The Canon EOS D30 Digital SLR

The D30 offers three metering patterns or ways of reading and evaluating light. Choosing one over the other is a matter of your experience and how you want to render the light in the scene. I prefer center-weighted and partial center-weighted when there's time to consider the scene and Canon's Evaluative metering when the action is fast and it's a reaction rather than a composition. But that's just me. To get enhanced color saturation here I measured the light right from the brightest area and then locked exposure with the AE Lock button, recomposed and shot.
Photos © 2000, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

When they first arrived on the scene digital SLRs were well beyond the means of all but the well heeled. News organizations, sports photojournalists, government photographers, and the corporate world were the first to take advantage of the new tech because it eliminated the cost and time of film developing and printing and made editing a field rather than an office experience. They also could adapt the lenses and accessories from their conventional film SLRs right to the new digital SLR bodies, another cost saving that also afforded the field photographer the ability to switch from film to digital capture with a simple body swap.

Although the Canon D30 isn't cheap ($3500 list for the body) it's well below the price of those first digital SLRs. It's about half of what some digital SLRs cost just a year ago. Does this mean that we will see a lowering of price points as time goes along? You bet. And there are many more to come. There's no question that we'll see a great number of these digital SLRs coming out this year and from all accounts they'll be hitting this price range. So you might have to wait another year or more until we see the next significant drop in price offerings.

Easy Transition
Anyone who has worked with a modern film 35mm SLR camera will feel right at home with the D30. Triple the comfort zone if you've worked with a Canon EOS film SLR. Indeed, unless you looked closely you'd probably think it's a film SLR rather than a highly sophisticated digital capture machine.

Unlike some digital SLRs of the past, the D30 is compact and lightweight. This SLR has camera features that would satisfy the avid amateur and perhaps even the pro. But Canon hasn't left anyone out here as the D30 offers picture "modes," where you match a preprogrammed exposure setting to the scene and subject at hand, thus bringing the beginning SLR user into the fold as well. The main point is that you can switch from a Canon EOS film camera to the D30 and hardly feel a bump in the road.

If you are swapping between digital and film bodies you will see a difference when you change lenses. The Canon CMOS chip (more on that shortly) is the size of an Advanced Photo System "C" format frame, thus smaller than a 35mm frame. You can figure the difference in the view by multiplying the focal length of the lens you use for a Canon 35mm SLR by 1.6. Thus, if you're working with a 50mm lens on your 35mm EOS camera and decide to put it on your D30 you'll be seeing a view that's equivalent to working with an 80mm lens in the 35mm format. This can get serious when putting your Canon EF 70-210mm lens on the D30, as you'll then be working with a 110-330mm zoom. All this is great for bird watchers, sports fans, and other telephoto aficionados, but not such great news for those who like a wider angle point of view. A 20mm Canon EF lens only gets you a measly 32mm on the D30, a quite different point of view than afforded by the super-wide 20mm. I guess the point of this is that we'd love a 1:1 swap. But the price of this convenience is probably more than many of us would be willing to pay right now.

Image A.

Image B.
Image A. Your first reaction might be to use flash in low light but that can sometimes eliminate any mood or atmosphere from a scene. In this set the Canon D30's built-in flash was used for image A. It does the job but just doesn't have the right mood. For B, I reset the ISO of the frame from the default ISO 100 to ISO 800, which allowed me to shoot handheld without flash. In this way I picked up three stops or eight times as much light sensitivity.

One of the most exciting aspects of SLR photography is creative exposure control. Aside from the already mentioned picture modes for sports, portraits, and more, there are the standard aperture and shutter priority exposure modes and three metering patterns--Canon's Evaluative metering, center-weighted, and partial center-weighted, a sort of enlarged spot metering pattern.

One of the major advantages of digital photography in general, and one of the main reasons that this is such a great photography learning machine, is that you can see the results right after you make the exposure. Thus you can use other exposure features like Exposure Lock, Auto-bracketing, and Exposure Compensation, all standard bred features for modern SLRs and a great addition to a digital camera's creative arsenal. The Canon D30 shows you what you did right, or lets you know right away that you messed up so you can try it again. It also encourages experimentation without worrying about burning too much film, as you can delete poor results as you go.

This field editing can make everyone look like a star. A few months back I was at a baseball game working the press shooting area and noticed a photographer working with a Nikon D1. Between each inning she would review her take and dump the losers. Of course this helped make space on the memory card, but it also ensured her that only her best would hit the editor's monitor. The D30 allows you to work in an automatic range of 30 sec to 1/4000 sec, way beyond what any point-and-shoot digital camera can handle. You can also get up to 3 fps framing rate for a sequence of eight frames when shooting in Large/Fine recording mode at full resolution JPEG format.

Like its 35mm SLR brethren, the D30 has a depth of field Preview button. You set the aperture, press the button and check out what's sharp and unsharp in the viewfinder. To get sharpness from near to far here I used aperture priority mode and set the aperture to f/16. The camera's autoexposure system took care of the shutter speed.

Digital Matters
The D30 has a newly developed CMOS chip that contains 3.25 megapixels with an effective delivery of 3.11 megapixels per image. That opens up to a bit above a 9MB RGB file for Large recording mode images, good enough for very good 8x10" prints and quite good larger print sizes. This raises two issues: the comeback of CMOS and the seemingly small pixel count, at least when compared with point-and-shoot digicams that offer similar megapixel counts at less than a third of the price.

Say CMOS and you evoke associations with low resolution and low price digicams. According to Canon, this new generation of CMOS chip makes the most of CMOS' low power usage and high-level signal processing. Canon claims they have overcome the tendency of these chips to display noise and pixel variations by using on-chip processing and a complete transfer of the charge after exposure. Their dedicated "Image Engine" digital signal-processing chip is also said to enhance performance.

Image 4. The function of a light meter is to provide the camera with the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed so that the recording material (film or sensor) properly records the scene. I found the D30 metering reliable and accurate. Image 4 was made with center-weighted metering. The meter delivered an exposure that revealed every nut and bolt on this old steam engine. The sky, as I expected, became slightly overexposed. I didn't correct it here but it's easily done in any image-editing software. The point is that the camera delivered the goods.

That's all very well but the proof is always in the pudding. Our tests showed the color and image quality to be near flawless, as seen in the high frequency color subjects we chose. Note the edges and the lack of overlap and fringing with virtually no artifacts. Low-end CMOS chips would have grave problems with such subjects.

Another issue is the effective pixel count of 3.11 megapixels. Some people feel that there is an upper limit of pixel effectiveness and that to go beyond it exceeds the ability of the eye to perceive the difference. Others are always pushing for greater and greater counts in a kind of horsepower race that, like some race cars, make no sense in the practical realities of everyday driving, or shooting. But the fact that the Canon D30 has a pixel count equal to many under $1000 digital point-and-shoot cameras (which are hardly just point-and-shoot) does raise some eyebrows. Why, you might ask, should you shell out three times the bucks for the same amount of pixels?

We think this is a clear case of apples and oranges. To use a film analogy, many cameras work with 35mm format film, including $5 throwaways and under $100 fixed focus point-and-shoots. To compare them with an over $500 SLR is absurd. The same goes for comparing a 3-plus megapixel point-and-shoot with the D30. Do we wish the D30 had a higher pixel count? Sure. Do we think that this is the only measure of value? Definitely not. There's lens interchangeability, the ability to choose among light sensitivity from ISO 100-1600, refined exposure and focusing controls and a review setup that allows for diagnostics on each and every shot.

File Formats
The D30 lets you capture in four optional JPEG recording modes, from Large/Fine (which some manufacturers call Best/Fine) to Small/Normal. Although we think it would be nice if everyone agreed on recording mode terminology it's not that hard to translate from one term to another.

You choose from the four according to your image end use, with the biggest files best for prints and the smallest for monitor only and e-mail functions. You can also choose Canon's RAW format, a lossless "reversible" compression format that yields the most image information. RAW images must be converted when saved, an easy task when using the supplied Photoshop LE or other image-editing program. The RAW result in the best prints, although the Large/Fine JPEGs weren't far behind. Of course any uncompressed capture format will eat up memory card space fast, so use it judiciously with smaller capacity cards or work with larger capacity cards right away.

Image 5. For Image 5 I switched to Evaluative metering and got a luxurious exposure of this scene. In Image 6 I also used Evaluative but added the Autobracketing feature. This allows you to take three images with exposures that are slightly different. You arrange how they will be done. Here I chose normal (camera read), one EV overexposed and one EV underexposed, a course I might follow when shooting slide film. I chose the -1 EV exposure because the slight underexposure saturated the colors, even though there was some loss of shadow detail.

The recording mode choice brings up the issue of memory and capacity. If you are going to spend the bucks for this or another camera of its ilk it makes sense to follow through with an investment in larger capacity memory cards. An 8MB or 16MB card used for a point-and-shoot digital camera just won't do. I was fortunate to be able to work with the IBM MicroDrive when testing the D30, so I was able to get a full day's shooting in without feeling that I'd run out of space. Yes, the higher capacity cards are expensive, but think of all the money you save on film and processing. This camera encourages shooting. If you don't want to kick yourself halfway through the session make sure you've got memory to spare.

The D30 offers seven white balance modes, including Automatic for those who don't want to be bothered. In our test we chose Auto to see how it would perform, and it worked great inside and out on sunny and cloudy days. Of course you can always re-balance color or shift it to your heart's delight later, but it is always best to try to get it right in the camera and then play later.

How does the camera handle? The first thing we'd like to do is applaud Canon for the D30's control layout. Unlike some digital cameras where you first have to choose Capture, Display, Download, etc., modes before you take any action, the D30 simplifies the process with one Menu button, a Quick Control dial, and a Set button. Just hit the Menu button on the camera back and the very viewable 1.8" TFT LCD monitor lights up. To scroll through all options you turn just one dial and then select and set your choices. There's no switching to different modes and then going through a menu. What a relief!

Canon also allows you to spec out each image after the exposure is made. The "Info" button on the back gets you detailed exposure information, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. You can also view a histogram of the scene, another important feature.

Why do we like the histogram feature? A histogram is a graphic representation of the tonal spread, or brightness values in a recorded scene. It shows the lights, darks, and middle values and lets you know how the image was recorded. Although it takes some experience, a histogram is one of your best guarantees that you nailed the picture. What about a straight visual LCD review? For a general idea in the field using the monitor is fine, but we caution against using it for critical decisions. This is no knock on the D30; it's how we feel about every monitor review. The D30 even goes one better in that it will flash an overexposure warning in areas of the image that have received too much light. This along with the histogram is a good insurance policy against bad results. The camera won't correct poor exposure after it is made, but it will let you know that you better try again.

Image 6.

As befits its price the D30 has other enhancement features. You can program for increased sharpness, higher contrast and even more color richness, or saturation. Coupled with the fact that you can choose a range of ISO settings (from 100-1600) for every frame, working with the D30 is like having every type of film available today at your beck and call for every frame you shoot. Connectivity is easy because of the USB patch, or you can hook right into a TV monitor (NTSC or PAL) for video output. And when you shoot with any of the JPEG modes you get DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) that allows you to preset the memory card to print specific sizes and quantities when using your home printer or walk-up kiosk.

Software Bundles
Although software is never a main reason for buying one digital camera over another it sure can be a reason for not buying one. You have to pass through the software gate to get your images ready for editing and post-processing. Have no fear about the D30 bundle. If you like you can load images directly via any TWAIN compliant software (like Photoshop). This might be a valid route for experienced users. But it would be a shame not to try out the Canon Digital Camera Solution software. (Note: Adobe Photoshop 5.0 LE also comes with the camera.)

The EOS D30 handles like a good SLR should. Here I wanted rich colors and deep sky accompanied by deep, dark shadows. I set the camera on aperture priority mode, zoomed my Canon EF 24-85mm lens to its widest setting, set the aperture at f/16, checked my depth of field with the DOF Preview button to ensure that I was sharp from close-up to infinity, set the camera metering pattern to center-weighted partial, swung the center of the viewfinder to the sky, locked the exposure with the AE Lock button and released the shutter.

The heart of the software is called ZoomBrowser EX. Easily installed (although you might need your Windows disk along with the Canon disk), the program handles a myriad of functions. For USB connectivity you'll naturally need Windows 98 or higher for PC and G3, G4, or iMac/iBook for Mac/USB. The ZoomBrowser EX connects you to the camera or your CompactFlash card reader and speeds downloading to a somewhat over-designed interface. The controls look like a space command module, yet are surprisingly intuitive for those of us who drive mere cars. You quickly learn how to save, delete, make copies, set up folders and album pages, etc. There are many arrangement, filing, and print options available, as well as ways to make backgrounds, borders, and other image adjustments. Also included in the bundle is PhotoStitch for making panoramas, a way to start and load the image onto your e-mail functions and even a wizard for sizing images so that images you send to the web aren't too big for their britches. If you like you can play with the RemoteCapture software, a method of using the camera right from the computer.

In short, the software is stocked with creative and practical goings on and is worthy of a review onto itself. For now, take our word that once you get your hands on the Canon software you won't want to let go. It's almost as much fun as using the camera itself.

The aim of most photographers, working in film or digital, is to get as wide a tonal range as possible from the scene onto film, or sensor. This allows for the greatest creative leeway when post-processing the image later. Obviously, exposure plays a critical role, as does scene contrast. Digital offers a wide dynamic range but can lose integrity when overexposed. In that way it's like working with slide film. This exposure is difficult due to the reflective silver and deep values on the glove. The tonal range is tough to capture and I admit that I made a number of exposures before getting it just the way I wanted it. But that's the digital advantage. You can review the scene right after exposure and delete or keep as you see fit. Instead of a long bracketing sequence I ended up with only one "frame" used up on my memory card.

Image Results
The accompanying images are intended to give you a sense of what the Canon EOS D30 delivers. In many ways they are not unlike the type of images we'd work with to test a film SLR. But that's the point. Cameras like the Canon EOS D30 allow for a nearly seamless transition between film and digital photography, particularly for those who've had a taste of 35mm SLR photography before. It also goes the extra steps that only a digital camera can take. If you need the convenience of digital the D30 makes the choice a more pleasant and rewarding one.

The Last Word
For anyone who has used an SLR and especially a Canon SLR, the D30 is the perfect transition camera for a film to digital switch. You can use your Canon EF lenses, accessories, etc. For its price and features it's hard to beat in this class. It remains to be seen whether a higher resolution sensor would make sense in the digital SLR class. Most seem to think that it does but that the economics will keep its inclusion a year or two away. Canon's work on the camera controls and its improved CMOS sensor should be applauded. Their commitment to making camera systems rather than just cameras means that there are very few photographic and imaging realms you can't explore with this camera. And although the accompanying ZoomBrowser EX software is a bit over-designed it offers incredible functionality and is definitely a ball to use.

For more information, contact Canon U.S.A. Inc., (516) 328-5000;

Technical Specifications
Single lens reflex with autoexposure and autofocus. Built-in flash; an optional auxiliary flash can be mounted on the hot shoe or used as a remote.
Lenses: Interchangeable with the Canon EF mount. Canon lenses cover virtually every focal length, speed, and special use. You can use Canon EF lenses from your Canon 35mm SLR. Multiply the 35mm focal length lens by 1.6 to arrive at the effective focal length of the lens on the D30.
Image Sensor: CMOS, 22.7x15.1mm. Pixel count: 3.25 megapixels. Effective pixels: 3.11 megapixels (2160x1440). Aspect ratio of sensor: 2x3.
LCD Monitor: TFT, 1.8". Two adjustable brightness levels.
Recording Media: CompactFlash Type I and II, and accepts IBM MicroDrive
Recording Modes: JPEG and RAW. Choice of five quality settings. Two recording sizes: 2160x1440 and 1440x960.
White Balance: Auto, custom, and manual--seven in all
Framing Rate: 3 fps up to eight frames in highest quality JPEG mode
Capture, Playback, Edit, Review On Camera: Via Quick Control Dial/Set button, activated by Menu button
Connectivity, Software: USB or TWAIN compliant, Adobe Photoshop plug-in with Mac. Software bundles includes ZoomBrowser EX, PhotoStitch, RemoteCapture, Adobe Photoshop LE 5.0.
Power: BP-511 lithium ion rechargeable battery. AC adapter, or two BP-511 batteries with optional Battery Grip BG-ED3.
Accessories To Consider: Speedlite 420EX. Expands flash power and options. Mounts on camera hot shoe.
Extra Battery Pack BP-511: Never get caught short of power
Weight: 1.72 lbs without battery, CFG card
Size: 5.89x4.19x3.0". Similar to other Canon EOS 35mm film cameras.
Price: List, body only, $3500