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DCRP Review: Canon
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 22, 2006
Last Updated: July 16, 2011
The Canon EOS-30D is one of those cameras that's evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. It updates the very popular EOS-20D (see our review), though the new features are more "I wouldn't mind having that" than "I've gotta have that!". New features on the 30D (which shouldn't be confused with the EOS-D30, an older model -- poor move on Canon's part) include:
Everything else on the 30D is unchanged. That includes the 8.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor, EF/EF-S lens mount, full manual controls (and then some), hot shoe and flash sync port, and USB 2.0 High Speed support.
Ready to learn more about the 30D? Our review starts right now!
To save time, this review is largely based on the EOS-5D review.
What's in the Box?
The EOS-30D comes in two kits: one with the body only ($1399), and another with everything in the body only kit plus an 18 - 55 mm lens ($1499). Here's what you'll find in each kit:
As is the case with all D-SLRs, Canon does not include a memory card with the 30D, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. Thankfully CompactFlash cards are inexpensive these days, and I'd recommend a 1GB card as a good starter size. The 30D supports Type I and II cards, which includes the Microdrive, though I can't recommend those based on past experience. The camera definitely takes advantage of high speed memory cards, so it's worth spending a little more for one of those.
If you get the lens kit you'll also get Canon's second generation 18 - 55 mm EF-S lens in the box. I used this lens back when I reviewed the Digital Rebel XT, and it's not the greatest -- it tends to get soft at smaller apertures. It's a decent everyday lens, but there are better lenses out there. More on lenses a bit later.
The 30D uses the same BP-511A battery as the 20D, which has an impressive 10.3 Wh of energy. Canon says that you can take about 1100 shots per charge without using the flash, and 750 shots with it. That's better than both the EOS-5D and 20D, which have no-flash numbers of 800 and 1000 respectively. Since nobody seems to use the CIPA battery life standard for D-SLRs, it's not easy to compare battery life between the various cameras in this class.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the BP-511A apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $50 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day. The only D-SLRs that use AA batteries are from Pentax and Samsung.
For those in need of more power, you'll want the BG-E2 battery grip ($239). This holds two BP-511A or six AA batteries for double the battery life. There is also an extra shutter release, command dial, and AE lock and focus point buttons on the grip.
When it's time to recharge your BP-511A battery, just pop it into the included CG-580 charger. It takes approximately 100 minutes to fully charge the battery.
As far as accessories go, if you can name any one accessory, it exists. Want a different eyecup? Done. How about an angle finder (which are more useful than they may sound)? No problem. External flashes? Take your pick. Filters, remote controls, carrying cases, and more are all available. The 30D also supports the new WTF-E1 Wi-Fi adapter, so you can leave your USB cable at home.
Canon includes several software products with the 30D, the first being the same ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser applications that come with their PowerShot cameras. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs.
The "Browser twins" can be used for downloading images from a camera (via the EOS Utility program), viewing and printing your photos, and editing them as well. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature available.
ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser can also be used to edit your RAW images. This software isn't crippled at all, with control of all major RAW properties, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, contrast, and color, and color space.
While I imagine that most prospective EOS-30D buyers know what the RAW image format is all about, I'll explain anyway. RAW images contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera's image sensor. Since the data isn't processed on the camera you must do it yourself on your computer in order to get it into more usable formats like TIFF or JPEG. Both ImageBrowser and Digital Photo Professional (also included -- see below) can edit all the major RAW properties.
The EOS Utility program isn't just for getting photos into the "Browser" -- it also lets you control your 30D over a USB connection. You can set virtually all settings right on your Mac or PC, then just click a button and the photo is taken. Instead of saving the image to the camera's memory card, the photo is instead saved to your computer's hard drive.
Another piece of software that comes with the 30D is Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Think of this as ImageBrowser on steroids -- something geared more toward the enthusiast than the beginner.
On the main screen you have your usual thumbnail view, and there are three sizes to choose from.
You can also view the thumbnails with a histogram and shooting info.
The editing window is where you'll spend most of your time in DPP. For regular (non-RAW) images you can adjust the tone curve, luminance, contrast, hue, saturation, and sharpness.
The RAW adjustment options aren't too much different than in ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser. Exposure, white balance, tone curve, and color can all be adjusted here.
One thing DPP can do that ImageBrowser and ZoomBrowser cannot is batch processing. Just choose your options and off it goes, converting RAW images to the format of your choice.
A complex camera requires a detailed manual, and Canon delivers in that respect. It's not the most user friendly manual out there, but it is complete. Do note that the software manual is on CD-ROM, and not printed.
Look and Feel
The EOS-30D is a solid, well-built D-SLR of standard size. The camera has a magnesium frame underneath a plastic and rubber shell, and it feels well put together. The substantial right hand grip makes it easy to hold and the important controls are easy to reach. Canon hasn't gone overboard with buttons like some other manufacturers, and the four-way controller and playback zoom buttons are a big help.
From almost all angles the 30D and its predecessor look identical. The one place you'll see the difference between the two is on the back of the camera:
The most obvious differences between the 20D (left) and 30D (right) are the larger LCD and the addition of a Print/Share button. As I mentioned at the start of the review, there are some more subtle differences as well.
Now, here's how the 30D compares with other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the 30D is right in the middle of the pack! And, as you may have noticed, it's a bit bigger and heavier than the EOS-20D that it replaces.
Okay, let's start our tour of the 30D now, starting with the front view.
Here's the front of the camera without a lens attached. As I said in the previous section, the 30D (like the 20D before it) supports both EF and EF-S lenses. There is a "crop factor" here, so the field-of-view is equivalent to 1.6 times what is marked on the lens (e.g. 50 mm = 80 mm FOV). The shutter on the 30D has been improved since the 20D, and Canon says that it will last for 100,000 cycles.
To the right of the EF lens mount is the lens release button, with the depth-of-field preview button below that. The self-timer lamp can be found to the upper-left of the lens mount.
At the top of the photo is the 30D's pop-up flash. The working range of the flash will vary depending on what lens you're using, but for the kit lens it's 1.0 - 3.7 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.3 m at telephoto (both at ISO 100). For more flash power you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe or PC flash sync port.
The flash doubles as the 30D's AF-assist lamp, which the camera uses to focus in low light situations. It's very effective, though by default you'll end up with a flash picture as well. If you want some assistance with the focusing but don't want to actually use the flash for the photo, there are two options. The easy one is to just close the flash after the camera has locked focus. The more difficult way is to turn off the flash entirely by using the custom functions menu. The "no flash" option on the mode dial disables the AF-assist functionality of the flash, so that does not work.
The most noticeable change on the 30D is its new 2.5" LCD display. The 1.8" screen on my 20D looks tiny compared to this thing. While the screen doesn't stand out as much as the one on the Nikon D200 does, it's still pretty nice. It has 230,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. As is the case with most D-SLRs, the screen is only used for menus and reviewing photos you have taken -- it's not for composing pictures.
Above the LCD is a very large optical viewfinder, which shows 95% of the frame. Below the field-of-view is a line of data showing things like exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, and now, ISO sensitivity. A diopter correction knob on the upper-right of the viewfinder will focus what you're looking at.
Just to the left of the viewfinder is the brand spankin' new Print/Share button, which has been on Canon's PowerShot cameras for a few years now. When connected to a photo printer, just press this button and the selected image will be printed. When you connect to a Mac or PC, you can transfer photos (in numerous ways), and even set your computer's desktop background -- right from the camera.
This is what you'll see if you press the Info button while in record mode
There are four buttons to the left of the LCD:
The button below the LCD is for deleting photos -- one at a time, or all of them. The next button over is the main power switch, which also turns the Quick Control dial on and off.
Speaking of which, the Quick Control dial is just to the upper-right of that switch. You use this to navigate through the menu system, as well as for adjusting some manual controls.
Above that is the four-way controller, which is used for selecting an AF point, adjusting white balance compensation, and scrolling around when using the playback zoom feature.
At the top-right of the above photo are two buttons, which do the following:
Okay, that's all for the back of the 30D!
There's plenty to see here, so I'll work my way from left to right.
Over on the left side is the mode dial, which has both automatic and manual options. They include:
The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. The 30D uses the same E-TTL II flash metering system as the 20D. Any EX-series Canon flash will work with the E-TTL II system, which opens up some nice features like a high speed flash sync mode (that can sync at any shutter speed), plus wireless connectivity. If you want to use a non-Canon flash, it'll probably work, but you'll have to set things up manually. The camera can sync with compact, non-Canon flashes at 1/250 sec or slower, or 1/125 sec of slower for large studio flashes. I'll show you another way to attach an external flash in a bit.
Continuing to the right, we reach the LCD info display and yet more buttons. The info display shows just about every setting imaginable, and there's an orange-colored backlight available when you're shooting in the dark.
Now let's talk about those buttons. To change an option with one of these buttons, you press it and then have six seconds to use either the main or quick control dials to choose a setting. The buttons have the following function (from left to right):
The One shot AF mode is the one you'll use for everyday shooting. AI servo is for action shots, when objects are constantly in motion. The AI focus feature automatically switches between the two depending on the motion of your subject.
White balance controls are basically the same on the 30D as they are on the 20D. You can choose from various presets, use a white or gray card for custom WB, or set the color temperature manually. There's also a nice WB compensation feature that you'll see later in the review.
The continuous shooting mode has changed slightly since the 20D: there are now low and high speed options. At the low speed I was able to take 13 RAW and 19 JPEG images in a row at 2.8 frames/second. Moving up to high speed mode, I was able to take 12 RAW and 27 JPEG images in row at an impressive 4.8 frames/second. I'm not sure why the high speed more can both shoot faster AND take more pictures in JPEG mode. I used a 100X CompactFlash card for these measurements, by the way.
The spot metering option is new to the 30D, believe it or not.
At the top-right of the photo you'll see the main dial as well as the shutter release button.
On this side of the EOS-30D you'll find two buttons plus the I/O ports. The buttons are for popping up the flash and for checking the depth-of-field.
Let's peel back that rubber cover now to get a closer look at the I/O ports:
The ports include USB, video out, flash sync (another way to attach an external flash), and remote control. Like the 20D before it, the EOS-30D supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
Over on the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a reinforced plastic door. This is a Type II slot, so the Microdrive and its ilk are fully supported.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The door covering the battery slot is fairly sturdy, and it can be removed easily for attaching the optional battery grip. If you buy the AC adapter, you'll be putting a DC coupler into that compartment, and feeding the power cable out through a hole in the side.
The included BP-511A battery is shown at right.
Using the Canon EOS-30D
Like the 20D before it, the EOS-30D starts up without delay. Flip the power switch to the "on" position and you're ready to start shooting.
As always, autofocus speeds on a D-SLR depend mostly on what lens you're using. The Canon F1.4 50 mm lens that I used for some of the sample photos proved to be very responsive, taking 0.1 - 0.2 seconds to lock focus. Some other lenses will take a bit longer, but nowhere near as long as most fixed lens cameras. The 30D focused accurately and quickly in low light situations, thanks to its flash-based AF-assist lamp.
Naturally, shutter lag was not an issue on the 30D. Shot-to-shot speeds are also very good, regardless of the image quality setting. Like all D-SLRs, you can literally shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.
Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the EOS-30D:
Naturally, the EOS-30D can shoot RAW images, either by themselves or along with a JPEG at any of the resolutions above. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available. The 30D does not support the TIFF format.
Images are named using the following convention: IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. When each "folder" on the memory card is full, another one is created and the numbering starts all over again (until you fill up the 999th folder, that is). The camera maintains the file numbering even if you switch memory cards.
Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.
Like the 20D, the 30D has just one menu which contains all the options for recording, playback, and setup. Each is designated with a color: red, blue, and yellow, respectively. You maneuver through the menus using the Quick Control dial on the back of the camera. The menu choices are:
Before I talk about the custom functions I want to mention some of the items in the record menu above.
The EOS-30D has the same advanced white balance bracketing and WB shift features as the 20D. WB bracketing will take 3 shots in a row, each with a different WB setting. The X-axis covers the blue/amber direction, while the Y-axis is for green and magenta. WB shift lets you use the joystick on the back of the camera to choose the exact color shift you desire. You can even do both at the same time!
Gone is the parameters menu that was on the 20D, with a new Picture Styles menu in its place (first seen on the 5D). There are some preset modes (which can be customized), and you can also store three sets of parameters as well. In the monochrome mode you can add tints and color effects by using the toning and filter features.
Now it's time for the lengthy list of custom functions available on the EOS-30D. Here they are:
01. SET button function when shooting (None, change quality, change picture style, menu display, image replay)
02. Long exposure noise reduction (Off, auto, on) - for exposures longer than 1 second; the auto mode only uses NR when noise is detected
03. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/250 sec) - fixes the shutter speed for flash shots in aperture priority mode
04. Shutter button/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these two buttons do
05. AF-assist beam (Emits, does not emit, only external flash emits)
06. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2-stop) - the setting increment for shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation
07. Flash firing (Fires, does not fire)
08. ISO expansion (on/off) - turns on the ISO 3200 (high) option
09. Bracket sequence/Auto cancel (0/-/+/Enable, 0/-/+/Disable, -/0/+/Enable, -/0/+/Disable) - Choose the order in which exposure and WB bracketing photos are taken, and if it is cancelled when you power off the camera, switch lenses, etc.
10. Superimposed display (on/off) - whether the AF point is shown in the optical viewfinder
11. Menu button display position (Previous [top if powered off] menu, previous menu, top menu) - where the cursor starts when you invoke the menu system
12. Mirror lockup (on/off) - enable it when the vibration of the mirror can blur your photos
13. AF point selection method (Normal, multi-controller direct, quick control dial direct) - how you manually select a focus point
14. E-TTL II (Evaluative, average) - flash metering
15. Shutter curtain sync (1st, 2nd-curtain)
16. Safety shift in Av or Tv (on/off) - if the subject's brightness changes suddenly, the camera can shift the shutter speed or aperture to obtain a proper exposure
17. Magnified view (Image playback only, image review and playback) - when the playback zoom feature can be used
18. Lens AF stop button (AF stop, AF start, AE lock, AF point: M-->Auto/Auto-->Center [for changing the focus point], One Shot <--> AI servo, IS start) - this button is only found on super telephoto lenses
19. Add original decision data (on/off) - adds data that proves image is original; requires Data Verification Kit to be useful
Confused? Probably. Thankfully the camera manual has some nice explanations of all of those, so look to it for help if you buy the 30D.
Now, let's do our test photos. Since I didn't have the kit lens I will be skipping the distortion test.
The EOS-30D did a very nice job with our usual macro test subject. Colors are nice and saturated, and the subject has a smooth (some may say soft) look to it.
The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Canon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, including a 60 mm EF-S model. I used the Sigma 50mm F2.8 EX DG lens here, which has as minimum focus distance of 19 cm.
The night shot turned out well. The camera took in plenty of light -- perhaps a bit too much. Like the macro shot, things are on the soft side here, though you can crank up the in-camera sharpening if you'd like. Purple fringing levels were minimal, and noise was not a problem. I used the Canon 70-200 F4L lens here.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images. I apologize for how crooked these turned out -- it's hard to line things up in the dark.
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The EOS-30D did a great job of controlling noise all the way through ISO 400. In the ISO 800 shot we start to see some minor detail loss, and it gets a bit worse at ISO 1600, but the shot is still very usable with a little cleanup. Heck, even the ISO 3200 shot could be turned into an acceptable 4 x 6 inch print with a little post-processing in NeatImage or Noise Ninja.
Now, here's a look at how the noise levels look in our studio test scene. Just like with the night shots, you can click on the link to see the full size images, which is the best way to compare things. I used the Canon F1.4 50 mm lens for this shot.
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The shorter exposures in the the studio let the EOS-30D really show off. The images are very clean through ISO 800, and it's just a bit grainy at ISO 1600. With a little noise cleanup you should be able to get a midsized (or maybe larger) print out of the ISO 3200 shot. It's worth mentioning that there are many other ISO options between 100 and 1600 -- you can adjust the ISO in 1/3-step increments (new to the 30D).
Redeye was not a problem on the 30D, nor would I expect it to be. There's a bit of flash reflection, but that's about it.
Overall, the photo quality on the EOS-30D is excellent, especially if you put some decent lenses on it. Color and exposure were consistently good, noise levels were nice and low (even at higher ISOs), and purple fringing was rarely a problem. The two issues I'd like to mention both related to softness. For one, in general the 30D (along with Canon's other D-SLRs) tends to be soft right out of the camera. Some folks like this, others (like me) do not. The easy answer is to just crank up the in-camera sharpening a bit in the Picture Styles menu. Secondly, image sharpness also depends a lot on your choice of lens. I must say I'm having some buyers remorse over my purchase of the 17-85 EF-S lens, as it's quite soft, especially in the corners (just look at the sample photos taken with it to see what I mean). With my 70-200 F4L and 50 F1.4 lenses, I got much sharper photos, without having to touch the Picture Styles menu.
As always, don't just take my words for gospel. Have a look at our photo gallery, and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the 30D's photo quality meets your expectations!
No digital SLRs have movie modes at this time.
The playback mode on the 30D is pretty simple, but it gets the job done. I've already listed the basic playback features back in the menu section, but here they are again: image protection, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image rotation, and slide shows. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The 30D's zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 10X into your photo, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's so nice to have the zoom buttons and four-way controller available when using this feature, instead of the clunky methods used by other manufacturers (e.g. Nikon).
You can use the jump button to quickly move ahead 10 images (or 9 in thumbnail mode), which is handy when you've got lots of pictures on the memory card.
Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. You can delete one or all of the photos on the card.
As you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've taken. A histogram is also shown, and you can have the focus point or overexposed areas displayed as well.
The 30D moves through images very quickly, with maybe a half-second delay between each photo. If you really start cranking that Quick Control dial you can move very quickly through your photos, though only low resolution images are shown while you're doing that.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon EOS-30D is an excellent midrange digital SLR. While its new features aren't exciting enough to get this 20D owner to run out and upgrade, those who are moving up from point-and-shoot or entry-level D-SLRs should definitely give the 30D a look.
From most angles the 30D looks just like its predecessor, the EOS-20D. But take a look at the back of the camera and you'll see the most noticeable difference: a large 2.5" LCD display. While the screen isn't as bright or sharp as the one on the Nikon D200, it's still much nicer than the one found on the 20D or Rebel XT. The 30D is very well put together, with a metal core and solid plastic and rubber outer shell. The controls are well-placed, and Canon hasn't gone overboard with buttons. Some of the controls, like the four-way controller and playback zoom buttons, are downright useful. Like the 20D before it, the 30D supports both EF and EF-S lenses, and the 1.6X focal length conversion ratio is unchanged.
The 30D is a power user's dream camera, with tons of manual controls and custom settings. You've got all the usual manual exposure controls plus class-leading white balance controls. The camera now has the same Picture Styles menu as the EOS-5D, which lets you quickly change things like sharpness, color, and contrast. If you're not an enthusiast, don't fret: the 30D has an auto mode and several scene modes as well. The camera is fairly easy-to-use, too.
People buy digital SLRs for their great performance, and the 30D delivers in this area. From its near-instant startup speed to the "shoot as fast as you can compose" shot-to-shot speeds, the 30D is a screamer. The continuous shooting mode is excellent, and now you have two speeds to choose from, in case 5 frames/second is too fast. Low light focusing was both accurate and responsive, thanks to the camera's flash-based AF-assist system. Battery life is also very good, and about 10% better than on the 20D.
Photo quality was excellent on this 8.2 Megapixel camera. Photos were well-exposed, with accurate colors, very low noise levels (even at high ISO sensitivities), and minimal purple fringing. As is the case with most D-SLRs, photos are on the soft side straight out of the camera, and you can compensate for this by increasing the in-camera sharpening a bit. One thing that really got nailed home during my time with the 30D is how important lens quality is. I bought the Canon 17 - 85 EF-S lens a few months back, and have been less than thrilled with its sharpness -- and you'll see the results in the photo gallery. Slap on some better glass and you'll get much sharper photos, as the photos taken with my 50 mm lens attest.
There really aren't any major negatives to talk about here. The only thing that pops into my head is that the 30D isn't a very exciting upgrade over the 20D. Then again, that camera didn't need a lot of improving in the first place.
The EOS-30D earns my highest recommendation, and it's right up there with the Nikon D200 as a best-in-class midrange D-SLR.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon EOS-20D (still available for $1299), Fuji FinePix S3 Pro, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D200, Olympus EVOLT E-500, and the Pentax *ist DS2.
As always, I strongly recommend trying the EOS-30D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at CNET.com.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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