Hands On: Canon EOS 40D

It's like meeting an old friend for the first time.

Hands-On-Canon-EOS-40D

Hands-On-Canon-EOS-40D

Don't think for a minute that the new Canon EOS 40D is simply an incremental upgrade to the 30D. Although the 10.1-megapixel EOS 40D has a virtually identical hand-feel to the 8.2 megapixel EOS 30D it replaces, it shows improvements over its predecessor in several ways.

Apart from the bump up in resolution, the 40D has a faster burst rate -- both in frames per second and total frames before buffer slow-down in both RAW+JPEG and JPEG-only capture. It also features live view with autofocus on that big, bright 3-inch, 230,000-dot LCD. Menu navigation is improved, again thanks to that bigger LCD. And the 40D has three custom settings modes on the dial, tons of custom functions, highlight-priority exposure, and a dedicated rear autofocus button. These upgrades make the EOS 40D a very worthy successor to the 30D.

The battery grips are interchangeable on the 40D and the 30D. The brand new BG-E2n that comes with more weather sealing is backwards compatible with the 30D and even the 20D, and the older, less weather-tough BG-E2 introduced with the 20D way back in 2004 will still clamp onto the 40D.

When it's time to look through the viewfinder to make your shot, the 40D feels just like its predecessor. Same shutter button feel, same grip, same eyecup. There's only a brief break-in period necessary to relearn the shooting feel of this camera if you're upgrading from a 20D or 30D -- it feels virtually identical.

However, reviewing photos and tweaking the settings when the camera isn't up to the eye does require some adjustment, as the buttons that used to sit left of the LCD are now along the bottom rail of the camera. This makes room for that bigger LCD. In addition to the 30D's side buttons (playback, trash, jump, info), there's also a dedicated Picture Style button for quick adjustments on that bottom rail. And there's now a dedicated AF button on the thumb rest. The positioning of this AF button is ergonomic enough, but it does require an adjustment for thumb-focusers who have been using the AEL button in the past. And if you can't adjust, just swap the AEL and AF button operations via Custom Functions and you're good to go! You will most certainly want to do this swap if you are bringing an older BG-E2 grip to mate with the 40D; otherwise, you've got no rear focus button when shooting vertically. (Do keep in mind that the new BG-E2n is more weather-tough than the older grip, though!)

NO SURPRISES, JUST ROCK-SOLID PERFORMANCE

There's nothing overwhelmingly "new" about the EOS 40D ($1300, street, body only). It uses a 10.1 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor that similar to the one found in last year's EOS Rebel XTi, though Canon claims some improvements to the microlens design and light sensitivity. Here, it is also matched with the higher-performance Digic III image-processing engine. The 230,000-dot, 3-inch LCD, highlight priority mode, and Live View mode were all unveiled in March 2007 with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. (But there is an Autofocus option in Live View mode with the 40D.) Despite the fact that it shares a lot of its heritage with its EOS stablemates at either end of the cost spectrum, you'd be silly to think of the 40D as either a just an upscale XTi, or down-market Mark III. It's a rock-solid high-end enthusiast/entry-level pro camera that's built tough enough for almost anything you can throw at it.

In the field, it performed very well with everything we shot, from moving-subject macros to telephoto shots of landscapes. Autofocus feels very responsive, and the sound of the shutter firing away at 6.5 frames per second is very pleasing, especially at this street price!

We tried using Live View in the field while chasing a fiddler crab across a salt marsh, but quickly reverted to eye-finder tracking for this photo opportunity. We see Live View mostly being used in the studio, for macro shots, in semi-controlled situations such as a stake-out of a prairie dog hole, or for trying to improve the odds of an over-the-crowd "Hail Mary" wide-angle grab. Autofocus can be activated during Live View, though only by pushing the rear AF button on the camera itself, and it does black out the live preview for a split second until focus is achieved. This limits some potential remote applications, as focus must be pre-set if you're not actually in physical contact with the camera, but rather viewing on a computer monitor. In a nutshell, Live View works best when quick switching of focal distance isn't a priority and you aren't tracking a moving subject.

Don't expect miracles from Highlight priority mode. It isn't going to magically expand the dynamic range of your shots and keep detail both inside a cave and outside the sunlight entrance at the same time. What it can do though, for example, is to increase detail in white uniforms on high-contrast days on the soccer field when you're exposing for optimum skintones, which is important for a lot of photographers.

Multiple-source image high dynamic range (HDR) photographers might be disappointed with the relatively limited Auto Exposure Bracketing settings of the Canon EOS 40D. Like the 30D, it offers just 3 shots at up to +/- 2 stops, unlike the 7-shot sequence on the EOS Mark III, or the 5-shot sequence of the lower-priced Pentax K10D. Since HDR photography is gaining in popularity, a three-shot bracket is an unfortunate oversight. If Canon had a bigger autobracketing sequence combined with the blazing burst rate of the 40D, they'd have a great feature set for the HDR photographer.

Yes, this camera is for the Rebel XTi owner looking to move up in toughness and burst rate, but it's also tough enough and fast enough to serve as the backup body for a Mark III-toting journalist. And, of course, it's just right for the legions of shooters out there who've been happily making killer shots with the 20D and 30D for the past several years. All in all, it is a heck of a lot of camera for just about .
We've been running the 40D through our battery of lab tests and will have a Full Lab Test posted online by next Wednesday.

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Canon EOS 40D with Sigma 300 f/2.8 ISO 400 1/3200 @ f/2.8 (JPEG). The EOS 40D focused quickly and accurately, even with a third party lens on this long-reach scene.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. ISO 400 1/2000 f/4.5 (JPEG). There are great color gradations and detail in this macro shot.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-Canon-EOS-40D-with-Canon-EF-S-60mm

Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. ISO 400 1/2000 f/4.5 (JPEG). The 40D paired with this macro lens was fast enough to keep up with scuttling fiddler crabs!Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. ISO 400 1/2000 f/4.5 (JPEG). There's so much great detail to be seen with a macro lens!Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-Canon-EOS-40D-with-Canon-EF-S-60mm

Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. ISO 400 1/2000 f/4.5 (JPEG). Those are individual grains of sand on the legs and back of this fiddler crab!Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. ISO 400 1/2000 f/5.6 (JPEG). There's very good color detail throughout this scene, from the foreground to the hazy background.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L. ISO 400 1/2000 f/5.6 (JPEG). Not surprisingly, we had to switch to manual focus to grab this shot of an egret through reeds.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L. ISO 400 1/2000 f/5.6 (JPEG) . There's just a touch of blown highlights on the back of the wader's shirt in this high-contrast, hazy day scene.Photo By Jack Howard
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40DIQ9Canon EOS 40DCanon EOS 40D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L. ISO 200 1/1600 f/5.6 (JPEG). These midday shooting conditions were extremely hazy, but the 40D did a good job of holding detail both in the foreground and along the horizon.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon TS-E24mm f/3.5L ISO 400 1/4000 f/5.0 (JPEG). We used spot metering to expose for the wood grain in this tilt-shift study.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon Canon 70-200 f/4L ISO 125 1/250 @ f/4.0 (JPEG). Just a typical morning in midtown Manhattan as the street vendors head to their favorite locations. There's great detail throughout this scene.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon EOS 40D with Canon 70-200 f/4L ISO 1600 1/60 @ f/4 (JPEG). We took this photo of Bailey in both JPEG Large/Fine and RAW. This is the JPEG shot with minor adjustments made for display.Photo By Jack Howard
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This is a 100% pixel view of the JPEG image, with no noise or sharpening adjustments applied in Adobe Photoshop CS3.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-This-is-a-100-pixel-view-of-the-sa

This is a 100% pixel view of the same area from the RAW file with no adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-This-is-a-100-pixel-view-of-the-JP

This is a 100% pixel view of the JPEG image, with no noise or sharpening adjustments applied in Adobe Photoshop CS3.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-This-is-a-100-pixel-view-of-the-sa

This is a 100% pixel view of the same area from the RAW file with no adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-This-is-a-100-pixel-view-of-the-JP

This is a 100% pixel view of the JPEG image, with no noise or sharpening adjustments applied in Adobe Photoshop CS3.Photo By Jack Howard
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Canon-EOS-40D-This-is-a-100-pixel-view-of-the-sa

This is a 100% pixel view of the same area from the RAW file with no adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop.Photo By Jack Howard
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