Editor's note: Canon has dropped the price of the EOS 400D from AU$1299 to AU$799.
The sub-AU$1,500 price point makes the 400D an attractive offering to a wide range of photographers, from first-time dSLR buyers who have outgrown their compact snapshooters, right up to professional photographers looking for a secondary camera for shoots. To reflect this split in target market, we are presenting our review of the 400D from two distinct points of view: first is a hands-on evaluation by CNET.com.au's dSLR-newcomer Jeremy Roche (below), followed by an in-depth analysis of the 400D by photography guru Lori Grunin.
Canon has tweaked a few aspects of the design to improve shooting ergonomics, including a thumb rest, something we complained about on the 350D (inset).
Canon's latest entry-level digital single-lens reflex (dSLR) camera, the EOS 400D (also known as the EOS Digital Rebel XTi), supersedes Canon's wildly popular 350D. The main differences between the two models are an increase in resolution (up from 8 megapixels on the 350D to 10.1 megapixels on the 400D), improved auto focus (nine focal points on the 400D rather than the 350D's seven) and a larger, 2.5-inch LCD (up from the 300D's 1.8-inch screen).
We soon learned the knack of quickly swapping Canon's EOS lenses onto the body of the 400D to minimise the amount of time dust has to creep onto the camera's sensor. The 400D is one step ahead, however, as it automatically cleans the sensor every time you switch it on or off -- we like to imagine a teeny windscreen wiper system inside doing the job, but as the process is entirely hidden and automatic, we are unable to confirm this.
Starting out, we stuck to the even-my-grandmother-could-use-this fully automatic setting, as we slowly waded into further settings, such as the 400D's user-selectable nine-point auto-focus system. The 179-page bundled instruction manual helps you get to grips with various settings and the layout of the camera, including its 20-odd array of buttons. There's also a quick start guide for eager beavers.
Beneath the eyepiece, which you must use to frame your shot, is a 2.5-inch LCD purely for reviewing photos and adjusting settings. Many first-time dSLR users are put off by the inability on some models to use the LCD as a viewfinder, but we came to love the what you see is what you get aspect of using the eyepiece. Holding the camera to your eye also stabilises it somewhat -- useful in low light situations where blurry shots tend to occur.
Our only nitpick with the controls is the large power switch, which is very easy to flip while stowing the 400D in a camera bag.
Although the 400D is Canon's entry-level dSLR, don't be fooled into thinking it's just for beginners. On the top is a shooting mode dial with seven easy-to-use presets for a range of environments -- portrait, action, landscape, close-up, night portrait, flash off and full auto. However, it's the 400D's five creative zones that give amateurs room to develop their skills.
First up in the "creative zone" is Shutter-priority mode, a setting that allows you to freeze the action in a shot or create a motion blur by leaving the shutter open for longer. Aperture-priority mode changes the depth of field allowing you to obtain softly blurred backgrounds or, alternatively, get everything in the frame into focus. The Manual exposure mode lets you set both the aperture and shutter speed, while the Automatic depth-of-field uses the nine auto-focus points to ensure objects in the foreground and background are both in focus. Finally, Program auto-exposure sets the shutter speed and aperture automatically, giving users the ability to shift both at once with the main adjustment dial. Tweaks can also be made to the ISO speed, exposure, colour space, white balance, bracketing and focal points through the menu.
The 400D's 10-megapixel sensor (3888 by 2592 pixels) allows you to print professional looking photos up to 13 by 8.6 inches (32.9 by 21.9cm). Be aware, though, that shooting at high resolution takes up a lot of space and unfortunately a CompactFlash card is not included with the 400D. We'd suggest a 1GB card so you don't have to scramble back to a PC to download your shots.
Recommended retail pricing for the Canon 400D starts at AU$1,299 for the camera body (black only) alone -- you'll need to purchase lenses separately. The standard kit, which includes a 18-55mm EOS lens, costs AU$1,499. There's also a AU$1,649 twin lens kit (available in black or silver), which is basically the standard kit with a paparazzi-style 75-300mm telephoto lens included.
The package Canon lent us to review, however, would make any aspiring photographer jump with glee: the EOS 400D twin lens kit, lens cleaning cloth, remote control switch, high-speed 1GB CompactFlash card, spare battery, tripod and a spiffy Crumpler camera carry bag -- Australian-based bag maker Crumpler makes some great looking bags that carry all your gear neatly, with padded compartments for storing a camera and two lenses.
The Canon EOS 400D's LCD's status display is extremely useful and easy to read, and it provides a single place to change all the relevant settings.
With a fully charged battery we found the 400D lived up to Canon's claims of around 500 shots with no flash and 360 shots using the flash half the time. If you know you'll be away from a power source for more than a day or are using the camera a lot in a given day, we'd suggest buying a backup battery to take with you.
Photos we took with the 400D looked stunning; colours were reproduced accurately; and images were crisp and clear. Using the telephoto lens at 300mm, we noticed a lot of blurriness caused by camera shake in our pictures -- using a tripod helped considerably.