Unless youāve shot with a lot of dSLRs, you may not, at first, appreciate the thought that has gone into the design of Canonās new EOS 20D. Whatās uncanny is the way nearly every button and dial seems to be positioned perfectly, giving the photographer instant control over the cameraās many features without fumbling around. The 20D thus achieves that elusive quality of becoming an extension of your eye.

Keep the manual handy, but you wonāt need it to begin taking great pictures. Just flip on the power switch (the only control thatās in an oddball position at the bottom of the cameraās back), set the mode dial to Program, and start shooting. If youāre a newbie, you can spin that dial to portraits, landscapes, close-ups, sports, or night portraits as required. If youāre more advanced, choose program, shutter priority, aperture priority or full manual.

The 20D has a tough, magnesium-alloy body and is finished in matte black with a leather-like covering on the grip side to assure a firm hold. Itās a very handsome looking camera but, as the saying goes, handsome is as handsome does. In that respect, the camera will do just about anything you ask of itö and extraordinarily well.

To begin with, youāve got 8.2MP of pixel powerö enough resolution to make huge prints. But most of us are not going to do that because weād need a printer that costs a bundle. No, the real advantage of the pixel plethora is that now you can crop with ease, selecting small areas of your images and blowing them up to a reasonable size without having every pixel assume an attitude. If youāre into shooting sports or wildlife, this is the cam for you.

Of course, the down side is that 8.2MP files are big: up to 3.6MP compressed as JPEGs, 8.7MP as RAWs, and 23.4MP once theyāve blossomed in your imaging program. You may need a faster computer to get them to dance to your tune, though you donāt have to shoot everything at the 20Dās highest resolution; both 4MP and 2MP are also options. At those resolutions, you just have to frame more precisely to avoid extreme cropping.

The front of the camera is clean as a whistle, with only a depth-of-field preview button and another that pops up the built-in flash; you never have to lower the camera to hunt for a control there. At the top, from left to right, is the mode dial weāve described above, and then four buttons within easy reach of your right forefinger. One lights the top deck LCD panel and the one next to it adjusts either white balance or selects the autofocus mode depending on which control dial is spun (there are two of them, one near the shutter release and the other on the back of the camera).

Itās worth digressing for a moment to discuss the autofocus options. One, of course, is the usual single shot mode. You point the camera at a non-moving subject and then shoot. The next handles moving subjects, keeping them in focus as you shootö that charging tiger youāre shooting on safari will stay in focus until s/he nails you. And then, thereās a third setting (the one I like for photographing kids) that will automatically switch from single shot to tracking mode if the subject begins to move.

Continuing along with our top deck buttons, the next in line handles your drive settings (single shot, sequence shooting, self timer) and/or ISO settings (up to 1600, extendable to 3200). The final button lets you set a light metering choice (evaluative, center-weighted or spot), and also can be used to control the intensity of flash exposure (you can shoot within inches of an object without overexposure).

The back of the 20D has four buttons down the left-hand side that handle access to the menu, image information, rapid picture search on your memory card, and playback of the image just shot. At the bottom of the camera thereās an Erase button and, to the upper right of the LCD monitor, a joystick that lets you examine your image by moving across it in eight different directions. At the upper right of the cameraās back are the last two buttons, one for zooming in on your image (up to 10x to examine fine details) and the other for zooming out. They also can be used to fire a pre-flash for more accurate exposure, set your focusing points in the viewfinder, and lock your exposure, for example, when shooting backlit scenes.

These well-thought-out and perfectly-placed buttons and dials will handle 95% (or more) of your shooting requirements without forcing you to dive into menus. Theyāre well-marked and easy to useö ćintuitiveä is the word Iām looking for, something sadly lacking on most dSLRs Iāve used. For ergonomic control placement and function allocation, the Canon 20D is about as good as it gets.

Now letās finish the rest of the nitty-gritty. The 20D is ready for shooting in about half a second after itās switched on. Thereās no noticeable shutter lag. Image playback is virtually instantaneous. The camera takes CompactFlash cards (I and II) and works best with fast cards such as Sandiskās Ultra II or Extreme which will give you 35 continuous shots at 5fps at the highest JPEG resolution. The buffer clears in about 12 seconds during which time you can continue to shoot at about a frame-a-second before being able to shoot another sequence of 35.

Powered by a LiIon battery, the camera will deliver about 1,000 shots (without flash) and 700 shots with 50% flash usage. Although its battery recharges in about 1-1/2 hours, youāll certainly want to buy a spare. The 20D also has a USB 2.0 port, video out, a remote control terminal (for triggering the shutter), a PC flash terminal (for studio strobes and other off-camera flashes), and the obligatory hot shoe for auxiliary flash units. You can lock the mirror up for rock-steady close-ups (tripod required), use noise reduction for long exposures, automatically bracket your pictures, and fire a light beam thatāll to help you focus when itās darkish. You can also focus manually, if you wish.

I shot enough images with the 20D to be thoroughly impressed with their superb qualityö excellent color, great detail, and a wide dynamic range. Thereās also a lot less noise when shooting at high ISOs than Iāve experienced with other dSLRs. If youāve begun to shoot RAW images, you can also record an identical JPEG image at the same timeö and at any resolution, even the highest. Youāll then have a set of JPEGs for immediate use and RAW ćoriginalsä that you can post-process at your leisure using Canonās supplied software or Photoshopās plug-in.

Model-Canon EOS 20D
List price-US$1,499 (body) $1,599 w/18-55mm
Sensor res-8.2 megapixels
Image dimensions-3504x2336, 2544x1696, 1728x1152
Lens-depends on lens
Lens focal length-depends on lens
Shutter-1/8000 to 30 seconds
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps
LCD screen-1.8 inch
Flash modes-Auto, red-eye, slow-sync, adjust
Viewfinder-Eye-level Pentaprism
Battery-Li-Ion, DC 8.4V
Weight-24.2 ounces (body only)
Dimensions-5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 inches

The 20D does not come with a memory card or lens. But you can get a serviceable piece of glass for only US $100, a Canon f/3.5-5.6 EF-S, 18-55mm lens, which is the 35mm equivalent of 29-88mm and takes a reasonable filter size of only 58mm. Itās maximum lens opening is f/3.5 at the wide end, shifting down to f/5.6 at full telephoto, and itās compact and lightweight.

If you want something more sophisticated, US $599 will get you the new f/4-5.6 EF-S 17-85mm (27-136mm equiv) zoom with image stabilization (buy it with the camera and youāll save US $100). And if wide-angleās your thing, thereās also a EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 (16-35mm equivalent) for US $799. Of course, you can always use any Canon EF lens öthere are about 50 of themö all compatible with the 20D. In addition to the 29-88mm, I also used an f/2.8 EF 16-35mm ( 26-56mm equiv) zoom with outstanding results, which isnāt surprising since it costs as much as the camera.

Though a price tag of US $1,500 for the Canon EOS 20D may seem a bit stiff öespecially since some other dSLRs (including the by-now-venerable Digital Rebel) cost about a third lessö look at it this way. Youāre getting an 8.2 megapixel gem thatās a joy to use and will give you the kind of creative control youāve always dreamed about. Spend a little extra and live your dream!

÷Arthur Bleich



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