Review: Canon EOS 20D

Review: Canon EOS 20D

By - Posted Feb 01, 2005

Company: Canon
Phone: 1.800.OK.CANON
Price: $1500 (body only)
Available: Now


Pros: Fast AF; Quick Starting; Great Image Quality; Good Built-in Flash;
Cons: Lacks Spot Metering; Viewfinder only 95% View;

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I've written at least a million with the Canon EOS 20D. In those words are spectacular images that aren't a testament to my abilities, but the camera itself. You can't blame the equipment, right? Well, in this case, I do and that's a good thing. I'm not Ansel Adams; my photos probably won't grace the cover of LIFE, or any other magazine. Still, with the Canon EOS 20D in my hands, I sure felt like a Pulitzer was in reach.

Pro Features in Consumer Dollars

Before I hypnotize you with the performance numbers, consider that digital SLR's aren't svelte, pocket friendly cameras. Digital SLR's are for those that demand the best image quality and most flexibility out of their cameras. Portability isn't the point. It's about taking photographs that are worth more than a thousand words.

At the core of the EOS 20D is an 8.2 megapixel CMOS sensor with Canon's DIGIC II Image Processor. That's the same resolution and processing technology found in the EOS 1D Mark II, the $4,500 relative to the EOS 20D. Granted, the EOS 20D utilizes a smaller sensor and isn't as robust as the 1D Mark II, it's still a lot of camera for the professional wannabe or consumer with high-end taste. I believe “prosumer” is the word to use these days.

For the right brain, let me flex my affinity for numbers. The EOS 20D screams Autobahn style with a fast 5 frames per second for up to 23 frames using a 9-point auto focus system. It warms up in a mere 0.2 seconds for spur of the moment photographs, literally. And its fastest shutter setting is a mere 1/8000 seconds. Users leaning to the pro side of the equation will appreciate the sports car like handling of the EOS 20D.

For low light conditions the EOS 20D includes an automatic pop-up flash. Canon integrates E-TTL II (Evaluative Through-The-Lens) technology for determining flash intensity. The technology also incorporates distance information from the lens for added control. The flash works extremely well illuminating the entire area so you won't see that flash hot spot like some cameras. EOS 10D users will also note the higher flash height for less reduced red eye and lens shadow.

Flexing the Left Brain

All this tech mumbo jumbo doesn't mean anything if it can't deliver on usability or great images – where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. A single dial lets you quickly switch between modes, five in the 'Creative' zone and seven 'Basic'. Basic zones include Full Auto and preset modes like Landscape, Portrait, and Sports.

Dial into the Creative zone and that's where your left brain takes over. It starts gradually with Program Auto Exposure where you ease into the control. Step through Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or dial all the way to Automatic Depth of Field.

For full control, switch to Manual mode, flip the lens into manual focus and let the creativity flow. Control everything from ISO (100 to 3200), aperture, shutter speed (1/8000 to 30 seconds), color temperature, white balance, drive mode, and more. Classic film SLR users will need some quiet time with the manual to figure out what the two dials, joystick, and various buttons control.

While all that creativity is flowing, you won't have to worry about battery life. Canon claims up to 700 shot with 50% flash use. In my experience, I managed between 400 and 500 shots on a single charge. My usage pattern included lots of photo reviewing in the LCD, many aborted shots after focusing, and random flashes. At maximum JPEG quality (3504 by 2336) that's enough juice to fill almost 2 gigs.

What's Missing?

The skilled photographer might miss spot metering, one of the few features not found in the EOS 20D. You'll find partial metering, though some will find the 9% area too large for full control. Spot metering allows more accurate exposure control in complex light conditions by measuring levels in an area covering 1-3% of the image.

With the 20D, the viewfinder covers 95% (horizontal and vertical) of what the lens sees. In most cases the missing 5% didn't pose a problem, but every now and again there's something or somebody in the shot you didn't expect to see. Fine, the digital world lets you easily crop images to make the perfect picture. Still, a little extra viewfinder coverage would be nice.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, the EOS 20D is one of my favorite digital cameras, a product truly worth buying. I could easily use the specs, features, and image quality to argue why it's such a great camera. For me it's something far more cerebral and intangible than that. I'd say it's the knowledge that the perfect picture is within grasp limited only by my imagination, not the camera. The Canon EOS 20D is a camera worth every penny in my book. For any prosumer, this is the digital SLR to buy.


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