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|Product:||Canon EOS 400D|
Canon EOS 400D - Being the market leader in the fastest growing sector of the photographic market is a tough title to hold on to, especially with most major camera manufacturers announcing new entry-level products this year. Can Canon's latest entry-level offering, the EOS 400D, retain this position in the face of such fierce competition? In this review Gary Wolstenholme takes a look whether if anyone can, Canon can.
- 10.1 megapixels
- 2.5inch LCD screen
- Nine point autofocus system
- Sensitivity range of ISO100 to ISO1600
- Shutter speed Range 30secs to 1/4000sec and bulb
- DIGIC II image processor
- Three frames per second continuous shooting up to 27 Jpeg or 10 RAW frames
- EF/EF-S lens and EX Speedlite flash compatible
- Integrated sensor cleaning system
- RGB histogram display
- Compatible with CompactFlash Type 1 & 2
- Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
Build and handling
The EOS 400D is currently one of the most compact digital SLRs available, just as its predecessor was. The body is virtually identical to the that of the EOS 350D, with a few subtle changes, such as the tactile rubber placed around the finger grip and on the rear of the camera.
The camera's diminutive dimensions are great for someone who doesn't like the idea of lugging a large camera body around, although enthusiasts may find the body too small. The finger grip is just big enough for two of my fingers and the camera can feel unbalanced with a large telephoto lens attached. A battery grip is available (BG-E3), which adds an extra inch to the bottom and a vertical shutter release. This can improve the balance of the camera, giving extra space to hold on to.
Display screens and viewfinder
The dual display found on the EOS 350D has been replaced with a single 2.5inch LCD screen, which displays exposure information, image settings and battery information. A proximity sensor has been added just below the viewfinder, which instantly switches off the screen when looking through the viewfinder. This stop light from the screen interfering with your view when composing a shot, which is a nice touch that shows Canon have really thought about the design. The screen is a joy to use. It's bright, clear and visible in all but the brightest light.
The viewfinder is typical of Canon's entry level DSLRs to date. It's quite small and looks a fair distance away. Even so, it's bright enough to easily confirm focus, the autofocus point are well illuminated when selected and the exposure information display at the bottom is well laid-out.
Menu and controls
The exposure mode dial is located on top of the EOS 400D, beside the power switch. When the sensor cleaning system is enabled, there is a barely noticeable delay of approximately half a second when you switch on the camera. The exposure mode dial provides access to the various pre-set scene modes and the manual exposure modes. All the usual suspects are included, such as, portrait, landscape, macro, sports, night portrait and fully automatic. Semi auto exposure modes including aperture-priority, shutter-priority and full manual are also located on this dial.
Controls for gaining access to various menu features and photographic controls are mostly arranged around the screen on the rear of the camera. Down the left side of the screen are buttons for the menu system, display, playback controls and the erase button and on the right are the exposure compensation, drive mode and directional controls, which also serve as quick access buttons for commonly used features such as ISO sensitivity and autofocus modes when not in a menu or playback mode. Also the central 'set' button doubles up as a quick access route to the picture styles menu, of which six different options are provided.
I like the layout of the controls, the quick access feature of some of the buttons saves time that would otherwise be wasted delving deep into the camera menu system.
Unfortunately just as I found with the EOS 350D , the exposure compensation control is not ideally located for photographers who use their left eye to look through the viewfinder. When I tried it myself I kept pressing the button with my nose, and had to remove my eye from the viewfinder completely to comfortably use the control.
A Canon NB-2LH lithium-ion rechargeable battery supplies the power for the EOS 400D. Although this battery is smaller than those used in other digital SLRs, the battery life doesn't seem to have suffered as a result. The combination of Canon's CMOS sensor and DIGIC II image processor uses less power than CCD sensors combined with a conventional ASIC processing engine employed in the competition. This has allowed them to use the smaller battery and reduce the overall size of the camera.
The Canon EOS 400D is compatible with the entire range of Canon EF and EF-S autofocus lenses. Lenses for every purpose are available, from cheaper zooms, through to lenses for specialist applications.
Canon ditched their manual focus FD lens mount in the 1980's in favour of the EF lens mount. This means that older FD lenses are not compatible with this camera.
A small pop-up flash is built-into the 400D, which is great for fill-in light outdoors or as a last resort when light levels are low. A few rapid pre-flashes fire before a picture is taken, which causes a slight, although barely noticeable lag before the picture is taken.
The EOS 400D uses the same E-TTL II flash system as its predecessor, which means it is compatible with Canon's comprehensive range of EX external speedlites. These range from the tiny Speedlite 220EX through to the powerful 580EX. Older EZ flashguns do not support E-TTL, and are not compatible with this camera.
The camera doesn't have a PC sync socket for use with studio flash. Adaptors are available that attach to the camera's hot-shoe.
A white wall shot using the on-board flash at 17mm, adjusted in levels to illustrate flash coverage. Light levels gradually fall off towards the corners of the frame. The graduation is smooth and even across the frame and looks natural under normal circumstances.
The EOS 400D takes CompactFlash memory cards, which fit into a slot beside the battery. The following are write speeds for different Jpeg quality settings when using a Sandisk Extreme III card.
|Quality setting||Time taken to write to card|
|10.1 megapixel RAW||2.2secs|
|10.1 megapixel Jpeg Fine||1.2secs|
|10.1 megapixel Jpeg Normal||0.9secs|
I also timed the delay between shots with this camera in the single shot mode. I measured this by taking five shots in quick succession and working out the average delay.
|Quality setting||Shot-to-shot delay|
|10.1 megapixel RAW||1.5secs|
|10.1 megapixel Jpeg Fine||0.64secs|
|10.1 megapixel Jpeg Normal||0.5secs|
The times recorded with the EOS 400D are almost twice as quick as other comparably specified cameras. The combination of a fast buffer and the DIGIC II image processor do a great job of soaking up all the information generated by the 10.1 megapixel sensor.
The autofocus system is has been revised in the 400D and it now uses a diamond-shaped configuration exactly the same as found on the higher level EOS 30D and EOS 5D cameras. This definitely an improvement on the old cross-shaped arrangement found on the 350D, with off-centre focusing points falling directly in the classic 'rule-of-thirds' zones. Each point glows red in the viewfinder when selected, or is highlighted as yellow on the rear display screen if your eye is removed from the finder. Three separate autofocus modes are selectable - AI servo, AI focus and single shot. These three modes provide responsive focus performance for even the most challenging situations.
Left - The evaluative metering system performs well under most circumstances. In this instance it has coped well with this strongly backlit building, keeping a good amount of detail in the shadows.
Above - The normal picture style produces slightly muted colours.
|Above - The auto white-balance often leaves a warm cast.||Above - Switching to the landscape picture style increases in camera sharpening and gives the colours a subtle boost.|
The EOS 400D is Canon's first camera to incorporate an integral sensor cleaning system to remove dust from the sensor's surface. Dust on the sensor can lead to black dots or dark smudges appearing in images with large flat areas of colour, especially when the image has been taken using a small aperture.
Canon's anti-dust measures comprise of three individual stages:
- An anti-static coating has been applied to sensor surfaces.
- A piezo-electric element has been fitted to the low-pass filter in front of the sensor. This vibrates when the camera is switched on or off to shake loose any dust that may have collected on the sensor. There's also an option in the menu to activate a cleaning cycle manually.
- A dust-mapping system where a reference shot is taken so that the marks can be cloned out automatically with the camera's software.
After five cleaning cycles
As you can see much of the dust has gone after the five cleaning cycles with just a few stubborn marks left in view. If the sensor cleaning system is left activated, I believe dust problems will be kept to an absolute minimum by this system as it appears to be as effective as Olympus' Supersonic Wave Filter at keeping dust of the sensor surface.
All images for this review were taken at maximum resolution using the fine JPEG compression setting using the standard picture style. There are several different compression levels and resolution settings including RAW to choose from allowing you to select the setting most appropriate for your needs.
Clicking the following three images will open full-size versions of the original file.
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the green square is.
Images produced by the EOS 400D are virtually noise-free at ISO100 and ISO200 with only a little more noise creeping in at ISO400 and ISO800. Noise levels become more apparent at ISO1600 but, images taken at this sensitivity are still very usable.
Canon EOS 400D at ISO1600
Sony Alpha A100 at ISO1600
Pentax K100D at ISO1600
The 400D is clearly the class-leader for high-ISO noise performance. Images taken at ISO1600 are noticeably cleaner than the Sony Alpha A100 and even the six megapixel Pentax K100D.
This busy scene was taken using a tripod to determine the level of detail this camera can produce.
Canon EOS 400D set at ISO100 using an EFS 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS lens set at 17mm and f/16
Sony Alpha A100 set at ISO100 using a Sony 18-70mm lens set at 18mm and f/16.
Olympus E-330 set at ISO100 using the Zuiko 14-45mm lens set at 14mm and f/16.
Although the image produced by the EOS 400D contains a good level of detail it just isn't quite as sharp or as well defined as that produced by the Sony Alpha A100. There is little noticeable difference in the level of detail recorded between the EOS 400D's images and those produced by the eight megapixel Olympus E-330. As I commented earlier, I find images from this camera benefit from a little sharpening afterwards. Doing this helps to bring the best out the images, as Canon's in-camera sharpening is quite conservative when set to the standard picture style. Changing the picture style to landscape helps, but the images still sometimes require a little more sharpening in image editing software afterwards.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Canon EOS 400D.
So how do you improve on a class-leading camera? Owners of Canon's EOS 350D camera may well be wondering if the extra pixels, larger screen, improved autofocus and anti-dust measures will make an upgrade worthwhile. The jump from eight to 10 megapixels doesn't make a great difference to image quality and although the other improvements are welcome, it may not be time to dust off your credit card and start checking how much 350Ds go for on eBay just yet.
On the other hand if you are looking for your first digital SLR, the Canon EOS 400D represent great value for money. A combination of class-leading low noise levels at high ISO sensitivities, great autofocus performance, good image quality and handling all make the EOS 400D worthy of serious consideration.
In summary the positive points of the Canon EOS 400D are:
Low noise at high sensitivities
Nine-point autufocus system
Fast write speeds
The negative points:
In-camera sharpening appears a little on the conservative side
Poor location of exposure compensation control for photographers who use their left eye