Canon’s EOS 30D; In Camera Image Control, Par Excellence Page 2

Given the penchant for experimentation among photographers, I think that even experienced raw shooters will be very tempted to play in the Picture Style space, as I was. And if truth be known, lots of experienced digital photographers shoot and print from JPEGs, even those who know that they give up on some picture quality by doing so.

Do Picture Styles and similar camera controls makes sense for raw shooters? Those who've worked in raw post-processing know that virtually any effect can be emulated that can be set in the camera; indeed, those options can be controlled with even more nuance in software than you could possibly accomplish in the heat of shooting in the field.

Is it better to set up the camera to shoot in monochrome with an "orange" filter effect and lower contrast than to shoot it in "straight" raw, then do all that work in conversion and image processing later? My testing with this camera showed me that working with Picture Styles in raw gave me a sense of what my intentions were in the field, which I could follow up later in post-processing. I took this approach in the knowledge that the current and coming crop of raw converters, including Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom, treat raw files like any other readable format. The new raw workflow means that raw will offer the best image quality without demanding the special treatment you might have conferred on the format in the past. And the 30D seems to be particularly apt for that workflow, especially with its delivery of 16-bit raw files. Working with the camera was like having every film ever made available for every frame I took--with many new do-it-yourself "emulsions" thrown into the mix.

Straight Up

Shooting 16 bit certainly gives you a lot more image information and to my eyes more dynamic range. That ability to capture all that can be recorded really helps in shots like this, where contrast could be a problem. This was shot "straight up," with all settings on default (Standard) with evaluative metering and Auto White Balance; exposure was f/8 at 1/400 sec at ISO 100, with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens at about 18mm. This went straight from the camera to the CD without anything other than saving as a TIFF file. Note that all focal lengths should be multiplied by 1.6 to get the 35mm equivalent, thus a 20mm setting equals a 32mm equivalent angle of view.

Picture Style Sets
The Picture Style menu is grouped under Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, and Faithful sets, all fairly arbitrary categories that are merely guides to a certain notion of which image attribute combinations match those names. Those attributes are sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. The presets are just a combination of those attributes. For example, Landscape has a higher color saturation and sharpness setting than Portrait, which has a lower sharpness setting than Standard. It is important to know that Neutral and Faithful, somewhat odd terms, do not apply any sharpening in their preset form.

But that's the key with these setups--they can be altered to just about any combination of the earlier mentioned attributes and then saved as your ideal settings for a particular subject or scene; in essence, you can pre-process the image, even raw format images, pretty close to what you might do in a raw converter, right in the camera. Add color space, white balance, and even exposure options and you can have more control over the look of an image than ever.

One caveat, though: you do have to learn your setups, and like when a new film came on the market, testing is the only way to find out what works and doesn't work for your way of seeing (light reading) and the type of images you want to shoot.

Once you open the Picture Style menu you use the Command dial to choose the attribute option, then you press the Jump button on the camera body. This opens up the options for adjusting the individual attributes, which you can in a -4 to +4 range, which is quite excessive at the extremes but nuanced in the +/- 2 range. If you find it easier you can use Custom Function 01-2 to have the Picture Style menu displayed by pressing the Set button on the camera, which I found quite useful for these tests. You can also save your personalized settings as well. And if you want even more options you can download additional customized Picture Style menus from the Internet, something I didn't try as I had more options than I could handle using the supplied menus.

Manual Exposure Mode

Just for fun I placed a Lensbaby on the EOS 30D and switched over to Manual exposure mode. While the settings I made in the camera affected the outcome, further work in Photoshop gave me the look I desired. But this was also a 16-bit raw file.

Black and white photographers also have as many options, with standard filter effects such as yellow, orange, red, and even green emulating what the look would be when "real live" filters were placed over the camera lens. But another option I had not considered before working with the 30D was the effect of "push and pull processing" by altering the ISO as well as the image contrast (both in contrast and in color contrast "filters") and sharpness in the Picture Style attributes. Pull developing would be lowering contrast and maintaining normal sharpness and perhaps using a yellow filter, while push might be using a red filter and upping contrast, sharpness, and even ISO, etc. In truth, when working with the Canon Pro software it doesn't matter if you shoot it in monochrome or color, or use a red or green filter effect, as all that is changeable in their software. But it's fun to start somewhere.

The Digital/Film Experience
Is all this stretching a point? Does it seem like the more we get into digital the more we do everything we can to emulate the film experience, albeit without having to change rolls? For this photographer this seems to be the case, and as more controls become available I find myself referring more and more to my previous experience with film. Just as when I work with Photoshop I use the tools that bring my darkroom printing experience into play, the 30D made me feel like I could actually bring my experience with film to full advantage in the digital realm.

Does the 30D really pull this all off? First off, the quality of the images delivered was excellent. I was consistently pleased with what I got from the camera and made some excellent 13x19 prints from the files. Tests of many different image attribute combinations were also successful, and making and changing settings in the field was easy, and fun. I shot in monochrome with "filters," added saturation to landscapes, and even used lower contrast settings to overcome high-contrast scenes that I knew would be a real problem without those adjustments. In many cases there was little or no raw file adjustments on shots after download, which is what I was after. I went straight from the raw file to Photoshop, where I made my "local" burn and dodge, etc., adjustments.

Color Play

I wanted to lay on the effects in camera with this shot to get just what I wanted without any post-processing, just as I used to do with slide film. Having played with the EOS 30D for a few days prior to this shot I was prepped: I set it at -1 Exposure Compensation; Cloudy White Balance; Landscape Picture Style; -2 Contrast; +1 Sharpness; and +1 Color Tone, which gave it a warmer (yellow) glow. Sound complicated? Only the first time out, as I then saved this setting for every other shot in this series of a near-abandoned town in northern New Mexico. It's like batch processing in camera.

After a few weeks of working and processing I concluded that shooting this camera on anything but raw file format, or a raw+ JPEG format, would be a waste of precious resources. The 16-bit files are rather startling in their fidelity and depth. I simply can't see why anyone would waste time shooting JPEG in a camera like this. There's nothing wrong with the JPEG files in and of themselves, mind you, it's just that the 16-bit raws are so darn good.

I do have one complaint, which I often have for digital SLRs and of course digicams in general: unfortunately, the monitor is not very readable in bright sunlight. Yes, there are hoods that can help, but I think that the monitor view is the one big leap forward that this, and most digital SLRs I've tested, need to make, especially in this price range. There's no reason to have to contort so that shadows fall on the face of the monitor or to have to run to a cave to properly view the playback, and sometimes even the menu, in really bright light.

I approach many of my digital experiences these days with the knowledge that digital is a medium that incorporates, or perhaps envelops, photography rather than reinvents it. Digital is the great emulator, and the Canon 30D provides all the tools you might need to bring your skills to the fore, and even invent some new tricks along the way.

For more information, contact Canon U.S.A., Inc., One Canon Plaza, Lake Success, NY 11042; (800) 652-2666, (516) 328-5000;