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Enthusiast motorsports' photographer, Craig Donnelly, puts the Canon EOS30 through its paces.
I bought my first Canon SLR, an EOS1000F back in 1991 and upgraded to a second-hand EOS600 when I started taking photography more seriously. As an enthusiastic amateur I, like many, would love an EOS1V or EOS3, but when you look at the costs involved in stepping up into the territory of professional camera equipment, you can rarely justify the price. When Canon released details of a replacement for the ageing EOS50E, I read with excitement. The EOS30 contains all of the features that I desire, such as multi segment metering, four frames per second motor drive, auto-exposure bracketing, class leading focusing speed etc, along with many more features that I probably don't need, but may find useful in the future. What's more it was released at a more affordable price. So let's see if it can meet my expectations.
My first impressions of the EOS30 are very positive. The body is lightweight and seems relatively robust. Being blessed with large hands, however, I find that the bottom right hand corner of the body digs into my right hand and with prolonged use this becomes uncomfortable. The additional BP300 battery pack/grip promises to solve this problem, but that's another 70. I've passed the camera around friends who have smaller hands and they say it is very comfortable to hold, so it's all down to the user. The plus side is that the camera is superbly balanced with all of the essential functions being easy to access and anyone who has used an EOS will instantly feel at home.
Technically, the EOS30 is one of the best specified cameras currently in this price range. A brief run down of the camera's features is as follows:
- Ultra quick 7 point AF system
- 3 types of metering - 35 zone, partial (10%) and centre weighted
- Large viewfinder which includes built in dioptre adjustment
- Shutter speeds from 30seconds to 1/4000 sec (in half steps) and bulb
- Built in motor drive offering up to four frames per second
- Built in flash that includes a flash exposure bracketing and adjustable fill-in flash ratio
- 13 custom functions
- Depth-of-field preview button
The command dial on the left is the same as other current EOS bodies, with the usual picture modes for beginners and more creative priority modes, such as program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual, for more advanced users. This dial contains a setting where you can access the camera's Custom Functions. This, like its more expensive brothers, allows the camera to be set up in anyway you want, providing a tailor made machine rather than one that may compromise your wishes. There are 13 custom functions that range from leaving the film leader out of the canister when the film has been rewound to setting the built in flash to second-curtain sync.
There are other more advanced functions, but for the purposes of this review I have not mentioned them as they are quite specialised, and ones that the average user would never use. The only custom function I used is the one for 'High Speed rewind'. This rewinds a 36 exposure in about five seconds. It's slightly noisier than the slower 'Silent' mode, but a good deal quicker. No doubt as users become more familiar with the camera you may start to employ more of the custom functions.
As an enthusiastic motor sports photographer, I threw the camera into the deep end at a local race meeting.
In use the EOS30 is nothing short of excellent. It's fast and responsive and all the functions and buttons fall easily to hand. The main function buttons are the control dial on the left and the input wheel on the right.
Secondary functions, such as metering mode, film speed selection, auto exposure bracketing and multiple exposure modes, are accessed from a button marked 'Function' on the rear panel of the camera. Press this and a marker goes down the right hand side of the LCD display, pointing at the relevant icons on the side. These icons refer to the various secondary functions and are pretty self-explanatory. When you find the function you want, use the small wheel next to the shutter release to dial in the desired value - simple and effective. The back panel also contains a button to change the metering system (shown in the LCD) and a button to activate the mid-roll film rewind. The depth-of-field button is situated under the lens and falls close to your left thumb in use.
It's a natural progression for any EOS user, who wishes to upgrade from one of the older cameras to something more modern, without the huge expense of either the EOS3 or the flagship EOS1V.
I've never trusted autofocus to capture speeding cars, as my experience with the EOS1000F and EOS600 have proved AF has never been fast enough. I prefer to pre-focus on a point on the track then use my judgement to fire the shutter at the correct moment. The time delay between pressing the shutter release and the picture being taken was obvious with the old 1000F, but it is a lot quicker with the EOS30.
Set to the basic one-shot mode, the camera locks focus onto the nearest part of the subject that is covered by one of the focusing points. I found this quite annoying, until I realised that I was still using the camera in the way that I used the EOS1000F and the EOS600 before it - ie focusing on the centre point then recomposing the shot before taking the picture. One of the custom functions sets the camera to focus on the centre point automatically if you decide to remain stuck in your old ways, but, like the EOS50E, the EOS30 has Eye Control focusing to solve the problem.
This was my first experience using eye control focusing and I can only sing its praises. Switch it on and look at whichever of the seven focus points that you wish to focus on, partially press the shutter release, and the camera focuses in an instant. To get the best performance from this, you should follow the instruction manual and calibrate the eye control under as many different situations as you can. Try it in bright light, dim light, into the sun, in the dark etc, as it helps program the system so it responds correctly every time you use it. The camera can hold individual settings for five different users, which is idea for users who work with a shared camera (family or business), but probably not for enthusiast who may not want anyone else touching their new toy!
The camera is just as capable when used without eye control focusing.
Buttons on the camera back are used to select the focus point that you require, but you have to remember to switch this on first. I forgot on several occasions, and missed the shot. Partially press the shutter to activate the focusing and away you go.
With USM lenses, the focusing is amazingly accurate, fast and quiet. It is noticeably quicker to focus than my EOS600 and ancient EOS1000F, which is positively pedestrian in comparison. but then again you'd expect that 10 years further down the technological time line.
I have also compared the focusing speed with an EOS1n and EOS5 and, to the naked eye, it appears to be as fast, if not faster than both of them.
The predictive autofocusing works well, tracking moving subjects with relative ease. Switch on the eye control and it'll even track a subject across the focus points as your eye moves with the subject. Link this in with the ability to set the metering around the selected focus point and you should have no excuse for badly exposed shots.
To test the focusing I deliberately left it in predictive focusing mode, and the success rate was impressive. I would estimate that with subjects coming towards the camera, the focus tracking worked in approximately 90% of the shots. The 10% of failures I put down to the fact that the cars had started to move across the sensors rather than straight towards them, which confused the camera. Having said that, if I'd hit the shutter before this had happened then the success rate would have been higher! Blame me for that one, not the camera.
The metering system is also superb. I have not been able to fault it in anyway. It doesn't matter what conditions you throw at it, it responds with accurate exposures every time. Should you find yourself in a situation where your experience is telling you that the computerised meter reading is wrong (for example, in extremely bright back lit situations) you can dial in some exposure compensation or switch to Partial metering. This takes a reading from approximately 10% of the scene and is linked to the active focus selection point, so again you do not have to recompose your shots as much as you might have done in the past. Should the partial metering provide the built in computer with a reading that it doesn't like, the built in flash pops up automatically to provide a touch of fill-in flash, which, like most other functions on this camera, can be altered to provide the desired effect. The flash ratio can be set from two stops under to two stops over, in half stop increments.
I also used the camera set on the partial metering/active focus point setting. This resulted in an excellent set of shots, with both light coloured and dark coloured cars being exposed correctly. This was with print film so the tolerance of the film probably helped. In an attempt to put the metering system through its paces, I shot a couple of rolls of slide film at a race meeting at Croft and the results are shown here. I did have to switch to manual exposure here in an attempt to combat the glare coming off the windscreens of the cars. Racing took place at about 2pm so the sun was high in the sky and I expected this glare to cause problems. I took a partial meter reading from the grass next to the circuit and transferred this to the manual mode as I'd noticed the meter reading changing dramatically as the sun bounced off the windscreens.
The only thing I can fault, apart from uncomfortable handling, is the auto exposure bracketing feature that takes the pictures in a different order to my old, but trusty EOS600. It shoots correct, -1, +1 rather than -1, correct, +1 that I was used to. Both these are personal gripes that won't affect most users, and otherwise I find the camera perfect.
Whether this camera is used in fully auto (green square) mode or in one of the creative modes, it offers everything that you will have dreamed of in a camera, and possibly more. It combines cutting edge focusing and metering technology, semi-pro custom functions and a host of beginners' modes at a very attractive price. If you're considering saving up for an EOS3, this maybe a better option and you can use the 400 saving to buy another lens.