300D Report


More than Enough. Ahead of Time. (December 2003)

What goes through a camera company's collective mind that convinces it that time's a'wasting and a thousand dollar dSLR must be in our line before Christmas? Whatever it is, they timed it right and got the product right without a miss step.

To say that I'm impressed with the Digital Rebel would be to understate the obvious. I was ready for this camera to be a woofer. Not a bass speaker; a dog. But no puppies accompanied it out of the box and although the design is basic, it still gives you a lot more than other thousand dollar digital camera ideas in the world.

It has good things. You can read Canon's official marketing message here and see how they want you to see the product, and you can read the reviews from DPReview, Imaging Resource, Steve's Digicams and others to get a sense of how its functions and controls test out.

Then there's this site. I write about cameras and enjoy the digital revolution from a different perspective. Digital cameras are a replacement tool for many things film cameras have done in my world, and I try to push them to the edges of their performance envelopes for practical reasons.

My questions are different. How does it handle? What size prints does it make? How does it work in fast-changing situations? What do I think are its strong points from a practical, working point of view? And the corollary, where are its weaknesses? Where does it fit into workflows, lifestyle, travel, convenience and ability to get that shot? Would I buy more than one for a department of image makers?


To start with, the 300D is bigish. It has a large, thick body presence and surprising light weight. Clad in silver-flake plastic it is warm to the touch, easy to grip and fits normal 35mm SLR ergonomics fairly well. Shooting stance is no different and controls are laid out with an eye to easy learning.

Finger habits may take a while to develop, but that's par for the course with any digital camera. Let's face it, features drive control placement and the 300D's controls are placed in an easy ergonomic placement for the most part, giving right index finger and thumb something to do for a living.

The left thumb has its own job. Five buttons on the left side of the camera back monitor drive menu, info, jump, playback and delete buttons.

Amenities like LCD info panel back light, one-button AE lock and diopter eyepiece adjustment make the camera feel more than rock bottom basic, but that feeling evaporated quickly as the working features are discovered. The feature set seems to be the central group of functions that one would always need, but are not embellished with rarely needed features that can be lived without.

Few are the pro 35mm cameras that need a complete set of preferences programmed into the camera before shooting, and while this sort of feature appears on the 1.5X$ Canon EOS 10D, its direct contribution to making better shots is minor if not invisible most of the time.

Where SLR style cameras win my favor is that you are seeing a very good unambiguous view of the scene the way the lens will capture it. Where they fall from favor is due to the fact that you must put your camera up to your head to find the view. Shooting from the lap is not accurate. There's a definite give and take to this form of viewfinding, but when you regard the SLR format as an extension of your eye, the good points outweigh the bad.


So here we stand with a pudgy, plastic camera in our hand that doesn't have the refinements of a $1,500 camera, and whatda we got? A cut back, software crippled, low-end, cheaped-out, sorry excuse for a camera? Not in the least. If the 10D is worth spending $1,700 for with a lens, then the DR is worth, say $1,300 if parity of value were the determining influence. Its price makes it something of a bargain.

While the Rebel doesn't have it all, it has a lot and doesn't skimp on image quality in the least. In fact, with the same optics on both camera bodies, there is zero difference between them on your computer.

There are the standard Program AE, Aperture AE, Shutter AE and Manual Exposure modes, plus an extra that is surprisingly useful and welcome, Auto DOF focus mode. That latter will probably not often be used, but it allows the photographer to quickly find the hyperfocal distance between several different depth subjects that the seven focus sensors detect. Getting used to this focus mode takes a bit of practice since it is fully capable of locking on to a near and far object at the same time and focus between them, making nothing particularly sharp if either f-stop or distance between detected subjects isn't working in your favor.

Menu choices are succinct. Power up is about 3 seconds. Jab the shutter button with your index finger as you click the camera On with your thumb, and three seconds later you're exposing.

Sleep time can be set from 1 to 30 minutes or turned off entirely. Without a monitor displaying the last shot or menu item all the time, idle power drain seems small. Batteries charge up in about two hours and with two you are set for the day, unless it's one of those days.

Peering through the viewfinder one might notice that the matte ground glass has a fine pattern to it. Out of focus points of light break up into a gridded dot pattern, not a smooth circle, but that appearance is never part of the actual image.

Included with the kit is an EFS 18-55 mm, f/3.5 to 5.6 zoom, equivalent to a 28.8 to 88 mm zoom range on a full frame SLR. Although it is plastic construction and inexpensively built, optical quality is quite good. Canon's own MTF (modulation transfer function) graphs predict sharp images and experience supports that conclusion.

This lens is special for the Rebel only. It won't fit the inner clearances of other cameras' mirrors, due to the deeper back-of-mount depth the optics need to provide the coverage to the 62.5% scale sensor.

Seven focus zone boxes are arrayed across the center line of the image, five horizontal and two more on the vertical center. Several modes control how they work but the most popular is to let them observe and indicate which area is being identified and acted on for auto focus. A tiny red light blinks in the center of the active one(s) when that area is focused on. It's more accurate than your fingers would be.

One nice feature to manual focus is that if it is performed while the shutter release is half-pressed, the focus zones will light and chirp as subject material under them hits sharp focus. Rather a semi-automatic focus technique.

While the lens has motorized autofocus, it isn't the linear motor high speed wonder found in their upper EF lenses, but it works quickly and positively. The front element can be used in a manual focus mode, the switch for that being on the upper left of the lens barrel. Manual focus feels... inexpensive.

The front element is a bit wiggly and auto focus has the habit of twitching the image a little with every seek/find operation. People worry when their front element moves in its mount, but the slight side to side motion of those elements is not harmful to the image--it just doesn't feel confidence producing.

This kit lens appears to be a variant on the optical design seen in the 28-90 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (left) often bundled with film Rebel designs. In optical design terms, the lens group closest to the film carries the job of focusing the image at the film plane. For a smaller image patch, that implies an optic that sits closer to the focused image, which limits the size of things in the mirror chamber, notably the mirror itself, which swings aside to let the light through. When all the factors are added up, the smaller, closer rear elements of the 18-55 (right) make sense. And the rear protruding back elements, smaller mirror and inner chamber all fall in line.

Magnification Factor

Being a camera with a large image chip doesn't guarantee a full frame chip and this one, as with most dSLRs comes with a "magnification factor" built in. Any lens that is attached will function as if it were 160% of the millimeters engraved on its barrel. A 400 mm lens, for instance, becomes a 640 mm lens in practical terms. Simply multiply the posted number by 1.6 to estimate the coverage if you are used to 35mm camera lenses.

Some common equivalents:

 Lens mm \ camera 35 mm full frame

EOS Rebel 1.6X equivalent

18 mm


28.8 mm / 73°

24 mm


38.4 mm

28 mm


44.8 mm

35 mm


56 mm / 42°

50 mm


80 mm 

105 mm


168 mm

135 mm


216 mm

Canon's own 11-megapixel dSLR, the 1Ds has been out for a year with a sensor that is about twice the pixel count, so what value might it command? Nine grand, plus lens. A great machine at a great price. In the sense of "large."

RAW Deal

In a practical sense, the 6.3-megapixel image produced by the Rebel competes favorably with 35mm film. Not all emulsions, but in general. Sensors have their own "look" and don't have some of the inherent qualities of film, but with Canon's excellent RAW image format, the line of distinction is not so distinct in a metaphorical sense. But the image looks great and has a palpably longer tonal scale than shots made in JPEG form. The world has settled on the "Digital Negative" description of RAW images and it's a good way to think about the format.

RAW seems to recover an extra stop above and below the tones that show up in a JPEG, especially in the highlights. RAW images need to be interpreted in your computer the same way that the camera processes them in order to become a final result and Canon will be glad to sell you that software. Photoshop CS comes with a RAW interpreter built-in. Get Photoshop CS. The upgrade from your previously owned PS is worth the jump, and not just for the RAW interpreter.

RAW images are a "clean scan" of the image sensor. Each pixel's value on a 4096-division scale of tonality is represented as a 12-bit number. Since the range of response is greatly extended per each RGB color channel, the RAW image doesn't even have an exact white balance, the way a JPEG does. You can change the WB to suit yourself in the computer with no loss whatsoever. The only down side to RAW is that it consumes over 6 megabytes of storage space and moves slower through the computers of the camera and digital darkroom.


Rebels only shoot strings of motor-drive shots at 2.5 per second for a maximum of four pictures. This may actually be a firmware or hardware limitation imposed (crippled) to distinguish the EOS 10D which can blast 9 shots into its buffer before pausing to take a breath.

Since you can shoot 4 RAW (6.5 megabyte) images just as quickly into the buffer as any other image size/compression combination, the size of the buffer needed to absorb these images can't be the deciding factor, so the argument is strong for an imposed limit rather than a natural barrier. Could Canon sell you a Firmware Patch that lifts the string of shots limit at some future date? Dunno. And would it allow even more medium and small motor drive shots? Can't say.

This four shot limit is something to work around, and the camera is very kind about showing you when images in the string have politely stepped aside, thus giving you the ability to make follow-up shots. A number in the viewfinder display gives you an update on how many shots you could shoot in the next string.

Something that has not seen wide dissemination is that once the four fast shots are in the buffer, the next shots will follow at about 0.6 per second until the camera can't handle any more and pauses for several seconds. Different frame sizes and compression combinations change the actual number of follow ups that can happen before the Big Pause, but all this, including the follow up 4 to 20 shots, is achieved with a single shutter release press and hold.


Once you understand the Scene Modes, you will play with them more often. Although camera manufacturers think of these as EZ-Selects for the rank beginner, pros that bother to learn them realize that they're just setup macros that have use, especially when other things compete for a photographer's attention.

Sports Scene Mode is a favorite, though I rarely shoot sports. It's really a "Continuous Predictive Auto Focus / High Shutter Speed / No Flash / Motor Drive" macro that has tremendous use in any fast moving situation.

By the way, motor drive mode doesn't require shooting strings of shots. you can let off the button and just get one or two.

Another fave is Portrait Scene Mode. It also turns on the motor drive but this time it pops the flash (only if it's dark enough) and keeps the aperture wide open as much as possible to make a nice bokeh of out of focus -ness behind your subject. That's the amateur rationale. For me its a "Flash / Wide Open / Motor Drive" macro to be used in all sorts of ways.

BTW, if you want flash fill outdoors, use the Program mode and pop the flash up manually. Now it participates in the sunlight.


If paparazzi is your style, then you deserve all the flash and dazzle you can get. Canon's own external flash units intimately connect to the TTL sensors through extra contacts in the hot shoe. Other manufacturer's flash units won't, unless they're specifically made to work with Canons. Once that connection has been made, the camera and external flash are one.

Like the bill of a cap, the internal flash unit overhangs the top of the lens. One can release it into working position with a dedicated button, or let it deploy automatically when available darkness calls for it.

Two flashes fire from the on-board unit with every exposure. %$#@!! That simply kills off-camera slave function.

In available darkness, it can become a rapid-fire focus assist light, and that will freak out your subjects! The manual says to warn your subjects not to break pose when they see flashing.

External simple units only fire once, so if you need to shoot with slave flash units, buy a cheap hot shoe triggered unit and cover its tube with a chunk of 35mm black slide film (not negative) to turn it into a slave trigger -er.

Update, July, 2004.

After months of continuous use, the DR is a winner. Smaller and considerably lighter than pro dSLRs, it travels well, works well and brings back the pictures over and over. Our recent China Travel Shootout includes a wealth of satisfying images acquired through the DR's lenses. See for yourself.

Recent price drops have put the DR within reach of nearly every digital photographer. Under $750 --with the Kit Lens-- from some Internet stores. Happy Googling.

Update March, 2005

The DSLR: Canon Digital Rebel eBook is out. It took way longer than anticipated, but for all 3,000,000 Digital Rebel owners, it may well be worth the wait.

It's a major improvement on prior eBooks, if I do say so myself. Loads of new and hidden techniques including

  • single pulse slave flash triggering,
  • IR flash triggering,
  • flash brightness adjustment,
  • memory saving techniques,
  • optical accessories you missed,
  • fast moving shooting techniques,
  • new demo software,
  • over 150 DR-tweaked iNovaFX Photoshop Actions (out of 480+ total),
  • a whole new iNovaFX chapter for Photoshop Elements

and a lot more.

Order here.

As experience grows with this most welcome camera, I'll revisit this report and update it. If you are looking for your first dSLR experience, this is the one to get until some future camera displaces it from its current throne.

--Peter iNova (

itscanon is © 2005, Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Images by the author. They're © 2006, too.
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