Digital Camera Review: Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR
Posted by: Dale Franks
on Sunday, November 13, 2005
Those of you who are interested in digital photography may remember my review of my Sony DSC-F828 digital camera. If so, you'll remember that, while it is a decent digital camera, with many nice features, some of the shortcomings of the camera were irritating.
Now, I've acquired a new digital camera, the Canon EOS 20D. The 20D is an 8.2 megapixel SLR, which bridges the gap between the fairly extensive line of 6 megapixel consumer digital SLRs and the professional grade 12+ megapixel professional digital SLRs. Most of the 6 megapixel consumer SLRs have a sticker price of $1,000 for the camera body, which is not completely unreasonable. Until the release of the 20D, however, there was very little to choose from between those cameras and the professional range 12 megapixel cameras, which come it at about $3,500 for the camera body, or the 17 megapixel cameras, which run $7,500 or so for the body. And, if you're like me, there's no possible way you can afford a camera which costs as much as a nice used car. This makes the D20 a very attractive choice.
At 8 megapixels, and a sticker price of $1,599, the 20D is designed to bridge that gap by providing a camera that can give you photo-quality 16"x20" prints. As it happens, that sticker price isn't what you'll actually pay. If you buy the camera body and a separate lens, Canon is currently offering a $200 rebate on the body, and a nominal rebate on the lens. I purchased the 20D this week for $1,400 for a starter kit containing the 20D and an 18-55mm standard lens, and an additional $189 for a 70-300mm telephoto lens. With the $210 rebate from Canon, the total price comes to $1,429, which gets you a fairly versatile photo system.
And, it's a fantastically impressive photo system. The photo quality, color saturation, and color replication is every bit as good as the professional-level Canon cameras like the 5D, for 1/3 the price.
One of the most impressive features of the 20D is the lack of noise, even at high ISO settings. Unlike the Sony DSC-F828, whose highest ISO setting of 800 produces grainy photos with significant chromatic aberrations, the D20's highest ISO setting of 3200 is surprisingly noise free, with very few chromatic aberrations at all. Compare the image in the hidden excerpt below with those from the images in my DSC-F828 review. I think you'll find that there's no comparison at all, with the D20's image at ISO 3200 showing far less noise and chromatic aberration than the DSC-F828's images at ISO 400.
While the 20D produces sharp RAW images (which take up about 11MB per image), its large (3504x2336, 4MB) JPEG images are also surprisingly clear at the "Large-Fine", with almost no noticeable compression artifacts at all when viewed at 100%. Considering the lossy compression of JPEG images, that's prety incredible performace, especially compared to thr DSC-F828. In fact, in most cases, it's very difficult to tell the differences in image quality between the RAW and JPEG formats—although, naturally, the RAW format gives you much finer "darkroom" control in Photoshop, for making changes to the color balance, white balance, saturation, levels, etc.
The 20D has a very effective burst capability, and a large buffer, which allows you to take 28 photos at 3 photos per second before filling the memory buffer. This is a massively useful feature when using the "Sports" mode of the 20D, that takes high-ISO, fast shutter-speed photos for action shots. With the 20D's high-quality photos even at very high ISOs, you are practically guaranteed to get professional-looking action shots that are crisp and clear, although you can burn through a 1GB compact flash card pretty quickly while using it.
The 20D allows you to use a variety of photographic modes from full auto-program to fully manual, including shutter-speed and aperture priority. In addition, it has a variety of scene modes for night shots, scenic photos, macro closeups, and much more.
Night shots with the 20D are also very impressive, and the in-camera light meter is especially useful, allowing you to step up or down two full exposures. The bottom of the 20D's viewfinder displays the shutter speed, aperture, and the light meter, which allows you to make changes to the shutter speed or f-stop, and gauge the results in the light meter without taking the camera away from your eye.
And, speaking of the viewfinder, it comes with full dioptic adjustment, allowing you to focus the viewfinder to give you a crisp, sharp view. Moreover, the eyepiece allows you to take pictures comfortably while wearing glasses, or sunglasses. Additionally, the viewfinder is quite accurate, and appears to show you about 95% of what will appear on the actual photo, with no edge distortion at all.
The 20D instant-on shooting capability is also a real life-saver as well. The camera goes into standby mode after one minute, but, as soon as you press the shutter release, the 20D focuses and snaps the picture with no noticeable delay at all.
If you're in the market for a reasonably-priced digital SLR that has professional quality features—and, most importantly, produces professional-quality images, then I highly recommend the Canon EOS 20D. I don't think there's a digital SLR on the market that has the image quality of the 20D at anywhere near the price. I haven't found a single thing about this camera that disappoints. I recommend this camera very highly.
Note: All of the photos used in this review, except for the publicity photo of the camera itself, were taken by me on Saturday, 12 Nov 05, using a production model of the Canon EOS 20D.