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Canon EOS 20D

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR Camera

Canon EOS 20D
Photograph: Rick Rizner

The Canon EOS 20D is sure to be popular with serious photographers. The $1500 price tag for just the body of this 8.2-megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera puts it out of the reach of most amateurs (but it's still pretty inexpensive for a digital SLR). The 20D works with dozens of Canon's EF-series lenses, so people with existing lens collections will be the most tempted. The camera also comes bundled with an 18mm-to-55mm lens for $1599.

Like its predecessor, the 6.3-megapixel Canon EOS 10D, the EOS 20D has a tough, black alloy body that fits firmly in the grasp of your right hand. A small monochrome LCD display up top indicates the main shooting settings, while the 1.8-inch color LCD monitor can be used to review your shots and run through the menus.

Unlike the 10D, the 20D starts up and is ready to shoot immediately. It can capture up to 5 frames per second for a maximum of 23 shots, compared with the 10D's 3 fps for 9 shots. The camera also focuses quickly, with the nine auto-focus points clearly glowing red in the viewfinder when you're locked on target. A new multidirectional thumb control lets you manually select an autofocus point, scroll around magnified images, and set the white balance on a new two-dimensional grid; but because the control hasn't been fully integrated into the operation of the camera, it feels like a work in progress. You still use the main control dial to scroll through the single, long menu, which is now broken into color-coded sections for shooting, playback, and setup. Pressing the Jump button lets you hop between the sections. On the downside: We found it too easy to knock the power switch off accidentally while carrying the camera between shots.

The 20D fared better than other digital SLRs we've put through our formal testing, but our photo of a mannequin taken using the camera's built-in flash still came out underexposed. (To compare cameras on a level playing field, we test them using their default automatic settings, a practice that seems to throw many SLRs off.) Our still-life composite was a bit dark, too, but it captured plenty of detail. The camera did well in our resolution test, presenting legible text at very small font sizes, and showing comparatively little interference between closely spaced lines, and fewer sharpening halos than we're used to seeing with point-and-shoots. Our outdoor shot was excellent--slightly overexposed, but nice and sharp across the whole frame.

Of course, you'll want to use an SLR's manual modes to get the maximum control over your finished image. As an experiment, we took six extra shots of each test scene with 1/3-stop variations in exposure. We noted improvements, especially in our mannequin test, with shots that were +1/3 stop and +2/3 stop. We also manipulated several images in Adobe Photoshop CS; with simple applications of the Shadows/Highlights tool, we were able to pull more detail out of shadows.

You can choose among the 20D's image processing parameters, which also influence how your images will appear: Two sets of parameters use fixed criteria, but you can also define your own combinations of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and color tone to mimic the effect of switching to a different type of film. We had fun with the black and white set, which even lets you apply simulated color filters.

You can postpone all image processing until you plug the camera into your PC, by recording in RAW mode. RAW file sizes are much larger, but you get to work with all 12 bits per pixel captured by the camera's sensor. You can also set the camera to record RAW and JPEG files simultaneously.

We spent a few weekends shooting with the 20D and quickly learned to love its capabilities. A local baseball game posed some challenges in achieving good exposure of the players' white uniforms against strong background colors, but a long lens with built-in image stabilization gave us sharp action shots. A nighttime auto race in low light conditions pushed the camera's limits, but we got a good number of dramatic shots, especially with flash assistance during pit stops. Shots with the longest exposures showed noticeable image noise, but far less than we're used to with the previous generation of this camera.

In our battery tests, we were able to take more than 500 shots on a single charge of the 20D's BP-511A lithium ion cell (but to preserve our lab technicians' sanity, we limit our test to 500). The charger is a small unit with fold-out power plugs; you insert the battery into the charger. It's particularly convenient when traveling.

The 20D comes with no media but accepts CompactFlash cards and Microdrives, even in sizes above 2GB. Its USB 2.0 port (there's no FireWire port) lets you upload images to your computer much more quickly than with a USB 1.1 port. A good software bundle includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and several tools from Canon: The EOS Viewer Utility and Digital Photo Pro seem to duplicate the same functionality--both allow the editing of RAW images. The new smaller-format documentation easily tucks into your camera bag.

The Canon EOS 20D is a professional digital SLR that offers better construction and loads more features than many consumer-level SLRs--plus, it delivers great shots.

Paul Jasper

This story, "Canon EOS 20D" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • This professional model offers better construction and features than most consumer-level SLRs offer.

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