For this review, I tested the 20D with Canon’s EF 17-40mm f/4 L, EF 85mm f/1.8 and EF 28mm f/2.8 lenses. Like its predecessors, the “effective” focal length of any lens on the 20D will be 1.6X greater than normal due to the smaller sensor size in comparison with standard 35mm film. For instance, a standard 300mm telephoto lens will effectively become an impressive 480mm lens when mounted on the 20D. The downside of this “field of view crop” is that it’s more difficult (and costly) to get a 35mm-equivalent super wide-angle lens. Fortunately, the 20D is Canon’s first digital SLR in its mid-range line-up to also offer support for the new range of EF-S lenses - previously only the entry-level EOS 300D offered EF-S compatibility.
The 'S' in EF-S stands for ‘short back focus’, which refers to the fact that the rear lens element is positioned closer than normal to the CMOS sensor. This apparently makes it cheaper and easier to produce wide-angle lenses for digital SLRs that have APS-C size sensors like the 20D. Although we didn’t have any EF-S lenses for this review, the 20D is available in kit-form with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. At the time of writing, there’s also an all-purpose EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 (with Image Stabiliser) and a super wide-angle EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 that can be purchased separately.
Image quality wise the 20D is nothing short of stunning. Colour rendition and image detail from the 20D are both particularly good, and thanks to the very low noise levels present at ISO 800 and below, images look surprisingly ‘clean’. Even at higher sensitivities, I found the additional noise to be quite tolerable in most shots, rarely detracting from the rest of the image. I also noticed that the 20D’s Evaluative metering system coped extremely well under difficult lighting conditions, resulting in almost every shot being correctly exposed - even those with extreme ranges of highlights and shadows. For those really tricky scenes however, there’s always the option of using Partial or Centre-weighted Average metering, although in my opinion there’s no excuse for omitting a true spot metering mode. That said, at the current asking price of £935.89 for the body only, the 20D offers very good value for money and having used it for the past few months I can honestly say that, despite one or two minor niggles, it’s a wonderful piece of kit.
For those considering buying their first digital SLR, I would recommend the 20D without hesitation. The new Canon offers fantastic image quality, very low image noise at high sensitivity, and excellent build quality. Plus you get the support and choice of Canon’s EF (and EF-S) lens range, which is arguably one of the best. Similarly, if you own the older Canon D30 or D60 models, then the 20D will be a worthy upgrade although less so from the 10D. That said, I have no doubt the extra resolution, 5fps shooting speed, quicker start-up time and more responsive auto focusing will also prove tempting for some 10D owners.