When I was asked to review the Canon 40D, I was intrigued because my last experience with a prosumer model was with the Canon 10D, which I still own, and used professionally for four years. I have been shooting digitally since 1998 and have been in business at the same studio since 1987. Most of my work is people- and product-based, and I shoot landscapes for my own personal work. I currently own the EOS-1D Mark III and the EOS-1Ds Mark II.
I was immediately comfortable with the 40D, as it incorporates many of the new features of my Mark III, so let's get through the technical specs and get to the real tests I gave it. The camera has the new Digic III processor with a 6.5 frames-per-second burst rate that will capture approximately 75 JPEG or 17 raw images in a single continuous burst. It sports a 10.1-megapixel CMOS APS-C type sensor with an automatic sensor cleaner, has Live View along with a very bright 3-inch LCD, and features Canon's new Highlight Tone Priority, which can save highlight detail. It also has AUTO ISO, a nine-point autofocus, and a 14-bit A/D converter. The menus are completely redesigned and give you three custom menu settings, which allow you to store all of the custom functions you use on a regular basis.
The nine-point focusing system makes the camera faster, easier, and more accurate to focus, even in low-light conditions. All of the focusing points are cross type-meaning they are sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail.
My intent was to test the 40D with real-world images, not create portfolio pieces. I limited myself to one lens with the built-in flash and shot only in JPEG for a worst-case scenario. Normally I carry a ridiculously full bag of equipment and shoot exclusively in raw because of the superior information and post-production capabilities a 14-bit file affords compared to a camera-processed 8-bit JPEG or TIFF.
The shot of tafoni rock formations on the California coast (below, right) was taken with the new 14mm Canon lens at f/8 and 100 ISO. It handled the detail, smooth gradation, and separation of textures and tones incredibly well. I really enjoyed using the Live View to focus and compose on the large 3-inch LCD. The white selection square allows you to toggle to the exact spot you want to magnify at 5x or 10x magnification for critical focus. This enabled me to focus as I would on a 4x5 camera using an 8x loupe, without the bulk and weight of the camera or the dark cloth. And in Live View the mirror is already up, eliminating vibration during long exposures. Upon returning to my studio, I was able to make a beautiful and sharp 20x30-inch print on my Canon IPF 6100; the file held up incredibly well.
Shooting in difficult lighting situations
The photo of the cheerleading competition (bottom of page 34, far left) was shot in a large gymnasium with low light and awful color. Setting a custom color balance using some of the ceiling tiles to set the white tone, I shot handheld with the 70-200mm f/4 IS lens, 1600 ISO at 100th of a second or lower. The RGB values in the white area are dead neutral with very usable grain.
The shot on the car carousel (below) was taken at 3200 ISO. The file is very usable and unexpectedly clean at this speed, with noise where you would expect to see it in the shadows.
There are several other new features incorporated into this camera. I find the new interchangeable focusing screens, the permanent ISO display, and the B&W icon that warns you if you're shooting in black and white in the viewfinder very helpful. I like the fact that you can display an RGB histogram and a luminance histogram at the same time. The viewfinder also appears to be much improved, very good for a camera with a reduced frame and certainly brighter.
More Great Features Packed into the Camera
I find the dedicated AF-ON button on the rear of the camera, right where your thumb is, to be very useful. In AI-Servo mode (artificial intelligence mode, for continuous focusing situations in sports and tracking people and subjects that are moving), you can keep this button depressed with your thumb, which keeps your moving subject in constant focus, and trigger the shutter release independently with your index finger on the shutter release. I find it extremely helpful when shooting portraits to be able to lock the focus and have the shutter respond independently precisely when I want it to. Previously this capability was only accessible as a custom function.
The highlight tone priority will be very helpful to wedding photographers by helping them keep detail in the bright reflective areas of the bride's gown. Like all of the Canon cameras since the D30, the noise in high ISOs is minimal compared to other cameras on the market. I don't find it at all objectionable up to 1600, and usable even at 3200. In addition to the low noise, the additional luminance values available by the 14-bit capture make the file quality outstanding.
I honestly can't remember the last time I went out with one camera with only one lens. I had a great time shooting these images and got excellent quality without carrying around lots of equipment. The image quality and ease of use of the 40D is excellent. Based on my tests, I'm sure that under normal studio conditions shooting raw, this camera will perform incredibly well. I can't imagine any camera manufacturer competing with it anywhere near its price point.