The main thing I want from camera performance is to not notice it, and the Canon EOS 20D passed that test. It shot when I wanted to shoot, focused when I wanted something sharp, and let me look through images quickly when it was time for a break. With the 20D, I never had to waste time and miss shots waiting for the camera.
If you're a sports photographer and need market-leading shooting speed, you should step up to the Canon EOS-1D Mark II, but for everyone else, the 20D will provide excellent speed and responsiveness. I was impressed with the 20D's autofocus performance in low light. The camera uses a new nine-point system, and you can select Canon's Predictive Servo AI subject-tracking method or plain single-shot autofocus. Shutter lag is negligible at 0.3 second with autofocus and a mere 0.1 second when focus is already set.
With an EF 24mm-to-70mm f/2.8L USM lens and 256MB SanDisk Extreme CompactFlash card, the EOS 20D took just 0.6 second to start up and capture a photo. Its shot-to-shot time for high-quality JPEGs came in at 0.5 second, and you can capture nine raw or six raw+JPEG shots with a shot-to-shot time of about 0.6 second before the camera starts slowing down.
In the continuous-shooting drive mode, you can capture six raw or raw+JPEG shots in a burst, and in our continuous-shooting test with highest-quality JPEGs, we actually captured as many as 30 shots in a burst rather than Canon's official maximum of 23. Canon rates its continuous-shooting speed at 5fps; we clocked it at about 4.8fps, which is pretty close.
The focusing screen on the EOS 20D is bright and clear, although the viewfinder shows you only 95 percent of your scene. I know that a 100 percent view requires more engineering than £1000 can usually buy, but it would have been nice to have closer to 98 percent. The 46mm LCD is slightly small by current standards, but it provides a reasonably bright and sharp image in most lighting conditions.
The pop-up flash rises higher above the camera body than the 10D's, which should result in more pleasing shadow angles and less red-eye. Unfortunately, its placement is far from perfect: When I shot close up with a wide lens and the pop-up flash, the lens cast a very noticeable shadow at the bottom of the frame. Either check the flash results with your lens of choice before you take the 20D out for the night, or get yourself an external flash unit. Canon rates the pop-up flash range at 3.5 to 4m at ISO 100. The 20D's E-TTL II technology improves flash metering and provides support for multiple remote flashes.
The included BP-511A 1,390mAh lithium-ion battery provides good but not outstanding life. During one six-hour stretch of field testing, I equipped the 20D with a 550EX external flash, left the camera on so that I could wake it up just by tapping the shutter release instead of flipping the power switch, and frequently reviewed images on the LCD. The fully charged battery gave me about 250 raw shots this way. Canon provides a compact charger that's convenient for travel.Image Quality
The Canon EOS 20D not only retains the low noise and smooth tonality of its predecessor, the 10D, it improves upon them. Photos shot from ISO 100 all the way up to the camera's ISO-3,200-equivalent Hi setting are clean enough to produce good-looking prints. That's an impressive range and, combined with the 20D's excellent low-light autofocus, makes this camera a great choice for night photography (just watch out for the shadow-casting, pop-up flash). The low noise levels also work nicely with the camera's class-leading resolution to make it an excellent choice for photographers who want to make large prints.
Colours came out well saturated and generally accurate, although reds tended to shift slightly. How vivid your colours look will depend on the set of parameters you select. Shooting JPEGs results in slightly warmer images, while raw files render colours more accurately. Using the automatic white balance indoors also produces a very warm image, although the camera's white-balance settings work well in general. Evaluative metering seemed to expose for highlights more than shadows, giving results that leaned toward underexposure. Partial metering was predictably more precise.
Canon dSLRs have typically used comparatively low sharpening at their default settings, and the 20D is no exception. To get the sharpest, best-looking results, I shot raw images, then used a high sharpness setting when converting them to TIFF or JPEG format in the included Digital Photo Professional software. Of course, the sharpness of your photos will depend on the lens you use as well. My sharpest results came from Canon's EF 24mm-to-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. I also got excellent photos with the EF 16mm-to-35mm f/2.8L USM and the EF 70mm-to-200mm f/2.8 USM lenses, but they were a hair less sharp. If you're planning to use older lenses, you may capture softer images.
Additional editing by Nick Hide