Canon EOS 40D Review

 
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Canon EOS 40D Optics

Lens Compatibility

The Canon EOS 40D will work with pretty much any EF-mount lens ever made, as well as with the special EF-S lenses designed for cameras with APS-C size sensors. Designed with a smaller image circle (the area covered by the image on the film/sensor plane), EF-S lenses tend to be smaller and lighter than full-frame models with the same focal length and maximum aperture. EF-S lenses can't be used on full-frame Canon cameras, nor on their models with 1.3x crop factors, like the current EOS-1D Mark III, but small-sensor cameras like the 40D can use any full-frame lenses in Canon's arsenal.

The sub-frame sensor on the Canon 40D means that it has a smaller angle of view (by a factor of 1/1.6x) than a full-frame camera with any given lens. While most properly called a "crop factor", the 1.6x ratio is most commonly referred to as the "focal length multiplier" since that's how it works in practice: Any lens used on the Canon 40D will have the same field of view as one with a 1.6x greater focal length will when attached to a 35mm camera. For example, a 100mm lens on the Canon 40D will show the same field of view as a 160mm lens on a camera with a 35mm frame size.

Unlike most kit lenses, the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens that ships with the Canon 40D kit is actually better quality than the 18-55mm that ships with the Canon Rebel XTi, with a longer zoom range. It's not as wide as the 18-55, but it performs surprisingly well in our tests on SLRgear.com, and comes with image stabilization. It's priced at an average of $450 on its own, and reflects only about $200 difference between the kit and body-only suggested retail. To see more on this lens, visit our SLRgear.com review on the 28-135mm IS lens by clicking here. Be sure to click on the Blur Index chart for an interactive look at how the lens performs across its range of apertures and zoom settings, as well as our reports on its chromatic aberration, vignetting, and distortion characteristics.


Autofocus Improvements

Sensor arrangement. These diagrams shows the basic sensor layout, first in the viewfinder, then on the AF sensor itself. In the bottom diagram, each opposite pair makes one element of the cross-type AF point. The diagonal f/2.8 sensors are further apart than the f/5.6 sensors, which is essential to their greater overall sensitivity. The two yellow sensors in the middle are special, as they're essentially reprogrammable on the fly, can be considered as part of each of the three center AF points, or taken as one large sensor for extremely out-of-focus subjects. As for their zig-zag arrangement, that just means that one sensor is slightly offset from the other, such that if you were to look at them magnified, one pixel would be slightly off from the other, zig-zagging back and forth like tires on an endurance course. Thus horizontal lines that would have been missed by one sensor would be picked up by the other.

Though there are still only nine AF points in the Canon 40D, each has gotten more sophisticated, especially that center AF point. Not only is that one cross-type for f/5.6 lenses, but it also has an f/2.8 sensor in the center that's arrayed in an X-formation, for greater compatibility with both horizontal and vertical lines. The f/5.6 sensor in the center, though arrayed more traditionally, is also doubled and arranged in a zig-zag pattern for greater accuracy, according to Canon.

All other AF points are cross-type in the more traditional sense, more or less. The diagram top right shows some odd arrangements that don't seem to agree with the diagram below, which has neat little plus symbols over each point. If the diagram at right is correct, they're more like T shapes that interlock. That double zig-zag center sensor array, the one that runs from top to bottom down the center (marked in yellow at right), serves the top, center, and bottom AF points. It's an unusual looking arrangement, but then most sensor layouts are odd, caused partly by the lens system that splits up the image.

SLR autofocus accuracy is governed in part by how far apart you can space the sensor elements for a single AF point. The wider this "baseline," the more accurately the AF point can determine focus. What limits the AF baseline spacing in a camera system is the lens aperture. You can build sensors with wider baselines, but that also restricts the range of lenses they can be used with. Camera manufacturers have set f/5.6 as the minimum aperture their AF systems will work with, and most lenses comply by gathering at least that much light at telephoto. Lenses with wide-open apertures smaller than f/5.6 just won't focus.

Canon added a twist to the f/2.8 sensor on the EOS 40D, arranging them in a diagonal orientation, which both allows better detection of horizontal and vertical lines and lets them fit on a smaller die size. Since an f/2.8 lens permits almost a 2x increase in baseline spacing, AF precision increases proportionately when using them.


 

The AF points on the Canon 40D cover about 60% of the frame width, and about 50% of the frame height. The illustration above shows the relative spacing between the various AF points, with the distances between them marked in millimeters, at the focal plane. (Illustrations courtesy Canon USA.)

AF-Assist Illuminator

The Canon 40D uses the built-in flash head as its AF-assist illuminator, rather than a bright light built into the camera's body. This works well (as you'd expect, the flash is quite bright, and probably has a longer range than an on-body illuminator bulb). Unlike Canon 30D, you can disable the 40D's internal flash (or external Speedlite) by going into the Flash Control menu, which still lets the AF-assist pulses to fire; but then you lose your flash capability until you turn it back on. If you attach a 550EX, 580EX or 580EX II external flash unit to the Canon 40D, its internal infrared AF-assist illuminator can be used instead of the flash head itself, providing a useful working range of about 50 feet with a less obtrusive light source. For non-flash photography, Canon's ST-E2 wireless sync transmitter can apparently also be used for AF assist, a handy trick. The ST-E2's AF-assist light has a useful range of about 25 feet.


Dust Reduction Technology

First introduced on the Canon Rebel XTi, Canon's system-wide approach to reducing the impact of dust on the image sensor is also included on the Canon 40D. From the beginning, every DSLR has offered a sensor-cleaning mode, in which the mirror is locked up and the shutter opened to permit the sensor to be cleaned with compressed air, a solvent-carrying swab or other means. As the market has matured and more DSLRs have found their way into the hands of novice users, it has become clear that some automated way of dealing with sensor cleaning is needed.

A key feature of Digital SLRs is the ability for the user to easily swap lenses. This expands creative options enormously, but every time the lens is removed, dust from the environment is free to enter the camera body. From there, it's only a matter of time before some of it makes its way to the surface of the sensor where it casts shadows that appear as dark blobs in your images. In truth, it's the anti-aliasing filter that collects dust, rather than the sensor itself, but common parlance refers to "sensor cleaning." For the sake of familiarity, we'll generally refer to sensor cleaning here, but will make mention of the anti-alias or low-pass filter as seems appropriate.

The principal approach other manufacturers have used to deal with dust has been to make the system self-cleaning, by rapidly vibrating either the anti-aliasing filter itself or a protective cover glass lying above it, to shake loose adhering dust particles. Once dislodged, a strip of sticky material at the bottom of the sensor cavity or mirror box catches and holds them. This approach was pioneered by Olympus, but has recently been adopted by Canon, Sony, and Nikon.

In typical fashion, Canon's camera engineers took a deeper look at the issue of sensor contamination, and have come up with a multifaceted, system-wide approach to reducing the impact of dust on users' photographs.

Canon's approach uses a vibratory cleaning method as a primary part of the overall strategy, but they've introduced several refinements as well. Here's what they've done:

Shooting Priority: Shutter Button Overrides Cleaning Cycle

It's critical for a digital camera to power up and be able to capture the first shot quickly, to avoid missing the action when first starting up. Some cameras with integrated cleaning systems can take a second or two for the cleaning cycle to complete before they're ready to capture an image. To avoid this problem, the Canon 40D aborts its normal power-on cleaning cycle as soon as the user touches the shutter button. This insures that you won't miss a critical shot

Special Shutter Coating/Construction

It turns out that only some of the dust that appears in DSLR images comes from outside the camera: As they age, normal wear and tear can make shutter curtains shed microscopic particles that eventually end up on the sensor. In the Canon 40D, Canon has introduced a special shutter-curtain coating designed to greatly reduce the shedding of particles.

Along with the specially treated shutter, Canon has also begun using a different plastic in their DSLR body caps, one less prone to creating shavings that can drop into the mirror box.

Split Anti-Aliasing Filter

Rather than introducing a separate cover glass into the optical chain, Canon has split the Canon 40D'S anti-aliasing filter into two parts. One element sits right above the sensor, while the other is positioned further away. It's this outer element that's vibrated during the cleaning cycle.

In describing the technology, Canon notes that the outer anti-aliasing element is positioned further from the sensor surface (a millimeter or so) than is normally the case. This greater distance reduces the effect of any dust that does adhere, by making the shadow cast by each dust particle larger and softer-edged.

Anti-Static Coating

To make it harder for dust to gain a foothold in the first place, the outer anti-alias filter element bears an anti-static coating. Dust particles frequently carry static charges, so the anti-static coating avoids one of the key mechanisms by which dust particles adhere.

Dust Delete Image Processing

No matter how good an automatic cleaning system, there are going to be some stubborn dust particles that it can't dislodge. To deal with these, the Canon 40D has the ability to shoot a dust reference photo, and then transfer that information to Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, which can use it to eliminate the shadows cast by dust particles on the images.

This sort of image processing to eliminate dust isn't an entirely new development, it's been a feature of Nikon's Capture software for some time. Canon's implementation has some additional wrinkles that make it somewhat more useful. Primary among these is that Canon's "Dust Delete" processing works for both JPEG and RAW format files. (Nikon's works only with RAW images.) This really expands the utility of the anti-dust processing, and makes it more accessible to amateur users who shoot exclusively or primarily in JPEG format.

Canon's anti-dust approach is also different in that the dust map ("Dust Delete data") that the software uses to perform its magic is stored in the headers of the JPEG or RAW files created by the camera. There's thus no need to keep track of a separate dust image file, the information is always available in the file headers, assuming you've actually performed the dust-mapping process. You can update the Dust Delete data any time you think the camera might have been exposed to dust, or after you've manually cleaned the sensor. The latest dust map is automatically incorporated into the EXIF headers of all JPEG images, or the headers of any RAW files. While we don't have any technical details on how the dust map is stored, Canon claims that the encoding scheme used for it is very efficient, so the dust map information adds very little to the file size.

The screenshots above show the steps in capturing a Dust Delete reference image. Starting in the upper left from Shooting Menu Screen 2, selecting Dust Delete Data produces a screen that shows when the last Dust Delete reference image was captured. Selecting OK on this screen initiates a cleaning cycle, after which the camera prompts you to take a picture of a blank white surface. (The camera automatically defocuses the lens and sets the aperture appropriately, to produce the best possible dust image.) The camera then processes this data, and reports whether it was successful or not. If the surface you used to capture the image wasn't sufficiently uniform, you'll get an error message, but if the image was good, you'll see the confirmation screen as shown above in step 6. The Dust Delete Data just generated will now be included in the headers of any JPEG or RAW images captured, until you decided to capture a new dust reference image.

We don't have any quantitative way of evaluating dust-removal systems, but based on Canon's description of it, their anti-dust technology does appear to go a step or two beyond anything else currently on the market, providing a more comprehensive solution to the problem of dust in DSLR images than we've seen to date.

Lens

The Canon EOS 40D is sold body only, or in a kit bundled with the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. We did not have this lens to test with, so this section left blank intentionally.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon EOS 40D Photo Gallery.

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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