Canon EOS 30D SLR Review
The EOS 30D is the eagerly-anticipated successor to Canon's very successful 20D. The 30D is an evolutionary product, having essentially the same photographic properties as its predecessor, but with a refresh of several features with current technology that Canon has included in recently announced products. The most visible upgrade is the 2 1/2-inch LCD monitor, having nearly twice the viewing area of the 20D's and a much wider 170-degree field of view. Other welcomed enhancements are the addition of spot metering, and the inclusion of Canon's Picture Style processing parameters for producing finished JPEG's.
The 30D's 3504x2336 8.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor is identical to the 20D's. That's plenty of resolution for an enthusiast dSLR, although some Canon loyalists were disappointed that the 30D did not offer higher resolution. One thing they won't be disappointed with, however, is the class-leading image quality at high sensitivity settings that the 30D shares with its predecessor. At ISO settings under 400, the 30D's images are essentially noise-free. Shadow noise becomes detectable at ISO 400, and noticeable at ISO 1600. Highlight noise is detectable at ISO 800, and noise is noticeable throughout the image at ISO 3200, but only to a degree that retains the image's useability. See our Sample Photos for real world examples and controlled shots at a variety of high sensitivity settings.
The 30D's shooting performance is marginally improved from the 20D. There was a delay of only 4/10 second between turning the camera on and capturing the first shot, a 2/10 second improvement. Waking the 30D from it's power-saving sleep mode took only 3/10 second to capture an image. Shutter lag when pre-focused was well under 1/10 second, while lag including AF measured 3/10 second - both times essentially the same as the 20D. In single shot mode, I was able to capture images at 3/10 second intervals without flash, and every 6/10-to-2.9 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance.
The 30D's continuous shooting mode also produced impressive performance. I was able to capture between 20 and 43 Large Fine images (depending on image content) at 5fps, with subsequent shots coming at 6/10 second intervals while the camera's buffer remained full. The 30D's RAW capture rate remained at 5fps, but to a depth of only 11 images; subsequent shots came at 1 second intervals. The 30D's buffer and memory performance also impressed, taking only 10 seconds to flush a full buffer to its CF memory card. Performance measurements were made with a Lexar Professional 2GB 133x CF memory card installed.
A moving subject is what normally determines the need to shoot in continuous mode, but it also requires a robust AF system capable of keeping that subject in focus. I tested the 30D's AI Servo continuous AF at several auto and motorcycle races; the 30's AF system produced a very high percentage of in-focus images of those fast-moving subjects. The 30D's combination of 5fps continuous shooting, depth of up to 43 JPEG images, and accurate continuous AF make it an excellent choice for sports and action shooting.
We were happy that Canon provided its new 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens for this test. The lens complements the 30D nicely, its 35mm-equivalent focal length of 38-168mm serving as a useful "walk around" range, and its Image Stabilization feature minimizing the effects of camera shake in marginal lighting. The lens is a bit soft in the corners wide open, and produces a bit of barrel distortion at wide angle and barely detectable pin cushioning at moderate to full telephoto focal lengths. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, with essentially no purple fringing present in high contrast areas. At a street price of about $1200 (about the same as the 30D camera body), it's not inexpensive, but its image quality, useful zoom range and image stabilization will help you get the most from the 30D.
The 30D's ergonomics are very good; the layout of its controls identical to the 20D. It retains the 20D's multi-controller, a small 8-way joy stick that's used to select the AF point, set White Balance correction, move the trimming frame for direct printing, and scroll a magnified image in playback mode. I found it quite useful and a significant improvement over the 10D, replacing the two-step process involving the Quick Control Dial and direction switching button to scroll in playback mode. In shooting mode, the multi-controller gives you direct access to your intended AF point without requiring that you turn a dial.
The 30D's body is slightly smaller and lighter than the 10D, but not noticeably so. The built-in flash, although limited in range to about 12 feet at ISO 100, is effective for portraits, its pop-up height helping to reduce the red eye effect. If you need more flash power, the 30D's built-in hot shoe accommodates any of Canon's EX-series of speedlights. If you use an external flash or heavy lens, I recommend that you also get the battery grip, the BG-E2; it offers a comfortable grip in both portrait and landscape orientation, serves to counterbalance the weight of the flash and/or lens, and of course can house a second battery for extended shooting if necessary. But with the BP-511A capturing over 900 images before a low battery warning, I recommend that you get a second battery, but keep it fully charged in your bag rather than install it in the BG-E2; it's much easier to charge one depleted battery than two that are half-discharged.
The 30D also excels at limiting noise in long exposures. Custom Function 2 activates long exposure noise reduction using a dark frame subtraction method. I found that its use usually wasn't necessary, however; long exposures taken without C.Fn-02 were as noise free as those taken with it.
A significant change in the 30D is its image processing function called Picture Styles, replacing the Parameters and Color Matrix settings of the 20D. Picture Styles are included for a wide variety of requirements, and each can be adjusted in terms of sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone. Please see our sample photos for examples of the results obtained from each of the 30D's Picture Styles. I found that a combination of Standard, Landscape and Portrait styles met the needs of the vast majority of scenes I captured. In addition to the pre-defined Styles, the 30D provides 3 user-defined Picture Styles that can be configured in the camera or downloaded from Canon's website and transferred to the camera using the EOS Utility. There are currently (May 2006) four Picture Styles available for download: Nostalgia, Clear, Twilight and Emerald. The Picture Style function is an effective way to control the 30D's image processing; this is the third recent EOS dSLR with Picture Styles, the others being the 5D and 1D Mark II.
While there's a lot to like about the 30D, it's the 20D that in 2004 set a new benchmark for what an enthusiast dSLR should be. Canon's effort with the 30D was essentially a marginal technology upgrade like the EOS 1D Mark II N was to the 1D Mark II; based on our testing results, this camera would have been more appropriately named the 20D N. That's not to say that the 30D is not a capable camera; with 8-megapixels of resolution, excellent image quality, low noise at high ISO settings, robust shooting performance and accurate and responsive AF, it is a highly desirable enthusiast dSLR. But it has been displaced as best of breed by the Nikon D200.
Viewing the 30D as a mid-life refresh of the successful 20D, photographers upgrading
from consumer digicams and Canon film SLR's will find it very attractive, especially considering
its body-only street price of under $1400.
Users of Canon's earlier dSLR's, the Digital Rebel, 10D, D60 and D30, may find the 30D's improvements sufficient
to justify its purchase, especially sports shooters who will benefit
from its improved AF performance and reduced noise at high ISO settings.
Users of Canon's 20D will likely not find the 30D sufficiently advanced to justify an upgrade;
those with the upgrade itch should instead consider improving their lens inventory
with high quality glass that will not only improve the results from their current camera,
but also any EOS dSLR they might purchase in the future.
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