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Canon EOS D30 Digital SLR Review

Canon EOS D30 Digital SLR Review - Canon EOS D30 Digital SLR Review

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Canon EOS D30
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Canon EOS D30 The D30 is quite a unique camera. Unlike the rest of the digital consumer camera range, the SLR's are a rare breed. This will no doubt change in the future, but at the moment we are left with only a few midrange digital SLR's costing around 1200-2000 and pro-SLR's costing upwards of 3-5000. The D30 has been out over a year at the time of this test, and the fact we can still test it now and there be no sign of it being replaced shows just how much of a landmark in digital photography this camera has proved to be.

Those of you that have used or owned consumer digital cameras will no doubt be aware of their common flaws. Shutter-lag, slow autofocusing, fixed lenses, lack of settings, the list is long. While great results can be achieved with these cameras once you've tried an SLR you most often don't want to compromise unless you absolutely have too. So, placed in the midrange of the Digital SLR's available the D30 will appeal to those looking to upgrade from many different types of camera. The D30's main competition is the Fuji S1 which we've looked at here. For those of you who already have a collection of Canon EOS lenses the S1 is unlikely to be an option however as it accepts only Nikon lenses.

Although the D30 isn't aimed at the pro market, many pros do use it. Admittedly it doesn't have the weatherproofing, high frame-rate, resolution or focusing speed of its new big brother the 1-D. Though of course we wouldn't expect it to considering it's several thousand pounds cheaper!

For a list of what it does offer, please see the feature list below:

  • 3.11 megapixel CMOS sensor, 2160x1440 pixel image size
  • Autofocus with 3-point measurement
  • 11 shooting modes
  • Built in flash with E-TTL autoflash linked to focusing points
  • 7 white balance modes
  • 1.8' LCD monitor
  • USB interface
  • 3fps shooting for approx. 8 continuous images
  • Uses Canon EF lenses, with a conversion factor of approx. 1.6x compared to full-frame 35mm film format.
  • One-shot AF, AI Servo AF with focus prediction, AI Focus AF, and manual focus Wide area AF with 3 selectable focusing points
  • 35-zone Evaluative metering linked to all focusing points, Centre weighted average metering and 9.5% central-area partial metering 1/4000sec. to 30sec. plus Bulb
  • Flash shoe for EX-series Speedlites: PC socket also built-in on left side of camera body
  • Connections: USB, Video OUT, Remote control socket
  • Li-ion battery, with dual-battery charger provided.

The more observant readers will have noticed that the camera uses a CMOS rather than the more commonly used CCD for image capture. Canon apparently did this because CCD imaging elements cost more to manufacture and have high power requirements. The CMOS sensor also stands out from the CCDs used on consumer digital cameras because of its size. The CMOS sensor on the D30 is 22.8x15.5mm which is around the size of APS film.Canon EOS D30 It's also much larger than typical consumer digital camera CCD sensors as shown by the illustration to the right. The EOS D30 CMOS is on the left, and a 1/1.8-inch 2.34 megapixel CCD is on the right. The CMOS has an aspect ratio of 3:2 (2160x1440) which is the same ratio as 35mm, whereas many other digital cameras are 4:3. As a result of the size difference between the CMOS and 35mm film any lens you place on the D30 will have its focal length multiplied by 1.6. This can be a blessing for those looking for a high power zoom lens, and a problem for people seeking wide angle lenses.

Many of you reading this test may think, 'only 3 megapixels, surely I would be better off with a 5-megapixel camera' and you'd be right if anyone made a 5 megapixel digital SLR with interchangeable lenses for a similar cost. Right now, no-one does, Olympus has the E20p which looks a great camera, but uses a fixed lens. Nikon has the 6 megapixel D1x but that costs over twice what the D30 does, and lastly Canon have the 4 megapixel 1D which is again double the price of the D30. Using consumer 5 megapixel digital cameras like the Sony DSC-F707 and the Minolta Dimage 7 will still allow you to get very good results, but won't allow any where near the flexibility or performance that the D30 and the rest of the SLR family can provide.

Body and handling
The D30 is quite a light SLR when compared to the pro digital bodies at least. The internal structure of the camera is steel, with a plastic external cover. We were surprised to find quite a bit of creaking of this plastic, but overall the build feels assuredly solid. All the buttons and dials are well laid out and feel well put together. The grip has a soft rubber coating with a small curve to allow your fingers a firm grip.

Canon EOS D30

The body is compact for a SLR digital camera, but not as small or light as some film SLR's are. It is very comfortable to hold and use, though this is of course quite subjective. If you've never used an SLR before and are used to a compact film or digital point and shoot type camera you might be in for a shock. SLR's and their lenses are not the lightest of things, and on a recent walk in the lake district with lenses, macro flash unit, and other assorted items I was constantly reminded of that fact.

Menu system
The D30 uses one of the best systems ever on a digital camera. By using the large jog dial on the back of the camera you can quickly shift through the available options. These options are all based on one menu screen, so there is no tiresome flipping through pages as on some cameras.

Canon have purposely kept these menus simple, appreciating that professionals using a camera like this need it to be as quick and responsive as is technically possible. So on that note they've offloaded some of the image quality settings to a PC based control setup in the TWAIN driver. This driver allows you to set three presets for contrast, sharpness, and colour saturation.

Camera modes
Before describing the modes available it's important to note another nice feature of the D30. Unlike with most consumer digital cameras where you have to turn the mode dial or press a button to leave menus and start shooting, the D30 allows you to press the shutter release and the LCD clears and you can immediately shoot again.

Shooting with this camera is certainly an experience. Having used a lot of midrange consumer digital cameras we get used to the poor handling and the shutter-lag and the slow auto focus. With the exception of low-light shooting the focus on the D30 is very impressive, not quite up to the level of Canon's Pro SLR's but close enough for many Professionals to produce the results they need.

The three-point autofocus system worked well in daylight but focusing of any kind in low-light was a chore. Changing between the focus points is straightforward and can be done quickly through buttons on the camera body. This low-light focusing issue will doubtless be one of the things Canon aim to substantially improve in the D30's possible successor. The AI servo autofocus worked well, but some people complain it is slow for some sports photography. Though judging by the amount of high quality sports shots there are captured with a D30 on the Internet you can obviously still get good results. Because of it being a genuine SLR manual focus can be achieved very quickly as well, unlike on most consumer digital cameras. We found spinning the focus ring in low-light gave much better results than waiting for the autofocus to catch up and eventually flash saying it can't cope.

Viewfinder and LCD screen
The viewfinder provides 95% picture coverage and allows dioptric adjustment in the range of -3 to +1 diopter. The rubber eye mold can be taken off and there is a cover attached to the cameras strap. Unlike in some other EOS cameras the focus points aren't highlighted to show which focus point is being used. Instead there is a small indicator to show this at the bottom of the viewfinder where other information is shown.

Canon EOS D30

The LCD screen is slightly recessed and avoids scratches quite well. The D30 we received from Canon had done the rounds and had a few scratches on the body, but the LCD was like new.

Connections

Standard connections for USB and Video out are provided. Also a N3 remote control socket, and a PC terminal for studio flash are tucked away on the side of the camera, with an accessory shoe for EX-series Speedlites on top. Those of you interested in macro photography can read our review of the Canon MT-24EX flash unit.

Connections

Because the PC terminal and the remote control socket aren't covered by a rubber cover like the other connections their covers had been lost before we received the camera. Although it's unlikely any damage will result from them being unprotected it would have been better for them to have a fixed cover.

Connections

Battery-life

Using the included battery Canon quote 540 exposures when used in normal temperatures, large/fine mode, built-in flash usage rate: 50%, review time: 2 sec. Those of us facing the British climate will be lucky to get these figures however as lithium-ion batteries don't last as long in cold conditions.

To help the situation Canon have an optional battery pack that attaches to the base of the camera shown to the right. This doubles the battery life as well as providing the benefit of a vertical grip. Or you could just buy and carry a spare with you and the provided charger conveniently allows the connection of two batteries simultaneously.

Canon EOS D30 Battery-Life

Image quality
The D30 has been out for a long time now, and many very good photographers, both professionals and amateurs have used this camera producing excellent results. The fact that so many pros use this camera either on it's own, or as a backup body to their more expensive models speaks volumes about the cameras capabilities.

It produces very smooth noiseless images at ISO 100, so clean it is a little startling at first, at least if you're used to the results of cheaper digital cameras. Paired with a good lens the D30 is capable of very sharp photos, the white balance auto setting is quite reliable and colour reproduction is also excellent. On occasions where you don't want to rely on auto white balance there is a manual setting you can set from a photo you've taken stored on the memory card.

When set to ISO 1600 noise levels dramatically increase and are worsened by the natural comparison to the smooth lower ISO settings. The noise is quite different to the noise we tend to see on most consumer digital cameras, and is more like film grain which is good.

Flash performance from the built-in flash was good, though you'd benefit greatly from buying a proper flash unit. We've tested the Canon Macro Twin Lite flash MT-24EX and it shows how well the D30 can perform when partnered with a good flash.

We're happy to report finding faults with this camera is not an easy task. Certainly right now it's one of the most desirable models available.

Sample Pictures

Sample Images
This interior shot of a wine maker was taken using the 15mm lens set at f/9.5 with a one second exposure. The multi pattern metering has coped well considering it was quite dark and olnly illuminated by the strip lighting.

Sample Images
Pointing towards the sky from inside a dark chamber has tested the camera's metering ability. I could have exposed for the wall so the interior came out brighter but the camera has coped well ensuring a good balance of detail in the sky and walls. Shot on 15mm with an exposure of 1/180sec f/9.5 and fixed ISO100.

Sample Images
The 28-300mm is a versatile lens her I selected 135mm and the camera provided an exposure of 1/60sec at f/5.6 Detail is good as seen in the magnified section of the fur.

Sample Images
The camera's ability to cope with longer exposures is superb. I couldn't see any noise in the photos and was really pleased with this sunset. Having a preview facility ensured that I could also obtain the best exposure which turned out to be 1/2sec at f/9.5 with ISO100 selected. The 28-300mm lens was set to 28mm.

Sample Images
Here's where the integral flash comes in handy. The picture on the left was taken first, but on checking the preview I could see that the inside of the bell was in deep shade and could quickly pop up the flash and retake adding detail in the shadow areas.

Sample Images
Wow I'm impressed! This shot, taken using automatic, was at night and the exposure was 20 seconds at f/6.7 on the 50mm setting of the 28-300mm zoom. Apart from the colour cast caused by the street lighting it's spot on. I would never have trusted that using film. Using the preview I was able to check exposure and it also showed that my first attempt suffered from camera shake (I was using my camera bag as a support) so I reshot.


Sample Images
Close ups are fine with the D30. I used an old 50mm lens for this and stopped down to f/3.5 allowing an exposure of 1/180sec, which was fast enough to stop the moving branch from blurring the web. The CCD has resolved the fine detail admirably. ISO was set at 200.

Sample Images
Another close up exposed perfectly on the 50mm lens at 1.250sec f/4.

 

Verdict
From first laying hands on this camera we were impressed. This feeling continued through the stages of handling, shooting and reviewing the photos we took. Looking round the web and seeing the quality and variety of images being created with this camera is about the best advert anyone could create for digital photography.

If you have the money to spend on a camera like this you can buy it with confidence. A camera like this doesn't get out-dated from a functionality point of view. New cameras released in 2002 will no doubt be a little bit faster, and a little bit higher resolution, but the overal usability will remain at this level.

Although the D30 prices have dropped since its release, it still has hasn't depreciated like many consumer digital cameras tend to. This is probably due to the fact that demand is still high, and competition low. Either way if you're a professional looking to move to digital, or an amateur or enthusiast looking for a camera to last perhaps even a lifetime you can't go wrong with the D30.

There are arguably better Digital SLRs from Nikon (D1h and D1x) and Canon (1D) but these are far more expensive and aimed only at the professional or extremely wealthy enthusiast.

Because the D30 has been out and in the hands of photographers all over the world we thought it'd be interesting to include more than just our own test shots and opinions. Two photographers have been kind enough to provide us and you, with their opinions of the D30. They are Chris Valentine, whose review is attached below and Derek MacCarthy whose review is linked at the bottom of the page. Many thanks to both of them for their valuable input.


Chris Valentine D30 review
If you've already got a slew of Canon lenses and you want a digital SLR to match, at the time of writing there isn't much choice. At around 1800 the D30 is the first digital EOS SLR from Canon. I'd already invested in three of Canon's L-series lenses for my previous camera, an EOS1nHS, so the D30 was a natural progression.

Now in my fourth season of shooting ice hockey as a freelance, I'd traditionally shoot between 2 and 5 rolls of Fuji 800 print film a game. Deadline pressure meant I had to have the film developed as soon as possible on the next working day - even buying film in bulk, this meant I was spending around 10 per roll. This in turn meant that with the travel costs as well I would have to sell at least two images per game to my magazine clients just to break even.

Now with digital not only do I save a fortune on developing costs, but I also cut out the tedious process of scanning the film and cleaning up those scans. The immediacy of digital means I can get the best of my images off to the various magazine and Internet clients on the same night as the game. Having a big memory card (I use a 512Mb IBM microdrive) means I can shoot many more images per game that I would with film - I normally take around 120 images and pick six to eight of those for publication.

Breaking the mould, Canon chose a CMOS sensor over the CCDs of the competition, and this has two obvious benefits: superior image quality and very low power consumption. The light-weight proprietary battery, similar to a 2CR5, uses Lithium Ion chemistry which recharges very quickly in the provided two-station charger and has a real-life capacity of at least 200 frames. If you buy the optional vertical control grip (which I did since I shoot the vast majority of my work in portrait orientation) you can accommodate two batteries.

Like the majority of digital cameras, the D30 offers a variety of image quality settings, the highest being RAW which is loss-less - it is necessary to convert this format before you can work on it, which is rather time consuming. The other disadvantage is that as the file size is quite large and the D30s buffer is fairly small, you can only get two or three shots off before you have to wait for the buffer to empty. Switching to the next level down (Large JPG, fine) gives you room for eight or so frames and that's usually enough. The frame rate is, however, a bit limiting at 'just' 3fps.

If you are familiar with EOS cameras, the D30 is very easy to get used to and the most-used digital controls (image review and deletion, for example) are very easy and quick to access. The menu system is straightforward and even the custom functions are explained for you on the LCD display on the back of the camera. Metering can be set to matrix, centre weighted or spot, linked to one of the three focus sensors - incidentally the end sensors are rather close to the centre and are therefore not a lot of use when shooting portraits. There are a number of white balance settings but I have found the auto setting to work extremely well.

Conventional off-the-film TTL flash metering is impossible with digital cameras, so the D30 adopts the evaluative (pre-flash) TTL metering of the EOS3 and 1v bodies. This means you need to use one of the -EX series of Speedlites or a functionally-equivalent flash (e.g.: Sigma) - older -EZ flashes will not work in any TTL mode. Results from the combination of D30 and 550EX have been rather mixed and correct exposure is unfortunately never certain. The camera offers Flash Exposure Lock, where you fire a pre-flash so you can meter it, but for some subjects this is not suitable - you basically have to learn by experience.

A lot has been said about the D30s autofocus system and its rather poor performance. Although unconfirmed by Canon, this has been attributed to a contact between them and Kodak which allowed Kodak a priority in the market place for pro-spec digital SLRs (like the DCS520, which consisted of an EOS1n body combined with a Kodak-sourced imaging sensor and electronics) and meant that the D30 needed to be 'designed down' to a lower sector of the market. Dismissed by some as just an Internet rumor, I tend to believe this was true and was one of the contributing factors behind the rather late launch of the new high-end camera, the EOS1D. This new unit clearly has speed as the overwhelming design priority, achieving an astounding 8fps at the expense of sensor size (4Mpixels), type (CCD instead of CMOS) and price (at launch in the UK it will be 5500 - that's if you can get one). Given you can buy two D30s and a decent L-series zoom for this price, its very difficult to justify such an expensive body.

Overall, the D30 is a superb camera giving excellent quality results, providing you learn to accept and work within its limitations.

Verdict
Positives:
* image quality
* light weight
* battery life
* ease of use

Negatives:
* autofocus
* unreliable flash exposure

Recommended accessories:
* the optional vertical control grip (a great help for vertical shooting)
* BreezeBrowser shareware (http://www.breezebrowser.com/)
* fast L-series lenses (the more light getting in, the better the AF works)

Sample Picture
Photo below shows Sheffield's Jeff Sebastian (left) and London's Paul Rushforth at a Sekonda Superleague game held at London's Docklands Arena on 4th November 2001.

Sample Image
This photo was taken with the following settings: Shutter speed: 1/350 sec, Aperture: 2.8, Exposure mode: Manual, Flash: Off, Metering mode: Centre-weighted average, Drive mode: Continuous frame: 1, ISO: 800, Lens: 300 mm, Focal length: 300.0 mm, AF mode: AI Servo AF.

About Chris Valentine
Chris is a freelance photographer from the UK and is widely published. For more information and to see more of his photos, click on the link to his website below.

hockeyphotos.com

Want another users opinion on the D30? Click here to go to Derek MacCarthys test of the D30.

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