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Review of Canon 40D/17-55 vs XTi/17-85 after trips to China

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I restarted my photography hobby in fall of 2006 when I bought the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D) for a trip to Hong Kong, and then Yunnan, China. My first dSLR. I also bought an used Canon 17-85IS lens and a new 10-22 wide angle. I didn't bring my 430EX flash nor my other lenses that time.

I hadn't appreciated the benefits of shooting RAW at that time, so everything was shot in JPEG. Here are the Yunnan photos:

rkkwan.zenfolio.com/f334779450/

After a subsequent trip to Italy, I sold the 17-85IS for about the same price I paid for it, and upgraded to Canon's 17-55/2.8IS. Then this past fall, I sold the XTi and upgraded to the 40D.

I just came back from a trip to Hong KOng and Sichuan. I took all my lenses - 17-55, 10-22, 50/1.4 and 70-300IS to Hong Kong, but only the 17-55 and the 10-22 to Sichuan. I also took my 430EX flash.

rkkwan.zenfolio.com/f1048124216/

Here's my comparison of the 40D vs XTi and 17-55 vs 17-85.

40D vs XTi (400D)

The 40D is a much more substantial camera than the XTi, which means bigger and heavier. That's a big minus for traveling, though I attenuate the situation somewhat with a new camera bag, the Six Million Dollar Home from Crumpler. I also have an Op-tech strap and the Habuka Grip LH to help with carrying and securing the 40D. After a few days, I start to forget about the XTi's virtue in this area.

There are many feature upgrades from the XTi to the 40D (though many of them are now on the brand new XSi). What I find most substantial include:

- Better focusing. I usually only use the center focusing point, and this point is fast, accurate, and works in very low light. Much fewer of my pictures are out of focus, and when they are, they're due to user error. The extra AF button also makes the process easier for me.

- Higher sensitivity. It has ISO3200, and its noise at 800 and 1600 are lower than on the XTi. I could take pictures from a moving car at dusk and still get acceptable shots.

- Better viewfinder. Significantly larger and brighter. I also swapped in the optional gridded focusing screen to help aligning the horizon. ISO numbers also great addition.

- Live View. Some may think it's a gimmick, but it's useful to take candid pictures with the camera hanging down my neck.

- Larger LCD and very fast loading of pictures from the card. When visiting the rural poorer areas, showing the kids their picture on the large LCD will always make them very happy and many will want more pictures taken of them.

- Larger capacity battery. Last much longer than the one in the XTi. Very comfortable with just having one spare even on days that I shoot over 400 frames.

Now, many of those features have been implemented on the new XSi, so the benefit of a 40D over a XSi is not as apparent. But with 40D prices starting to come down while XSi is new, the price difference also isn't that big.

One of the new features on the 40D that I thought would see more use are the three Custom Presets. I had it set for outdoor, indoor, and action criteria. I don't know why I didn't use them more often, though I probably should have; at least for the one I set for action.

Now image quality. I can't compare with the shots I took in Oct 2006, as I was shooting only JPEG then. But compared to more recent shots I shot in RAW on the XTi, there isn't a significant difference in image quality, apart from the higher sensitivity. One thing I did notice is the higher dynamic range. When processing the RAW files, I can pull back up to 2-stops of blown highlights when necessary.

17-55 vs 17-85 coming up.

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