Launched in February 2005, the Canon 350D marked another significant step forward in the rapidly evolving digital SLR landscape. Its predecessor, the 300D had changed the market and rate of adoption for “serious amateur” digital photography by offering a body that was capable, produced great results and above all was affordable to most who wanted one. No longer was digital SLR photography the domain of professionals and those with deep pockets.
The 350D raised the bar yet again for what people could expect from an entry level camera, whilst simultaneously lowering the price to an even more affordable level. On release the 350D was approximately £200 cheaper than the 300D had been and at around £600 you could pick up the kit which gave you everything you needed to get going, even though the 18-55mm kit lens was appalling. Simultaneously, retailers began selling off their stock of 300D’s for bargain basement prices. Suddenly, photography had become accessible to people on a whole range of incomes.
In this post:
- My personal 350D history
- Finally, the actual review…
- Features and Controls
- Performance – What’s it like to use?
- Image Quality
- Budget Best Buy?
- Sample Image Gallery
My personal 350D history
This was far too tempting to a young university student such as myself and just one year later in February of 2006, I spent the last of my student loan on a 350D – my first “real” camera. I was now a serious photographer, this was going to solve all of my problems caused by only having a lowly compact Ixus 500 and more than that, I had access to RAW files. Whatever that meant…
I spent many, many hours and days lurking in online photography forums trying to learn how to use and control an SLR properly. I knew absolutely nothing about how a camera worked back then, ISO, F stops, white balance, none of it meant anything to me.
At the time I was watching a lot of live music and so decided that would be a great opportunity to take some amazing pictures with my new toy. It was a massive learning curve. I took thousands of images as I learned, found out the kit lens was horrible, tried to understand low light situations and discovered ISO 1600 was massively noisy. In conclusion, I hadn’t a clue how to take a picture in a club environment and didn’t learn for months.
It didn’t take long before I started craving better equipment, but being on a student budget meant a 50mm F1.8 was as good as it was going to get. What an upgrade it was, I think I learned more from that one single purchase than anything else. Total crap in terms of build quality, but capable of producing some really nice images.
I took the 350D pretty much everywhere I went for the next two years and it recorded some of the most significant and memorable times of my life. During those years I learned so much in terms of technical knowledge, understanding how the basics work and trying to improve compositions.
My preference for photography changed over that time and I became more interested in night photography, street and portraiture. Anything really that I could do whilst walking about to get some much needed time to myself in relative peace. One thing always nagged at me about the 350D, though, and that is the size. It feels horrible to hold. It’s too small, too plasticky and awkward to grip for any length of time.
Eventually, in 2008 I bought a 40D to replace it and I’m fairly sure I sold the 350D on ebay to recoup part of the outlay on a brand new body. I never missed it, I never looked back and wished I’d kept it. That was until about 3 weeks ago when, after 16 years, I decided it was time to give it another chance. Well, that’s what I told myself to justify buying yet another camera body.
In all seriousness, as far as I’m concerned the 350D is as “new” a camera as I’m interested in, it’s almost verging on being too recent. Furthermore, it is a camera which surfs a fine line between being bargain basement and still costing a significant chunk for it to qualify as a truly bargain basement camera – and that’s what I’m looking for – great photography experiences that literally anyone can afford.
Anyway, enough of the history, is it worth a buy today?
Finally, the actual review…
I gave MPB another shot after they sent me a rattly 5D last time and, credit where its due, they did a great job this time. The camera arrived within 2 days, was well packaged in the original box and was cheaper than any 350D I could find on Ebay – and I’d spent a few weeks waiting for a cheap one to come up.
In terms of pricing, on Ebay it seems the 350D is still a relatively desirable camera with sales in the £35-50 range depending on what condition it is in and the accessories provided. This makes it more expensive than the 10D, 20D and 300D I’ve picked up recently and that means it has a lot to prove considering the absurd value for money all of those three bodies offer. MPB are far more sensibly priced and also much cheaper than any other second hand camera business I could find, so it was an easy choice in the end.
I went with a silver copy this time, just because it is something a bit different and not at all because I wanted it to match the 300D as well. Not at all…
It came with absolutely everything it would’ve had from new, just without the lens which is fair enough considering it was only listed as a body only. It’s a shame because I’d love to give you the kit lens experience, but they’re selling for silly money and there’s no way I’m spending more than £5 on one of those. I even scored three batteries with it so I’m able to shoot approximately 3,000,000 shots before the next charge. Should be enough.
Side by side, you can immediately see significant changes from the older 300D to the newer 350D and in my opinion there’s no getting away from it – Canon completely ruined the body design. The 300D feels good in the hand. It’s very obviously plastic, but it has a decent grip and you don’t feel cramped using it for long periods. The 350D is a whole different story, it’s vile to hold for any length of time, the grip is too small and feels insecure. The body itself is so light that some lenses really unbalance the camera and make it feel like an accessory to the lens you’re using.
Why Canon decided to do this is fairly obvious. They needed to begin differentiating these bodies significantly from their prosumer 20/30D bodies to give a real reason to upgrade or spend more on a better model. The 300D had come under criticism for being a deliberately crippled 10D with a slightly smaller body, and in many ways it was. The 350D is a clear “bridge” camera, designed to attract the widest possible entry level audience and to not overwhelm those for whom this is their first ever SLR of any kind.
Finally, the shutter sound. Every time you fire off a shot it just sounds so awful. This isn’t because my camera is broken, they’ve always sounded like this. If you’ve not heard it, I can’t really describe it other than to say it’s like a crunchy sneeze with a slap at the end. Imagine slapping someone whilst they sneeze with a handful of gravel. That’s what it sounds like.
No other Canon camera I’ve used makes this horrible sound when using it, so I’ve absolutely no idea what they did to the 350D but they really shouldn’t have. It seems like an odd thing to complain about, but that noise puts me off the camera so much.
Features and Controls
Although a new model compared to its older brother, the controls are almost identical. The 350D retains the horrible four way control buttons from the 300D but makes them slightly worse in that when you press them it fires up the menu on the lcd – they are effectively shortcut buttons and not actual function buttons. This isn’t great to use at all and I found myself missing even the 300D for the simplicity it gave.
What I really did appreciate, compared to the 300D, was the ability to change focus and metering modes without resorting to firmware hacks. Canon can’t have failed to notice that people react badly when you seem to arbitrarily turn features off for no reason other than to differentiate between two models. They also realised that it is probably cheaper to just enable the features than try to secure the firmware to the point where people would give up trying to reverse engineer it.
Where the 350D excels is in speed and response time. Compared to the 10D/300D generation, the difference is astounding. At the time it was a surprise that Canon put their brand new Digic 2 image processor in this body, second only to their top of the line 1D Mark 2 which had been released at a similar time. This doesn’t sound too exciting, but what it means in practise is you have a camera which turns on instantly, has no lag between taking an image and being able to review it, faster card writes and a slightly higher burst rate. Not too shabby for an entry level machine.
Of course it is nice to have a more snappy user experience and it is certainly convenient when you’re in a hurry or want to shoot off the cuff shots without missing something, but it doesn’t quite seal the deal in terms of features and that is where the new sensor comes in.
The final big deal is the 8 megapixel sensor. For the budget photographer, this is probably the sweet spot in terms of file size, resolution, printable area and price. 8MP is enough to print a decent A4 picture with absolutely no degradation in quality, you can (and I did in the past) easily push that to A3 and there will be little to no reduction in quality. Bottom line, this is a decent sensor and more than enough resolution for most of us.
Performance – What’s it like to use?
To test the 350D out, I jumped on the train and went to Birmingham to do some street photography for the first time in a while. I had some serious preconceptions about how it was going to perform but I have to admit that it was a real blast. I appreciated the small body size and weight for being unobtrusive in a street situation. Yes, the grip was horrible as I’ve mentioned, but coupled with a lightweight 50mm lens it’s not overly bad for this type of photography.
One thing I’ve noticed about Canon cameras recently is that I am constantly failing to notice the information in the viewfinder. The shutter speed and aperture are there of course, but it just doesn’t seem prominent enough for me to actually register and on occasion I’ve needed that reminder that the shutter speed is too low but I’ve missed it. Perhaps I’m just weird in how I hold the camera to my eye, but I have discovered that sometimes I hold it in such a way where the bottom line of text isn’t actually visible.
Talking of viewfinders, the 350D is ok, I wouldn’t say its terribly brilliant or exciting but it didn’t detract from using the camera at all and I’d grown used to it within a few minutes. One thing I can’t get away from was that constant horrible shutter noise. The shutter is so noticeable that on several occasions I found people would hear it and turn to look at what was going on. It’s not a camera for being stealthy with and that’s for sure.
Unlike when I used the 300D, I did start to miss the top display that other camera bodies have. A number of times I’d look down to check shutter speed and aperture and would take a few seconds to realise I had to tip the camera forwards to find it.
The decision by Canon to change things like ISO in the on screen menus was a big mistake. The screen is basically useless in direct or bright sunlight. It is very easy for the ambient light to simply overpower the brightness of the screen enough to make it totally illegible. If these settings were made on the information display it’d be much easier.
This is a camera that feels like you can just use it without worrying. You chuck it in your bag, whip it out when you want to take some shots, carry it around without fear of dropping it and when you need it, it’s ready to go the instant you half press the shutter. There is no denying that for the age of the 350D it really is a capable little camera that will give you some really pleasing results in the right hands.
Quite simply, the images straight out of the 350D are nothing short of superb. This is a 16 year old body, bought for pennies and the pictures come out with really punchy, vibrant colours. Sharpness is fine with a decent lens and noise is very reasonable.
When editing the RAW files I did think the grain of the images was more noticeable than the 10D and there is definitely a very, very slight increase in grain on 350D images. That said, the image quality overall is actually not that much better than the 10D. The only thing that struck me was the colours and dynamic range were definitely improved. You can pull back serious detail from the highlights in images that would not be possible with the 10D.
All images I shot whilst testing this camera required very little unsharp mask in Photoshop, perhaps 20-30% at 1.5 pixels radius. This is nothing and as with previous bodies, there were occasions where it simply wasn’t necessary to sharpen images. Indeed, there are images I did literally nothing to other than convert them to JPG for upload.
Budget Best Buy?
Thrifty digital photographers are absolutely spoiled for choice right now and I can only see things getting better in the future. As more and more technology becomes older, unwanted and “obsolete” there will be the inevitable race to the bottom in terms of prices for all but the “pro” level cameras that always retain at least some value. This means that there should be a steady supply of ever more capable SLR cameras for ever decreasing price tags.
I enjoyed using the 350D and no one can dispute the fact it produces really excellent image quality with a decent lens attached. Paired with a 50mm F1.8 it feels right, like that was always meant to be the lens this camera uses, but with anything bigger or heavier it starts to get silly. It was great for a hit of nostalgia and to feel like I’ve got part of my photography history back but I couldn’t help feel like it really was a poor second best compared to the other cameras I’ve been using recently. Anyone who bought one of these in 2005 and transitioned from film must’ve been shocked at how bad the handling was.
And this is the real issue here – in 2005 there were clear reasons to buy the 350D and not a more expensive model. Prices were vast even then and unless you had the best part of £1000 in your pocket, even the 10D was out of your reach. Fast forward to today and you can get a 10, 20, 300, 350 and even a 30D if you’re lucky for exactly the same money. The question then is, why would you bother to compromise?
The prices these days puts all of these models on the exact same level and that means you don’t have to compromise any more. I won’t pass the 350D on and I’ll likely let my daughter use it to learn how “big” cameras work, but I can’t see the motivation to give it a great deal of use, even though I had great fun using it, when I’ve other options available and that includes the 300D. If you were desperate to experience low end DSLR’s for pennies, I’d actually tell you to buy a 300D over the 350D and that’s a bit of a shame, isn’t it?
Final verdict – A more than capable camera, but in the current market it is a poor experience and choice compared to the many other options out there for less money. I can’t recommend that anyone should buy this, even at £26, when the same or less will buy you a 10D or 20D, both of which offer an experience which is just lightyears ahead in terms of build quality, ergonomics and controls. The 350D really is an unnecessary compromise.