Canon EOS 10D Review
May 2003, updated May 2004
Photo copyright 2003 Canon Inc.
review is not intended to be a comprehensive evaluation of the EOS 10D.
I leave jobs like that to the perfectly competent folks at Imaging
Resource et al. Instead, this review will cover a truly user
-oriented point of view and all the nuances of the camera that everyone else
neglects. I also have added a "year later" update, having shot
thousands of photos, traveling thousands of miles toting the camera along.
Being a Canon EOS film camera owner I have been watching Canon for a few years now,
waiting for them to deliver a digital SLR that would leverage my existing EOS
lenses and flashes, at a price that I could at least pretend was affordable.
When the D30 came out in late 2000 I could hardly contain my
excitement, but with just 50% more resolution than my Nikon and a $3000 MSRP,
I could not justify the expense. In the beginning of 2002 Canon
started to ship the 1D, which offered 4.5 megapixel resolution but with an
MSRP of $6000! Consistent with the price bracket, the 1D was a heavy,
bulky camera with clearly professional intent, that didn't even bother with a
pop-up flash. It was really meant for pros looking to go digital from
the 1V, Canon's $2000 film SLR. Then in mid 2002 Canon delivered the 6.3
megapixel D60, though in mere trickles to an eager market, and the street
price of $2300 and the one month wait was still too much for me to bear. In late 2002 Canon
gave us the 1DS, a $9000 11-megapixel beauty that I could only drool thinking
about, and it too was simply too much camera for me anyway.
In March 2003 while unbelievably still filling
back-orders for D60s, Canon introduced the 6.3 megapixel EOS 10D.
Designed as a slightly improved successor to the D60, it hit the market -
again in relative trickles - with a street
price of just $1500. That's $700 lower than a D60. It was finally
time to buy!
What you don't see is what you don't get
The bargain can be a little deceptive.
What you get is a body and cap, a strap, one battery and the charger, two CDs of software
and the instruction booklets. You don't get an AC adapter and you don't
get even an obligatory little starter -size flash memory card.
The software package includes Adobe Elements
2.0 and a mish-mosh of software, some good and some rather mediocre. It
installed uneventfully on one test system but on my production system,
the menu that is supposed to pop up with a list of software to connect to
the camera, was empty. I'm assuming that like many TWAIN issues, this
could be associated with my HP scanner having been connected during
Since the 10D package is a little threadbare,
my purchase also included a Delkin eFilm Pro CF card, model CFPRO-640D.
Although advertised as a 640MB card, Delkin cheats a little bit AND uses the
decimal interpretation of a "megabyte" to deliver a card that is
actually 609MB. That's still enough room for about 280 large/fine JPEGs
or around 80 RAW files.
I chose the unusual brand of CF card based on
the test results published on Rob
Galbraith's CF Performance Database. At the time, the $170 price tag
seemed a bargain, but more on the later. I also picked up a spare
battery at one of my favorite NYC deep discounters, Etronics,
and zealotry got the best of me so I picked up a 550EX flash and food-chained
the 380EX to my wife. Over $2000 of my tax refund is now gone, forever
lost in the spiraling black hole of consumer electronics.
While the 10D was generally an improvement over
the D60, the numbers reveal that some features actually lost
performance in the new model! Some glaring examples of this cheating are
the miserably frustrating speed of the USB interface (about 300KB/s, or less
than 40% of what the USB 1.1 standard permits) and the speed of reading from
and writing to the CF cards (10-30% slower than the D60). These numbers
seem so improbably slow that I have to hope an eventual firmware upgrade may
yield some improvements.
Those of you accustomed to consumer digicams'
ravenous appetite for batteries will be pleasantly surprised. The camera takes Canon's BP511 (or BP512,
which is an un-indented package that performs identically to the BP511)
Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery cartridge. The included charger will fast-charge
a BP511x in 90 minutes. The instructions recommend leaving the battery
on the charger another hour, which I did. That battery was good for 210
shots before the low-charge indicator on the 10D appeared.
I was then
able to shoot another whopping 320 shots before the battery gave out. At
least half of the photographs used the on-board flash, and being that the
camera was so new to me (and has such a gee-whiz factor to my friends and
family), there was a huge amount of time spent starting at the pictures,
information and menus on the LCD and also much time spent connected via the
USB cable to my computer, downloading files and trying out the remote capture
functionality. That's 530 photographs and liberal abuse of the LCD on a
single battery charge!
Since my initial tests I've been seeing the
low-battery warning consistently after just one-third of the way through the
battery's useable charge. I emailed Canon's Customer Service about
this and "Jenny" informed me that this is perfectly normal and
that according to the manual, I should indeed change the battery at that
point. Needless to say, this is like a car's low-fuel warning coming
on with ten gallons remaining in the tank and being instructed to rush to
the gas station to top it off, and I believe that Jenny and Canon are
absolutely and completely out of their minds.
I did most of my testing with a Canon
28-105mm F3.5-4.5 USM zoom lens. This lens has always served me very
well on my Elan IIe. With the 10D's effective focal length
multiplication factor, this lens behaves equivalent to a 45-168mm zoom in
35mm parlance. This makes close-up work somewhat more difficult but is
a terrific help with candid work and other long shots.
The on-board flash is not the anemic little
lamp that is an engineering afterthought on even the better digicams. I
photographed a completely unlit living room (25x12) at night in full auto mode
and there was nary a dark spot or shadow to be found. Flash control was
also good in a variety of circumstances but as always, one needs to be mindful
of metering mode versus content. The Canon's built-in flash also
recharged very quickly, in 1 second at most (less depending on existing light,
etc.), allowing relatively rapid-fire flash photography.
Focusing in the dark is assisted by a startling
series of low power flashes, which are accompanied by a startling "zzzzt"
sound reminiscent of bug zappers or a Jacob's ladder. As long as the
camera can find a line somewhere to zero in on, it focuses even in no light
whatsoever. I was however able to confuse the camera's autofocus with
brightly backlit subjects even with the focusing set to center.
In daily use I have found the master on-off
switch to be awkward to reach and a general pain in the posterior. I now
prefer to leave the camera "on" all the time, letting the (default)
60-second auto shutoff do its thing, and have adjusted my quick-draw routine
so that a quick stab at the shutter release button brings the camera back to
life while I'm removing the lens cap, getting the eyepiece in position and
racking the lens to a suitable length. I have not yet tested if there is
a substantial difference in "off" current drain this way.
Focusing is one of those parameters that set
apart the men from the boys in digital cameras. Focusing seems every bit as fast as Canon's speedy
USM lenses permit, and is reliable even in dismal lighting conditions. Since the seven-point auto-focus may
not always agree with you on chosen focus point, some may prefer to pre-select
a point and work that way. The time from pressing the shutter release
button to having a photograph is nearly as fast as my film cameras.
These two factors make this purchase worth every penny I've painfully paid.
The overall reliability of the camera is good
but not perfect. During lots of rapid shooting over the course of
the initial 500+ images I experienced one corrupted image and one error
02 ("CF error, recoverable", basically a file system problem on the
card). In the next thousand or so photographs I
didn't experience a single error, so I have to attribute those two errors to
the intentional abuse. My suggestion for now is to avoid over-running
the camera's nine-shot buffer.
Outside the Camera
The high performance Delkin eFilm Pro CF card
worked basically OK in the camera but the trouble began when I put it into
my Atech Pro III USB reader. It took ages just to see a folder listing
on the card and caused my normally rock-solid Windows 2000 system to choke
and crash. The folks at Atech Flash and Delkin made some effort to
figure out what was happening but it never really amounted to anything
successful. I eventually food-chained the $45 Atech unit and spent a
paltry $26 for a Coolmax CI-622 USB 2.0 reader. Problem solved, and
not a bad product either.
While I'm bitching about flash memory issues,
I'd also like to say a few words about "megabytes"
In common parlance, a megabyte or
"MB" is actually 1024x1024 bytes, or 1,048,576 bytes. This is
consistent with a kilobyte or "KB" being 1024 bytes. Using
more flattering interpretations of common units of measurement is nothing new
(think horsepower, octane, etc.)
but Delkin's advertised capacity fails inspection by any standard. For
comparisons, here's the measured capacity of a few cards I had on hand:
Good Points and Bad
- Canon RAW file format saves an enormous amount of
storage over TIFF, while still storing a JPEG version within, in your choice
- The battery charger is small and light and does
not require a transformer, making travel carry a breeze. It also
operates on nearly all voltages and frequencies.
- The low battery warning definitely comes on
too early, at which point the camera and the ZoomBrowser EX software refuses
to perform certain operations.
- The JPEG quality setting for a given
quality varies INVERSELY to the
- No infrared remote possible, and the wired
remote from my Elan IIe was not compatible, necessitating another $50
expenditure on an RS80N3.
- USB file transfers are VERY slow, and the
connecting cord is yet another variety of non-standard plug.
- The Canon 10D shoots in 3x2 aspect
ratio. This is in contrast to most other digicams which, pandering to
traditional computer CRT aspect ratios, shoot to 4x3. The 3x2 format is more
consistent with 35mm film however.
- The CMOS sensor's small size relative to 35mm
film inflicts a 1.6 multiplier on the focal length of any lens you
use. This makes the camera's results more sensitive to lens quality
and makes wide-angle photography a little more difficult. On the other
hand, it gives new life to lenses that you never thought were quite long
enough. The 1DS does not have this issue, but it also costs SIX times
as much money!
- Canon's buffering technique means that the
capacity and speed of the buffer is the same regardless of the
resolution and quality settings. Those settings and CF card
performance will still dictate how fast the buffer can empty.
A Year Later
Software updates (about 70MB worth, freely
downloadable from Canon) seemed to have helped with associating the camera
to its software. As I have discovered with other hardware and software
from a variety of manufacturers including HP, Canon, Nikon, Visioneer, etc.,
TWAIN device association and driver conflicts are the #1 source of trouble -
and often the ONLY source of trouble - for imaging devices such as scanners
There have been three firmware upgrades
since the camera was released, but none seem to have addressed the dismal
speed of the 10D's USB interface. This year USB 2.0 multi-format flash
card readers have become inexpensive and ubiquitous, however, obviating the need to fish out
the Canon's cable and snooze through the file transfers.
Battery performance is still as good as the
day I purchased the camera. Using the 70-200mm IS lens depletes the
battery more quickly (no surprise with all the servos and gadgets in that
lens), but not so much that you would ever have to worry about needing more
than one freshly charged battery per day. I still leave the camera
"locked 'n loaded" when I'm keeping it handy.
Electronic reliability of the camera has been
perfect, never again experiencing the couple of operational bugs that I
encountered during the initial stress testing, and mechanical reliability has been "good" (see
below). The same could not be said for my 28-105mm lens however.
Seven years of being knocked into door frames and bouncing around in my
motorcycle's tank-bag finally took their toll. Focus was becoming
increasingly unreliable and then the lens barrel began to stick and jam when
zooming. A $110 (plus tax and shipping) flat-rate repair by Canon's
factory service center in New Jersey returned the lens to like-new
When I sent the lens for repair I also sent
in the camera, literally within hours of its warranty expiration. The
only verifiable problem was that the hot shoe was becoming loose. This
may have been due to the weight of the 550EX flash, and may also have been
due to my frequent use of the 550EX's ability to rotate the flash
head. Either way, I'm not thrilled and will have to keep an eye on
that. And since some of the early 10Ds
were rumored to have focusing problems anyway, I thought it would be a good
idea for Canon to make sure that the camera was playing nicely with my
The camera came back from Canon with the
latest firmware, the time correctly set and even the image sequence number
put back to where it was. All they "forgot" was to program
my name back into it. They cleaned it up and made sure it was
performing to specification, and everything was indeed nice and tight.
My only complaint is that Canon's turnaround time was a bit long (two weeks
from the date of receipt), and their customer communications are a little
sloppy. To their credit, when I got panicky about an upcoming event I
wanted to cover, they set a "must finish" date on the job and returned the camera and lens using FedEx
overnight service. Kudos to Canon!
On a non-Canon note, Atech eventually came
out with a suitable replacement for that troublesome Pro-III flash memory
reader, called the Pro-9, and kindly offered me one. It works fine,
looks nice, is compatible with a number of operating systems, and being USB 2.0 it performs much
faster than did the III, though
I find its featured Firewire pass-through port in front less useful than its competitor's USB pass-through ports.
The new Atech is also electronically more trustworthy than the Coolmax unit,
which leaves dozens of errors in the Windows event log every time I transfer
files from it, a reported problem which Coolmax never even responded
to. Much to Atech's credit, they have been easy to reach, responsive,
patient and considerate in all my dealings with them and I give them a huge
Getting back to Canon in general, for a final note, there
have been two new cameras announced since the introduction of the 10D.
One is the 300D, also known as the Digital Rebel. The other is the 1D
Mark-II. The 300D seems essentially a crippled, slower, stripped
version of the 10D. The 1D-II is an upgrade of the original 1D - a blazing fast 8+ megapixel SLR (with
a 1.3 magnification factor), clearly aimed at the professional market and
priced accordingly. The 300D signals a few changes, both good and
bad. It can be had as a kit with lens and memory for under
$1000. This is incredibly good, even if the camera's electronics have
been deliberately made sub-standard. The lens it sports is a very
(F3.5-5.6), which would perform equivalent to a 28-88 in the 35mm
world. This is also really good. The 300D uses a new variety of EF mount,
dubbed "EF-S", and that 18-55mm is currently the only EF-S
lens. The 300D can use all of Canon's EF lenses, just like all other
EOS cameras, but the EF-S lenses can only be used on the 300D (and I
presume, its future ilk). This is where I start to worry...
The last thing the world needs is another
lens mount. And the EF-S lenses are sure to be designed with 22mm
imaging sensors in mind, which means their optical qualities will be
suitable only for today's crop of small-sensor digicams and perhaps, APS
film cameras. I don't find this at all pleasing, since I still see
great value in being able to switch back to my film body at times. I'd
rather see 35mm sensors in the digicams, than see crippled lenses that cater
to 22mm sensors.