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May 20, 2008

Renaissance Man: Reviewing the Canon 40D


Conde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker is on a mad quest to make himself into a modern-day Da Vinci during a month's stay in Europe. So far, Mark has "mastered" golf in Scotland, "excelled" at gardening in England, and "ruled" the kitchens of Paris. His next task: a camera review?

Gear Review: Canon 40D
If anyone out there has mistakenly concluded that I am a halfway decent photographer, allow me to clarify the matter. As a writer, I occasionally have the opportunity to work with professional photographers. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's this: equipment matters. I am merely the beneficiary of good equipment. And it shows.

Here's the issue: When most people travel, they want to take the lightest, smallest camera they can. The problem with these cameras is twofold. First, the lenses. Not only are they below average as far as color reproduction and image clarity, but they're also slow. That's camera talk that means they don't let in very much light. The second problem is the sensor--that microchip deep inside your camera that is the 21st-century equivalent of film. It's just not very sensitive, partly because it's too darn small. In low light, it doesn't produce good images. And when you add on a slow lens, the only way to capture an image when the sun isn't shining is with a flash. And flashes are the single biggest destroyer of photos in existence. The only good flashes, it seems to me, are big ones. And by big, I mean the kind that takes a cube van to move.

Crayfish and asparagus

Now here's the second problem: Most good travel situations, photographically speaking, happen in low light. Either you want to take a snap of that fabulously dressed dish of crayfish and asparagus in a dimly lit romantic restaurant, or you want to capture your child playing in the surf at dusk. The surest way to ruin the memory is by using a flash. The dish will look disgusting. Your child will look pasty and pale, set against a background of black waves.

What's the solution? Simply put, buy a bigger camera. What you want is an SLR camera with a good sensor coupled with a fast lens.

Wine glasses

There probably isn't a perfect camera-lens combination out there--or maybe there are a whole bunch--but the Canon 40D coupled with the 17-55 IS lens is as good a combination as I've ever used. The camera is way bigger and way heavier than one of those credit-card-sized point-and-shoots you can fit in your breast pocket. But the sensor is darn good at sensing. The lens is not only fast, it has a built-in feature
called image stabilization that allows it to capture images at very slow shutter speeds, even with a slightly jiggly hand. (Some cameras--even some point-and-shoots--have this kind of technology built right into the camera, but the consensus seems to be that it works better when it's contained in the actual lens.)

Shrimp and oysters

The photos depicted here were all taken in low light. Rest assured, they would have looked awful if I'd used a point-and-shoot camera. I'm not saying they'll win me any kind of photography award. But the bigger point is this: The images look the way I remember them looking. To me, that's well worth lugging around a bit of extra weight.

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More Eurotrash pics please.

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The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

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