Canon’s latest budget DSLR, the 400D, hits the shops with a very nice feature set and a lot of new kit over its predecessor, the 350D.
For a start, there’s another 2 megapixels worth of resolution on a CMOS sensor featuring a much improved micro-lens array. The new sensor gets a special low-pass filter incorporating Canon’s own anti-dust system that shakes the filter to remove any dust particles that might adhere to it. It also has a software solution for those dust motes that just don’t want to drop off.
It also incorporates an anti-static coating on the sensor surface, a separate low-pass filter with the ultra-sonic shaking mechanism. Other key features includes a nine-point AF set up borrowed straight from the EOS 30D and a large bright 230,000-pixel LCD that has a great 160-degree viewing angle.
Gone is the data LCD of old, the new screen doubles as the information display, with special sensors under the viewfinder that switch it off as the camera is brought to your eye.
Burst shooting has been improved over the 350D, with a JPEG burst of up to 27 shots and around 10 RAW pictures, so the processing is excellent. Another plus is the addition of extra Picture Styles with six presets (portrait, landscape etc.) and three user custom modes to play with. Each preset can also be tailored to your needs with parameters such as sharpness, contrast, saturation, and colour tone all adjustable in the system menus.
The user interface has been another recipient of improvements over the 350D. Now there’s a much improved menu system that makes selecting and adjusting quick and easy, although the camera settings display might look a little overwhelming at first to a person coming to a DSLR for the first time.
However, once you get used to it and realise that it shows only those options relevant to the settings or modes in use, you can quickly get to grips with it.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery (the same as found in the 350D) sits snugly in the camera’s base, while the CompactFlash Type I/II storage slots into a port under a plastic cover on the handgrip side of the body. And apart from the slightly weak feel of the battery and memory card port covers, the camera is certainly well made.
It has a stainless steel chassis and “engineering grade” plastic body parts that make for a lightweight but pleasing rugged feel camera.
Other key shooting features include a full gamut of program, shutter and aperture priority, manual and A-DEP (a neat auto depth of field control setting) modes, a full auto “Green” mode and six subject program modes all quickly accessed via the top plate mode dial. This dial incorporates the large on/off switch while forward of it are a single control dial and the shutter release.
Shutter speeds run from 30-seconds to 1/4000th second in 1/3rd or 1/2 –stop increments with flash sync at 1/200th second. You get Bulb as well. White balance allows you to play with the “usual” options of auto, daylight, shady, tungsten and a custom setting among others. The ISO sensitivity meanwhile varies depending on the modes you’re in. For instance, in the Basic Zone shooting modes (the automatic settings such as portrait for example) it provides an automatic range of between 100 and 400 ISO. In the Creative Zone, (the manual control options) you get the full ISO 100 to 1600 range in one-stop settings.
Metering is very accurate on my test shots taken on a very bright autumn day with harsh shadows. It uses a 35-zone TTL metering system with the system linked to the AF points in use; partial metering uses 9% of the finder’s central area and centre-weighted average metering but oddly there’s no spot metering. A built-in flash uses Canon’s E-TTL II Auto Flash set up and while not particularly powerful makes a nice fill-in in daylight, although the flash recycles time is slow at around 3 or 4 seconds.
The camera’s small size is no hindrance to use and the large screen is great to use as well. There seems to be a lot of buttons on the camera’s back plate, but they’re pretty straightforward. On the left of the display are the playback and menu controls; on the right side, the shooting options such as exposure compensation, AF point selection, drive mode, metering mode and then on the four-way controller, the ISO, AF, white balance and Set buttons.
The viewfinder is nice to use but it’s small, the information displayed along the bottom is clear and bright and the AF point selection is nice as well. However, it can be a tad confusing for the novice since it can use some or all of the points simultaneously and depending on the subject. You can manually select an AF point if you desire or should need to do so.
I used the camera’s kit lens for the test, an 18-55mm, F3.5 to F5.6 AF optic, which is okay for most general situations, but is quite limiting in terms of focal length and maximum aperture once you start to get more proficient. It also displayed lots of vignetting, distortion at the wide end and I got a hat full of purple fringing I did not expect to get. Having said all that, it’s fine to be going on with and anyway, those Canon users with a bag full of lenses of there own won’t have problems if switching from a film SLR for example.
Image quality is otherwise great (bar the kit lens’ performance, as mentioned above) with excellent resolution, low noise, good noise reduction – when needed that does not remove detail – and great colour control.
Metering is good as is white balance performance in all but the auto setting where it seems to leave well alone! The manual white balance settings works a treat of course if you need to iron out any issues, but is slower to use. However, the range of image setting adjustments you can make is pretty much the best in this class of DSLR and you get an excellent suit of software to help play with the RAW files this camera makes along with the usual array of JPEGs.
The EOS 400D has its foibles not least of which is the kit lens. However, it is capable of superb results, is easy to use and it’s a great price given the kit levels and even though Nikon’s D40 has arrived on the scene.
More direct competitors, such as Sony’s Alpha 100, Nikon’s D80, and Pentax’s (soon to be tested) K10D mean the 400D is not the revolution its forbears were within the market.
Having said that, it’s still a darn good camera.