Conclusion - Pros

  • Superb resolution, good per-pixel sharpness (especially in raw files)
  • Good tonal response and dynamic range
  • Trademark Canon CMOS noise free images, remain detailed even at high sensitivities
  • Optional high ISO NR removes all chroma noise
  • Viewfinder bigger and brighter than predecessors
  • New features (live view, spot metering, MyMenu, Highlight Tone Priority, 14-bit raw) lift it above the typical 'entry level' and move closer to 40D territory
  • Improved continuous shooting, 3.5 fps and better buffering
  • Feels very fast and responsive in use
  • Good battery life
  • Compact, sharp stabilized kit lens (though it can't match the sensor's superb resolving capabilities)
  • ISO indication in viewfinder (finally!)
  • Lots of external controls including new ISO button give instant access to commonly changed functions
  • Contrast-detect focus in live view (though see cons, below)
  • Bright, clear 3.0-inch screen and clear, logical menu system

Conclusion - Cons

  • Average automatic white balance performance, still very poor under incandescent light
  • Limited exposure compensation range (+/- 2.0 EV)
  • Contrast detect AF so slow it's useless for most types of photography
  • Metering has tendency to overexpose in very bright, contrasty conditions
  • Default JPEG output may be a little 'over processed' for some tastes (raw far more flexible)
  • Flash must be up for AF assist lamp (although AF is good even in low light)
  • Automatic AF point selection unpredictable (use center AF, it's safer)
  • Occasional total focus failures (in our case only 5 or 6 shots in almost 2000)
  • New Auto Lighting Optimizer doesn't really seem to do anything
  • No mass storage USB support
  • A little pricey

Overall conclusion

The EOS 450D represents Canon's response to the increasingly crowded and competitive nature of the entry-level DSLR market. Where the original 'people's DLSR', the EOS 300D, owed at least some of its success to the simple paucity of competitors, the market in 2008 is a very different place indeed, and one that's seen Nikon (with the D40/D40x/D60) carve a sizeable slice of the action, and where Olympus, Sony and Pentax have strong offerings at price points unthinkable just couple of years ago.

It would appear that Canon decided the best way to avoid getting caught up in the melee was to aim just a little higher, giving the EOS 450D as much of a feature boost as it could without it treading on the 40D's toes. So although some of the upgrades are an entirely predictable box-ticking exercise (bigger screen, live view etc), there are some pleasant surprises too. The new sensor is superb, and from a resolution point of view puts the EOS 40D to shame without losing any of the high ISO performance that has been Canon's trump card for so long. Canon was never going to take any risks with its biggest breadwinner, and we feel the EOS 450D is a significant, albeit incremental step in the right direction. We're certainly happy to see the improved buffering, spot metering and ISO button / viewfinder display, as well as the improvement in the viewfinder itself.

These performance improvements (not just in continuous shooting but across the board) and new features make the EOS 450D feel a lot less intentionally crippled than any of its predecessors, and put some clear blue water between it and cameras such as Nikon's D60 or Olympus's E-420 (with a small price premium to match). In fact you can't help thinking that there is now a space at the bottom of the EOS range for a true 'entry-level' model, something the internet's rumor mongers haven't failed to notice either.

The EOS 450D feels like a mature product, it is capable of superb results (even if it's actually now good enough to reveal the limitations of the cheaper EF-S lenses) and it has a feature set that offers an excellent balance between beginner-friendly ease of use and the manual control / customization demanded by those wanting something a little more serious. The new stabilized 18-55mm lens is a distinct improvement on some of Canon's earlier kit zooms and the fact it only adds $100 to the body price is a real bonus. That said, you really need to be using primes and pro-level zoom lenses to really see what the sensor is capable of.

Of course no camera is perfect and the EOS 450D isn't without its annoying foibles and weaknesses; the default JPEG output is very punchy but it's a bit 'over cooked' for my taste (too bright and contrasty) and I found myself using RAW even more often than normal. The metering occasionally gets it wrong and I'd recommend turning off the auto focus point selection as it can get jumpy and produce unpredictable results (if the focus is wrong the metering, which is linked to the AF point, gets it wrong too). But the overall hit rate is very high, and virtually all the things we found to complain about can be dealt with easily if you know your way around a camera, or by shooting RAW if you don't like Canon's processing.

We're still not keen on the handling (the small grip means it doesn't sit as comfortably in the hand as, for example, the Nikon D60 or Olympus E-520) and we'd love to see a second control wheel - and like most current SLRs the live view feature is of limited use outside the studio - but we've moved far from 'deal breaking' territory here.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Canon at the sales counter is that the EOS 450D costs too much to compete with the real entry-level DSLRs and and - on paper at least - cameras such as the Sony Alpha 350 that offer a lot more bang for your buck. But compared to many of its competitors the EOS 450D just feels like a more 'sorted' camera; in the half decade since the original 'Rebel' the line has matured to the point where we have to dig pretty deep to find anything serious to complain about.

Canon may no longer be the automatic choice for the entry-level SLR user, and I possibly wouldn't recommend it over a Nikon D60 or Olympus E-420 for absolute beginners or anyone wanting 'point and shoot' access to well optimized JPEG ouput. But if you want to move to the next level of image quality and performance, and are prepared to take control of parameters (and ideally shoot raw) to get the best possible results, the EOS 450D is an easy recommendation.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 8.5
Image quality 9.0
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 8.5

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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