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Canon EOS 300D Digital RebelCanon knocks the bottom out of the Digital SLR market, with an amazingly affordable, full-featured model!
Review First Posted: 09/04/2003
||Canon Digital SLR designed ground-up to be digital|
| ||6.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, 3,072 x 2,048 pixel images|
| ||ISO of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600|
| ||Photo-centric design touch Shutter button in Play mode and camera returns to Record mode.|
|*||Compatible with all Canon EOS system lenses and accessories, focal length multiplier of 1.6, plus the new EF-S digital-only lens.|
NOTE: This is a full review of the new Canon digital SLR, the Digital Rebel (Canon EOS-300D), but is based on a late-model prototype camera. Image quality may change between this version and final production models, but Canon felt good enough about the state of readiness of this prototype to allow me to share photos from it with my readers. I've therefore shot a full set of my normal test photos, and have also posted an extensive collection of "gallery" pictures shot by my son Chris and our News Editor Mike Tomkins. Enjoy!
SPECIAL REPORT - Check out News Editor Mike Tomkins' special "Shooter's Report" on the Canon Digital Rebel!
Look along the sidelines of any professional sports game, and the array of
big, white Canon lenses attached to Canon digital SLRs will speak volumes of
Canon's presence and reputation in the world of professional photography. If
you ask experienced photographers what the Canon name means to them, many would
suggest that they associate the name with innovation, the company having brought
such technological advances as Eye-Controlled Focusing (Canon EOS 5, 1992) and
the USM ultrasonic motors used in the more recent Canon EF lenses, which are
extremely quiet and very fast.
Canon film cameras cover the full range from models such as the Canon SLRs targeted at professionals (the EOS 1 and 1N for example, and more recently the EOS 1V, to those aimed toward the consumer (such as the tiny ELPH series or the EOS Rebel cameras). Back at the Spring 2000 PMA show, Canon announced the EOS-D30, their first digital SLR, in the process turning the Digital SLR market on its ear with its excellent features and image quality and surprisingly aggressive price. Since then, they've continued to up the ante, introducing the six-megapixel D60, followed surprisingly quickly by the 10D, each time packing in more features at lower cost.
Now though, they've really turned the digicam world on its ear, creating the new Digital Rebel, a six-megapixel digital SLR that sells with a lens for less than $1000 US! This not only challenges Nikon, Olympus, and Fuji in the D-SLR business, but promises to cut drastically into the all-in-one "prosumer" market.
The new Canon EOS-300D "Digital Rebel" (borrowing the name from their highly popular "Rebel" line of entry-level film SLRs) offers many of the same exposure features and improvements as the 10D, but slightly scaled back to keep costs under control and to provide some differentiation between the Rebel and its higher-priced sibling. The EOS-300D sports a slightly re-engineered CMOS sensor very similar to that on the 10D, as well as most of the same exposure features. The main differences lie in body design that makes much greater use of plastic, less control over focus or metering modes, the lack of a Custom settings menu, and a handful of other minor changes. What's new is a specially designed Canon EF-S lens, designed only for the Digital Rebel, and sold only as part of the Digital Rebel kit. (Thus, if you buy the 300D body separately, the EF-S lens is not available as a separate accessory purchase.) This new lens takes advantage of the size difference between the Rebel's sensor and a normal 35mm film frame to reduce the backfocus distance, shrink the image circle, and shed quite a bit of size, weight, and cost in the process. The biggest draw for the 300D is that it offers much of the same functionality as the wildly popular 10D model, but at a much lower price. Read on for all the details.
Comparison with the EOS 10D and EOS-D60
Many of our readers will be familiar with Canon's earlier 10D and D60 SLRs, both hugely popular models throughout 2002 and 2003. The table below highlights similarities and differences between the EOS 300D and the EOS 10D and EOS-D60 cameras. Areas in which the 300D's specs constitute an improvement over the previous models are highlighted. (Thanks to the Canon USA Technical Info Department and Chuck Westfall for helping us assemble this information.):
Canon Digital Rebel vs. EOS 10D and EOS-D60
|Imaging Element/Effective Pixels||CMOS/6.30 Megapixels|
|Effective Sensor Size||15.1 x 22.7mm|
|35mm Focal Length Equivalent||Approx. 1.6x|
|Viewfinder||Type||Eye-level pentamirror||Eye-level pentaprism|
|Coverage||95% horizontally and vertically|
|Magnification (-1 diopter with 50mm lens at infinity)||0.8x||0.88x|
|Dioptric Adjustment Range||-3.0 to +1.0 diopter|
|Focusing Screen||Fixed, all-matte screen||Fixed, new laser matte screen|
|AF information (AF points, focus confirmation light), exposure information (shutter speed, aperture value, manual exposure, AE lock, exposure level), flash information (flash ready, red-eye reduction lamp on, high-speed sync, FE lock), shots remaining, CF card information||AF (AF points, focus confirmation light), exposure (shutter speed, aperture value, manual exposure, AE lock, exposure compensation amount, AEB level, partial metering area), flash (flash ready, red-eye reduction lamp on, high-speed sync, FE lock, flash exposure compensation amount), warnings (exposure warning, improper FE lock warning, CF card full warning, CF card error warning, no CF card warning, busy), maximum burst for continuous shooting, shots remaining||AF (AF points, focus confirmation light), exposure (shutter speed, aperture value, manual exposure, AE lock, exposure level, exposure compensation amount, AEB level, partial metering area), flash (flash ready, red-eye reduction lamp on, high speed sync, FE lock, flash exposure compensation amount, flash exposure compensation icon), warnings (exposure warning, improper FE lock warning, CF card full warning, CF card error warning, no CF card warning, busy), maximum burst for continuous shooting, shots remaining|
|Depth of Field Preview||Enabled with depth-of-field preview button|
|Recording Media/Quantity/Slot Type||CF card/1 slot/Type I or II|
|Compatible File Formats||
|Recording Formats||RAW (CRW), JPEG|
|Maximum Resolution||3,072 x 2,048|
|Reduced Resolutions (JPEG only)||2,048 x 1,360; 1,356 x 1,024|
|RAW + JPEG Recording||
Yes/Middle Fine JPEG only
Yes/Selectable JPEG resolution/compression
|Yes/Middle Fine JPEG only|
|User-Selectable Color Space||
sRGB + Adobe RGB
(Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Color Tone)/# of Increments
(Same as 10D, but new is default sets: one mimics 10D settings and one boosts contrast, saturation, and sharpening for snappier prints. This is the factory default setting)
|Preset WB settings||
5 (Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash
|Manual Color Temperature Setting Range||None||2,800 ~ 10,000K
in 100K increments
|WB Bracketing Range (JPEG only)||±3 steps in 1-step
5 mireds per step
|Type||TTL-CT-SIR with a CMOS sensor
(TTL secondary image registration, phase detection)
|TTL-CT-SIR with a Multi-BASIS
(TTL secondary image registration AF)
|# of Focusing Points (Focusing Point Type) / Superimposed Display||7 points (1 cross-type, 2 horizontal-type, 4 vertical-type) / Yes||3 points (1 cross-type, 2 vertical-type) / Yes|
|AF Working Range||EV 0.5 ~ 18|
|AF-assist Beam||Yes, stroboscopic flash (Range: Approx. 4.0m / 13.1ft. at center, approx. 3.5m/11.5ft. off-center)||Yes, emitted automatically by a lamp (Range: Approx. 3.8m / 12.5ft. at center)|
|One Shot AF Speed||~ Same as 10D||Faster||Fast|
|Predictive AF Minimum Tracking
at 50kph / 30mph with EF 300/2.8L IS USM
|~ Same as 10D||8m/26.4 ft.||12m/39 ft.|
|AF Point Registration / Assist Button||Yes||No|
|One-shot AF||Enabled in Portrait, Landscape, Close-up (Macro), Night Portrait, and A-DEP modes.||Enabled
in Portrait, Landscape, Close-up (Macro), Night Portrait, and A-DEP modes.
Selectable in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes.
|AI Servo AF||Enabled in Sports mode only.||Enabled in Sports mode.
Selectable in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes.
|AI Focus AF||Enabled in Full Auto, Flash Off, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes.||Enabled in Full Auto and Flash Off modes.
Selectable in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes.
|Enabled in Full Auto mode only.|
|Shooting Modes||12 - Program AE (Full Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, Flash Off, Program), shutter-priority AE, aperture-priority AE, depth-of-field AE, manual exposure, ETTL autoflash||11 - Program AE (Full Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, Program), shutter-priority AE, aperture-priority AE, depth-of-field AE, manual exposure, ETTL autoflash|
|Metering Modes||Evaluative (linked to any AF point), center weighted average (set automatically in manual mode), 9% partial||Evaluative (linked to any AF point), center weighted, 9% partial||Evaluative (linked to all AF points), center weighted, 9.5% partial|
|Metering System Working Range||EV 1 ~ 20||EV 2 ~ 20|
|ISO Range / Extended||100 ~ 1600 / --||100 ~ 1600 / 3200||100 ~ 1000 / --|
|Exposure Compensation||+/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments (can be combined with AEB)||+/- 2EV in 1/2 or 1/3EV increments (can be combined with AEB)|
|Automatic Exposure Bracketing||+/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments||+/- 2EV in 1/2 or 1/3EV increments|
|Shutter Type||Mechanical, all speeds electronically controlled|
|Shutter Speed Range/Maximum X-Sync Speed||1/4000 ~ 30 sec. (1/3EV increments) and bulb / X-Sync at 1/200 sec.||1/4000 ~ 30 sec. (1/2 or 1/3EV increments) and bulb / X-Sync at 1/200 sec.|
|Maximum Frames Per Second/Burst Rate||2.5 fps / 4 frames||3 fps / 9 frames||3 fps / 8 frames|
|Flash||Built-in Flash / Guide Number at ISO 100.||Yes (13 meters / 43 feet)||Yes (13 meters / 43 feet)||Yes (12 meters / 39 feet)|
|Flash Exposure Compensation||No||+/- 2EV in 1/2 or 1/3EV increments|
|PC Sync Terminal||No||Yes|
|LCD Size / Pixel Count||1.8 in. LCD / 118,000 pixels1.8 in. LCD / 118,000 pixels||1.8 in. LCD / 114,000 pixels|
|Enlarged Playback / Scroll||1.5~10x in 15 steps / Yes||3x / No (9 segments)|
|LCD Monitor Brightness Adjustment Range||5 steps||2 steps|
|Automatic Rotation for Vertical Shots||Yes||No|
|Other Features||USB Connection||Yes, PTP-compliant||Yes, not PTP-compliant|
|Direct Printing (Select Canon Photo Printers, other PictBridge-compliant models)||Yes||No|
|Menu Languages||12 (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, and Japanese.)||4 (English, French, German, and Japanese)|
|Camera Default Reset||Yes||No|
|Custom Functions (Quantity / Settings)||No||Yes (17 / 61)||Yes (14 / 38)|
|Remote Control Terminal||Compatible with Remote Switch RS-60E3, Remote Controller RC-5 / RC-1||N3-type remote control||Compatible with Remote Switch RS-80N3|
|LCD Panel Illumination||Yes (dedicated button)||Yes|
|Body Structure||Body Cover/Chassis||Largely Plastic||Magnesium Alloy/Stainless Steel||Plastic/Stainless Steel|
|Power System||Battery Compatibility||Main: BP-511 / BP-512
|Main: BP-511 / BP-512
|Rated Shooting Capacity at 20C/68F||100% AE: 600
50% Flash: 400
|100% AE: 650
50% Flash: 500
|100% AE: 620
50% Flash: 490
|Dimensions & Weight||Dimensions (WxHxD,mm)||142 x 99 x 72.9||149.7 x 107.5 x 75||149.5 x 106.5 x 75|
|Weight||560g/19.7 oz. (body only) 653g/23.0 oz (with battery & card)||790g/27.9 oz. (body only)||780g/27.5 oz. (body only)|
|Operating Temperature Range||0 ~ 40C / 32 ~ 104F||0~40C/32~104F||0~40C/32~104F|
|Operating Humidity Range||85%|
|Lens Compatibility||Lens Mount / Compatibility||EF / All EOS lenses, plus Digital Rebel specific EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens||EF / All EOS lenses|
Canon's EOS D60 digital SLR was arguably one of the most in-demand digital cameras throughout all of 2002, and the subsequent EOS 10D update was even more so in 2003. Both cameras blew past all sales projections, and the 10D continues to be very hard to lay hands on at retail, despite Canon's dramatic increase of production capacity for the 10D. Now, their latest release of the EOS "Digital Rebel" promises to dwarf the popularity of even the 10D. In typical Canon fashion, they've dramatically pared cost from the 10D design, while retaining most of the same features, and (apparently) all the same image quality. The net result is a camera with performance only a slight notch down from that of the EOS-10D, but at a precedent-shattering price of only $899 for the body alone, or $999 for a kit that includes Canon's new 18-35mm EF-S lens. (This lens is compatible only with the Digital Rebel, as its image circle is sized to match the smaller dimension of the Rebel's sensor, rather than the 35mm film frame covered by all other Canon lenses.)
The biggest concession in the design of the Digital Rebel seems to be a much more extensive use of plastic in its body construction than we've seen in any previous Canon D-SLR. This is one of the few aspects of the camera that I personally disliked, as I felt that it gave it a rather cheap, "plasticky" feel in the hand. This is very much a personal reaction though - In talking to other reviewers who've had hands on the early prototype samples, none of them seemed to object to the "feel" of the case as much as I did. - Prospective buyers will just have to judge this aspect for themselves. The case is also all-silver, another departure for Canon's D-SLRs, but a design that calls to mind the film-based Rebel Ti.
Internally, the camera's 6.3-megapixel CMOS sensor captures the same maximum resolution of 3,072 x 2,048 pixels as we saw on the 10D, with two JPEG compression levels and a RAW format. Exposure control is very similar to the 10D as well, although minus a few features, and the EOS 300D continues to operate and feel much like its 35mm EOS cousins. As mentioned above, one of the more interesting points on the 300D is that, while the camera features the standard Canon EF lens mount, Canon also designed a lens specifically for the 300D. With an updated optical design created specifically for the digital format, the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S lens is lighter and more compact than the rest of the EF lens series. Based on my testing, it appears that the reduced backfocus distance and smaller image circle of the EF-S design has allowed Canon to achieve an unusually high level of optical quality in an inexpensive lens.
Because the 300D hosts the full range of Canon EF lenses, aperture and focal length ranges will vary with the lens in use. Like the 10D, the 300D has an autofocus system that uses a seven-point array for more accurate focus with off-center subjects. Seven AF points are laid out in a cross pattern in the viewfinder display, and the camera assesses all seven points to determine the proximity of the subject and consequently the best point to use in determining focus. The same One-Shot and AI Servo AF modes are available, the latter adjusting focus continuously for moving subjects, though the 300D doesn't allow the user to select AF modes manually. Instead, the camera automatically selects between One Shot and AI Servo modes, depending on the exposure mode chosen. An AI Focus AF mode switches back and forth between One Shot and AI Servo AF modes, depending on whether or not the subject is moving. This again is automatically enabled, however, depending on the exposure mode selected. (Basically, you only get AiAF when shooting in the "Sports" scene mode. In normal shooting modes though, you do have the ability to manually select one of the seven AF points as the controlling focus point, or leave the area selection under automatic control.) Like the EOS 10D before it, the Digital Rebel 300D offers what Canon terms "Predictive AF," which basically tracks the rate at which a subject is approaching or receding from the camera, and accurately focuses based on the subject's predicted position. (A features that sports photographers will no doubt appreciate.) The EOS 300D offers a TTL optical viewfinder, which displays an impressive amount of exposure information. The 1.8-inch, rear-panel, color LCD monitor is for image review and menu display only. The EOS 300D also features a small status display readout on its rear panel, which reports a large number of camera settings as well.
Exposure control on the EOS 300D is very good, offering almost exactly the same level of control as that provided by the 10D. Basic exposure modes include full Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and Auto Depth of Field modes. Auto Depth of Field mode is quite useful, in that it intelligently uses the seven AF points to determine the nearest and most distant points of the subject. It combines that information with the current lens focal length setting to determine the aperture to shoot at that will provide sufficient depth of field while using the fastest shutter speed possible. (Very slick!) Within what Canon calls the "Image Zone," are a handful of preset scene modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Close-up (Macro), Sports, Night Portrait, and Flash Off. Combined with its full-auto option, these scene modes make the 300D approachable for even complete novices. Shutter speeds on the EOS 300D range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, with a Bulb mode available in Manual mode that allows shutter times as long as 2.5 hours(!). Metering modes include Evaluative, Partial (close to a spot-metering option), and Center-Weighted, but their selection automatically controlled based the exposure mode chosen. (However, pressing the AE Lock button temporarily switches to Partial mode.) The camera's Exposure Compensation function increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The EOS 300D also features Auto Exposure Bracketing, ISO values from 100 to 1,600, and AE/FE (auto exposure/flash exposure) lock. White balance options include six presets, an Auto setting, and a Custom setting (manual adjustment). You can also bracket white balance through an LCD menu option. Color space options include sRGB and Adobe RGB, and the Parameters setting lets you adjust contrast, saturation, sharpness, and color tone. A new addition here are two preset Parameter modes, one setting up the camera like the previous 10D, and the other (the default) increasing sharpness, contrast, and saturation slightly, for snappier-looking prints when going directly to a photo printer.
The EOS 300D has a Self-Timer mode, which provides a (fixed) 10-second delay after the Shutter button is pressed before the shutter actually opens. You can also trip the shutter remotely with the optional wired remote control, which plugs directly into the camera body, or a wireless IR remote that communicates with a sensor on the front of the camera's handgrip. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a maximum of four frames at approximately 2.5 frames per second, while the Shutter button is held down. In addition to the top-mounted external flash hot shoe, the EOS 300D has a built-in, pop-up flash with Redeye Reduction and Slow Sync settings.
Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and the EOS 300D is compatible with the IBM MicroDrives. (The 300D also supports FAT 32 directory structures, allowing it to use memory cards more than 2GB in size.) The camera doesn't come with a memory card, so I highly recommend picking up at least a 128MB card for starters. (Really though, plan on a 512MB, given the camera's high resolution and handy RAW+JPEG file format.) A USB cable connects the camera to a computer, and accompanying software CDs feature Canon's EOS DIGITAL Solution Disk software and a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements. The Canon software is required for processing the camera's RAW files, including those saved with an embedded JPEG image. The EOS 300D also features a Video Out jack, and comes with a cable for connecting to a television set. For power, the EOS 300D uses a Canon BP-511 battery pack, and comes with one battery and a charger. (I highly recommend picking up a spare and keeping it charged and ready.)
Hitting the digicam market at a lower price point than previous Canon EOS digital SLRs, the Canon EOS 300D (marketed in the US as the Digital Rebel) offers a lot of the functionality of the EOS 10D, but with a few minor changes. The two cameras share the same size sensor and basic exposure functions, though the EOS 300D features an all-plastic body, slightly different control layout, and a few feature differences. If purchased as part of the Digital Rebel kit, the camera comes with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, designed for use only with the Digital Rebel. Otherwise, the camera offers the same EF lens mount compatible with the full range of EOS lenses. The EOS 300D looks a lot like the film-based EOS models with which it shares its name, with just a few design tweaks here and there. Photographers already accustomed to EOS film cameras will find the transition to digital much easier with this model, as the camera's control layout is very similar. With a weight of some 19.7 ounces (560 grams) or so without the batteries, flash card, or lens, the EOS 300D is lighter than the 10D, most likely due to the much more extensive use of plastic in its body panels. The EOS 300D is also slightly smaller than the 10D, measuring 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9 inches (142 x 99 x 73 millimeters).
The Digital Rebel is really a masterful exercise in cost reduction, with Canon paring away anything they could to drop the price under the magical $999 US, but still retaining an amazingly full range of functions and features. As mentioned, part of what they did was to make much more extensive use of plastic in its body than they did in the 10D or any previous D-SLR of theirs. The result is a tactile feel that I personally dislike, but which I've found few other reviewers or users to whom I've showed the camera seem to object to. (And I should point out that I myself would gladly put up with the feel of the case, if it meant the difference between owning a Digital Rebel (with lens) or not owning a 10D.) I don't know what the insides of the Digital Rebel look like, but can't help wondering why Canon couldn't have put just a little more plastic into the case, particularly in the rear panel area under the shooter's right thumb, and in the top and front along the left side. Likewise, perhaps a bit on the right front as well, next to the handgrip. These are the areas where I'm likely to hit the camera with my fingernails as I grab it, resulting in a tinny-sounding click whenever I do so. If that "click" could be made to sound more like a "thunk," I think it would contribute a lot to an overall feeling of solidity for the camera.
The front of the camera features a new lens mount, which accepts both standard Canon EF lenses, as well as the new EF-S lens, designed specifically for the Digital Rebel (more on this later). On the outside edge of the lens mount is the red dot for lining up standard EF lenses, as well as a white square, corresponding to the same alignment icon on the new EF-S lens. There's also the lens release button, a depth of field preview button (on the lower left of the lens mount as viewed from the rear), a flash head release button (on the upper left of the lens mount), and the redeye reduction lamp (the frosted window at upper left in the view above). On the front of the hand grip is the sensor for the IR remote, and tucked into the inside edge of the handgrip is a slot for the DC coupler cord (for the optional AC power adapter), beneath a small plastic cover. From this view, you can also see the camera's Shutter button, which angles down from the top panel.
The top of the camera features the Shutter button, Mode dial, Main dial, Power switch, and Drive Mode button. The pop-up flash compartment is just behind the lens. (The pop-up flash head projects a good distance above the lens, helping to avoid red-eye problems.) The top of the camera also contains a hot shoe for mounting an external flash unit. The hot shoe has the usual trigger terminal in the center, as well as four other contacts for interfacing to Canon EX Speedlite flash units, and a hole for a locking pin to prevent rotation of the speedlight. Fixed neck strap eyelets are located on both sides of the top panel as well.
On the hand grip side of the camera, towards the rear of the handgrip is a large door which slides back and out to reveal the CompactFlash slot (which supports Type-I and Type-II cards, including the IBM MicroDrive, as well as the latest 4GB memory cards, which use the FAT32 file system). Inside the compartment, underneath the CompactFlash slot is a small, black eject button for removing the card.
The opposite side of the camera features a hinged rubber flap covering the digital (USB), Video Out, and Wired Remote Control sockets. This picture also shows the Depth of Field Preview button (bottom) and Flash Pop-up button (top) on the side of the lens mount a little more clearly.
The rear panel of the EOS 300D is home to the bulk of the camera's controls, as well as the large, bright LCD screen and smaller LCD data readout panel. Lining the left side of the LCD monitor are several buttons related to menus and playback, including the Menu, Info, Jump, Playback, and Erase buttons. To the right of the LCD monitor is the Four-Way Arrow pad and Set button, for navigating through menus. A small LED (labeled "CF") rests below the arrow pad, and illuminates whenever the camera is accessing the CompactFlash card. Just above the Four-Way Arrow pad are the AV/Exposure Compensation and LCD Illuminator buttons. On the top right corner of the optical viewfinder is the diopter adjustment knob, recessed slightly to prevent accidental changes, and featuring a ridged surface to make it easier to turn when you want to. Finally, the top right corner of the rear panel features the AE/FE Lock / Index and AF Point / Enlarge buttons.
The rear-panel data readout conveys a wealth of information about the current status of the camera and its settings. As with other user-interface elements on the 300D, this display shows essentially the same information as the top-panel display on the EOS-10D, with only elements corresponding to features not implemented on the 300D missing. (Flash exposure compensation, custom function indicator, and AF mode indicator.) The illustration above shows all possible segments and icons and their interpretation. (Illustration courtesy Canon USA):
The very flat bottom of the camera reveals the metal tripod mount, as well as the main BP-511 Lithium Ion battery chamber cover. The main battery compartment cover is removable, necessary when installing the optional portrait grip on the camera. A small latch lever at the outside edge of the battery chamber cover unlocks it so that it may be opened. The battery compartment cover is far enough from the tripod socket that you should be able to swap batteries without removing the camera from your tripod mount. The large surface area of the camera's bottom provides a stable mounting surface for use with a tripod, even with fairly large lenses attached.
I didn't receive a sample to play with, but the Canon-supplied shot above shows the new "BG-E1" Battery Grip that will be available for the Digital Rebel, more or less simultaneous with the camera's retail availability. The grip holds two BP-511 batteries, and also provides a secondary shutter release to facilitate vertical-format shooting. The BG-E1 will carry a suggested list price of $140.
CMOS Versus CCD & What's It All Mean?
Back when the D30 was first introduced, Canon's use of a CMOS image sensor was seen as pretty revolutionary, and it still is to some extent. To my mind, the D30 and its successors' widely noted superb tonality can be traced directly to the CMOS sensor technology Canon used in building them. Accordingly, I think it appropriate to include the following section (copied from our D30 review) here, to give a little background on CMOS vs CCD sensor technology. (Thanks to IR News Editor Mike Tomkins for his work in researching and largely writing this technology briefing.)
To understand what CMOS sensor technology can bring to a digital camera, first of all you need some understanding of how CCD and CMOS sensors work, and what they do differently. CCD, or Charge-Coupled Device image sensors, were invented at the end of the 1960s by scientists at Bell Labs, and were originally conceived not as a method of capturing photographic images, but as a way of storing computer data. Obviously this idea didn't catch on; today we instead have RAM (Random Access Memory) chips in our computers which are, ironically enough, manufactured using the CMOS process.
Where CCDs did catch on, however was recording images — by 1975 CCDs were appearing in television cameras and flatbed scanners. The mid 80s saw CCDs appearing in the first "filmless" still cameras… CCDs rapidly attained great image quality, but they weren't perfect. Perhaps most significantly, CCDs required a manufacturing process which was different to that used for manufacturing other computer chips such as processors and RAM. This means that specialized CCD fabs have to be constructed, and they cannot be used for making other components, making CCDs inherently more expensive.
Interline Transfer CCDs consist of many MOS (Metal Oxide Semiconductor) capacitors arranged in a pattern, usually in a square grid, which can capture and convert light photons to electrical charge, storing this charge before transferring it for processing by supporting chips. To record color information, colored filters are placed over each individual light receptor making it sensitive to only one light color (generally, Red, Green and Blue filters are used, but this is not always the case). This gives a value for one color at each pixel, and the surrounding pixels can provide eight more values, four each of the two remaining colors from which they may be interpolated for our original pixel.
After the exposure is complete, the charge is transferred row by row into a readout register, and from there to an output amplifier, analog/digital converters and on for processing. This row-by-row processing of the CCD's light "data" is where the sensor gets the term "Charge-Coupled" in its name. One row of information is transferred to the readout register, and the rows behind it are each shifted one row closer to the register. After being "read out", the charge is released and the register is empty again for the next charge. Repeat the process a number of times, and eventually you read out the entire contents of the CCD sensor. (Think of a bucket brigade, moving water from point A to point B by pouring it from one bucket into the next...)
A number of disadvantages to this approach to sensor design now become apparent, in addition to the already mentioned cost. For one thing, the entire contents of the CCD must be read out, even if you're only interested in a small part thereof (for example, when using the digital zooms that are all the vogue in digital cameras, you have no interest in a large part of the sensor's data, so why take the time to read it out?) There are also a number of supporting chips required for the CCD sensor, each of which adds to the complexity and size of the camera design, increasing cost and power consumption. CCDs also suffer from blooming (where charge "leaks" from one light receptor into surrounding ones), "fading" (a loss of charge as it is passed along the chain before being read out), and smearing (where the image quality can be adversely affected by light arriving during the readout process, leaving streaks behind bright scene areas).
There's also the issue of speed. The step by step process used in a CCD is not exactly conducive to very high speed, and for just this reason a second type of CCD exists. The Frame Interline Transfer CCD features a readout register as large as the light receptor area is, allowing the entire contents of the CCD to be read out in one pass. This, though, adds significantly to the area of silicon required, and hence to the cost of the CCD.
This is where CMOS image sensors step in. CMOS, or Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, is actually a generic term for the process used to create these image sensors, along with numerous other semiconductor items such as computer RAM, processors such as those from Intel and other manufacturers, and much more. CMOS image sensors can be made in the same fabs as these other items, with the same equipment. This technology is, of necessity, very advanced with the amount of competition in processor and other markets contributing to new techniques in CMOS fabrication. Add to this that there is a very significant economy of scale, when your fab can make not only CMOS image sensors, but other devices as well, and you find that CMOS image sensors are much cheaper to make than CCDs.
This cost advantage is even more significant when you consider the way a CMOS sensor works. The Active Pixel CMOS image sensors used in digital imaging are very similar to a CCD sensor, but with one major difference — supporting circuitry is actually located alongside each light receptor, allowing noise at each pixel to be canceled out at the site. Further to this, other processes can be integrated right into the CMOS image sensor chip, eliminating the need for extra chips — things such as analog/digital conversion, white balancing, and more can be built into the CMOS sensor. This reduces cost of supporting circuitry required, as well as camera complexity, and also power consumption, as does the fact that CMOS sensors require a significantly lower voltage than CCD sensors. CMOS sensors themselves also claim lower power consumption than CCD sensors, with one manufacturer claiming their CMOS sensors draw some 10x less power than equivalent CCD sensors.
CMOS sensors have other advantages, as well. For one thing, they can be addressed randomly. If you're only interested in a certain area of the image, you can access it directly and don't need to deal with the unwanted data. Blooming and smearing are also less of a problem with CMOS sensors. CMOS sensors are capable of much higher speeds than their CCD rivals, with one CMOS chip we've heard of capable of running at over 500 frames per second at megapixel resolution.
With these advantages, you'd think CMOS would be a shoe-in to replace CCD in digital cameras, but thus far it has really only impacted the lower end of the market, with CMOS rapidly becoming dominant in the entry level digital cameras and tethered cameras. Why hasn't CMOS taken over at the high end? Well, up until now, image quality has not been on a par with CCD… CMOS sensors, with their many amplifiers at each pixel, suffer from so-called "fixed pattern noise". The amplifiers aren't all equal, and this creates a noise pattern across the image. In their CMOS sensors, Canon has tackled this by first taking the image off the sensor in 10 milliseconds, and then reading just the fixed-pattern noise from the sensor in the following 10 milliseconds. Subtract the second image from the first, and you neatly remove the noise.
There's also the fact that CMOS sensors are generally less sensitive than their CCD counterparts. High end "Full Frame" CCD image sensors have a "fill factor" of 100%, because the whole CCD sensor area is being used for light capture — but in a CMOS sensor the fill factor is lower, because the extra circuitry alongside each pixel takes up space. This space can't be used to capture light, and so you lose some of it… Two techniques exist to combat this — firstly reducing the size of this support circuitry, and secondly the microlens. Reducing the size of the support circuitry is the less ideal of the two methods — the smaller you make it, harder the sensor is to manufacture, and the more expensive it becomes. The microlens is considered to be the better answer, then. Essentially, the support circuitry is covered by an opaque metal layer, and a microscopic lens is placed over the entire area of the light receptor and support circuitry, redirecting the light that would otherwise fall on the support circuitry and focusing it on the light receptor.
Canon's new Digital Rebel 300D is now the fourth high-end digital camera we've seen using CMOS technology, and it is likely that the apparent price advantage the camera has in comparison with its nearest rivals (the Nikon D100, Fuji S2 Pro, and Sigma SD9) is in large part due to the choice of the CMOS image sensor. (Not to mention Canon's in-house semiconductor fabrication capability.) The image sensor in the 300D is only ever so slightly smaller than those used in these two cameras, and significantly bigger than the sensors used in consumer cameras, as can be seen in the comparison photo above, which shows the CCD sensor from Canon's PowerShot S20 digital camera alongside the CMOS sensor from the original D30. The illustration below shows the difference in sizes (to scale) of a consumer CCD, the EOS D30/60/10D/300D sensor (all three are the same size), the D1/D1x/Fuji S1 Pro sensors (also all the same size), an APS film frame, and a standard 35mm frame.
Canon has continued to be fairly closed-mouthed about their CMOS sensor technology, but have talked about a few details of it. As with other Active-Pixel CMOS sensors, theirs does in fact have a signal amplifier located at each pixel site. More intriguing though, is that they also claim to have an A/D (analog to digital) converter at each individual pixel site as well. If this last is true, then it must be a very different sort of A/D than is normally used with CCDs, as those circuits are quite complex and space-consuming. I keep expecting that we'll hear more details as Canon's patent position is solidified, but so far not much information has been forthcoming. It does seem though, that there's been some genuine innovation in Canon's back labs. It's unusual these days to see a company moving toward vertical integration, developing component technology in-house rather than farming it out to specialist companies. Canon has been moving strongly in the opposite direction, bringing not only sensor technology in-house, but the processing circuitry as well, with their much-vaunted DIGIC chip. Based on the pricing of the Digital Rebel 300D, it does appear that there's been some monetary advantage in this approach.
Virtually identical in design to the 10D's viewfinder, the 300D's optical viewfinder is again excellent, providing a wealth of information and great accuracy. (The only elements missing relative to the 10D's finder are those corresponding to features not included in the Digital Rebel - Separate flash exposure compensation and a circle showing the center-weighted exposure metering area.) Instead of the pentaprism viewfinder used on the 10D, the 300D's viewfinder has what Canon calls a "pentamirror" design. (Mirror-based viewfinders trade off viewfinder brightness in favor of considerably reduced expense and weight.) Because the 300D features seven AF points, the viewfinder shows seven focus point boxes arrayed in a cross pattern. When one of the points is selected by the AF system, a bright red dot indicates it in the display. (This differs from the 10D's setup a little, in that the 10D actually illuminated the chosen box. Personally, I somewhat prefer the 300D's approach - While the bright red dots are a bit more visually distracting, they're also much more visible in bright shooting conditions.) Lining the bottom of the display is a strip of information reporting everything from aperture and shutter speed to flash status and the maximum number of burst shots available. While I don't have a formal test for it, the "eyepoint" of the viewfinder seemed fairly high, making it usable with eyeglasses, although I had to press the lenses of my glasses up against the eyecup to see the full viewfinder area. The dioptric correction is also excellent, covering a broad range from -3 to +1 diopters. The viewfinder display conveys a lot of information about exposure and camera status, as shown in the illustration below. (Courtesy Canon USA, Inc.)
For those readers new to digital SLRs, it's important to note in discussing the 300D's viewfinder system that the rear-panel LCD display is not usable as a viewfinder. Instead, the optical viewfinder uses a mirror to intercept the image on the way to the shutter and the sensor. Thus, when the camera isn't actively taking a picture, the light from the lens is directed only to the optical viewfinder, and so isn't available to the sensor to drive a live viewfinder display on the LCD. With the exception of the Olympus E-10 and E-20 (which use a beam-splitter prism instead of a mirror, at some cost in the camera's light sensitivity and viewfinder brightness), all digital SLRs operate in this fashion.
While not strictly a viewfinder function, the capture-mode Info display shown
on the rear-panel LCD screen deserves mention here. The optical viewfinder
carries quite a bit of information about camera status as shown above, but
there's even more available on the rear panel, just by pressing the Info button.
Rather than the exposure settings shown in the optical viewfinder, this display
shows date/time, autoexposure bracketing amount, white balance bracketing
amount, processing parameter setting, image review status, image review time,
ISO speed, auto rotate status, auto power off time, and megabytes of remaining
memory card capacity. Between this screen, the optical viewfinder display,
and the LCD data readout on the camera's top, the 300D does an excellent job
of keeping you informed of its status and settings.
Here's what all the numbers and indicators in the information display mean:
Optics Learn how to use lens aperture to control depth of field - Visit our free Photo Lessons area!
Free Photo Lessons
Learn how to use lens aperture to control depth of field - Visit our free Photo Lessons area!
Surprising Lens Quality!
The EF-S lens was probably one of the biggest surprises I found in testing the Digital Rebel. - It provides surprisingly high optical quality, particularly impressive for such a low-cost lens. (While it isn't available separately, the mere $100 price differential between the cost of the 300D body alone vs. the cost of the kit including the EF-S lens sets a limit on its likely manufacturing cost.) Apparently, besides reducing the size and cost of the lens elements themselves, the reduction in back focus distance makes it easier for the lens designers to reduce distortion, coma, and chromatic aberration as well. When used on the Digital Rebel body, the 18-55mm EF-S lens delivers image quality as good as that of many of Canon's conventional 35mm-oriented lenses costing many times as much. Looking into the future, I see Canon eventually extending the Rebel camera line with multiple models at a range of price points, and also developing more EF-S lenses, covering a wider range of focal lengths. (In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the dual EF/EF-S lens mount used on the 300D appearing on higher-end Pro cameras from Canon. - The benefits in terms of optical quality and physical size and weight would appeal to pros every bit as much as to amateurs.)
Canon's EF lens series is known for advanced lens models incorporating Canon's exceptionally fast, silent "ultrasonic" focusing mechanism (a coreless motor built into the lens body itself), and an exceptional range of optically stabilized models that permit hand-holding way beyond light levels that would normally require the use of a tripod. While none of this applies to the EF-S lens, it's good to know that the Digital Rebel can take advantage of lenses having those capabilities. (Interestingly, it appears that while EF-S lenses sold in the US will not have ultrasonic focusing mechanisms, those sold in Japan will. - Canon claims that the difference in focusing speed between the two lens types on the Digital Rebel will be slight, but I'm sure US users would at least like the option to purchase a Rebel with the higher-tech lens. I suspect that the reason for the difference has to do with the lower selling price of the body/lens kit in the US, the magical $999 price point being critical in the US market. - I can also understand that it might not be feasible to introduce two different product SKUs, one with conventional focusing, one with ultrasonic, as retailers would likely "rebel" themselves at that prospect. One can still hope though...)
Like most digital SLRs, the sensor in the EOS 300D is smaller than a 35mm film frame. This means that the "effective" focal length of standard EF lenses will be 1.6x their normal values on 35mm cameras. Just to be clear, nothing's changed about the lenses or their behavior, it's just that the CMOS sensor is effectively cropping a smaller area out of the lens' coverage circle. The net result is that shooting really wide angle photography is tough with digital SLRs, the 300D included. At the other end of the scale though, it's like having a 1.6x teleconverter on your lenses with no cost in light loss or sharpness. Thus, a 300mm telephoto has the same "reach" as a 480mm on your 35mm film camera. And of course, a f/2.8 300mm is a lot cheaper than a f/2.8 500mm! The net of it is that a 31mm focal length has the same angular coverage as a 50mm lens on a 35mm SLR, and the common 16-35mm zoom lenses have a range equivalent to 25.6-56mm on film cameras. Taking the new EF-S lens as a case in point, its 18-55mm focal length translates into an equivalent of ~29-88 mm. (A slightly wider than average wide-angle to a modest telephoto.)
Like the 10D, the 300D has an autofocus system with seven sensors, arrayed in a cross pattern in the center of the frame. You can manually select which of these you want the camera to pay attention to (handy for off-center subjects), or you can let the camera decide. When it's operating in automatic AF mode, it will use the sensor corresponding to the part of the subject closest to the camera. The EOS 300D's AF system operates in One Shot, AI Focus, or AI Servo AF modes, but unlike the 10D, the 300D doesn't let you decide which AF mode to use. (This looks like a limitation that might push more experienced pros to choose the 10D despite its higher cost.) When shooting in Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual modes, the camera operates in AI Focus AF, meaning that it automatically flips between One Shot and AI Servo AF modes, depending on the subject. If the subject remains stationary, the camera remains in One Shot AF mode. However, if the subject begins to move, the camera automatically switches over to AI Servo AF and begins tracking the subject as it moves. This is a handy feature, letting you automatically track moving subjects without having to manually adjust the focus mode. When shooting in any of the Basic Zone exposure modes (Automatic or the preset scene selections), the 300D locks the focus mode to One Shot or AI Servo and doesn't switch between the two modes. The AF system's low light limit is EV 0.5, which combined with the AF assist lamp, provides excellent focusing in dim lighting conditions. Like the EOS 10D, the Digital Rebel 300D also offers what Canon terms "Predictive AF," which basically calculates the rate at which a subject is approaching or receding from the camera, and then accurately focuses based on the subject's predicted position. (A features that sports photographers will no doubt appreciate.)
The speed of the AF system is one of the areas in which the EOS 300D and EOS 10D excel over the relative to the system used in the D30 and D60 models. Canon rates the performance of their AF systems by the point at which they cease to be able to track an object moving at a constant speed toward the camera, using a given lens. The closer an object gets, the more rapidly the focusing point will change, so minimum focusing distance at a constant approach speed does provide a good measure of AF speed. While I don't have explicit performance numbers for the Digital Rebel, Canon tells me that it uses the same AF system as the 10D. Using Canon's EF 300/3.8 IS USM lens as the basis of comparison, the EOS 10D can track an object moving at 30 mph (50 kph) down to a minimum distance of 26.4 feet (8 meters). Under the same conditions, the D60 would lose focus tracking at a distance of 39 feet or 12 meters. Thus, by this measure, the EOS 10D's AF system is half again as fast as that of the D30 and D60 before it.
Manual focus is also available with any of the Canon EF lenses, simply by sliding the AF/MF switch on the lens barrel. The new EF-S lens also features the same switch, making it easy to quickly jump into manual focus mode.
Like the EOS-10D, the Digital Rebel uses the built-in flash head as its AF-assist illuminator, rather than a bright light built into the camera's body. This works quite well (as you'd expect, the flash is quite bright, and probably has a longer range than an on-body illuminator bulb), but has one serious drawback: The AF illuminator isn't available unless you're using the flash! For available-light photography, there doesn't seem to be any way to turn off the flash for the main exposure, yet still be able to use it as an AF-assist illuminator. For anyone doing a lot of available-light photography, this is a significant limitation. If you attach a 550EX external flash unit to the 300D though, its internal infrared AF-assist illuminator will operate without the flash being enabled, providing a useful working range of about 50 feet. For non-flash photography, Canon's ST-E2 wireless sync transmitter can also be used for AF assist, a handy trick. The ST-E2's AF-assist light has a useful range of about 25 feet.
Everyone understands that lenses sometimes get dust on them and need to be cleaned, and there are a lot of lens-cleaning cloths, solutions and other accessories on the market that work well. BUT, what do you do when your sensor gets dusty? Dust specks on the sensor tend to show up when shooting at very small apertures, appearing as dark blobs on your images. They're distracting at best, a terrible nuisance at worst, if you end up having to retouch every image to rid of them.
Most of us are naturally leery about the idea of poking around inside the delicate innards of our d-SLRs to wrestle with recalcitrant dust specks. Gently blowing the sensor surface (actually, the surface of the anti-aliasing filter) with compressed air gets rid of some dust, but there's invariably a lot that just stays stuck, no matter what. So what do you do?
If you've got dust specks on your sensor (and sooner or later you will), you're going to need to clean it. There are a lot of products out there intended to address this need, but a distressing number of them work poorly (if at all), and many are grossly overpriced. Advertising hype is rampant, with bogus pseudo-scientific jargon and absurd product claims run rampant. And prices - Did I mention prices? How about $100 for a simple synthetic-bristle brush?
So how do you know what product to use?
We don't pretend to have used everything currently on the market, but can tell you about one solution that worked very well for us. The "Copper Hill" cleaning method is straightforward and safe, and in our routine usage here at Imaging Resource, highly effective. Better yet, the products sold by Copper Hill Imaging are very reasonably priced. Best of all, Nicholas R (proprietor of Copper Hill) has put together an amazingly detailed tutorial on sensor cleaning, free for all.
Sensor cleaning is one of the last things people think about when buying a d-SLR, but it's vital to capturing the best possible images. Take our advice and order a cleaning kit from Copper Hill right along with your d-SLR, so you'll have it close at hand when you need it: You'll be glad you did!
(Other than a few backlinks on their site, we receive no promotional consideration from Copper Hill. We just think their sensor cleaning products are among the best on the market, and like their way of doing business. - We think you will too. Check them out.)
Exposure Learn about white balance and simple lighting techniques for dramatic shots in out free Photo Lessons area!
Free Photo Lessons
Learn about white balance and simple lighting techniques for dramatic shots in out free Photo Lessons area!
The Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes work much the same as on any other camera, allowing you to adjust one exposure variable while the camera selects the other for the best exposure. Program mode keeps both variables under automatic control, while Manual mode gives you full control over everything. The Automatic Depth-of-Field mode (A-DEP) uses all seven autofocus zones to determine the depth of field in the active subject area. Once it has determined the range of focusing distances present across the seven zones, it automatically computes the combination of aperture and shutter speed needed to render the nearest and furthest points in sharp focus. This is a remarkably useful feature, even for professional photographers. In many situations, you want to keep several subjects in focus, while at the same time trying for the highest shutter speed (largest aperture) that will permit that. In practice, faced with such situations, I've usually resorted to just picking the smallest aperture feasible and hoping for the best. With the 300D's A-DEP mode, the camera takes the guesswork out of this process and gives you the fastest shutter speed it can manage while still keeping things in focus. (In playing with this, I was often surprised by how large an aperture in fact would work. I frequently would have chosen a much smaller aperture to stay on the safe side.)
Exposure metering options are similar to the 10D, as the 300D offers Evaluative, Partial, and Center-Weighted options. However, the 300D offers somewhat less flexibility in choosing the metering mode. In Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Program AE modes, the camera defaults to the Evaluative mode. Pressing the AE Lock button momentarily switches to Partial metering, which reads from approximately nine percent of the frame, in the very center of the image area. In Manual mode, Center-Weighted metering is the default mode, but pressing the AE Lock button again switches to Partial mode. (Evaluative is unavailable in Manual mode.) The EOS 300D offers variable light sensitivity, with ISO equivalents of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,600. For adjusting the exposure, the 300D's Exposure Compensation setting increases or decreases overall exposure from +/-2 EV in one-third EV increments. An automatic exposure bracketing feature lets you set the total exposure variation (across three shots) at anywhere from +/- 1/3 EV all the way up to +/- 2 EV. The nice part is that the automatic variation is centered around whatever level of manual exposure compensation you have dialed in. Thus, you could manually set a positive exposure compensation of 0.7EV, and then have the camera give you a variation of +/- 2/3 EV around that point.
I really like the amount of information the 300D gives you about its exposure, not only in terms of the settings it's using, but in the form of feedback on how pictures you've captured turned out. You can select an "Info" display mode when viewing captured images on the rear-panel LCD screen, which produces the display shown at right. Notable here is that you not only can see all the exposure parameters, but you get excellent feedback on the tonal range of the image itself. One form of feedback is the histogram display at upper right, which shows how the tonal values are distributed within the image. Histogram displays are useful for directly seeing how the overall exposure turned out in an image, but I've found them to be of limited usefulness for making critical judgments about highlight exposure.
Digital cameras need to be exposed more or less like slide film, in that you need to zealously protect your highlight detail. Once you've hit the limit of what the sensor can handle, the image "clips" and all detail is lost in the highlight areas. The problem is that it's quite common for critical highlights to occupy only a very small percentage of the overall image area. Because they correspond to such a small percentage of the total image pixels, the peak at 100 percent brightness can be very hard to distinguish in the histogram display. To handle such situations, the Digital Rebel blinks any pixels that are 100 percent white on its screen, alternating them between black and white. This makes localized overexposure problems leap out at you, making it very easy to control the critical highlight exposure precisely. (The sample image shown in the display above is a pathological example, chosen to show how the feature works. In practice, you'd probably never overexpose an image that badly.)
Besides the abovementioned exposure information and feedback, the 300D's playback options include a thumbnail index display, normal full-frame viewing of captured images, and a zoomed view, as shown at right. There's also a "jump" mode, activated via the Jump button on the rear panel of the camera. Jump mode lets you very quickly move through images stored on the memory card, jumping 10 shots at a time. The zoomed playback option is an area where the 300D improves greatly on the performance of the 10D. The 300D's image playback can be zoomed in very small steps anywhere from 1.5-10x. Once you've zoomed in at any level, you can scroll the zoomed window all around the image area, using the rear-panel arrow keys. The scroll frame-by-frame at the magnified view is the same on both cameras. Once you've dialed in the magnification and scrolling parameters, you can go to the next or previous image by turning the main dial next to the shutter button.
Another feature deserving comment is the 300D's separation of the autoexposure and autofocus lock functions. In consumer-level digicams, half-pressing the Shutter button locks exposure and focus simultaneously. You can use this to deal with an off-center subject by pointing the camera at the subject, locking exposure and focus, and then reframing the picture before finally snapping the shutter. The only problem is that you sometimes need to perform a more radical recomposition of the subject in order to determine the proper exposure. For instance, you may want to zoom in on the subject, grab an exposure setting, and then zoom back out before taking the picture. Situations like that require locking the exposure independently of the focusing, and the 300D provides for just such eventualities by way of a separate AE lock button on the back of the camera, right under your right thumb. A very handy feature indeed, for those times you need it.
The EOS 300D offers a full range of White Balance settings, including six presets,
an Auto setting, and a Custom setting. The six presets include Daylight, Shade,
Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. The Custom setting bases color balance
on a previous exposure, meaning you can snap an image of a white card and then
base the color temperature on that image. A White Balance bracketing option
snaps only one image, then writes 3 successive files from that single image.
Bracketing steps are from -/+ 3 stops in whole-stop increments. (Each stop corresponds
to 5 mireds of a color conversion filter, for a total range of +/- 15 mireds.
This corresponds to about a +/- 500K shift at a normal daylight color temperature
of 5500K.) The EOS 300D also offers a Parameters option through the LCD menu,
which lets you select Adobe RGB color space, select one of two default settings,
or configure as many as three custom Parameters setups. Each setup lets you
adjust Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, and Color Tone (red/blue hue balance),
but the defaults and custom setups are all based on the sRGB color space. The
two new preset parameters are Parameter 1 and Parameter 2. Parameter 1 sets
both the contrast and saturation adjustments to +1, while raising the in-camera
sharpening to +2, for a brighter, sharper image. Parameter 2 sets up the camera
to perform much like the 10D at its default settings, with contrast, sharpness,
saturation, and color tone controls all at their neutral positions.
Metering accuracy and bias
I found that the Digital Rebel's exposure system frequently underexposed shots relative to what my personal preferences would have been for a given scene. Looking at the images I captured, it seemed that the camera reacted very strongly to high-key subjects and strong highlights in otherwise well-balanced scenes. This is technically the most correct approach to take, and is the one preferred by most professional photographers, but I think is poorly suited to the needs and desires of most amateur shooters. The idea is that it's most important to preserve detail in the highlights of the images, since once detail is lost to overexposure there, it's gone forever. Dark midtones and shadows can always be fixed on a computer after the fact, albeit at the cost of somewhat elevated image noise levels.
Given that Canon is aiming the Digital Rebel at a more consumer-oriented audience though, and particularly given that they're pitching direct-from-camera printing as a primary feature, I think they should really reconsider the Digital Rebel's exposure system settings. In my experience, the average consumer is much more concerned with how their midtones look, as opposed to detail in the highlights. Even many "enthusiast" shooters prefer images in which the overall level of brightness matches what they saw in the scene, regardless of whether that means losing some detail in the highlights. On the 300D, this problem is exacerbated by Canon's decision to boost the default contrast level relative to that of the 10D. With the resulting steep tone curve, underexposing to save highlight detail results in even darker midtones and shadows than would otherwise be the case.
While you can certainly adjust the exposure compensation setting to correct for this tendency, that's tedious, and I often found it difficult to predict how the camera would respond to a given scene. Also, the amount of underexposure was so drastic with some high-key images that even a full +2EV of compensation was barely enough to produce a properly-exposed image.
At this late date, it's probably too much to hope for that Canon will fix the 300D's exposure system before production models hit the streets, but I hope nonetheless. - This strikes me as a fairly serious product bobble, relative to the needs and desires of its target market.
Low Light Capability
When operating the camera in full-manual exposure mode, the EOS 300D offers a Bulb exposure setting for very long exposures. Normally, exposure times are limited to a maximum of 30 seconds in Aperture- or Shutter-Priority modes, but in Manual mode, you can expose for as long as 2.5 hours by selecting Bulb mode and holding down the Shutter button for as long as you want the shutter to remain open. Obviously, 2.5-hour exposures aren't a practical reality, as sensor noise will totally swamp the signal long before that point is reached. Still though, the 300D seems quite able to take very long exposures with very little image noise resulting. Like the D60 and 10D, the 300D employs noise reduction algorithms that automatically reduce excess image noise from long exposures.
A full discussion of image sensor noise is beyond the scope of this review, but the simple story is that the most obvious and objectionable noise you'll see in long digicam exposures is so-called "fixed pattern" noise, caused by variations in "dark current" between sensor pixels. "Dark current" is just what it sounds like. Current (a signal) appears even when the sensor isn't being exposed to light. When you look at a long time exposure shot with a digital camera, you'll often see very bright pixels, where minor manufacturing defects have resulted in unusually high "dark current" levels. Often called "hot pixels," these flecks of color are very distracting visually.
The normal way to deal with hot pixels is to take an exposure with the camera's shutter closed, immediately after shooting the subject. If this "dark frame" is exposed for the same time as the subject was, you can largely eliminate the hot pixel problem by subtracting the dark frame information from the actual exposure. In practice, this works fairly well, but has the disadvantage that you have to wait for the dark frame exposure to be taken, requiring an appreciable amount of time in the case of long time exposures. (If you shot a one-minute exposure for the photo itself, you'll have to wait another minute for the dark frame exposure to be made.)
While most other high-end digicams on the market use a dark frame subtraction method to deal with image noise, the 300D (like the D60 and 10D before it) appears to be doing something very different, as there's very little delay between the end of the primary exposure and the writing of the image file to the memory card. There's clearly no "dark frame" exposure involved. I suspect that this advanced noise reduction processing in the 300D is another consequence of the "active pixel" CMOS technology Canon developed internally. Having active circuitry associated with each pixel in the sensor array allows lots of fancy processing that would be impossible otherwise, and it looks like Canon's noise reduction system takes advantage of this. However it's done, the 300D's noise reduction approach appears to be very effective.
As noted earlier in the "Optics" section of this review, the 300D uses its flash head as an autofocus-assist illuminator. This works very well, but has the drawback that there's no way to get an AF assist without also firing the flash. Using the 550EX accessory flash unit or the ST-E2 wireless sync transmitter avoids this problem, as both units have bright infrared illuminators built into them.
Like many high-end digicams, the has a "RAW" file format as an option.
If you're new to the world of high-end digital cameras, you may
not be familiar with the concept of the "RAW" file format.
Basically, a RAW file just captures the "raw" image data,
exactly as it comes from the camera's CCD or CMOS image sensor.
So why would you care about that? - RAW files let you manipulate
your images post-exposure without nearly as much loss of image quality
as you'd get with JPEG files. A full discussion of RAW file formats
is way beyond the scope of this article, but Charlotte Lowrie of
MSN Photo has written an excellent article describing the benefits
of the RAW format, titled A
Second Chance to Get It Right. Check it out, it's one of the
clearest tutorials on RAW formats I've seen yet.
What's up with RAW?
Like many high-end digicams, the has a "RAW" file format as an option. If you're new to the world of high-end digital cameras, you may not be familiar with the concept of the "RAW" file format. Basically, a RAW file just captures the "raw" image data, exactly as it comes from the camera's CCD or CMOS image sensor. So why would you care about that? - RAW files let you manipulate your images post-exposure without nearly as much loss of image quality as you'd get with JPEG files. A full discussion of RAW file formats is way beyond the scope of this article, but Charlotte Lowrie of MSN Photo has written an excellent article describing the benefits of the RAW format, titled A Second Chance to Get It Right. Check it out, it's one of the clearest tutorials on RAW formats I've seen yet.
The EOS 300D's built-in flash has a guide number rating of 43 feet (13 meters) at ISO 100, translating to a range of about 15 feet at ISO 100 with a f/2.8 lens. (Reasonably powerful, but not dramatically so.) The flash features a Red-Eye Reduction option, for eliminating the occurrence of the Red-Eye effect. The pop-up flash is released via a small button on the side of the lens mount, and a Flash Off exposure mode disables it and any external flash attached.
Several of the more impressive features of the Canon flash system depend on the dedicated 550 EX speedlight. (While a number of Canon speedlights will work just fine with the 300D, their previous top-end 540EX unit apparently does not, so you'll need the new 550EX to fully tap the 300D's flash potential.) Among these are true FP (focal plane) flash sync, flash exposure bracketing with external flash units, and flash modeling. FP sync requires a flash unit to provide uniform light output for a relatively long period of time, long enough for the focal plane shutter curtain to fully traverse the "film" plane (sensor plane in the case of the 300D). On the 300D, this requires a flash duration of 1/200-second. Uniform, long-duration flash pulses like this permit use of shutter speeds as high as the 1/4,000-second maximum that the 300D is capable of. This can be invaluable when you want to exclude ambient light from the exposure.
Here's the rundown on Canon Speedlights and their compatibility with the 300D:
|Speedlight Model||On-Camera Capability||E-TTL Wireless |
|550EX||All||Master or Slave|
|480EG||External auto plus manual operation||None|
|540EZ||Manual operation only||None|
|430EZ||Manual operation only||None|
|420EZ||Manual operation only||None|
|MR-14EX Macro Ring||All||Master Only|
|ST-E2 transmitter||E-TTL, attach to camera||Master Only|
|Non-dedicated shoe-mount units||Manual operation only||n/a|
|Studio strobe packs||Manual operation only, connect via threaded PC sync socket on camera body||n/a|
You'll note the references to "E-TTL remote" capabilities in the table above. Canon's Speedlight system permits TTL flash metering with multiple remote units, and even allows you to set differential power ratios between the slaved units, over a six-stop flash exposure range.
The "Flash Modeling" feature of the 550EX speedlight is quite useful. With a F550EX connected to the 300D, pressing the camera's Depth of Field Preview button causes the speedlight to fire at 70 flashes per second for about one second. This creates the illusion of a constant light source for your eyes, letting you preview the lighting on your subject when the flash fires. VERY handy, and likely to save lots of shoot/check/reshoot time!
As alluded to above, the "X-sync" speed of the 300D is 1/200-second. (This is the maximum shutter speed that can be used on the 300D when working with a non-dedicated, FP-capable speedlight.) When used with higher-powered studio strobe systems, Canon recommends a maximum shutter speed of 1/60-second or slower, to accommodate the time/intensity profile of such units.
A final benefit of the dedicated Canon speedlights is that they carry powerful autofocus assist illuminators that can extend the range of the built-in AF assist light of the 300D. The AF assist beam on the 550EX is rated as good to about 50 feet, versus the roughly 13 feet of the lamp on the 300D itself. (As mentioned above though, note that the ST-E2 wireless sync transmitter can also be used for AF assist during non-flash photography, a handy trick.)
Continuous Shooting Mode and Self-Timer
The EOS 300D's Continuous Shooting mode is rated by Canon at 2.5 frames per second, for a maximum of four frames. This matched very well with the results of my own performance tests. Do note though, that the number of consecutive shots could be limited by Compact Flash space, if your memory card is nearly full.
The camera's Drive setting also accesses a Self-Timer mode, which opens the shutter 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed, giving you time to dash around in front of the camera. A Remote Control mode works with the dedicated and wireless remote units as well.
Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a delay or lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it.
NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably
fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to
other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same
shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might
be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional
model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance
specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras,
rather than my purely qualitative comments.
|Power On -> First shot||3.09||Average to a bit slower than average for an SLR. (No lens to deploy.)|
|Shutdown||5.21||Time to write large/fine image to the card. (Time will vary greatly with card speed, this is for a pretty fast CF card.)|
|Play to Record, first shot||0.64||Time from playback mode to ready to shoot.|
|Record to play (max res)||5.34/1.22||Time to display large/fine file immediately after shot is captured.|
|Shutter lag, full autofocus||0.250/0.278||AF speed will vary greatly depending on lens used. These numbers are for EF-S 18-55mm. Quite fast. (Typical for an SLR, way faster than even high-end point & shoot models.)|
|Shutter lag, manual focus||0.248||Time with same lens as above, but set to manual focus mode. Average to a bit slower than average for an SLR.|
|Shutter lag, prefocus||0.142||Delay with shutter button half-pressed and held before the exposure. (This number won't vary between lenses.) Fast compared to point & shoots, but slower than average for SLRs.|
|Cycle Time, large/fine JPEG||0.46/2.30/4.53||First time is interval between first four shots, second time is for subsequent ~4 shots, then drops to third time for all following. Quite fast for first four shots, not bad for the following 4.|
|Cycle Time, small/basic JPEG||0.46/2.35||First time is interval between first four shots, second time is for all subsequent ones.|
|Cycle Time, RAW mode||0.65/2.27/7.27||As above, first time is interval between first four shots, second time is for subsequent ~4 shots, third time is for all subsequent. Interestingly, RAW-mode cycle time is slightly longer than that for JPEG files, even when writing to the buffer memories. Still plenty fast though.|
|Continuous Mode, large/fine JPEG||0.40/1.81/4.25||As above, first time is interval between first four shots, second is for second 4-5, third time is for all subsequent. Pretty fast. Buffer clears in about 17 seconds with a fast memory card.|
|Continuous Mode, small/basic JPEG||0.40/1.73||As above, first time is interval between first four shots, second time is for all subsequent ones.|
|Continuous Mode, RAW mode||0.40/2.18/7.63||As above, times are for first four shots, the following 4-5 shots, then all subsequent. Quite fast. Buffer clears in about 21 seconds with a fast memory card.|
Overall, the EOS Digital Rebel 300D is a surprisingly nimble camera. Full-autofocus
shutter lag is on a par with other low-end SLRs on the market, and shot
to shot speed is very good. What surprised me the most about the camera was
how responsive it felt in normal usage, even when I was shooting the wide
range of bracketed exposures I use for some of my test shots. Despite the
buffer being only 4 frames deep, I almost never found myself waiting for data
to write to the card. I suspect that this is because of the 300D's dual-buffer
design (see the note below), that lets the cycle time degrade a bit more gracefully
once the primary buffer is filled, and that lets it clear the primary buffer
memory very quickly, the moment you stop shooting. Whatever the case, the
300D certainly doesn't shoot like a cheap camera, at least in the speed department!
Two Buffer Memories?
As with the D60 and 10D before it, the Digital Rebel 300D seems to have two buffer memories. It will shoot very rapidly for the first four shots at any JPEG resolution setting, then slows somewhat for the following four or five, and finally drops to a much slower speed for all subsequent ones. (At the small/normal size/quality setting, I never hit the slowest time though, there were only two steps in its cycle time performance.) It seems that it has a primary buffer that can hold four shots regardless of image size (perhaps buffering the sensor data directly?), then a secondary one good for four or five shots at maximum resolution, after which it finally has to slow down all the way to wait on the memory card for each shot.
I'm not sure how to interpret these results (although I suspect I'm right that the camera initially buffers data directly from the sensor), but the bottom line is a bit more graceful degradation of cycle time as you eat into its buffer capacity. The net result is very efficient processing and a surprisingly responsive "feel" to the camera.
The 300D's user interface is similar to that of a traditional 35mm SLR film camera, though slightly different from that of the 10D. Current users of Canon EOS SLRs should immediately feel at home, however, as the 300D has the same overall look and feel. I generally comment on whether or not a camera's controls permit single-handed operation, but in the case of SLR cameras like the 300D, this is much less of a consideration, since the cameras' bulk and typical shooting scenarios generally demand the use of two hands anyway. I really appreciated the fact that the basic exposure controls are adjustable through the external camera control buttons and dials, greatly reducing your dependence on the rear-panel LCD menu system. When you do venture into the menu system, all of the camera's playback and setup options are available in all shooting modes, although the erase, index display, image information, and playback zoom functions are only available in Playback mode. Overall, I found the 300D's user interface straightforward and efficient, although the number of options controlled by a relatively small number of buttons does require some study to become familiar with.
Power Switch: Located beneath the Mode dial on top of the camera, this switch turns the camera on or off.
Mode Dial: Positioned on the right side of the camera's top panel, this dial sets the exposure mode. Exposure modes are divided into three zones, the Image, Basic, and Creative zones. The Image Zone encompasses the Flash Off, Night Portrait, Sports, Close-Up (macro), Landscape, and Portrait exposure modes, while the Basic zone includes all of the same plus the Full Automatic mode. Finally, the Creative Zone refers to the Program AE, Shutter Speed Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, Manual, and Auto Depth of Field Priority AE exposure modes.
Shutter Button: Located on top of the right hand grip, this button fires the shutter when fully pressed, and sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed in Automatic exposure mode.
Lens Release Button: Located on the front of the camera, this rectangular button located just to the right (as viewed from the front) of the lens mount unlocks the lens from the mount when pressed. The lens can then be removed by rotating it about 45 degrees to disengage the bayonet mounting flanges.
Flash Button: Located on the left side of the prism housing, above the lens release button and just below the pop-up flash compartment, this button releases the pop-up flash into its operating position when the camera is on. (The popup flash cannot be raised when the camera is turned off.)
Depth of Field Preview Button: Positioned on the side of the lens mount housing, just beneath the lens release button, this button lets you preview the depth of field by stopping down the lens aperture to the current setting in any of the Creative Zone exposure modes. (Like most modern SLRs, the 300D normally focuses and meters with the lens wide open, stopping down to the selected aperture just as the picture is being taken.)
Main Dial: Resting on top of the camera on the right side (as viewed from the back), this ridged wheel adjusts some of the camera's basic settings. In Aperture-Priority and Shutter-Priority modes, this dial sets the lens aperture or shutter speed. In Manual mode, the dial sets the shutter speed. In Program AE mode, turning this dial selects between a range of equivalent exposure settings. When turned while pressing a control button (such as the Drive Mode or Exposure Compensation buttons), this dial adjusts the selected setting.
Drive Button: Located to the left of the Exposure Mode dial, this button controls the camera's drive mode when pressed while turning the Main dial, cycling through Single Shooting, Continuous Shooting, and Self-Timer drive modes.
Diopter Adjustment Dial: Located outside the top right corner of the viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the optical viewfinder's focus to accommodate eyeglass wearers, across an unusually wide range of -3 to +1 diopter.
AV/Exposure Compensation Button: Next to the top right corner of the status display panel, this button lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments when pressed while turning the Main dial. In Manual exposure mode, pressing this button and turning the Main dial adjusts the aperture setting.
AE / FE / Index/ Reduce Button: In the top right corner of the rear panel, marked with an asterisk, this button locks the exposure until the Shutter button is pressed. When pressed while the flash is activated, this button locks the flash exposure, which signals the camera to fire a small pre-flash to measure the exposure before locking it. (This decoupling of exposure lock from autofocusing is a very useful "pro" feature seldom seen on lower-end cameras.)
In Playback mode, this button calls up a nine-image index display of the captured
images on the memory card. If a captured image has been enlarged, this button
"zooms" back out from the enlarged view.
Focus Area Selector/Magnify Button: Just beside the AE / FE button, this button allows you to choose the focus area manually or automatically in Program AE, Shutter-Priority AE, Aperture-Priority AE, or Manual Exposure modes. Pressing the button and rotating the Main dial cycles through an automatic setting, or your choice of seven manually-selected focus areas. The automatic setting selects the active focus point(s) based on the position of the subject within the frame, and its proximity to the seven focusing points (shown as seven small boxes arranged in a cross pattern in the viewfinder).
In Playback mode, pressing this button magnifies the captured image from 1.5 to 10x.
LCD Status Panel Illuminator Button: Adjacent to the lower right corner of the status display panel, this button illuminates the status display window with an orange backlight for a few seconds.
Menu Button: Topping a column of buttons along the left side of the LCD monitor, this button accesses the 300D's LCD-based operating menu in all modes. Pressing the Menu button a second time cancels the menu display. (This button also backs out of menu changes.)
Info Button: Just below the Menu button, this button displays the current exposure settings on the LCD screen when pressed. In Playback mode, pressing this button brings up an information screen that reports the exposure settings that the picture was taken with, and also displays a small histogram, which shows the number of pixels having each possible brightness value.
Jump Button: Directly below the Info button, this button allows you to jump 10 frames forward or backward when viewing images in Playback mode. Once pressed, a jump bar appears in the LCD screen, and jumping is controlled by pressing the right or left arrow keys. The Jump button is active only in Playback mode.
Play Button: Next in line beneath the Jump button, this button puts the camera into Playback mode, regardless of the Mode dial setting. (Pressing the right and left arrow keys in this mode scrolls through captured images.) Playback mode can be canceled by hitting the Play button again, or by touching the Shutter button. (The 300D is a "shooting priority" camera. It's always ready to shoot a picture, regardless of its current mode. Simply pressing the Shutter button returns it immediately to capture mode.)
Erase Button: The final button in the series lining the left side of the LCD monitor, this button accesses the Erase menu, which allows you to erase the current image or all images on the card (except for protected ones). There is also an option to cancel. The Erase function works in Playback mode and the quick review mode only.
Four-Way Arrow Pad: To the right of the LCD monitor on the camera's back panel, this four-button keypad features arrows in each main direction. As the camera's main navigational tool, the keypad selects various camera settings and menu options while in an LCD menu screen.
In Record mode, the up arrow key adjusts the ISO setting (when pressed while turning the Main dial), while the down arrow key selects the white balance mode.
In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images
on the memory card. If an image has been enlarged, all four arrow keys pan the
view of the enlarged image.
Set Button: Located in the center of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button confirms menu selections and camera settings when using the LCD menu system. (One thing I find a bit annoying about the Rebel's user interface was that you can't enter a menu item by pressing the right-arrow key. Rather, have to press the Set button to activate a menu item, then again to confirm your selection. It seems to me that it would be much more efficient and make for faster navigation if you could simply right-arrow over into a menu item once you'd scrolled down to it.)
Camera Modes and Menus
Flash Off Mode: The first mode in the Image Zone, Flash Off mode disables both the internal flash unit and any external flash unit connected. Focus is set to AI Focus mode, drive mode is set to Single, and metering is set to Evaluative. The camera controls ISO and Auto white balance as well.
Night Scene Mode: This mode is for taking pictures of people at sunset or at night. The autofocus mode is automatically set to One Shot. Drive mode is set to Single Shot, and metering mode is set to Evaluative. Since slower shutter speeds will be used, a tripod is recommended to prevent movement from the camera. The built-in flash is automatically enabled and synched with the slower shutter speed, so subjects will need to remain still for a few moments after the flash fires to avoid ghostlike afterimages. ISO is automatically adjusted by the camera. (For night exposures without the flash, Canon recommends shooting in Landscape mode.)
Sports Mode: This mode uses a faster shutter speed to capture fast-moving subjects. The autofocus mode is automatically set to AI Servo. Drive mode is set to Continuous Shooting, ISO is set to Auto, and metering mode is set to Evaluative. The onboard flash isn't available in this mode (since it can't cycle fast enough to keep up with the continuous exposure mode).
Close-up Mode (Macro Mode): Turning the Mode dial to the macro flower symbol sets the camera for capturing smaller subjects such as flowers, jewelry, and other small details. The autofocus mode is automatically adjusted to One Shot, the drive mode is set to Single Shot, and the metering mode is set to Evaluative. ISO is set to Auto. Close-up mode takes advantage of the current lens' minimum focal distance. However, an EOS dedicated macro lens and the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX are recommended for better close-up photography. (Unlike the macro mode on most consumer digicams, Macro mode on the 300D has no effect on lens focusing range, as that parameter is entirely determined by the lens being used.)
Landscape Mode: Landscape mode combines slower shutter speeds with smaller aperture settings to increase the depth of field when shooting broad vistas and sweeping landscapes. This mode is also good for night scenes without people in them. The built-in flash is automatically disabled, even if it's already raised. Because this mode uses slower shutter speeds, a tripod may be needed. Metering is again set to Evaluative and ISO to Auto.
Portrait Mode: This mode uses a large aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, which blurs the background to emphasize the subject. ISO is set to Auto, metering to Evaluative, and AF mode to One Shot.
Full Automatic Mode: The final mode in the Basic Zone, Full Automatic is indicated on the Mode dial by a green rectangular outline. In this mode, the camera makes all exposure decisions with the exception of image quality. Autofocus mode is set to AI Focus. (AI Focus evaluates subject movement, automatically sets either one-shot AF or AI Servo AF automatically.) Drive mode is set to Single Shot, and the metering mode is set to Evaluative.
Program AE: This is the first mode in the Creative Zone of the Mode Dial. Program AE works similarly to the Full Automatic exposure mode, but allows more control over the exposure variables. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically selected by the camera, but you can bias the exposure to larger or smaller apertures by turning the Main dial, which will change the combination of aperture and shutter speed so as to maintain the same exposure value, but with a different combination of aperture/shutter speed. (Personally, I find this sort of vari-program mode more useful when I'm wanting to adjust the aperture or shutter speed to control depth of field or subject motion blur. The camera won't let you select a combination of exposure parameters that doesn't work, but you retain all the flexibility of shutter- or aperture-priority exposure modes.)
Shutter-Priority AE: This mode allows you to manually set the shutter speed anywhere from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, while the camera chooses the best corresponding aperture setting. You have control over all other exposure variables, including exposure compensation.
Aperture-Priority AE: The opposite of Shutter-Priority mode, Aperture-Priority AE allows you to set the lens aperture (with available ranges depending on the lens in use), while the camera selects the most appropriate shutter speed. Again, you have control over all other exposure variables, including exposure compensation.
Manual Exposure: This mode provides the same range of exposure control as the other Creative Zone exposure modes (except for exposure compensation), but lets you control both shutter speed and lens aperture independently. The shutter speed range is extended to include a Bulb setting, allowing long exposures from one second to 2.5 hours. A display in the top LCD panel reports whether the camera thinks your settings will result in under, over, or correctly exposed photos.
Automatic Depth of Field AE: This is the final mode in the Creative Zone, and is meant for taking pictures of large groups of people, landscapes with foreground detail, or any subject with elements of interest at varying distances from the camera. This mode puts the camera in control of both the shutter speed and aperture values, but you can adjust the other exposure variables. (This mode cannot be used if the lens focus mode is set to manual.) When shooting in Automatic Depth of Field AE, the camera sets both the exposure and focus distance to achieve a sharp focus over a wide depth of field. It uses the autofocus system to measure the distance to the subjects covered by each of the three autofocus zones, and then attempts to set the focusing distance and lens aperture so as to render all three subject areas in sharp focus.
Playback Mode: This mode is entered by pressing the Play button on the back panel. Playback mode lets you erase images, protect them, or set them up for printing on DPOF compatible devices. You can also view images in an index display, enlarge images to 10x, view a slide show of all captured images, or rotate an image. The Info button activates an information display, which reports the exposure settings for the image and graphs the exposure values on a small histogram.
Operating Menu: This menu is available in all of the camera modes, though a few of the capture-related options are only available in the Creative Zone. Pressing the Menu button calls up the Operating menu, made up of four menu tabs:
Image Storage and Interface
The EOS 300D utilizes CompactFlash (Type I and II) memory cards as its image storage medium, which should never be removed from the camera while in use. (Removing a card while the camera is still writing to it could cause permanent damage to the card.) The EOS 300D does not ship with a memory card, so you'll want to purchase a large capacity card right away. I'd recommend picking up at least a 128MB card for starters, given the EOS 300D's large, 3,072 x 2,048-pixel maximum resolution. The table below shows card capacities and approximate compression ratios for the various file sizes and types, based on a 128MB memory card. Like the 10D before it, the 300D is fully compatible with IBM MicroDrives and other Type II CompactFlash devices.
Like the EOS 10D before it, the Digital Rebel 300D supports the so-called FAT 32 directory structure. (Like most other digicams on the market, the earlier D60 supported only FAT 16.) The larger address space provided by FAT 32 is necessary for managing high-capacity memory cards of 2GB or greater capacity. This hasn't been an issue until now, but recently announced CF cards with capacities as high as 4 GB require FAT 32 support to use them. (As an aside, I had an opportunity to try one of Lexar's new 4GB CF type II cards in the Digital Rebel, and it performed beautifully. Besides offering huge capacity, this "40x" card is very fast as well.)
128MB Memory Card
| || || |
| || |
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The RAW mode listed above deserves some explanation. This is a format that records all the data from the sensor, exactly as it comes from the A/D conversion process. It is lossless compression, meaning that the file is reduced to a smaller size, but without losing any data in the process. It thus preserves all the original data from the sensor, but is nevertheless much more compact than an equivalent TIFF file. (The effective compression ratio relative to final file size is about 3 to 1,but can vary greatly depending on the image content, as images with large areas of relatively flat tint will compress much more than ones with lots of fine detail.)
NOTE that the 300D's RAW format automatically includes an embedded JPEG as
well, which several of Canon's various software packages can extract via an
on-screen button labeled "Extract JPEG." (The RAW Image Converter
applet, TWAIN driver, and Mac Photoshop plug-in all offer this option.) Note
though, that the embedded JPEG size is limited to Medium/Fine. This should
provide a quicker workflow for situations where your final file format is
JPEG. (Although I think my personal preference would be for the dual-file
RAW/JPEG approach used in the EOS-1D, where the JPEG is a separate file altogether.)
The 300D has a USB port for (reasonably) rapid file transfers to the host computer. I say "reasonably" fast, because the USB connection obviously aren't nearly as speedy as the FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection on pro models like Canon's own EOS-1D and 1Ds and the Nikon D1x and D1h.) Actually, even among USB-connected cameras, the 300D's transfer rates are a little on the leisurely side. I clocked it at 318 KB/second on a Windows XP machine, copying via Explorer and 158 KB/second copying via Canon's ZoomBrowser package. Under Mac OSX v10.2, downloads via iPhoto ran 315 KB/second. For reference, USB-connected cameras I've tested generally run between 300 and 600 KB/second. (Some recent models with USB 2.0 connections can hit speeds of well over 2 MB/second.)
A video cable comes packaged with the 300D, allowing you to connect the camera to your television set for image playback. The video signal can be switched between NTSC and PAL via a menu preference. All menus, etc. appear on the external video monitor, but do note that it won't work as a viewfinder for the same reason that the rear-panel LCD won't. (The SLR optics mean that the sensor is only exposed to light when the shutter is open.)
The EOS 300D uses the same BP-511 battery form factor first seen on the D30, and now appearing as a standard design in many of Canon's camera and camcorder lines. These batteries are a bit larger than a 2CR5 lithium cell, and look like two of smaller semi-cylindrical LiIon batteries glued together. The BP-511 battery pack provides 1100 mAh at 7.4 volts for a hefty charge of 8.1 watt-hours. A separate charger comes in the box with the 300D, but the 300D does not appear to include the "dummy battery" pigtail to power the camera from AC power. The charger that ships with it doesn't have any provision for connecting the dummy battery pigtail to it, nor is a pigtail included in its standard bundle - You'll need to purchase the AC adapter kit ACK-E2 if you need to run the camera from AC power.
Lacking the ability to power the camera from an external power source, I wasn't able to conduct my usual power-consumption measurements. For what it's worth though, battery life seemed to be very good, as I could shoot literally all day before getting a low-battery indication. (The D60's circuitry drew very little power when it was in capture mode but not actively capturing an image. Assuming that the 300D works more or less the same, you could expect a single BP-511 cell to power it for as much as 10 hours in capture mode.)
Of course, regardless of how good a camera's battery life is, there's rarely an excuse to not purchase at least one extra battery to bring along as a hot spare. Plan on buying a second battery along with your 300D, it'll save you a world of grief later on when the battery that you were sure was full of juice runs out of gas in the middle of an important shoot.
The 300D ships with a pretty complete complement of software on both Mac and Windows platforms, including Canon's EOS DIGITAL Solution Disk (version 6.0), and a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements. The EOS DIGITAL Solution Disk enables image downloading and management, as well as the necessary tools to process the camera's RAW files. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a streamlined version of the larger Photoshop application, and offers creative editing tools.
Not Included: "Brainware"
Every manufacturer includes some level of needed software with their cameras, but what's missing is the knowledge and experience to know what to do with it. For lack of a better term, I've called this "Brainware." There's a lot involved between snapping the shutter, and watching a beautiful, professional-quality print spool off your printer, and there's sadly very little guidance as to how to get from point A to point B.
Fortunately, Uwe Steinmueller of OutbackPhoto.com has come up with an excellent series of e-books that detail every step of the process, show actual examples of files moving through the workflow, and the final results. If you want to get the absolute best prints possible from your digital files, you owe it to yourself to purchase one of the Outback Photo Digital Workflow books.
In the Box
The EOS 300D comes with the following items in the box:
- Neck strap.
- Eye cup.
- BP-511 battery pack and charger.
- CR2025 lithium battery.
- Video cable.
- USB cable.
- Two software CDs.
- Instruction manuals and registration information.
If you purchase the Digital Rebel Kit, the camera also comes with the EF-S 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 lens.
Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it
when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
|Free Photo Lessons|
In keeping with my standard test policy, comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the tests, see the Digital Rebel's "Pictures" page. Also, for more "pictorial" sample images, check out the Gallery Page, with a number of shots taken by my son Chris, and our News Editor Mike Tomkins.
As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the EOS 10D's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
The EOS 10D was an immensely popular camera, capitalizing on the EOS name with an excellent feature set and sterling performance. The EOS 300D seeks to surpass its predecessor's popularity, offering very similar functionality at a much lower price point. Although there are a few design adjustments (not to mince words, they're deliberate de-featurings) that will leave more experienced users wanting (such as the inability to select metering and focus modes at will), the EOS 300D is a very capable camera with an excellent feature set. The broad range of exposure control, from pure point & shoot to full manual control should make users of most any experience level feel comfortable. Resolution, color, and tonal range are all very good to excellent, and the newly-introduced 18-55mm EF-S lens that is being offered along with the Digital Rebel is of surprisingly high quality. All in all, a dramatically affordable, true interchangeable-lens digital SLR. I've heard through the grapevine that Canon has plans to produce upwards of 70,000 of these per month for the worldwide market. IMHO, that's still not going to be nearly enough: This is clearly going to be the hottest camera in the history of digital photography, at the $1000 price point. If you have any interest in owning a Digital Rebel before the end of 2003, you'd better get in line promptly.
More Information on this camera from...
Canon Digital Rebel review
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