The Canon EOS 40D

We review Canon’s latest mid-range DSLR and ask whether the Canon EOS 40D can it take on the more expensive Nikon D300

“The Canon EOS 40D might change the mind of even the most ardent Nikon fan. It’s not much more expensive than the D80, and yet it offers higher resolution, quicker performance, and it’s built like an Olympic weightlifter”

There’s a problem recommending a camera that costs as much as the Canon EOS 40D: if you’re serious about buying it, you probably already own a DSLR. If you already own a DSLR, you probably already have a few lenses, and that makes changing allegiances (from Nikon to Canon, for instance) a pain in the rear.

But the Canon 40D might change the mind of even the most ardent Nikon fan. For a start, it’s not stupendously more expensive than the D80. And yet it offers higher resolution, quicker performance, and it’s built like an Olympic weightlifter.

Make no mistake about it: the 40D can take some serious abuse. Its ports have been weatherproofed, and most of the body is made from magnesium alloy: a sure sign of a camera aimed at serious semi-professionals. It lacks a certain something compared to, say, the Nikon D200 or D300 – it’s a little lighter, a little heavier on the plastic in some areas – but nonetheless, this is a camera that will survive all but the harshest environments. The only drawback is the weight: with the 17-85mm lens many shops are selling it with, the 40D weighs close to 1.5kg. Serious photographers won’t mind the extra bulk, but beginners and occasional users should question whether they want to subject their shoulders to so much weight.

Sharp and clean

The headline feature is the 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor. Inevitably for the price, this isn’t a full-frame component, but the pictures returned from our test 40D were as good as it gets. We saw beautifully reproduced colours, sharp focusing, and low noise in virtually all of our test shots. Even at ISO 1600, noise is low enough not to be a terrible distraction; at ISO 100, it’s barely even there. There’s also an H1 ISO mode, giving an effective maximum of ISO 3200. At this setting noise becomes a serious problem, but even then it’s still a genuine option for those who want to shoot flash-free indoors. The only disappointment is that image quality isn’t spectacularly better than that of the 400D. Not a huge problem, given the quality of Canon’s entry-level model, but for this much money it’s not unfair to expect some improvement.

It excels in virtually every other area, though. It’s amazingly fast. We’ve come to expect lightning-fast start-up times, and unsurprisingly the 40D is ready in the time it takes to flick the switch and lift it to your eye. Shutter lag is non-existent, but the real headline act is its continuous shooting speed. In our tests, we measured it at 6.8 frames per second – slightly better than even Canon’s estimate. Not only that, but it continued at that rate for 188 shots. It’s truly an amazing choice for shooting sporting events. Indeed, it’s a good thing that Canon has included a lower-speed continuous mode, as we occasionally found ourselves accidentally grabbing a couple of shots when one would have done in top-performance mode.

Fast settings

The Canon EOS 40D is well equipped with body-mounted controls, and the top mounted shot information panel is easily readable. It’s incredibly quick to make shot setting changes, which is good news for those taking pictures in manual mode in changing light. The huge 3-inch LCD doesn’t have the same resolution as that of the Nikon D300, but it remains bright, clear and informative. And, like the D300, the 40D offers a Live Preview mode. In this mode, the mirror flips up, and the frame is shown directly on the LCD. In practice, we used it infrequently, finding it more useful for other people to use when taking a picture with an unfamiliar camera. There are also some annoyances, namely that automatic focusing requires the mirror to flip back down, blanking the screen.

But it’s a niche feature, and current 400D users should be under no illusions as to which camera to upgrade to. The Canon EOS 40D is compatible with the same lenses as the 400D, and is much faster, quicker to use, and notably better built. However, if this is your budget for your first DSLR, you should bear in mind a couple of Nikon contenders. The D80 is some way cheaper and not as well constructed, but it’s fairly fast and takes excellent pictures. Alternatively, the Nikon D200 is plunging in price, and, dare we say it, feels even tougher than the 40D.

If you’re platform-agnostic, think carefully: this is, after all, a lot of money to spend. But spend it on the 40D and you won’t be disappointed.

Canon EOS 40D Info

Typical price: £730 (body only), £985 (with EF-S 17-85mm lens)

Extremely fast
Good value
Terrific image quality

Build quality not up there with Nikon D200

Verdict: The Canon EOS 40D is a wonderful camera. There’s tough competition, but this is one of the best for under a grand.

Rating: 5 stars

More info: Canon DSLR website

  • The huge 3-inch screen on the back of the 40D acts as a viewfinder in Live Preview mode
  • The top-mounted shot information panel and array of shortcut keys and dials make it incredibly quick to change shot settings on the Canon 40D