Canon 300D

Canon EOS 300D

Firstly my apologies to all of you who have emailed asking about this review, I have been away for the last month on assignment in Sri Lanka. We had hoped to receive a 300D (and the new Pentax *ist D) in time for the trip but both arrived whilst we were away. So here goes for the EOS 300D, perhaps the most important camera to be released onto the market since the groundbreaking D30. It took us all by surprise, especially yours truly as I had just put the finishing touches to my forthcoming book “Digital SLR Masterclass”. Luckily I managed to catch the book before it went to press and added the 300D into it, as it deserves a mention being the first sub 1000 dollar / pound D-SLR.

As usual this review will not be pages and pages of techno stuff, it will be simply what you need to know about the camera to make a buying decision. As a professional photographer who uses a D-SLR for every day of his working life, I kinda know what’s important and what’s just flannel. There are simply things that matter when taking pictures, and things that don’t!! Unusually this review will be posted in several stages, as I test each section of the camera more over the coming days I’ll post some images and my thoughts on it so far.


Initial Thoughts – 10th October 2003

When I first heard about the 300D it was obvious that it was a stripped down EOS 10D. So I opened the box with much suspicion – what I saw however looked nothing like a 10D. The 300D body is over 200g lighter than the 10D, due to its plastic construction. Now I know the word plastic causes the warning bells to ring, but in this case I think that the body is perfectly acceptable and will take a normal amount of punishment. After all would you throw a valuable crystal decanter onto a concrete floor? At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what a D-SLR is made out of, treat it roughly and it will break. In fact the same goes for film cameras too. I guess what I am trying to say is that the body, even though it is plastic, will do the job. It looks slick too, if that is important to you!

Internally the 300D contains the same 6.3 MP CMOS sensor and DiGiC processor as the EOS 10D and therefore I would expect the image quality to be little different. The 300D provides all the usual quality settings, including RAW, and I suspect that most users will shoot JPEG Large anyway. I’ll post some pictures from my testing early next week.

The 300D feels light in my hand and sits well when taking shots. The rear panel has been extensively re-designed as follows:

• Instead of the single LCD screen of the EOS 10D, the 300D has two screens. The main one is of course for image review and playback, the smaller one is the relocated “settings” screen from the top panel of the 10D. This shows settings such as White Balance, Exposure, Compensation, Shots remaining, Drive and Image Quality.

• The 10D thumbwheel has been replaced by 4 “compass point” buttons with a central set button to control them. These buttons seem small at first but I quickly got the hang of them.

Speaking as a photographer I actually like these enhancements and they make shooting a whole lot easier with the 300D than the 10D. Having the settings information just below the viewfinder means I can quickly glance at it without having to shift the camera away from my eye. It’s a shame that the compass point buttons are only used for controlling the menu functions and setting the ISO / White Balance, as they would have been superb for controlling the autofocus points.

I’m pleased to see that Canon have introduced some extra default parameter sets. Modes 1 and 2 are “Vivid” and “Less Vivid” sRGB modes, whilst Mode 3 is the standard Adobe RGB (annoyingly still untagged with the actual profile). After that there is the possibility of setting up three custom parameter sets, overkill in my opinion, but it is better to have too much than too little. Having a default Vivid mode is a nice feature, I’ll test out the differences between the three and let you know what I think.

Looking at the 300D a little closer it is easy to see where Canon have compromised to get the price down:

• Gone are the custom functions available with the 10D - but in reality does it really matter as only a few of these functions (at best) are ever used. Canon has also integrated some of these functions directly into the camera – 1/3rd exposure compensation is standard and a new Flash Off mode has been added to the main command dial. No doubt some photographers will bemoan the lack of custom functions, personally speaking I have always seen these as a gimmick anyway.

• There is no switchable Autofocus setting between One Shot and AI Servo (unless it is so well hidden that I cannot find it). The 300D operates in One Shot mode by default and switches into AI Servo mode when movement is detected. I did have problems getting this setting (called AI Focus) working with the 10D so you can bet I will be testing it this weekend.

• No Mirror Lockup function – hmmm this may be an important one if you take long exposures, but there are old-fashioned ways round it. After all I take commercial landscapes and rarely use this function on my 1Ds or Pentax 645NII, relying on a nice tight tripod head and external release.

• No Colour Temperature or Customisable White Balance settings – good is all I can say. The existing WB settings are perfectly adequate for all but the most exacting photographers, and any corrections can be made with a couple of simple Photoshop keystrokes. The Colour Temperature parameter was always included on the 10D as an afterthought anyway; it is a feature that most pros would use a few times a year so great on the 1Ds but pretty pointless for the 300D. So I think that Canon have been sensible to leave these functions out as you just don’t need them!

• Metering is set by default at evaluative for all the Basic Zone modes and cannot be changed. For the Creative Zone (usual suspects – AV, TV, P and A-DEP) Evaluative is again the default but Partial metering can be invoked by pressing the AE-lock button. In Manual mode the default is centre weighted average metering, with partial again being available via AE-lock. Personally speaking the argument of which metering mode to use has diminished with the evolution of D-SLRs. With the ability to set the exposure beforehand using the LCD screen, the reliance on a particular metering mode is kinda redundant. I use evaluative the whole time these days and so think that the choice for the 300D is a good one. Just how accurate the metering is I’ll test over the next few days and let you know.

• Err that’s about it!

These are my initial thoughts about the 300D, I am sure that I will find more issues during the picture testing this weekend. At the end of the day the 300D is designed as an entry level D-SLR and my initial opinion is that it contains everything it needs to have. Sure we can all split hairs about individual functions that it does and doesn’t have, but at the end of the day the 300D has everything it needs to do the job. In fact the major issue I have found so far is that it doesn’t have mirror lock-up, which is hardly a show stopper. Ok that’s all for now, more later when the sun shines and I can get out to actually put the 300D to the test!


10th October 14:12pm

Managed to get out before the rain to start putting the 300D to the test. First thing I wanted to check out was the new parameters (Vivid, not so vivid and adobe) so used a stained glass window in our local village church:

Stained Glass Shot Stained Glass Shot Stained Glass Shot
As you would expect the image on the left is slightly warmer as it has the Vivid settings. This effectively boosts the saturation, contrast and colour tone settings, but not so much as the Canon G5 Vivid mode. The middle image is taken with parameter set 2 (sRGB standard) and the final image is Adobe RGB. The latter of course is the flattest in terms of colour, but is the easiest to post process should you want to boost the colour to your own taste. All images were taken with the camera set to AV, ISO 200, metering at –2/3rds stop. Initially I took the shots at 0 compensation but the histogram told me that they were too bright. Hardly surprising really given the backlit subject, I would have set the same compensation for my film camera anyway. Notice however the detail and light pick up, really nice.
Picture Test
Just another test of the meter, this time it was set to 0 compensation and the result is a nicely balanced image. The strong colours are due to the Vivid mode being set again. What I particularly like is the way it handles the contrast between the dark shadowy areas and the bright highlights.

More later……


14th October 16:44pm

14th October 16:44pm

Been scuppered by the weather a bit so decided to carry out the 10D vs 300D quality test indoors using my little Pentax Optio 430. Theoretically the quality of the 300D should be identical to the 10D as they use the same 6.3MP sensor and DiGiC processor, but I am never one to trust marketing literature. For the test I used my Tamron 180mm Di Macro Lens, mounted on a tripod. Both cameras were set to JPEG LARGE, WB Shade, ISO 200, Adobe RGB and Self Timer. The latter was necessary to give a fair test since the 300D does not have mirror lock up. The results are shown below:

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The first image shows the uncropped version taken with both cameras, with the cropping area indicated by the square. The first image is the 300D crop, the second is the 10D crop. Neither are sharpened and both are razor sharp. In fact both show amazing detail level and I can't help liking the 300D image more. Notice that the 300D has a slight colour difference from the 10D picture, this must be something to do with a change in the default WB settings as both cameras were identical in their default setup. Simple proof that the 300D is more than a match for the 10D quality.

Tomorrow I will be testing the autofocus capabilities of the 300D with some flying pheasants (hopefully) so watch this space for more results.


Friday 11:46am
Finally managed to get out from the office last night to do some autofocus tests as my planned pheasants the other day didn't happen. As always I decided to drop the 300D in at the deep end and use it for things that I would expect my 1D and 1Ds to do - flying wildfowl. With the wind yesterday they were flying like bullets too, and out of the wind it was damn cold sitting in the reeds.

 

Bird Shot
Well here is the best of the bunch, an shot of a group of Mallards flying overhead. Its is sharp to 100% and well exposed, although I deliberately compensated the meter by -2/3rds to stop any burnout. Overall the autofocus struggled to keep track of the ducks, particularly when against a distracting background, and I missed more than I managed to nail. Once again I remain less than convinced by the AI Focus with very fast moving subjects and had more luck by switching to the "ACTION" program mode which enforces AI Servo. This worked much better, but the downside of course is that you are stuck with the exposure the camera gives you and forced into shooting JPEG LARGE. So all in all the autofocus test for very fast moving subjects was about the same at the 10D and comparitive with other film cameras with the same body. One point that I should mention here is about the buffer size, which at 4 images is 5 less than the 10D. Still it performed well, with few lockouts occurring and very fast buffer processing (particularly when shooting JPEGs). At the end of the day if you want lightning fast autofocus then you have to choose a professional body like the 1D or 1Ds, in the same vein that the EOS 1V is the king of the film camera autofocus.
Apache Helicopter
At the end of the day I was buzzed by an Apache helicopter; I guess that walking across fields in full camouflague gear did look a little suspicious. This time the autofocus locked on fine to the subject and I tracked it across the sunset, getting a nice sequence with everyone sharp. In fact blowing the image up to 100% shows the outline of both the pilots with their heads turned towards me! So the 300D coped well with this situation, as I would expect that it should, and perhaps this is a truer test of its autofocus capabilities.

Field Shot 2
Shot this just coming into my home village, just thought I would include it as another example of how the meter works. Initially set to 0 the histogram showed me that the image was too bright, shooting at -2/3rds gave a much better feel to the picture. This is nothing unexpected, since I always seem to be shooting at -1/3rd to -2/3rds.

Off to shoot some Red Deer rutting now so will post some more pictures on monday with my final comments.

Monday 20th October
Well the Red Deer didn't disappoint, although for the first couple of hours I couldn't find a single chap rutting. Then as the light level dropped I started to hear the first stags roaring, so made my way in their general direction. I had the 300D around my neck, next to the 1Ds and swapped my 300mm F4L IS lens between them. Here are three images that I took with the 300D and my findings for each:
Red Deer
I deliberately took this shot with the 300D to see how the exposure meter and the autofocus handled a contrasting background. I set the autofocus to light up all the focussing points and the exposure meter compensated by -1/3rd stop. As the stag moved its head position to start its roar I tracked the 300D gently up, allowing the autofocus to hopefully follow the motion and lock onto its mouth. I noticed that unlike my 1Ds the focussing points did not light up to tell me where the actual focus point was, but I know and respect Canon autofocus enough to trust that most of the time it is 100% accurate. When I viewed the resulting JPEG on my monitor, it was sharp to professional standards to 100%. The meter had handled a tricky exposure situation well, in fact it produced a more balanced image than the 1Ds with the same shot. Cynics of course will say that the stag is not in the same light as the background, well I can only take what I see. Sure it is not an award winner, but its a good demonstration of the metering of the 300D and that is all I was interested in.
Red Deer 2
Silhouettes seem to pose no problem for the 300D and it gave a very passable reading to this backlit stag. I took an extra shot -2/3rds stop darker for insurance but the original turned out fine. Viewing again on my monitor at 200% magnification, I was pleased to see no noise in the dark areas of the stag, which again confirmed the view that the image processing is identical to the 10D.

Red Deer 3
The final shot of the day, taken in the last red rays of sun before I headed off to the car. This was taken with my 500mm f4L IS as I wanted to see if a longer lens had any effect on the 300D image quality. It didn't and this image is the sharpest of any that afternoon. I did notice that the autofocus had a little problem in the really low light, so switched it onto the centre spot and it locked on nicely. Just for the record the 1Ds had occasional autofocus nightmares too in the fading light. Exposure again was spot on, although as usual I had it compensated at -1/3rd stop.

Conclusion


Well there you go, a pretty thorough field test of the 300D. All in all I'd say that Canon did a pretty good job of stripping down the 10D and giving the 300D all the function that it would need. Of course there are some features that I didn't like such as lack of mirror lock up and AI Focus as the forced autofocus option - but I quickly learnt to work with them. This is perhaps the major problem with D-SLRs today, not their functionality, but the perception that they somehow simplify photography to such a degree that you can simply point and shoot. All D-SLRs need the same skill to use them as any film camera; my 1Ds may have stunning image quality but I have to work with it to produce the best results. The 300D can certainly produce cracking results, the image quality is more than a match for the 10D and perfectly good enough for prints upto A3. So that's that, a review of what is important to potential 300D buyers and leaving out what isn't! Whether it is a good buy for you, well that has to be your decision, all I have tried to do is to report on what I see and I have certainly enjoyed using the 300D during my week with it.