On the new Canon gear

Today Canon announced a pile of new gear. Being relatively new to the photography world, I find it amusing that the anticipation of new Canon/Nikon cameras is like the anticipation of a new Macintosh. In any case, dpreview.com has the best coverage of the new stuff. The highlights include:

My commentary on these is going to be somewhat out of order:

1Ds Mk III
After the 1D Mk III, this isn’t much of a surprise. This is a very impressive camera, and is starting to encroach on medium format resolution. Something like this would pretty much be a waste in the hands of someone like me.

14mm f/2.8L II
I am not really a big wide-angle / landscape kind of guy, but a common compaint is that Canon’s wide angle lenses are not that great. It’s nice to see them moving to try and improve in that area.

EF-S 18-55 IS and 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS
With these two lenses, Canon is probably going satisfy a large chuck of the consumer DSLR market. The reach coverage is good, and they are using a new generation of IS that supposedly adds 4 stops, allowing hand holding in more situations. These lenses won’t do much for people looking for f/2.8 apertures to blur backgrounds, but I bet they’ll be pretty affordable. I already have lenses covering these ranges, so I don’t see much appeal here.

Powershot G9
After this weekend’s Strobist seminar, I’m a lot more interested in this that I might have been. This is primarily because point and shoots have electronic shutters, which give you effectively unlimited flash sync speed. When you are trying to knock down the sky or a wall to black, you can’t get enough sync speed. David was toting a G7, and in the G9, the appear to have put back the ability to write RAW files. If only it went to ISO 3200 like the Fuji F20/30.

This is probably the most relevant camera for me. When I got started, I bought the Digital Rebel XT because it had the same sensor as the 20D without the extras of the 20D. I didn’t know how much use I would get out of it, and I was reluctant to spend a lot of money until I knew whether I was really going to be serious about photography. After a weekend of watching David Hobby shoot, I am very aware that the equipment that I need the most is between my ears. In a day where most people use autofocus, David is still using one hand to both zoom and manually focus his 80-200mm lens. With that in mind, here’s a rundown on the major features of the 40D, with an eye to the things which are most attractive to me (might not be for anyone else):

  • 10.1 MP – I don’t really care about the megapixel count – but I do care about some of the improvements that they’ve made to the sensor. I like that the 40D sensor can go to ISO 3200. I don’t like that it requires an expansion. For those situations where I cannot bring a light (ballet recitals, for example), good low noise, hi ISO performance is important. A step up from the XT, but not as big a step as I was hoping for.
  • 14 bit DAC – One hopes that this yields an improvement in image quality, but we won’t know till people have them in hand
  • Highlight Tone Priority / Hi ISO Noise reductions – These are features taken from the 1D-Mk III, and I’d be happy to have them.
  • 6.5 FPS – I don’t seriously shoot sports, so this doesn’t really make much difference to me
  • 3″ LCD – this will probably help with focus checks, and it sounds like it will be brighter – it is hard to the the XT display in full sun
  • Faster, quieter mirror mechanism – If it really is quieter, that will be nice. There are times when I am very aware that people can hear the mirror slaps as I am shooting. Live view also gets you a super silent mode. But I am running ahead.
  • New AF system – This is really important to me. When I bought the XT I didn’t know that there were major differences between the autofocus systems in the XT and the 20D. So a system which is supposedly a reasonable improvement over the 20D system would be great. You could say that I should just learn to manual focus, but it’s very hard to manual focus in the XT viewfinder because it is pretty small.
  • AF-ON button – Canon took this feature from the 1D, but it’s not huge deal because I’ve read lots of photographers who remap the “*” button to do the same thing.
  • Live View – It seems like the live view on the 40D is even better than that on the 1D MkIII. Since I shoot a lot of macro, I would definitely get some usage out of this feature.
  • Viewfinder Magnification and interchangable focusing screens – Canon made a few changes to the viewfinder — they increased the magnification (although not the coverage), and the 40D supports interchangeable focusing screens, so that you could use a focusing screen optimized for manual focusing.
  • ISO display in the viewfinder – A long overdue improvement. Its embarrassing how many times I’ve failed to reset the ISO after bumping it too high. Seeing it in the viewfinder will make those mistakes easier to see, and perhaps make it possible to change ISO without taking the camera from the eye.
  • “Auto-ISO” – Canon tried to take a page from Nikon and others here, but the Auto-ISO feature on the 40D doesn’t hold a candle to the Nikon Auto-ISO, which is really more like ISO-priority mode. An improvement for low light, but probably not enough.
  • Dust cleaning system – The verdict on most dust control systems (with the exception of Olympus) is that hey don’t work.
  • User settings on mode dial – I can see this being useful on a per shoot basis, especially if you are moving between different areas.
  • Weather resistance – Lots of people made a big deal about weather seals on the D200. I don’t have any L series sealed lenses, so this wouldn’t really do me that much good
  • WFT-E3 – The ability to shoot “tethered” but over WiFi as opposed to a cable is pretty interesting. Unfortunately we don’t know how much this controller will cost, and its big brother for the 1D Mk III is really expensive.

For me and anyone else coming from Rebel XT’s there would also be the following benefits:

  • Two dials and multicontroller for better ergonomics in manual mode
  • RGB Histograms
  • Spot metering
  • 100,000 cycle shutter – I’m at almost 20,000 on my XT already
  • Physical size – although I am small, the XT feels small in my hand
  • PC-Sync connector – the first time I worked w/ a studio strobe, it was a hash because I didn’t have a place to plug in a PC sync cord
  • Increase in flash sync speed – the XT syncs at 1/200 and the 40D syncs at 1/250. Not a huge jump up, but as good as it gets on Canon — see my comments on the Powershot G9 above.

The 40D looks like a pretty good upgrade from the Rebel XT, especially since I have the EF-S 17-55IS and I am really in love with that lense. However, given some of the problems that Canon has been having with the 1D Mk III focusing system, it seems like a smart buyer would want to wait a little bit to make sure none of those problems have worked their way into the 40D.

Update: added sync speed to the XT -> 40D list.

6 thoughts on “On the new Canon gear

  1. James Ward

    Thanks for the write-up Ted. I was checking out the 40D today. Is it silly of my to want a full-frame camera with the same small body as the XT/40D? Maybe with the new lenses I no longer need a full-frame camera. It would just be nice to use the pro series lenses without the multiplier.


  2. Ted Leung Post author

    The multiplier is inconvenient, but manageable. Just think of the fits that all the Nikon folks will go through if there really is a D3 this week. Every Nikon digital, including their pro cameras, is a crop camera. And the pro 1D Mk III is a 1.3x crop as well.

    Full frame is the holy grail for gear oriented photographers, and eventually over time, it will come down in price. I’d like to get there myself someday, but since camera bodies are like computers, I know that time is on my side. Part of the reason (aside from cost) that I haven’t been piling up L lenses is that I want to work more on developing my own style, which in turn will help me figure out what lenses will really be the most important ones for me. Part of me is thinking I might eventually go all primes some day.

  3. rick gordon

    a couple of months ago, I was looking seriously at the G7 and the Nikon P5000. Neither supported RAW, so anything was a compromise. At the time the Nikon flash compatibility with iTTL made it the choice, the G9 having RAW would have probably swayed me. I wonder how they’re dealing with the noise coming off their small CCD?
    Now I just hope Nikon follows suit – they’re due for a big announcement any day now…

  4. rick

    BTW: you might want to check whether the synch speed with the high-end flash unit isn’t higher. Nikon has an “FP” mode that (I think) pulses the flash at a high-speed in synch with the shutter – I can easily fill-flash at 1/2000+ in that mode.
    The older Nikon DSLR’s (D70,D1x) used to have the electronic shutter as well – Hobby mentioned it was dropped because it didn’t have the same service life – not sure why not though.

  5. Ted Leung Post author

    Sync speed with a 580EX is higher. The problem with that is you have to be on Canon wireless, so this doesn’t help if your flashes are triggered by pocketwizards or you have a mix of flash bands. Oh, and 580’s are not cheap.

    Apparently the original Canon 1D series had the electronic shutter as well, until Canon “improved” them.

  6. Jim

    High speed sinc kills the bulk of your flash power:
    On sunny days, a neutral grey filter allows you to to lower shutter speed so that you could use full-power non-FP flash, but that solution is a little cludgy.

    The fact that ISO 3200 is an expansion is your clue that it’s an emuilation I believe. Meaning they just underexpose ISO 1600 and multiply all the resulting values by 2. Something as crude as that. You could do a better job by underexposing ISO 1600 yourself and then fixing things on your PC, but that can be a lot of work so expansion capability is a convenience thing. Having said that, the 40D’s high ISO performnance should be much much better than a DRebel XT’s

    Wide angle: Canon’s 16-35mm II is new and improved, the 15mm fisheye and 24mm & 35mm 1.4’s are great. Plus the new -s lenses are around now. Canon’s doing better wide-angle-wise The 14mm 2.8 I is sort of terrible for the price. Let’s hope the pricy new II is worth it.

    The existing 18-55mm kit lens is sort of terrible. Maybe that’s why it’s a kit-only lens. There’s no reason why the news lens won’t be similarly bad (or worse). Canon has had 4 stop IS units before, but this new one is cheaper to manufacture and has a Nikon-ish automatic panning detection, a first for Canon.

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