We look at the Canon EOS 400D – an upgrade to the EOS 350D – and see if it’s a good buy compared to its predecessor and the competition
“Conventional wisdom has it that more megapixels equals more noise. Thankfully that’s not the case with the Canon EOS 400D”
The replacement for the wildly successful 350D, the Canon EOS 400D evolves the design rather than throwing it out. And that’s no bad thing since there was little wrong with the old model.
Any new camera has to have a megapixel rating to equal its peers, so the 400D is replete with a 10-megapixel sensor, up from the 8 megapixels of the 350D. That’s not the only difference though. It also addresses what’s the Achilles heel of the DSLR: sensor dust. The front element of the sensor is attached to a piezo-electric element, and every time the camera is switched off this vibrates the sensor for a couple of seconds to attempt to shake off any particles. Actually assessing the effectiveness of the system is difficult, but if you’ve had to go through the nerve-wracking process of manually cleaning a sensor with an air blower you’ll appreciate any help you can get.
There are more changes aside from that, but none are earth-shattering. The best of the bunch is the presence of a nine-point autofocus system, borrowed from the more expensive EOS 30D. The 350D’s seven-point system was adequate but occasionally struggled. The newer system seems a little faster and more sure-footed in low light. And while the burst frame rate hasn’t increased beyond 3fps, the burst depth has been more than doubled from around four RAW frames to 10, or up to 30 or so JPEG shots.
Basic body design is almost identical to the earlier 350D, which means that the hand grip is smaller than that of most competitors. Some people find this terrifically awkward, but we’ve found that if you adopt the standard method of holding the lens barrel with your left hand to take most of the weight it ceases to be an issue. There’s no change to the lens mount system, which means both old Canon EF lenses – stretching back over a decade – and newer digital-specific EF-S lenses will fit the Canon.
Out in the field, the Canon EOS 400D is great to use. The controls fall naturally under the fingers and once you get use to the small body you should have no problems. In fact our only criticism is the shutter noise, which like its predecessor is louder than we’d like and doesn’t lend itself to candid portraits or taking wildlife shots undetected. Nikon has the edge on Canon in this respect.
Two screens become one
The only big physical change is at the back of the body, where the old 1.8in LCD monitor and secondary LCD settings display have been replaced by a single 2.5in screen. This means that all camera settings aside from the basic shooting mode are selected via the colour display. To reduce the distraction of having a glowing screen beneath your nose when you’re shooting, there’s a proximity sensor beneath the viewfinder that deactivates the screen when you put your eye to the camera.
The upside is a larger, clearer monitor for reviewing photos, but we’re not big fans of the compromise. But because the battery pack is the same as the 350D’s and the screen’s power-draining backlight will be powered up for more of the time, battery life is slightly reduced. On the face of it this isn’t a problem since the battery life of all Canon models these days is excellent. It does mean though that if you start running low in the field you can’t deactivate the screen to save power and squeeze off a few more shots.
Conventional wisdom has it that more megapixels equals more noise. Thankfully that’s not the case here, and there’s no discernible difference in noise performance or image quality compared to the 350D: it’s as excellent as ever. Even at ISO 1600 where noise is very apparent, its quality is closer to film-grain noise than the far more distracting colour noise that plagues lesser cameras. If you buy the standard kit with a 18-55mm lens, which hasn’t changed from the 350D, the limiting factor is the quality of the lens itself, which tends to produce fairly obvious chromatic aberrations. Replacing it with a higher quality model will pay dividends.
The trouble with the Canon EOS 400D is that, while it’s still a superb camera – especially at current prices – it’s not unequivocally better than the 350D.
If you’re a 300D owner with a large investment in Canon EF lenses, the 400D is a worthwhile upgrade. It’s also a great camera in its own right, but falls between two stools. The newer EOS 450D is better, while if you really want a bargain, the 350D is still available for a very low price and is almost as capable.
Canon EOS 400D Info
Typical price: £399 including EF-S 18-55mm Lens
No secondary LCD
Slightly reduced battery life compared to earlier models
Verdict: A great camera but the newer 450D is better, and the older EOS 350D is now very cheap and nearly as good.
More info: Canon’s DSLR wesite
- The Canon 400D’s 2.5in screen replaces the 350D’s old double-screen set-up. It’s better for reviewing photos but does have an effect on battery life
- The 400D’s handgrip is smaller than most, but its compact design means that controls fall naturally under the fingertips