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Canon EOS Rebel XTi (400D)

rebel_xti
Review Date: Jul 28, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: $850.00 | Rating: 4 

 
Pros: Excellent sensor, great RAW processing tool (DPP), reasonable price.
Cons:
Second-rate autofocus, can't properly review the shot in the field, small hand grip.

To read the full story and see the example shots go here: http://warrenmars.com/pictures/camera/canon_400d/review.htm

For those who can't bothered, here's the simple analysis.

First the bad:

- Most significantly the auto focus, auto exposure and white balance are inferior to any modern compact. This is due to the fact that these parameters are determined by little auxiliary sensors which are greatly inferior in quality to the main sensor. Reviewers really ought to state this clearly in any entry level SLR review, since it will surprise and disappoint anyone from a compact background who expects these things to work properly.

You need to review every shot you take immediately because not only will the exposure often be not as you might expect but it alter even when repeating the shot. Auto white balance will be reliable under blue skies, but clouds and shade or partial clouds will confuse it. Either set the correct white balance at the time or shoot RAW and fix it later.

Autofocus is the greatest problem and the extent to which you can make it work with this dodgy SIR setup will determine whether you will make the grade as a photographer with Canon gear. You will get unpredictable results focusing on certain types of foliage, certain types of hair, subjects in lowish light, subjects of one colour, subjects that are not flat, certain lenses etc, etc, etc. It really is not good. It is my assessment that this is a problem common to most Canon SLRs, not just the 400D and not just the specimen I bought. Read more here: http://warrenmars.com/pictures/camera/canon_focus/canon_focus.htm
It's not good enough for Canon to put a little warning in small print at the back of the manual that gives no real idea of the extent of the problem. It is my opinion that if a camera gives the focus lock sound, then you should have the focus that you want. With this camera there is no guarantee. This is not to say that it can't focus at all. You will get at least some keepers, so long as your body and lenses are correctly calibrated, but you can never be sure until you see it on your computer screen. Which brings me to my next complaint.

- The LCD is an ok size and ok resolution without being class leading, the problem is that you can't see a 100% crop of a shot on this screen. You can magnify the image to what APPEARS to be 100% but it's not the full image, only a moderate sized thumbnail which makes all shots look soft whether they are or not, so you really cannot tell if your shot was properly sharp whilst in the field. This is unacceptable quite frankly. You can tell with compacts, so why not the 400D?

- The battery is a little small. Don't believe any reviews that quote 500 - 600 shots. They are lying or they used an ultra low energy regime. Using a few flash shots, continuous review and a fair bit of telephoto zooming I get around 200 shots per charge. This is just ok, so long as you always take a charged up spare, because you WILL run out.

- In one of the most stupid decisions that one can imagine, Canon have set the flash to slow syncro by default. Until you consult the manual and figure out how change it to 1/200 sec in the custom functions you will get blurred shots every time you use the flash. Amazing! How could they be so stupid? How could the famous reviewers have failed to mention this?

- Yes, the only normal timer setting is 10 sec. There is no excuse for this. Compacts give a much better range of options and there is no reason SLRs should be any worse. You can use the mirror lock up in conjunction which will give you a 2 sec delay. It's a bit more mucking around but I used it.

- I question the value of the AF point select button. It seems like a waste of space. Surely anyone with any understanding will set it to centre point only and leave it there. People with no understanding will leave it on all points selected. This option could be happily put into the menu structure and the button either done away with or used for something more important.

BTW this begs the question as to why the damn manufacturers keep producing more expensive and complex auto focus units with more points when all we need is one really good one in the centre!

- As a general rule you can't really use the manual focus. Sure the facility is always there, but except in rare circumstances you can't tell by eye whether the subject is fully sharp. it may look sharp in the viewfinder but probably won't be on the computer screen. I know that all the SLRs have this problem, so we can't blame Canon for this one, but it would be nice if one could see whether a correction needed to be made before pressing the shutter release.

- The information bar in the viewfinder blinks off after just a few seconds. You need to half press the shutter to renew it. It should be always on and auto renew.

- The zoom in and out buttons used in image review make only small jumps. You have to press far too many times to zoom fully in, and then you have to hold it down to zoom all the way back out again. Very clumsy! Not that it matters since you can't tell if the pics are in focus anyway.

- The hand grip is a little small for most men's hands. Mind you, this is not a deal breaker since you DO get used to it. Still, it doesn't feel as natural as its competitors.

- The 400D body is only partly configured as a standard USB mass transfer device. This means that unless you have Canon EOS software installed or use a card reader, you can download JPG files but not RAW. This is just game playing on Canon's part, forcing us to use their software. Get out of it Canon, you're selling cameras, not software. Stop trying to control us!

- Get rid of the damn basic zone. If you need to use full auto or modes such as closeup or portrait you shouldn't be buying an SLR! Those spots on the mode wheel could be far better employed for user defined custom functions, my A610 had one custom spot, why not the 400D? By the way, as far as I can ascertain the ADep doesn't work.

Now for the good!

- IFF you get everything right and use a good lens you DO get great IQ! IFF!!!

- The Canon CMOS sensor is about 1 stop more sensitive than the Sony/Nikon CCD sensor giving better low noise high ISO performance.

- The ergonomics work well. The one button access to white balance, ISO speed, drive mode and focus mode is totally the right way to go. And the shooting display is big and clear. These things are much better than the Nikon way.

- You get an AF lock fast under almost any conditions other than a flat monochrome surface. Whether it is accurate is another matter...

- ISO performance really is at least a couple of stops better than any compact. You can shoot at ISO 800 with confidence that the IQ will be excellent and ISO 400 is nearly indistinguishable from ISO 100! I use it by default. ISO 1600 is usable but not top quality.

- It has all the features offered by its competition at the time, and often more than them.

- It is small and light for an APS SLR and with a small lens can be semi-inconspicuous...

- You can shoot RAW + JPG which gives you the best of both worlds.

- The latest Digital Photo Professional is a great piece of free kit, enabling you to SIMPLY and ACCURATELY correct the most common problems in a RAW shot. Such as exposure, white balance and lens distortion. I have used other 3rd party software such as Photoshop and ACDSee Pro, but this makes it SO easy. You wish you had another stop of exposure? just move the slider up a stop. You really wanted Cloudy white balance? select Cloudy! Want to get rid of the barrel distortion? tick the distortion box. If your version of DPP has the correct lens profile it will simply fix it! Now that's impressive! Photoshop can claim to do all this stuff but I assure you it is not nearly so easy or accurate, when you use the DPP sliders you get THE ACTUAL effect you would have got if you had set those parameters when the shot was taken, this is because Canon know the software inside their cameras, Adobe don't. True, Nikon and others provide RAW editing tools with their SLRs but DPP is fast, powerful and intuitive, it's much better to use.

- It is or was the best value for money provided you can live with the problems.

And that's about it. The 450D has arrived on the scene and I have seen some excellent photos taken with it, however I have also read plenty of complaints about front focusing. The contrast detect auto focusing in Live View is the thing that I most fancy but from what I have read it doesn't seem that it is the real world answer to focusing issues just yet.

For me the AF was unacceptably bad and I eventually tried out a Sony A100, a Nikon D70 and a D60 which I liked so much that I bought it and sold all my Canon stuff. The Nikon gives me the results that I expected when I decided to get into the SLR world. this doesn't mean that the D60 or the Nikon system are perfect, not at all, Canon is better at most things but I can live with Nikon's little irritations. What I can't live with is Out Of Focus shots! At the end of the day, there is NOTHING more important than focus.

The 400D doesn't focus properly.


 
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR AF-S DX Nikkor

18-55VR
Review Date: Jun 6, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Price, incredible sharpness, lightweight, SWM, VR.
Cons:
Nothing serious but: not razor sharp in corners at f/5.6, autofocus a little slow.

Now listen guys. This is a wonderful lens, but you can't give it 10/10!
If you give this kit lens 10, where is the headroom for a lens that is better?
Be realistic, it's not completely perfect, it does have a few small flaws.

Having said that however, I can't quite believe that this lens is as good as it actually is. After all, it's only a KIT lens!!!
I compared it to the Canon 18-55 IS kit lens and also the Canon 50mm f/2.8 prime, (both well regarded).
Check out the pictures on my review page: http://warrenmars.com/pictures/camera/nikon_18_55/review.htm

As you can see this little gem has TOTALLY SMOKED the opposition from Canon including the prime!!!
Hard to believe really. And the contrast and colour look perfect to me.
And the lens has a lovely quiet SW motor. And it has an effective image stabilisation mechanism. And it's light. And it's cheap!!!
Is there anything wrong with this wonder???

Well yes! I am being picky of course, and really none of these nits are going to worry anyone in reality. However there needs to be a little room left for the lens that really is perfect.
- The autofocus is a little slow. This is not enough to worry me, but if you expect focus to rack from close up to infinity in half a second this lens will disappoint.
- The lens feels good straight out of the box with firm zoom, but it starts to loosen up pretty quickly. Only time will tell how it stands up to constant use.
- It won't open up to f/2.8 (der... can't you read the label).
- It's not absolutely razor sharp at f/5.6, especially in the corners, (still very good though).
- The sub f/5.6 apertures are mostly a waste of time. They soften badly away from the centre and only really exist from 18mm-24mm.

Check my review page for the test images for focal field positioning and full field sharpness.

So there it is. A really great lens at an bargain price. Well it ought to be unbelievable that a kit lens could be as good as, or better than, a prime, but here's the proof. If you want a wideish lightweight daytime walk-around lens I suspect you can't do better than this no matter how much you pay. I haven't bought a Nikon prime (yet), but it's hard to believe it could be noticeably better at f/8 than this little gem.

Of course indoors and at night, f/5.6 simply isn't fast enough, so this is not the great all purpose wide angle solution. Sure, you know that already, but I am just trying to inject a note of reality into the assessment of this lens.

If you don't have an image stabilised wide angle zoom, get it.
If you are about to buy a Nikon camera for the first time, make sure you get this as your kit lens, it's a ripper!


 
Tamron 70-300MM F/4-5.6 LD Macro AF

70300mm
Review Date: May 29, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: $230.00 | Rating: 4 

 
Pros: PRICE, sharpness, weight, build, range.
Cons:
Unacceptable focus from 2 copies on my Canon.

I really wanted to like this lens. After reading the reviews here and elsewhere I decided to buy it rather than the kit lens when I bought my 400D earlier this year. It had the range, quality and PRICE that I wanted.

From the beginning it exhibited unacceptable front focus (see the 100% crop pictures on my review page: http://warrenmars.com/pictures/camera/tamron_70_300/review.htm
The lens was sent back and 2 weeks later a fresh copy appeared. Same problem. The camera body was then sent off to Canon for calibration. 2 weeks later it returned. Same problem. I was livid. Obviously someone was letting me down but was it the lens or the camera? I bought the Canon nifty fifty and it focused largely ok although it still exhibited some focusing issues.

I decided to try the lens offset screw twiddle, as detailed elsewhere on the net. Success! The Tamron lens then focused much better. Check the result on my review page. Unfortunately, in order to get the Tamron lens focusing properly the necessary mirror offset now caused both my Canon lenses to back focus badly. The evidence against Tamron was compelling. I reset the mirror to its correct position and sent the lens back to Tamron with a letter detailing the situation and a selection of photos.

To their credit Tamron's Australian distributors Maxwell, made a real effort to fix the problem. The lens was sent to Japan for analysis by the mother company. Unfortunately they could find no fault with it despite the clear evidence of front focus. They offered to set up the lens to suit the camera if I would just send my 400D off to Japan. I declined and got my money back.

I hesitate to apportion all the blame for my bad experience to Tamron. Other experience with various Canon bodies has led me to the conclusion that Canon have a real problem with their autofocus units. Nevertheless Tamron ought to be aware of any such issues, and the time wasting nightmare that I went through trying to get to the bottom of the problem simply should never happen. It is not good enough Tamron!

On the positive side however, IFF the lens focuses properly in your camera, then you have a bargain. During the brief period when I had the camera set up to work with the lens I got lovely images: sharp, contrasty and colourful. The lens felt good in my hand and the zoom ring didn't slip. The focusing motor is a little rough & noisy but worked well enough. I found though, of course, that a 300mm lens needs IS, you can shoot at f8 (where the lens is really sharp) in bright daylight at ISO 400, but when the light is weaker you'll get camera shake blur unless you open it up to f5.6 and /or use ISO 800. Still, you can't expect IS in a $200 lens. Or can you...

The macro facility sounds great but isn't as useful as one might think. At 300mm at closest approach the depth of field is only a few mm. This is ok for flat objects but not enough for insects etc. At 180mm it is more useful, but again the DoF is a bit narrow. It would have been much better if they had let the lens extension come out for the entire focal range, not just 180-300. And again, IS is really needed for anything handheld at 300mm. The business of changing into and out of the macro mode is rather fiddly as people have mentioned and there are no instructions to advise you. You can't switch out of macro mode while the lens is hyper-extended. To correct this, just focus on some distant object and the lens will retract, allowing you to change back to normal mode.

This was my first experience with Tamron and it was mostly bad. Since I believe Canon are partly to blame I may try another Tamron lens on the Nikon D60 that I have just bought but I will only buy if I have a cast iron money back guarantee for any reason.

If you have a Canon TRY BEFORE YOU BUY.