We don't have to tell you that cameras today-digital and film-are as much electronic as optical devices. And as such, they can be loaded up with a dizzying array of chip-based features. These can range from mildly hidden (a menu switch for a mechanical function, say) to the really obscure (option 3B on custom function 37 in setup menu F…), to outright undocumented. And while we've run into hidden features that might be, well, better off hidden, many of them can be useful, or just plain fun. With this profile of the Canon EOS 20D, we're inaugurating a regular feature on the lesser-known bells and whistles of popular SLR models.
Documentation report: We are happy-and also slightly frustrated-to report that the 20D is one of the best documented cameras out there. Even the eagle-eyed denizens of the PopPhoto.com forums couldn't find a single "secret" feature. If the 20D can do something, you'll find it in the instruction manual, which is generally clearly written but, of necessity, dense. And so while the manual is good at explaining the how of an operation, it's less effective at explaining the why. But then, that's what Pop Photo is for. Also, note that Canon has posted an expanded description of EOS 20D functions at www.photoworkshop.com/canon, under Tips & Techniques.
1- Color boost: Does it look like you get more vivid, saturated color when using a scene mode, such as landscape or portrait, than when you use a standard exposure mode like program or manual? There's a good reason for that: it is more saturated in the scene modes. The 20D is factory set to use Parameter 1 (vivid color) with scene modes, while Parameter 2 (natural color) is the default setting for standard exposure modes. Want vivid color as the default? Go to Parameters in the menu, and switch it to Parameter 1. It will stay put until you change it again. Want even more color boost? If you select a Set, you can make a custom color profile of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and color tone (i.e., skin tone). (Para-meter 1, vivid color, is the default with the EOS Digital Rebel, both original and XT flavors. Go figure.)
2- The ultimate point-and-shoot mode? The EOS 20D's A-DEP, or automatic depth-of-field, mode sets a focus point and aperture to ensure that the nearest and farthest subjects are in focus, and moreover, makes the calculation with one press of the shutter button. OK, you knew that, but have you been reserving this mode for landscapes-if you use it at all? It's also great for shooting irregularly arranged groups of people (like at your family barbecue), where you don't have time to check whether every person is in focus. Also just the thing for self-timer travel shots. Caution: A-DEP will set a fairly small aperture when subjects are widely spaced from the camera. Make sure you have sufficient light and/or a high enough ISO setting for a decent shutter speed.
3- Outer space can be noisy: The noise-reduction setting on the 20D (custom function 2, setting 1) is, obviously, for reducing noise in long exposures (1 sec or longer; it causes a processing delay of a second or two between shots). A growing use
for this is in astrophotography, which is regaining popularity due to the growth in digital SLRs. For tips and techniques, beam over to www.canon.co.jp/ imaging/astro/index-e.html. (The EOS 20Da model, available so far in Japan only, features live preview for manual focusing, and a modified infrared filter that enhances transmission of light of wavelength 656 nanometers-deep red-for better image quality during astrophotography. Would also make for good terrestrial infrared photography. Stay tuned for details.)
4- Yes, Virginia, there is mirror lockup: It's explained in the manual, but it's easy to overlook that the 20D has mirror lockup, since there's no external switch for it. Go to custom function 12, and set selection 1. The shutter release becomes a two-stage process: one press locks up the mirror, the next press fires the shutter. And yes, we think it should be an external switch, too. Caution: Remember to switch the camera back to normal operation immediately after the shots with mirror lockup, or you'll miss some pictures during normal shooting.
5- Warp speed: Go to custom function 8 and set it for "ISO expansion." That's Canonese for the user's ability to set ISO 3200 (it comes up as "H" on the top LCD control panel). Noise tested in the Pop Photo Lab to moderate (and fairly low in the moderate range, at that). So yes, you'll get some graininess, but it's not at all a bad tradeoff for candlelight shooting.
6- It's such a card: The 20D default setting is what we call "play mode": It lets you fire the camera in every mode without a CompactFlash card in the slot. And while we love play mode, it can lead to those embarrassing moments. (Remember how silly you felt when you forgot to load your film camera?) To prevent this, go to the menu, select "Shoot without card," and switch to Off. You can always go back and play later.
7- Not quite infrared: If you go to the confusingly named Parameters in the menu, you can select b&w shooting. Go one step deeper in the menu and you can choose a filter effect; red filter will give you the darkest skies. While you're poking around in the Parameters menu, also try boosting the contrast one notch to amplify the red-filter effect. On a clear, blue-sky day, you can get something reminiscent of infrared b&w without the Photoshop. Want lighter green foliage? Try the green filter effect, though it won't darken skies as much. We've found that setting a custom color temperature of 10,000 degrees Kelvin (select K on the top control panel, then go to Color temp. in the menu to dial in your setting), or shifting white balance to amber and magenta (in the menu, select WB SHIFT/BKT and move the dot on the graph to A/M) can also lighten green foliage. Don't forget to cancel these settings for normal shooting.
8- Cross processing! Yes, the white-balance shift and the color-temperature control are there for subtle fine-tuning. (You know that you don't need an 81A warming filter with the 20D, right? Just go into WB SHIFT/BKT in the menu and move the dot to A for amber.) But if you go hog-wild with the color controls (boost saturation in Parameters, then try amber and magenta shifts on green foliage, or blue and green shifts on cityscapes), some effects are almost like cross-processed film. Again, remember to cancel settings for normal shooting.
9- Keep that color for your files: The instruction manual duly warns that "JPEG images captured with the parameter set to B/W cannot be converted to color," but that doesn't stop you from maintaining full-color, full-info images while you're shooting b&w. The RAW + JPEG capture (in the Quality setting) simultaneously stores a RAW file (with all color info) even with a b&w JPEG, and you can work on them with Canon's raw converter, which comes in the 20D box. Same deal with any JPEG done with far-out color settings. Note: We're talking big files here, so choose your memory cards accordingly.
10- Do the safety shift: Decades ago, safety shift was a common feature on amateur 35mm cameras. If you had the camera in shutter-priority, say, and the light was too low for the available apertures, instead of just blinking at you angrily, the camera would intervene automatically and set a slower shutter speed. Same deal for aperture-priority. And now you can have safety shift on your 20D: just go to custom function 16 and set selection 1. We leave it on all the time. Why not, if it saves you time twirling a dial-or prevents a missed shot?
Plus, two battery bonus points!
1- The spare you didn't know about: If you have a Canon camcorder that uses the BP-512 or BP-514 Li-ion rechargeable batteries, you can also use those cells in the EOS 20D, though they're a slightly different shape.
2- Vertically unchallenged: Like the idea of the vertical grip BG-E2 but don't necessarily want to spring for another BP-511A? (Or you just want to leave your spare on the charger? Good idea.) It's not really a secret, but the BG-E2 will work just fine with a single 511A (or 512 or 514).
Note to SLR shooters: We will be profiling the inside dope on other popular models. Go to PopPhoto.com to report your own observations.