Canon EOS 10D Review
May 2003, updated May 2004

Photo copyright 2003 Canon Inc.

This review is not intended to be a comprehensive evaluation of the EOS 10D.  I leave jobs like that to the perfectly competent folks at Imaging Resource et al.  Instead, this review will cover a truly user -oriented point of view and all the nuances of the camera that everyone else neglects.  I also have added a "year later" update, having shot thousands of photos, traveling thousands of miles toting the camera along.

Being a Canon EOS film camera owner I have been watching Canon for a few years now, waiting for them to deliver a digital SLR that would leverage my existing EOS lenses and flashes, at a price that I could at least pretend was affordable.

When the D30 came out in late 2000 I could hardly contain my excitement, but with just 50% more resolution than my Nikon and a $3000 MSRP, I could not justify the expense.  In the beginning of 2002 Canon started to ship the 1D, which offered 4.5 megapixel resolution but with an MSRP of $6000!  Consistent with the price bracket, the 1D was a heavy, bulky camera with clearly professional intent, that didn't even bother with a pop-up flash.  It was really meant for pros looking to go digital from the 1V, Canon's $2000 film SLR.  Then in mid 2002 Canon delivered the 6.3 megapixel D60, though in mere trickles to an eager market, and the street price of $2300 and the one month wait was still too much for me to bear.  In late 2002 Canon gave us the 1DS, a $9000 11-megapixel beauty that I could only drool thinking about, and it too was simply too much camera for me anyway.

In March 2003 while unbelievably still filling back-orders for D60s, Canon introduced the 6.3 megapixel EOS 10D.  Designed as a slightly improved successor to the D60, it hit the market - again in relative trickles - with a street price of just $1500.  That's $700 lower than a D60.  It was finally time to buy!

What you don't see is what you don't get

The bargain can be a little deceptive.  What you get is a body and cap, a strap, one battery and the charger, two CDs of software and the instruction booklets.  You don't get an AC adapter and you don't get even an obligatory little starter -size flash memory card.

The software package includes Adobe Elements 2.0 and a mish-mosh of software, some good and some rather mediocre.  It installed uneventfully on one test system but on my production system, the menu that is supposed to pop up with a list of software to connect to the camera, was empty.  I'm assuming that like many TWAIN issues, this could be associated with my HP scanner having been connected during installation.

Since the 10D package is a little threadbare, my purchase also included a Delkin eFilm Pro CF card, model CFPRO-640D.  Although advertised as a 640MB card, Delkin cheats a little bit AND uses the decimal interpretation of a "megabyte" to deliver a card that is actually 609MB.  That's still enough room for about 280 large/fine JPEGs or around 80 RAW files.

I chose the unusual brand of CF card based on the test results published on Rob Galbraith's CF Performance Database.  At the time, the $170 price tag seemed a bargain, but more on the later.  I also picked up a spare battery at one of my favorite NYC deep discounters, Etronics, and zealotry got the best of me so I picked up a 550EX flash and food-chained the 380EX to my wife.  Over $2000 of my tax refund is now gone, forever lost in the spiraling black hole of consumer electronics.

First Glance

While the 10D was generally an improvement over the D60, the numbers reveal that some features actually lost performance in the new model!  Some glaring examples of this cheating are the miserably frustrating speed of the USB interface (about 300KB/s, or less than 40% of what the USB 1.1 standard permits) and the speed of reading from and writing to the CF cards (10-30% slower than the D60).  These numbers seem so improbably slow that I have to hope an eventual firmware upgrade may yield some improvements.

Those of you accustomed to consumer digicams' ravenous appetite for batteries will be pleasantly surprised.  The camera takes Canon's BP511 (or BP512, which is an un-indented package that performs identically to the BP511) Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery cartridge.  The included charger will fast-charge a BP511x in 90 minutes.  The instructions recommend leaving the battery on the charger another hour, which I did.  That battery was good for 210 shots before the low-charge indicator on the 10D appeared.

I was then able to shoot another whopping 320 shots before the battery gave out.  At least half of the photographs used the on-board flash, and being that the camera was so new to me (and has such a gee-whiz factor to my friends and family), there was a huge amount of time spent starting at the pictures, information and menus on the LCD and also much time spent connected via the USB cable to my computer, downloading files and trying out the remote capture functionality.  That's 530 photographs and liberal abuse of the LCD on a single battery charge!

In Use

Since my initial tests I've been seeing the low-battery warning consistently after just one-third of the way through the battery's useable charge.  I emailed Canon's Customer Service about this and "Jenny" informed me that this is perfectly normal and that according to the manual, I should indeed change the battery at that point.  Needless to say, this is like a car's low-fuel warning coming on with ten gallons remaining in the tank and being instructed to rush to the gas station to top it off, and I believe that Jenny and Canon are absolutely and completely out of their minds.

I did most of my testing with a Canon 28-105mm F3.5-4.5 USM zoom lens.  This lens has always served me very well on my Elan IIe.  With the 10D's effective focal length multiplication factor, this lens behaves equivalent to a 45-168mm zoom in 35mm parlance.  This makes close-up work somewhat more difficult but is a terrific help with candid work and other long shots.

The on-board flash is not the anemic little lamp that is an engineering afterthought on even the better digicams.  I photographed a completely unlit living room (25x12) at night in full auto mode and there was nary a dark spot or shadow to be found.  Flash control was also good in a variety of circumstances but as always, one needs to be mindful of metering mode versus content.  The Canon's built-in flash also recharged very quickly, in 1 second at most (less depending on existing light, etc.), allowing relatively rapid-fire flash photography.

Focusing in the dark is assisted by a startling series of low power flashes, which are accompanied by a startling "zzzzt" sound reminiscent of bug zappers or a Jacob's ladder.  As long as the camera can find a line somewhere to zero in on, it focuses even in no light whatsoever.  I was however able to confuse the camera's autofocus with brightly backlit subjects even with the focusing set to center.

In daily use I have found the master on-off switch to be awkward to reach and a general pain in the posterior.  I now prefer to leave the camera "on" all the time, letting the (default) 60-second auto shutoff do its thing, and have adjusted my quick-draw routine so that a quick stab at the shutter release button brings the camera back to life while I'm removing the lens cap, getting the eyepiece in position and racking the lens to a suitable length.  I have not yet tested if there is a substantial difference in "off" current drain this way.

Focusing is one of those parameters that set apart the men from the boys in digital cameras.  Focusing seems every bit as fast as Canon's speedy USM lenses permit, and is reliable even in dismal lighting conditions.  Since the seven-point auto-focus may not always agree with you on chosen focus point, some may prefer to pre-select a point and work that way.  The time from pressing the shutter release button to having a photograph is nearly as fast as my film cameras.  These two factors make this purchase worth every penny I've painfully paid.

The overall reliability of the camera is good but not perfect.  During lots of rapid shooting over the course of the initial 500+ images I experienced one corrupted image and one error 02 ("CF error, recoverable", basically a file system problem on the card).  In the next thousand or so photographs I didn't experience a single error, so I have to attribute those two errors to the intentional abuse.  My suggestion for now is to avoid over-running the camera's nine-shot buffer.

Outside the Camera

The high performance Delkin eFilm Pro CF card worked basically OK in the camera but the trouble began when I put it into my Atech Pro III USB reader.  It took ages just to see a folder listing on the card and caused my normally rock-solid Windows 2000 system to choke and crash.  The folks at Atech Flash and Delkin made some effort to figure out what was happening but it never really amounted to anything successful.  I eventually food-chained the $45 Atech unit and spent a paltry $26 for a Coolmax CI-622 USB 2.0 reader.  Problem solved, and not a bad product either.

While I'm bitching about flash memory issues, I'd also like to say a few words about "megabytes" and marketing...

In common parlance, a megabyte or "MB" is actually 1024x1024 bytes, or 1,048,576 bytes.  This is consistent with a kilobyte or "KB" being 1024 bytes.  Using more flattering interpretations of common units of measurement is nothing new (think horsepower, octane, etc.) but Delkin's advertised capacity fails inspection by any standard.  For comparisons, here's the measured capacity of a few cards I had on hand:

Brand Format Advertised
Capacity
Capacity
(bytes)
Capacity
(MB)
Lexar CF 64MB 65,830,912 62.7MB
Lexar SD 128MB 128,352,256 122MB
Delkin CF 640MB 638,713,856 609MB

Good Points and Bad

Pluses:

  • Canon RAW file format saves an enormous amount of storage over TIFF, while still storing a JPEG version within, in your choice of resolution!
  • The battery charger is small and light and does not require a transformer, making travel carry a breeze.  It also operates on nearly all voltages and frequencies.

Minuses:

  • The low battery warning definitely comes on too early, at which point the camera and the ZoomBrowser EX software refuses to perform certain operations.
  • The JPEG quality setting for a given quality varies INVERSELY to the resolution setting.
  • No infrared remote possible, and the wired remote from my Elan IIe was not compatible, necessitating another $50 expenditure on an RS80N3.
  • USB file transfers are VERY slow, and the connecting cord is yet another variety of non-standard plug.

Notable:

  • The Canon 10D shoots in 3x2 aspect ratio.  This is in contrast to most other digicams which, pandering to traditional computer CRT aspect ratios, shoot to 4x3.  The 3x2 format is more consistent with 35mm film however.
  • The CMOS sensor's small size relative to 35mm film inflicts a 1.6 multiplier on the focal length of any lens you use.  This makes the camera's results more sensitive to lens quality and steadiness, and makes wide-angle photography a little more difficult.  On the other hand, it gives new life to lenses that you never thought were quite long enough.  The 1DS does not have this issue, but it also costs SIX times as much money!
  • Canon's buffering technique means that the capacity and speed of the buffer is the same regardless of the resolution and quality settings.  Those settings and CF card performance will still dictate how fast the buffer can empty.

A Year Later

Software updates (about 70MB worth, freely downloadable from Canon) seemed to have helped with associating the camera to its software.  As I have discovered with other hardware and software from a variety of manufacturers including HP, Canon, Nikon, Visioneer, etc., TWAIN device association and driver conflicts are the #1 source of trouble - and often the ONLY source of trouble - for imaging devices such as scanners and cameras.

There have been three firmware upgrades since the camera was released, but none seem to have addressed the dismal speed of the 10D's USB interface.  This year USB 2.0 multi-format flash card readers have become inexpensive and ubiquitous, however, obviating the need to fish out the Canon's cable and snooze through the file transfers.

Battery performance is still as good as the day I purchased the camera.  Using the 70-200mm IS lens depletes the battery more quickly (no surprise with all the servos and gadgets in that lens), but not so much that you would ever have to worry about needing more than one freshly charged battery per day.  I still leave the camera "locked 'n loaded" when I'm keeping it handy.

Electronic reliability of the camera has been perfect, never again experiencing the couple of operational bugs that I encountered during the initial stress testing, and mechanical reliability has been "good" (see below).  The same could not be said for my 28-105mm lens however.  Seven years of being knocked into door frames and bouncing around in my motorcycle's tank-bag finally took their toll.  Focus was becoming increasingly unreliable and then the lens barrel began to stick and jam when zooming.  A $110 (plus tax and shipping) flat-rate repair by Canon's factory service center in New Jersey returned the lens to like-new condition.

When I sent the lens for repair I also sent in the camera, literally within hours of its warranty expiration.  The only verifiable problem was that the hot shoe was becoming loose.  This may have been due to the weight of the 550EX flash, and may also have been due to my frequent use of the 550EX's ability to rotate the flash head.  Either way, I'm not thrilled and will have to keep an eye on that.  And since some of the early 10Ds were rumored to have focusing problems anyway, I thought it would be a good idea for Canon to make sure that the camera was playing nicely with my everyday lens.

The camera came back from Canon with the latest firmware, the time correctly set and even the image sequence number put back to where it was.  All they "forgot" was to program my name back into it.  They cleaned it up and made sure it was performing to specification, and everything was indeed nice and tight.  My only complaint is that Canon's turnaround time was a bit long (two weeks from the date of receipt), and their customer communications are a little sloppy.  To their credit, when I got panicky about an upcoming event I wanted to cover, they set a "must finish" date on the job and returned the camera and lens using FedEx overnight service.  Kudos to Canon!

On a non-Canon note, Atech eventually came out with a suitable replacement for that troublesome Pro-III flash memory reader, called the Pro-9, and kindly offered me one.  It works fine, looks nice, is compatible with a number of operating systems, and being USB 2.0 it performs much faster than did the III, though I find its featured Firewire pass-through port in front less useful than its competitor's USB pass-through ports.  The new Atech is also electronically more trustworthy than the Coolmax unit, which leaves dozens of errors in the Windows event log every time I transfer files from it, a reported problem which Coolmax never even responded to.  Much to Atech's credit, they have been easy to reach, responsive, patient and considerate in all my dealings with them and I give them a huge "thumbs-up".

Getting back to Canon in general, for a final note, there have been two new cameras announced since the introduction of the 10D.  One is the 300D, also known as the Digital Rebel.  The other is the 1D Mark-II.  The 300D seems essentially a crippled, slower, stripped version of the 10D.  The 1D-II is an upgrade of the original 1D - a blazing fast 8+ megapixel SLR (with a 1.3 magnification factor), clearly aimed at the professional market and priced accordingly.  The 300D signals a few changes, both good and bad.  It can be had as a kit with lens and memory for under $1000.  This is incredibly good, even if the camera's electronics have been deliberately made sub-standard.  The lens it sports is a very handy 18-55mm (F3.5-5.6), which would perform equivalent to a 28-88 in the 35mm world.  This is also really good.  The 300D uses a new variety of EF mount, dubbed "EF-S", and that 18-55mm is currently the only EF-S lens.  The 300D can use all of Canon's EF lenses, just like all other EOS cameras, but the EF-S lenses can only be used on the 300D (and I presume, its future ilk).  This is where I start to worry...

The last thing the world needs is another lens mount.  And the EF-S lenses are sure to be designed with 22mm imaging sensors in mind, which means their optical qualities will be suitable only for today's crop of small-sensor digicams and perhaps, APS film cameras.  I don't find this at all pleasing, since I still see great value in being able to switch back to my film body at times.  I'd rather see 35mm sensors in the digicams, than see crippled lenses that cater to 22mm sensors.

 


Entire contents Copyright (C) 1994-2015 Brad Berson and Bytebrothers Internet ServicesAnim Plug
Page updated February 12, 2009.  See Terms and Conditions of use!