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Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR Review

Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR Review - With a chorus of choirboys singing, massed pipers piping and a hundred heralds, er heralding, it�s the shiny new semi-pro DSLR from Canon. Duncan Evans puts away the kid gloves and gets out the silk ones with gold filigree he uses for special occasions.

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Canon EOS 40D
Price : £779
Rating :
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Canon EOS 40D front leftWell, we've talked about it all year, since Canon failed to launch the 40D last spring, but it's here now and this is the successor to the EOS 30D. Fitting neatly into that semi-pro category, but priced well under what a rival Nikon D300 will cost you, the 40D offers high resolution, great build and fast shooting speeds.

 

Canon EOS 40D Specifications

  • Sensor: APS-C CMOS - 10.1Mp
  • Image Size: 3888 x 2592
  • ISO range: 100-1600+Hi (ISO3200)
  • Lens: Takes all Canon EF and EF-S lenses
  • Focal length extension: 1.6x factor
  • Focus: TTL 9 AF Points
  • Exposure: Auto/Program/AP/SP/M
  • Metering: 35 Zone Evaluation/Centre-Weighted/Spot/Partial
  • Monitor: 3.0in. TFT (230k)
  • Other Features: Live View, EOS Integrated Cleaning System, 6.5fps
  • Movie Mode: No
  • Storage: CompactFlash I/II
  • Batteries: Rechargeable Lithium-ion
  • AC Adaptor: Optional
  • Size/Weight: 146x108x74mm - 740g
  • Transfer: USB 2.0

Canon EOS 40D rightChoices, choices! For one thing Canon have got their semi-pro camera out of the gate ahead of the Nikon D300 which is shipping in November. The 40D body can be had for £779 which will be a couple of hundred quid cheaper than the D300 street price. At this price point the real competition is the Fuji S5 Pro at £879, the still-fantastic Nikon D200 at £799 and the Sony a700 which has an RRP of £999 which should come in at under £900 street price.

 

Canon EOS 40D Modes and features
There's possibly a little surprise that the 40D is only 10.1Mp, considering that the D300, a700 and S5 Pro are all 12Mp, though Fuji's 12Mp is interpolated. Aside from that, headline features include the Live Mode, for putting the colour picture directly onto the LCD screen, and the very handsome 6.5fps frame rate which is faster than the D200 and everything else under a grand. The ISO range is standard at 100-1600, but there's an expanded high mode that can push it up to ISO3200.

Looking around the camera body, we kick off with a top mounted LCD plate containing all your shooting information needs. The higher end DSLRs have stayed with this, while the budget end have done away with it. Just in front of this are three function buttons, each one with two purposes, and then wedged in on the slope is an illumination button for lighting the LCD at night. The buttons then offer exposure compensation/ISO, AF mode/Drive mode, Metering/White balance options. Press the button and the front dial changes one parameter and the large wheel on the back changes the other.

On the back of the body, under the LCD plate are another three buttons allowing access to the focus point selection, the exposure lock and the Auto-Focus on button - this can be configured to do different things in the menu system.

Perhaps surprisingly, over on the mode dial on the top leftside of the camera, there are scene modes and three custom mode settings, to go along with the regular PASM modes. The scene modes are portrait, landscape, macro, sport, nighttime and no-flash modes. All of the scene modes take control of the ISO rating and tinker with the saturation, sharpness, contrast and colour tone. These latter settings can all be adjusted as well, and there are a range of presets in the menu that be implemented to use in any standard program mode, or a custom version created and saved. It has to be said of course that Macro mode is rather more dependent on the lens being used in terms of close focussing, than the settings the camera implements.

Canon EOS 40D LCDThe back of the camera is dominated by the 3in. LCD screen which offers an excellent viewing platform for images taken and also can be used with the Live View feature. Yes, like Olympus, Canon has gone down the Live View route, though it has to be set up in the menu system first. Then... ah let's play guess which button turns it on. None of them are marked, but it's the Set button in the middle of rear wheel that flips the mirror out the way and puts the Live view onto the LCD screen. The screen updates quickly enough - just - but autofocus is turned off. With manual focus, and the 10x zoom function available, fairly accurate focussing using the LCD screen is then possible, although with 230k pixels, this is lower than rival Sony and Nikon offerings. This is useful for macro or product work. A press of the fire button captures the image without any of the mirror juggling shenanigans that marred the Olympus E-410 implementation. Also, some form of autofocus is possible. Once the AF-ON button has been activated in the menu, when this is pressed and held down, the Live View switches off, the mirror flaps down, the camera can do an autofocus, then let go and the mirror gets out of the way again, leaving the LCD view Live again. It's a bit messy to use it this way though.

On the back of the camera are the on/off switch, a button to access the configuration settings and the little thumbstick. This is a stubby joystick end and is used to navigate menus in conjunction with the rotating wheel. In practice this is a little awkward because they are such different shapes.

On the shooting front, the shutter speed ranges from bulb and 30secs to 1/8000th at the fast end. This is as fast as you might expect to get out of a camera at this price point. The ISO range runs from 100-1600, with a Hi option - again activated in the menu - that is ISO3200. Personally, I would have liked to have seen an ISO50 mode and higher modes as well.

Canon EOS 40D topFocussing is taken care of with a grid of 9 focus points. In standard shooting modes, the point is selectable whereas in the scene modes all the points chip in and the camera selects the nearest or what it thinks is the most significant object. The system is claimed to be 30% faster than on the 30D. The focussing system can then be set to a single focus action, continuous focussing or refocus if the camera is moved. The drive can be set to timer shooting, single shot, continuous shooting or high speed continuous shooting, which is where the 40D gets to show off with a claimed 6.5fps sustained frame rate - check the Performance further on to see how well it did.

Internally things have been improved over the 30D with the DiG!C III image processor, providing 14-bit A/D conversion per channel, compared to the 12-bit 30D process. This gives four times the number of colours recognised. Deep in the menus there are also Highlight tone priority and High ISO noise reduction functions as well. The 40D can shoot RAW and JPEG, and RAW+JPEG as well. It also offers sRAW which is a compressed version that halves the file size. Finally, there's a choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB

 

Canon EOS 40D left sideCanon EOS 40D Build quality
At 740g without a lens the EOS 40D has plenty of seal-clubbing potential. It's a hefty weight and that's reflected in the good build quality. The dials and buttons are solid and give good feedback, aside from the ones immediately surrounding the LCD screen which are recessed and harder to access. In fact, this leads on to a little bugbear I have with the camera and that's the on/off switch. The side of it that you use to turn the little lever is almost flush with the LCD back panel which makes it slightly awkward to turn on and off. No big deal, until you use rival cameras and realise how easy they are to do this with and then you realise how awkward this is. The front wheel also isn't top quality, but being largely recessed and with a sturdy click isn't likely to break any day soon. Other than that the top LCD panel will satisfy traditionalist as it contains all the information you need, and the mass of buttons along the top provide access to often-used features.

Canon EOS 40D Flash options
The Built-in flash has a Guide Number of 13 which recycles in around 3secs and the camera comes with a PC Sync terminal capable of synching with studio flash at up to 1/250sec. The flash covers a 17mm field-of-view and there's a red-eye reduction option in the menu system. The Hotshoe is compatible with EX-series Speedlites and the output of the 580EX II can be adjusted directly from the camera.

Canon EOS 40D Performance
It's fast, there's no doubt about that. From turning on, to the very responsive shutter release, to the overall shooting speed, the 40D does things at a gallop. In our 10sec burst test the 40D nailed 62 frames, which is very close to the 6.5fps frame rate claimed. The test was repeated and came up with 62 again. This is pretty impressive, beating even the Nikon D200, as well as everything else at this price point. In practice, it sounds like a small machine gun, so this isn't going to be something that you can use without drawing attention to yourself.

Canon EOS 40D card slotWhat's also good is the autofocus, which is fast at finding subjects and fast at locking onto them. It can hunt around at times, particularly when using the constant AI function, but generally, this is a lot faster than the autofocus on the a700 that I tried out recently.

In terms of handling, the 40D is very good, as it's both fast and responsive, though there are a couple of areas that could be improved. Firstly, when a button is pressed on the top of the camera, to access the dual functions you have five or six seconds to change that feature before it blanks out and the button needs to be pressed again. Similarly with the rear wheel, which default to changing the exposure compensation. This is only active after pressing the fire button and metering, then six seconds later it is also deactivated when the camera stops automatically metering. This can be quite annoying as instead of being available all the time, a button press is required to wake it up again. Also, the markings for exposure compensation in the top LCD panel are quite small so it's easy to misread exactly what compensation is being applied.

The other thing I wasn't over enamoured with was the selection of metering options. Just one spot - movable - in program modes, or a batch of them automatically finding objects in the scene modes. This doesn't stand up to the Nikon D200s fourfold choice of which points, in what arrangement, to use, which are selectable from a button on the back of the camera. That said, the metering choices are fine, with both a spot metering option and a partial metering version which is like super-spot. One function that did get a lot of use, in higher contrast scenes, was the exposure lock button to clamp it down while recomposing. This was very handy and quick and easy to use.

When we come to image quality, the noise-suppression is impressive. Shadow areas rarely contain any noise at all and colour fringing is well controlled, though can be seen at times. Certainly, when shooting subjects with bright, white backgrounds, the fringing is kept under control - it doesn't become glaring. Colours are very lively, even on standard settings with bright blues and strong red colours. Historically, images from cameras using CMOS chips has been softer than that from CCDs, the 30D was a case in point, but now image quality is largely comparable, hence the Nikon decision to switch to CMOS with the D300. The advantages of CMOS are ones of speed, and lower cost, as data can be shifted off the chip far faster and that's been exploited here. The supplied kit lens isn't the sharpest - L lenses will give better results - so even at f/8 with decent shutter speeds the images aren't pin-sharp, but there is a great deal of detail and it doesn't take much post-capture sharpening to produce very good quality images. The colours tend to have excellent saturation right out of the tin, so little tweaking there is required.

Canon EOS 40D colour chart
The colour chart was more akin to what a compact might produce in terms of bright blues and rich, glowing reds. This did mean yellow and orange were nice and bright.

Canon EOS 40D bridge
This tripod-mounted landscape shot was developed from RAW, tweaking the white balance and lighting. There's good detail, no noise in the shadows but it's not pin-sharp.

Canon EOS 40D portrait mode
In Portrait scene mode the colours are slightly more reddish than straight AP mode to make the tones look healthier, though really, there very little difference.

Canon EOS 40D flash
The flash has brightened the background, and also removed shadows on the face to provide even illumination, without harsh shadows behind.

Canon EOS 40D close up
There's good detail, if not great sharpness, in this close up shot with the kit lens wide open. The colour is quite neutral in gloomy conditions.

Canon EOS 40D flower
The colours here are nice and strong, and also the out of focus background has a pleasing look.

Canon EOS 40D sharpness
Shot at f/8, 1/160sec there is commendable detail in this shot. The lens gives a sharper result than the wide open and f/22 shots, though it's still slightly soft.

Canon EOS 40D sharpness 2
Similar result from this perspective using f/8 again. The point of focus area is very detailed, requiring only a modest amount of sharpening.

Canon EOS 40D sharpness 3
In the third f/8 shot ISO200 was used to push the shutter speed up to 1/200sec. The point of focus again is detailed, but not pin-sharp, though again, requiring only modest sharpening. There's no noise in the image.

Canon EOS 40D studio
This studio shot gives an excellent result with fine detail, healthy skin-tones and only a little tonal variation in the shadow areas.

 

Canon EOS 40D landscape
The landscape test in AP mode at f/22 with an optically stabilised lens, shows nice colour, lots of detail and reasonable depth-of-field. There is no noise in the shadows and just a little fringing on the stanchions.

Canon EOS 40D landscape toning
AP mode again, but with landscape colour toning. The concrete is less blue, but then so is the sky. Sharpness is the same - not as good as the f/8 shots. It has a warmer feel than the straight shot.


Canon EOS 40D RAW landscape
In this image, developed from RAW, the result is quite pleasing in the late afternoon sunshine.

Canon EOS 40D brickwork
However, this is a 100% view of the stonework. Note the red fringing on the left of the bricks and the blue-green fringing on the right. Chromatic aberration from the lens is usually purple.

Canon EOS 40D skyline
Dark foreground, bright sky, perfect conditions for fringing but here the lens has rendered the image perfectly and the processing has finished the job off well.

Canon EOS 40D side lit house
Punchy colours straight out of the tin. No colour bleeding on the flowers, but the chimneys that are in the sunshine all have minor fringing issues.

 

Canon EOS 40D Noise tests
There's some tonal variation in the grey card at ISO100, though what's more noticeable is the excessive colour saturation and the image softness. ISO200 is little different. At ISO320 there's some colour variation starting to appear in the grey card while at ISO400 the variations are a little more distinct, but it isn't significant. At ISO640 those patterns get sharper and again at ISO800 and here the yellow centre starts to get softer but really, this isn't deteriorating badly at all. At ISO1250 the noise is noticeable with purple elements, but still, it isn't major. At the last main ISO rating, 1600, detail is starting to fade, colour is running, and the noise is getting more purple. Finally, there's the hidden ISO3200 mode and here the detail in the petals turns to mush, the noise is evenly across the cards and the petals are turning a deeper red. To be honest, I've seen worse, and in general, the 40D controls noise extremely well through the ISO range to 1600.

Canon EOS 40D ISO100
ISO100 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO200
ISO200 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO320
ISO320 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO400
ISO400 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO640
ISO640 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO800
ISO800 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO1250
ISO1250 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO1600
ISO1600 test.

Canon EOS 40D ISO3200
ISO3200 test.

 


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 Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM.

Canon EOS 40D Verdict
The 40D offers a distinct step up from the 30D in terms of image quality and speed of handling and shooting. It has a very good build quality with plenty of buttons for often-used features, but there are some handling issues, and it's annoying to have to go into the menu system to turn certain features - like ISO3200 and Live View - on instead of them being ready to use straight away. The use of a rotating wheel and a thumbstick control on the back of the camera rather pointlessly adds an extra control method when there's already a wheel on the front of the camera. However, these are modest handling issues and don't detract from the fact that shooting speed is tremendous, the responsiveness excellent, the camera really feels lively in the hand. The provision of beginner modes on the control dial keeps a foot in both the novice and the more accomplished camps and while Live View may not be for everyone, at least it works well on the 40D. Images using the supplied kit lens are sharpest at around f/8, though not pin-sharp, so better quality lenses will reap better results. That said, they're certainly high quality with excellent saturation and noise is very well controlled throughout the ISO range, with only the top end, ISO3200 mode suffering greatly.

For Canon owners looking for an upgrade option, then this is a compelling option, being fast and responsiveness. It hides a few things away rather needlessly and the control systems aren't the best thought out though. It will be interesting to put the Sony a700 up against it because it offers a similar spec, though not quite as fast. If you're looking for an upgrade to an entry level DSLR then the 40D will blow your socks off and can be heartily recommended, but if you were saving up for a Nikon D300 then it might not do enough to change your mind, but we'll have to wait for the review sample of that, probably next month. Otherwise, a very capable, exciting camera, offering high quality for less than a grand.

 

Canon EOS 40D front rightCanon EOS 40D Plus points:
6.5fps shooting speed!
Well made, solid body
Fast and responsive AF
Beginner modes
Large, 3in. LCD screen
Colour configurations
Good shutter speed range
Live View works well
Low noise, well controlled
Built-in sensor cleaning

Canon EOS 40D Minus points:
Some usability weaknesses
AF point system limited
Kit lens not the sharpest
Most rivals offer 12Mp


Canon EOS 40D Highly RecommendedFEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

The Canon EOS 40D can be bought from the ePHOTOzine shop for £779 which includes a free Sandisk 2Gb Extreme III card here.

 

 

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Photographs taken using the Canon EOS 40D

Passion FlowerGreat Spotted WoodpeckerPCB Mark 2The PCB effectBroad-bodied ChaserHardcastle CragsPollok Country Park Demo GardensJuvenile Little GrebeNorthern Gannet  (Morus bassanus)Little GrebeJedburghSouthwold PierA Bum ShotAmur leopardSunset from Mars
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Comments


bushcraft 7 89 3
25 Sep 2007 11:43AM
The soft images are a worry! I have a 30D and was thinking of upgrading, but that has put me in two minds about it!

Good review!

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Duncan_E 7 199 2 United Kingdom
25 Sep 2007 2:51PM
I wouldn't get too hung up about this as CMOS tends to be slightly softer than CCD. The good news is that there is virtually no noise in the images so sharpening them up should be easy and not degrade the image quality. THe colours are vibrant and punchy and there's plenty of detail without any noticeable colour bleeding.*

* in areas of complex colour mixtures rather than straight transition areas from light to dark which tends to cause problems with a lot of digital cameras.
IanA 10 3.0k 12 England
25 Sep 2007 3:56PM

Quote: However, this is a 100% view of the stonework. Note the red fringing on the left of the bricks and the blue-green fringing on the right - this is caused by the processing.


Quote: I wouldn't get too hung up about this as CMOS tends to be slightly softer than CCD. The good news is that there is virtually no noise in the images so sharpening them up should be easy and not degrade the image quality. THe colours are vibrant and punchy and there's plenty of detail without any noticeable colour bleeding.

These two quotes seem to contradict each other!

CMOS/CCD make no difference, it is the AA filter over them, or the severity of them, that causes apparent softness.

And have you considered that the lens you have used, the Canon EF-S 17-85 does produce CA and could be the cause of "the red fringing on the left of the bricks and the blue-green fringing on the right "!
Duncan_E 7 199 2 United Kingdom
25 Sep 2007 4:07PM

Quote: These two quotes seem to contradict each other!

No, but they are all to do with the same thing. Where there's a sudden transition from light shades to dark shades, the colour processing has problems because it has to interpolate the colour information. On objects where the shading isn't so dramatic looking closely at the images shows the colour is contained within the objects it's supposed to be in. However... read on!



Quote: And have you considered that the lens you have used, the Canon EF-S 17-85 does produce CA and could be the cause of "the red fringing on the left of the bricks and the blue-green fringing on the right "!

Yep, could well be, I've had a couple of conversations over this and have amended the review. CA does tend to be purple, but could also be the culprit here.
BertieP 7 25 Scotland
1 Oct 2007 6:09PM
I have a 40D which was added to a 5D mainly to get extra reach for bird photography etc. I use L lenses and the quality is surprisingly close to that of the 5D. I have done set piece comparisons. I agree with most of what's in the review but access to live view is virtually instantaneous if left enabled in the menu then pushing the SET button activates it. I used live view at 10x magnification to find nodal points for panoramic work and what used to take ages and be indeterminate now takes a few seconds and is extremely accurate. My upgrade was from the 10D which was suffering a bit in the company of the 5D although wonderful in its day

Bob P
Duncan_E 7 199 2 United Kingdom
2 Oct 2007 4:40PM
Yes, access to Live View is instantaneous, once it's been enabled in the menu, which is what I said. The point I was making was that it wasn't enabled by default and it isn't labelled on the body.
redstag e2
8 100 14 United Kingdom
10 Oct 2007 1:19PM
Have to agree with the comment about slow ISO not being available, I can think of loads of situations where I'd love to slow the camera down without using ND filters (which make focussing difficult)
Jon
22 Oct 2007 5:32PM
Very good review. I bought my first 40D and it was a big calamity. the red and blue fringings were very present and canceled the whole clarity of the picture. I tried 3 other 40D with my dealer and was very surprise by the discrepancy beetwen all the bodies. Some have more or less the phenomena. Fortunately, my new one is clean else I should fall back on the 30D.
Thierry
ajmills 12 6 United Kingdom
13 Nov 2007 3:43AM
The soft images are mainly due to the kit lens more than anything - get a decent lens and the sharpness is not a problem.
brian1208 e2
11 10.2k 12 United Kingdom
17 Nov 2007 9:11PM
I've been checking the on-board control of external flash and am delighted to find that it works fine with my Sigma 500DG super, so I can now control things like FEC from the on-board menu rather than fiddling with the flash-gun settings.

Still learning to use it (only got it this morning) so I'm interested to read how others are getting on
elowes 10 2.8k United Kingdom
7 Dec 2007 5:56PM
No a nature photographer who chose this over the 1D MkIII and is in love with it. All Canons need sharpening in PS but this is helped by using a decent lens.

Anyone who buys this camera with the Canon kit lens needs a lesson in spending money wisely first and then a photography awareness course.
I've just bought the 40D bundled with the 17-55 f2.8 IS lens. I have been most underwhelmed by the inconsistent focusing and soft images which aren't as crisp or reliably focused as my A620 compact !! The same shot repeated immediately can give quite different results and I can often get better focused images with manual/live view. Could it be a problem with the lens ? I note a churning/grinding noise from the gyro IS system which wasn't present in an example I tried out recently in Jessops. Do other people get this quiet rumble from the IS ? Unfortunately, I can't be sure if the lens or body is at fault, and the problem isn't totally obvious or consistent.

Do you get 'Monday Morning' jobs with these pieces of kit, with some sweeter and better than others ?

Any comments would be welcome as I've spent a small fortune and am not convinced all is well.

Regards to one and all.
franfoto 6 2 32 England
6 Mar 2008 1:45AM
Good review. Bought mine at the Focus on Imaging show last week and decided against the kit lens (glad I did now that I've read this).
Not all that confident with it yet but that's because I'm still finding my way around it. Using a Tamron 18/200 and a Canon 100ml Macro but aiming to drop the Tamron for an equivalent Canon lens as soon as my credit card has recovered from it's recent shock.
Regards
Fran
23 Mar 2008 6:55PM

Quote: I've just bought the 40D bundled with the 17-55 f2.8 IS lens. I have been most underwhelmed by the inconsistent focusing and soft images which aren't as crisp or reliably focused as my A620 compact !! The same shot repeated immediately can give quite different results and I can often get better focused images with manual/live view. Could it be a problem with the lens ? I note a churning/grinding noise from the gyro IS system which wasn't present in an example I tried out recently in Jessops. Do other people get this quiet rumble from the IS ? Unfortunately, I can't be sure if the lens or body is at fault, and the problem isn't totally obvious or consistent.

Do you get 'Monday Morning' jobs with these pieces of kit, with some sweeter and better than others ?

Any comments would be welcome as I've spent a small fortune and am not convinced all is well.

Regards to one and all.

23 Mar 2008 6:57PM
[quote]Quote:I've just bought the 40D bundled with the 17-55 f2.8 IS lens. I have been most underwhelmed by the inconsistent focusing and soft images which aren't as crisp or reliably focused as my A620 compact !! The same shot repeated immediately can give quite different results and I can often get better focused images with manual/live view. Could it be a problem with the lens ?

I too have the same problem with both the 17-55 and the 70-200 IS lenses so I think it is the camera body.

Anyone out there have any experience of sending things back to Canon for checking out??
urdygurdy 5 136 3 United Kingdom
16 Mar 2009 6:15PM
i would defo think that a problem with the body as my 40D doesnt suffer from these problems.

Daz

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