My first real WP blog posting, which you can read here (and you should because if you haven’t you’re likely to contract malaria), went into no small detail about the process through which I went that led me to the rather unexpected purchase of the Canon EOS 40D digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. It occurred to me today that I hadn’t really said much about the camera since that original posting. Clearly most of my blogs have been about the actual process of taking pictuers, processing pictures, and most importantly how Mother Nature is bound and determined to piss me off to no end by thwarting so many of my photographic opportunities. As such I thought this a good moment, some six months into ownership, to write something valuable and prosaic about my lovely, lovely camera.
Okay. That’s not particularly helpful, but what can I say? Do I still lust after the Nikon D300? Yes. But in all honesty that pagan lust has given way to idle worship. I’m certain it’s a great camera, but am I disappointed with my 40D? Not in the slightest. So what have I learned about my lovely, lovely 40D?
First, it fits my hand perfectly. And I mean perfectly. It fills my palm. The grip fits snugly inside my cupped fingers. It’s large enough that all my fingers, including my pinky, actually utilize the grip. (as an aside this is one place that the D300 did not shine for me – I found some of the controls on the back of the camera were in the way of where my thumb naturally wants to fall) And with the addition of the battery grip (which also helps with vertical shooting) the camera becomes even more comfortable to use, especially when shooting vertically. However, I will concede that the 40D (like the D300) are larger cameras and that having a larger hand is….well….handy. At 6’4″ I have large hands and I find ALL of the smaller entry-level dSLRs (Canon Rebel/400 series, Nikon D-series, etc.) to be too small. None of the controls fall readily to a finger and my hand simply overwhelms the camera body. Naturally this isn’t the case for most Americans as they aren’t 6’4″ and I have had more than one salesperson tell me that these smaller entry-level dSLRs are really geared more towards women (think soccer moms) so they need to be smaller for their typically smaller hands.
Second, the battery life has been exceptional. Far better than I had imagined it would be. I shoot in both RAW and JPEG and have the camera set to activate the dust removal system upon both start-up and shut-down. I admit that I do not use the built in flash so I cannot speak to how it may effect battery life, but I have nothing but praise for battery life with this camera.
Third, this may be an odd item to which to offer praise, but I really like the owner’s manual. It’s clear and concise, which isn’t always the case with owner’s manuals for complicated consumer electronics. I also appreciate the fact the owner’s manual comes on a CD-ROM and that I can download it as a PDF from the Canon USA web site. It also comes with a fair bit of Canon software including such so that you can control your new Canon EOS 40D from your computer. Nikon makes you pay extra for this software so kudos to Canon.
Fourth, like any good camera should, all the really important settings can be changed without resorting to utilizing the menu system. Instead these settings (white balance, ISO, metering, etc.) can be changed via the selection of one of a handful of buttons on top of the camera and then the movement of one of two dials. I’m not saying that only my Canon 40D offers up this immediate flexibility, but it’s good to have right there at one’s finger tips as all the buttons and dials can be reached by either a finger or thumb.
Now to be fair and accurate, not everything is sunshine and bunnies with the Canon 40D. Of course I’m certain no camera is perfect, but it is the constant pursuit of perfection that yields (hopefully) better cameras each year. To that end I wish my Canon did these things better.
First, the viewfinder should be both larger (offering 100% viewing – just what the camera sensor sees) and brighter. The Nikon D300 clearly beat the 40D in my opinion when I was switching back and forth between these two excellent cameras. If I had to pick which was more important to me I’d prefer the brighter viewfinder as I can live with the 95% viewing area that is the current situation for the 40D. The Nikon’s viewfinder was wonderful. I felt like I wasn’t really looking through a viewfinder at all. Canon can and should be doing better here.
Second, and this is going to sound strange, maybe even petty, but why couldn’t the folks at Canon have included a built-in digital version of the viewfinder grid lines? First, why do I want this? Simple. Sometimes one doesn’t notice that they do not have their camera level before the press the shutter release button. But with grid lines it is so easy to make a quick check of how level is the camera before shooting. The D300 has this feature, but the camera does cost about $500 more than the 40D. However, my $250 Canon A630 digital compact camera has the grid line feature for the LCD display. How can a $250 Canon have this feature, but not the $1,600 (with 17-85 kit lens) Canon dSLR? I really cannot imagine that it would have cost much of anything to add this feature. Maybe it’s something that will come along as a firmware upgrade? I don’t know. I DO know that it’s a feature I want and have used and expected in this camera. My only other option (short of returning to the A630 or purchasing a D300) is to purchase the little screens that you can swap in the viewfinder. A pain and expense that should not be visited upon a modern dSLR owner. Period. Are you listening Canon?
Third, while the camera has the requisite buttons for changing the most important settings, they are, in my opinion, too small and too identical to one another. They lay in a line along the top of the camera, above the LCD status display window. The Nikon D300 makes these buttons larger, but does nothing else to differentiate them from one another, but at least being larger is a step in the right direction. I confess that I’m not certain what would be the best way to change the buttons to make them more distinct from one another, but certainly something could be done to rectify this minor ergonomic mistake.
Fourth and finally, I think it would have been nice if more control could have been given to the focus points. With the 40D you have 13 focus points. You can select each one individually or select them all and let the camera decide which it thinks are the most relevant focus points to use. While this is fine under many circumstances it isn’t best for all situations. I would really like to see the 40D offer the ability to select a specific group of focus points (like the three on the far right) so that one can focus on a general area and not on a specific spot within that general area. Again, the D300 offers this ability, but it does come with a cost: more cash.
So what is the bottom line here? It would be grossly unfair of me to compare and contrast my 40D to any other dSLR in any meaningful way as I haven’t owned or operated any other dSLR. While I spent an awful lot of time researching and playing around with them it isn’t the same thing as living with one day after day for six months as I have done with my 40D.
So the real question is: Am I happy with my Canon EOS 40D dSLR? And the answer is yes. It is doing everything I want and need and does it with a minimum of fuss. It can do far more than I have yet asked of it, but I know that with time I will explore the other abilities of the camera and make use of those that I find to my liking and needs. Of course it’s very likely that I would have been quite happy with a Nikon D300 (but a little lighter in the wallet), but I made my decision and all those original feelings of buyers remorse have disappeared and been replaced by the excitement that comes from taking pictures with a great camera.