Canon’s EOS 30D; In Camera Image Control, Par Excellence

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It's getting to the point where cameras are truly microprocessors with lenses. For those who have shot film in the past, today's digital SLRs give access to the look and feel of every film ever made at every speed with every color, contrast, and grain nuance you could imagine. While film builders create a combination of image attributes fixed in a micro-thin emulsion on a piece of acetate, today's digital SLRs emulate their art with the turn of a few dials and the push of a button or two. In addition, the image-processing program inside the digital SLR offers a whole kit bag full of filter effects, including options for those who enjoy black and white photography. Indeed, combined with the latest pigment ink printers and fine art paper surfaces, the latest digital SLRs have spawned a renaissance in black and white, digital style.

One camera that gives you near complete control over image effects of all types, in addition to the aperture and shutter speed variations, metering patterns, and flash control options is the new Canon EOS 30D. Priced at about $1399 (body only), this
8.2-megapixel digital SLR is in the semi-pro and pro range, although avid digital photographers ready to upgrade will find it attractive as well.

In many respects the 30D is an upgrade from the Canon EOS 20D combined with features from the upper-end of the Canon digital SLR line. Being an upgrade, the 30D has quite a few items in common with the 20D, which we won't go into here. (If you want to check out the 20D specs go online to www.shutterbug.com and type Canon 20D into the Search box.)

Landscape Mode

The testing game for the Canon EOS 30D was to attempt to make images that expressed a certain look and feel of film without too much or any post-processing work in Photoshop. All images were shot in the 16-bit Raw mode. This formation was photographed using the Landscape Picture Style modified with a +1 Saturation and +1 Sharpness in Adobe RGB color space. It was not touched in post-processing, not even sharpened. Exposure was f/11 at 1/250 sec at ISO 160.
All Photos © 2006, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

Some of the noticeable differences from the 20D are a larger LCD monitor (2.5") that while larger is still a tough read in direct sunlight; Picture Style menus for image effects that to this writer are much more straightforward than the Parameters on the 20D; auto noise reduction, which should be used for long exposures and at ISO 800 and beyond; and enhanced print and share functions. Some of these changes have been wrought in recent Canon "pro" models more recent than the 20D, such as the EOS 5D and EOS-1D Mark II N, also reviewed in these pages and available online at www.shutterbug.com.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the camera, at least with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens I tested it with, is the incredibly sharp and rich image quality. When shooting in Raw mode at 16 bit the 8+ megapixel sensor yielded near 48MB files, which had incredible depth and clarity. I especially liked what happened in black and white (Monochrome mode in menu). Shooting with various programmable filter effects I was able to get "zone-like" quality in my black and white images and prints. When I first opened them on my Apple 23" Cinema Display all I could say was "Wow!," and I'm not usually given to such exuberance while testing.

Monochrome Or Color

Shooting in color or black and white with the EOS 30D makes no difference, as you can shoot in color or vice versa and change modes using the supplied Canon software. I enjoyed shooting in monochrome because I could try out different filter and contrast effects and see the results in the field, but as long as I shot in raw I could change it all around later. Confusing? Perhaps, but think of it as having every film ever made and every filter for color and contrast control for every frame you shoot. The color shot here was converted to black and white using Canon software, which was then handed off to Photoshop for a tweak in Levels--that's it.

Another appealing aspect of this camera is body build and durability. It has a much more solid feel and grip than amateur-oriented models with an enhanced pro-style shutter mechanism, claimed by the company to deliver 100,000 cycles. To help you get up to that number faster the 30D allows for a 30-frame Large/Fine JPEG burst and an 11-frame raw burst, both at the top speed of 5 fps (frames per second).

Those who have used a Canon digital SLR recently will have little trouble navigating this well-built body. Those who have worked with other digital SLRs or with Canons before the 20D, 5D, and Mark II N will find that getting around the functions and features are a quick instruction book-read away, and quite intuitive even without it.

No More Polarizers?

If there's one filter I did recommend for use with digital it was a polarizer, but now I'm not entirely convinced of that after shooting with the EOS 30D in 16-bit Raw mode with a -2 Contrast setting in Landscape Picture Style. I always had trouble with highlight burnout with slide film, and even with pull developing with black and white film among these formations on a bright day. A polarizer was the only hope. But after shooting in this tough spot with the 30D using a modified Landscape Picture Style I'm not so sure if a polarizer is necessary anymore, except of course for eliminating reflections and as a handy ND filter. Exposure here was f/11 at 1/400 sec at ISO 100. I did kick in the highlight slider in Levels in Photoshop to alleviate some of the flatness a -2 Contrast setting creates.

Picture Styles And Raw
One of the key features of this camera is the amazing range of image effect controls. This includes many variations on white balance, color tone, color space, and preset color rendition options, from landscape to portrait and more.

The 30D also offers a host of raw+ options (raw + JPEG shooting at many JPEG resolution and compression settings) or raw by its lonesome. This begs the question: Why bother with what Canon dubs Picture Styles when you're shooting in raw format? Indeed, why have any camera controls over image effects other than depth of field and motion depiction, or even image resolution, when using the ultimately malleable raw format? Most raw converters today (such as the included Version 12.0 of the Canon software) can deliver many options, and probably more nuance than any Picture Style menu. Just get the exposure right, make sure depth of field is where you want it and keep it steady and raw processing can do the rest, with your help, of course.

Red Filter

In Monochrome Picture Style you can play with contrast and filter effects just as you might have done with exposure, filtration, and processing of a specific black and white film. This shot was made in Monochrome mode with a red filter effect and +1 Contrast setting. It was handed off to Photoshop for some edge burning, something I do for almost every print I make. Exposure was f/11 at 1/40 sec at ISO 100.

The answer for me is that the 30D, like other similarly priced digital SLRs we've tested of late, blurs the distinction between pro- and advanced amateur-oriented cameras. To eliminate image effects, such as Picture Styles, and to rely strictly on raw format, is to limit the camera's appeal and market, even though it makes perfect sense from a convenience and quality standpoint. Indeed, raw only might be what a future "stripped down to basics" pro digital SLR could offer.

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