New gear that has impressed our editors

Digital testosterone
With what promises to be one of the most exciting cameras of the 2005 model year, Canon has announced the EOS 20D ($1,500 street). This new 8.2MP digital SLR is slated to replace the popular 6.1MP EOS 10D. While Canon could have made photographers happy with just higher resolution and minor performance tweaks on the 10D, the company instead is promising a category-thumping, knockout camera.

The EOS 20D shows a family resemblance to the 10D, with a similar magnesium-alloy outer shell and stainless-steel chassis, plus many of the 10D’s controls. It also packs a similar pop-up flash and AF-assist light, accepts the same rechargeable Li-ion batteries, and also uses CF Type I or II cards for storage. But for all this, the 20D is still slightly smaller and 3.5 ounces lighter (a welcome improvement).

Most attention will be focused on the 20D’s 8.2MP resolution-the same offered by the $4,500 (street) EOS-1D Mark II. However, the EOS 20D uses a smaller, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor, which could lead to higher noise levels than the Mark II.

This smaller sensor also means that the camera has a 1.6X 35mm lens factor-not the more desirable 1.3X factor of the Mark II. So an 18mm ultrawide-angle lens is needed to get a 27mm-equivalent field of view.

Unlike other DSLR upgrades, the 20D’s higher resolution doesn’t slow its performance. According to Canon, it turns on in 0.2 sec (compared with the 10D’s 2.2 sec), and has a faster and more accurate AF system, as well as a blazing 5-fps burst mode for up to 22 frames in JPEG mode, or up to six frames in RAW. (That’s far faster than the 10D.) The 9-point, diamond-patterned AF system may even be slightly faster in some situations than the Mark II’s 45-zone system. Its cross-type sensor at the center automatically switches AF sensors based on the lens in use. Shutter speed also has been increased to 1/8000 sec from 1/4000, and the flash sync is now 1/250 sec, instead of 1/200 sec.

In addition, the camera sports a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connector and an E-TTL II flash system that takes into account distance data provided by compatible lenses. This feature works with existing Speedlites, while a new white-balance fine-tuning feature will be packed into a new Speedlite replacing the 550EX.

Once we get our hands-and lab-on a working model of the 20D, we’ll see if it captures photos with the similar high image quality and low noise (from ISO 100 to 1600) of the Mark II. If it does, this digital SLR will be hard to beat for the price.

New Lenses: Wide & Superwide
Like its lower-priced sibling, the EOS Digital Rebel, the EOS 20D is compatible with Canon’s relatively low-priced EF-S series of lenses, in addition to all standard EF-mount lenses. Canon also announced the arrival of two new EF-S lenses for use with these cameras. The 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM EF-S ($599 estimated street) is the first EF-S lens with image stabilization, but is overshadowed by the exciting superwide 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM EF-S ($799 estimated street). This lens was designed to offset the 1.6X 35mm lens factor that limits the ultrawide capabilities of the Digital Rebel and 20D. Now, both of these cameras can capture a true 16-35mm equivalent field of view, while the EOS-1D Mark II can capture a superwide 13-29mm field of view. (Canon U.S.A.; www.usa.canon.com; 800-652-2666)

Lotta Flash, Little Cash
If you think a Canon or Nikon flash unit is too expensive, but you really like the idea of through-the-lens flash metering, Quantaray has a solution for you. The new QDC800 digital SLR flash system has two modules-one Canon, one Nikon-that attach to the bottom of the strobe so it can mount in the hot-shoe of your Canon or Nikon SLR. The head zooms manually in three steps from wide to tele and swivels vertically from -7 to 90 degrees. Fans of side-bounce flash should note that it doesn’t swivel horizontally. The price? Just $70 (street) apiece for the strobe unit and each module. They’re only at Ritz Camera centers. (Quantaray; www.ritzcamera.com; 877-690-0099)

Pull and Play Tripod
Tripod legs require twisting, locking, or other physical labor, right? Not anymore, says Manfrotto. With the Neotec 458B Pro Photo tripod ($300 street), just pull the legs to the length you want-they automatically lock in place, holding up to 17.6 pounds. Press the silver-colored button at the top of the legs, and they slide back up. Specially designed and precision-sealed pneumatic devices on the aluminum legs make this “no-twist/no-lock” approach possible. Speaking of legs, these can lock in at four angles for unusual terrain, or ultralow-angle work. The two-piece center post also mounts horizontally for macro shooting. The detachable handle helps you tote this 5.3-pounder, which is 25.2 inches when closed and 61.4 inches fully extended. It doesn’t come with a head, so you’ll have to pick one from Manfrotto’s line to go with it. (Bogen Photo Corp.; www.manfrotto.com; 201-818-9500)

Slim Polarizer
Who needs a thinner polarizing filter? You do, if you’re concerned with vignetting on wide-angle shots. Hoya trimmed the thickness of its top circular polarizer-now the Super-HMC PRO 1 Circular Polarizer-to a mere 5mm, from the usual 7.5mm. How? With a new thinner, hardened optical glass. At the same time, Hoya upped the multicoating to seven layers to combat lens flare and ghosting. As thin as this filter is, it still has normal threads on the front, so your clip-on lenscap will still work. The Super-HMC PRO 1 comes in sizes from 49-82mm with prices from $69-$220 (street). (THK Photo Products, Inc.; www.thkphoto.com; 800-421-1141)