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Friday, February 22, 2019

Photography Fundamentals on a Budget - Canon EOS 40D

Photography Fundamentals on a Budget- Canon EOS 40D
February 2019, Carl Garrard

Well, this isn't my first run with the Canon EOS 40D. I've owned it in the past. For whatever reason that I'm unable to recall, I ended up selling it and buying the EOS 50D. Since then, working with my 50D has always left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, it was utter crap trying to do any shadow lifting in my post processing attempts. This is because of the horrible tick-tack-toe cross pattern banding issues- literally, it's the worst camera for banding I've ever owned or tested. On the other hand, properly exposed images were just fine. But because I love its handling and rugged comfortable nature so much, I learned to live with it's shortcomings and worked around them by concentrating on making perfect exposures that don't require any post processing exposure changes. Recently, If you have been reading the blog, I've been on a personal mission to find highly capable but affordable cameras for budding photographers wanting to get back to the basics and fundamentals of photography. The side benefit of this article may quite possibly bear out a replacement for my EOS 50D in the process. Let's find out just how good the EOS 40D is by today's standards, and whether or not I'd make this camera a recommendation to you.


Deciding and Purchasing a Canon EOS 40D

To start this project, I went back into my folder archives looking at the cameras I've reviewed or just evaluated in the past. I found an old EOS 40D folder with images in it that I've completely forgotten about, and so I was curious. This is a camera that I never reviewed online, but one I spent plenty of time using (apparently). Looking back at the images I made with that 40D, I am truly impressed especially in comparison to the images I've made with my 50D. In terms of post processing, raw file malleability, dynamic range, and overall noise, there is a massive improvement.

Not being the resolution-junky type, 10 megapixels is more than enough for photo work I do most of the time, and I would argue the same for any other photographer. And since the 40D files seemed better than my 50D files, I immediately thought that the 40D would be a good subject for an article like this. So off I go, and please, bare with me while I rant on about the 40D and cite the differences between it and its successor.

It's not a tank its a camera. It's built for a long life of image making.


So I decided to take my chances and looked at buying options online with the big four, Ebay, Amazon, BH and Adorama. The usual online retailers were flooded with used and new 40D's at prices from $55.00 used, up to $1,700.00 brand new in the box (yes, its amazing you can still get one brand new these days). I started with Ebay, and almost pressed buy-it-now several times on a few  listings until I checked with Adorama Camera. Again, they surprised me with a listing, an excellent plus rated 40D in the original box, for a whopping $129.00. This is exactly one tenth the price of the original MSRP. Done.




Well, good ol' Adorama came through yet again. When I unpacked it from the box, the 40D was is in nearly immaculate condition. The original box, over eleven years old, looked brand new too. This 40D is definitely in better than "excellent plus" condition and quite the deal overall. The icing, is that it had a low shutter count too, only about 5,900 exposures. The moral to you is that this deal wasn't hard to find, and that makes it easy for anyone to find a great quality used Canon 40D.


Finding a good condition Canon EOS 40D for under $150.00 was easy to do. Even a caveman.... never mind. I installed my own eyepiece magnifier which give me a view about as large as my full frame Canon 6D. I spend a lot of time looking through the viewfinder, my older eyes appreciate a big bright view.

Even though it was very clean out of the box. I immediately gave it my usual once-over custom Carl cleaning service with my blower, Zeiss glass cleaner, and the like. It's just tradition for any used camera for me. I prefer to get any remnants of a former owner off the outside of my cameras, and start fresh, so to speak. With sensor and viewfinder perfectly clear, and no visible wear on the body, its almost like I went back in time to 2007 and bought it new for $1,299.00. I love good first impressions like this, a great way to start this project.

The 40D accepts any EF or EF-S lenses, unlike my 6D. Options are nice when you need them.

Somehow the battery was even fully charged too, another plus, so I fired it up and immediately went to work getting the menu's and controls set up how I like. It didn't take me long to re-familiarize myself with the 40D at all, since the 50D and other Canon bodies are so familiar. After making a few frames and a thorough "couch time evaluation period", I wrote a mental list of what I apparently forgot about the 40D that either impressed me, or that I hadn't known before:

1.  Surprisingly includes a practical live view function with good magnification, exposure, and autofocus function. For some reason, I forgot it had live view. It's missing contrast detect AF (like the 50D etc.), but it's still a perfectly working live view in all practical sense. This alone changed my assumption and evaluation of the 40D.
2.   The feel and grip is identical to the 50D (bar a slightly softer rubber and smoother paint finish), just wrote an article on the 50D's grip. Amazing in hand, so is the 40D.
3.   100-3,200 ISO (with extension enabled) plenty of range.
4.   Slightly smoother camera finish is easier to clean.
5.   First Canon DSLR to reveal the beautiful menu design/layout, a similar version still used by new cameras to this day
6.   Pretty extensive customization of controls available
7.   LCD screen on the back is more detailed than I recall, almost no difference to 50D for my needs
8.   Excellent low light focusing/locking with the center AF point (it's  6D good, but way better than I expected)
9.   Build quality and tolerances are also better than I recall. No creaking, no gaps, well sealed
10. Ultrasonic dust removal, keeping dust spots off your sensor is crucial.

40D on left, 50D on right. You can see the difference in the finish, the 50D's is grittier which gives it a tad more grip, but its also harder to keep clean.

As a result of some time with the 40D, I've summarized that the 50D gains very little over the 40D, nothing I'd miss. But it lost more in some ways than it gained. For example, I don't need the useless higher than 3200 ISO settings, nor the more detailed screen, it's sensors banding issues, or the slow poke live view contrast detect AF mode either. Honestly I feel that the 40D is a better camera. It just works as well or even better than the 50D in real life use.

Pondering the past now, it's as if Canon's 50D was more of a hurried and panicked offering to a quickly changing DSLR market, more than it was a well sorted camera like the 40D. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Canon shakes this thing for you, like a million times a minute. Bye dust, hello clean images. It works, by the way. And that's all we should really care about in a camera too.

In addition to showing up the 50D, I've concluded that I like using the 40D even more than the EOS 7D or the 7D MK II in most respects- namely with handling and layout, but also with menu simplicity. And lastly, it's got better low ISO image quality than all of those cameras, which seems backwards for an older camera. Mid way into my evaluation, I asked myself what the hell have I been missing.... Then, I came to the natural conclusion that I'm definitely going to recommend this camera to my readers without any question at all.

Sure, there's no video, and you give up marginally higher resolution and better higher ISO performance of the newer 18mp and 24mp Canon's, but as a first camera- it's perfect so long as you aren't shooting pictures in a coal mine or printing billboards. But, maybe you are, and it's not for you. Hope you don't get the black lung pop.

So, lets dive into it. I'll comment further on my experiences with it and share some tips too.




The 40D is a robust, professional camera. It's frame is magnesium, it's weather sealed, and it has plenty of good guts inside to provide you years of reliable and excellent image making. This is a camera that just seems to work. The 40D won't  be the reason you can't make beautiful images.


Using the Canon EOS 40D

This adapter is golden. Just a few bucks on Amazon or Ebay, whatever. You can use a wifi-sd card or regular in lieu of a CF card, I find them my preferred choice for image storage.

With my Canon MG-Eb eyepiece magnifier and CF/SD card converter installed in the 40D , I am set. The latter allows me to not only use standard SD cards, but also allows transfer wirelessly through a wifi SD card to my phone. I have a 32 gig SD card in it, and I can shoot over 2,000+ images with full size Raw + Jpegs set. If I keep live view to a minimum, this battery can last an entire weekend of shooting on trips in cold weather, and I never have to worry about filling the card.


For quick grabs like this (driving to work) the 40D performed flawlessly. It focused quick enough to get a clear shot in a window of time that lasted less than 2 seconds on a busy freeway. Reliable, yep.

Literally, the 40D is a grab it and a couple of lenses and just go -kind of camera. Take it on a photography outing knowing full well that it will be reliable, comfortable, and capable in just about any circumstance. Get a weather sealed lens, and if you cant afford a Canon model, Tamron makes affordable alternatives that are not only less expensive, but look fantastic and perform at par with many Canon lenses. Sigma doesn't make many weather sealed lenses unfortunately, or I would recommend them as well. Fact is, you have lots of choices regardless.

What I really enjoy about the Canon 40D, ironically, is its live view implementation. I didn't actually think I would like it, but the combination of a quick mirror flip autofocus, silent mode 2, and a live histogram coupled with excellent manual focus magnification capabilities, simplifies the live view process immensely. For critical focus work, it is nearly perfect, and very quiet too (in the mode I chose) which can come in very handy for nature or indoor photography of all types. Pretty funny considering I forgot it even had it!


Another quick grab. Pulled over, and got this morning shot of a warming Crow (and two Mourning Doves). Using live view for this shot, focus was quick using the AF button, and accurate. So was my exposure, because the screen shows a live histogram. Almost too darn easy.

The fact that it doesn't have noisy and annoying constant refocusing as a result of the half press of the shutter, means that I focus once on my subject then compose and exposed properly after. So when taking away some functionality, I find that the 40D is actually easier to use in live view than other cameras. But, this only manifests itself while you're actually using it. It's quite a joy to use actually, but anyone sitting at home reading a specification sheet would think that the 40D is crippled compared to newer cameras, or that its way behind the times. In practice, the opposite is actually true!

But this is where I remind readers yet again, that using a camera makes all the difference about how much joy it can bring you -versus the misguided idea that the lack of some function would make you not want to use it. I like using the 40D so much for live view, specifically the way that it's implemented, that I'm going to set up my full-frame Canon 6D the same way (turn off contrast detect with the half press of a shutter release). In fact any camera that I use in the future, any DSLR that is, I intend on setting up in the same fashion going forward. In writing an article about teaching my readers something new, I've also learned a better technique myself.

That's marketing stuff, but whatever the engineers did for focusing, it just works. That's all that matters to me, a function that works. Auto-focusing is excellent and reliable on the center AF point. The others work really good in brighter lit situations. Use the center for dimmer circumstances. Or, just use all of the focus points when focus is crucial.

I am also impressed and how quickly and accurately the Canon 40D focuses when using the viewfinder in single and continuous autofocus modes. Considering that it has a PDAF system, I was also surprised to see how accurately it focused all of the lenses I have for my Canon system. Typically PDAF suffers from back or front focus issues of some degree, but I had no such issues at all with the 40D. This is yet another reliable way I can count on the 40D, that generates confidence in its use and design.


Any Gorillas in that myst? I was moving about 60mph when I made this single exposure through an open car window. Focus was very fast, the camera responded near instantly to my timing. I had about a half second window to get this shot just right. It's metering is also good, getting the exposure just right. Top of image cropped a bit for better symmetry in composition.

Overall I enjoy using the Canon 40D much more than I thought I would, it's minimal but effective feature set, it's excellent economics and rigidity, its reliability, all add up to a camera that is easy to get to know that also becomes second nature when you practice shooting with it. This is very important and cannot be understated.

When a camera becomes second nature to you, this is when you can focus almost all of your energies on your surroundings and composing your images. In essence, since the Canon 40D is so easy to use, it allows me mental space and energy to focus on being creative that otherwise might be used fiddling with a camera or menu diving. It allows me to pay attention to all of my surroundings and getting the damn shot right. I do not suffer camera stress when using it. This fact, is truly a mark of an excellent design. A camera that lets you forget about the fact that you're using a camera and instead lets you concentrate on the actual joy of photography, is how a camera always ought to be designed.

I think this point alone is the most important take away in this article that I wanted you to leave with.

In addition to the 40D being just a lovely wonderful experience to use, I'm very happy with the image quality that I see on my computer, especially when using raw and jpeg. Canon has excellent jpeg quality and it allows you to customize the output from the camera. If you're the type of person that doesn't want to use Raw processing in your workflow, this will benefit you.

However I must suggest, highly suggest in fact, that you also record a raw image every time you take a picture. Even if you never intend to process a raw file, later in life you'll appreciate that you did. By saving a raw file now, you've ensured that in the future you can manipulate those images, and create new Jpegs with it that degrade in quality over time.

Memory and storage are so cheap that is completely unwise to not shoot in Raw. Think of raw as the negatives that you get back from film processing. You save them for later and you never know when one day when you'll need to redevelop an image from the negative. Raw images and film negatives are future-proof insurance that will preserve your images forever.

Lastly, when I think of the EOS 40D compared to all of my current or previous Canon cameras, I feel its a sort of a perfect compromise between a few bodies.
  • Perfect handling and feel, like the 50D 
  • Large pixels and similar color profile, like the original 5D
  • Great low ISO IQ like my 6D (similar DR too)
  • Fast continuous shooting (6.5fps) and excellent locking continuous AF system like most Canon's
I like the 40D's image quality. I like its basic tools. It's easy to forget that I'm using a camera, and instead, just enjoy the view. There's peace in knowing you can rely on your equipment, sometimes we need all the help we can get.

Photography Fundamentals on a Budget: Concluding

Photography is just a mixture of timeless fundamentals. Practicing good fundamentals such as timing, exposure, and composition are necessary, challenging, and rewarding. There is no getting around this if you are going to become a better photographer. Yet, there are too many people that I come in contact with that get lost in a camera's complexities, set it to auto, and finally just end up just giving up on the hobby altogether. That's a shame. There's no challenge or learning when you set a camera to auto, and a camera shouldn't be so complicated that it frustrates you either.

For this fact alone, I'd probably recommend the 40D over many new cameras which today, all seem way too complicated for beginners. Newer cameras these days just seem to get in the way of the process of making a simple still image. Photography is a rewarding challenge, it shouldn't be frustrating or complicated. If your camera is frustrating you, then get a simpler camera. Sit on the couch with it. Learn a new feature by experimenting with one new thing at a time. Take pictures of your cat, your feet, your coffee cup, whatever. Learn what aperture does, how shutter speed affects exposure, how to manually control your camera- like a musical instrument. Use an instrument that is easy to play at first.

As a stand alone camera, I see nothing about the 40D that would prevent me from recommending it to someone, either an enthusiast or a beginner alike. This is a camera that would help anyone get back in touch with the very important facets of photography simply because it just fricken works well, and it has much fewer distractions than newer cameras do. All this, without leaving out some modern conveniences. Canon's EOS 40D is a well balanced camera, and it's on a short list of available options.

Is that rare snow falling on my local mountains as I'm driving home? Yep, it is. "Hmm, I should capture that moment.." I thought. So I reached over to the passenger seat, grabbed my 40D and made the shot.


As a crop sensor (aps-c) camera, it has its own (yet small) list of distinct advantages over say, a Canon 6D. As a result, I think that it's a great companion to a full frame DSLR such as the 6D simply because it offers a different sensor format size, and still includes a similar and familiar no nonsense it-just-works experience.  So for those of you reading, wanting, debating, ... to add a body to your kit, I'd say go for it. Ignore the newer options, and get something like the 40D instead. Learn to ignore chatter about the newest and best stuff, ignore the marketing campaigns of camera manufacturers and online "camera news and rumor" websites, and the camera forums. They will only steer you to buy new and unnecessary things, and you'll learn nothing.

Stick to watching more photocentric YouTube channels and videos, articles, and the like. Get into photography and learn. Get out and experiment. Or stay in your  house and experiment. But pick up a camera you really like to use, and don't accept anything less. You are worth it, and so is your photography. There's just too much emphasis on reliance and dependency on technology, and not enough being made on real effort and challenging yourself. What will the rewards be? Maybe you should find out.

Stay focused.

-Carl

I made this image in 2010.  I didn't think twice about anything, I turned my camera on, got my composition ready and focus locked, and waited for the geese to come into view. Performance was critical, I had time for only one shot. Not bad for an 11yr old camera.








2 comments:

  1. I am a Pentax user but I've used Canon a lot in the past. I sold my Canon 20D in 2017 and regretted it. In recent months I purchased a Canon EOS Elan II film camera and loved the experience of using it. I then began to think about purchasing a replacement Canon digital camera so that I could do comparison videos of scenes taken with film and digital using a Canon camera. I purchased a beautiful used Canon 40D on the UK eBay site; it had an almost identical shutter count to yours. It is still a good camera for many photographers in 2019. Unless you wish to use video and must have contrast detection.

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  2. Carl: leer tus comentarios es aire fresco, es sabiduría y amor por este arte...Gracias, amigo.

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