Review: Canon EOS 40D DSLR
At a Glance
Canon’s EOS 40D digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera is the follow-up to the EOS 30D ( ) released two years ago. The 40D sits squarely in the middle of a DSLR market that spans everything from $500 entry-level models to $7,000 pro-level DSLRs.
The 40D has a 10.1-megapixel sensor, up from the 30D’s 8.2 megapixels. The 40D also has the same sensor cleaning mechanism used in the EOS Digital Rebel XTi ( ) and a Digic III image processor. The 40D’s image quality is excellent. Canon has increased the resolution of the camera without suffering noise at high ISOs, and the camera delivers excellent images whether you’re shooting JPEG or Raw.
The 40D is a well-made, comfortable DSLR that has excellent build quality. The 40D is sturdy, but is not designed for use in foul weather—you’ll want to take a look at either the Nikon D300 ( ) or Olympus E-3 ( ).
If you’ve seen or used previous Canon DSLRs, the most noticeable difference with the 40D is the larger LCD on the back of the camera. The new 3-inch screen (up from 2.5-inches on the 30D) is big, bright and beautiful, but it still packs the same resolution (230,000 pixels) as the 30D's LCD.
Like Canon's EOS 1DS Mark III ($8,000), the 40D has live view, which lets you preview shots through the rear LCD. Canon’s live view is a good implementation; it lacks the passive autofocus of the D300, but the 40D includes a zoom feature that makes manual focusing easier.
As with the 30D, the 40D has an elegantly refined set of external controls that cover all essential shooting functions. Unfortunately, the power switch location is still problematic; the 40D’s power switch is on the back of the camera, located just below the rear control wheel. You have to use two hands to power up the camera, which I find frustrating. Making matters worse, the power switch on the 40D is now slightly recessed, making it harder to access.
If you’re upgrading from a previous Canon DSLR, there’s one major change that might take you a while to get used to. The ISO/Drive button, which used to be the middle button of the three top-mounted buttons, has been swapped with the right-most button. Also, after pressing the button, ISO is now controlled with the front control wheel, rather than the rear. It will take some time to get used to this change, but the advantage is that it's much easier to reach the ISO/Drive button with your shutter finger, making it possible to easily make changes without moving your eye away from the viewfinder.
One of the great things about the 40D’s design is that you can easily access drive mode, ISO, metering mode, autofocus, white balance, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, focus point selection, exposure lock, and program shift, all with the forefinger and thumb of your right hand. This design is great for one-handed shooting and for making speedy changes while looking through the viewfinder.
Menu navigation is incredibly quick and easy on the 40D. The menus have been re-organized so that they no longer require any scrolling. Rather than one long menu, 40D menus are now tabbed. You use a joystick-like button on the back of the camera to move from menu to menu, and the rear control wheel to scroll up and down. Despite ease of menu navigation, there will still be an occasion when you need ready access to a feature buried deep in the menus. For those times, Canon has added a custom menu feature that lets you build a menu of any features that you like.
The most useful customization feature on the 40D is the addition of three custom modes on the Mode dial. With custom modes, you can define groups of preset parameters that you can easily switch to with a simple change of the dial. (For users of previous cameras that have been frustrated by a lack of an external auto bracketing button, this provides a great fix.) The 40D lacks the deep level of customizability that the Nikon D300 has, but for most users, the new custom modes will provide a quick and easy way to get access to commonly needed parameters.
The most frustrating thing about the 40D remains its limited (by comparison) feature set. The camera still only offers three-step auto-bracketing, and lacks some of the cool amenities found on the D300, such as an intervalometer.
Macworld’s buying advice
As with its predecessors, Canon’s EOS 40D is one of the top contenders in the mid-range DSLR market. The 40D will not only attract new shooters, but entice some owners of previous models to upgrade.
[Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography, fourth edition. (Charles River Media, 2007).]