DCRP Review: Canon EOS-D30
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, November 2, 2000
Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2000

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The Canon EOS-D30 review is kind of a departure for the DCRP. We've always kept to covering consumer cameras (below $2000), and will occasionally do special reviews such as the one you're about to read. But consumer cameras will always be our focus!

Right when I was finishing up with Canon's excellent PowerShot G1, the folks at Canon asked if I wanted to try their new Pro SLR digital camera, the EOS-D30. Yes, yes, yes, I answered... and for the last two weeks, I've been enjoying the D30 tremendously. I've always liked cameras with manual controls, and the D30 takes it to the next level. Of course, this all comes at a price -- $3,500 for the body alone. The entire bag of goodies Canon sent out lists for over $5,000.

I'm kind of a rare breed, since I actually become really interested in photography through digital cameras, rather than moving up through 35mm cameras. Look for some comments from a Canon 35mm SLR user to be added to this review in the next few days, as well. Now, let's begin!

What's in the Box?

The EOS-D30 has a very complete bundle, as you'd expect given the price. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.25 Mpixel EOS-D30 camera body
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • One BP-511 Lithium-ion battery (rechargeable)
  • AC adapter / dual battery charger
  • DC coupler
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video out cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v.2.0, and Adobe Photoshop 5.0LE
  • 150 page camera manual, plus 92 page software manual

In addition to those standard features, Canon also sent the following for my review:

  • Gadget bag, additional BP-511 battery, battery grip, and 340MB IBM Microdrive (valued at $780)
  • Speedlite 380EX flash ($400)
  • Canon EF 28-105mm lens ($840)

As you can see, this is quite the setup. I'm not going to comment much on the extra features that Canon sent (though you're probably going to want many of them for your D30), instead focusing on those items included with the camera itself.

Above is a shot of the camera without a lens (you can see the mirror there). You can use any Canon EF lens with the D30. I tried both Canon's 50mm and 75-300mm lenses and they worked just fine, as you'd expect. The focal length of the D30 is 1.6 times the focal length marked on the lens (e.g. a 50mm lens is about the same as an 80mm lens on a 35mm camera).

I should mention at this point that the D30 doesn't have a CCD, like most digital cameras. Instead, it uses a CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensor, which contains 3.25 million pixels. The CMOS sensor is quite a bit larger than a typical CCD - it's about the size of APS film (22.7 x 15.1mm). CMOS sensors haven't been used in most digital cameras due to issues with noise and pixel variations, but Canon has come up with noise reduction technologies to make it produce images as good, or better than a traditional CCD.

Canon includes a skimpy 16MB CompactFlash card with the D30. You'll want to buy a much larger card right away -- the 340MB Microdrive Canon included with my camera held hundreds of images, and would probably be a good choice.

The battery charger included with the D30 can hold two batteries at once, though I think it only charges one at a time. The BP-511 batteries are the same as those found on the PowerShot G1. Canon claims that a single battery can last from anywhere from 400-680 shots, depending on flash usage. One nice thing about not being able to preview shots on the LCD is that it saves a lot of battery power!

The D30 also includes a DC coupler, which is essentially a battery with a cord that plugs into the wall (with a few stops along the way), a nice feature as well.

Canon's software is even better than it was when I covered in back in the PowerShot S10 review. I'm not going to go into details about it now, other than saying that I'm more than happy with the way it works. Canon also includes the Remote Capture software, which lets you control your D30 from your Mac or PC.

As I mentioned, Canon sent me the 380EX flash, and a battery grip too. The flash (obviously) does a much better job than the built-in flash, plus you can bounce the light off the ceiling to virtually eliminate redeye. Not having ever played with an integrated SLR system before, I was very impressed at how the camera, lens, and flash all communicated with each other.

The battery grip holds two of the BP-511 batteries, and it plugs into the camera's battery slot. Now you've got double the battery life, and a really sold place to hold onto as well.

One last optional accessory I should mention is the RS-80N3 Remote Switch -- for taking photos with your hands off the camera.

Look and Feel

The D30 looks pretty much like every SLR camera, with the LCD display being the only thing that makes it stand out. While the body's shell is plastic, the frame is made of stainless steel. The camera feels very solid as a result, though it's a bit heavier than the cameras I'm used to. Canon claims that the D30 is the lightest SLR digital camera (with interchangeable lenses) out there. The dimensions of the body are 5.89 x 4.19 x 3.0 inches, and it weighs 1.72 pounds empty.

The D30 is definitely a two handed camera. The rubberized grip is good for the right hand (though I'd prefer a bit larger grip), and your left hand will probably end up supporting the lens.

Let's begin our D30 tour with the back of the camera.

The optical viewfinder is through-the-lens (as with all SLR cameras), and it covers 95% of the field. Diopter correction is available for those of us with glasses. While I can't show you, when you look into the viewfinder, you'll find a line of information just below the image you're looking at. Here you'll find things like shutter speed, aperture, focus area, exposure compensation, and more. I wonder why this feature hasn't trickled down onto consumer digital cameras - I love it.

The 1.8" LCD display is bright and easy to read in all but the brightest sunlight. Do keep in mind that you cannot see the photo on the LCD before it is taken -- only after.

The buttons to the left of the LCD are, top to bottom:

  • Power on/off
  • Menu
  • Jump (for playback mode)
  • Thumbnail/zoom (also for playback mode)
  • Enter playback mode

I'll discuss some of those features later in the review. The button right below the LCD will delete photos, either during review (after the photo is taken), or in playback mode. The knob to the right of the LCD is for moving through menus and options on the LCD info display, and you can turn it on or off with the switch just above (though I'm not sure why). The SET button in the middle of the wheel is the "OK" button in menus.

The two buttons at the top right of the above picture are for:

  • AE lock
  • Focus Area selection

Here's a view of the top of the camera - I'll have close-ups of the important parts below.

To the far left, you'll find the mode wheel, which is chock full of options. They are:

  • Full Auto
  • Program AE
  • Shutter Priority (Tv)
  • Aperture Priority (Av)
  • Full Manual
  • Auto depth-of-field priority AE (A-DEP)
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Close-up
  • Sports
  • Night Scene

As you can see, there's a ton of choices in the mode wheel. One thing missing is a choice for Playback mode, which is a button on the back of the camera instead. A few notes about some of these modes:

In shutter priority mode, you can choose from speeds ranging from 1/4000 sec to 30 seconds! I took a few shots at 20-30 seconds and they were amazing!

In aperture priority mode, your choices range from f1.0 to f91 (!), depending on your lens. For the 28-105mm lens that I had, I could choose from f3.5 - f22, and many places in between.

Back to the big picture now - the D30 has has a hot shoe, as you probably already figured out from the first section of this review. There's also a built-in flash around it, which pops up automatically in Full Auto mode, of if you hit the button below it.

To the right of the hot shoe are three buttons, which are controlled with either the dial (seen above the LCD info display), or the wheel on the back of the camera. From top to bottom, these buttons control:

  • Metering (Evaluative, Partial, Center-weighted averaging) and Flash Strength (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Drive (Single-frame, continuous shooting, self-timer)
  • Auto Focus (One Shot AF [still subjects], AI Servo AF [for moving subjects]) and white balance (auto, sunlight, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, flash, manual)

As you'd expect from a camera like the D30, there's a manual white balance mode. You just take a picture of whatever you want to be white, load that data into the camera (using the menus, explained in next section), and then select this mode.

Here's a close-up of those three buttons, as well as the action packed LCD info display. I'm not going to tell you everything it can show (isn't that what the manual is for?), but let's just say that its pretty much everything you can think of, and then some.

The last and most important piece on the top of the camera is the shutter release button. I found the tactile feedback to be right on with this button, and all the others on this camera. They just seem to feel right.

Now the left side of the camera (sorry for the neck strap in there). Just right of the lens are (from top to bottom) buttons for flash open, lens release, and a button to close down the aperture (so you check the focus). Further to the right, under a rubber cover (hard to see here) you'll find the USB and video out plugs. Just below those, you'll find a PC sync terminal (for another external flash) as well as a port for the remote shutter release.

On the other side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash Type II slot. Now this is the kind of door I like to see on memory card slots. This thing is reinforced with metal and is very sturdy. There's a little red light that shows when the card is being accessed as well (which I didn't notice for a week).

And finally, the bottom of the camera. On the left is the main battery slot, and in the middle is the door for the backup battery. Directly under the lens, you'll find a nice metal tripod mount. And this ends our tour of this very complex camera... now, what's it like to actually use?

Using the D30

I'm going to discuss record and playback mode in detail in this section.

Record Mode

The D30 is one of the fastest cameras I've ever tested. It starts up in about four seconds, due in part to the lack of a motorized lens to extend. Auto focus speed varies depending on the subject, but it's never slow. Sometimes, it's almost instantaneous. The camera has an AF illuminator to help focus in low light situations. When you depress the shutter release fully, the photo is taken instantly. Less than 2 seconds later, the D30 was ready to take another picture.

Put the camera in continuous shooting mode, and gets even faster - it can shoot three 3.25 Mpixel images in one second!

One nice thing about a camera of this type is the ability to manually zoom and focus. There's no slow motorized zoom -- you just use your hands to get it exactly where you want it. I also found manually focusing to be more accurate than the AF system sometimes.

As soon as a photo is shot, it appears on the LCD for a set number of seconds. You can hit the delete button at this point to dump it if you want.

The D30's menu system is very simple to use, yet it contains a ton of options at the same time. Here they are:

  • Quality (Large/Fine, Large/Normal, Small/Fine, Small/Normal, RAW) - more below
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Auto-bracketing
  • ISO (100/200/400/800/1600)
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Custom (manual) white balance
  • Protect (playback only)
  • Rotate (playback only)
  • Print Order (playback only)
  • Auto playback (slideshow)
  • Auto power off
  • Review (on/off)
  • Review time
  • LCD brightness (Standard/Bright)
  • Date/time
  • File numbering (reset/continuous)
  • Language
  • Video System
  • Card Format
  • C. Fn (more below)

Here's the way Canon's quality system works:

Quality Resolution Image Size
Large/Fine 2160 x 1440 1.3MB
Large/Normal 0.7MB
Small/Fine 1440 x 960 0.7MB
Small/Normal 0.4MB
RAW 2160 x 1440 3.4MB

Like the PowerShot G1, the D30 has a RAW mode. This is an uncompressed file with all the original data straight from the CMOS sensor. You can only open this file using Canon's software, from which you can save it into many other formats. The big advantage of RAW over TIFF is the savings in disk space - an equivalent TIFF would take up three times as much space!

I didn't get a chance to take any RAW shots, but check out some of the links at the bottom of the review to find some.

Inside that C. Fn choice in the menu is a whole other menu of Custom Functions that let you change even more settings. And they are:

  • Long exposure noise reduction (see example below)
  • Shutter button / AE lock button (defines what these buttons do)
  • Mirror lockup (useful for preventing the effects of camera vibration caused by mirror action in close-up and ultra-telephoto shots)
  • TV, Av, and exposure level (1/2 or 1/3-stop increments)
  • AF-assist light (on/off)
  • Shutter speed in Av mode with flash (auto, or fixed at 1/200 sec)
  • AEB sequence / auto cancellation (lets you tweak the auto bracketing settings)
  • Shutter curtain sync(1st or 2nd-curtain sync)
  • Lens AF stop button switch (not entirely clear on this one)
  • Auto reduction of fill flash (on/off)
  • Menu button return position (where you start in the menus)
  • SET button function when shooting (that's the button the middle of the wheel on the back of the camera)
  • Sensor cleaning (for cleaning the CMOS sensor)

And that brings us to some photo samples. First, a demonstration of that long exposure noise reduction. While it takes a bit longer for the camera to process these photos, it's well worth your time, as you can see below and in the gallery.

Both of the photos below were shot in shutter priority mode, with a 20 second exposure time.

Without noise reduction
With noise reduction

So as you might imagine, night shots were the best I've seen from a digital camera.

Shot in shutter priority mode, 8 seconds, f4.5

Macro photos were equally impressive. The shot below doesn't have perfect auto white balance (as few cameras do), but this could be solved by using manual mode.

As a whole, the photo quality was truly superb, as you'd expect from a professional digital camera. The manual controls and super fast speeds of the D30 really motivated me to take better pictures -- and I think I did.

One last thing about record mode - in case the LCD info display wasn't enough, you can hit the Info button to see the screen above, which summarizes your current settings.

Playback Mode

The EOS-D30 has a complete, non-gimmicky playback mode. The basics are all covered with features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and protection.

A nice additional feature is the ability to rotate photos within the camera.

The D30 has a photo info menu that tells you all kinds of details about a shot, complete with histogram.

A handy jump button lets you move forward or reverse 10 photos at a time.

The only complaint I have about playback mode is the zoom and scroll feature. To get there, you have to go into thumbnail mode first, press the button again, and then you're zoomed in. Once zoomed, you use the wheel on the back of the camera to move through the photo.

Oh, and like with most cameras, I'd like the ability to delete a group of photos at once, but it was not to be.

How Does it Compare?

I don't feel that I can answer the above question, since this is the first Pro SLR digital camera I've used. Is the D30 a great camera? Yes, absolutely -- it continually amazed me every time I used it. If you've got a collection of Canon lenses and want to go digital in a big way, the D30 is for you. Even if you don't, and can afford the D30, it's definitely something to consider. Most of our readers will just daydream about the D30, but if it's in your price range, you should definitely check it out!

As my deadline loomed, I got pretty depressed about having to send it back! C'est la vie, I guess!

What I liked:

  • Great Canon SLR body - solid, functional
  • Amazing speed and responsiveness
  • Real manual focus and zoom
  • Every shooting option imaginable
  • CompactFlash Type II support
  • Superb photo quality
  • RAW mode - uncompressed & smaller than TIFF
  • Supports all kinds of accessories from Canon

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive - body alone costs $3,500
  • Not for the novice photographer
  • Having to send it back to Canon (second week in a row I've said that)

While we don't cover these Pro cameras, I will suggest checking out the Fuji FinePix S1 Pro, and the more expensive Nikon D1 as competitors to the D30.

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review have their usual in-depth reviews of the D30.

You might also find Luminous Landscape's D30 review, and D30 vs. Film comparison to be interesting as well.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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