Canon EOS Kiss Digital X/400D/Rebel XTi first impressions

Note: This note was posted the day after the camera was first announced on Aug. 24, 2006. It was also posted at dpreview where it received over 50 comments:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1031&message=19738022

The 400D (Europe)/Rebel XTi (USA)/Kiss Digital X (Japan) is on display at Canon showrooms in Japan. I went to the Ginza showroom in Tokyo today and touched the 400D for the first time.

These are my initial impressions:

– The front, top, bottom, sides, and grip of the camera looks almost (or exactly) identical to the previous 350D. But the rear is totally different due to the larger LCD monitor. The feel in your hands is almost the same as with the 350D except for the grippy patch of rubber on the camera back where your right thumb rests.

– The most obvious improvement is the larger LCD monitor which is terrific. The large display is sharp, bright white, and very easy to read. It is much, much easier to read than the 350D’s small, slithery LCD panel. I also really like the ISO speed indicator which is always displayed. You don’t need to press a button to see the current ISO speed setting. And needless to say, viewing your images on a larger screen is also more pleasant than on a smaller screen.

– The LCD monitor turns off automatically whenever some physical object comes near the sensor right below the eyepiece. This works very well and instantaneously. It turns off when you put your eye over the eyepiece so the glare from the monitor does not hinder your view of the viewfinder scene. It also turns off when the camera is hanging down a shoulder strap and touching your side or belly.

– The on-screen user interface for changing/setting the ISO speed, WB, metering mode, AF mode, drive mode, etc., is nicer since it’s done on the larger LCD monitor.

– The grip might feel too small or cramped for people used to using a larger camera or people with really large hands. However, I think I can get used to it. I appreciate the smaller size and weight, especially when I need to stuff the camera in an already-full backpack, etc.

– If you have the original 300D and thinking about upgrading, this 400D will be irresistable. One major surprise is the battery size. It’s much smaller/lighter and almost (or exactly) the same size as for the PowerShot compact cameras. It largely explains the camera’s much smaller size than the 300D. It’s also surprising that they could attain this small size even without switching to SD cards.

– The continuous shooting speed is almost the same as the 350D and nowhere as fast as the 30D, but the maximum burst is much improved. I see a lot of people trying to compare the 400D with the 30D. Well, the 30D is obviously a superior camera whose main selling point is higher performance and durability. It reflects the price you pay for it.

– When you turn the camera on and off, a short message appears on the LCD monitor to indicate that the self-cleaning sensor is operating. This feature is a first in the EOS Digital lineup. The big question is if it really works. Well, if it weren’t effective enough, I don’t think Canon would have incorporated it. It was quite ingenious to incorporate both a hardware (ultrasonic vibration of the low-pass filter in front of the sensor) and a software back-up (clone stamp tool to erase mapped dust spots) countermeasure. Any kind of countermeasure against dust on the sensor must be welcomed. If this dust reduction feature is found to be effective by initial users, then I believe that it will be a major selling point for this camera and Canon.

– On sale in Japan from Sept. 8 for around 100,000 yen (including the store’s discount system) with the lens kit. The major camera stores in Japan are already accepting pre-orders. In Japan, the camera is called EOS Kiss Digital X. The “X” is pronounced like the letter X, and not the number 10 although it is named after the 10 megapixels and being the 10th-generation Kiss camera (including the film models).

Web site in English:
http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelDetailAct&fcategoryid=139&modelid=14256

In Japanese:
http://cweb.canon.jp/camera/eosd/kissdx/index.html

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This is my response to some of the most common reactions in the dpreview forum to the 400D’s specs.

– If you want spot metering, buy a camera that has spot metering. This would resolve your problem.

– Don’t take a poll on whether people want to upgrade to the 400D before people can touch and feel the camera (and see the big, beautiful LCD screen) for themselves.

– I can understand 350D users thinking twice about upgrading. It’s really too soon unless you can afford to buy a new camera every 18 months or so. I myself have decided to upgrade with every other camera. I bought the 300D, painfully and regrettably skipped the 350D, but my patience will be rewarded with the 400D. For 350D users, the good news is that the 400D uses the same battery and vertical/battery grip as the 350D. The 400D can use the same accessories as the 350D.

– Not sure about how much battery power the new LCD monitor will require, but you can turn off the LCD monitor with the DISP. button so it stays off. Convenient if you want to really conserve power and not attract attention with a big, bright monitor. But it may be terribly inconvenient not being able to see the current camera settings. Well, just press the DISP. button again to see it, then turn it off again. It’s like using the old Illumination button at night.

However, when you turn off the LCD monitor, you cannot tell whether the camera’s power is on or off. This is why the camera now has a power lamp on the top (right shoulder). It lights when the power is on while the LCD monitor is off.

– The new LCD monitor reminds me of the iPod when it switched from the ugly-gray liquid-crystal display to the bright and colorful color screen we see today. It will be hard for me to turn it off. And so, before you decide for or against upgrading or purchasing anew, run out to your nearest dealer when it becomes available and see for yourself.

About the grip

Yes, the grip is very slightly larger than the 350D’s. Thicker by 1mm. There is also a rib on the camera back, besides the rubber patch.

At the Canon showroom, I compared the 350D and 400D side by side, I held both cameras and both felt virtually the same in my hands. However, I’m not a 350D user, so perhaps a 350D user will feel the difference more than me. But a 300D user (like you and me) will probably not feel the difference.

They could not make it too much bigger because they wisely want to keep the camera compatible with 350D accessories (like the vertical grip).

I’m sure Canon went to great lengths to very successfully downsize the camera from the 300D. It was understandable from a marketing point of view. During the time of the 300D, Pentax had a D-SLR which was smaller and lighter (I think the smallest and lightest in the world.). Canon had often made that claim for their previous SLR cameras. And they most likely wanted to reclaim the “lightest and smallest in the world” title (among D-SLRs with interchangeable lenses).

So I don’t think they will want to make the camera significantly bigger than it is now. If you really want a bigger grip, buy a bigger camera. I for one am willing to get used to with the crampiness in exchange for smaller size and weight. My 300D has never felt “heavy” at the end of the day, even after carrying it around all day long under the hot sun or while hiking up hills and mountains. My priority is light weight and small size. I travel a lot, and I carry not only a camera and lenses, but a laptop, AC adapter, portable HD, digital video camera, compact digicam, etc., etc.