Canon EOS 20D: brave new world
The iron horse has come in the stead of of peasant's horse! One and a half year after the release of EOS 10D, the first "prosumer" digital 6-MP mirror camera in the "below $2,000" price category, Canon presented another model of the product line: the 8-MP EOS 20D camera. The effect proved staggering.
Let me take merely one paragraph to sing a hymn to the kind genius that has been guiding Canon these years through the market thorns towards market stars. New unique products are appearing like rabbits out of the juggler's hat on precisely the right moment and at the right price picking up the creams from the seething crowd of amateur photographers. That is how Canon EOS 300D came into being and passed along the pre-Christmas market like a typhoon. A year later, there suddenly appeared the EOS-1D Mark II, and these days the EOS 350D has also been announced. Competitors have got nothing to do but grit their teeth trying to catch up with others.
They have now got more work to do than before; the specifications listed in the below table will be the reference for a long time:
|Sensor||CMOS, 22.5õ15.0 (crop-factor – 1.6), 8 megapixels.|
|Sensitivity||ISO 100-1600 (expandable to 3200).|
|Image formats||JPEG 3504õ2336, 2544õ1696, 1728x1152; RAW 3504õ2336.|
|Media||Compact Flash type I and II (including micro-HDD).|
|Viewfinder||pentaprism, viewing angle 95% over the vertical and horizontally; diopter correction within -3 to +1.|
|LCD||1.8 inch, 118 thousand pixels.|
|Shutter||electronic, range of exposures within 1/8000 to 30 seconds. Flash gun synchronization exposure 1/250 sec.|
|Shooting modes||8 automatic and 4 creative.|
|Focusing modes||automatic (AI Focus), tracking (AI Servo), single-frame with backlight, manual. 9 focusing points.|
|Exposure metering modes||integral 35-zone (related to the focusing point), partial (9% of the frame area), center-weighted.|
|Expo correction||+/- 2 stages in 1/2 or 1/3 stages increments.|
|White balance||automatic, 6 presets, manual tuning, Kelvin-temperature scale, bracketing.|
|Flash gun||embedded, E-TTL II, lead number 13. External - Canon Speedlight EX series, synchro-contact. Flash gun compensation: +/- 2 stages.|
|Fast shooting||5 shots per second in series of 23 shots.|
|Auto-release||delay 10 sec, wire (optional) or IR console (optional).|
|Power supply||Li-ion battery (in the bundle), network adapter (optional), supply handle (optional).|
|Dimensions||144 x 106 x 72 mm (without lens)|
|Weight||770 g. (including the battery)|
For tests, we received a pre-sale specimen of the camera from the Moscow division of Canon, but further comparison with batch-produced models did not reveal essential differences. So, what has changed for the past one and a half year?
New 8-MP CMOS-sensor. The mere 25% of increased resolution has in fact become a result of big leap forward: despite the malicious forecasts in my article devoted to sensors, the noise level hasn't gone up at all (according to some independent tests, it has even gone down), which testifies both to the technological perfection of the sensor and the use of powerful embedded processing algorithms, in particular, detection of the noise level at the stage of analog-to-digital conversion of the image. At the same time, the move with a release of 8-MP mirror camera has taken competitors by surprise: they have just launched a batch production of 6-MP models.
New DIGIC II processor – the second component of success. Its use has allowed improving the speed characteristics of the camera (which caused most complaints among the users of 10D and at which the Nikon with its D70 aimed at aggressively), which resulted first in the practically instant time for power-on or leaving the Standby mode (0.3 seconds) and, secondly, the unprecedented "rate of fire": 5 shots per seconds in series of 23 shots of JPEG format of maximum size and quality! To some extent, the slightly accelerated focusing can be added to that.
Another merit of the new processor is the emergence of new digital effects and improvement of the old. There are two major novelties – the black-and-white shooting mode with the possibility to apply virtual color-correction filters (those who ever took b/w pictures understand what is meant) as well as selection of a separate parameter for choosing the Adobe RGB color space. The menu has been slightly improved, there has been added the new feature for setting the white balance (too precise, to my taste – if the photographer is so worried about the white balance, he would rather shoot everything in the RAW format), as well as the new user feature for disabling the noise-rejection algorithms of the camera at long exposures. Finally, we can't help noting the camera's full-featured support for USB 2.0 in the high-speed mode, and the PictBridge - a protocol for direct printing onto modern color printers.
Third important thing: E-TTL II, a new protocol for operating the flash gun. The straightforward habit of embedded Canon flash guns to glare right in the eye, which has long been a a matter of long-standing criticism, has finally gone: to calculate the impulse power, the new algorithm uses the information on the distance to the object being shot (e.g. focused) received by the camera. Now we can say farewell to the sharp glares on the face skin and finally throw away the "filters" made of napkins or plastic packages at hand: the soft, delicate chiaroscuro produced even at shooting en-face and point-blank have instantly turned into a recognized name-card of Canon 20D snapshots. The embedded flash-gun is aimed at using lens of focal distance at least 17 mm which "springs out" much higher than in the predecessor, thus allowing to avoid shadows from the lens in the snapshot. At the same time, a new top-model of Canon Speedlite flash gun - 580EX - was released onto the market. For impressions of the batch-produced specimen, read as follows.
Support for "digital" lens of EF-S series – anticipated and thus a pleasant feature. Until the recent times, Canon 300D has been the only device with the possibility to fit this type of lens, and the only lens of the series was the rather weak EF-S 18-55 f/3,5-5,6 lens which frankly doesn't stand out with quality. Simultaneously with the release of EOS 20D, Canon produced two new lens of the EF-S series. The first, nominal EF-S 17-85mm f/4,5-5,6 IS USM, which is in fact a "digital" version of the EF 28-135 IS USM that in 1999 was awarded with a EISA prize as the best lens of the year. No doubt, EF-S 17-85 is to date the best nominal lens for all cameras with an EF-S bayonet (which are now three together with 350D) despite the rather high price of about 600$ (which is understandable considering the optical image stabilizer in it). The second lens, EF-S 10-22mm f/3,5-4,5 USM, essentially expands the range of "downward" focal distances available to the photographer thus allowing to produce panoramic and wide-angle shots formerly impossible because of the 1.6 crop factor. I acquired both these new lens, with my impressions and sample shots below.
To be fair, let me remind that there also exists the fourth lens of the EF-S series – a USM version of the nominal 18-55mm widely popular mainly in Japan. We do hope they will be introduced into a wider batch production thus filling the price gap between $80 and $600. In fact, with the release of 350D doomed to repeat the success of 300D we can expect a further expansion of the EF-S optics product line and addition of inexpensive stabilized tele-zoom.
NB: instead of the tele-zoom, Canon has released the fix-focal macro-lens EF-S 60 f/2,8 of the recommended price $450. That will be the cheapest lens of the EF-S line, but for the "whale" lens. I hope to test that lens together with the review on EOS 350D.
You may think of it as a trifle, but the new shutter allows using exposures within 30 sec. to 1/8000 sec. (versus 1/4000 in 10D) in 0.3 or 0.5 stage increments and synchronizing the flash gun at the 1/250 exposure (versus 1/200 in 10D). The design of the mirror has also been changed (it has turned smaller and much quieter), and a new focusing screen has been fitted. The auto focusing system itself has acquired a new 9-point sensor.
The next innovation relates to the camera interface. At that, no less constructive and thus not so vivid work has been done here. The power-on switch now also does the job of blocking the large rear wheel (which in the unlocked state defines the expo correction), with the flash card writing progress indicator moved to the rear panel, and by the display there has appeared a small handy joystick of wide functionality: along with the navigation and scrolling in the preview mode, it allows selecting the focusing point in the shooting mode (as well as tune the white balance in the menu over the two axes - blue-yellow, and green-violet). The histogram preview is now possible at any moment upon releasing the shutter with a single button press.
Finally, the weight and dimensions is not the last argument in favor of purchasing a camera especially for those who remember the load of EOS 10D on their necks. At that, engineers at Canon have prepared a surprise to us: the camera has lost 100 grams of weight (almost 15%), and the new battery offers a 1/4 greater capacity of the battery which combined with the new processor gives almost a twofold lifetime after a single charging. Albeit not significantly, the camera's dimensions have turned slightly smaller, with the BG-E2 feeder handle added where additional buttons are duplicated, and now instead of two standard batteries it can easily accept as many as six AA battery cells. I must admit, for the several days given for introduction to the camera I was unable to move the indicator from the "full charge" position in the configuration with the feeder handle and two batteries.
Reporter's best friend
No doubt, Canon EOS 20D is to date one of the best reporter's "mirrors" being inferior to only the full-sized (of the "full-sized" price as well) elder brother EOS 1Ds Mark II and its analogs by other manufacturers. You don't have to be a genius to arrive at such a conclusion which is proved by the abundance of new 20D cameras at any press conference, high-life or sports event. Most of the above listed innovations are aimed just at this market sector: from the increased "rate of fire" and reduced weight up to the intellectual flash gun that allows getting rid of flares and stray lighting without the need to tune the settings. The impressions from the camera at work are maximally approached to filmed mirror cameras of Canon's 30 series: just target, press the button, and here you are - the snapshot is ready. The only difference is in the reduced size of the picture in the viewfinder, but you can't do anything about that: those who are not content with that may go straight to the shop for the already mentioned EOS 1Ds Mark II. No other compromises in EOS 20D have been found: tuned are any shooting parameters, with the number of user features increased as compared to EOS 10D. The big control wheel positioned on the rear side of the camera the way it is in 10D allows reducing the number of functional buttons: each of them has two meanings: the first parameter changes on scrolling the main wheel under the index finger, the second - with the big wheel accessible to the thumb (all that works both in the vertical and horizontal grip of the camera). As compared to the 10D, the third programmable button which was normally used for re-setting the focusing point to the initial state has been removed. The above mentioned mini-joystick, power-on button with the big wheel disabled is about all of the essential changes to the camera's interface. The button for removal of the snapshot is now recessed in the housing (in my view, a redundant novelty - even before that you could never press it twice accidentally). The INFO button now allows viewing the snapshot parameters, including the histogram, immediately after producing a snapshot. In the shooting mode (with no picture on the display), pressing the button results in a display of detailed current settings of the camera part of which are duplicated in the viewfinder or on the upper LCD indicator, which is also very convenient.
The interface of the menu, standard for new Canon cameras, has not undergone changes - only the items mentioned above have been added: fine and manual tuning of the white balance and bracketing, selection of the color space etc. You can also tune the format of a JPEG shot saved together with the RAW. By the way, RAW-files can now be compressed additionally with a ZIP-like algorithm without losses, which gives some space saving on a flash card – this does matter if the snapshot size increases by 25%. The new possibility of shooting in the black-and-white mode is supported in full and by a utility for viewing RAW files: when converting RAW to JPEG, you can select the same filter settings which are there in the camera menu.
The interface with the memory card has turned incredibly fast, the writing speed is limited to only the speed of the card itself and is comparable to the writing speed of USB-readers (and sometimes overtakes them). Writing a RAW-file takes merely two seconds when using a Sandisk Ultra II memory card (which slightly reduces the risk of data loss on opening the memory card compartment lid, which, like in all the previous Canon models, results in an instant and complete power-off of the camera). Such increase in the exchange speed allows attaining a unique "rate of fire" of 5 shots a second during almost 5 seconds. The battery's lifetime has also increased, and the manual says the camera is able producing 1000 snapshots without using the flash gun and with the battery fully charged, at 20 C ambient temperature. But that is not all.
In for a penny: BG-E2
As is usual, for the new model there was produced a new feeder handle which houses two batteries and allows using 6 standard AA battery cells with the aid of a special battery compartment CPM-E3 (optional, to be purchased separately at about $30).
Because of that, the handle looks a bit awkward as compared to the previous models, but that doe not cancel its conveniences. I wouldn't say the camera is perfectly balanced with it, perhaps because the camera itself has turned lighter than usual. On the handle, there is a duplicated release button, the main control wheel and two secondary buttons - one for the focusing point and one for fixing the shooting parameters.
In the bottom line, we get a battery lifetime unprecedented for digital "mirrors" and convenience of shooting vertical snapshots, and a more "professional" exterior. There is a small ruse: inside the compartment for storing the removed lid of the battery compartment, there is a space for keeping a spare memory card.
Let be the light: Speedlite 580EX
Frankly, until the recent times I haven't had much experience in dealing with external flash guns, especially one of such level. The Speedlite 580EX flash gun is a professional accessory absolutely life-saving while shooting reports coverage outside the studio of for portrait shooting outside the studio, and it essentially expands the camera's functionality. The lead number 58 meters (at ISO 100), the zooming range within 24 (from 14 – with a diffuser) to 105 mm are rather impressive.
|Type of flash gun||TTL-controlled|
|Lead number||58 m (ISO 100)|
|Control modes||E-TTL, E-TTL II|
|Scattering angle||Matches the lens from 24 to 105 mm|
|Auto focus backlight||LED "grid", up to 10 meters distance|
|Synchronization modes||Fast, by the first shutter, by the second shutter|
|Pilot light||Yes, 1 sec with 70 Hz pulses|
|Stroboscope mode||Yes, up to 100 pulses of frequency within 1 to 199 Hz|
|Remote control||Leading: 4 channels, 3 work groups. Led: in the E-TTL II, manual, and stroboscopic modes.|
|Power supply||Four AA battery cells, battery block High Voltage Pack E315, battery block ÑÐ-Å3|
|Dimensions||76õ134õ 14 mm|
|Weight (w/o batteries)||375 g|
I have already covered support for the E-TTL II protocol, but such a feature like automatic picture aperture tuning that allows saving power of the flash gun when used with digital cameras equipped with APS-C format sensors is extremely handy. What is also impressive is the capability of the flash gun to measure the color temperature of the lamp which may somehow fluctuate during serial shooting or if the battery charge is running out and inform that to the camera. Finally, the embedded LED auto focus "grid" backlight is just what I have always missed when using digital "mirrors" - a feature embedded in many amateur photo cameras of the medium price range. Three LEDs are positioned in such a way that ray beams intersect in focused points of all the existing Canon cameras - starting with low-end filmed EOS up to 45-point EOS 1Ds Mark II system (including of course the new 9-point EOS 20D). To carry out shooting in the reflection mode, the flash gun head is turned by 180 degrees in both sides in the horizontal plane, and by 90 degrees in the vertical plane. The embedded white reflector with a grid-like softening diffuser allow to forget about the white sheets of paper attached with elastic band to the flash gun.
As compared to the previous top-model 550EX, the new flash gun has turned a bit more compact, lighter by 25 grams (down to 375 g without batteries), with the battery charging time reduced by approximately 1/4. The flash gun interface has also undergone remaking: it has turned simpler and more intuitive (I sorted that out within five minutes), includes fast access to 14 various presets. In the automatic mode, the flash gun works fine even in the complete dark.
The new battery block CP-E3 compatible to the previous Canon Speedlite models runs faster from frequently replaceable Li-Ion batteries or compartments for 8 standard AA battery cells and allows producing over 400 snapshots within a single battery charge. It is also an indispensable thing for a professional reporter. There is one more option - the L-shaped frame aimed at both reporters and wedding photographers, which allows avoiding unnatural lateral shadows when shooting vertical portrait snapshots from close distance. The frame is convenient in that it allows replacing batteries in the flash gun without removing it from the camera.
Sharp eye: Canon EF-S 17–85 f/4-5,6 IS USM
Together with the new camera, Canon has released two new lens. The first one whose focal distances range from 17 to 85 mm, equipped with an optical image stabilizer and a circular ultrasonic focusing monitor, is meant to be the main tool for photographers having high demands to the image quality.
|Focal distance and diaphragm||17-85 mm, from f/4.0-5.6 to f/22-32|
|Thread diameter for the filter||67 mm|
|Viewing angle||18°–78° over the diagonal, 15°–68° over the horizontal|
|Optical design||17 elements in 12 groups, one double-sided aspherical element|
|Number of diaphragm leaves||6, circular hole|
|Minimum focusing distance||35 cm|
|Auto focus drive||circular USM|
|Dimensions||diameter 78.5 mm, length from 92 to 118.5 mm|
This lens is essentially a EF-S-version of another lens by Canon – the known EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM that in 1999 won the EISA prize in the "Best lens" nomination. Similar to its elder brother by the range of focal distances (remember the 1.6 crop factor) and the price, this 5x lens is definitely the best choice to date for cameras with the EF-S fastener. Its comparison with the wide-angle lens of the L series EF 16-35 f/2.8L (which until the present time has in fact given a viewing angle acceptable for the landscape shooting for cameras equipped with the APS-C format sensor) shows that at diaphragm values of 8 and lower the new lens is practically not inferior to the professional elder colleague. The loss at wider relative holes is made up for by the optical stabilizer which under the conditions of weak illumination when shooting from hands allows winning up to three exposure stages. Apart from the stabilizer, the ever accessible manual focus, internal focusing with a circular motor are all attributes of the higher rank of Canon's optics product lines.
Here are sample snapshots produced with this lens:
Another glass wonder: Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5–4.5 USM
The second new lens of the EF-S line is the first of the series which can be realistically regarded as truly wide-angled. The notorious crop factor 1.6, so favorably superposed upon tele-zooms is an obstacle for producing truly wide-angled or panoramic snapshots in digital mirror cameras equipped with an APS-C format sensor. However, to produce a snapshot which is similar to that of 28 mm, we need a lens of focal distance no more than 18 mm which in the filmed cameras would be regarded as wide-angled. To produce panoramic snapshots or "fish eye" effects, we need an entirely different optical device. Canon EF-S with the focal distances ranging within 10 to 22 mm has become just the one.
|Focal distance and diaphragm||10-20 mm, within f/3.5-4.5 to f/22-29|
|Thread diameter for the filter||77 mm|
|Viewing angle||63°-107° over the diagonal, 54°-97° over the horizontal|
|Optical design||13 elements in 10 groups, 3 aspherical elements (of two types), 1 element of low-dispersion glass UD|
|Number of diaphragm leaves||6, circular hole|
|Minimum focusing distance||24 cm|
|Auto focus drive||circular USM|
|Dimensions||diameter 83.5 mm, length from 89.8 mm onwards|
This lens fully reveals the capabilities for the sake of which the EF-S standard was created (the letter S stands for "short focus" or reduced distance from the rear lens to the sensor). The seemingly small 2 mm gain combined with the smaller required side of the spot light in the end allows creating a lens of unprecedented performance - even a 15 mm lens mapped onto a 35 mm film gives an all-round image of 180 degrees viewing angle. Multiplied by the 1.6 crop factor, the EF-S 10-22 gives 16-35 mm in the 35 mm equivalent, that is, its a close analog to the above mentioned EF 16-35 f/2.8L lens. Provided you have spare funds, we could recommend the EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 to those photographers whose creative demands extend to the expressive features offered by this model:
Beyond all doubts, Canon EOS 20D is to date the most attractive model in its price range. This camera is more likely related to the professional rather than the so-called "prosumer" devices, but at the same time it makes great demands for the lens and other accessories used together with the camera, and of course to the photographer. It is recommended for use mainly in professional purposes: artistic, event-coverage, and report photo-shooting. For amateurs, whose demands have currently got over the existing digital photo cameras of middle price range, Canon quite recently prepared a surprise in the form of the EOS 350D camera offering a 8-MP sensor and other improvements which I hope to hold in my hands soon and of course share my impressions with the readers of "Digital photography" section. Stay with us and follow the updates.