John Beale Dec. 16 2004
How is the 20D better than earlier models?
The most important features to me are the faster autofocus performance and the lower noise levels for high-ISO settings. These are both significant improvements for one of my main subjects, dance performances under moderate to dim stage lighting. The fast "start-up" time is good for candid shooting. This is actually "wake up" time, since the camera is never actually off despite the power switch, unless you actually remove the batteries.) The 5 fps shooting and better write speed to CF memory is useful but I was seldom limited by this before. Improved battery life is nice, but again the previous models were adequate. The new resolution of 8 Mpixels, moving up from the 6 Mpixel 10D and D60 is a very slight improvement and is not very significant in my opinion. The 20D shutter is noticibly louder than either 10D or D60, and this may be significant in some cases, but most 20D users have not found it to be a problem.
How big are 20D files?
Since it is an 8 megapixel camera, the 20D produces large files. Exact file size depends on the image content, but I find JPEG large/fine files range from 3-6 MB and RAW from 8-13 MB. Images with finely focused detail (eg. foliage or other texture) across the entire frame, or noise from higher ISO settings will be at the large end of the file size range. A RAW file converted to an uncompressed 16-bit TIFF is 48 MB, and 8-bit TIFF is 24 MB regardless of image content. You may find yourself needing larger compact flash cards when using this camera.
How can I get my pictures off the camera?
One way is to use an external card reader (a USB2 type is recommended since it is so much faster than USB1). You remove the compact flash card from the camera and put it in the reader, whereupon it shows up as just another hard drive which you can read pictures from. You can also connect the 20D directly to a PC through its USB2 port. When you connect the camera under Windows XP, you get a dialogue box offering you several options to handle the camera. "MS Scanner and Camera Wizard" works for JPEGs, but will not recognize RAW files (.CR2 extension). The camera memory card shows up under "Scanners and Cameras" in the Windows XP file browser, but with JPEG files only. From within Photoshop, you can use "Import/WIA Support..." and select the 20D, as long as it is attached via USB, but again you can only import JPEG format images this way.
In the EOS Viewer Utility (EVU) you can see the camera's disk drive in the file tree in the left window. You can drag the entire folder of pictures (both raw and jpeg) down into a folder on one of your computer's hard drives. The files transfer at about 2 MB/sec which is not as fast as a stand-alone USB2 card reader can work.
Canon "EOS Viewer Utility" and "Digital Photo Professional" (included on CDs that come with the camera) have a capture mode allowing you to trigger the 20D shutter from the program and import the image directly to the computer, without even saving it on the internal CF card.
How do I store my name in the camera memory?
In the EOS Viewer Utility select "Option/Camera Settings" while the 20D is connected via USB. You can type in your name (or any other text string) into the "Owner's Name" field, as well as set the camera's clock. Click OK and this information is stored in the camera and written on each image you take in the EXIF data.
What is EXIF?
The 20D stores EXchangeable Image File data in JPEG and raw CR2 files. This inclues time, date, shutter speed, aperture, camera user's name (if set), custom function settings, and the camera body serial number. Not all image programs read EXIF data and some software (especially older versions) does not preserve this data if you load and then re-save the image in a separate file.
Is "OFF" different from "Sleep" ?
Not very much. If you don't press any buttons, the camera goes into sleep mode. You can set this "auto power off" in a menu to be after 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 minutes or never. As soon as you touch the shutter button, it will be awake again. When you turn the camera off with the power switch, the shutter will not turn it on, but it is still really in sleep mode. That's how it manages to turn on and take a picture in under 0.2 seconds. If you insert a CF card while the camera is "off" you'll see it turn on briefly to scan the card. Whether it is in "off" or sleep mode, the camera consumes about 40 microamps of current from the battery. Should you worry about this? The Canon BP511A is rated at 1390 mA-hours, meaning a fully-charged battery would in theory be run down in sleep mode after 34750 hours (4 years). In practice, you should recharge your batteries more often than that anyway, even if they are unused.
How loud is the shutter release?
The 20D shutter/mirror slap sound is louder and higher-pitched than the earlier 10D or D60 shutters. However it is very similar or slightly quieter than the EOS Elan II (film) camera, and similar to or quieter than the 1D-Mark2 shutter in normal (high-speed) mode. For those shooting weddings, if you can tolerate the noise from a medium-format camera, you should be fine since the 20D is quieter than that.
How good is the battery?
The Canon BP-511A battery is a rechargable lithium ion type, claimed good for 1000 shots without flash. This type of battery is generally more trouble-free than NiCd or other rechargable batteries, but there are a few things you should remember. The battery works best at moderate temperatures, between 10 and 30 C (50 to 86 F). If you store a battery for a period of time, it is best to use it up first. Don't store it fully charged, and don't store it in a hot place. If you do it develops a high-resistance "passivation" layer internally which will reduce the amount of charge you can draw out of it. Lithium battery passivation can actually be reduced through charge-discharge cycles (eg. frequent, normal use) but the improvement is small and gradual, so it is best to avoid this condition in the first place.
There are many less expensive third-party replacement batteries available. Canon has pointed out that if you use an after-market replacement (not Canon brand BP-511 or 511A) it is your responsibility to make sure the battery includes the safety features required for use of lithium-ion chemistries. Here is the note from Canon-Europe. I recommend that you look for the CE mark on replacement batteries, which indicates that a product has met the minimum safety requirements for sale in Europe.
Battery lifetime: according to Battery University, lithium rechargables have a life of 300-500 discharge cycles, and they are only expected to last for 2-3 years, regardless of whether they are used at all.
The optional BG-E2 battery grip can take two BP-511 type batteries or 6 AA cells. If the AAs are not absolutely fresh the camera may not function, and runtime with AAs in any case is lower than with the BP511 batteries. Since NiCd or NiMH rechargable cells are lower in voltage than alkaline types, they may not work at all, or have a very short life if they do.
Can you use AA cells with the BG-E2 grip?
The optional BG-E2 battery grip can take one or two BP-511 type batteries or 6 AA cells. If the AAs are not absolutely fresh the camera may not function, and runtime with AAs in any case is lower: Canon specifies only 80 shots with AAs, instead of 1500-2000 with the BP-511A. The instructions mention NiMH rechargable cells but does not mention the total number of shots you can expect. NiMH cells are lower in voltage than alkaline types (1.2V/cell instead of 1.5V) and they may not work at all, or have a very short life if they do. In my tests with a set of six brand-new fully-charged 2000 mAh Lenmar NiMH AA cells I got only 15 shots before the "battery empty" symbol appeared and the camera ceased to function.
How can I get good close-up shots?
You can use the Canon 250D and/or 500D close-up lenses to permit your normal non-macro lens to focus closer and get greater magnification. This does not get you as close as a true "macro" lens, like the Canon 50mm f/2.5, 100mm f/2.8 or 180mm f/3.5 macro lenses. Sigma and Tamron also make macro lenses which are optically very good if mechanically less impressive, at a lower price than the Canon equivalent.
How can I reduce noise in high ISO shots?
The 20D has lower noise at high ISO than earlier models, but there is still some noise present. There are a number of useful noise-reduction programs available: I have used Noise Ninja for some time, it was the first program of its kind. The later Neat Image may provide even better results. Noiseware is the new kid on the block and my initial testing suggests it may be the best yet. Noise Ninja and Neat Image require a noise profile, which you can make from your own images, or download NoiseNinja 20D profile or NeatImage 20D profile made from a test target. Noiseware does not use pre-built profiles but auto-generates them, although capability to use pre-existing profiles is being added.
Using any noise reduction program, you will notice artifacts remaining if you try to remove too much noise, especially if you combine noise reduction and sharpening. I prefer very conservative settings (eg. remove only half of all noise) which leaves the image with a more natural look, and reduces the chance of banding or posterization in the out-of-focus areas.
What can go wrong? Camera Lockup, CF card problems
The 20D camera as originally sold had occasional lock-up problems (became unresponseive to user input) often right after changes lenses and/or flash cards. Removing the battery and re-inserting it restored the camera. Canon's 20D firmware update 1.0.5 fixed the lens-communication and CF-card communication problems in most cases, though some people still report lockups. Firmware 1.1.0 added a fix for horizontal banding at high ISO settings when using the built-in flash. There is a link for firmware downloads below under "Canon Links".
Note: if you are using the BG-E3 accessory battery grip with a heavy lens, the grip can pull away from the camera body enough to release the microswitch by the battery door that locks out CF memory access. This could cause any number of problems if it happens while writing to the CF card. This can be fixed by using a folded-over business card, adhesive velcro pad, or the like on the far edge of the grip, to the outside of the locator-pin near the attachment thumbscrew. In this way the grip is "pre-loaded" against the camera body when it is screwed on, and no reasonable amount of force will open the microswitch. The same thing can happen with the CF access door if it is pushed slightly open by your right hand palm (less than 1 mm does it). One solution here is to cover over the door with another surface. Black gaffer tape is one possible, if crude option.
Holding the MENU button down for 8 seconds continuously will hard-reset the camera, restoring all factory default settings.
What software is available?
Canon supplies Digital Photo Professional (DPP) and EOS Viewer Utility, both of which can display and convert RAW file as well as JPEGs.
Adobe Camera Raw, which is a plug-in to Photoshop CS, supports 20D RAW files.
The viewing and conversion program BreezeBrowser supports conversion of 20D RAW files (CR2 format). Currently this capability is in a beta release (9/23/04).
See also the "useful software" links below.
Testing focus with your lenses
Here is a useful article on focus testing with a test chart you can use. If you want to test lens performance, you can use this ISO 12233 chart, but it's a challenge to find a printer capable of resolving lines to the 2000 lines/picture height level needed to test cameras like the 20D.
Phil Askey's thorough 17-page technical review, measurements and sample photosLuminous Landscape
Michael Reichmann has usage notes and noise samples (also part two
Brian Tao compares 1Dmk2 with 20D in event workRob Galbraith
Rob Galbraith has 6 pages from the viewpoint of a photojournalistOutbackPhoto
Uwe and Bettina Steinmueller have a brief look, with noise examplesDCResource
Jeff Keller has a "first look" review Imaging-Resource
Shawn Barnett and Dave Etchells have an 11-page review plus samplesSteves-Digicams
Steve has an 11-page review with sample photos WLCastleman
William Castleman's summary impression of 20D and EF-S lenses
remote shutter release cableAdit remote
Like RS-80N3, but cheaperCanon TC-80N3
timer, intervalometer multi-purpose controlCanon LC4
wireless controller remote releasePocketWizard
wireless flash and/or camera trigger systemVisibleDust
Cleaning brushes, collect dust from sensor and surrounding areas via electrostatic chargeNikon CS-13
camera bag blimp case, for lower shutter noise (perhaps also extreme weather)Camera Muzzle
fabric soft blimp to quiet SLR cameras, available from RobertsImaging SoundBlimp
by Jacobsen Photographic, hard case when silence is needed. Looks like a view camera; pricey.Project-A-Flash
or Better Beamer
flash extenders, useful for long lenses with wildlife SterlingTek
BP511 equivalent batteryOrphanBiker
BP511 equivalent batteries on Ebay
is called "The Professional Standard", which it is. Be sure to get updated Camera RAW
.Picture Window Pro
from Digital Light & Color can do many Photoshop-like things, and is much cheaper.ThumbsPlus
is a useful slideshow and batch processor when Photoshop is too clunky.DPP
is provided with 20D. Here are some tutorials
for this raw converter program.Neat Image
the first FFT-based noise remover, very effectiveNoise Ninja
at least as good noise-reducing performance as NINoiseware
the latest noise-reducer, fast, and possibly the most effectiveImageDuster
automatically removes sensor dust spots from your DSLR filesFocusMagic
can do a worthwhile amount of image detail recovery to undo defocus or motion blurACR-Calibrator
Thomas Fors' color calibration script for ACR (requires a ColorChecker)PTLens
correct lens distortion and vignetting, based on the PanoTools engine (OutbackPhoto review
a graphical-front end to PanoTools, making it much more usable to assemble panoramasEnblend
intelligently blends shots together in a panorama to erase seams on sky, etc.Autopano
auto-set stitch points for PanoTools. Better for normal lenses than wide-angles.Calculators
at Tawbaware: FOV, DOF and Panorama-assembly calculatorsImatest
Camera and lens testing and measurement software
Canon LinksCanon 20D page
link to register your 20D, specs, and brochuresCanon user manuals
20D user and software manuals online in PDF formatCanon downloads
download new firmware, drivers, software, SDKCanon 20D tech report
Some details regarding the new design features found in the 20D.CMOS sensors
a brief description of Canon's CMOS sensor technologyTech Report
mostly for 1D-II, 1Ds-II cameras, but with useful general info and tips
Photoshop sharpening actions, also forums and reviewsLuminous-Landscape.com
camera & gear reviews from a landscape photographerMax Lyons
makes some impressive panoramas, including a gigapixel image
image from TNO (Delft)Film camera
capable of 4-gigapixel resolution photos.
has many Photoshop techniquesPhoto.net
extensive set of techniques, tips & tutorialsAdobe
white papers on RAW conversion workflow & digital techniqueUsing Flash
advanced techniques on a low budget
20D user forum with a more professional crowdPhoto.net
forum for all Canon EOS camera usersDPReview.com
20D user forum with a very large readershipFredMiranda
has an active Canon forumPhotographyReview
DSLR forum hosted by Uwe SteinmuellerImatest Forums
camera testing and measurement