Price: £1,499 plus VAT
We’re used to short product lifetimes in computers, but high-end digital cameras usually hang around for a while. So when Canon replaced its EOS D60 digital SLR (D-SLR) barely nine months after shipping, there were shockwaves in the photographic community. It’s easy to see why the EOS 10D was launched so soon, as it’s a huge improvement that puts Canon ahead of arch-rival Nikon’s D100 in the cut-throat ‘entry-level’ digital-SLR market. It’s amazing that a six-megapixel resolution can now be regarded as the entry level – the high-end now takes in the 11.1mp Canon EOS 1Ds (at £5,000), and the 14mp Kodak DCS 14n (£3,500). Although the new EOS 10D’s 6.3mp (3072-x-2048 pixel) CMOS sensor is the same as the D60, just about everything else that matters is better – image quality, capture speed, focusing, colour rendition, and general construction are all noticeably improved. It’s cheaper, too – the list price is just under £1,500, but it’s already appearing for £200 less if you shop around. Starting with the outside, the EOS 10D has a brand-new metal alloy body that feels more solid than the D60’s plastic over a metal frame. It isn’t waterproofed like the professional-level EOS 1D or 1Ds, but these cost a lot more. The new body has allowed Canon to revamp the controls – the on-off switch is relocated and improved; the back-panel buttons and thumbwheel are re-organized; and the top panel now displays the white balance as well as ‘camera’ settings. The improved zoom and scrolling buttons are also welcome. Any EOS autofocus lens will fit the EOS 10D, with an enlargement factor of about 1.6x. A small nuisance factor is that some older non-Canon lenses may not work. My pair of Sigma lenses were a case in point. They worked with the D60, but caused the 10D to lock up with an error message. Sigma says that it can update most of its lenses for about £30. Internally the major enhancement is the new DIGIC processor, first seen on Canon’s G3 digital compact camera. DIGIC is extremely fast, so more processes can be carried out. For instance, while the maximum frame rate is still 3fps, you can now shoot in bursts of nine frames, because the buffer memory is cleared faster. The automatic white-balance is also revised thanks to DIGIC, and can cope with different light sources in the same image, though it still isn’t brilliant – you’re better off using either the presets or the manual control in artificial light. However, a useful new option lets you set a colour temperature (from 2,900-10,000K), by either using a colour meter, or experimenting until it looks right. You can now set up automatic white-balance bracketing as well as exposure bracketing. Noise reduction has always been good with Canon’s CMOS models, and it’s been further improved, giving sharper detail for the same resolution. It’s so good that I was happy to shoot at the 200 ISO setting, rather than the minimum 100. The 400 and 800 settings are fair, too. The maximum ISO is an impressive 1,600, extendable to 3,200 by a menu option. Night exposures of tens of seconds are possible with little noise, too. However, my tests suggested a tendency to about one stop underexposure in many conditions. Autofocus improvements The D30 and D60 were criticized for slow autofocus, but the 10D has a new system that’s fast and accurate. There are seven autofocus hotspots visible in the viewfinder window – the camera can automatically choose one, or you can manually choose the best for your subject. Canon’s predictive ‘AI Servo’ autofocus allows it to follow a fast-moving object. A new orientation sensor detects whether the camera is in landscape or portrait alignment, and displays the picture accordingly – it also helps autoexposure (so it knows where the sky is). In addition to sRGB, there’s a new Adobe 1998 RGB colour model, which gives a wider colour gamut suited to professional photographic and printing use (unfortunately, it doesn’t embed an ICC profile). You can also create three custom settings yourself. The pop-up flash unit is more powerful than the D60, and doubles as a pre-shot autofocus illuminator in low light. Advanced photographers will want to use an external flash – this is supported via a hotshoe and a standard PC socket. Canon’s comprehensive software bundle includes the ImageBrowser downloader (for USB connections), a file viewer, PhotoStitch (a basic panorama stitcher), and RemoteCapture, for controlling the camera from the computer via USB. The camera can also print directly to some Canon printers. One small disappointment is that the new Adobe Raw/JPEG 2000 Photoshop plug-in (reviewed in Digit 61, page 47) cannot open the EOS 10D’s Raw files. Canon’s own software converts Raw, but another alternative is Capture One LE, a £66 Raw converter from camera developer Phase One (www.phaseone.com). This lets you edit Raw settings before re-saving as a standard file. The EOS 10D version is in Beta for Windows only, but the release version will support Macs. Image quality from the EOS 10D is generally excellent, and gets the most out of the 6.3mp CMOS. Detail rendition is particularly good – in my tests, it matched or exceeded that of a £5,000+ Kodak DCS 760 from two years ago. Colour rendition is excellent and well saturated. Overall, the EOS 10D is the best of the current sub-£2,000 digital SLRs in terms of image quality, speed, and robustness.