The Canon EOS 10D Digital SLR:
Impressions and techniques Part 1
by Norman Koren
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.
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.
3 contains a discussion of resolution and image quality, and conclusions.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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-Franšois Ma´on has written an excellent article about his experience with the EOS 10D on a mountain treck in Nepal.
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.
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 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.
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
|Images and text copyright (C) 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. Since 2003 most of his time has been devoted to the development of Imatest. He has been involved with photography since 1964.