Sixteen months ago, I purchased my first digital SLR – the
EOS 20D. I had resisted the temptation to jump onto the
digital bandwagon for reasons related to cost and handling.
Until the EOS 20D came along, going digital meant sacrificing speed and
performance compared to even a mid-range film body. The
specification of the EOS 20D promised much, and as an EOS 3 user, I
didn’t want to return to life in the slow lane. How
has the digital experience matched expectation?
quality - With a magnesium alloy chassis, a good solid camera was
expected, though without the bomb-proof characteristics and weight of
the pro models.
Good handling - Good start-up time, good autofocus and
fine-tuned metering. Convenient controls. Fuss-free, logical
menus for the camera settings.
Flexibility - Going digital meant the flexibility of seeing
the shot immediately after capture and being able to alter the ISO from
shot to shot if required.
Good battery life - No endless recharging of
batteries. They need to last for hundreds of shots.
Image quality - Low noise, lots of detail, accurate colours.
The EOS 20D - Its key
Let’s take a look at the key features of this camera and
assess some of its key features.
Ergonomics - I like the 20D. It’s solid
and feels good to hold. My small hands can easily reach the
controls when I want them. The buttons in front of the top
LCD have dual functions, the first is accessed by the main input dial
by the shutter, and the second via the quick control dial on the
rear. Yes, I have twiddled the wrong dial and I suspect all
will make the same mistake from time to time. It does save
having an excessive number of buttons or key features hidden within the
menu system. Given a choice, the latter option would
frustrate me a lot more.
I were to fault the camera, the viewfinder seems very small and dark
compared to my film cameras, both of which had large viewfinders to
accommodate the eye control focus point selection. The 20D
has a smaller mirror, and this may be one reason for the viewfinder
feeling so small and dark. The smaller viewfinder is a slight
disadvantage as a spectacle wearer, but I have found that the shape of
the spectacle lenses has a big influence on this.
It’s more of an issue in portrait mode than in landscape.
Some have commented on the mode selector dial – no, it
doesn’t feel as robust as you might expect on a semi-pro
camera. However, it does the job and is easy to operate even
with gloves on. The buttons on the camera are generally easy
to operate and are friendly to glove-wearing photographers, though you
will need to remove gloves to load batteries or change the CF card.
Metering - The EOS 20D uses a 35 segment metering system that has been
featured in the EOS D30, EOS D60, EOS 10D and EOS 300D before
it. The same metering pattern first appeared in the EOS 300
film camera, it was also used in the mid-range EOS 30 and
30V. It is a reasonably good system that is let down only
when faced with strong backlighting. In the 20D, it continues
to perform reasonably well, though the 20D does seem prone to
The 20D lacks the spot metering and multi-spot metering. I
have missed the spot metering on odd occasions, but not dramatically
so. The partial metering does the job most of the
time. Only when photographing subjects against a light
background do I wish for that spot metering.
Autofocus - The nine-point autofocus system on the 20D is
excellent. I consider it an improvement over the seven-point
system in my EOS 30. The spread of points in the diamond
shape is very useful indeed. The system is responsive and
works very well. It rarely struggles to focus except in very
low light/low contrast conditions. This is influenced by the
lens used, add a fast wide aperture lens and this camera is
superb. The manual selection of the focus point takes getting
used to after a number of years using the eye control feature on the
EOS 30 and EOS 3, but I admit that I often have either automatic
selection or the central point selected. The nine autofocus
points do not cover as wide an area as the 45 point system on the EOS
3. However, having used the camera for some time, I have not found this
to be a major handicap. It’s worth getting
accustomed with that eight-way control on the back of the camera.
you’ve previously used an EOS 3 or 1V and have been used to
being able to use a 1.4x extender on the EF 100-400 LIS zoom and retain
autofocus, you will be disappointed that the 20D can only focus down to
a maximum aperture of f/5.6. In its defence, I will say that
the autofocus at f/8 is only useful in bright lighting conditions, and
the crop factor means that I have never missed being able to use the
Shutter noise - Many folks berated the shutter noise on the EOS 20D
after its launch. True, it’s not as whisper quiet
as the 10D or its film equivalents. The 20D has a beefed up
shutter mechanism to cope with shutter-happy digital
photographers. It is not as loud as the EOS 3 by any
means. I have taken photos with the 20D in lots of different
places and shutter noise is not a problem. It’s the
price we pay for demanding extra durability.
The 20D uses the same type of remote release as the EOS 3, so it is
compatible with the timer remote and the RS-80N3. The socket
is located behind one of the rubber covers on the left side of the
camera and is a little fiddly at first. The socket is also
orientated differently to the EOS 3. Insert the connector
with the cable pointing towards the rear of the camera.
White balance - If you shoot in raw mode, the white balance
isn’t important as it can be changed after the
event. If you shoot in JPEG mode – the auto white
balance gets it right most of the time, but not always and the tungsten
setting gives results that are too warm. Sometimes it is
worth taking some test shots and using what gives you the result you
like most for a given lighting situation.
Data handling - The 20D inherited the Digic II processor from the 1D
MkII. The result is a camera that rarely freezes out because
the buffer is full, especially if you shoot in JPEG mode. Put
a fast CF card in the camera such as the Lexar 80x Pro series and files
are written (and read) very swiftly indeed. I use only 1Gb
Lexar 80x Pro cards in the camera. I have four in total, with
a Flashtrax for downloading should the need arise. To date,
that has been more than adequate.
The camera has been connected to the PC only twice. Using a
card reader is far more convenient than messing around with cables.
The ultimate test
The ultimate test for any camera is the image quality. It can
have the fastest handling or the fastest autofocus in the world, but if
the image quality isn’t up to scratch, it’s an
expensive ornament. The image quality from the 20D is
excellent. Since the purchase, all the zoom lenses have been
upgraded to L series glass and one can tell the difference.
The camera has been used in a wide variety of situations and has
performed well throughout. Images have plenty of detail and
accurate colours too.
Battery life hasn’t proved to be an issue even when used with
image stabilised lenses, or in cold weather. I have two spare
batteries and that is more than adequate. The camera has been
a pleasure to own.
The software that Canon bundled with the EOS 20D has taken a lot of
criticism. The EOS Viewer Utility has now been
discontinued. Digital Photo Professional is now at Version
2.03 and the later version has improved much on the original one that
came bundled with the camera. However, two raw conversion
options are the tools of choice:
Rawshooter Premium 2006
Adobe Camera Raw v3
Getting the colour management and the digital workflow sorted out are
two of the first obstacles faced by the photographer new to the digital
darkroom. Working in a colour-managed system helps, so having
spent lots of money on camera and lenses, a calibrated monitor is a
must. You cannot adjust images if what you see on screen
isn’t a true representation of the image. Prints
should also be a good likeness of the on-screen image. If
they are not, printer profiling will be required. Running a
good quality inkjet printer is expensive, so avoiding poor prints can
make a huge difference to the economics of the digital
darkroom. A borderless A4 print on the Epson R800 costs just
under £2 to produce.
Does digital save money – well unless you take lots of
photos, the answer is no. Without considering the cost of lens
upgrades, it’s still an expensive hobby. The EOS
20D at launch was £1169. They now sell new for
about £750 and the residual value of a second-hand example
would be even less. Add to that the cost of memory cards,
spare batteries, the Flashtrax, an external hard drive and DVDs for
backing up images; to make savings, I need to keep the camera for three
to four years. That also excludes the need for a reasonable
spec computer, software, a good monitor, and an inkjet
printer. When I was using film, my annual bill for film and
processing was about £500.
There is no doubt that the digital experience is mostly fun with just a
few frustrations along the way. It’s certainly more
time consuming – processing large numbers of raw files takes
time and effort even with good tools. The EOS 20D has been
reliable and proved to be a good performer. There will be something
newer, better, with higher resolution around the corner, Canon SLRs
have a short product lifetime, but the 20D remains more than adequate
to meet the needs of many photographers.
In summary the positive features are:
and the negative features are:
workflow and backup systems required
management can cause a great deal of frustration.