Having used its predecessor, the Canon 30D, no more than a handful of times, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, the bigger brother. The look and feel of the lightweight magnesium alloy and steel body is very familiar, with only the significantly larger 3 inch LCD monitor being an obvious difference. The improved LCD is much brighter and has a really wide viewing angle. Whether viewing inside or outside in bright sunlight, I found the LCD to be clear and concise, especially when using the Live View function. Featuring a larger screen and therefore giving you more pixels to play with, it looks like Canon also decided to increase the font size of the various menu options because these are very clear and are easy to read in all but the brightest of conditions.
Going back to the Live View feature, this is a high-end DSLR feature that has been adopted for this ‘prosumer’ model. It allows the user to compose and take images without looking through the viewfinder and relying on what can be seen on the rear LCD. The Canon EOS 40D does this by flipping the mirror up and allowing a digital preview of what the sensor will capture when the shutter is pressed. A nice feature is that you can zoom in 5 or 10 times so you can be far more accurate with your focus point. Another nice feature is that the auto-focus can still be used during Live View.
Nicely weighted and feeling good to hold in the hand, the Canon EOS 40D certainly feels like a quality camera. Most of the camera controls have been ergonomically thought out, but this is where my years of almost exclusively using Nikon left me trailing when trying to adjust the camera settings – especially when in anger whilst shooting an action or wedding scene under time constraints. Although most of the settings can be adjusted via the rear screen menu options, when trying to quickly adjust ISO (the 40D has ISO 100 to 1600 and ISO 3200 in extended mode), metering type or even flash mode, I found it to be a two handed, multi-fingered affair. Don’t get me wrong, I often use two hands to adjust settings on the Nikon’s I use, but it seems that at least then the left hand is pressing a button on the left of the camera and the right hand is rotating a dial or bezel on the right hand side of the camera. With the Canon 40D digital SLR I found it was easier to stop looking through the viewfinder, adjust the relevant settings and then get back to shooting the scene. I have no doubt however that by owning and working with the 40D for more than a few days, you would very quickly adapt to the camera ergonomics. Referring to the very comprehensive user manual (which shipped in the box), I found all of the top LCD icons very clearly described and I quickly learnt how each of the functions could be adjusted / switched on or off.
For what must be considered to be a non-professional camera in the Canon range, I found the EOS 40D’s speed to be quite impressive. Not only from start-up, which was under 0.2 seconds, but also with the autofocus and lack of significant shutter-lag (a very common fault with lesser model digital cameras). Quoted at 6.5 frames per second maximum, it’s no slouch either and even when I pushed it, the buffer cleared quickly and I never found myself waiting for the camera to keep up with me. I would suggest 4fps is more realistic in actual use unless you optimise the setting to reduce the images sizes being captured. If shooting sports for a living then you might want to go for more, but in real everyday use then this burst speed is more than sufficient.
The kit lens I used was probably the slowest aspect of the camera setup, I felt the camera was held back by it and if this was my everyday camera then a higher spec lens would probably be my next purchase. The lens that supplied with the camera was certainly more than capable as an everyday lens – wide enough for tight groups and restricted scenes and also with a zoom to help getting those detail shots from a distance. On reviewing the images, it was sharp throughout the range with very little, if any, noticeable vignetting on its widest setting.
Talking about the images themselves, I loved the colours from this camera. My recollection of the Canon EOS 30D is that the images need to be warmed up a bit and that I always found them a bit cold. I’m assuming that because the Canon EOS 40D has adopted the 10.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor from the pro EOS models, then this is one of the reasons that the images seem vibrant, with great density and low noise characteristics straight out of the camera by just using the various scene modes available on the 40D. With over 50 custom functions and 3 custom presets (available to select from the mode dial), I very quickly was able to find a setting that suited the three disciplines I tried this camera on – for action it was with my kids in the park, then a bright wedding with contrasty shadows and awkward highlights to capture and finally in my studio to capture high and low key portraiture.
In conclusion the Canon EOS 40D is definitely one of the best prosumer cameras I have ever used. If in the market for a sensibly priced mid-to-high range DSLR then this would certainly be one of the contenders I would be looking at. If looking at it as a start-up professional, you could do far worse to get yourself up and running with this camera and a few good quality lenses that you could build up your kit with as the budget allowed. Then when the time is right, put the 40D digital SLR in your camera bag as your backup and upgrade to one of the professional Canon bodies.
This review and all images within it are copyright of Wex Photographic and Martin Wise 2009.Back to top