Canon has always made a big thing about extremely fast shooting speeds in continuous mode, and for some people this is a major selling point in a digital SLR. I must admit I rarely use continuous mode, so I tend to consider other features more important, however the 450D will not disappoint those who feel a need for speed. In continuous mode it can rattle off 3.5 shots per second, which while not quite at the level of the EOS 1D MkIII is still pretty respectable, beating the Sony A350, Nikon D80 and Pentax K200D, and equalling the Olympus E-420.
In single-shot mode the ultra-fast nine-point AF system and virtually zero shutter lag give it exceptionally good performance, and the camera can literally shoot as fast as you can press the button. I was able to average two shots a second, which is nearly as fast as some of its rivals in continuous mode. This fast operation makes it ideal for reflex shooting, such as amateur sports or wildlife photography.
Unsurprisingly the performance in Live View mode is nowhere near as good, taking around two seconds per picture and with most shots being out of focus.
Since the EOS 450D is significantly more expensive than its main market rivals, as one might expect it offers a significant advantage in picture quality, although this is not achieved without some effort. In default JPEG mode I found that the camera under-exposes by about a stop, especially in bright sunshine, which while preserving highlights tends to make shadows very murky. However thanks to 14-bit image processing shooting in Raw mode allows a wide range of exposure correction during post-processing, so colour and detail can emerge from shots that look hopeless as JPEGs.
As usual with Canon's CMOS-sensored DSLRs noise control is exemplary. There is almost no noise up to 400 ISO, and shots at 800 ISO - the maximum setting in auto mode - are also perfectly usable. Pushing it up to 1600 ISO produces some noise, particularly in darker areas, but thanks to the way Canon applies noise reduction it looks very much like film grain, not an unattractive effect.
My only real gripe about image quality comes not from the camera but from the supplied kit lens. Canon makes some of the best camera lenses in the world, but this really isn't one of them. It suffers from particularly bad chromatic aberration at wide-angle, wide-aperture settings, and its general lack of sharpness really lets the camera down.
The EOS 450D doesn't compete with other manufacturers' entry-level models on price, so it has to beat them on image quality and performance. Therefore it makes little sense to me to hamstring what is a very good camera by pairing it with a substandard lens. Doing so still doesn't make the 450D cheaper than the Nikon D60, and compromises its one real advantage over its competitors. Still, I'm sure Canon knows what it's doing far better than I do.
If the Canon EOS 450D is intended to be an entry-level camera then it is going to have some problems. It is too expensive, and requires too much user input to get the best from its outstanding image quality. Where it may win however is for the undoubtedly significant number of people wishing to upgrade from an EOS 300D or 350D, who already have some Canon lenses and so can buy it body only, avoiding the disappointing kit lens. For these people it offers outstanding performance, superior picture quality and a useful level of control and versatility that will be a good progression from their existing camera. However the semi-useful Live View, larger screen and slight increment in resolution don't offer enough of an advantage over the EOS 400D to make that upgrade worthwhile.