300.
This drop in price of the EOS 40D from the 30D’s £1200 price tag sees Canon position this camera much more competitively and this makes the camera a much better proposition for the enthusiast. As it stands, the average street price of the body has already dropped to around £800.
This is a proper upgrade to the 20D, whereas the 30D felt more of a stop-gap, and as a result the camera has caught up with the times. It’s very well made, has some interesting and useful new features and should be popular with previous Canon owners and those wishing to upgrade from either the 400D or another entry-level camera. We would have liked to see a higher resolution sensor, but it’s not all about the pixels, especially with the redesign of the sensor to limit the gap between pixels. This leads to sharper images with loads of detail. More importantly, Canon has introduced the 40D at a groundbreaking price for this type of camera, so it represents extremely good value for money.