The Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame: Canon EOS 300D

The first DSLR camera aimed at consumers was a stripped-down version of a professional camera that had been introduced just six months earlier

4 min read
Photo of the Canon EOS 300D.
Photo: Dickson Lee/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

Photo: Dickson Lee/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

Rear View: The back of the 300D had a 1.8-inch color LCD panel, for viewing captured images as well as settings and status.

The Canon EOS 300D camera was the first to bring high-quality digital single-lens-reflex technology to the masses.

By the beginning of 2003, it was obvious that a good, affordable digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) was inevitable, but still probably at least a year away. So when Canon introduced the 300D in August of that year, it was a surprise in terms of both timing and cost. It was quite a capable camera at a very reasonable price.

The EOS 300D, known as the Digital Rebel in the United States and the Kiss Digital in Japan, was the direct descendent of another Canon model, the 10D, which was introduced in February of 2003. The 10D, in turn, was an upgrade from its predecessor, the D60, the very first Canon DSLR. The D60, with a 6.3-megapixel sensor, had been introduced a full year earlier, in February of 2002. The D60 and the 10D seemed to establish a logical schedule for Canon: a new DSLR model every year.

The 10D, intended for the professional market, had a solid body made of a magnesium alloy. Like the D60 it had a resolution of 6.3 megapixels (roughly 3,000 by 2,000). It included image technology Canon had developed and had begun using in 2002 in various cameras other than the D60. Canon called this technology Digic, an acronym for “Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit.” Originally, Digic included three chips: an image processor, a video processor, and a camera-control IC. Canon boasted at the time that its sensors were notable for low noise and low power consumption.

Photo of the EOS 10D.Professional Precursor: Aimed in part at professional photographers, the EOS 10D was Canon’s second digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR). It was introduced in early 2003 with a suggested retail price around US $2,000.Photo: Tom Wagner/Redux

The 10D was basically a Digic-driven replacement for the D60. Upon introduction, it was immediately praised for its picture quality.

That was the technology progression. The pricing progression was something else again. Canon announced the D60, its second DSLR, in February 2002 with a list price of US $2,199 for a kit that included a battery and charger, some cables and software and other goodies but no lens, and $1,999 without those items. A year later, in February of 2003, Canon brought out the 10D for US $1,999, also without a lens. Then, only 6 months after that, Canon unexpectedly released yet another new 6.3-megapixel DSLR with the price slashed by half. Without a lens it was $899; another hundred bucks got you an 18–55-mm f3.5 “kit” lens. That was the 300D.

The EOS 300D chip displayed by Canon\u2019s president, Ozawa Hideki.Filmless Future: The EOS 300D used the same 6.3-megapixel CMOS image sensor as the pricier 10D. The chip was displayed at the camera’s introduction in August 2003, by Canon’s president, Ozawa Hideki.Photo: Dickson Lee/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

Canon built the 300D around the same 6.3-megapixel CMOS image sensor and the image processor as the 10D. Among the most obvious differences, the 300D was noticeably smaller and lighter.

The 10D’s viewfinder was based on a pentaprism, basically a block of glass that has, you guessed it, five sides. The 300D’s was based on a pentamirror, a set of mirrors that were naturally less heavy than a pentaprism. Also, where the 10D had a durable housing, the 300D’s body was mostly plastic, though nicely styled to fit in with Canon’s popular Rebel line of 35-mm film cameras.

Features that the 300D and 10D had in common included an illuminated LCD control panel and a separate, 1.8-inch color LCD display for captured images. The 300D lacked a few features of its predecessor, including some dedicated controls for autofocus and exposure. These were missed mainly by professionals, who weren’t in the target market anyway.

These details notwithstanding, it is still a mystery how Canon managed to take almost all of the components that constituted a 10D, and in roughly six months, reconfigure and repackage them into a unit it could sell profitably for half the price. (Canon did not respond to requests for an interview.)

What Canon has said publicly is that the Digital Rebel 300D was one of its most successful introductions in 2003. In its annual report for that year, it disclosed that sales exceeded expectations, and that if it hadn’t designed and manufactured its own semiconductors—the Digic CMOS image sensors and controller chips—it would have run out of both.

By establishing the sub-$1,000 DSLR, Canon made what had been professional-grade digital photography affordable for nonpros. In so doing it created the “prosumer” market, a niche previously identified by electronics manufacturers in other consumer categories. Considering its price and performance, contemporary reviewers mostly agreed it was the best camera value on the market. It was the start of the DSLR’s ascendance to the top of the high-performance camera market. It’s a perch that only now does it seem poised to relinquish, in the foreseeable future, to a newer and fast-rising category: full-frame mirrorless cameras.

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