Canon EOS 10D

Canon EOS 10D Digital Camera
Introduction

I have lost count of the number of emails that I have received in the last few weeks asking me if I had seen the new EOS 10D. Most were from existing digital users (having either the D30 or the D60) but some were notably from photographers wanting to take the digital plunge for the first time. When Canon released their first own-brand D-SLR, the D30, the market was divided as to whether its capability was good enough to match film photography. Canon responded a year later by releasing its successor, the D60, which offered several advantages over the D30 (most notably an doubling in file size). Unfortunately the D60 had its fair amount of bad press; typical comments from reviewers were of the time lag after pressing the shutter button, the autofocus speed and the number of autofocus points. To be fair to the D60 I have never really had any problems with it, and it accompanied me on many trips, albeit latterly as a backup to my EOS 1D and 1Ds. I have also had many pictures published from the D60, most recently a beautiful cover of a county lifestyle magazine that looked like it was taken with medium format. Still the market was divided and many users opted to stay with their D30's or their film cameras, until something more usable came along.

Just so you know, my D60 is no more. Last month it succumbed to the jaws of a hyena after volunteering to be left out all night attached to a pressure pad. All that was left in the morning was a piece of the shutter, so RIP my D60 and I hope that the hyena family are enjoying its use (or its taste to be more precise).

Enter stage left the EOS 10D, successor to the D60 and Canon's latest offering onto the rapidly expanding D-SLR market. For the purpose of this review I tried to use "normal" lenses, i.e. a 100-400 and a 300mm f4. By normal I mean that they are not in the several thousand bracket and a lot of amateurs that I talk to have one or the other in their bags. With the aspect ratio of 1.6 that the EOS 10D provides, the 300mm becomes a 480mm and the 100-400 a whopping 160-640, both without any corresponding change in the f-stop. When reviewing the 10D I have tried very hard to really put to the test the main problem areas with the D60, and to remain objective throughout. You must also bear in mind that I am used to using the 1D and the 1Ds, the two most advanced D-SLR's in the world, so I have very high expectations and requirements. One last point, you all know me as wildlife photographer and may think that this review does not apply to your particular style of photography. To be totally honest, if the 10D is good enough for the exacting requirements of my professional clients, then it is good enough for anyone so please stay tuned to this channel!


Summary of Improvements

Canon EOS 10D Digital CameraAll new cameras these days come with a multitude of new features and the 10D is no exception. To be honest most are not major selling points, so here are my top 10 features of the 10D, ranked in how useful they are to your everyday photography (best at the top):

7 point Autofocus system with AI improvements - stolen from the EOS 30 (in fact the whole camera looks like that ilk of camera), the 10D has a superb new 7 point autofocus system with 5 horizontal points and two portrait. Improvements have been made to the AI Servo function and the AI Focus function has been included (again from the 30).

DiGiC processor - Huh? This processor is at the hub of Canons new processing technology and basically means that the image quality should be improved. Although the 10D uses exactly the same CMOS imaging element as the D60, Canon have stated that improvements in their manufacturing process lead to a better quality image than before. See later for my thoughts on this.

External (i.e non LCD based) setting of WB and ISO - Both the D60 and the D30 required the usage of the LCD Menu to set both these parameters; the 10D now has these externalised as buttons on the top LCD panel.

Colour Temperature parameter - I love this feature on my 1D and 1Ds and am happy that they have placed this as an option accessible via the LCD menu. It basically allows you to set the colour temperature used by the default 10D white balance settings. In English you can effectively control how warm you like your images.

Reduced Shutter Lag - when you pressed the shutter button of the D30 and the D60 there was a slight delay before the shutter fired (about 240ms to be precise). The 10D has allegedly reduced this value again - see my testing results a little later on.

Tough new magnesium-alloy body - may seem a little pointless but the D60 was a plastic poodle compared to the 10D. It looks and feels good, tough enough to withstand a day out with me, although probably still not a hyena.

Improved metering algorithms - I put this here for completeness to please the existing film people thinking of converting to digital for the first time. To be honest the whole point of using a D-SLR is that you can take a test exposure, check it and make any corrections before taking your final shot. Sure there are times when you do not have time to do this, but a D-SLR is entirely predictable how it handles the light so soon becomes second nature. Still to keep you all happy, and certain Japanese developers in work, Canon have tweaked their metering algorithms. Marvellous.

Integral and flexible 10x image zoom - There are times when you want to inspect your images a little more closely, perhaps to check the focus point or when you are extremely bored. The D60 provided a zoom facility, which was so hidden down in the depths of its menu system as to be unusable. My 1Ds has a zoom, which is only marginally better, but you will be glad to know that the new 10D has the best of the lot. Using three buttons mounted on the back of the camera you can easily zoom in (upto 10x) and around an image to your hearts content. Remember that doing this costs battery life, which is a very thorny issue with D-SLRs.

Brighter LCD Monitor - for all those that struggled with the D30 and D60 LCD screens, Canon have integrated a much brighter and better LCD Monitor into the 10D. Its brightness is controlled via 5 increments buried within the main LCD menu.

Higher ISO range - the 10D now has a full ISO range from 100 to 1600, with an expansion to 3200 possible for all those loving grain. Personally speaking I never use above ISO 200 but I know a lot of you do night or arty photography that requires the usage of faster speeds. Again see later for my thoughts on this and some examples.

Readers of other reviews will find a list of many more features, to be honest most of these are either internal or will be used once in a blue moon (or whenever West Ham win, whichever is the most unlikely event).

 

The EOS 10D in the Field

As I have already said, my main interests in testing this camera were the new autofocus system, its usability (zoom, menus etc) and the image quality. To test it properly I took it out for a day at the Arundel Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to work alongside my 1D for the day. Hardly a fair comparison you might say but it is important for me to give you a fair review under true conditions, rather than just taking a few snaps and writing about it. All the pictures that you see are not meant to be artistic masterpieces but are taken to illustrate certain points. None of them have been sharpened or manipulated in anyway and that includes colour correction.

Body Design and controlling functions

The first thing that I noticed when pulling the 10D from the box was its radically different look from the previous D30 and D60 bodies. The back panel keeps the simple interface buttons between you and your stored images, but adds the Image Zoom controls and the registered AF point button (if you find a use for this please do let us know).

Well thanks to John for emailing me straight after reading this with a suggested use for the registered AF point. He sets his registered point to the centre, so that he can quickly switch for a snapshot if needed. I have used this in the same way but it offers such a minor speed saving that I thought it best left out of the main review. But well done John and proof that more people than just my mother read these reviews!

The top LCD panel now contains three function buttons for controlling the AF / WB / DRIVE / ISO / METERING and Flash Compensation settings. Although this sounds great I did find that it worked in the opposite way to my 1D and 1Ds, therefore when trying to change the ISO setting I always managed to set the SELF TIMER. To be honest I think that this is more a result of my being "programmed" to use the 1D / 1Ds rather than any fault of the 10D.

Batteries

batteriesIn the hand the 10D feels good, well balanced and with all the controls well placed for even the most in-articulate fingers. The balance is much improved by adding the optional BG-ED3 battery grip. This not only provides a vertical fire button but also allows you to load two BP-511 batteries instead of 1. Which brings us onto the subject of battery usage. All D-SLRS are so heavy on battery usage that none allow you to use anything other than manufacturer supplied re-chargeables. The 10D is no exception, although I have to say that improvements have been made on the D60 (due to the DiGiC processor I suspect being more efficient). Canon state that a fully charged BP-511 battery will take approximately 650 shots, but their test uses only a 50mm lens, which draws relatively little power from the battery. For my test I switched off all battery draining LCD functions (such as review) but shot with battery draining telephone lenses. I found that I shot about 300 images before the battery indicator showed a marked decline, at which point you know from experience that it will die at any moment. This is a big improvement over the D60 and a miracle compared to the D30. If you do buy the 10D though, my recommendation is to get the extra BG-ED3 grip and a couple of spare batteries, you will never regret it.

Autofocus
Bird Shot

Bird Shot 2

As I mentioned above there have been several major improvements to the 10D autofocus system and these were of particular interest to me. The 10D has an all new 7 point autofocus system, controlled via a combination of a rear panel button, the rear thumbwheel and the main dial on the top of the body. This sounds a little confusing but most Canon users will by now be well used to this system and I found little or no difficulty navigating through the points. Unfortunately the ducks let the side down, normally Arundel is a hive of activity but on this day I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still I have included 2 pictures here that I managed to get, both of which I am pleased with as the autofocus did well to concentrate on the subject and avoid the temptations of the background. In both cases I had the 1OD set to AI Servo with all 7 points lit up, which enabled predictive autofocus. This was vital as both of these were real grab shots, with the 10D having only a second or so to lock on before the subject was away. I also noticed that the shutter button seemed to be a little bit more responsive than the D60, but this might just be because I know Canon have made some improvements here.

Dog Shot

Not pleased with my efforts I decided to enlist the help of Muppet, our working cocker spaniel. She can outrun any greyhound so getting a sharp picture of her would be a major challenge for any camera. Setting the 10D to AI Servo with all 7 points lit, I managed to lock onto her early and track her right into the camera, taking the shot that you see here. Not a masterpiece but it is sharp enough to satisfy me.

Bird Shot 3

Next on the list was the AI Focus function, which allegedly detects when a subject starts to move and switches the autofocus mode accordingly. This would be very useful but I have rarely got it to work consistently enough with any camera that has this facility. Walking around with the 10D set to this mode, I tried several times without success until this mallard proved to me that it might work after all. One minute I was photographing him half asleep, the next he was in my face all beak and attitude. Having AI Focus set allowed the 10D to switch from One Shot mode to AI Servo and track his motion, all I had to do was to make sure the correct focussing point was over his eye. I still remain unconvinced about this mode but I am sure more experienced users of this function will have more positive things to say.

Bird Shot 4

Last on the list of tests was to try the outermost autofocus points, as with previous cameras these were the most ropey. A group of bustling mandarins waiting to be fed provided an ideal opportunity and the shot that you see here is illustrative of most of my results. In fact most of the pictures that I shot using the outermost point were sharp, something, which I must admit, did surprise me a little. These mandarins are not static and are constantly charging around so the 10D did better than expected. One other point about this shot, it was taken under thick cloud cover. Notice how bright and vivid the colours are; the light capture capability is something that I loved about the D60 and clearly the 10D has inherited this capability.

To be honest there were quite a few times that the 10D autofocus failed to lock on when I thought it might, but again I am used to the 1D which sticks to everything like a limpet. There is no doubt however that the autofocus of the 10D is streets ahead of its D30 and D60 predecessors and brings consumer D-SLRs up to the usual Canon standard.

Lightmeter
Swan

Bird Shot 5

Just a few words about these "new algorithms" that have been alleged (my lord) to improve the accuracy of the Canon meter. Well, it seems like they may not have overstated this, walking around Arundel I took quite a few grab shots that came out surprisingly well considering the different tonal qualities of the subjects. I always have my D-SLRs set to provide a darker image and for both of the shots that you see here the settings were the same. The swan was a real grab shot; I literally had time to point the camera before it was all over. The autofocus locked on straight away and the resultant exposure is a nice balance with no overexposed highlights. The close-up of the canada goose is a different type of shot, bracketing I took several exposures and found the best to be 1/3rd under the metered reading. There is plenty of detail in the black areas, whilst retaining the balance with the adjacent white feathers.

Image Quality

I guess the ultimate test of any camera and one, which I knew, would be important for you all. To test this I set the 10D to RAW and the sharpening parameters to their weakest which would allow me to get a true feeling of what the pure image would look like. All the images were post processed by the BreezeBrowser, as the supplied browser software is almost as handy as the West Ham defence.

As I have said previously, I am the founder member of the D60 fan club, and expected the 10D to produce a slightly better image. At 6.3MP the image size is exactly the same as the D60 (an 18MB file at 300dpi) so the resolution is identical. To illustrate the point I have several shots to show you, which you can download cropped versions of.

Bird Shot Colse Up
click on picture for larger image

Ok let's start with a real close-up. The original was much wider than this (the head was 50% of the frame) so this is nearly a 100% magnified crop. Notice the fine detail around the eye and the incredibly sharp pupil (check out the reflection - it is me!). As I have said this is without any sharpening and I think is a very impressive result.

Bird Shot Close Up 2
click on picture for larger image

Look don't laugh, I am trying to take abstracts even though I am totally inept at it. Anyway I wanted to show you this for the feather detail; particularly as such patterns can induce Moiré effects (looks like wood grain and very undesireable) on lesser cameras. Well no Moiré and a fine amount of detail right into 100%, which is all that you can expect from an image. With a touch of sharpening this would look as good as any film image.

 

One thing that all D-SLRs are good at is producing good quality images at high ISO levels. I know that sports photographers in particular have found this invaluable and most of the images that you see reproduced in the national press and are ISO 400 and beyond. So I decided to test this out with the ever-willing Muppet. Below are a series of images at ISO 100,200,800 and finally 1600. You will see that at 100 the noise level is very low (better than the D60 believe me) and at 200 there is little difference. At ISO 800 you can see noise artefacts quite clearly, although a lot less than an equivalent slide film (by now you would be hard pressed to see any detail). At ISO 1600 the noise is still within acceptable tolerances for most photographers, yes that's 1600!! I have never in my life shot at this but I know people that do and to have the ability to shoot in all light conditions is a wonderful gift that a D-SLR can provide.

Dog Shot Close Up

Dog Shot Close Up 2

Dog Shot Close Up 3

Dog Shot Close Up 4
Andy, but what about the lockout problems?

Those of you who have read my previous reviews on the D60 and the D30 will know of my frustration with lockout. For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon it is the time when the buffer is full and the camera refuses to allow you to take a single shot. With the D30 it was unmanageable whilst with the D60 you could live with it. The 10D does not really provide much improvement in this area, still retaining the 3fps drive but now allowing 9 images to be stored in the buffer as opposed to 8 with the D60. So it is a problem? Well to be honest for me I have learnt to live with it. With my EOS 1Ds I have a 2 fps drive and a 10-frame buffer, which is holding huge file sizes and takes an age to clear. But I still manage to take spectacular action shots and miss very few, because I am now picking the shots that I want rather than blasting away with a motor drive (that takes no skill at all). The 10D also has the Canon double buffering system which ships processed images out of the buffer as soon as possible, thus freeing up space to shoot more images. It should also be remembered that a film camera locks you out too, during the film rewind, and requires you to fiddle around loading a new film. For the test I never reached a lockout situation, as you really have to blast away to get it, so for me at least it is a non-issue but I wanted to mention it for your completeness. One of the best solutions for it is to buy one of the Sandisk Ultra range of CF cards that have much faster write times than their competitors.

Conclusions

Probably the simplest conclusion that I have ever written, and one that has been influenced more than a little by the price. If the 10D had been overpriced like the 1Ds and 1D then I would have not have been so certain. But Canon have pitched the 10D at a great competitive price in the D-SLR market, and for this price it delivers fantastic functionality. With autofocus you can trust, intelligently designed user controls such as the image zoom and cracking image quality the 10D is a great buy. If you have a D30 or a D60 then the 10D will be a great investment and you will notice the functionality improvements straight away. If you are converting from a film camera then the 10D is perhaps the first consumer D-SLR that mirrors its film counterparts, so you will find the transition less painful than with other models. By the way if you are worried about this then I will be running some seminars later this year in conjunction with wex photographic and Practical Photography on this conversion process and how to get the best from your D-SLR. Back to the 10D, there is nothing more to be said really, you cannot go wrong with it and although I hate to say it, Canon have produced exactly what the consumer market needed. Except its not hyena proof...

Vital Accessories

I mentioned a few accessories in the review and in my opinion they will make your 10D experience a lot more pleasurable:

BG-ED3 Battery Grip - if you are a D30 or a D60 user and already have one of these then joy of joy it fits the 10D. If not then this is a just have. Not only do you get a vertical shutter button, but a double battery compartment and a more balanced camera to boot.

BP-511 Batteries - I have learnt with D-SLRs to buy as many batteries as I can afford (I have 4 for my 1Ds alone). In my experience it is best to have a spare set of fully charged batteries, as you will always be left high and dry at the most inopportune of moments. details here

Sandisk Ultra 512MB CF Cards - I have now virtually given up with IBM microdrives as they are too slow and not that reliable at low temperatures. When you shake them you can hear the disk rattle inside which does little to instil my confidence in them. Recently I have been using the Ultra range of CF cards, in my case the 512MB. These cards seem to be very reliable and have a very fast write time to disk, which reduces the time you are locked out of your camera. My advice is to only go for the 512 MB card as this stores up to 80 RAW images with the 10D. details here

Lenses
Fancy a new lens, well with the 10D you get more than you bargained for, as its 1.5 aspect ratio makes an ordinary telephoto into a super telephoto without any decrease in the aperture. Marvellous!

300mm F4L IS Lens - for this test I used my 300mm F4L lens, which the 10D effectively turned into a 450mm f4L lens. This is a superb lens for all kinds of photography - wildlife, sports, and naughty yes please voyeurism etc and delivers optimum L series quality. I use this lens in preference to the 300mm F2.8 IS because it is 1/3rd of the price and 1/3rd of the weight. Yet it delivers true professional quality.

100-400 F5.6L IS Lens - perhaps the most versatile lens that we use, when coupled with the 10D it becomes a whopping 150-600mm f5.6! Perfect for any situation (especially naughty yes please voyeurism) and again delivering great quality.