The Canon EOS 10D Digital SLR:
Impressions and techniques  Part 2
by Norman Koren

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updated September 11, 2004
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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

Read the manual!

The 10D isn't for dummies. It's a sophisticated instrument, not a toaster oven. You won't be able to get the most out of it unless you spend a few hours studying the manual and practicing. Practice is free-- no film, no development. Try taking pictures with different settings; you see results in thumbnail form immediately. If you'd like to preview the camera and software manuals, you can download them in PDF format from this page.

Clink to link to Canon Flash site.
Back view, courtesy Canon.


I change several Menu settings from their default values. Study the manual and learn what all the settings do. Settings are accessed by pressing the MENU button, rotating the Quick Control Dial, and pressing the Setting button. This list isn't complete-- it's just the settings I pay attention to and frequently change.
Menu setting
Comments and tips
Sets image recording quality (file format), discussed below.
I leave it at the default, Large/Fine (JPEG), for casual images, but change it to RAW when I want optimum image quality.
Beep [On]
Enables beep when autofocus is achieved
I turn it Off. Unnecessary and distracting.
[Standard (sRGB)]
Sets color space: Standard = sRGB, Adobe RGB, or one of three custom parameter settings, Set 1, Set 2, or Set 3, which allow you to select Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, and Color tone.
I usually leave it at Standard (sRGB), but Adobe RGB is of interest in color-managed workflows. These settings are applied in the camera unless RAW quality is selected.
Auto power off
[1 minute]
Turns power off if camera isn't used for the specified time. Conserves battery power.
I set it to 2 or 4 minutes. 1 minute is just too short. This feature can be annoying since you have to wait about three seconds for the camera to turn on. For critical work like weddings I'd set it to 30 min. or off, and keep a supply of extra batteries handy. I always keep at least one extra.
Enables image display on the LCD monitor immediately after capture. If Review time is long enough (I recommend 8 sec.) you can delete images you don't like.
I prefer On (Info), which displays a histogram and other exposure data, and causes burnt out highlights to flash black and white. This is a great feature-- you can see instantly if all the scene information has been captured. You know immediately if you need to reexpose the image with a different exposure compensation setting. See the discussion of Histograms, below.
Review time
[2 sec.]
The length of time the review image is displayed.
I use 8 sec. 2 seconds is much too short to see what's happening and 4 seconds is marginal. You can erase an image if you don't like it, then reexpose if necessary.
Custom Functions
(C.Fn) [all 0]
Camera functions which are accessed less frequently. Extra steps are required to reach them.
C.FN-12 enables the mirror lockup when set to 1. Very handy for critical work such as close-up or long telephoto images with slow shutter speeds. Probably makes the biggest difference for exposures between 1/30 to 1/4 second. For longer exposures, vibration from the mirror is damped during most of the exposure. I'd like this setting to be a little handier.
Custom Function C.Fn-02
Shutter release w/o CF card [0: Possible]
0: Possible to make exposure without CF card.
1: Not possible.
So you've removed your CF card to upload images and forgotten to return it. You head out to take the photos of a lifetime. If C.FN-02 is at its default setting of 0, you snap away merrily without knowing that nothing has been saved. Change this setting to 1!  Whoever selected 0 as the default needs to have his or her head examined.
To obtain the best image quality with the 10D you must understand and use histograms. They're pretty simple. A histogram is a chart that illustrates the distribution of pixel levels (densities). They are illustrated by the two images and histograms on the right, taken from the Canon File Viewer-- similar to the LCD monitor display if Review is set to On (Info) or if you press INFO while viewing an image.
This image has an extreme dynamic range. The upper image is well exposed in the sky, but very dark in the buildings. A large portion of the pixels are at low levels-- on the left of the histogram; some are at zero (pure black). The lower image is well exposed in the buildings but light in the sky. There is a large histogram peak at the maximum pixel level (on the right), showing that the sky is blocked up (blown out)-- image detail has been lost. The extreme dynamic range of this scene makes it difficult to capture both shadow and highlight detail in one exposure. But the two images can be combined digitally (a sturdy tripod eliminates the need to register the images.) The Stack images transformation in Picture Window Pro 3.5 does this particularly well.

I often check the histogram immediately after making an exposure. If an important area is blocked out, I don't hesitate reexpose with exposure compensation. When highlights are washed out (the most frequent problem with digital cameras) the overall image may look dark, but it can be corrected in the image editor. For best quality, use RAW images and 48-bit conversion. Tones have 12-bit precision inside the 10D, and tonal levels are lost in 24-bit (8 bits per color channel) files (JPEGs). No harm is done if the image needs little editing, but image quality can be degraded-- banding (posterization) can appear-- if you have to expand tones in an area where they're compressed, for example, if you lighten the building in the upper image.

Histogram indicating dead shadows
Histogram indicating burnt out highlights
Want to learn more? Read Michael Reichmann's Understanding Histograms and Expose (to the) Right. Study Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras to learn to make digital camera images with optimum tonal quality.

.Clink to link to Canon Flash site.
Top view, courtesy Canon.

The LCD panel normally shows the white balance setting, shutter speed, aperture (f-stop), estimated number of images remaining (a function of the quality setting), quality setting, drive mode, metering mode, ..., battery charge, exposure compensation, and Autofocus mode. To see ISO speed you need to press the Drive mode/ISO speed button.

Operating modes

The 10D has a wide variety of modes-- something for everyone, controlled by the Mode dial (Top view, above, shown set to M), located where the rewind knob is found on traditional film SLRs. Most of these modes have been available on EOS cameras for some time. There are two broad categories: the Basic Zone, or "dummy" modes-- all fully automatic, and the Creative Zone, which offer a high degree of control. I frequently move between them.

Basic Zone (Programmed Image Control) modes are optimized for a variety of situations. They don't allow fine adjustments (White Balance, ISO speed, etc.), overrides, or exposure compensation. The simplest point-and-shoot mode is Fully Automatic, indicated by the green rectangle  on the Mode dial. It works well much of the time. Other Basic Zone modes are indicated by images. The modes are shown in the table below, clockwise starting with . All use JPEG (your choice), Auto ISO speed (100 to 400, depending on the light level and mode), Auto White Balance, and Evaluative metering. Custom functions are unavailable. Settings are described below.

Full Auto
AI Focus
AI Servo
AI Focus
Basic Zone (Programmed Image Control)

I rarely use Basic Zone modes. If you want any control at all, you'll have to use one of Creative zone modes, listed in the table below. AE indicates automatic exposure. On all AE settings, the Quick Control Dial (on the back) can be used to set exposure compensation if the adjacent switch is ON.

Program AE
Automatically selects combination of shutter speed and aperture, depending on light level and focal length.
Similar to Full Auto , but you can override settings. The main dial (near the shutter release) allows you to change the shutter speed/aperture combination. My choice for casual photography.
Shutter priority AE (Time Value)
Shutter speed is selected with the main dial.
Good for action photography.
Aperture Priority AE (Aperture value)
Aperture is selected with the main dial.
I use Av frequently for landscape photography.
Shutter speed is selected by the main dial. Aperture is selected with the quick control dial.
Particularly useful when several images are to be stitched to make a panorama.
Depth-of-Field AE
Finds the closest and furthest distance in the seven focus points and, if possible, sets aperture so all will be in good focus.
Cute, but I prefer Aperture Priority. A simplification  of the DEP mode on older EOS cameras, which required that you press the shutter halfway twice: once on the near and once on the far focus points. A-DEP is less useful. See Michael Reichmann's comments.
Creative Zone

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How to purchase prints
An excellent opportunity to collect high quality photographic prints and support this website. The images on the right, taken with the 10D, are remarkably sharp enlarged to 13x19 inches..
. Pines, Switzerland trail-- taken with the EOS-10D
Gaillardia-- taken with the EOS-10D


Settings are adjustable in any of the creative modes. They are accessed from buttons on the top of the camera, between the shutter release and the LCD panel. See the Top view, above. Each button accesses two settings, which can be adjusted by rotating the main dial (on the top, near the shutter) or quick control (QC) dial (on the back; must be ON).
[default] (dial)
Comments and tips
AF (Autofocus)
[One-shot AF]  (main)
One-Shot AF for still subjects.
AI Servo follows moving subjects. It uses more battery power. Action photographers should read this post on, which has valuable information from Canon.
AI Focus AF switches automatically from One-Shot to AI Servo if a subject starts to move. May switch unintentionally if the camera is moved.

Inoperative when the lens is set for manual focus: MF or M. Digital cameras never know for sure where you want to focus, though they make pretty good guesses. Manual focus is the way to go when they don't get it right. Incredible invention! I can't praise it too highly. Use it when you need it.

Autofocus is activated by pressing the shutter halfway. The AF point (one of seven) is selected by a program, which can be erratic. You can select an autofocus point manually with the AF point selector (on the back, top right).
Don't hesitate to focus manually if autofocus doesn't focus where you want! You can focus manually by setting the lens to MF (M in some) or by setting One-Shot AF and focusing manually after the autofocus point has been found. You can't do  this with AI Servo or AI Focus AF.
WB (White balance)
[AWB (Auto)]  (QC)
AWB (Auto)
Approx. 3000-7000 K
Approx. 5200 K
Approx. 7000 K
Approx. 6000 K
Approx. 3200 K

Approx. 2800-10000 K
Approx. 2000-10000 K

Approx. 6000 K

Approx. 4000 K
(flr. tube)

The higher the Kelvin (K) setting, the cooler (bluer) the image. The tiny symbols used for the settings are difficult to see on the LCD panel and difficult to remember.

I usually keep White balance at AWB (auto), but it can be fooled for some subjects. It's sometimes better to use one of the settings for specific lighting, but easy to forget the setting when the lighting changes.
Custom is the most accurate approach: you can photograph a white or light gray card (it should cover the entire partial metering circle in the central 9.5% of the frame) and use it to set the balance. Some photographers use the Wallace Expo/Disc for this purpose.
Setting WB to Color Temp. [K] sets the color temperature to the value in the Color temp. menu setting. 
White balance is difficult to evaluate in the camera-- the LCD monitor isn't good enough. It is applied later, not in the camera, when quality is set to RAW. If there are any concerns about White balance, for example, the color of a wedding dress, set quality to RAW and perform White balance off the camera using RAW conversion software.
DRIVE mode
[Single frame] (main)
Single frame One shot at a time
Continuous Approximately 3 frames per second
Maximum burst length is 9 shots.
ISO speed
[100]  (QC)
ISO is the imager sensitivity, equivalent to film speed. The ability to change ISO is one of the joys of using digital cameras. Settings are 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. 3200 is available if ISO expansion (a menu setting) is On.

Click here to learn how ISO speed is defined.

The higher the ISO, the noisier the image, but the 10D has much less noise than film. Noise is almost nonexistent at 100 and 200, slight at 400 and 800, and moderate at 1600. I use 100 or 200 for still subjects, 400 for subjects like flowers, which always seem to sway a little, and 800  or 1600 for action photography. has data on Noise vs. ISO.
Metering mode
[Evaluative]  (main)
Evaluative Metering: Matrix metering using 35 zones in a 5x7 grid. The zones near the selected autofocus points are given the greatest weight. Best for general use and action.
Partial Metering:Meters a circle in central 9.5% of the image area. Best for tricky lighting and the zone system (with manual exposure).
Center-weighted Average Metering Scene average weighted towards the center. Found in most SLRs. 
Evaluative (matrix) metering works well in most situations, but it can be fooled by bright highlights or strong backlighting. Use exposure compensation, or, if necessary, Partial metering with exposure compensation in this case. It never hurts to make test exposures and look at the histograms when lighting is tricky.
Flash exposure compensation
[0 (Zero)]  (QC)
Can be set to +/- 2 f-stops in 1/2 stop increments. Works in the same way as exposure compensation.

A few tips

Workflow: I typically remove the CF card and insert it in a CF card reader (which come in many configurations). This makes it resemble a hard drive. I use Canon ZoomBrowser EX to copy images to a (real) hard drive. Windows Explorer also works, but ZoomBrowser sends the images to folders whose names are based on the capture date, which I find convenient. I capture snapshots in JPEG format, but I use RAW when I want maximum image quality. I use Capture One LE to convert RAW files to TIFF format. Capture One can read images on CF cards, but it isn't great for transferring them to a hard drive.

Histogram indicating burnt out highlightsExposure compensation is an extremely important feature of the 10D. The meter can get confused by tricky light. Mind-reading exposure mode is no more available than mind-reading autofocus. Practice changing Exposure compensation (using the Quick Control dial on the back) by making exposures and using the histogram as your guide. The histogram is my primary means of evaluating exposure. (To take full advantage of the histogram, make sure Review is set to On (Info) and Review time is set to at least 4 and preferably 8 seconds.) Try exposure compensation in strong backlighting or where bright skies intrude into the scene. In such situations the histogram frequently indicates burnt-out highlights (see the example on the right). I frequently set compensation to -1/2 or -1 stop (decreased exposure). Burnt-out highlights are much more common than "dead" shadows, but either can be a problem in contrasty light.

I increase exposure less often-- only when the histogram indicates that the brightest areas of the image are far from saturation. This typically occurs in low contrast scenes. Increasing the exposure reduces the distance between digitized steps, resulting in smoother tonalities. See Michael Reichmann's Expose (to the) Right for a detailed explanation. Shooting RAW is particularly advantageous in low contrast lighting because you can take advantage of the extra precision (12 bits instead of 8) when you increase contrast to make the final image look good.

To review images you've taken, press the Playback button (lower left on the rear of the camera). The shutter speed, aperture (f-stop), image number and total images taken (e.g., 7/12 for exposure 7 of 12) are superimposed on the image. The image is selected with the Quick control dial (center, rear). You can zoom the image using the Enlarge and Reduce buttons (upper right, rear) and scroll it (when zoom is active) using the Quick control dial with direction controlled by the Direction switching button (above the Playback button). Zoom is turned off by pressing the Playback button.

If you press the Info button (the third button above the Playback button) while reviewing an image, the image size is reduced and a histogram is displayed, along with autofocus mode, operating mode (P, Tv, Av, etc.), ISO speed, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash compensation, white balance, image number and total images taken, quality setting, date, and time.

The diopter correction knob, located on the upper right of the viewfinder eyepice, should be adjusted for your individual eye. If it's adjusted properly the viewfinder image will appear sharp and clear. Once I bumped the camera, and for several days the viewfinder image just wasn't clear-- I started to think I'd either damaged the camera or my eyes (a very frightening thought). Then I remembered the little knob-- easy to forget since you normally adjust it only once.

Black & White images taken on the 10D can look spectacular, but you should not use color filters, particularly a red filter (Ansel Adams' favorite), when capturing the image. The Bayer array sensor has twice as many green pixels as red and blue pixels. RAW conversion algorithms take advantage of high resolution green information in interpolating red and blue channels-- image quality is best if you capture all the color channels. You can filter the image when you convert to B&W. Picture Window Pro's Monochrome transformation does a particularly good job; you can select the ideal filter by previewing its effect. If you plan to simulate a red filter I recommend capturing the image at a low ISO speed, preferably 100, to minimize red channel noise.

To achieve optimal tonal quality in your prints, read the tutorial, Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras.

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

If you have difficult questions, the best place to post them is the 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. Since 2003 most of his time has been devoted to the development of Imatest. He has been involved with photography since 1964.