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First of all, I'm not going to start raving about CMOS and DIGIC and FPS - mainly because I don't know what any of that means. Instead, I'm going to write a review for the non-expert audience out there - all you guys whose only experience of digital cameras is the one on your mobile phone that you use to take silly pictures of your mate picking his nose...
I bought my camera just over a week ago from Jessops, they have a rather nice silver version which caught my eye as I have been looking for a new camera for quite a while. I was looking for something under £1000, as I'm not a professional photographer, but I've done enough to know the difference between a bad photo and a good photo. My previous digital camera was about 3 megapixels, which gives you a photo of up to 6" by 4" before it starts to look pixellated (i.e. you can see the pixels). The 350D can give pictures of up to A3 size before you lose detail. So I'd been looking at this camera since it came out, drooling down the window and getting annoyed looks from the shop assistants, till last week when I saw that they had a special offer on the silver version, of around £120 off the RRP, bringing it down to £699.95 (the black version is £5 less but the silver looks cooler) so I thought "Now or never...".
Once I got the camera home, I reverentially took it out of it's box and fitted the pieces together - it comes with a rechargable battery, which you need to remove from the camera and charge in it's own charger which comes with the camera. This takes a remarkably short time to charge, only a couple of hours compared with the AA batteries I used in my old camera, which took about 14 hours to charge fully, and 30 minutes to discharge. The charger has a big light on it which changes from red to green when the battery is done. The battery life is also very good - I used the camera from Monday to Saturday before I recharged the battery, although I didn't have to recharge it.
The camera also comes with a standard 18-55mm USM zoom lens, which is great for taking portraits in the studio and landscapes outdoors. USM means "ultrasonic motor" - this means it is really quiet, you can hardly hear it when it is focusing. This type of lens also focuses really quickly, which is essential for action photos. The camera also came with the usual USB cord for attaching to computer/laptop (I'm building up a huge collection of these!), a cord for plugging it straight into your TV - photos don't look so good on the TV though, as the screen resolution isn't as good as on a pc screen - also with a canon shoulder bag - the main disadvantage of which is that it says "CANON" on the side, a great advert for potential muggers!
Also included are 3 CDs of software. I have only loaded the basic picture package up so far, as I already have plenty of image software on my laptop. The software I've loaded is mainly for organising and storing the pictures to your computer. The other CDs contain image manipulation software - but I already have photoshop so no point loading this.
There is a great little manual with the camera, small enough to fit in your pocket to take with you when you're out and about using the camera. All the features of the camera are explained in very easy to understand terms - "if you want to do this, press this button, then this button... etc" - there is also a quick-start guide, which tells you how to fit the lens and battery into the camera as well as the strap - which was the most fiddly bit! - and then goes on to give a very simple explanation of how to use the custom white balance function. This is very useful, unless you want your mates to look like they got their fake tan in the same place as David Dickinson… Under different light sources, things that are supposed to be white can look different colours, ordinary light bulbs can make the picture look yellow and fluorescent lighting can make everything look blue. You just take a picture of something white, go into the white balance menu, select the picture you just took, select "custom WB", and the camera then adjusts the settings for you to make the white look white. Every picture you take from then on will have the same settings so you don't need to do it again unless your light changes.
When you switch the camera on it is ready to take pictures straight away - no waiting for the camera's software to load. The camera is covered in knobs and buttons, which may seem daunting at first but once you've fiddled with it a bit you soon see what everything does - almost every feature in the on-screen menu has a button to access it quickly, so you don't have to scroll through the menu options to get at them. You can take 3 frames per second (in jpeg mode) for up to 14 frames - this is great for capturing motion, e.g. taking pictures of your kids at the school sports day as they cross the finish line!
One knob on the top of the camera is for selecting the various different modes. These range from fully automatic, where the camera automatically works out the lighting levels, white balance and aperture times, all the way through to fully manual, where you have to choose every setting yourself.
There are 5 pre-set modes, landscape, portrait mode, close-up, night portrait and sports mode. Each is pre-programmed to give you the best picture possible under certain conditions. Landscape assumes you are taking the picture in outdoors in normal light. Portrait assumes that you are within a couple of metres of the subject, and therefore don't need a long focal depth (this is the amount of the picture which is in focus). Close up assumes you are about half a metre or less away from the subject, and always brings up the flash in order that the subject is in sharp focus and anything behind is out of focus. Night portrait sets off a double flash (too fast for you to see) in order to bounce light off the background so that you can see the background as well as the subject - otherwise it will look black. Sports mode gives you the fastest shutter time possible in your light level, so that you can capture fast motion.
There are another 5 modes, Programme, Depth-of-Field, Aperture-Priority, Time-Priority, Manual. In Programme Mode you can save your settings and bring them up later. Depth-Of-Field mode gives you the greatest depth of field for your light levels. Aperture priority mode lets you set the aperture value, and the camera works out the time of exposure. Time Priority mode lets you set the time and the camera works out the aperture value (the size of the hole that the light comes in through). Manual, as I said, lets you choose every setting for yourself.
There is also a 7-point auto focus area (seen through the viewfinder), in the shape of a cross, 5 points from side to side, one up and one down - you can choose the focus point in the picture by holding down the focus-point button then choosing the point with the directional buttons (pretty simple) - this is useful if you want to focus on something in the foreground of the picture which is not in the centre, so you choose a focus point that is off to the side or above/below centre.
I haven't yet explored every feature the camera has to offer, but I have already found that when you take a picture in the portrait format (camera on it's side) the camera senses this and rotates the picture for you. I'm still reading through the manual and finding clever new tricks every time I do! The only thing that's niggling at me so far is that there's no place to attach a sync cord for setting off flash units in a studio, there's probably some other attachment that I'll need to get for this. This isn't a big problem when I'm taking outdoor shots, of course!
I would definitely recommend this camera to anyone who is looking for something better than a "snappy" camera but isn't willing to go the whole hog for a professional camera (which would set you back a couple of grand at least). The price may seem high at first, but it is well worth the huge number of features included and the great quality of the pictures. I love it, and I would wrestle in mud with anyone who tries to take it away from me...
*Edit, 4 weeks later*
I'm still in love with it, I'm getting better and better at using it now. I want to say a big thank you to Canon, I registered the camera with their website, and a week later they sent me a free memory card, which was great! Also, they put some vouchers in the box for money off accessories, i.e. more lenses, flash units and printers. I've put in an order for a 28-200mm zoom lens, which they will give me £70 cashback on. The vouchers only last till December though, so I will have to think about whether I want anything else to go with it.
I bought a printer at the same time as the camera (see other review for details) which I can plug the camera directly into, using PictBridge, and print photos directly from the camera without downloading them to my laptop. The camera has some image editing software inside it, so you can crop the pictures on the screen of the camera before printing, so you just print the bit of the picture that you want, you can also choose to print with borders or without.
I've also found that you can choose an option in the "Parameters" menu where you can shoot in black and white or sepia tone, though shooting in these formats is a little more difficult as you cannot use the automatic settings where it chooses the aperture and time for you, you have to set these yourself, so lots of practice required!
So, all in all, I'm still ecstatically happy, and the mud wrestling offer is still open...
That's about the longest review I've read and it was really nice to read. Thanks even though it's been about 2 years since you had it and it's dropped half its price, it's still rated one of the best cameras in its class.
parker-munn 02.10.2006 03:08
Thanks for the info; I still can't make up my mind about this camera though, is it that much better than one with lower resolution for most things, i wonder.