As mentioned in my not-very-snappy title, I would differ with those who suggest the Canon 40D is an upgrade for people who own a 20D or 30D. This really is not so much an upgrade as an entirely different camera. I will endeavour to say why here. Please interpret my comments with the following knowledge of my previous experience: I have owned a Canon DSLR since the D30, then the D60 and then the 10D and latterly the 20D. I did not buy a 30D though have used one for work many times. I therefore have a wide experience of all the Canon mid-range DSLRs.
Recommend this product?
I would like to start by saying my reviews are aimed at avoiding being simply repros of the spec sheets, keeping my comments only to what I have tried for myself and found to be good or bad. I hope you will find this approach helpful.
To start with, the real guts of a DSLR camera is the processor contained therein. The 40D contains the new DiGIC III processor, the first time this processor has appeared in anything other than the top of the range 1D series of DSLRs (costing thousands!) and its biggest advantage is its processing power. This allows the camera to be improved in various areas.
I take all my shots in RAW mode as I demand the best quality as well as the most control from my photos. At first I had a problem as I am used to Photoshop CS3 and went to open the CR2 files in PS's RAW convertor only to find it wouldn't recognise them. The new convertor update is now available and it recognises them perfectly.
The processor has a 14-bit A-D convertor which might not mean much to some but basically means that every pixel on its 10.1megapixel sensor can now detect four times as many colour shades as the previous 12-bit processor could. Previously each pixel could record up to 4,096 shades but now it can record 16,386 and if you do a lot of portraits you will definitely notice this difference. Skin tones are amazingly reproduced with the finest of shade variations faithfully recorded.
There is also a much larger memory buffer which, coupled with the speed of the processor, lets you take shots extremely quickly. Being able to take 33 top quality jpeg photos in just 5 seconds is brilliant if you are into such things as sports photography, especially motor sport. Even in RAW mode you can get 27 shots in 4 seconds before the camera needs to offload its buffer onto your memory card. But it doesn't lock you out until all 27 are written to the card, as soon as it has written one photo to the card, it allows you to use that space in the buffer to take anohter shot. Try as I might, I have struggled to find myself locked out so the camera is always ready to go when you need it.
One thing I noticed immediately was just how quiet the camera is, far less noisy than my 20D or the 30D. This is because instead of relying on a spring-loaded mirror, it now uses an electro-magnetic motor system for the mirror, the shutter and the pop-up flash. This makes a very big difference and when I've been taking shots in church at a wedding, it is far less obtrusive.
The autofocus system has been completely redesigned for this camera and it is noticeably better. It locks into focus considerably faster and is able to do so more accurately because it now has 9 cross-type focusing sensors which really do make a big difference. I get considerably less 'hunting' with my large 100-400mm zoom lens than I did with either the 20 or 30D.
One brand new thing for the mid-range Canons is the huge screen on the back (3") coupled with Live View. This lets you frame the picture accurately without needing to look through the viewfinder. This makes it possible to lift the camera above your head (a crowd maybe!) and still see what you're taking a picture of. You can view the screen at a narrow angle so it is very clear. The viewfinder shows slightly more of the picture than previously: 95% instead of 90% so at least you do now see a much closer idea through the viewfinder of what you're actually taking but the liveview screen shows exactly what the sensor sees and so you get 100% of the view. I find this very helpful as I often find myself cropping the edges from photos which doesn't happen when taking the pictures this way.
As I love macro photography, it is often a challenge to look through the viewfinder and focus accurately on a tiny detail with very shallow depth of field. That problem is solved with LiveView. Now I can put the camera on a tripod, use my macro lens in manual focus mode, and then use live view. The great thing is, if you press the magnifier button, it enlarges times five and you can move around to see exactly the bit you want to focus tightly on (just use the thumbstick). If that isn't enough, press again and you get a 10x view. You can now focus extremely precisely. The added advantage is that because live view works by lifting the mirror, you are already in mirror lock-up mode so just use a cable release or self-timer and the camera is going to stay absolutely still. Result: the sharpest macro shots I've ever been able to manage!
There is much more to this camera, a variety of easy to set picture styles which will give you the best settings for lush colours in a landscape, best tones in a portrait, etc. plus you can set three Custom Styles which are just as easily selectable so you can adjust a style to your own preferences and save it ready for speedy use. I have the 580EX Mk II flashgun which works brilliantly with this camera. Instead of the flashgun and the camera both reading the lighting conditions, the flashgun now lets the camera do the work and then they talk to each other to get the correct amount of light output from the flash to give you well-balanced flash pictures.
The auto-cleaning sensor is seemingly very effective but to be honest I haven't had it long enough to get the sensor all that dirty as yet. Suffice to say I am not seeing any 'dust bunnies' on my pictures at the moment. The sensor is set to work once when I turn on and again when i turn off. You can choose to do this or if you want the camera ready to shoot in a split second, change the custom function to only do the sensor clean when you tell it to. The dust is shaken off by ultrasonic vibrations and then to stop the dust from being allowed to blow around inside the camera and settle again on the sensor, there are two further lines of defence: the sensor has an anti-static coating to stop charged particles sticking to it and there is a tacky strip at the bottom below the sensor so that when dust is shaken onto it, it stays there for good!
I really could go on and bore you rigid with all the other things I like on this camera but suffice to say anyone who buys this camera is not going to be disappointed. It has speed, ease of use, accurate focusing, stunning colour rendition, and enough pixels to crop some off and still print at A3+ which I have done several times.
I hope you find this review helpful. Now, if you'll please excuse me, I need to get off.... I hear my baby 40D calling and demanding some more attention. Who am I to refuse?!!!
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Amount Paid (US$): 1400
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Solid Enough for a Professional