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The Canon 20D
Like all of the D series cameras, this is a semi-professional grade camera with high resolution and the flexibility of the full range of Canon lenses. Even so, there are a number of features meant to appeal to the casual, or snapshot photographer. So it is a camera that you can grow into. The autofocus feature comes to mind, as does the option for fully programmed exposure. There is also a series of AE settings collectively referred to as the Easy Shooting Zone. Each member of the series is pre programmed to give good results taking the following types of shots:
The images are stored on Compact Flash media. Type I and type II are supported, as well as fat 32, so that large cards may be used. The images can be stored in three resolutions: large (3504x2336), medium (2544x1696), or small (1728x1152), and two qualities: normal or fine. This gives a total of six different image modes. The quality setting determines the amount of compression that will be used to store the image. Compression is a tricky thing. Though it does not technically change the resolution, at high compression levels image quality suffers, and "artifacts" of the compression algorithm can sometimes be noticed.
Images with many changes, and textures tend to suffer more from this effect, than less complex compositions. For the real die hard, there is the option to save the images in the RAW format, with no compression at all. The RAW format is not just an uncompressed format. It saves the images as the sensor sees them, by turning off a function of the processor chip known as the Bayer Interpolation. You may be surprised at how different your images look under RAW. I should mention that RAW images can not be used in their native format, and must be processed before display. Most viewers will not be able to open a RAW file, and Canon includes a special program to do this.
The raw image file is 8.7 mb in size, compared to 3.6 for large/fine, 1.8 for large/normal, 1.2 for small/fine, and .6 for small/normal. A 1gb drive gives a capacity of 114 RAW photos, or 277 on large/fine. On small/normal, you can fit 1062 shots per GB.
The heart of any digital camera is it's imager. The imager, processor, and the storage media combine to do the same job as the film of a conventional camera. In the 20D, this is a small CMOS unit, developed by Canon for still photography. The photographs taken with the 20D are rich, crisp, and clear. Pictures may be viewed on the 1.8" 118K LCD on the back of the camera. This is also where detailed settings and parameters may be viewed are set. The LCD image is zoomable and panable.
I am, at heart, a manual shooter, and rarely use any of the Creative Zone settings. The Manual setting makes this pretty simple. When set to manual, the dial on the camera back controls the aperture, and the thumbwheel on the top of the grip controls the shutter speed. Proper exposure, as determined by the camera metering system, is displayed on a scale at the bottom of the viewfinder, with a mark indicating how far the manual settings diverge from the camera selected settings. Even better, the meter can be set for center weighted, evaluative, or partial metering. When set to partial metering, a small area (9%) is metered. This is wonderful for strongly backlit or front lit scenes, and will work well, as long as the photographer is aware, in any scene.
The photo to the right shows the top of the 20D, with the mode dial to the left, and the thumbwheel control and shutter release on the grip to the right. Also to the right is the top mounted display. The display indicates the camera is in manual mode, with settings of 1/60 of a second and F 8.0, as well as evaluative metering, and single shot mode.
Sadly, as with all of the EOS cameras, manual focus is difficult. Because these cameras (like all current models) are so dependant and oriented towards auto focus, there is no real provision for manual, and the meter contains no focusing aids. So while the autofocus can be turned off on the lens, it can be difficult to get a precise focus manually, particularly in poorly lit scenes. The biggest problem that most photographers have with autofocus is that it so often picks the wrong focus points, and can sometimes be a bit slow. The 20D has a "joystick" toggle on the back that can be used to select the desired focus point, of the nine available in the viewfinder; but by the time you screw around with all of this, compose and shoot, you could have more quickly just focused yourself - if there had been a focusing aid in the viewfinder.
I also generally leave the camera to AWB (Auto White Balance) for color rendition. There are a number of parameter settings and filter settings you can use in this camera; but I prefer to keep things simple. If I need to make any changes, I do them post processing in Photoshop. I frankly don't like to let the camera do too much of my thinking or adjusting for me. The whole point of getting a really good camera is so that you can have full creative control.
The left hand side of the camera has buttons for setting the built in flash, and to stop the lens down for depth of field preview. This is also where the lens release button is located. Under a protective cover, it has connectors for video out, digital, a remote control, and an old fashioned PC connector for flash.
One of the ways that digital cameras fight back, and get more versatility, is by the use of film speed settings, and quality settings (parameters can also be used, but I do not use them, or know enough about them to really comment). This gives the user a bit of versatility, though not to the degree of that enjoyed by the film photographer. Still, the technology is moving along, and who can say what types of imagers might be a few years down the road.
One thing for the owner of a DSLR to watch out for is dust on the imager. It's going to happen, no matter how careful you are. Most cameras actually leave the factory with some dust on the imager. And it is a dusty world. Every time you change a lens, some dust gets in. Additionally, cameras mechanicals wear against each other, creating dust. The problem is more noticeable as you use higher apertures.
The meter will set exposure down to EV 1,
at a rated sensitivity of ASA 100. With an f 1.4 lens, this is a 1 second
exposure. With the standard F 3.5 lens that comes with most kits, this
would be an 8 second exposure. The meter breaks the image up into 35 different zones of measurement.
This gives the capability of setting up a number of different metering patterns
types of situations. This is what makes the Easy Shooting Zone settings
possible. So for landscapes, the metering pattern will be bottom weighted,
under the assumption that the upper portions of the frame will be filled
by the relatively bright sky. For portraits, semi spot metering will guarantee
that a face which fills the center of the composition, as is the case in
most portraits, will be perfectly exposed. For Close ups, center weighted
is just the thing. My favorite feature is a resurrection, of sorts, of the
old TTL semi spot metering of the old F series. When this option is chosen,
the EOS series does the old FD cameras one better by using a 9% circle,
as opposed to the FD 12% rectangle. This is the only metering setting that
the first model capable of taking the new EF-S type lenses. The lenses
are similar to the standard EF lenses, except that they have the rear
element closer to the film plane. They also focus to a smaller image.
They are more suited to the APS-C size sensor, and the image does not
need to cover the entire 35mm frame. The biggest advantage of the S
series of lenses is that they can be made somewhat smaller, lighter, and
less expensive. The disadvantage is that if you were to use such a lens
on a standard 35mm camera, the image would vignette, and not cover the
My best friends on this camera, are the exposure hold button, and the manual override. The exposure hold button is the easiest way to get by the computer automation, or to photograph off center subjects, and still get a proper exposure. It works best when the meter is set for 9% partial metering. There is an exposure compensation system, for backlit, offset, or oddly colored scenes, but I have never had good results with exposure compensation; it takes too long, and requires too much guesswork. After getting used to the system, I can now quickly set the aperture and shutter speed after metering. I can then leave them while the camera finds its focus. This is almost as fast as my old manual match needle camera.
As with all of the current crop of digital cameras, you can shoot all day (sometimes all week) without changing the memory chip. Batteries are another matter, and might only last for 1000 or so shots at the most; but batteries are cheap, chargers are small, and spares can be brought. I have never run out of memory without having run down my battery first. In answer to this, Canon offers it's battery grip, which fits seamlessly on the bottom of the camera, a bit like a motor drive, and plugs into the battery compartment of the camera. It holds two standard 2200 mah BP-511- batteries, or six AA batteries of up to 2600 mah.
With the battery grip, and the 8 GB memory card that I ordinarily use, this camera can take approximately 2000 photos before recharging or using another card. This should be enough for even the most insatiable photographer.The camera comes with a battery, charger, USB cable, and AC adapter. The ac adapter works by plugging into a receptacle on the charger. Once connected, the adapter goes into the camera battery compartment. Canon also offers a cigarette lighter adapter. There is a radio controlled remote unit, and numerous flash options. The most important accessory is the availability of the entire series of Canon EF lenses.
This is a great camera, far nicer than my original D30, that I got back in 2000, and quite a bit nicer than my Rebel, though not quite as nice as my 50D. I suspect the 70 D is even better, though as of this writing I have yet to get my hands on one. Digital cameras continue to evolve, yet some of these older models are still great picture taking tools, and are available at a fraction of their original cost. The major limitation of this camera is its 8.2 MP sensor, yet plenty of weddings, nature shots, and magazine photos have been taken with far less (3.2 MP on the 30D was used by many professionals for years).
The resolution wars being engaged in by the major camera manufacturers remind me a bit of the horsepower wars being fought by the major auto makers back in the 60's/70's. In both cases we are being offered capacities that we don't need and most of us will never come near to using. The guy that bought the 500 HP muscle car back in the late sixties, probably never drove it much past 60. The guy who buys the top of the line 24 MP camera will probably never view his photos at much more than the 1920 x 1080 (2 MP) resolution of today's HD television, or the typical 1440 x 900 resolution of the average PC (1.3 MP). he will probably never print any photos at better than the standard 300 dpi standard.
For most photographers, under most conditions, this is all the camera you will need. When compared to Canon's latest offerings, the 20D will take all the same lenses, including the newer EF-S type, has the same maximum 1/8000 shutter sped of the latest models, as well as a sturdy metal frame, and costs a fraction of the newest offerings. Unless you need the full 18 or 20 megapixels - why spend the money?