Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR
At a Glance
Canon EOS 40D
Feature-packed camera produces great images, too; will appeal to enthusiasts and pros alike.
Updated 12/23/08: I've used a wide spectrum of digital SLRs, from entry-level models up to pro models. Once you have a taste of the capabilities of a professional camera, you can't easily go back to a digital SLR that's less full-featured; likewise, if you want to step up from an entry-level digital SLR, you have to get something with extra oomph. The Canon EOS 40D ($1150 body only, or $1300 with a 28mm-to-135mm lens, as of 12/10/08) delivers outstanding image quality at a price that's in reach for photo enthusiasts and professionals alike.
The EOS 40D received a score of Very Good in the PC World Test Center's latest image-quality tests. Images were well balanced, with good color saturation and accuracy, under both flash and natural light.
One of the EOS 40D's advantages is that it has enough high-powered features to appeal to enthusiasts as well as to professionals seeking a second camera. It has many of the same capabilities, in fact, as its higher-end cousin, Canon's $4500 1D Mark III. The two models share a 3-inch, live-view, 230,000-pixel LCD; Canon's DIGIC III image processor; highlight tone priority for preserving the details in bright areas of an image; and similar menus and controls.
This camera has a 10.1-megapixel, 1.6-focal-length-factor CMOS imaging sensor (up from 8.2 megapixels on the EOS 30D), which is faster and provides better color accuracy than that of its predecessor. The EOS 40D can shoot at up to 6.5 frames per second, up to a maximum of 75 Large/Fine JPEGs or 17 RAW images. That speed will be particularly helpful for shooting in a variety of special circumstances, such as when you're trying to capture a gymnast's back handspring on the balance beam.
The EOS 40D has a nine-point autofocus sensor, as the 30D had. But this model's version has been completely redesigned so that all nine components are cross-type sensors--an approach that makes it more likely that the sensor will lock on to your subject, since the sensors are reading both the horizontal and vertical areas. The autofocus proved fast and accurate in my hands-on tests: I had no difficulties capturing sharp images of the U.S. Navy's elite flight team, the Blue Angels, as the jets zoomed overhead during an air show. Even more impressive is that I could capture them rapid-shot, and didn't feel at all at a disadvantage as compared with using an 8-frames-per-second 1D Mark II. Other features such as the ability to add a transmitter to wirelessly control the EOS 40D and send images from it will appeal to professionals seeking a backup or secondary-use camera.
The menus and controls on the EOS 40D are similar to those of other models in Canon's digital SLR line; if you're moving up from a Digital Rebel or migrating down from models such as the EOS 5D or the 1D Mark II or Mark III, you won't take long to master this model. I particularly liked how the jog dial worked with the four-way joystick to navigate through the clean menu system.
Another benefit the EOS 40D has over its predecessor: It integrates a multitiered dust-reduction system like the one Canon already has in place for its Digital Rebel XTi and 1D Mark III. As an avid photographer, I find this feature the most exciting: Dust is the bane of any active digital SLR photographer's existence, and is the primary enemy you need to worry about every time you swap lenses. (Read more in "The Dirt on Digital SLRs' Dust.") You can set the sensor to self-clean whenever you start the camera; in my experience, the process was so quick that it didn't cause any tangible delay in shooting. While I have not done a scientific study of how good Canon's dust-cleaning system is, I can report that during my tests I swapped out lenses several times in less-than-pristine, open-air conditions--and the images I've taken appear to be dust-free so far.
Like most cameras, though, the 40D has a few frustrating quirks. My biggest gripe: The image I saw through the viewfinder didn't quite match up to what the sensor captured. Using the 28mm-to-135mm lens that came with the 40D, I repeatedly found that I would get just a bit more around the edges of my image than what I saw through the viewfinder. That meant retaking some shots so that I could frame the image correctly without resorting to an image-editing program. I also disliked that in Program mode, you can't change the ISO setting; in this mode, the camera automatically controls the ISO.
The strengths of the Canon EOS 40D overshadow those minor drawbacks, however. On the whole, it is a powerful, scalable camera. If you're graduating from a Rebel-series digital SLR, this is a great step-up model whose versatility will grow along with you. And if you're a more advanced shooter or a pro looking for something smaller and less costly than Canon's top-tier cameras (the 1D and 5D series), this camera is perfect for you.