Evolution of the dSLR part 1 – the Canon xx0D series

Written by Gary on February 17th, 2011

Canon has taken a quite conservative approach to evolving their dSLR range, adopting features of other manufacturers such as Live View, and Sensor Dust Reduction – both of which were in Olympus dSLRs before Canon decided they were in fact a good idea. Likewise flip out LCD is yet to make it into this budget range although Canon has just added it to the mid-level 60D.

Common features of all of these cameras include:

  • 1.6x crop factor compared to 35mm full frame cameras
  • ability to use Canon EF-S lenses as well as Canon EF lenses
  • plastic budget design with no environmental seals to protect from moisture or dust
  • tunnel-vision-like pentamirror design which I feel is not as good as the current EVF’s in mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic GH series and is no where near as nice to use as pentaprism designs in the more expensive dSLRs. This design generally only shows ~95% of the actual image area.
  • a shutter speed range of 30sec to 1/4000th sec (I am not sure why they did not make it 60sec as the longest timed shutter as this would make it much more useful for astrophotography in particular).
  • 6 white balance positions plus manual setting although no Kelvin setting
  • pop-up flash of GN 12m (ISO 100) for the earlier models and 13m for the later models
  • flash sync 1/200th sec
  • E-TTLII compatibility EXCEPT the 300D which is only E-TTL
  • exposure compensation limited to +/- 2 EV EXCEPT the 550D which at last has a decent range and is +/- 5EV
  • 35 area metering EXCEPT the 550D which has 63 areas iFCL
  • E3 remote connector instead of the higher end N3 connector
  • infrared remote control
  • orientation sensor
  • the models with Live View, like all dSLRs but unlike mirrorless cameras such as micro four Thirds, have a clunky, cumbersome implementation with very slow AF
  • no status LCD information screen at top of camera as with higher end models
  • only one command dial
  • 2 or 10sec self timer, except 300D which only had 10sec timer but the infrared gave a 2sec delay; 450D onwards allows multi-shots in self timer mode;
  • USB 2.0 except 300D which only had USB 1.0 and thus much slower image transfers to computer
  • histogram on playback – luminance or RGB for models starting at 400D
  • none have built-in image stabiliser as do Olympus and Sony cameras, but rely on lenses having optical image stabilisation
  • none have lens AF microadjustment to ensure accurate AF calibration
  • all weigh about 530g with battery, except the 300D which was 645g

To make the following table easier to read I have deleted the initial model, the 6.3mp 300D which was a cut down version of the 10D and introduced in 2003. The 350D had a multitude of functional enhancements over the 300D.

Comparison feature sets
Feature 350D 400D 450D 500D 550D
year introduced Feb 2005 Aug 2006 Jan 2008 Mar 2009 Feb 2010
megapixels 8.0 10.1 12.2 15.1 18.0
pixel density (MP/cm²) 2.4 3.1 3.7 4.5 5.4
max ISO (in brackets max. boost) 1600 1600 1600 3200 (12800) 6400 (12800)
AF points 7 9 9,centre cross 9,centre cross 9, centre cross
Live view magnified manual focus No No Yes, CDAF (slow)
Yes, CDAF (slow),face Yes, CDAF(slow), face
Built-in image stabiliser No No No No No
Sensor dust removal system No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Flip out, swivel LCD No No No No No
LCD resolution 1.8″ 115K 2.5″ 230K 3″ 230K 3″ 920K 3″ 1,040K
Video recording No No No 1080i 20fps, 720p 30fps 1080i 30/25/24fps, 720p 60/50fps
external microphone socket No No No No Yes
Burst rate 2.8 3.0 3.5 3.4 3.7
Max. RAW in burst 4 10 6 6
mirror lock up custom custom custom, on 2sec timer custom, on 2sec timer custom, on 2sec timer
HDMI out for TV playback No No No Yes Yes
GPS No No No No No
spot metering No No Yes 4% Yes Yes
custom functions 9 11 13 12
lens AF microadjustment for accurate AF No No No No No
highlight tone mode No No Yes 3 levels 3 levels?
image parameters basic picture styles picture styles picture styles picture styles
Noise reduction options On/Off On/Off On/Off 4 levels 4 levels?
in-camera jpeg lens correction No No No vignetting profiles vignetting profiles

I would think the next model will at last get a flip out LCD, but after that there are few advantages other than phase contrast AF which will sway people away from the surge in popularity of the smaller, quieter, more video-friendly mirrorless cameras such as Micro Four Thirds which will inevitably dominate this niche of the marketplace, as Olympus has already realised and has thus slowed development of entry level dSLRs.

Where can Canon or Nikon go with dSLRs now that they have matured to have adequate resolution (10mpixels is plenty for most of us – my Canon 1D Mark III is “only” 10mp but will produce 20″x30″ prints), high ISO is adequate for most (I still rarely use higher than ISO 800), 1080i and 720p movie is adequate for most of us as long as there is other video support features, phase contrast AF seems to have had little improvement in speed recently, perhaps we have reached its peak for the time being, the current LCD screens are adequate.

The main areas to improve are dynamic range, contrast detect AF speed in live view, improved live view functionality, built-in variable ND filter for video work, more video functions, perhaps a IR blocking filter which can be switched with a 720nm filter for IR work, built-in image stabiliser, faster flash sync, and better EF-S lenses as the current ones are no match for a 18mp sensor.

But all these are possible or at least more easy to implement with mirrorless cameras and thus the future technologic progress is much more likely to be with mirrorless cameras than with dSLRs.


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