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Canon D30 Digital SLR Review

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Category: Digital SLRs
Product: Canon EOS D30

Canon D30 DSLR Review - Canon D30 Digital SLR Review

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EOS D30The first thing that strikes you when you pick up Canon's D30 digital SLR is the solid feel to the body. With a stainless steel chassis and an external cover moulded from strong engineering plastics, it weighs a comfortable 750g and, to the casual observer, looks just like any other SLR. Until you look at it more closely, that is.

Only then do you realise there is something different. For one, you can't open the back. The chamber normally dedicated to holding the film has been given over to holding the digital circuitry and image capture wizardry that makes the camera do its job. The second thing that makes you sit up and look is the LCD screen - used to view your pictures - located below the viewfinder. Finally, you uncover another door on the right hand side that contains the removable CompactFlash card.

The CompactFlash card stores all the images taken by the camera until you are ready to download to a PC. Different card capacities are available, from the meagre 16Mb version supplied with the camera - enough to hold only four high-resolution pictures - to the massive 1Gb Microdrive from IBM, which holds over 300.

But this is a true SLR and to any photographer used to the format it's very easy to get to grips with the camera, albeit with a few extras to think about.

As well as the usual shutter speed and aperture controls, there are several other settings that need to be controlled. First, strangely enough, is film speed. You can set the sensitivity of the camera to recreate the familiar ISO100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600, depending on circumstances. And you can do this at any stage, so you could take one image at ISO100 and the next at ISO1600. And, like film, the higher the setting the more the image will be grainy - noise, in digital terms.

The second setting that needs to be selected is resolution. Resolution is, simply, the amount of light data captured by the camera. The higher the resolution, the more the image can be enlarged without distortion. The down side is that the higher the resolution, the fewer images that can be stored on the card. For that reason, any serious photographer will require a higher capacity card, or cards, than the one supplied with the camera.

Finally, although for most purposes I have found the auto setting to be perfectly adequate, there is the question of white balance. A new concept for the still photographer, but not for the video camera operator, this is merely a setting which allows you to set the camera to record a white object as white for a variety of lighting conditions. In effect, it is like fitting a filter to correct for lighting conditions when using film, except it is done electronically here. There are settings for flash, tungsten and fluorescent lighting, among others, plus a function to allow it to be user-defined.

So how does the camera handle? Very impressively, in short. Once you take a photograph, the image appears in the LCD panel, and although it cannot be used accurately for gauging exposure, unless used in conjunction with the histogram function, it gives a good indication of lighting and is great for checking composition.

There is one major change to the way the D30 operates compared to other Canon SLRs. Although the D30 uses the same lenses, it changes the focal length by a factor of 1.6. This is because the image capture system, the CMOS, has an area that is smaller than the 35mm image, therefore appearing to increase the focal length. This is in one, an advantage as well as a disadvantage. My 300mm lens has suddenly become a whopping 480mm. However, my once wide-angle 24mm is now a standard 38mm.

I, probably along with many other photographers, have been sceptical about the limitations of digital cameras up until recent times, but the D30 far outperforms my expectations. Colour rendition is excellent, even coming close to my favourite film of the last few years, Fuji Provia. Image detail is superb. Even in scenes of high contrast, detail is captured in both shadow and highlight areas to a level I think film would find hard to match.

In the virtual darkroom (a copy of Adobe Photoshop is supplied with the D30), a minimal amount of digital fiddling is needed. An adjustment to the curves setting is required for nearly all images, as they tend to come in a little flat. Usually the Auoto setting does the trick, but occasionally a difficult one will require more brain cells! A moderate amount of sharpening is needed to give a bit of a kick to the image and then you're ready to print.

Mathematically, you should only be able to get prints up to 23x15cm from the D30. At top resolution, images of 2160x1440 pixels are produced. That translates to 23x15cm at a resolution of 94 pixels per centimetre (or 240 pixels per inch), the resolution most people accept is the best for printing using inkjets. But theory is one thing, practice another.

I have done several test prints using an Epson Stylus Photo 890 inkjet printer and, to my surprise, A4 prints are better than same size prints from negative film. In fact, many people thought these prints were Cibachromes! Increasing the image size to A3 and printing an A4 section gives results that are still impressive, although if you look very closely you can begin to tell it's a digital image. At A2 there is obvious breakdown of image if you look closely, but it's still perfectly acceptable at normal viewing distances. But, I guess at A2, prints from normal negatives would also begin to become very grainy; it's just that the degradation patterns are different for the two processes.

If there were a gripe about the camera, it would be that the LCD screen is very sensitive to the angle you view it at. Move your head slightly up or down off the centre axis and the image changes wildly from looking under-exposed to over-exposed. Not helpful. It is also placed where most people's noses will be pressed while looking through the viewfinder, so it does tend to become very greasy, very quickly!

Verdict
Although it's still a new toy, I have no reservations in applauding Canon for the D30. Having spent a fortnight in Italy recently I took some 500 shots on the D30, not one on the EOS 3, which I also took with me! The lure of the innovative gadget? Perhaps, but I think film will feature less and less in my future work and play. The digital revolution has arrived for the more serious user, and the D30 is a great, although expensive, addition to the SLR family.
Anyone want to buy a used EOS 5?
Test and pictures Derek MacCarthy

Test pictures

Test pictures
With a polarising filter attached, a meter reading was taken from the buildings and wall. No problems for the D30, details being recorded throughout the scene.
Shutter speed: 1/250sec
Aperture: f/6.3
Lens focal length: 35mm

Test pictures
Metering straight from the scene gave a balanced exposure.
Shutter speed: 1/800sec
Aperture: f/7.1
Lens focal length: 290mm

 

Test pictures
Exposure was determined directly off subject on evaluative metering setting. Details throughout photograph have been recorded correctly.
Shutter speed: 1/800sec
Aperture: f/5.6
Lens focal length: 300mm

 

Test pictures
A difficult shot to expose correctly with so much contrast and the moving water droplets. Metering was therefore taken from a nearby neutral wall as direct metering tended to to give an over-exposed shot.

Shutter speed: 1/250sec
Aperture: f/5.6
Lens focal length: 300mm

Test pictures
Metering was taken directly from the leaves to produce this backlit shot.

Shutter speed: 1/125sec,
Aperture: f/18
Lens focal length: 35mm

Test pictures
A straightforward shot with metering off the subject gave a balanced exposure.
Shutter speed: 1/500sec
Aperture: f/6.3
Lens focal length: 300mm



Lexar memory was used in this review.

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