Canon EOS 350D review
There are usually some leaks and rumours around before the release of a product as important as the newest Canon digital SLR, but the 350D caught us by surprise given that our A-Listed 300D was by no means looking old. But here it is, and it’s certainly more than a minor revision.
As far as the physical design is concerned, the 350D’s body is noticeably smaller – and 110g lighter – than the 300D. To achieve this, the new model uses a smaller 720mAh battery, but power consumption seems to have been improved in proportion. We had no problems at all with battery life over the course of testing, taking hundreds of shots on one charge. The 350D uses the new DIGIC II image processor, identical to that in the more expensive EOS 20D, which Canon claims is responsible for reduced power consumption.
The camera’s main component – its image sensor – is brand new for the 350D and not yet used in any other models. It has an 8-megapixel output, and like all Canon sensors it’s a CMOS rather than a CCD device. Other manufacturers tend to use CCDs due to noise problems with CMOS, but Canon has that problem well and truly beaten. Like the 300D, the sensor is an APS-C-sized device and the lens mount is EF, allowing you to use standard Canon EF lenses. But the smaller sensor compared to 35mm film means that not all of the view of the lens is covered, giving an effective 1.6x magnification in focal length. In other words, a 50mm standard EF lens will give magnification equivalent to an 80mm lens when mounted on the 350D. To compensate for this, Canon has introduced the EF-S series lenses, with focal lengths adjusted to compensate and, it claims, with coatings designed to reduce ghosting and flare effects peculiar to digital sensors.
We had no complaints about the speed of operation of the 300D, but Canon has made the new model even faster. Startup time is so fast as to be non-existent – a claimed 0.2 seconds, but anything less than 0.5 seconds you can effectively call instant. Shot-to-shot time is faster too, with 3 frames per second in burst mode. Even more significant for sports photographers is the fact that the camera has a 14-frame buffer, up from the four frames of the 300D. And, in practice, the DIGIC II image processor is so powerful that with a fast Kingston Elite Pro CompactFlash card, the frame buffer wasn’t needed and we were able simply to hold our finger on the shutter taking three shots per second indefinitely. To get any faster than that you’ll have to spend another £2,000 on something like Canon’s own EOS-1D Mark II with its 8fps burst mode.
One thing to bear in mind is that the jump from 6-megapixels to 8 is not nearly as significant as, say, going from 4-megapixels to 6. Full-resolution images from the 350D are 3,456 x 2,304 pixels; from the 6-megapixel 300D they measure 3,072 x 2,048, not an insignificant change but not enormous, and in testing it was fairly difficult to tell the difference between the two cameras in terms of detail resolution. This is compounded by the fact that once you’re at the 8-megapixel level, the quality of the optics becomes an even more significant factor in the camera’s output. Canon supplied its very good 17-85mm USM (ultrasonic motor) image stabilising lens for testing: a £500 optic. Buying one of these lenses and popping it onto a 300D will give better-quality images than trading in your 300D for a 350D with a kit lens.
With such excellent basic hardware, Canon has to differentiate the 350D from higher-end models such as the 20D somehow, and that’s where some annoyances lie. The 350D has only three metering modes: matrix, centre-weighted average and partial. The partial setting gives you ‘semi-spot’ metering, using a 9 per cent area of the centre of the frame, but, like the 300D, a true spot mode is conspicuous by its absence; an artificial restriction that we’d have liked fixed for this model. One of the ‘new features’ of the 350D is also a definite retrograde step: press the dedicated shortcut buttons on the body for ISO, focus mode, metering mode or white balance, and you’re forced to use the colour monitor to see your changes – it isn’t shown in the mono LCD panel. This means first that you can’t use the 350D purely as a traditional SLR: you’re forced to use the monitor. Second, and more significant, it’s practically impossible to see the small menu text in bright sunlight; a genuine problem that could easily cause you to miss a shot while you’re shading the monitor with your hand and squinting at the screen. Given the other improvements to the speed of operation of the 350D, this is an irritating shortcoming.