After last year's disappointing EOS 400D -- a solid camera, but one that didn't improve significantly over its predecessor -- the Canon EOS 450D comes as a welcome change, and a model worthy of upgrading from your old 350D. It may have a typical, uninspired body design and modest feature set, but where it really counts -- performance and image quality -- the 450D manages to stand out from the crowd.
Canon offers two body designs for the 400D, an attractive solid black and a less-attractive two-tone silver and black. Each comes in a body-only (around £550) or single-lens kit with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (around £600). This is quite unusual, since most manufacturers also offer a dual-lens kit for this market. We tested the kit, as well as tried it out with the new EF-S 55mm-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS lens.
Slightly larger than the 400D, the 450D shaves a few grammes off the weight to 524g. Its smooth plastic body still feels a little on the cheap side, and we're not crazy about the grip. We can't quite put our finger on the reason why: it's not especially shallow, and Canon has improved it over the 400D's with a more rubbery feeling cover. Still, we don't find it as comfortable to hold as most other dSLRs.
The larger 76mm (3-inch) LCD necessitated some changes to the control layout from the 400D's, and we prefer the new over the old. Almost all the buttons lie under your right hand, and each feels slightly different so that you can grope them without looking. None require two-handed operation: when you push the button to change ISO, white balance, metering and so on, the menu persists while you navigate the options.
The biggest operational advantage the 450D offers over competitors is My Menu, which it inherits from older models. With My Menu you can build a go-to list of the most frequently accessed menu settings -- in our case, for instance, Format and Live View settings. The menus can be, irritatingly, a little inconsistent and sometimes dumb, however.
For instance, you can change ISO sensitivity with either the dial or the navigation buttons, but can only navigate metering choices via the nav. Also, in some cases when you have two columns to navigate, as with Picture Style settings, it doesn't let you move to the right or left. It requires you to move all the way down the first column to get to the settings in the second column.
On some counts, the 450D offers some pretty impressive specs, highlighted by the 12-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor (for Canon's traditional 1.6x focal-length multiplier) and 9-point user-selectable autofocus system. The latter wouldn't be much of a standout if Nikon hadn't dropped to three-area AF in the D60.
We also mark the switch from CompactFlash to SDHC in the plus column. The camera also includes the same Highlight Tone Priority mode found in the EOS-1D Mark III, which helps preserve detail in the brightest portion of a scene. The 450D also includes Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer, which automatically adjusts contrast and brightness in case the image you captured isn't quite perfect. Introduced last year in the 40D, the Auto Lighting Optimizer is now available in all exposure modes and employs face detection to prevent the underexposure of backlit faces we complained about in the 400D (it works).
Remaining specifications are in line with the previous model. For example, shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/4,000 second with a flash sync speed of 1/200 second and the camera employs a 35-zone TTL metering system. Canon also offers the BG-E5 battery grip.