Squaring up in the entry level arena are the Nikon D60 and 18-55mm VR lens at £85 less. It comes with a 10Mp CCD sensor, higher speed tolerance of ISO3200 and a lower flash guide of 12.
Olympus' offering is the E-420 at £379 with the 14-42mm lens and shares the resolution of the Nikon, benefits from the Live-MOS sensor and pushes out five extra frames every ten seconds.
The Sony Alpha A200 is in the same classification offering 10.2Mp, slower 1/160second flash sync and lower flash guide number. It also lacks live view but is only £345.
Pentax's model is the K200D at £469.99 body only. It has 10Mp, two more focus points and is dust and moisture resistant.
Canon EOS 450D: Modes and features Entry level DSLRs, such as the Canon EOS 450D, are best suited to those of you with a compact who are looking to take their hobby a step further, or those who are starting fresh in photography but firstly, need to get used to a camera.
Since the creation of the Best Shot dial (more commonly known as the mode dial), Canon have been at the forefront of easy to use cameras and the EOS 450D is no exception. Taking a look around the body, it shows a similar styling to its predecessors but mixes in a bit of the new as well. The kit lens that's available for the 450D is the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (image stabiliser). Canon have always put image stabilisers in the lens instead of the body and it works by using accelerometers to move the lenses, countering any movement that could cause camera shake.
A general rule of thumb is to not use a shutter speed slower than the focal length of the lens. For example, if you have the lens set to 50mm don't go below 1/50second on the EOS 450D or you'll get camera shake. The Canon image stabiliser gives stabilisation up to four stops. This means theoretically from 1/60second you can successfully shoot a sharp image as low as 1/4second. In practice it doesn't seem to work as effectively.
In my tests I got a blurred image at 1/4second and it wasn't until 1/6second that the image got sharp. Taking shots at 1/6second with the IS on and off showed a definite difference so the lens was certainly doing its job and it's only a 2/3stop difference.
The top plate of the camera has the built in pop-up flash with dedicated hotshoe for external Canon flashguns. Top left is bare except for the film plane marker which is nice to see in this day and age especially with excellent performances from focus systems making life that bit easier. All the action is found on the opposing side of the flash.
The mode dial features the familiar, green Auto mode with the equally familiar layout of pre-programmed modes below the green box and programmable modes above. Available on the programmable modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Nightshot and Forced flash off which is the Auto mode but won't use the flash at all.
Program mode is the same as Auto in the respect that it does everything for you. Looking in the Menu system will reveal the differences as more options will be open to you for creativity.
AV is Canon's Aperture-Priority mode where you control the aperture and the camera controls the shutter speed. TV is Shutter-Priority and does the reverse of Aperture-Priority. Manual allows you to control both the Shutter and Aperture for full creative control. The final option is A-DEP which stands for Automatic Depth of Field.
The power switch is sat under the mode dial with ISO getting its own dedicated button between the mode dial and the thumb wheel. The shutter release button sits on an oblique ledge away from the other controls.
The back of the camera has had a move around since its predecessor with the 3in screen now taking up most of the room. The buttons that were usually down the left side of the camera have now been moved and the screen has been pushed over to the left. The Menu and Display buttons are now sat over the screen to the left of the viewfinder which has the screen disabling sensors that were available on the Canon EOS 400D and copied by Nikon on the D60.
It seems that Canon were thinking with their right hands when they designed the 450D as like the top plate all the functions are to the right.
The AV button at the top is for when you're in Manual mode and will switch the thumb wheel over to Aperture as it defaults to Shutter. When you're not in Manual, this button can be used for Exposure Compensation. Below this is the dedicated White Balance button which doubles up as the print direct access when in playback.
The main navigation area consists of four segmented buttons circling the confirmation button which, when not in any menus, act as the activation for the EOS 450D's Live view feature.
The upwards arrow will access the metering modes and the four options are: Centre-Weighted which takes a general reading of about 60-80% of the screen, Partial, which centres in on the screen taking a reading from about 10-15% of the total area. Evaluative (also known as honeycomb or segment), which takes seperate readings from different areas of the scene and works out the best exposure from there and Spot metering which takes a reading from the exact centre which is approx 1-5%. They all appear in a column with the name of the mode to the left. These modes aren't available in any pre-programmed modes (green box or below).
The AF modes are accessed by pressing the right arrow and three options of One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo are available.
Pressing left gives access to the drive modes and you can choose from Single Shot, Continuous Shooting, Self Timer (10second), Self Timer (2second) and Continuous Self Timer. The Continuous Shooting is a high speed burst mode generally used for sports photography for capturing fast moving objects. The Self Timer is great for self portraits or if you wish to take landscapes and minimise vibration from pressing the shutter making your pictures super sharp.
The down button has nine pre-set picture styles for Standard, Portrait or Landscape work in addition to Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome (Black & White) and three user defined settings. The pre-set options will adjust the colour, contrast and saturation for optimum shooting results in those genres so think of them as pre-set modes for the initiated.
Canon EOS 450D: Build and handling The low end SLRs and DSLRs from Canon have always strived to be the smallest and lightest. The EOS 450D is the same at a welterweight 475g compared to some rivals such as the Nikon D60 at 495g or the more portly Sony Alpha A200 at 545g. It's by no means the lightest, though with the Olympus E-420 coming in at a sprightly 395g.
The lack of weight is thanks to the size and to the materials used to build the unit. The insides aren't metal like you'd find on an intermediate model but it's nevertheless well made. It feels solid enough and ergonomically, the contours fit nicely to the hands. The shutter release is sat in a small cut out part of the grip to fit the index finger better and the mock leather found on the hand grip can also be found on the back for the thumb to grip. This is to aid fast one handed shooting and whilst it's possible to do this, it's not the most convenient way to take pictures.
The screen is bright and has a new layout with large icons and letters to make it easier for the novice to understand. The shutter speed and aperture dominate the upper portion of the screen with exposure compensation chart just below. The program you're currently in will display to the left with the White Balance setting across from it.
The Drive, Picture Style setting, Metering and Focusing modes are shown in a row. The battery life, image size and amount of photographs left on the card are at the bottom. The screen is bright and easily visible from all but the most acute angles which is great for the Live View feature.
Live View will give you a histogram while you work and the white box that comes up in the centre of the screen can be moved around which the camera will then meter from. In AI Servo mode the camera will also continuously focus on the box.
Sadly it seems that Canon have gone the way of Sony, Nikon and Pentax with the EOS 450D and changed the memory card to Secure Digital (SD). Does this mean death for Compactflash (CF)? Possibly, what with SD getting larger capacities and faster speeds all the time as well as it being a smaller medium physically.
The battery lid is designed to be removed if you decide to fit the optional battery grip. It's solidly built, but comes away from the body too easily.
Canon EOS 450D: Flash options
All but fully professional DSLRs have a built-in flash which is found crouching over the pentaprism. The flash has an activation button on the side of the camera and this is used to pop it up. In the pre-programmed modes such as Auto, Portrait or Sports, the flash will pop up if it's needed, but this isn't the case using the camera in programmable modes such as Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority or Manual.
There is no dedicated flash button on the back of the camera and functions such as Red-Eye Reduction, Curtain Sync and Flash Compensation are found in the menu.
Red-Eye is on the first page and easy to find, but the extensive flash options have been filed away in the second page of the Set-Up under Flash control. Options include E-TTL II metering of Evaluative or Average, Flash Exposure Compensation and Shutter Sync which determines whether the flash fires when the curtain opens or closes and can give some nice effects.
The flash has a guide of 13 and the range is 1-3.7m at wide angle and 1-2.3m at telephoto.
Canon EOS 450D: Performance
The colour chart test shows the familiar boost in primary colours thanks to the JPEG format and Digic III processor doing as its told. Blue is the most prominent with green and yellow following behind and these help with landscapes. The tones are nicely balanced, but I think the skin colour is too pale.
The kit lens has a close focusing distance of 25cm which is pretty rubbish, but it's only designed for regular use. Specialist macro lenses are available if you decide to go into that genre. Amusingly, despite being in Macro mode, the camera has recorded the EXIF as Landscape mode so I tried it a second time and it said the mode was 'not defined'. It's not an important factor, but makes me wonder if the camera is selecting the correct mode when the dial is turned.
I tried the adjustments that can be made in camera by selecting user defined and going into the main menu and choosing shooting styles. Pressing Display in this area will open up the Saturation, Contrast, Sharpening and Colour tone for manipulation.
I took one shot in standard and one with some definitions adjusted, boosting the sharpness, saturation and contrast. The colours certainly look richer in my shot of the old car and the contrast is punchier. This could get tardy if you don't keep an eye on it so be careful.
Using a tripod, one of the tricks you can do with a DSLR is make flowing water look like silk. A tripod is necessary and it has the added benefit of using a low ISO for ultra smooth shots. Use a polariser or Neutral Density filter to reduce glare and light allowing you to select a longer exposure if you can and try to get to around a second or longer.
The shot of the white horse is a quick display I wanted to include to show how a DSLR like the EOS 450D can distort features in this case making the horses nose look larger than it really is. This is done by choosing a wide angle.
The shots of the canal were taken in live view and show how moving the white box around the screen will expose from the chosen area.
The Landscape mode for the image of the lock has chosen a relatively wide aperture of f/8 and shows with the bridge being slightly out of focus.
Chromatic aberration is present from the kit lens shown as green and orange bands on the white bars leading into the canal, the windows and roof of the building but it's not the worst I've seen. There's nice detail in the grass, but I'd like to see it a bit greener maybe.
Despite a pale skin tone result on the colour chart, I like the results in Portrait mode. The skin is balanced with no harsh shading from too much contrast. Using the built-in flash has balanced out the shadow areas without overloading the highlights too much which is a good result. Catchlights have been created too, putting more life into the eyes.
The portrait shot taken in Aperture-Priority is a bit darker than the one in Portrait mode. The shadow areas are heavier and putting the camera into portrait picture style hasn't improved the exposure any. Interestingly, Aperture-Priority was set to Centre-Weighted metering, so used that setting, but Portrait mode adjusted to Partial metering which is the obvious reason to the more balanced exposure.
The colour chart has boosted the primary colour, giving good mono tones but the skin tone colour is too pale.
The kit lens is unsuitable for close detail, but putting the subject off-centre creates interest taking your mind off the lack of macro.
Good detail is created in the standard picture style setting.
In User Defined, the settings can be changed, but could get sickly if overdone.
Why the long face? Using a wide angle setting can distort features making them look unusual. Note how the landscape bends slightly on either side of the horse.
Slowing the shutter speed allows for flowing water to smooth out looking like silk. A setting of 1second or slower is a good starting point.
Using the exposure box in live view, I moved it to the grass at the left of the shot.
Moving the exposure box to the reeds has given a slightly flatter exposure due to their neutral colour.
Exposing for the sky makes for a broody shot, but it's predictably underexposed.
In Portrait mode the skin tone is quite nice despite what the colour chart told us.
Using the flash fills in the darker areas nicely without blowing out the highlights. Nice catchlights are added to the eyes.
In Aperture-Priority, the centre-weighted metering has wrongly exposed. The skin is warmer too, but that is the Portrait picture style built in to the camera.
Landscape mode has chosen f/8 for the shot and because of this the bridge is out of focus. Fringing is present in high contrast areas but only mildly.
Canon EOS 450D: Noise test The Canon EOS 450D gives excellent results in the low ISO ratings with nothing showing at all until a very mild showing of sharpening on the grey card at ISO400. This does accelerate quite badly at ISO800 but is still a very good result. The Digic III processor is definitely working properly.
ISO1600 still has results that I've seen on some cameras at ISO400 (and ISO200 in some cases) so I'm really surprised to see the ratings capped there as a higher rating could really help in some situations without messing the shot up.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 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.
Canon EOS 450D: Verdict Canon have been leaders in the entry level DSLR market for years and with the EOS 450D I can't see them losing their position anytime soon. The camera is packed with features and playing with it more and more reveals extra bits to try out.
It's a fun camera and very easy to use. If you're a learner looking for a camera to develop your knowledge and skill with, you don't have a sack of cash and need an easy mode opt out for when it all gets too much, this is a great camera for consideration.
Now take a look at the video review of the canon EOS 450D on ePHOTOzine.tv here.
Canon EOS 450D: Plus points Easy to use
Image stabiliser in standard lens
Canon EOS 450D: Minus points Change of external media for existing users
Film speed capped at ISO1600
Easily removable battery door
The lens shown on the product shots is not the 18-55mm Image Stabiliser.
The Canon EOS 450D costs around £529 with the 18-55mm Image stabilising lens and is available from your friendly ePHOTOzine shop here.