The Canon EOS 10D Digital SLR:
Impressions and techniques  Part 1
by Norman Koren

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Part 1 | Introduction | News | The EOS-20D | Links  | Why I chose the 10D | Lenses | Accessories
Part 2 | Read the manual! | Menu | Operating modes | Settings | Tips
Part 3 | Image quality/file formats | Nikon D100 comparison | RAW conversion | Flash
Part 4 | Resolution compared to 35mm | Dynamic range and tonal response | Summary
Related pages: Digital cameras | Digital vs. film | Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras

Introduction

The Canon EOS-10D DSLRI was impressed by the 6.3 megapixel Canon EOS 10D I saw at the PMA show in Las Vegas in early March, 2003. 13x19 inch prints were stunning and 24x36 inch prints still impressive when viewed from a moderate distance. (You wouldn't expect them to be absolutely sharp at that size.) The fast, positive, 7-point autofocus, rugged magnesium body, lack of obvious shutter lag, and reduced price compared to the D60 ($1499 vs. about $2200) were factors in my decision. I ordered one shortly after I returned home, and it arrived at the end of March. This was a big change for me-- I'd been using Canon FD manual focus cameras and lenses, which date from 1986 and earlier.

In many respects the 10D feels and operates like a film SLR. It has an optical viewfinder, a shutter, and a mirror. Its operating modes, autofocus, autoexposure, and main and quick control dials are derived from EOS film cameras. It feels very sturdy, thanks to the magnesium body. The viewfinder is small but adequate for manual focus when autofocus doesn't do what you expect. (Mind-reading autofocus hasn't arrived, but manual focus comes close.) The 10D is very different from compact digital cameras that superficially resemble SLRs (the Nikon 5700, Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, and Sony DSC-F717). These cameras have no mirrors; instead they have LCD viewfinders that allow you to see the digital image before you make the exposure (an advantage, though it drains batteries), but the viewfinder image is lacking in detail. These cameras tend to have significant shutter lag. I prefer an SLR optical viewfinder.

On the whole I'm delighted with the 10D. Sharpness, absence of grain, colors, and tones are everything I expected. My only reservation-- which it shares with other digital SLRs-- is that there is a tendency to burn out highlights in contrasty light. Sunsets can be particularly troublesome. It is comparable to slide film in this regard. Most of my work was with negative film, which has a huge latitude-- little problem with burnt out highlights except under exceptional conditions. Fortunately, there are several things you can do about it. See Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras for one of the best.
 

Ye news
September 2005. The 12.8 megapixel full-frame Canon EOS 5D has been announced, and should ship shortly. It's not much larger then the EOS-10D, and much smaller and lighter than the EOS 1Ds Mark II. It's $3,300 USD price is less than half of the 16.7 megapixel 1Ds Mark II's $7,000 price.

August 19, 2004.
Canon announced its replacement for the 10D: the EOS-20D. I discuss it below.

January 2004. Canon announced the EOS 1D Mark II as a replacement for the 1D. Available April 2004. Specs: 8.2 megapixels, 28.7x19.1 mm CMOS sensor (34.5 mm diagonal; 1.27x larger than the 10D; 1.3x focal length multiplier) with 8.5 micron pixel spacing, 8.5 frames per second, a honking huge 40 image buffer, excellent seal against water and dust. Heavy: 1220 g without battery or lens (a full pound more than the 10D). Optimized for speed-- for sports, wildlife, and action photographers. It has about every imaginable feature and mode. It will be significantly more expensive than the 10D-- around $4,000 USD. See previews by Dpreview.com and Rob Galbraith.

Nikon announced the 6 megapixel D70 digital SLR to sell for $1,000 USD. (Nikon's site has a really annoying, slow Flash presentation. You might like it if you're the kind of person who watches the Superbowl for the commercials and hits the mute button when the game comes on.) According to Thom Hogan, it's more a replacement for the D100 than an entry-level model like the 300D. It will put price pressure on the 10D-- a good thing, as the Martha would say. Dpreview.com has a preview. Nikon also announced an 18-70 mm f/3.5-4.5 DX lens to go along with it-- a higher-end lens than the worthy 18-55 sold with the 300D.

September 2003. Canon introduced the EOS Digital Rebel 300D, an entry-level digital SLR with most of the features of the 10D for less than 2/3 the price-- about $900 USD, body only. It's also lighter (560 g vs. 790 g) and (no surprise) not as well constructed-- it has a "plasticy" feel. But it's a great value, especially when compared against several of the "prosumer" compact digitals. For $100 more you can get it with a decent 18-55 mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens designed to cover the 300D's sensor's 27.1 mm diagonal. It's an excellent value. Although you wouldn't expect it to equal a premium "L" lens, Peteris Treijs tested it using my chart and found that it was consistently sharper than Canon's consumer-grade 24-85 mm. I won't have much to say about choosing between the 300D and 10D: it depends on your photographic ambitions and your budget. If you're struggling with a decision, I recommend the writeup by Michael Reichmann and the comprehensive review in Dpreview.com.

I don't plan a full review. The pages listed below serve that purpose well; there's no reason to duplicate them. This report is in three parts. This part introduces the EOS 10D, covers many of its operating modes, and includes advice on using the camera. Part 2 contains  a description of storage formats, a comparison with the Nikon D100, descriptions of Raw conversion programs, and flash operation. Part 3 contains a discussion of resolution and image quality, and conclusions.
 

The Canon EOS-20D  announced August 19, 2004

The EOS-20D, Canon's replacement for the 10D, has approximately the same sensor size (and 1.6xfocal length multiplier), an 8.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, a higher (better) pop-up flash, rapid startup (more important than you'd think), and two exciting new EF-S lenses (which cover the 20D sensor, but don't work with the 10D): the 10-22 mm f/3.5-4.5 ($799 US MSRP) and the 17-85 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS (Image Stabilization) ($599 US MSRP). Both lenses appear to be very high quality, although neither has the "L" label. About the only downside: it has a noisier shutter. The smaller, lighter, cheaper, and less sturdy Digital Rebel XT has a much quieter shutter.

I purchased the EOS-20D in November 2004 and used it in India.

The 20D was reviewed in Luminous-landscape.com and Imaging-resource.com. The latter includes some results from my new Imatest program, which tests camera and lens sharpness and image quality using inexpensive, widely available targets, including targets you can print yourself on any high quality inkjet printer. You can download an evaluation copy that allows up to twenty runs, and you can purchase the full version for only $59 USD.

The question in everyone's mind is, "How does the image quality of the 20D comapare with that of the 10D?" Thanks to Imatest this question can be answered with precision, using ISO 12233 charts from dpreview.com.

If the increased pixel count (3504x2336 vs. 3072x2048 for the 10D) were all that mattered, we'd expect a 14% increase in linear resolution.

Imatest measures sharpness by analyzing images of a slanted-edge black-to-white (or dark-to-light gray) target. The crop used to obtain these results (similar for both cameras) is shown on the right.

The upper plot shows the density of the average edge. Its length is measured by its 10-90% rise distance. The black lines are the edges straight out of the camera. The 20D has larger bumps near the edges-- a clear indication of increased sharpening. The dashed red lines show the edges with sharpening set to a standard amount. This allows cameras with different degrees of sharpening to be compared fairly. Measured in pixels, the rise distance is nearly the same for both cameras. But the pixels are smaller for the 20D: 6.42 microns vs. 7.38 for the 10D. The total 10-90% rises (with standardized sharpening) is 16% higher for the 20D.

The lower plots show the spatial frequency response (SFR; also called MTF), which can be thought of as contrast at a given spatial frequency. It is discussed in What is image sharpness and how is it measured? In essence, the more extended the SFR, the more detail. MTF50, the spatial frequency where contrast falls to half its low frequency value, is an excellent measure of perceived sharpness.

Measured in cycles per pixel, MTF50 corrected for sharpening (dashed red) is slightly better for the 20D-- a bit of a surprise. In Line Widths per Picture Height-- a measure of total detail, the 20D is 18% better, exceding expectations.

Both tests were performed with a 50 mm lens (probably the outstanding 50mm f/1.4 lens) at f/9, which is close to the optimum aperture-- where the lens is sharpest. These results tell us.

  • This (high quality) lens is not the limiting factor.
  • The EOS-20D meets expectations.
  • Lens quality is extremely important for the 20D, even more so than for the 10D, because the 20D has smaller pixels.
Lenses for SLRs vary a lot, both by model and by individual unit. Quality control is far from perfect. Imatest is an great way to measure lens performance at different focal lengths and apertures-- and ultimately determine a lens's quality.

My bottom line--  Photokina is coming at the end of September. Unless Canon announces a replacement for the 1Ds that I can afford (unlikely) I'll buy the 20D for the (modest) increase in resolution and the lenses. The lenses are the major motivation: I miss extreme wide angle with the 10D. The 10-22 (16-35 mm 35mm equivalent) is as wide as I need. And the 17-85 IS sounds terrific. I purchased a 24-70 f/2.8 L lens to fill the gap between my 17-40 f/4 L and my 70-200 f/4 L. Talk about a love/hate relationship. It's sharp, but it's a monster: huge and heavy; a pain to carry on long hikes. The 17-85 sounds like a dream.

 







A number of EOS 10D images are now on my Image Gallery 2003.
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras explains how to achieve optimum tonal quality from your digital camera.

Links to reviews, writeups, and forums

Canon's manuals for the EOS 10D, both hardware and software, can be downloaded in PDF format from this page. Canon U.S.A. is offering an EOS Digital Workflow Guide on this page. The 10D firmware (its basic operating program) is occasionally updated. An update released on June 26, 2003 can be found here. Apparently its effects are minor-- affecting Chinese text and direct USB printing. Reports of faster startup and improved sharpness and color are probably the placebo effect. The Canon Camera Museum has a nice description of the 10D. Epc-online.com has some brochure pages I haven't found anywhere else.
Dpreview.com  As always, a thorough, comprehensive review. Its excellent Canon SLR forum is the place to get difficult questions answered.
Imaging-resource.com  Ditto.
Steve's Digicams  Ditto, again.
Luminous-landscape.com  Michael Reichmann's comments are thought provoking, as usual. From talking with insiders he learned that the 10D is an entirely new design, even though it superficially resembles the D60. He also has a page on the focusing problem some 10D users have experienced. Neither of us have seen the problem.
Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo has a diary of his experience with the 10D. He likes it, even though he has a 1Ds.
Peter Wolff's clear comparison of the EOS-1Ds with 35mm and medium format in Photographical.net (excellent site) is most interesting, even though it's not about the EOS 10D. Summary (no surprise): The EOS-1Ds trounces 35mm and seriously challenges medium format.
Steve Hoffman's Digital SLR vs. Film Scans  An excellent comparison the EOS 10D, EOS-1Ds, 35mm Provia, and 4x5 using the same image, with the excellent 24-70 mm f/2.8 L lens for the first three. Recommended.
Creativepro.com has a brief review.
 
Photo.net  has several articles, some of which have reader comments. They're really on the 10D bandwagon.
Canon EOS 10D - First Impressions by Bob Atkins.
The New User's Guide to the EOS 10D by Bob Atkins.
The Highs and Lows of the Canon 10D by Kent Phelan. I strongly disagree with his comments about RAW format. With 30,000 10D's produced each month (as of mid-2003), support from Canon and third party vendors will continue for a long, long time. Kent's experience with the Kodak DCS EOS-1M (B&W only) is irrelevant: only a few hundred of those oddities were made, and software support was never good. RAW is the way to go when highest image quality is required. JPEG Large/Fine is OK for anything casual.
DSLRs, Lenses and Film by Bob Atkins. Summary: good lenses make a difference; they're worthwhile. Strongly confirms my analysis in Digital vs. film: the 10D has less total resolution than 35mm film, but its superb color and absence of grain results in image quality comparable to 35mm. Bob won't be using much film in the future.
Focus testing - 10D by Bob Atkins discusses the focus problem some 10D owners have observed (mine is perfect). Apparently Canon can fix it easily.
FORUMS-- the best places to go for help. Write me if you have suggestions or can't find answers elsewhere.
Canon EOS 10D, D30/D60 and Digital Rebel/300D forum on RobGalbraith.com.
Canon SLR forum from dpreview.com.

Sooner or later you'll need to clean the sensor. Michael Reichmann has a nice set of instructions.

Two weeks away from the power grid  Jean-François Maïon has written an excellent article about his experience with the EOS 10D on a mountain treck in Nepal.

Why I chose the 10D

Eventually digital cameras will dominate photography.  As I pointed out in Digital vs. film, it's just a matter of time. Digital cameras have numerous advantages-- no film, no developing, no grain, excellent color quality, no trips to the shop to drop off and pick up film, and no time-consuming scanning. The immediate feedback is a treat-- many people feel it makes them better photographers; you can view results and correct mistakes in realtime. Digital cameras are fun; you can snap images you'd never risk with film.

The $7999 full-frame (24x36mm sensor) 11 megapixel EOD-1Ds already outperforms 35mm and seriously challenges medium format. With Canon's superb line of Tilt/shift lenses (24, 45, and 90 mm), it can replace view cameras for images up to 16x24 inches. The 1Ds would have been my choice if I felt comfortable with the price, but that time hasn't arrived. "Affordable" is an individual issue. It mostly comes down to a few questions: How much money do you spend on film and developing? What is it worth to you to have rapid results-- not to have to schlep film to and from a lab? What will your clients accept? How deep are your pockets? I'd purchase a 1Ds today if I were a professional with a high volume of demanding work.

The 10D is the little brother of the 1Ds: smaller and 275 grams (9.7 oz) lighter with most of the features, though the autofocus is less sophisticated-- it doesn't work as well in dim light or at f/8 (you can always use manual). It's smaller sensor (15.1x22.7 mm) results an effective focal length multiplier of 1.6, e.g., a 24-85 mm zoom is equivalent to 38-136 mm in a full-frame 35mm camera. That's fine for telephoto photography (it's for the birds!), but a significant disadvantage if you like ultrawide photography, as I do. The outstanding new 17-40 mm f/4 L (27-64 mm equivalent) helps somewhat.

The 10D makes excellent prints up to 13x19 inches-- the maximum for my Epson 2200. And although resolution isn't quite up to 35mm at its best, which is better than most people realize, the absence of grain, the smooth tones, and the fine color rendition make the overall image quality the equal of 35mm. The 10D is a serious camera. I figure I'll get more than my money's worth in the roughly two years I expect to wait for an affordable full-frame camera.

Prices for full-frame sensors are dropping more slowly than I'd like-- for the simple reason that they're difficult to manufacture with good yields. Most progress in solid-state electronics in the last three decades has been driven by shrinking feature size-- more functions fit on the same piece of silicon. But you can't shrink pixels without increasing noise and reducing sensitivity and dynamic range. If you want the finest image quality you need large pixels, hence large sensors.

The evolution of digital sensors has slowed down recently. Compact digital cameras (with 11 mm diagonal or smaller sensors) are topping out around 5 megapixels-- there would be little improvement in increasing the number of already tiny pixels. The 10D's sensor has the same number of pixels as the D60, introduced a year earlier, but has lower noise due to improved processing. Used D60s and D30s still bring pretty good prices. No doubt better cameras will appear and prices will drop, but the digital camera you buy today won't be obsolete in six months. The era of overnight obsolescence is over. Until I got the 10D I was happily using pre-1986 Canon FD manual focus cameras with no worry about obsolescence. They made pictures as wonderful as ever. But the many advantages of digital SLRs, particularly the 10D, finally won me over.

Here are some other factors behind my decision.

 
 







Right: Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado (our fair city).

17-40 mm f/4 L @ 35 mm, 1/125 sec., f/8, ASA 400, handheld, converted from RAW format with Canon File Viewer Utility. A print on 13x19 inch paper (18.2 inches long, printed at 169 dpi) is a pleasure to behold. I've done some minor tonal adjustments and a little extra unsharp masking (Radius = 1, as defined in Picture Window Pro). This lens is sharp! Almost good enough to restore my faith in "progress." Read Michael Reichmann's review.

Details of above image enlarged 1:1.
The slight oversharpening enhances the appearance of a 13x19 print, although it's barely visible on the print. At 90 pixels per inch (typical monitor resolution these days), the full image would be 23x34 inches.. It's not just the sharpness and absence of grain I like about the 10D; the tones and colors are superb. In my (not so) humble opinion, they're superior to film.

Lenses

The EOS 10D's digital sensor can capture finer detail than most color films. You need top quality lenses for best results-- you can see the difference. Calculated MTF charts for Canon EF are available on the Canon USA site. The horizontal axis is distance from the center of the lens in mm. MTF is given for the lens wide open and at f/8, for 10 and 30 lp/mm (not 40 lp/mm, found in several other pages), and for sagittal (radial) and meridional (tangential) directions. The explanation, MTF chart - how to read, isn't clear about which plot is which. The higher plots are obviously stopped down (f/8) and lower spatial frequency (10 lp/mm). Canon's charts are calculated, not measured. They may give optimistic results, particularly for the inexpensive lenses.

Zoom (variable focal length) vs. prime (fixed focal length) lenses: In the old days, primes were better, period. But today's premium zooms (such as the Canon L-series) are as sharp as primes. Cheap zooms vary; some are junk. You need to research carefully before purchasing one. Fredmiranda.com has a nice set of user reviews for Canon, Nikon, and independent lenses. The advantage of primes is that they tend to be lighter, faster (larger aperture, i.e., lower maximum f-stop), less expensive, and have less flare (susceptibility to light bouncing between glass elements that tends to fog the image in contrasty light). But zooms are incredibly convenient. They enable you to frame an image precisely, and you don't need as many lenses.

[A note on Canon's L-series. "L" lenses are Canon's premium series. L-glass is uniformly sharp and high quality, comparable to Leitz and Zeiss glass. Small aperture (f/4) L lenses are just as sharp as their larger aperture counterparts, but smaller, lighter, and less expensive. They are excellent buys if you want high quality and don't need large apertures. Some non-L lenses are also excellent, though they might not meet L standards wide open.]

Here is a list of the lenses I've purchased.

I also considered the 24 mm Tilt/shift but probably won't get it because the 17-40 has sufficient depth of field.

I was impressed by Michael Reichmann's review of the 400 mm f/5.6 L: it's as sharp as any Canon telephoto, compact, and lightweight. (Michael wasn't happy with the 100-400 mm L-- a rare negative comment about an L lens.) At about $1,100, it's not cheap, but Canon's other 400+ mm lenses (most with image stabilization) start around $5,000. I'd love a lens like the Nikon 12-24 mm DX, designed for digital SLRs-- it doesn't cover full frame 35mm. Sigma has filled that niche with the 12-24 mm F4.5-F5.6 EX DG Aspherical HSM. (Don't those initials make it better?) I'm waiting for reviews-- I don't have the same faith in Sigma lenses that I have in Canon L lenses. Sigma has also introduced compact lightweight 18-50 and 55-200 mm lenses with image circles that cover the less than full frame DSLRs (the EOS 10D, D100, Sigma SD9/10, etc.). You can help support this site by linking directly to Adorama for your purchases.

I haven't looked closely at lenses from independent manufacturers. According to Steve Stanford (from the UK), "In my opinion the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX performs poorly. Oddly, the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 EX is a superb piece of glass-- I can't tell it from the Canon 70-200 2.8 L (and yes, I've tried both)." Adam Wynne (also from the UK) finds the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX to be quite decent.

More lens reviews: The following sites may be helpful if you're trying to decide which lens(es) to purchase. Pcphotoreview.com and Fredmiranda.com have databases of user-supplied lens reviews. Photo.net  and Bob Atkins have reviews of Canon bodies and lenses. PhotoDo has some excellent MTF tests, but it's is no longer being updated; it doesn't have recent lenses.

Accessories

 
Part 1 | Introduction | News | The EOS-20D | Links  | Why I chose the 10D | Lenses | Accessories
Part 2 | Read the manual! | Menu | Operating modes | Settings | Tips
Part 3 | Image quality/file formats | Nikon D100 comparison | RAW conversion | Flash
Part 4 | Resolution compared to 35mm | Dynamic range and tonal response | Summary
Related pages: Digital cameras | Digital vs. film | Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras


I'm happy to answer simple questions (remember, I'm still learning) and consider suggestions for improvements. E-mail me. If you have difficult questions, the best place to post them is the DPReview.com Canon SLR forum.
 
Images and text copyright © 2000-2013 by Norman Koren. Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked in developing magnetic recording technology for high capacity data storage systems until 2001. He has been working on Imatest since 2003. He has been involved with photography since 1964.