Canon has updated its entry-level digital camera for the first time in over 15 months, but has the wait been worth it? We had a chance to get an early hands-on with the new 450D (or the Digital Rebel XSi for our American readers) at the company's Spring Collection event in London.

Normally when a DSLR from Canon is updated there are tweaks here and there perhaps implying why it has always gone for the increase of the number 50 to the model number rather than a whole 100. But here it seems Canon has not simply stopped at increasing the megapixel count from 10 to a 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor but added stacks of other features and design changes.

From a design perspective it's not a completely new design but there are improvements and changes from the 400D. The most obvious is the increase in screen size from 2.5 to 3 inches.

The change, which also promises to be 50% brighter than on the 400D, makes a massive difference especially when viewing images on playback. Because of the new screen buttons have been moved around accordingly.

A dedicated ISO button is now next to the shutter button, while the menu keys to the left of the screen on the 400D have also found a new home.

The rearranging has also meant there are more rubberised grips, as with the 40D.

Other design changes include the ditching of CompactFlash for SD card. The move, say Canon, is to allow users of its compact range to move up to the entry-level DSLR without having to invest in new memory cards.

It's clear that the inclusion of the memory card format is to allow them to create a model that is lighter and smaller than its predecessor while still sporting that bigger screen. In fact the more lightweight body now weighs less than 475 grams.

We for one, welcome the move, as a mobile journalist it is always frustrating that if we use our 400D we have to remember to bring a cable with us. SD cards have the advantage of plugging straight into a PC Card slot reader or if your using one of the SanDisk USB cards straight into a USB slot.

The Canon 450D has just had a few design nip and tucks. Canon has added Live View, allowing photographers to get a live view on the back of the screen without looking through the optical viewfinder. The option can be turned on and off via a press of a button and focusing is done via the press of another button.

In our brief play it worked very well focusing quickly on any given subject although we have to profess it does in our mind take away the mental focus of taking a picture.

Other software improvements include a revamped menu system that does involve you having to scroll off screen.

Not, it seems, satisfied by offering 10 megapixels as with the 400D, the 450D comes with 12 running the DIGIC III processor found in the company's higher range models.

The DIGIC III image processor and a redesigned menu system is borrowed from Canon's EOS-1 pro-level range while a choice of 13 custom functions allowing the user to customise the camera to their shooting style will please enthusiasts.

There camera also comes with the company's EOS Integrated Cleaning System alongside the addition of a new 9-point wide-area AF system with f/2.8 cross-type centre point.

This inclusion means faster capture speeds in sports modes (up to 3.5 frames per second) and improved pictures al round. We were unable to take and pictures at the show to show you, but based on what we saw on the back of the screen the performance looked good with little noise.

Canon has resisted the temptation to offer anything above ISO 1600 and the image stabilisation didn't seem to hinder performance either.

First Impressions

Although our play was brief and we were unable to print or save our results, from a hardware and design aspect, Canon has created what looks to be a great looking entry-level model that will entice plenty if photographers starting out.

As a step up from the 400D there is plenty to justify, and if you're looking to upgrade from the 300D or 350D go for it.

How does it compare to the rest of the market against cameras from Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Samsung entry-level models? While the addition of megapixels, Live View and the bigger screen brings it up to the same spec, it will still however come down to personal choice of what interface you prefer, however from our First Look it looks like the 450D won't disappoint the Canon fan club.

The Canon 450D will be available in March.