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Canon EOS 40D Review

Highs

  • Good 10MP images; amazing 6.5 fps burst mode; large 3-inch LCD

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 9

Lows

  • Heavy; noisy above 800 ISO; Live View
The 40D is amazing as it blitzes through JPEGs and even huge RAW+JPEG files.

Summary

Late last year Canon released the EOS 40D, a 10-megapixel D-SLR targeted to serious photographers since it costs north of $1,000 USD for the body alone. Add a few lenses and accessories, the next thing you know you’ve hit $2K. This camera is targeted for anyone looking at the older 10-megapixel Nikon D80 or the newer 12.2MP Sony alpha DSLR-A700, a camera I liked a great deal. In other words, it’s for those more than willing to go beyond Auto and make the most of a sophisticated imaging capture device (a.k.a camera). How advanced is the 40D? Rather than the usual 3 frames per second, this one cranks off 6.5 fps up to 17 huge RAW files before it stops for a breather. If you shoot in smaller JPEGs, you can crank off 100 shots. If your child is a budding athlete, this D-SLR will capture him or her in full stride. The Auto Focus system has been beefed up for quicker response (Canon claims it’s 30 percent faster than the EOS 30D) plus it has Live View so you can use the larger 3-inch LCD to frame your shots. All these things sound great on paper but it’s in the real world your camera gets its workout. And that’s exactly where we took it…

Features and Design

There’s no mistaking the EOS 40D for one of the zillions of point-and-shoots or entry-level D-SLRs like the Nikon D40 or Canon Rebel XT. It weighs a ton by comparison. The camera has a magnesium alloy body—unlike cheaper models that are mostly plastic. This one weighs in at 26.1 ounces without the lens and battery. Add those two vital items and you’re lugging around 2-plus pounds (37 ounces). It measures 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 (WHD, in inches).

The camera is available as a body only for $1,299 USD or $1,499 USD with an EF-S 18-55mm stabilized lens. That’s the lens Canon supplied us and makes the package a decent comparison with Sony alphas such as the 12MP DSLR-A700 as alphas have anti-shake built into the body so any lens you attached is stabilized. The alpha kit with an 18-70mm lens is $1,499 USD so it’s pretty close to the 40D package. The older 10-megapixel Nikon D80 with an 18-55mm lens is $999 USD but there’s no image stabilization and it only shoots at 3 fps. But I digress since you can go crazy trying to do direct apples-to-apples or kit-to-kit comparisons.

The 40D is a very solid-looking D-SLR with a black body and textured finish. It doesn’t look too much different than all the other mid-range models. Sturdy, utilitarian are words that come to mind re: this baby. The front is dominated by the EF lens mount and it accepts EF, EF-S, TS-E and MP-E glass. The camera has a 1.6x digital factor so every lens gets a boost therefore the supplied 18-55mm lens is really 28.8-88mm. Also on the front is the red-eye reduction/self-timer lamp, lens release and depth of field preview buttons as well as a flash-on key. Canon and “40D” logos tastefully grace the front as well. This camera has a very solid grip with shutter button and jog wheel to make menu adjustments. As with all cameras and camcorders we urge you to try it out in a store since everyone’s grip is different. It felt just fine for me.

Besides overall build quality one obvious feature jumps out at you with higher-priced D-SLRs—an LCD panel on the top of the camera. This gives you a quick overview of the settings and is very handy when you’re caught up in the heat of shooting. You can quickly check battery strength, shots left on the card, ISO, metering mode and so on. There are direct access buttons for metering/white balance, AF-Drive, ISO and one to light the LCD panel. Also on top is the auto pop-up flash, hot shoe and main mode dial. Turn this knob and you can move from Auto into basic scene modes or manual adjustments. There are even three custom shooting modes so you can quickly access your favorite group of settings, another feature not found on most entry-level D-SLRs.

Canon EOS 40D
Image Courtesy of Canon

Features Cont’d

The rear of the 40D features a large, bright viewfinder with .95x magnification. Next to it is sturdy diopter control to fine tune it for your eyesight. There’s a big 3-inch LCD screen rated 230K pixels up from a 2.5-inch screen on the older 30D. This gives you more real estate to check out your images, deal with menus and frame shots with Live View, another feature not found on the 30D. We’ll talk more about this in the Performance And Use section. There are a series of buttons below the screen rather than flanking it such as playback, delete, info, picture style. This is no big deal, just different. The on/off switch is here too and it’s in an awkward spot; Canon engineers should move it to a more convenient locale. One thing the engineers did do right was add a sensor-cleaning function so that every time you turn the camera on or off, it performs a dust removal operation from the front of the sensor. (For the record almost all new D-SLRs have some form of dust removal.)

To the right of the screen is a large control dial with center set button for making menu adjustments. You also make adjustments with the jog wheel on the pistol grip and the 8-way multi-controller. It’ll take a little time to figure out which control handles the various adjustments but Canon’s manuals as well as some fiddling on your own will help you master it. Other buttons on the back include menu, direct print, AF-ON (AF start), FE lock, AF point selector/enlarge. Almost all have multiple uses so get ready to use the manual to learn the options (sorry but you really need to do this to get the most out of this camera; if you think it’s a turn-off, don’t spend the money or just shoot in Auto).

On the right side is the CompactFlash card slot (it takes Types I&II). On the left are compartments for video out and USB2.0 connection as well as PC and remote control terminals for connecting flashes and, well, remote controls, again options usually not found on cheaper models. On the bottom is the battery compartment; the battery is rated 1,100 shots without the flash, 800 if you use 50 percent of the time, a very good number.

I referred to the EOS 40D owner’s manual earlier and it’s 196-pages! There is a pocket guide but it only hits the basics. Other accessories supplied with the camera include a strap, battery/charger, USB and AV cables as well as two CD-ROMs with the EOS Digital Solution disk (ver. 15.1) and a software instruction disk. There’s also booklets for using the supplied IS lens and macro lenses. One can never complain about the bundle Canon supplies—if only they’d throw in Adobe Photoshop CS3 or Lightroom—now that would be cause for celebration!

Once the battery was charged, I popped in an 8GB 133x Kingston CF card, snapped in the 18-55mm IS lens and started taking photographs.

Canon EOS 40D
Image Courtesy of Canon

Testing and Use

To get the feel of the camera, I started in Auto with resolution set to JPEG fine (3888×2592 pixels). Even though the 40D is capable of 6.5 frames per second the camera was in single shot mode. No need to set the device to rapid fire—yet. This mid-range D-SLR felt extremely comfortable even though it’s rather hefty. I did some shooting indoors and out for a time. The AF response was excellent with little hunting for tack sharp images. But like the alcoholic Ray Milland in the The Lost Weekend, the camera’s 6.5 frame-per-second burst mode was beckoning me like a bottle of Fleischman’s rye whiskey (who said Raymond Chandler was dead?). Enough with the metaphors—I couldn’t wait to put the 40D into full burst mode. When I did the response was amazing. Standard 3 fps second D-SLRs are much more responsive than any point-and-shoot digicam. The 40D is amazing as it blitzes through JPEGs and even huge RAW+JPEG files. People, you have to try this one out in the local store. If you plan to shoot any sort of sports or just want to capture a fleeting change of expression on your child’s face, the 40D will capture it for you.

Now on to Live View. As DT readers know, I’m not a big fan of Live View on D-SLRs. The point of framing shots on the LCD screen rather than through the viewfinder is convenience—just like a point-and-shoot digicam. The way Canon implements Live View is better than most. With just a few steps you can frame the shot on the LCD but you need a tripod to steady the camera. You can use the AF-ON key to help focus in this setting. For me this is far too much trouble than its worth. Sony—with its new alpha A300 and A350 —uses a second sensor for handling Live View and it’s much quicker. I got a chance to handle a prototype at PMA and this looks like the real deal. I’ll reserve judgment until we test a production model but it looks good at this point. Stay tuned.

After getting close to filling the 8-gig card—it’s not hard to do at 6.5 fps—it was time to make some prints. As usual they were 8.5×11 full bleeds with no tweaking of the files or printer. DT readers know I like the general “feel” of Canon photos and the 40D didn’t disappoint. Colors were very accurate with loads of detail. The camera handled noise quite well too and I didn’t find many issues at ISO 800 or below. Once you hit four-digits, noise appears and I recommend keeping at 800 or below. The image stabilized lens also worked well, letting me shoot at slower shutter speeds without too much blur. The camera captured the late winter skies nicely and performed well indoors with available light. It’s a keeper.

Conclusion

You really can’t wrong buying the Canon EOS 40D. Photo quality is very good, there are a ton of manual adjustments, it feels right—and then there’s that startling 6.5 fps burst mode. It’s like stepping on a Porsche’s gas pedal and enjoying the ride. Although on the expensive side, if you’re serious about photography, give it a long look.

Pros:

• Good 10-megapixel images
• Amazing 6.5 fps burst mode
• Large 3-inch LCD

Cons:

• Heavy
• Gets noisy above 800 ISO
• Live View—I still don’t get it

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