- Review Price: £439.99
The digital SLR market is fiercely competitive, with the biggest sales and fattest profits in the hotly-contested consumer/entry-level area. Up until very recently Canon, the first company to break the sub-£1,000 barrier with its popular EOS 300D model in 2003, had a commanding lead in DSLR sales with a market share approaching 50 percent, following up the success of the 300D with the EOS 350D and 400D. However holding on to a lead in such a fast-moving game is as much about marketing and strategy as about making quality products, and over the past year Canon has seen its lead eaten away by its main rivals Pentax, Olympus, Sony and especially Nikon. It’s not so much that the rivals are making better cameras than Canon, but more that they are offering the right products at the right prices.
In the crucial entry-level area of the market Canon has been relying on the continued popularity of the EOS 400D, a 10.1-megapixel model launched nearly two years ago and still selling well. However the 400D costs around £400 with an 18-55mm kit lens, which is starting to look like a lot of money for an aging model.
Nikon meanwhile has launched a three-pronged assault on the entry-level sector, with the 6.1MP D40 still available at around £280, the new 10.2MP D60 at around £380 and the superb D80 at around £600. Sony is continuing to carve itself a bigger share of the market with the Alpha A200, a bit of a bargain at £270 including lens, and the A350 with its advanced live view AF system and tilting monitor at around £450. Pentax has the weather-sealed K200D at around £450 while Olympus is also after the bargain hunters with its excellent E-420 at around £360. Faced with competition like that Canon must be worried that its once dominant market position isn’t looking as unassailable as it used to.
Earlier this year Canon announced the launch of a new consumer digital SLR, the EOS 450D. It features a new 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, a larger 3-inch monitor with Live View mode, nine-point AF system and 3.5fps continuous shooting. What is perhaps surprising is the price, because the EOS 450D costs around £440 body only or around £500 with an 18-55mm image-stabilised lens. Canon has subsequently announced an even newer lower-spec entry-level camera, the EOS 1000D which we’ll be reviewing next week, but even this model is currently around £500 on pre-order. Is Canon in danger of pricing itself out of one of its core markets?
The EOS 450D is more than merely an upgrade of the 400D. While it does share a number of components and features, such as the exposure meter and shutter mechanism, it has a new DIGIC III processor, a new nine-point wide area AF system with a cross-type centre sensor, and more importantly a newly-designed sensor.
The first thing that strikes you about the 450D is how small and light it is. It measures 128.8 x 97.5 x 61.9 mm and weighs approximately 475g body-only, slightly larger but 35g lighter than the EOS 400D. It is also 20g lighter than the Nikon D60 and over 50g lighter than Sony’s A200. The camera body is plastic, and unfortunately the low weight does lend it an air of flimsiness which is largely unwarranted by the actual build quality. The plastic is a little thin in places, but overall the camera is quite sturdy.
The small body can be a bit of a problem for anyone with large hands, because the handgrip is also very small, with quite a narrow gap between it and the side of the lens mount. However the grip is covered in textured rubber and feels very secure and balanced, and the positioning of the controls is very intuitive especially for anyone who has owned a previous Canon DSLR. On the top and back of the camera the layout of the buttons is very similar to the 400D, although the larger screen has meant that some have been relocated, including making room on the down-arrow of the D-pad for the Picture Style button.
Picture Style is a new feature for the 450D, providing a quick and easy menu for customising the image processing, with seven pre-set and two user-defined settings for contrast, saturation, sharpness and colour tone, with a wide degree of control for each parameter. Most DSLRs have an image control feature of this type, but Canon’s is particularly well designed and very easy to use.
Main shooting mode selection is via a large dial on the top plate, with the usual choices of program, aperture and shutter priority and manual exposure, as well as the A-Dep mode which automatically maximises depth of field, and a small selection of point-and-shoot scene modes that will be familiar to compact camera users. Shutter speed and aperture setting are adjusted via a single data entry wheel located just above the shutter button.
The back of the camera body is dominated by the large monitor screen, which has a diagonal size of three inches and 230,000-dot resolution. It is a particularly nice screen, with a wide angle of view and good contrast. This is fortunate, because of course the EOS 450D’s main party trick is its live monitor view feature. This is not a new innovation, having been seen on several Olympus DSLRs many months before the launch of the 450D. Canon has clearly seen it as the new “must have” feature, and implemented it on its new camera. However I get the feeling it has been somewhat rushed, because it really is rather crude, especially when compared to the much more sophisticated live view system on Sony’s Alpha A350.
Live view is activated by pressing the Set button in the centre of the D-pad, which flips the reflex mirror up and activates the image sensor, providing a through-the-lens view on the monitor screen. Unfortunately this means that the main autofocus sensors, which are mounted in the viewfinder light-path cannot be used. To compensate for this the 450D has a secondary contrast-detection AF system, but it is very slow and not terribly reliable, especially in low light. This unfortunately means that shooting in Live View mode is really not practical unless the focus is fixed, such as shooting in a studio with the camera on a tripod.
The 450D also features an integrated sensor cleaning system, which employs anti-static materials and a vibrating filter layer to shake off dust particles. All the major DSLR manufacturers have similar systems, and Canon’s appears to work as well as any of the others. I noticed no problems with sensor contamination while I was testing the camera.
Unlike Sony, Pentax and Olympus, Canon doesn’t use body-integral image stabilisation, instead using optical stabilisation built into most of its lenses. It can be argued that this makes the lenses heavier and more expensive, but there’s no denying that it is a very effective system. The standard kit for the 450D includes an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. I found that with some care I was able to take shake-free hand-held shots at some very low shutter speeds, even as low as 1/8th of a second.
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.
Unfortunately due to a malfunctioning memory card I don’t have my usual selection of ISO test shots today, but I do have this shot taken at 800 ISO, hand-held at 1/5th of a second. See below for a 100-percent magnification crop. All the other test shots are at 100 ISO unless otherwise noted.
While there is naturally a little blurring from the movement of these actors, there is very little image noise, and almost none in the highlight areas. The EOS 450D performs extremely well at high ISO settings.
”A range of test shots are shown over the next few pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages download.”
Here’s my usual DSLR test shot of Sidmouth sea-front for direct comparison with other cameras.
As you can see, the EOS 450D’s image quality is extremely good. In fact I don’t think Sidmouth has ever looked better.
Seriously though, while the EOS 450D’s sensor and image processor capture plenty of colour and contrast they are let down by the less-than-stellar sharpness of the kit lens.
This shot was taken at 400 ISO, using the shortest zoom setting on the kit 18-55mm lens and an aperture of f/11.
This is a full-res crop from the top right corner of the previous image. There are no noise problems, but the lens has produced some chromatic aberration.
The wide focusing area is great for off-centre subjects.
”This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure.”
As usual, the Canon’s colour reproduction is superb.
Images do lack some dynamic range in default JPEG mode…
…however shooting in Raw mode and tweaking the images later can pull up a lot of unseen detail. This is from the CR2 Raw version of the same shot as above.
The exposure metering is usually very good, but does tend to under-expose a little in bright sunlight.
Apparently this guy represents the tortured conscience of a guilty man. Another hand-held shot at 800 ISO, this time at 1/25th of a second while moving.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Build Quality 7
|Camera type||Digital SLR|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||12.2 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||By lensx|