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PMA 2003 Mini-Roundup - Continued

In the beginning, there was the Canon EOS D30. When Canon moved up to the D60, the changes from the D30 centred around the image sensor and image processing; the camera itself remained largely untouched. That translated into a camera that produced a pretty good photo, but had the weak autofocus and other limitations of the model it replaced.

Canon EOS 10D and optional BG-ED3 grip

In developing the Canon EOS 10D, Canon has turned their attention to shoring up weaknesses on the camera side first and foremost. The 7-point autofocus system, which originated in the Elan 7, is clearly superior to the 3-point system of the D60, while the layout of key controls and the overall feel of the 10D is really good. Handle the EOS 10D and it's immediately obvious that this is a better camera than the D60. Only the viewfinder seems to have been neglected: it's somewhat fuzzy, regardless of the diopter setting, making wide angle lenses a bit difficult to manual focus if necessary. And of course, I'll be keeping an eye out for improvements in the camera's handling of E-TTL flash, relative to, well, all other Canon digital SLR models.

One of the traits of Nikon digital SLR cameras I like is the similarity between the white balance, image processing, custom settings and other digital controls across the company's three current models. This makes it easier to mix and match the D1X, D1H and even the D100 on the same assignment. By comparison, Canon's top end digital SLR's - the Canon EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds - and the digital options and controls they contain bear little resemblance to those found in the D60.

The EOS-10D shrinks this gap with the addition of Adobe RGB as an output colour space (though oddly, you lose the ability to adjust most image processing parameters on the Adobe RGB setting), an option to set white balance to a specific colour temperature (in 100 Kelvin increments), an auto white balance that looks at both the image itself and data from an external sensor in determining camera white balance, a dedicated ISO button and more.

Canon EOS 10D (rear view)

Navigating the menus on the 10D is still more like the D60 than the 1D or 1Ds (though the new LCD screen is impressively bright, sharp and neutral). In addition, most of the 10D's image processing settings, including those that affect contrast, sharpness, saturation and colour tone, bear little resemblance to their 1D and 1Ds counterparts. So, Canon could have done more in this regard to mute the digital control differences across their SLR line. All in all, however, the 10D so far seems to be a step in the right direction. It's certainly a more serious competitor for Nikon's D100, which for my shooting was always head and shoulders above the D60. And with an expected street price of under US$1600 in the US, the Canon EOS 10D may well have a price advantage over Nikon's midrange digital SLR.

Canon has also addressed the main criticism the marketplace had with the D60: the difficulty of finding a camera retailer that didn't have this model on perpetual backorder. Canon USA's Chuck Westfall indicates that the EOS 10D has already been in production for some time, which should ease supply constraints from the outset. In fact, he predicts that within the first three months of the release of the 10D, a time when any new camera is usually in short supply, prospective buyers shouldn't find it overly difficult to obtain one.

If Canon's various marketing regions worldwide find themselves consistently short of cameras, however, Canon should be able to more readily scale up production of the 10D to meet demand. The D60, for example, was assembled on a traditional, many-step assembly line; big increases in production meant adding additional assembly lines. For the 10D, Canon has moved to a different assembly process, where small groups of workers, called cells, are responsible for putting together the entire camera. If demand outstrips supply, adding additional cells to increase production, says Westfall, can be done more readily than building out new assembly lines.

The Canon EOS 10D is expected to ship later this month for a suggested list price of US$1999 in the US, though Canon USA officials at PMA were predicting a street price closer to US$1500-1600.

Next Page: Canon unveils EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
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