Life with the Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR (so far)

I realize that when I write something here and say I am going to do something, I should probably do it. So, in that spirit, following are my much considered observations on the Canon 20D digital SLR. As a former Nikon user who previously had a Nikon D100 and used it frequently, the Canon has taken some getting used to. It’s not bad, just different.

Some people have also asked me why I switched from Nikon to Canon. My reasons are simple. I looked at the new Nikon cameras like the D70 and the new Canon cameras like the 20D and decided that I liked the 20D and its features. And, after a few test shots with the 20D, it felt right. So, that was it.

Plus, I originally had been a Canon user, owning the very cool EOS A2, before I ever got a Nikon so it was really more like I was going back than switching to something new. And, I had used one or two of the Canon “L” lenses that a friend owned and had really liked the way they work. Now, of course, I am in love with Canon “L” glass and that causes problems of its own because those suckers are expensive.

People always want to get into the Canon v. Nikon debate much like the Macintosh v. Windows debate. It is usually a hotly contested issue where people take opposing sides and defend those sides with near religious zeal. I look at technology as a tool. A tool that allows me to accomplish things and sometimes even to create things.

The big question for me is always what tool can i use to do something and almost as important, what tool will help me do what i want to do and not get in the way. I use a Macintosh because it helps me and doesn’t hinder me (not usually anyway). Windows simply takes more time to get working correctly and requires more diligent maintenance. The Mac just works. Turn it on and go.

The same holds try for my choice in cameras. The Canon 20D was easy to use right out of the box and with minimal effort, allowed me to take some decent photos. Turn it on and go.

Anyway, let’s get on with it:

First, here are some specs on the camera:

8.2 Megapixel: 3,520 x 2,344 pixel images. Also 2,544 x 1,696 pixel and 1,752 x 1,168 pixel settings. Choice of Regular JPG or Fine JPG. RAW mode and also RAW + JPG mode which lets you choose which kind of JPG you get along with your RAW file.

1.6x lens cropping factor. You have to buy a 10 – 22 mm Canon lens for ultra wide shots; any 17 mm or 18mm lens will only give an angle of view similar to a 28mm lens on 35mm film.

5 Frames Per Second Shooting Rate. Good for the sports shooter. Or, for me who likes to bang out several frames in a row to up the odds of a “keeper”.

9 Point AI Autofocus which is very good but still, not perfect. Compared to the D100 or the D70, it is much better but compared to the Canon “Pro” DSLR’s, and their 45 Point Autofocus, the 20D leaves something to be desired. Most of the shots I have taken are in focus and focused on the area i intended. Some are not. It could also be attributed to operator error so at the moment, until I take more photos, I will say the focus speed and accuracy is good.

ISO 100 – 1,600 in full stops. ISO 3,200 also if you enable it in a menu. This is pretty cool and provides a decent image. I don’t intend to get into a situation where I need this setting but you never know.

Mirror lockup. This is excellent for use with long telephotos on tripods for exposures between 1 and 1/30 second. Not found on the D100 or the D70.

The controls are in different place on the camera than they were (are) on the Nikon. Which, of course, makes sense as they are from different companies. I’m not sure why this didn’t stop me when I first examined the camera in a store but I guess I was not paying that close of attention to all of the differences between the Canon and the Nikon.

Nikon cameras, for the most part, all have similar controls in similar places. So, if you can use one, you can pretty much use them all. Canon does the same across its product line as well but as I am a switcher, I didn’t have the benefit of familiarity.

In the store where i first took some test shots with the 20D I was able to use it with little or no problem. It’s very simple to operate and takes pictures quite easily. Really, you could just leave it set on P or on one of the other “Auto” modes and happily snap away, assured that the camera will take very good pictures without much intervention from you, the user. With its 8.2 megapixel sensor and Canon’s Digic II system, the camera is very smart and can do a good job all on its own.

But really, this camera isn’t the one that you get if you are just a casual shooter looking for a point and shoot camera. This is a pro caliber camera that in the hands of even a somewhat experienced shooter can produce stunning results. I am not that shooter yet, but I am working on it. The more I use this camera, the more I like it. I still sometimes miss the D100. Not because I think the 20D lacks something but mostly because I was used to the D100 and I felt like I knew it pretty well.

Of course, after a time I will feel the same way about the 20D I am sure. The more you use something the better you get with it. I already have the photographic fundamentals as I have been shooting pictures for a long time. I just need a better understanding of my camera and its capabilities and quirks. Then I can start to take pictures that I can be proud of again. Until then, my percentage of “keepers” will stay pretty low.

Here is a list of my current main camera kit:

Canon EOS 20D Digital SLR
Canon 580 EX Speedlight (powerful yet compact flash)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Zoom Lens (this lens rocks!)
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens (best bang for the buck in Canon’s lineup)
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM Lens (i like it and image stabilization is nice)

And, for fun, I also carry:

Canon Powershot SD300 Digital Elf Camera (i love this little camera and it takes some pretty damn good pictures. plus, its tiny and fits in your pocket)

Plus various other items and misc. stuff. All encased in my favorite camera bag:

The Lowepro Omni Pro with optional Hard Shell Case (i use a Pelican 1520) for travel.

Or, my new favorite camera bag, the Lowepro CompuRover AW which is a backpack that holds camera, lenses and laptop. It’s a cool bag.

More on my use of the camera and more observations as I continue to use it over the next few weeks and months.

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