Canon EOS 10D SLR Review

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Canon EOS 10D

Steve's Conclusion

When we reviewed the EOS D60 we said that there was going to be a battle in 2002 between the new digital SLRs from Canon, Fuji, Nikon and Sigma. And there was. Last year we saw the numbers of new dSLR owners jump by leaps and bounds. Canon's D60 was so popular that it was always difficult to purchase "off the shelf" at any of the major dealers. Canon has vowed to triple the production of the EOS 10D in 2003 and this is good news as we expect the sales of the 10D to brisk due to its $1500 street price. There have already been several large shipments of the 10D and most dealers have cleared their initial pre-orders. Things are rapidly shaping up for another battle in 2003 and we haven't even seen the new Pentax or Olympus SLRs yet. Just recently we saw a $300 price drop for the Nikon D100 so it's now much closer to the 10D's street price. The good news is that you, the consumer, are the real winner in these battles. I certainly didn't expect to see these kind of price points reached for at least another year.

The EOS 10D did not see an image resolution increase over the D60, it remains at 6-megapixels with an image size of 3072 x 2048 pixels. The D60 proved to have enough resolution to satisfy the needs of many working pro photographers. If you need more resolution then look at the EOS-1Ds with its 12-megapixel, full-frame sensor. The EOS 10D does incorporate a new (and different) 6-megapixel CMOS image sensor along with a more durable magnesium alloy body, a more robust 7-point AF system and Canon's new DIGIC Image Processor. Other new features include 3fps burst to a depth of 9 frames in either JPEG or simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture, extended ISO range of 100-3200, selectable color space including Adobe RGB and sRGB, scrollable 10x zoom playback mode, a new PnP USB interface, and now supports Exif 2.2, DPOF 1.1 and FAT32 file structures.

I was thrilled when I got the specs for the new 10D and saw that Canon had improved its AF response. The number one complaint of D60 users that I've corresponded with was always the auto focus speed so Canon has answered that request. It's not equal to the world's fastest focusing EOS-1D but it's noticeably more robust than the D60. Helping to improve the focusing speed is a new 7-point AF system, a major upgrade from the D60's 3-point system. Because of the placement of these AF points the 10D can easily focus in vertical or horizontal orientation and with moving or off-center subjects. The low light / low contrast AF has also been improved which is good news for those using lenses with slower apertures. Canon seems to feel that the low light AF was improved enough that they did away with the powerful AF-assist lamp found on the D60. The 10D uses micro-flashes from its built in speedlight to help illuminate the subject but we rarely needed it in anything but total darkness. I don't have an exact number for the AF speed increase but I'd feel comfortable saying that it was at least 90% quicker now.

The look and feel of the D60 was excellent and you'll notice that Canon didn't change much with the exterior design of the 10D - they didn't have to...

Canon EOS 10D, image (c) 2003 Steve's Digicams

Canon EOS 10D, image (c) 2003 Steve's Digicams

On top, the three control buttons are now placed along the front edge which means that you don't have to stretch you finger as far as before. There's now a dedicated LCD illumination button and the mode dial sports a darker color. Almost nothing changed on the front except the AF-assist lamp has been replaced by a small self timer lamp. On the back the main power switch was moved from the top to the bottom. They still label the quick command dial's lock switch as "On/Off" though - it would be better to label it "Lock/Unlock" so as to avoid confusion with the power switch. The buttons to the left of the LCD are pretty much all the same except the index/magnify button is now in the upper right of the back. The original location is the home of the new Direction button to control the scrolling direction, the 10D does not employ a 4-way controller.

I was quite pleased with the new control layout and think that most users will feel "at home" with it in short order. The magnesium body really completes the camera by giving it a professional feel and does so without adding to the total weight. I can't really put it into words except to say that the 10D just "feels" more solid when you hold it and shoot it. The shutter seems to be more responsive too, I don't have the equipment necessary to technically time the shutter lag but it is reduced from the D60. I'd have to say that the mirror assembly has also been improved as it seems quieter and returns faster after the shutter fires.

Performance -- Canon's new DIGIC processor definitely works. When you first turn the camera on it takes about three seconds to be ready to capture the first shot. If the camera is on but has gone into power-save mode all it takes is a tap of the shutter button and it's ready to capture. The same can be said when in review or menu mode, just tap the shutter to instantly jump back to record mode. Canon realizes that the most important function of a camera is to capture a picture so all their dSLRs incorporate shooting priority. The shot to shot time in Single frame for Large/Fine JPEG images was less than half a second up to nine frames. Additional shots can be captured at the rate of approx. one every 1.5 seconds. Shooting in RAW mode yielded the same shot to shot speed and buffer limit of nine shots and then took about two seconds per shot after that. In Continuous drive mode the JPEG and RAW capture rate was right at if not slightly faster than the quoted 3fps speed in the specs. Actual continuous capture rates are highly dependant on the shutter speeds being used - faster is always better. Continuous mode also really showed the power of Canon's DIGIC processor as the 10D was able to process a buffer full of nine Large/Fine JPEG images in about 20 seconds using a Delkin Pro 640MB CF card. Processing a buffer full of RAW images was equally impressive at an average of 52 seconds. With burst and processing speeds like this, the 10D should satisfy the needs of most non-pro sports shooters. And with FAT32 support the 10D is able to use the new high-capacity >2GB CF flash cards and Microdrives.

To see how various memory cards work in the EOS 10D check out:
Rob Galbraith's CF Database - EOS 10D Speed Tests

I've read a number of forum messages from folks who seem to think that the 10D's images are noticeably "softer" than those from the D60. I can't stress the fact enough that the last thing you want is an over-sharpened image, detail is lost that can never be recovered. The 10D's images sharpen wonderfully in Photoshop using the Unsharp Mask or any of a number of third-party, intelligent sharpening filters. Users can adjust the sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone +2 to -2 in 5 steps using the Parameters setting in the menu. The options for the Parameters setting is Standard, Adobe RGB and three configurable "Sets" -- there's considerable in-camera manipulation of sharpness and color rendition available. If you select the Adobe RGB setting you can not "adjust" it with the Parameters options, it's a fixed value like the Standard setting. If you use Photoshop (shame on you if you don't) then check out Fred Miranda's 10D CSpro sharpening action. This PS action performs 35 steps to sharpen 10D images and offers many different levels of intensity and some with personal "tweaking" ability. This isn't just some automated USM action, it sharpens what needs to be sharpened and leaves the rest of the image alone. It may just be the smartest $15 you ever spent. Also check out the rest of Fred's 10D goodies such as Web Presenter, Highlight Recovery, Moire Removal and Stair Interpolation, they're all winners.

The 10D's images are excellent, the resolution is the same as the D60 but there's less noise and artifacts visible. Even the higher ISO 400 and 800 shots are noticeably "cleaner" and I was surprised to see very useable ISO 1600 images. As with the D60, the long shutter speeds shots are simply amazing, if you like taking night shots then you're going to love the 10D. A 30-second exposure at ISO 100 or 200 is completely clean and free of any signs of hot pixels and Canon's Noise Reduction functions "on the fly" so there's no time penalty involved. You can capture a 30-second exposure and the review image is on the color LCD almost instantly after the shutter closes. This is a real improvement over the dark-frame noise reduction that some cameras use which effectively doubles the overall exposure and processing times.

Everywhere you look on the 10D you'll find improvements. The 1.8-inch color LCD is now higher resolution and has 5 levels of back light brightness. The playback zoom feature now has a 1.5x-10x magnified view and free scrolling capability. The orientation sensor automatically rotates portrait (vertical) shots for correct playback on TV screens and in the supplied ZoomBrowser software. The orientation sensor also works with the AF system to select the proper AF points for the best focusing performance. The 10D lets the user manually select the color temperature from 2800-10000K in 100K increments and now features white balance bracketing (JPEG format only.) There's twelve languages available for the menu displays now. You can connect the 10D directly to Canon CP-100 Card Printer or Canon BJ Photo Direct printers (S530D, S820D, S830D).

We've sung the praises of the Canon BP-511 lithium rechargeable battery system with the D30 and the D60 and it's being used in the 10D as well. These Canon dSLRs have the best battery life of any of the current semi-pro cameras out there. The new DIGIC processor gives the 10D even a little better battery life than the D60 and you can easily shoot all day on one battery. We do recommend the purchase and use of the BG-ED3 battery grip if you plan on using the 10D with large lenses, it gives you more camera to hold onto and allows the use of a second battery. The camera automatically swaps to the second battery when the first battery becomes depleted. You will get somewhere in the range of 450 to 650 pictures per battery depending on your usage of the flash and color LCD. This is nothing short of fantastic battery life and it's so easy to carry a spare in your pocket, the BP-511 is small and lightweight.

So if you think that I'm pretty positive about the EOS 10D you'd be right. What's not to like about this excellent camera? Canon has taken a great camera and improved almost every facet of its operation and reduced the cost of ownership to an all-time low. The 10D is every bit as innovative and market shaking as the D30 when it first arrived in 2000 at $2995. The average street price for the 10D is an incredible $1495 (as of April 2003) and has caused Nikon to "adjust" the price of the D100 to get it more in line with the competition. If you've been waiting for a reasonably priced, high performance dSLR camera your wait is over, the Canon EOS 10D is here!

Dan's (Pro) Opinion

I've been studio testing Steve's pro cameras for the past couple of years. Sometimes I like what I test and end up purchasing them myself. The 10D (in my opinion) is a truly great camera. I have owned and professionally used the Canon D30, D60 and 1D and captured thousands and thousands of client pictures with them. For me, the CMOS image sensor is the way to go. I like the silky smoothness of the images produced by the CMOS imager over those produced with a CCD imager. To my eyes, the skin tones just look better with a CMOS imager. I guess you could argue that point, but that's my professional opinion.

So what's great about this camera? Well first the price! Who would have guessed that you could purchase a camera of this quality for only $1495. Just a few years ago when I first got interested in digital, Kodak's Pro cameras were selling for around $30K and that was without a lens. The high price of those cameras eliminated all but the rich, government or company-funded from owning a digital SLR that produced a high quality image. Over the last few years the price of pro digital cameras has been dropping like the stock market values. The D30 although affordable, lacked a lot, then came the D60, but it just missed the mark on fast auto focus and predictable flash exposures. The EOS 10D has changed all that, its focus is fast and accurate and the E- TTL flash is now much more reliable and predictable. Add in the new zoom review feature (enlarge the image up to 10X), longer battery life, a better feel, auto rotation of vertical images, a fantastic image, a host of other features and at $1495 you have a real winner.

I couldn't resist -- I bought two of them !

Dan Eisenman
All Pro Photo

And be sure to read Norman Koren's The Canon EOS-10D Digital SLR: Impressions and techniques Part 1 -- here's the introduction:

    "I was very impressed by the Canon EOS-10D at the PMA show in Las Vegas in early March, 2003. 13x19 inch prints were stunning and 24x36 inch prints still impressive when viewed from a moderate distance. (You wouldn't expect them to be absolutely sharp at that size.) The fast, positive, 7-point autofocus, rugged magnesium body, lack of obvious shutter lag, and reduced price compared to the D60 ($1499 vs. about $2200) were factors in my decision. I ordered one shortly after I returned home, and it arrived, after a few days delay, at the end of March. This is a big change for me-- I'd been using Canon FD manual focus cameras and lenses, which date from 1986 and earlier."
Be sure to follow the link above and read it all, Norm has put together a lot of good information that shows the 10D's image quality and camera features in great detail.

Canon Releases EOS 10D Firmware Update

October 20, 2003 - Canon Japan has today released EOS 10D firmware v2.0.0 which adds PictBridge direct-print capability and improves or corrects the release time lag when using Microdrives, Custom Function #04 AE Lock operations and exposure compensation display errors when using the ST-E2 Transmitter.

Suggested reading and 100% Steve approved!

Dennis Curtin's new Canon EOS 10D Book, 124 pages full of the information that you need to know to make the best out of your new camera. Quite possibly the most sensible purchase you will ever make. The printed book is $24.95, the book and the full-color eBook on CD are $34.95 or the eBook by itself can be purchased for $19.95.

Continue on to our
10D Sample Photos

Want a second opinion?

SMP Column: The Highs and Lows of the Canon 10D

Imaging-Resource's EOS 10D review

DP Review's EOS 10D review

DC Resource's EOS 10D review

Digital Outback Photo's 10D Experience

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