The 12-megapixel Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi in the US) features live view, 9-point AF and a 3in LCD.
Feature-wise, Canon seems to have cherry-picked the best elements of its recent 40D and 1D series models and packed them into the 450D. A jump in resolution, a larger LCD screen dominating the rear and the now almost obligatory live-view functionality all tick this year’s shopping list of features, resulting in a model with much of the functionality of its enthusiast siblings combined with the portability and ease of use of the 400D. It certainly promises a lot, but in the face of strong competition can the 450D pull off enough tricks to help Canon maintain its market lead?
CMOS and DIGIC III
The 450D is Canon’s 19th EOS DSLR. It features a 12.4MP sensor with an effective pixel count of 12.2MP, and continues the company’s use of CMOS sensor technology. Keeping to the same dimensions as the 400D, the sensor applies a 1.6x conversion factor to any mounted lens with the mount accepting both EF and EF-S designated optics.
The DIGIC III processor employed in Canon’s most recent compact and DSLR models lies at the heart of the camera, and is responsible for image processing as well as maintaining a fast operational speed. It now processes 14bit Raw files before saving them in Canon’s proprietary CR2 format, with JPEG capture and a combination of the two offered alongside.
Metering is carried out by a 35-zone SPC (Silicon Photocell) system, offering evaluative, partial (9% of frame) and centre-weighted average options, as well as the somewhat overdue spot option. Canon has included spot metering in its enthusiasts and professional models, as well as in its compacts, but never before on a model pitched at the entry-level market. This covers approximately 4% of the frame, and all of these have been complemented by two additional features: Highlight Tone Priority and Auto Lighting Optimiser. The former is claimed to extend the dynamic range of highlights to retain detail and provide a smoother tonal gradation, while the latter corrects brightness and contrast while processing images, for example, for backlit subjects.
The standard Auto and PASM exposure modes are joined by six scene settings and an Automatic Depth Of Field (A-DEP) function – all of which are accessible via the mode dial. Colour options come in the form of Canon’s Picture Style settings – such as Landscape, Portrait and Monochrome – as well as three customisable profiles allowing you to set your own sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone parameters.
Sensitivity may be adjusted over a range of ISO 100-1600 in one-stop increments, with the further options of high-ISO and long-exposure noise reduction offered. An Auto ISO option is also present, which adjusts the camera’s sensitivity up to a maximum of ISO 800, and while this isn’t the most expansive of ISO ranges we’ve seen, it should suffice in most lighting conditions.
Canon is said to have made improvements to the autofocus sensor, which features an f/2.8 centre cross-type point around which eight further points are situated. Burst shooting, meanwhile, is claimed to allow a capture rate of 3.5 frames per second for up to 53 large JPEGs, ix Raw files or four Raw+JPEGs, before running out of steam.
The 450D is Canon’s first consumer DSLR to offer live view, with ‘Quick’ and ‘Live’ modes to enable autofocusing. The former uses previously seen phase detection – which analyses light intensity between different subjects in the frame to achieve autofocus – in between a temporary mirror blackout, while the new Live mode employs the slower method of contrast detection, giving a real-time feed and negating the dropping of the mirror. The 30fps video feed is displayed on the camera’s 3in LCD screen, which is said to be 50% brighter than that of its predecessor though staying with the same 230,00-dot count. Histogram and grid options may also be displayed while shooting, while the camera
may also be tethered to a computer with a live view displayed on the
monitor via the bundled Digital Photo Professional software.
The EOS Integrated Cleaning system first seen on the 400D works on the principle of the three R’s – albeit not the traditional kind – reducing, repelling and removing dust. Aside from a vibrating low-pass filter in front of the sensor, an anti-static coating stops dust from sticking to it while even the body cap is said to have been redesigned to stop dust from being generated by its wear. A further facility, Dust Delete Data, maps any dust that may have formed as shadows on the image, before removing it via the aforementioned software.
Presumably as a response to the sensor-based stabilisation offered by other DSLR manufacturers, Canon has opted to stabilise the 18-55mm kit lens bundled with the body. The viewfinder has also seen a redesign, being slightly larger and brighter, and with information such as sensitivity settings and black and white shooting now displayed alongside the
exposure level indicator.
Switch to SD Memory
Canon has adopted SD media as the 450D’s recording format, which, although a
dual option together with CompactFlash on the 1D series, has never been the sole media type supported by its previous triple-figured EOS models.
Dimensions and Construction
One of the first things that strikes you about the 450D is how little ‘camera’ there actually is, which makes carrying it around convenient and unobtrusive. Together with SD support and live view, this will no doubt smooth the transition for compact owners upgrading to a DSLR.
The body of the camera itself is constructed from a stainless steel frame encased in a semi-matt plastic chassis. In many ways it resembles that of the 40D, with the bulk of the built-in flash flowing with the contours of the top-plate. Overall, the body feels and looks smooth, with the rubberised grip and thumb-plate providing a firm and comfortable hold.
Something that certainly makes an impression is the enlarged LCD screen, which has pushed all of the buttons to its top and right hand side. The familiar five-button menu pad immediately separates the camera from the scroll-wheel enabled models higher up the EOS line, and is used in conjunction with the front command dial to navigate the menu system. A dedicated ISO button has been shoehorned between the mode dial and shutter button, while a thumb rest separates the AE lock and AF point selection button from the remainder of the rear’s controls.
These fall to the right-hand side of the LCD, with metering, AF mode, Picture Style and Drive mode options assigned to the menu pad’s directional buttons. The Direct Print button that Canon insists on most of its cameras has been coupled with the more useful White Balance function, while exposure compensation, playback and delete controls complete the arrangement. The menu and display buttons, meanwhile, lie to the top left of the LCD screen, with the only other feature of note being the LCD proximity sensor below the viewfinder, which senses when to activate and deactivate the LCD screen.
Canon’s implementation of the tabbed and colour co-ordinated menu system segregates shooting, reviewing and other options, making their selection, for the most part, speedy. The menu system has been expanded to accommodate the functionality and features now on offer, with seven separate menus and 13 Custom Functions now available.
Additionally, shooting information can be viewed in one of four different colour themes, which, along with the Custom Functions and My Menu option, continues the camera’s inclination to be customised to the user’s preferences.
As with the feature set, the upgrades regarding performance can be taken as refinements and tweaks of what was here previously. As such, Canon users will no doubt be familiar with the interface and pleased with the extra options available, though those new to the system might not be so enthusiastic, for reasons which I’ll cover later on.
Kit Lens AF
Despite the lack of a USM motor in the kit lens, focusing speed is, overall, generally good. The usual challenges such as monotone, detailess areas and low light levels can give the AF system a little to chew on, at which point the lens hunts and demonstrates just how noisy it can be (something also true of the mirror). Otherwise its performance isn’t great, but still good.
Shooting continuously using a Lexar 4GB Class 6 SDHC card, Raw+JPEG images managed, on average, to be captured at just under the promised four frames before the buffer began to slow it down. Raw images alone also just fell short of the stated six, with an average performance closer to five. JPEGs met and even exceeded their 53 frame limit, at a rate of 3.5fps when shooting static subjects in a studio environment, but employing AI Focus for moving subjects in more impromptu situations slowed this figure down, as the camera attempted to track the subject.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that settings such as Highlight Tone Priority and Noise Reduction have an effect on processing times, and therefore burst rates; with high-ISO noise reduction activated, for instance, I could only manage to shoot two large JPEG frames before the buffer slowed things down.
Shooting in Live View
Setting up the camera for live-view shooting and changing its settings can be a little frustrating, with options spread over the Live View Function Settings and Custom Functions options, rather than one ‘live view’ menu. Additionally, the Display button toggles between displaying shooting information and a histogram (or both), but enabling and disabling the grid requires you to go to the appropriate menu system to do either, and takes an unnecessary amount of time. Thankfully, using live view is much breezier.
The ‘Live’ mode, using contrast detection, is considerably slower than the Quick mode, but giving a real-time view makes it useful for still-life photography, or any situation where a tripod may be used. I particularly found this mode useful when magnifying into the area before manually focusing on fine detail. The fixed LCD doesn’t quite make it as versatile as competitors with tilting types, but you do benefit from the larger LCD screen in comparison to these models.
Minor Menu Grumbles
In the absence of any major flaws, it’s perhaps just a few minor operational points that let the camera down. These relate to where certain options are positioned within the menu system and their ease – or rather difficulty – of access. A prime example is the Picture Style settings, which can be chosen and changed easily enough via the lower menu pad button, but altering any of their parameters – such as toning effects, filters or sharpness adjustments – requires a trawl through the main menus.
A far simpler solution would have been to allow adjustments once the Picture Style menu is up – as is the case on the 40D – and though you may not need to change sharpness and brightness on a continuous basis, experimenting with the different filters and toning effects can take an unnecessarily long time. Admittedly the model is aimed at a different market than that of the 40D, but its inclusion here wouldn’t have been too difficult.
‘My Menu’ Shortcut
The only way to quicken access to these controls – as well as to the Highlight Tone Priority, Auto Lighting Optimiser and Mirror Lock up which are also all inconveniently rooted within the Custom Functions menu – is for their individual assignment to the My Menu menu. Setting up a customised menu is, of course, of benefit (and indeed, one of the finer options available on the camera), but it’s not something everyone will do and highlights how inaccessible the menu system is to begin with.
All of this is admittedly nit-picking at an otherwise competent system; these issues won’t put someone off buying the camera, they just take a little getting used to. It’s clear that the camera is all about being customised to the user’s shooting habits and needs, and once configured it’s fantastic to use. I still feel, however, that Canon has added features without considering their access within the menu system as a whole. Nevertheless, a little experimentation and a thorough read of the manual will pay dividends in the long run.
Tone and Exposure
Studio tests show that the camera has an impressive dynamic range, with exposures in general being pretty much spot on – even when strong backlighting is present. There were a few occasions where highlight detail was lost though the Highlight Tone Priority does a good job of toning this down, and found itself useful under harsh, midday light.
White Balance and Colour
White balance is also generally accurate, and performed well in both natural and artificial lighting. Occassionally, there was the odd slightly warm magenta cast, but this is not unusual. When used in conjuction with the Standard Picture Style setting, colours can look a little flat, though; using the Landscape Picture Style mode helps inject a little more warmth into images, while saturating blue skies and foliage.
Canon’s DSLRs have previously demonstrated how well they can control noise, and the 450D is no exception. This is where the camera really excels and even when noise does appear it’s just a fine-textured cast of chroma noise. Detail holds up better than expected at ISO 1600, with slight contrast and sharpening adjustments bringing a bite back to images. High ISO noise reduction does a good job of removing some of the noise without softening detail too much, particularly in shadow areas. Such an impressive performance is relative to the limited sensitivity range on offer, though, and so it would have been nice to see a further ISO 3200 option which, judging by these results, would have a lot of potential.
At the default ‘Standard’ mode, JPEGs show a distinct softness and general lack of detail. The excpetion to this is in highlit areas, where the camera manages to do a good job of regaining an adequate amount of otherwise blown-out detail. For JPEGs it’s advisable to increase the sharpening slightly in the Picture Style menu while Raw images benefit from a little sharpening in post-production. Fringing and traces of moiré, meanwhile, appear subdued rather than completely removed.
Sharpness and Detail
The sensor is capable of capturing clean and detailed images, even more so with a quality lens in front of it. The 18-55mm IS kit lens does seem more capable than Canon’s previous kit incarnations, but soft, washed-out detail still prevails, even when stopped down. Centre sharpness is good, but corners aren’t too great.
Operational quirks aside, there?s little to dislike about the 450D. The evolution of the EOS line has resulted in a refined model, with ample features and image quality to match. Low-light shooting can be carried out in confidence thanks to the great noise control, while its size and weight, together with its revised interface, are likely to appeal to the younger generation and first-time DSLR buyers.
I like the little touches Canon has made ? such as including the sensitivity in the viewfinder ? and while it lacks any standout feature whose performance sets it apart from its competition, it can be relied upon to perform consistently. As an all-round DSLR it delivers, and with Canon?s arsenal of compatible lenses and accessories, it provides a perfect starting point to building a more-than-capable DSLR system.