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Make the transition: Film to Digital (Film vs Digital)

Now that I have had my Canon 10d for several years, I can confidently state that I am happy to have made the switch over to digital from film. For a long time, I waited for the right camera, and kept waiting with anticipation on any future news from Canon at PMA. In trying to decide whether or not the Canon 10d was a dSLR worth switching to, here is a list of what I went through:

The end of Film!

Most of the major film camera manufacturers are now ending the development of their film bodies, and focusing completely on digital. This is a significant turning point in the industry, as it really shows how much the digital SLR market has matured in the eyes of the consumer.

Recent announcements:

My initial worries about this camera:

  1. Concern about the 1.6x multiplier. Originally, I saw this as a big limiting factor. Not only did my current primes no longer match with their intended uses, I stressed over the lost wide-end. NOW, I see it this way: Canon will probably keep the APS-C sized sensor in this price range, and I now get better telephoto reach with my current lenses (eg. 70-200/4L). Might as well give in to the APS sensor, as it will probably be here for another year (and maybe more, in this price range).
  2. Concern about the AF "issues". Of course, throw in some extensive reading through forums like this one, and any new user could come to the conclusion that there was an AF epidemic. Solved this issue by buying locally, and ensuring that I could get it right if necessary. Well, as my luck would have it, my new 70-200/4L showed bad backfocus near the wide end!!! Talk about disappointing. Well, some testing soon afterwards with collimator and in-the-field revealed that only my 70-200/4L had a focus issue, not my Canon 10d. So, I sent my 70-200/4L to Canon Canada for recalibration, and the focus was close to perfect.
  3. Concern about relatively "low" resolution, compared to film. For the longest time, I kept thinking about the 10d in terms of quality 8"x10"s requiring 8x10x0.3x0.3 = 7.2MP. Finally I came to the understanding that since the ISO digital "grain" is much "cleaner" than film grain, less than 300dpi can still yield high-quality results.


Summary of my Canon 10d experiences:

Positive Features

  • Autofocus is fast and dead-on (as seen especially in my Canon EF 100/2.8 USM macro or Canon EF 17-40/4L shots). Focus had more deviation (but still no significant front/back bias) with the cheaper Canon EF 50/1.8 Mk II, but this is to be expected from the non-USM. My 70-200/4L showed consistent moderate back-focus wide-open at short focal lengths (70mm), but this was solved after sending to Canon for recalibration.
  • Instant 10x review is great for ensuring immediate focus on hard-to-get shots. My Elan II would have forced me to develop, print, scan and enlarge -- a much longer turnaround time (definitely not on-location!)
  • Travel shots will be captured, rather than "messed up". Too many times have I travelled to a place I will never see again, only to take a shot and wished later that I had noticed the flare, bad focus, etc. And of course there is the whole exposure issue with very creative scenes when one has decided to start a roll of transparency film!
  • Fleeting expressions. For fashion / portraiture, I can now hopefully continue shooting until I capture those expressions the way I want... instead of waiting a week for my Fuji Provia 100F slides to come back. Of course I could never shoot that same model (with the same perfect makeup and styling) again, and ask her to do the same shot without blinking... one week later!
  • ISO freedom. In the past, I have had to carry a large amount of film on a trip, only to worry about predicting which speed / type to use for a given period of time. Having to resort to mid-roll rewinds just to switch from Provia 100F to Kodak Portra 400VC was such a hassle and was fraught with worry over double-exposures.
  • ISO sensitivity. Shooting at 400 yields great results. Especially with noise-reduction software, shooting those rare candid shots at ISO 1600 are actually possible and recoverable. With film, I'd typically have to pass on the shot.
  • Multi-shot mode. Finally I can use the 3fps mode without worrying about how much money I'm blowing just to get a single shot!!! This is such a great advantage. I can now take those wildlife / action shots and have a much greater chance of capturing them, where with the Elan II I would wait for the optimum moment, and invariably just miss it (as the standing bear turns around and runs off). I guess if I had more disposable income, this would be a non-issue.
  • Roll change-over diminished. How many times in the past have I shot an event where I have tried to "ration" out my shots so that I end a roll near a period of time where I don't expect anything exciting to happen... only to be totally wrong and lose a shot during that 5-10 second fumbling pause.
  • No need to worry about scanning issues. I kept wondering how much money I'd have to spend on a decent film scanner (to get enough Dmax, etc.), and eventually saved myself the worry.
  • Instant gratification for others. Found the slideshow feature (when connected to a TV) great for family and others if you want to provide immediate display. I have found this to be more useful than I had expected. Unfortunately, I don't know how to disable camera information during display, so this can be somewhat distracting.
  • Depth of field preview. Although other cameras (such as the Canon Elan 7) had DoF preview, I didn't have it with my Elan II. This is very useful, although only for somewhat large apertures (due to through-viewfinder light loss).
  • Temperature sensitivity. I always thought of my 10d as being far more fragile and a poor weather performer. Well, as seen in my "COLD" thread posted on DPreview, I had zero "camera" problems when using my 10d in -35C/-31F weather!
  • Creative exploration. With my Elan II I would often use my Sekonic L358 Flashmaster to get my exposure and shoot manually for my creative or fashion shots. Now, I can afford to push the limits of creativity without worrying about wasted film costs.
  • More patience from your subjects! Now that you can give immediate feedback on the shots (and show them how beautiful you've made them / or what beauty you see before you :), they are much more likely to be subjected to a few extra shots to get it "perfect".
  • The ability to archive all of my shots indefinitely with redundancy. Now that I leave a DVD at home and at work to preserve all of my work, instead of having only a single cabinet of negatives, I can finally feel safer. I seem to attract bad luck (don't ask! you'll be sorry you did!), so more types of human/natural disasters can be averted now (hopefully).
  • Colour correction. Previously, (eg. when I had set up hot-lamps at home to do portrait shots) I would end up using considerable colour correction filtration (-20 mireds) to shift tungsten to daylight (I disliked using tungsten film). Such filtering would cost me a couple stops of light. Now, all I need is UV / circular polarizer, and that's it. Plus, I have the ability to warm up the shots at will (with custom Kelvin settings), rather than filtering and hoping that the local Fuji Frontier didn't try to color correct it out.
  • Easier workflow for retouching. Blemishes, etc. can easily be corrected, while they obviously required many more Analog-to-Digital steps in my prior workflow.
  • Colour management. Removing the scanning step removes another gamut conversion to the whole flow. Now, Adobe Photoshop CS can easily map the colour spaces to match the end printer, direct from the source.

Negative Features

  • Camera power-on time is a bit slow, but usually this delay can be absorbed by the time it takes me to take the camera out of the bag (I switch it on first, then remove from bag and set up the shot). This appears to be typical of the older dSLR processors. Newer cameras like the Canon 1Ds Mk II (with the DiGIC II processor) and even the Nikon D70 have seemed to drop this startup delay substantially. The Canon 20d significantly improved on this.
  • USB1.1. This is definitely slow, but since an external USB2 card reader costs nothing, this doesn't bother me.
  • Automatic DoF preview mode. Don't particularly like this as I don't see how I could use it effectively. At least my Elan II had a two-step selection process. This is a non-issue because I don't use this mode to set the aperture. Instead, I simply estimate the aperture (and then use the DoF preview button if necessary).
  • Tendency for blown highlights. With a zero-stop exposure correction, it does appear that highlights get blown out if one isn't careful with the dynamic range. Working with a 1/3 or 1/2 stop underexposure seems to solve this in most instances (although I rarely need to). In addition, shooting in 12-bit RAW allows the highlight range to be expanded.
  • Infrared less sensitive. With infra-red shots on the Canon Elan II, the sprocket-counter uses an IR sensor pair, which leads to some reports of fogging, however the resulting shots are great. While the Canon 10d obviously doesn't support IR-sensitive film, using a Hoya R72 or Kodak/Wratten 89B gel will improve the camera's sensitivity to the IR end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, the dSLR has an IR filter built-in, so the images will never be as good as a film-base SLR IR shot. Nonetheless one can get some decent results. Note that there is a company that will remove the IR filter from the sensor, but this pretty much makes the camera IR-only (recommended for Canon d30).
  • No infrared receiver. The Elan II allowed remote triggering of the shutter release with a cheap transmitter. This was very handy for group pictures (with me involved). The 10d doesn't have such a receiver, so one is left with only the timed shutter release mode. Wireless remote releases for the Canon 10d are very expensive. For all macro and long-exposure shots I simply use the 2 second timed release.
  • File naming mechanism. Only four digits are used to differentiate images, while five would have been better. The mechanism used to preset the sequence is rather cumbersome, but possible. In addition, it would have been nicer if the files were stored flat (perhaps 1000 images per folder), rather than only 100 images per folder. Update:After working with additional software (see below) to handle the download and cataloguing processes, I no longer feel that this was at all an issue.
  • Dust issues. As discussed on the equipment page, dust is a critical issue for digital cameras. But this issue is not limited to the Canon 10d -- nearly all digital SLR cameras suffer from dust issues. Some newer designs attempt to make it less visible.


Although there are a few drawbacks to the Canon 10d (in general and when compared to the Elan II), they are easily outweighed by the functionality and feature-set of the dSLR. It is the first digital SLR that offered enough to warrant the transition into the digital SLR world. Fortunately, Canon has made this process easy because of the early adoption of the fully-electronic EF lens mount, meaning that nearly all of the photographer's prior investment in equipment can be transferred to the Canon 10d.

It is expected that the successor to the Canon 10d, which is likely to be announced in September 2004 (Photokina), will probably incorporate the latest in technology. The camera will probably still offer 6-8 megapixels with the same sized sensor, giving the same 1.6x focal length multiplier (mindful of the fact that noise will typically worsen with smaller pixel elements), but have better weather-sealing, USB2, and other firmware tweaks.

UPDATE:The Canon 20d was released at Photokina 2004 and did incorporate many of the features I listed above. The only significant additions were: improved AF, ETTL-2, enhanced noise reduction. It did not, however, improve upon the weather-sealing. This is a feature that will probably remain in the professional Canon 1D line.

Overall I am extremely happy with the Canon 10d and am glad that I didn't try to hold out for a future model. I think it is quite possible that I will continue to use the 10d for many years, and not be inclined to "upgrade" to the next dSLR replacement.


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
 i think you need a venn diagram comparing them
 Interesting idea -- I'm not sure how much one would best partition the features, but I'll give it some thought anyway. Thx

Learn lighting, lighting, lighting. Learn the business end of it. What are your real costs. Market yourself. mike

2005-01-21samson adelusi

l am a young talented photographer that aspiring to take this work to a wide range.

l will need your counceling please.

l look forward to read from you.


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