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Friday, May 2, 2008

Canon 40D Review

Canon’s EOS 40D is the latest DSLR designed for beginners and semi-pros. Announced in August 2007, it’s the successor to the EOS 30D, and continues Canon’s 18 month cycle for this product line. While the EOS 30D represented a minor upgrade over its predecessor though, the new 40D features significant improvements – and not a moment too soon considering arch rival Nikon’s leadership in mid-range DSLRs over the past two years.

The new 3-inch LCD is a 230k-pixel device that is extremely nice to use and provides both live view for composing and shooting without using the optical viewfinder, with manual focus assessment. The new LCD also doubles up as display device allowing shooting information and the like to be repeated from the top LCD for example. Both these systems are ideal for tripod use where you cannot always easily assess the scene and shooting information.

The camera’s new CMOS sensor has on-board processing for each pixel and that combined with the DIGIC III processor and 14-bit analogue to digital conversion aids the fast processing and shooting speeds and helps keep noise to a minimum and reduces power consumption as well.

In fact, the “standard” ISO range of 100 to 1600 is expandable to ISO 3200 and provides a good range to play with. However, the way the camera and sensor on this camera combine to deal with any noise means its noise performance (or the lack of it) is quite simply excellent, since the camera’s on chip processing and signal amplification work extremely well.

Overall, the image quality is stunning, with colour white balance control and sharpness out of the box ideal for most general shooting plus you get RAW and JPEG snapping to a fine level of controllable settings, 20 in fact, at a variety of resolution and RAW or JPEG compression values.

The camera’s handling will be familiar to any EOS user, even film SLRs, and, although the camera is quite chunky – and can get chunkier with the addition of a new vertical grip that incorporates Wi-Fi connectivity – the magnesium alloy body is very tough indeed. Environmental seals protect it from dirt and dust and water splashes, so it is certainly designed to withstand the rigors of, say, heavy professional use.

While the build is great, the handling suffers slightly from crammed in buttons round the new, larger screen. However, on balance the key button combinations needed to adjust shooting settings are very good. The main shooting control buttons are placed on the top plate behind the shutter button and control dial. Pressing one, say the ISO/exposure/flash compensation button for example and then spinning either the control dial or the large dial on the back plate adjust one of the variables the button deals with. Ditto the metering, AF, and white balance buttons also ranged across the top plate.

This is fast and very easy to get to grips with. The central “Set” button within the large back plate control dial activates the Live View mode and confirms selections in the excellent menu system. The only oddity here is the separate joystick style control for scrolling through main menu headers, leaving the large control dial to move through the chosen menus options once a menu has been chosen.

Other back plate buttons are pretty cramped spaced around the periphery of the new screen and although this doesn’t affect the controllability of the camera per se, I doubt we’ll be seeing larger screens on future models without a complete back plate revamp. Other features include USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connectivity, the aforementioned Wi-Fi capability with the accessory WFT-E3/E3A vertical grip and compatibility with all Canon EF/EF-S lenses, that’s over 60 optics and a small built-in flash that is okay for fill-in but underpowered form most other uses.