Best digital SLR in its price range? EOS 2OD

Canon's EOS 20D is an 8.2Mp D-SLR (digital single lens reflex) which - at $2699 for the body alone (or $2899 with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens) - is aimed at keen amateurs and professionals.

Most obviously, Canon has increased the resolution from 6.3 to 8.2Mp, delivering images with 3504x2336 pixels and sufficient detail to make A3 inkjet prints which look great. Crucially for professionals, there are now enough pixels for 10x8in reproduction at 300dpi (dots per inch).

Images are stored on CompactFlash cards, although, as with other D-SLRs, you'll need to buy your own. Files can be recorded in JPEG or RAW formats, and in a neat improvement over the 10D, you can record RAW files with matching JPEGs at any quality setting. Top-quality JPEGs measure about 3MB each.

The 20D can take any Canon EF lens and, unlike its predecessor, is compatible with the growing range of Canon EF-S lenses. Like all D-SLRs in this price range, the sensor is physically smaller than a frame of 35mm film, resulting in the effective focal length of all lenses being multiplied by 1.6. So the new 17-85mm EF-S lens acts like a 27-136mm one.

At first glance, the 20D's tough magnesium alloy shell looks the same as the 10D, but Canon has not recycled the body. The 20D is actually a fraction smaller and more than 100g lighter, making it closer in size and weight to the budget 300D. It is, however, considerably better built and will stand up to professional use. There's also a USB 2.0 interface and the built-in flash pops up higher than on the 10D, reducing the likelihood of larger lenses casting shadows.

The improvements are apparent from the moment you begin. Its start-up time is a fraction of a second compared with more than two seconds on the 10D. The new nine-point autofocus system is faster than its predecessor and continuous shooting has accelerated from 3.3 to 5fps (frames per second) with a 23-frame buffer, compared with the 10D's nine frames.

In terms of exposure, there is a choice of Program, Auto, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, along with five scene presets. Shutter speeds range from 1/8000 to 30sec plus bulb, and sensitivity runs between 100 and 3200 ISO.

The 20D is responsive and feels tough enough to handle anything; it's more like a pro body costing two or three times the price. Picture quality is superb; the two extra megapixels provide considerably greater detail than 6Mp D-SLRs, without any compromise in electronic noise levels. Resolution and noise levels are virtually identical to Canon's professional 1D Mark II, which costs $8385. Sure, the Mark II has a larger sensor with 1.3 lens multiplication and supremely quick 8.5fps burst-shooting, but the 20D comes surprisingly close in many respects.

This is much more than an improved version of the 10D. It's a far superior camera in almost every respect and one of the best D-SLRs at this price. Enthusiasts will be happy to trade up and many professionals will be more than satisfied by its performance. A raft of new SLRs may be on their way from rival manufacturers, but they'll have to work hard to beat the 20D.

High-end consumer vs professional sensors

The Canon EOS 20D may have the same 8.2Mp resolution as many high-end consumer cameras, but there's a big difference between their sensors. At 22.5x15mm, the 20D's sensor has almost six times the surface area of the so-called 2/3in sensors in the latter category, and therefore physically larger pixels. These, in turn, result in much lower noise levels even at high sensitivities.

Interestingly, Canon's 8.2Mp professional 1D Mark II has a bigger sensor still, at 28.7x19.1mm. Despite its smaller sensor, the 20D manages to match the 1D Mark II's impressively low noise levels.

In brief: Canon EOS 2OD

The EOS 20D offers professional handling, quality and features at an affordable price. You get 8.2Mp resolution, instant start-up, fast focusing and decent burst-shooting. One of the best D-SLRs for the money, for enthusiasts and professionals alike.

PRICE: $2699; VENDOR: Canon; PHONE: (02) 9805 2000; URL: www.canon.com.au

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