The Canon 20D has a 22.5 x 15 mm image sensor and 8.2 megapixels. It saves the images in several format choices of JPEG and RAW.

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Digital cameras have finally made it into the pockets and purses of snap shooters who used to carry film cameras.

Today’s compact cameras are easy to use and, in most situations, can produce good-quality images that are easy to edit, print and share by e-mail, Web site or other media.

Yet these handy little cameras — even ones with many megapixels — have limitations. Most have trouble capturing fast action and moderate action in low light.

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In fact, shooting indoors without a flash presents a significant challenge, because the largest aperture (which opens the lens to let in light) is usually f/2.8 and highest ISO setting (which can make the pixels more sensitive to light) is generally 400.

I’m looking for a more capable camera, probably a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR). With encouragement from some of you, and after reading reviews, I’ve decided to try the Canon EOS 20D.

The differences between a DSLR and a compact camera are significant.

A DSLR camera is bigger, with bigger and better lenses that can be switched for different shooting situations.

It’s also more expensive. The Canon 20D body alone costs $1,499 list, or $1,599 with a standard zoom lens. The faster lenses (with larger aperture openings) I would want for indoor shooting typically cost a lot more.

Technically, a DSLR camera offers considerably more capacity. The Canon 20D has a 22.5 x 15 mm image sensor and 8.2 megapixels. It saves the images in several format choices of JPEG and RAW.

It also has a buffer that holds image data before it’s fully processed and stored on the memory card, so there’s almost no waiting between shots.

Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/8000, ISO settings from 100 to 1600, extendable to 3200. There’s a built-in flash, and aperture range is determined by the lens being used.

When the Canon 20D arrives, I charge the battery (one charge reportedly lasts for 1,000 shots without using the flash), insert a 512MB SanDisk CompactFlash memory card (this camera ships without a card) and note the card can store around 50 images in RAW and 110 in highest-quality JPEG.

The 18-55mm, f/3.5 to 5.6 lens (equivalent to 28 to 88 mm in a film camera) that came with this camera has auto focus and zooms by twisting the lens, which I really like. But I’m worried this lens (which doesn’t open wider than f/3.5) won’t work well indoors without a flash.

When it’s time to take my daughter to karate, I bring the Canon along and fill the memory card with images of kids and adults practicing open-hand and weapons katas.

While shooting, I notice the images are dark at 400 ISO; I have to increase the ISO to 800 then 1600 to shoot at 1/200 of a second shutter speed.

I suspect there will be a lot of noise (like grain in film photography, but looks worse), which increases as the ISO is pushed higher.

Later, that evening, I connect the camera to my Macintosh and move the file of RAW images from the camera to my desktop. Then I drag about 20 images at a time to Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 for RAW processing and image editing.

There I can lighten, sharpen, reduce noise and do other changes to improve the photos. The noise isn’t too bad. Elements’ noise filter takes care of it, so the results look great.

After editing, I save the images as TIFF files and move them into the iPhoto Library.

Alternatively, I could import the RAW images into iPhoto and edit them there, but recently I discovered iPhoto converts the RAW images to JPEG files before processing (while saving the RAW image as Originals).

Personally, I think iPhoto 5 focuses on facilitating photo editing for photographers who don’t have the time or inclination to mess with RAW. The editing tools in the latest iPhoto 5 are easy to use and render JPEG images that look very good — certainly good enough to satisfy most photographers.

For all of you who use Windows PCs, Photoshop Elements can process most image formats, plus it includes Photoshop Album capabilities to store, organize and share a whole photo library.

When I finish editing, I’m ready to print my favorites to see how they look on paper. Bypassing the little 4 x 6-inch prints, I enlarge a heavily cropped image to fill a standard 8.5 x 11-inch heavy matte sheet in an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 printer.

It looks great. I print a few more, and they look good, too.

If I had used a compact camera to shoot, edit and print the same images, I’m pretty sure they would have looked darker and less sharp.

Using the Canon is pretty straightforward, but I like to know more than the user manual offers. So in this case, my reference is “A Short Course in Canon EOS 20D Photography” by Dennis Curtin. The handbook is clear, complete and helpful.

In sum: I like this camera a lot. But, before emptying my savings account to buy one, I’m going to try an Olympus Evolt-300 DSLR camera with a faster lens. Stay tuned.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted