CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Canon EOS 10D review: Canon EOS 10D

Canon EOS 10D

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read
If you're looking for a first digital SLR, they don't get much more appealing than the 6.3-megapixel Canon EOS 10D. Replacing the popular D60, the 10D provides improved image quality and a slightly more streamlined design without sacrificing the broad accessory and lens compatibility of the EOS line. Though professionals will still sigh longingly for the finer controls and the better performance and image quality of the far more expensive EOS 1Ds, the 10D makes a great choice for those seeking the flexibility and quality of an SLR without the sticker shock.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.


Canon EOS 10D

The Good

Great value for a digital SLR; broad, flexible feature set; excellent performance; very low image noise.

The Bad

Idiosyncratic metering; hard to get tack-sharp images; no spot metering; RAW utility doesn't pass EXIF information to extracted JPEG files.

The Bottom Line

Though not without its quirks, the 10D is a great candidate for a first digital SLR.

The custom function menu crams a lot of options into a small space.
For the 10D, Canon employs a functional, fairly typical digital SLR (dSLR) design, making only a few departures from this camera's predecessor, the D60. Without a lens but with a CompactFlash card and battery installed, the 10D's solid-feeling black magnesium-alloy body weighs nearly two pounds but fits comfortably into your hand. Most buttons and control dials are clustered on the top right and back left of the camera, while the mode dial sits on the left-hand side of the camera top--a sensible choice.
You use a right-hand thumbwheel on the back to navigate the simply organized LCD menu system and change selected settings; you change others via a dial behind the shutter-release button. There are two on/off switches on the back. One controls the main power, and the other turns the thumbwheel off and on; we find the latter relatively useless, as the thumbwheel isn't really susceptible to being turned accidentally.
"="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
"="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-200-DT5.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
You change frequently used settings with combinations of button presses and scrolling with either the top dial or the back dial.

On the expansion front, the Canon rates high. You can use any Canon EF-mount (or compatible) lens, of which there are more than 50 currently on the market, as well as Speedlite external flash units. Don't forget to apply a 1.6X conversion factor to calculate the effective focal lengths of the lenses you use. The 10D supports the same battery grip as the D30 and D60 before it; the grip supplies duplicate controls positioned for vertical shooting. And unlike the lenses of some other dSLR manufacturers, Canon's professional L-series lenses for film cameras use much of the same extra-low-dispersion optics and technology found in lenses designed specifically for digital use. Canon packs in the perfect set of features for both beginning and intermediate SLR users, with the baffling exception of spot metering. Like the D60, the 10D provides six basic scene modes in addition to programmed automatic exposure: Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, and Flash Off. An automatic depth-of-field mode provides a useful transition tool between fully automatic and aperture- and shutter-priority operation. It doesn't offer the more precise control of the manual depth-of-field mode on the 1Ds, which lets you select the near and faraway subjects you want in focus, but it works well within its limitations.
Straddling the line between the consumer and professional worlds, the 10D offers both a pop-up flash and a hotshoe for attaching more powerful units. As on Sony's consumer cams, the 10D's Flash Exposure Lock lets you shoot relatively accurate flash exposures in total darkness by metering a preflash burst.
"="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
Unusual for a digital SLR, the 10D includes a variety of scene modes for automatic shooting.
"="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-200-PT.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
In addition to USB and video-out connectors, the 10D has PC and remote-control terminals, although there's no FireWire port.

You'll also find the more nuanced capabilities to which advanced dSLR users have become addicted. You can bracket white balance as well as adjust it in increments of 100 degrees Kelvin. And in addition to sRGB, the camera supports the Adobe RGB color space. The seven-point autofocus system allows automatic or individual focus-point selection. As with other cameras, you can define what various buttons and dials do, select between one-half- and one-third-stop compensation increments, and customize the order in which bracketing operations occur. If you don't have the luxury of spending time adjusting the parameters of RAW files after a shoot, you can adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and color tone in-camera. Light-sensitivity settings reach as high as ISO 3,200 and start at a nice, clean ISO 100 (as opposed to ISO 200 for the competing Nikon D100, for example). The 10D also provides FAT32 support to enable the use of CompactFlash cards larger than 2GB.
There are a few features for which we'd prefer more flexibility. For instance, in burst mode, you can't choose between single and continuous autofocus--continuous kicks in automatically whenever the camera or the subject is moving. And while we appreciate the ability to capture RAW and JPEG files simultaneously, the only way to get the JPEG file is to extract it using Canon's less than fabulous RAW processing software, which doesn't even pass through the EXIF information. It would have been nice to have voice-annotation recording, too--a feature that can come in handy if you need to keep track of lighting setups or information about subjects.

The proprietary lithium-ion battery lasts for about 400 shots with heavy LCD use for in-camera editing.
Though it feels a bit sluggish compared with a typical midpriced amateur film SLR, the 10D definitely operates fast enough to capture all but the sportiest of action. It's ready to shoot in less than 3 seconds after you turn the power on, and RAW files take only about 6.5 seconds to write to the CompactFlash card. Thanks to minimal shutter lag and shot-to-shot latency, we had no trouble catching kids at play, composed exactly the way we wanted.
In practice, the 3fps-rated drive mode averaged about 2.3fps shooting RAW files and high-quality JPEGs; low-quality JPEG increases that to only about 2.6fps. A bigger drawback is the fixed nine-frame capture limit; it would be nice if you could sacrifice some quality to grab more shots. Saving those nine RAW frames to the CompactFlash card takes less than 15 seconds, though you can start shooting again before the buffer is emptied. In drive mode, the viewfinder displays the number of shots that the buffer can accommodate but not how many will fit on the card.
The viewfinder uses a fixed screen to provide a clear and bright 95 percent view of your frame. Canon makes reviewing images fairly painless. Jump mode will let you scroll a page full of thumbnails at a time, and you can zoom in close enough to see how sharp a shot is. LCD visibility in sunlight is satisfactory, though you may want to find some shade for a card-clearing session. We had mixed reactions to the photographs we shot with the 10D; it's capable of taking first-rate photos, but results vary unpredictably compared with those of other dSLRs. For instance, using the evaluative metering for shooting evenly lit scenes yields excellent exposures and color saturation. The same metering used in backlit settings overcompensates, blowing out highlights and washing out the entire picture, rather than underexposing the subject as you'd expect. Instead, you get excellent exposures and colors using the 9 percent partial metering with a strong light source, with which you'd expect to see blown-out highlights. This is true with the flash as well. There are circumstances in which we think the absentee spot meter would have worked even better, but the partial mode seems to work best under the broadest set of circumstances.

We give the 10D high marks for color accuracy and dynamic range.
The quality variability applies to image sharpness, as well. With Canon's amateur lenses--specifically the EF 28mm-to-80mm f/3.5-5.6 II and the EF 24mm f/2.8--images generally appeared softer than photos from the Nikon D100 or even the Canon D60. Results were better with the professional EF 100mm-to-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS image-stabilizing lens and EF 16mm-to-35mm f/2.8L USM lens that Canon supplied to us for testing. However, even with those, we could get the sharpest results only when zoomed in tightly on the subject, regardless of aperture value, focus method, tripod use, photographer, or sharpness setting. We also noticed more purple fringing with the less expensive lenses. If you're planning on buying the 10D to maintain compatibility with your existing lens collection, you should keep these factors in mind.

When zoomed in, the 10D's images come out nicely sharp and detailed. Here, you can see the weave of the fabric flower.
Once you've assimilated the camera's quirks, however, enjoy the low noise for which you traded sharpness. Images shot at ISO 100 are extremely clean; in fact, we didn't notice any significant noise until we set the camera as high as ISO 800. And with one unsurprising exception--automatic white balance under tungsten lights delivers Canon's trademark Creamsicle color cast--the white-balance algorithms also work extremely well.
"="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-120-SIC3.jpg" width="120" height="90" alt="" /> "="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-120-SIC4.jpg" width="120" height="90" alt="" /> "="" --="">/sc/20893259-2-120-SIC5.jpg" width="120" height="90" alt="" />
The 10D keeps noise under control at settings as high as ISO 400 (left). With the camera at ISO 800, we start to see a little noise (middle), but it doesn't become seriously bad until ISO 1,600 (right).

Canon EOS 10D

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Image quality 8