Canon have done it again. After releasing the first of many IXUS/ELPH models a few years ago and improving them with each succeeding model, they then produced the EOS D30. A groundbreaking digital SLR, which was followed shortly after by the D60 and 10D, two digital SLRs that really showed the world what Canon was capable of. Now they have again astonished everyone, including the competition, by releasing a truly affordable consumer digital SLR camera. First impressions may deceive but if the Canon Digital Rebel's good looks and advanced specifications are anything to go by, we are sure the 300D will be a winner from the start.
The Canon EOS 300D, or Canon Digital Rebel as it is called outside Europe, sports a 6,3-megapixel CMOS sensor and comes complete with a brand new Canon EF-S 3.5-5.6 18-55mm lens. The total package will be available including lens for just over 1000 Euros in Europe. At this price it will appeal to advanced amateurs as well as those moving on from their first digital compact. Photographers who already have a selection of Canon lenses lying around the house are bound to take notice too, now that there is an affordable solution to go digital while still offering them the choice of using their own familiar optics. Note that the new EF-S mount used on this Canon Digital Rebel is compatible with a range of over 50 presently available Canon EF lenses while their new 18-55mm lens is specifically designed for the 300D and will not fit any other Canon cameras - yet. Have a look at our overview of all Canon and compatible lenses for the Canon Digital Rebel / EOS 300D.
Using the Canon Digital rebel
The 300D - although a completely new model - might be considered a slightly scaled down version of its bigger and heavier brother the EOS 10D. Consequently there are many similarities in features but also a few marked differences. To keep costs under control and to provide some differentiation with the 10D, Canon have made greater use of plastics in the Digital Rebel body. This should not bother you too much if you are not a professional user. An added advantage is that the Canon Digital rebel becomes lighter and more portable than an all-metal design.
The big hand grip on the right gives ample support and makes holding and using the camera very comfortable. All the controls, and I really mean ALL of them, fall readily to hand and are used instinctively once you have found out where they are and what they are used for. The manual is a big help with simple step-by-step guides, explaining everything clearly and in great detail as we have come to expect from Canon.
The program mode dial on the top lets you choose between scene modes such as Landscape, Portrait and Close-up among others; Full Auto (green mode); and the more creative modes that offer Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE and Manual. There is a main input wheel conveniently located just behind the shutter button to adjust some of the camera's settings or adjust aperture and shutter speed while in certain program modes. When pressing a control button, turning the input dial adjusts the selected setting.
The 300D offers several advanced features such as 35-zone TTL metering that is linked to the active focusing point; continuous tracking AF and ultra-wide AF with seven manually or automatically selectable focus points which light up in red if focus has been achieved. Compared to the 10D, there is less control over focusing and metering as the Canon Digital Rebel decides which AF or metering mode is appropriate for a given program setting or shooting condition. There is no possibility to override the camera's choice and although in most situations the option chosen by the camera delivers quality images, it might be desirable to adjust e.g. flash output in certain conditions.
A feature which we found to be very practical in using the Canon Digital Rebel, was the possibility to change between Play mode and Record mode at the touch of a button. When in Play mode, touching the shutter button will instantly return the camera to Record mode, so you are always ready to take the next image. Landscape enthusiasts will appreciate the depth of field button together with a special program mode called A-dep. This mode uses the seven AF points to determine the nearest and most distant points of the subject thereby determining the aperture to shoot at for large depth of field while using the fastest shutter speed possible.
Certain small and seemingly insignificant features show the attention to detail Canon have incorporated in their 300D. For instance, The small data display on the back can be backlit to make exposure details visible in dark conditions. Removing the CF card from its slot is now easier than before since pressing the little black button behind the card door ejects the card far enough to be able to grip it without ruining your finger nails. Cleaning the image sensor is made very convenient by the possibility of locking up the mirror and opening the shutter especially for this purpose. On top of this there are dioptric adjustment, white balance bracketing, automatic orientation sensor, a red CF card status light and metal tripod mount. Canon really know how to please their customers . . .
Battery life was very good throughout our tests. You can expect to take about 600 images without flash and 400 with it. Obviously this is helped by the fact that there is no live preview option on the LCD screen before taking an image. This feature, as compact digicam users will only know too well, eats batteries at an alarming rate. The live preview is missing because the optical viewfinder system uses a pentamirror to intercept the image and send it straight to the viewfinder. When pressing the shutter the mirror locks up and lets the light through to the sensor to record the image.
In the box
When we got the Digital Rebel on loan from Canon, the contents of the box was not complete. As the camera was not available in the shops yet, some items were missing. However, the consumer package should include the Canon Digital Rebel body together with the lens if you have opted for that option (remember the new EF-S 3.5-5.6 18-55mm lens is only available teamed with the EOS 300D).
Furthermore the box should contain the by now familiar BP511 Li-ion battery (as used in the older D30 and D60, 10D, Powershot G2/G5, among others) together with a compact charger, neck strap, USB and AV cables and 139-page manual. Also included will be Canon's Digital Solutions Disk v6.0 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. Canon's Digital Solutions Disk contains Zoom Browser, Photostitch, Remote Capture and File Viewer Utility plus TWAIN drivers for Windows.
Installing the software is the same as for most other Canon models. The Digital Solutions Disk takes you through all the steps necessary to install those programs you are likely to need for downloading or basic image manipulation. Of course Adobe Photoshop Elements offers more advanced control than Canon's Zoom Browser and its inclusion makes a worthwhile addition. Canon have included their File Viewer Utility to let you view images on your camera and local disks. As the Canon EOS 300D also has the possibility of saving images in RAW format, the latter program is also used for converting RAW files or those with an embedded JPG image, to standard formats like TIFF.
Thanks to Canon's DIGIC image processor all pictures show excellent image quality with nice balanced tones and clean colours. Of course the 6-megapixel CMOS sensor ensures that everything is recorded in minute detail, leaving enough room for enlargement or cropping of images. The new EF-S lens provides surprisingly high optical quality for such an inexpensive lens and this is no doubt helped by the new, shorter back focus design. Because the EF-S lens extends further into the Canon Digital Rebel body and projects an image circle that closely matches the size of the sensor (which is significantly smaller than a 35mm frame) it is easier to design a small and light, distortion free lens at reduced costs.
We took the Canon Digital Rebel to a rock concert and experimented with slow synch flash and different ISO settings. At ISO 400 and 800 the images showed remarkably little noise. In fact noise levels at ISO 400 were lower than ISO 100 on some digital cameras. Even at ISO 1600, images were relatively clean, making this setting a useable option if shooting conditions get really dark. Slow synch flash was used by setting Manual program mode and using a slow shutter speed of about 1/30 to record some of the stage lighting on camera while illuminating the foreground by flash light. We found that the amount of flash was well balanced in all shots. Because the pop-up flash rises high above the body there was no trouble with lens shadowing or red eye even in such dark conditions as capturing the audience at the concert hall. Other indoor shots taken with flash showed good results as well.
Unlike the 10D, the Canon Digital Rebel has no custom settings as such, but there is the possibility of adjusting certain parameters to determine the amount of sharpening or contrast and saturation for each image. The default setting is parameter 1, which sets contrast and saturation at +1 and sharpening at +2. This is all right for punchy images but could be too much in certain situations. Parameter 2 uses the default setting from the 10D which is more neutral. It might be worthwhile therefore to do your own tests to see which setting you prefer.
In our tests we found that, while in program mode in higher contrast situations, the Canon Digital rebel reacted quite strongly to highlights in otherwise general scenes and consequently tended to underexpose the image slightly. Technically this is the correct way to go about it, as you can't bring back lost detail in clipped or burnt out highlights - compare the way you expose slide film where you also expose for the highlights. Dark midtones and shadow areas can always be lifted on the computer later, but once detail is lost in lighter areas of the image it is lost forever. Advanced users who want to get around this slight underexposure will dial in some exposure compensation for a more high key effect. For most amateur photographers though this tendency to underexpose a little will not deliver the result they are expecting, as it would mean images frequently need to be worked at on the computer, thereby cancelling out the direct print option Canon promotes. Besides if you use Canon's default parameter 1,
which boosts contrast and saturation this slight underexposure might result in a steeper tone curve which makes adjusting the image a bit more complicated for amateur users.
The Canon Digital rebel is a terrific camera, especially if you look at what it has to offer for the price you pay. You get most of the features of the 10D for a much lower price, plus Canon have thrown in a cracking new lens which itself is great value for money.
Admittedly to distinguish the Canon Digital Rebel from its bigger brother the 10D, Canon have had to lose a few features, otherwise nobody would consider buying the 10D anymore. Most notably the lack of adjusting flash output or freely choosing the desired metering options will be missed by some. What you get in return is really good image quality with silky smooth detail thanks to the CMOS sensor and DIGIC processor, low noise at all ISO settings, fast AF and full compatibility with all EF-lenses.
You can only decide for yourself if this groundbreaking SLR is for you or if you are going to look elsewhere. Fact remains that Canon's release of the 300D could well bring the end of film-based cameras much closer than anybody has expected for a long time. Considering the price that this camera is available for, we won't be at all surprised if this camera is going to be the best-selling digital SLR of all time.