Review of the Canon EOS 30D
Series numbers aside, the outcome of this progression of models has generally been an increase in the amount of pixels on the sensor: from 3MP to 6MP and now 8MP. Both the D60 and the 10D had 6 million pixels; the 20D and the new 30D have 8MP. So is the new camera that much different from its predecessor? Let’s take a look at the 30D and see if it lives up to the reputation set by its forebears.
Canon continues its dedication to the CMOS sensor, and the 30D contains the same version as the EOS 20D, with 8.2 million effective pixels, out of a total 8.5million. The sensor is also APS-C size, which offers a 1.6x shift in focal length on 35mm format lenses. Speaking of lenses, the camera continues to use the Canon EF mount, which means any Canon AF lens may be used, or similar from the independent lens makers.
So, what sets this camera apart from the 20D? Basically the camera has been updated to take advantage of some of the newer features Canon has been including in recent cameras. To start with there’s a larger LCD screen, with 2.5 diagonal inches of viewable area, 230,000 pixels and a quoted viewing angle of 85° from most directions. Actually this is a little confusing; most manufacturers would refer to this as a 170° viewing angle, which sounds better, but also I think gives a better illustration of how easy it is to see the screen at obtuse angles.
Introducing a new camera with a large screen is nothing new of course; Nikon did the same with the D70s, and Canon followed up the EOS 1D Mk II with the ‘n’ version and an added half an inch. But, like the Mk IIn, there’s more that has been added to the 30D. Canon has added its Picture Style software to the camera. We’ve covered this in reviews of recent digital cameras, but I’ll briefly recap. Picture Style provides a sub menu to allow you to add in-camera digital optimisation for popular subjects such as portraits or landscapes. There are various curves and settings for vivid, neutral or natural images, as well as black & white options. And you can download more options from the web, or build your own custom effects. It’s like scene modes on steroids and works well. If you’re shooting in RAW you can add the effect or delete if you’re not happy. The other major upgrade incorporated into the EOS 30D is the frame rate, which has been increased from 5fps over 23 frames on the 20D, to 5fps over 30fps. This increase in buffer size may not be that significant to most, but if you’re interested in sport or wildlife it could save your photographic life.
In other respects, there’s much the same as before. The camera has a DIGIC II processor, magnesium alloy shell and the same shutter speeds as before. The AF system is the same as the 20D too, with a nine-selectable point system, enabling easy and fast focusing on off-centre subjects. Similarly the cameras share the same metering system, including AF linked evaluative metering, 3.5% central area spot metering and good old-fashioned centreweighted metering.
The overriding design factor is the inclusion of the larger screen. However, there’s still plenty of space on the camera’s back.
The rest of the design ethos of Canon cameras remains intact, and this model is instantly recognisable as a Canon model. It’s very well made and comfortable to hold, thanks to its robust and sturdy build, and also owing to the rubber grip.
The top-plate has a large LCD screen with readouts for photographic controls such as aperture, shutter, white balance, file format, drive mode and exposure compensation. There’s also a battery status symbol.
Many of these settings can be changed with the buttons placed close by, in combination with the front controller and rear command dial. The left side has the mode dial, featuring the usual array of manual through to program modes. There’s also an auto mode and a set of scene modes, although considering the camera’s target audience of enthusiasts and semi-professionals I think these are perhaps unnecessary, or even condescending.
In the centre of the top-plate on top of the pentaprism is a hotshoe and built-in flash. The flash covers up to 17mm lenses (equivalent to 27mm) and has a guide number of 13m – not too shabby.
On the side of the camera is a PC socket for attaching external flash units or studio lights. This socket is protected by a tough rubber cover, also covering the remote control, USB Hi-Speed and video out ports.
The back houses the LCD, the menu controls, and the rear command wheel, which allows menu and picture scrolling, with a central ‘set’ button. It doubles as aperture control and exposure compensation setting, which I always find awkward to use, as you need to set the power button to an unlabelled white line, which doesn’t give the game away. Finally there’s a toggle switch to allow manual control of the nine AF points, in conjunction with the AF selection button at the top right.
For starters I can attest to the camera’s weatherproofing, after getting caught in a late March shower. As for camera timing, it’s nippy, with near-instantaneous start up. The continuous burst mode offers up to 5fps over 30 frames in largest JPEG mode. Using a SanDisk Extreme III card, I managed a one-minute burst of 224 images, with a sustained 5fps burst lasting for the first 30 seconds to capture 150 images before the buffer filled up and the camera slowed down. Of course, that’s using manual exposure and focus, so the camera has nothing else to think about. But that’s impressive nevertheless, with an average one-minute burst speed of 3.7fps.
In other areas the camera performs well too. The AF is generally spot on, though it can at times dance between focus points or choose the wrong one, in which case you need to switch to manual selection. Canon also knows a thing or two about menu design: I like its scrolling action and fast jump to different sections, though I still find the typeface quite small compared to other systems.
For the most part the EOS 30D is capable of some extremely fine images, and generally exposure and colour are very good. The camera does suffer from Canon’s standard flat image look though, and I feel most images could do with a slight tweak in contrast to get rid of a slight milky look that faintly covers the images. Viewed alone this is barely noticeable but compared to an image from another camera, or viewed before and after correction, you can see it quite clearly. This is noticeable in JPEG images as well as RAW.
In terms of noise, the 30D performs very well, even at high ISO settings. ISO 1000 is about the highest I would recommend for comfortable images; any higher and I would be concerned about how the noise will show in the final images.
Finally a word about lenses. Several images I shot were less sharp than I’d hoped because of the quality of some of the cheaper Canon lenses. So it’s worth investing in a decent lens, at least as a day-to-day standard, unless you want to see unsharp images and a higher incidence of fringing.
Generally though, I can’t see many people complaining about the quality of the images they might get from the Canon EOS 30D.
At £1200, the EOS 30D isn’t cheap, and I wouldn’t suggest upgrading from the 20D. But if you’re moving up from, say, a 300D or 350D, you’d probably appreciate the extra features and build quality. Similarly, for those keen Canon users switching to digital for the first time, the build quality and features make the camera a viable option.
As a new camera the Canon EOS 30D is a bit of a disappointment, but viewed as an upgrade to an already very good camera, it performs its role well. So while the extra functions don’t excite us as much as a brand new model would, the Canon 30D is still a very good camera.
Canon may appear to have missed a trick by not announcing something totally new in the same price bracket as the Nikon D200 that matches its pixel count. But Canon is canny, and it’s rare that any opportunity is missed, so I suspect there’s something else up Canon’s sleeve.
The 30D is a good camera but, in the grand scheme of things, perhaps not an important one.