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DCRP Review: Canon EOS-20D  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 4, 2004
Last Updated: December 17, 2007

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This review has been completed using a production model EOS-20D. Product shots have been reshot where necessary, and all sample photos are from the production camera.

The Canon EOS-20D is the updated version of the popular EOS-10D, which was introduced back in 2003. The 20D looks a lot like its predecessor, with the main changes being inside the camera itself. The big new features on the 20D include:

  • 8.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Support for EF-S lenses
  • Much faster burst mode
  • 9 selectable focus points
  • E-TTL II flash metering system
  • New white balance controls
  • New "joystick" on back of camera
  • Improved battery life
  • DIGIC2 chip (first seen on EOS-1D Mk2) for better performance and photo quality
  • Filter/tone effects

The 20D will come in three packages: body only ($1499), with an 18 - 55 mm EF-S lens ($1599), or with the new 17 - 85 mm EF-S lens with image stabilization ($1999).

If you're ready to learn more about the 20D, read on!

What's in the Box?

There are two "kits" available for the EOS-20D. One is the body-only kit, while the other is the lens kit (either the 18-55 or 17-85). Here's what you'll find inside the box in both kits:

  • The 8.2 effective Megapixel Canon EOS-20D camera body
  • 18 - 55 mm, F3.5-5.6 EF-S lens [18-55 lens kit only]
  • 17 - 85 mm, F4-5.6 EF-S IS lens [17-85 lens kit only]
  • BP-511A Li-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution Disk, Digital Photo Professional, and Adobe Photoshop Elements
  • 167 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Canon does not include a memory card with the 20D, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. Thankfully CompactFlash cards are inexpensive these days. With its 8MP resolution, a large card is a necessity, so I'd recommend 512MB at the very minimum (I've been using 1GB cards myself). The 20D supports Type II cards which currently come as large as 8GB I believe. The Microdrive is also supported, though I can't recommend them based on past experiences. High speed CompactFlash cards do make a noticeable difference on the 20D, so I recommend skipping the $10 special and getting a decent, fast card.

Unless you buy one of the lens kits, you won't have a lens either. The EOS-20D supports Canon EF and EF-S lens mounts, for which there are lenses for every purpose. The vast majority of Canon's lenses are EF-mount, with only three EF-S lenses available: the 18-55 ($139) and 17-85 ($599) that can come with the camera, plus the new F3.5-4.5 10 - 22 mm lens ($799). I tested the 18-55 lens back in my Digital Rebel review, and spent a brief amount of time with the 10-22 in the days before I finished this review. While it wasn't super sharp, it did a pretty good job for the price, and you can see some samples from the 10-22 lens in the gallery. Despite numerous attempts, I was unable to obtain the 17-85 IS lens for review.

An important reminder about EF-S lenses: they only work on the Digital Rebel (EOS-300D) and EOS-20D. You cannot attach them to the 10D or any other Canon D-SLR!

The 20D uses the new, higher capacity BP-511A battery which was first spotted on the PowerShot Pro1. The 511A battery has 10.3 Wh of energy, which is 27% more than the old BP-511 used on the EOS-10D. Canon says that the 20D can take 1000 shots per charge without using the flash, or 700 photos with 50% flash usage, both of which are incredible numbers. Don't forget that D-SLRs don't use the LCD for previewing photos like on a fixed-lens camera: this is what kills battery life on most cameras.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the BP-511A apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $50 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day.

For those in need of more power, you'll want the BG-E2 battery grip (the one from the 10D doesn't work here). This holds two BP-511A or six AA batteries for double the battery life. There is also an extra shutter release, command dial, and AE lock and focus point buttons on the grip. The BG-E2 grip sells for about $169.

When it's time to recharge your BP-511A battery, just pop it into the included CG-580 charger. It takes approximately 100 minutes to fully charge the battery.

As far as accessories go, if you can name any one accessory, it exists. Want a different eyecup? Done. Flashes? Take your pick. Filters, remote controls, carrying cases, and more are all available. That's the beauty of digital SLRs.

There's a lot to talk about regarding the EOS-20D software bundle, so pour another cup of coffee and read on.

The EOS Viewer Utility software looks a lot like the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser software that comes with Canon's PowerShot cameras, but thankfully it's a little more advanced. The thumbnail view looks just like every other image browser on the market, with your disk structure on the left side, thumbs in the middle, and shooting data on the right. You have your choice of two types of histogram.

You'll get most of your work done in the edit window, which is shown above. You can't really edit your JPEG images, but if you want to tweak the properties of your RAW images, this is the place. You can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, color (including color space), and sharpness. You can also play with the various filters and toning effects that are featured on the 20D.

The beauty of the RAW format is that you can adjust all of these things without damaging the original image. Ever taken a bunch of pictures with the wrong white balance setting? I certainly have. Well, if you shot those photos in RAW mode, you could adjust the white balance to the correct setting, and it's like you never screwed up at all! RAW files do take up more space than JPEGs (but less than TIFFs, which the 20D doesn't support anyway), so a large memory card is a necessity for lots of RAW shooting. Another downside of RAW images is that you must process each of them on your computer before you can get them into a more common file format like JPEG or TIFF.

Another part of the EOS Viewer package is EOS Capture. This lets you control the 20D over the USB connection. You can't get a "live preview" of the shot before you take it -- you only see it afterwards -- such is the nature of D-SLRs. You can adjust all those settings you see above, including the white balance shift feature (which I will discuss later) at the bottom of the window.

Another piece of software that comes with the 20D is Canon's Digital Photo Professional. While it looks pretty fancy, I wasn't a huge fan of the user interface, and the Mac implementation left something to be desired (having to load one program before you can use the batch feature in another? Come on!).

You can view your thumbnails in two ways, either as thumbnails alone (look up two images), or thumbnails with shooting data (above).

DPP lets you do many of the same things that you could do in the EOS Viewer Utility with the addition of batch image processing.

The RAW adjustments are a little different than in the EOS Viewer Utility. You can still change brightness and white balance, and DPP adds support for dynamic range and tone curve adjustments. The color adjustment option lets you choose from the "shot" settings and something like "faithful" color, which adjusts colors using a white balance setting of 5200K. You can see the effect of the faithful color settings over at dpreview.com.

Digital Photo Professional doesn't just do RAW images -- you can adjust JPEGs as well with the tools you can see above.

Also included in the box with the 20D is Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. This is a "lite" version of Adobe's excellent image retouching software and it really needs no explanation. It offers some useful features that Canon left out of their software, such as "quick fix" and redeye removal tools.

While it's not about to win any awards, the manual included with the camera is better than average. There's plenty of content, without too much fine print.

Look and Feel

With the exception of a little button rearrangement on the back of the camera, the EOS-20D looks just like its predecessor -- just smaller. The body (with a magnesium alloy frame) is well-built and it can take just about anything you can throw at it. It fits in your hand perfectly, with a large right hand grip (your left hand will rest on whatever lens you have).

The dimensions of the 20D are 144 x 105 x 71 mm / 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 inches (W x H x D, body only) and it weighs 685 grams / 24.2 ounces (body only ). The numbers for the 10D were 5.9 x 4.2 x 3.0 inches and 790 grams, respectively. Yes, that means that the 20D is smaller and lighter than its predecessor!

Now, let's begin our tour of the 20D, beginning with the front of the camera.

Here's the front of the 20D without a lens attached. One of the new features of the 20D is its support for the EF-S lens mount, which was first seen on the Digital Rebel. The 20D has a smaller mirror than on a regular SLR, which allows for the EF-S lens to sit closer to the sensor than an EF lens. EF-S lenses are designed for the smaller sensor of a D-SLR, and since they don't need to cover the same area as an EF lens (designed for 35mm film), Canon can design a nicer lens for less money than the EF-mount equivalent. There aren't too many EF-S lenses right now, but that may change in the future. Don't worry, though, you can use all your EF lenses too, just like on the 10D.

One thing to remember about digital SLRs: due to their smaller sensor size (versus 35mm film) and therefore narrower angle-of-view, the effective focal range of the lens is 1.6 times what it says on the lens. That means that the 18-55 included in the 20D lens kit is equivalent to a 28.8 - 88 mm if used on a 35mm camera. This is great if you like telephoto shots, but for wide-angle you may have to invest some money into some wide-angle lenses. Thankfully there's the new 10-22 mm EF-S lens, which is a relative bargain at $800.

Just to the right of the lens mount is the lens release button.

Above the Canon logo is the pop-up flash. The working range of this flash depends on many things, including the ISO setting and what lens you're using. At ISO 100 on the 18 - 55 mm EF-S lens, the range is 1.0 - 3.7 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 2.3 m at telephoto. Actually that's not much of a flash range, but boosting the ISO sensitivity a notch or two will help a lot, without adding any real noise to the image. If that's still not good enough, the camera has a hot shoe as well as a flash sync port. But more on that later.

Over to the upper-left of the lens mount is the redeye reduction lamp, which doubles as the self-timer countdown lamp. To the left of that is the the shutter release button.

If you're wondering where the AF-assist lamp is, just look to the flash (as was the case on the 10D). The camera fires the flash quickly to lock focus, which works very well. On the 10D this always resulted in a flash picture, too, which isn't always the desired outcome. But now on the 20D you can use the AF-assist lamp without taking a flash picture too, by disabling the flash in custom function #7.

Canon has made a few changes to the back of the camera since the 10D. The most important change is the new joystick (multi) controller, which is used for choosing an AF point, white balance, zoom & scroll, and image trimming.

To the lower-left of the joystick is the 1.8" LCD display, which is the same as on the 10D. I said it before and I'll say it again: LCDs on digital SLRs like this are only for menus and reviewing photos -- they do not do live previews!

Above the LCD is the large optical viewfinder, which covers 95% of the frame. There is an information line at the bottom, which shows exposure info and settings. Also, there are nine boxes in the viewfinder that show the points that the camera is focusing on (the 10D had seven). You can manually choose one of these points if you'd like -- I'll show you how in a bit. A diopter correction wheel (on the top-right corner of the viewfinder) will help out those with less than perfect vision.

This is what you'll see if you press the Info button while in record mode

There are four buttons to the left of the LCD:

  • Menu - enters the menu system
  • Info - Shows current settings in record mode (see above), and histogram/exposure data in playback mode (shown later)
  • Jump - quickly move through photos in playback mode
  • Playback mode

The button below the LCD is for deleting photos -- one at a time, or all of them. The next button over is the main power switch, which also turns the Quick Control dial on and off.

Speaking of which, the Quick Control dial is just to the upper-right of that switch. You use this to navigate through the menu system, as well as for adjusting some manual controls.

At the top-right of the above photo are two buttons, which do the following:

  • AE lock + flash exposure lock {record mode} / Thumbnail mode + zoom out {playback mode}
  • Manual focus point selection (choose from nine) {record mode} / Zoom in {playback mode}

Let's move on now.

There's plenty to see here, so I'll work my way from left to right.

Over on the left side is the mode dial, which has many choices. There are task-specific modes ("scene modes") and general shooting modes. Here goes:

Option Function
A-Dep (auto depth of field) mode Attempts to put all subjects, even at varying distances, in focus.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Ranges listed below.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens; on the 18 - 55 mm, it's F3.5 - F36.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec; a bulb mode is also available and according to the manual seems to have no time limit.
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the main dial.
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Portrait mode These are all scene modes
Landscape mode
Close-up mode
Sports mode
Night portrait mode
Flash off Also disables the AF-assist lamp

The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. The 20D uses the new E-TTL II flash metering system, which is more precise than the E-TTL system on the 10D and older Canon SLRs. Any EX-series Canon flash will work with the E-TTL II system. If you want to use a non-Canon flash, it'll probably work, but you'll have to set it manually. The camera can sync with compact, non-Canon flashes at 1/250 sec or slower, or 1/125 sec of slower for large studio flashes. I'll show you another way to attach an external flash in a bit.

Continuing to the right, we reach the LCD info display, and more buttons. First, the buttons. To change an option with one of these buttons, you press it and then have six seconds to use either the main or quick control dials to choose a setting. The buttons have the following function (from left to right):

Button Main Dial Function Quick Control Dial Function
Backlight LCD backlight - turns on orange backlight on the LCD info display
AF-WB Focus mode (One shot, AI servo) White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
Drive - ISO

Drive (Single-frame, continuous shooting, self-timer)

ISO (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - if ISO expansion is turned on, you can do 3200 as well
Metering - Flash exposure compensation Metering (Evaluative, partial, center-weighted average) Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)

The One shot AF mode is the one you'll use for everyday shooting. AI servo is for action shots, when objects are constantly in motion.

One nice carryover feature from the 10D is the ability to set the white balance by color temperature. You can choose a temperature between 2800K - 10000K, in increments of 100 °K. On the 20D you have even more white balance control -- I'll discuss this feature in the next section of the review.

The continuous shooting mode on the 20D blows away the one on the old 10D and the more recent Nikon D70 (both of which shoot at 3 fps). You can take photos at 5 frames/second for up to 20 shots at the Large/Fine quality and 6 shots at RAW or RAW+JPEG. What really blew me away was when I tossed in a 1GB SanDisk Extreme card. I was able to take 55 shots in a row at the JPEG/Fine setting (RAW was still stuck at 6). Nice!

Below all those buttons is the LCD info display, as I mentioned. It displays a plethora of information, which doesn't require listing here (that's why Canon includes a manual). It's also backlit in a nice orange color, which sure comes in handy when you're taking night shots.

At the top-right of the photo, you'll see the main dial, as well as the shutter release button.

On this side of the camera, there are a couple of things to notice. Just to the right of the lens mount, there are two buttons (three if you count the lens release). The top one will pop-up the flash (it's an electronic, not mechanical release), while the bottom one is used to preview the depth of field.

Over to the right, under a rubber cover, you'll find all the I/O ports on the EOS-20D. Let's take a closer look.

The bottom two ports are for external flash sync (left) and remote shutter release (right). Above that you'll find USB and video out ports. The 20D now supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard. Don't worry if you don't have that -- it is backward compatible with good ol' USB 1.1 as well. I wish the camera offered a FireWire port as well, but hey -- you can't have everything.

Over on the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a reinforced plastic door. This is a Type II slot, so the Microdrive and other high capacity cards are fully supported.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. Inside the compartment is where you'll find a watch battery which allows the camera to store things like the date and time.

The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect.

Using the Canon EOS-20D

Record Mode

Canon has dramatically improved startup speed on the 20D. It's basically ready to go as soon as you flip a switch. To demonstrate that just point and something, hold the shutter release down, and turn on the camera. The photo is taken before you take your finger off the power switch.

While autofocus speeds will vary depending on your choice of lens, it's still as fast as you'll find on a digital camera. Aim the camera at some, halfway press the shutter release, and the focus locks very quickly -- we're talking like 1/3 sec or maybe less. In low light, the camera uses the flash to help itself focus, and it does a very good job at that (it's just not very discreet). I didn't encounter any of the strange focusing problems that I found on the 10D.

As for shutter lag, there really isn't any. That's why you're interested in a digital SLR, right?

The shot-to-shot speed is also impressive, as it was on the 10D and D60 before it. This is one of those cameras where you can really shoot as fast as you can compose (or at least until the buffer fills up).

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the EOS-20D:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 256MB card
3504 x 2336
RAW 8.7 MB 27
3504 x 2336
Fine 3.6 MB 66
Normal 1.8 MB 133
2544 x 1696
Fine 2.2 MB 112
Normal 1.1 MB 221
1728 x 1152
Fine 1.2 MB 195
Normal 600 KB 380

The 20D can shoot RAW images, either by themselves or along with a JPEG at any of the resolutions above. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available. The 20D does not support the TIFF format.

Images are named using the following convention: IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.

Like its predecessor, the 20D has just one menu which contains all the options for recording, playback, and setup. Each is designated with a color: red, blue, and yellow, respectively. You maneuver through the menus using the Quick Control dial on the back of the camera. The menu choices are:

  • Record menu
    • Quality (see chart above)
    • Redeye reduction (on/off)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Shoot without card (on/off)
    • AE bracketing - see below
    • WB shift/bracketing - see below
    • Custom WB - use a white or gray card to set manual white balance
    • Color temperature (2800K - 10,000K, 100K increments) - set the white balance by color temperature
    • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB) - moved out of the Parameters menu on the 20D -- a good thing
    • Parameters (Parameter 1,2, Set 1, 2, 3, B&W) - store your custom settings here for easy access. This is also how you activate the black & white feature. In each parameter set, you can customize the following:
      • Contrast (-2 to +2)
      • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
      • Saturation (-2 to +2)
      • Color tone (-2 to +2)
      • Filter effects (None, yellow, orange, red, green) - digital color effects; must be in B&W mode to access; new to 20D
      • Toning effect (None, sepia, purple, blue, green) - gives a B&W image a tint; new to 20D

  • Playback menu
    • Protect - prevent images from being deleted
    • Rotate - rotates an image
    • Print Order - DPOF print marking
    • Auto playback - slide show
    • Review time (2, 4, 8 sec, hold, off) - post-shot review

  • Setup
    • Auto power off (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 mins, off)
    • Auto rotate (on/off) - automatically rotates images for proper viewing
    • LCD brightness (1-5)
    • Date/time (set)
    • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset) - whether the camera maintains the file numbering described earlier
    • Language (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Japanese)
    • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
    • Communication (Normal, PTP) - Mac users may need to use the latter
    • Format - format memory card
    • Custom functions (see below)
    • Clear settings (all, custom only)
    • Sensor clean
    • Firmware version - shows the current firmware version

Before I talk about the custom functions I want to mention some of the items in the record menu above.

WB Bracketing

WB shift

First and foremost are the new white balance controls, which are pretty darn impressive. Canon has gone beyond custom white balance (by using a white card as a reference, or by manually setting the color temperature) by adding advanced white balance bracketing and a WB shift feature. WB bracketing will take 3 shots in a row, each with a different WB setting. You can choose the bracket on the blue/amber or green/magenta axis. WB shift lets you use the joystick on the back of the camera to choose the exact color shift you desire. The average person will probably say "huh?" but studio shooters and enthusiasts will be drooling over these controls, which are unmatched in this class.

Canon has enhanced the Parameter submenu as well. Parameter 2 is the default in the manual modes, with all color saturation/contrast/sharpness settings at zero. Parameter 1, which is used in the auto and scene modes, is just like the Digital Rebel, with saturation, sharpness, and contrast all set to +1.

Three other new additions to the parameter menu are black and white shooting, filter effects, and toning effects. I don't think I need to explain what black and white mode is, so I'll cover the other two. Filter effects are just like the filters you screw onto your film camera. The digital filter will brighten colors similar to the filter and will darken their complements. You can filter for yellow, orange, red, or green. Toning effects give black and white images a sepia, blue, purple, or green tint.

Ok, how about those custom functions now? These let you get down and dirty with your camera. They are numbered from 01 to 18, and here they are:

01. SET button function when shooting (None, change quality, change parameters, menu display, image replay)

02. Long exposure noise reduction (on/off) - for exposures longer than 1 second

03. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/250 sec) - fixes the shutter speed for flash shots in aperture priority mode

04. Shutter button/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these two buttons do

05. AF-assist beam/Flash firing (Emits, Does not emit, Only ext. flash emits)

06. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2-stop) - the setting increment for shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation

07. Flash firing (Fires, does not fire) - here's how to use the AF-assist lamp without taking a flash picture

08. ISO expansion (on/off) - turns on ISO 3200

09. Bracket sequence/Auto cancel (0/-/+/Enable, 0/-/+/Disable, -/0/+/Enable, -/0/+/Disable) - Choose the order in which exposure and WB bracketing photos are taken, and if it is cancelled when you power off the camera, switch lenses, etc.

10. Superimposed display (on/off) - whether the AF point is shown in the optical viewfinder

11. Menu button display position (Previous [top if powered off] menu, previous menu, top menu) - where the cursor starts when you invoke the menu system

12. Mirror lockup (on/off) - enable it when the vibration of the mirror can blur your photos

13. AF point selection method (Normal, multi-controller direct, quick control dial direct) - how you manually select a focus point

14. E-TTL II (Evaluative, average) - flash metering

15. Shutter curtain sync (1st, 2nd-curtain)

16. Safety shift in Av or Tv (on/off) - if the subject's brightness changes suddenly, the camera can shift the shutter speed or aperture to obtain a proper exposure

17. Lens AF stop button (AF stop, AF start, AE lock while metering, AF point: M-->Auto/Auto-->Center [for changing the focus point], One Shot <--> AI servo, IS start) - this button is only found on super telephoto lenses

18. Add original decision data (on/off) - adds data that proves image is original; requires Data Verification Kit to be useful

Some of those are pretty confusing, so be sure to consult the camera manual before you change any of the custom functions.

Before I do the photo tests, let me say something about lenses. When I review digital SLRs, I sometimes gets complaints from readers telling me that I'm not giving a camera a "fair shake" because I'm not using the best lens available. The bottom line is this: I have to work with what I'm given, or what I have on hand. I usually get a lens from Canon (in this case it was the F2.8L 24 - 70 mm and F3.5-F4.5 10 - 22 mm) and all the other lenses are supplied by me. You could certainly get better results from a better lens, but I'm usually unable to demonstrate that in these reviews.

I used the 10-22 lens for our macro test shot. As you can see, the results are excellent. Mickey looks incredibly "smooth", with no grain at all. Colors are very saturated, yet still accurate.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Canon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, if you're so inclined.

The night shot is quite a bit different than it usually is, and I have a good excuse. You see, in order to take the Treasure Island shot that I normally use in my reviews, you need a bit of telephoto power. The only telephoto lens I have for Canon SLRs is my 75 - 300 mm, and let's just say that it has issues with focusing. Since those pictures didn't pan out, I took the 10-22 down to Oracle Corporation's HQ in Redwood Shores, CA for a different shot. I was amazing that security didn't throw me out for taking these!

Since I've only taken this shot once before I can't really compare it against anything else, but overall it's pretty nice. The sky is a little blotchy -- I guess the noise reduction can't cure everything -- and I can see a little purple fringing too. With full control over shutter speed, long exposures are easy. Using the bulb mode and a remote shutter release, you can do exposures for as long as you want!

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 800
View Full Size Image

ISO 1600
View Full Size Image

The great thing about D-SLRs is that even at ISO 1600 the image is still usable. That goes for shots in broad daylight too -- just have a look at the last few shots in the gallery for evidence.

Redeye is not a problem on the 20D, even with the built-in flash. There's a bit of flash reflection here, but there isn't any "red" to be seen.

What can be said about the 20D's image quality that hasn't already been said? It's stunning. It's smooth. At default settings images aren't terribly sharp, but that's easy to fix, either in-camera or by using RAW format and processing the photos to your liking on your computer. I will say that the 17-40 2.8L lens was noticeably sharper than the 10-22 EF-S lens that I tested. There was some purple fringing on the 10-22 as well.

The camera captures amazing amounts of detail: where most cameras mush together the top of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, you can make out every tile in the 20D image. Colors were always accurate, and I saw no exposure problems like I did on the Digital Rebel, the last Canon D-SLR that I tested.

Don't let my words be the final judge of quality. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and see for yourself. I encourage you to print the photos, too, just as you would as if they were your own. With 8 Megapixels at your disposal, you can make some very large prints!

Movie Mode

No self-respecting digital SLR would be caught dead with a movie mode.

Playback Mode

The playback mode on the 20D is pretty simple, but it gets the job done. I've already listed the basic playback features back in the menu section, but here they are again: image protection, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image rotation, and slide shows. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.

The 20D's zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 10X into your photo, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This is a great way to check the focus on a photo.

You can use the jump button to quickly move ahead 10 images (or 9 in thumbnail mode), which is handy when you've got lots of pictures on the memory card.

Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. You can delete one or all of the photos on the card.

As you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've taken. A histogram is also shown, and overexposed areas of the photo blink. The camera moves through images very quickly, with maybe a half-second delay between each photo.

How Does it Compare?

I'll be blunt: the Canon EOS-20D is the best reasonably priced digital SLR that I've tested. And by reasonably priced I meant under $2000. There's so much to like about the 20D, I don't know where to start. Photo quality is excellent, with photos having an ultra smooth look to them. Color and exposure were both accurate. Personally I'd crank the sharpness up another notch, but that's just me. Noise levels are very low, even at ISO 1600 -- try that with your fixed-lens camera!

Camera performance is first rate, from an instant startup to nearly zero shutter lag or shot-to-shot delay. Continuous shooting performance is amazing, as well. I was able to take fifty-five 8 Megapixel JPEG images in a row at 5 frames/second before the buffer filled up! As you'd expect from a D-SLR, there are full manual controls, including an unlimited bulb mode. The 20D goes a step further than most D-SLRs with its powerful white balance adjustment features. And, like all D-SLRs, the 20D is expandable, with support for both EF and lower cost EF-S lenses, numerous flashes, remote controls, and much more.

Build quality is excellent -- the 20D absolutely feels like the expensive camera that it is. The body has been refined a bit since the 10D, and I appreciate the changes, especially the new joystick on the back. The camera uses the powerful BP-511A battery which can take a whopping 1000 shots per charge!

When you connect the camera to your Mac or PC, you'll be able to take advantage of the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast image transfer. FireWire would've been nice, though. The bundled software is pretty darn good, though I would've like a more refined user interface for Digital Photo Professional (at least on the Mac).

Trying to find fault with the EOS-20D is a difficult task. In fact, my two or three complaints are mentioned in the previous paragraphs. It's just that good. Now, for some buying advice. If you're stuck between the D70 and 20D, I'd choose the 20D without hesitation. If you've got a Digital Rebel and want higher resolution, more controls, and faster performance, I'd say go for it. If you have a 10D then I wouldn't be as quick to recommend an upgrade -- see if the 20D's improvements are what you need before you buy.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, even at high ISOs
  • Full manual controls
  • Robust performance, especially in terms of continuous shooting
  • All the expandability you'd expect from a D-SLR
  • Advanced white balance controls
  • Excellent battery life
  • RAW, RAW+JPEG supported
  • No redeye
  • Support for EF and EF-S lenses
  • USB 2.0 High Speed interface
  • Impressive software bundle (though DPP could be better, at least on the Mac)

What I didn't care for:

  • Images aren't overly sharp at default settings; I'd personally crank it up a notch or two
  • AF-assist lamp uses flash, which isn't terribly discreet
  • FireWire support would be nice

Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon Digital Rebel (a cheaper, "lite" version of the EOS-10D), Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D70, Pentax *ist DS, and the Olympus E-1 and E-300. Everything on that list is 6 Megapixel, except for the E-300, which is 8 Megapixel (like the 20D).

As always, I strongly recommend trying the EOS-20D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a camera!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more at Steve's Digicams, Digital Photography Review, Imaging Resource, Luminous Landscape, and Rob Galbraith.

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Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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