Camera review: Canon EOS 5D DSLR

With the release of the new EOS 40D and EOS-1Ds Mark III, it’s easy to forget the camera that changed the entire market: the EOS 5D. It was the first affordable full-frame sensor DSLR ever. I bought it in April of this year, and I still don’t regret the purchase. As a matter of fact, I love my 5D!

Updated 2/1/09: I’ve also written about the new 5D Mark II.

Canon EOS 5D (front)

Yes, the newer models that came out have more resolution and low light sensitivity, in addition to the EOS Integrated Cleaning System, which shakes dust off the sensor. It’s annoying to have to clean my 5D’s sensor with swabs once in a while, and to get out my bulb air blower and make sure there’s nothing inside the sensor chamber, but I don’t mind it that much — except when I have to use the Heal brush to get that dust off my photos. Even then, Adobe Lightroom makes it a breeze with its wonderful Heal/Clone tool.

I went back through Canon’s PR section and dug up the 5D’s original press release. You know how we have a healthy amount of mistrust when we read press releases? Well, read through that one and tell me if anything written there turned out to be untrue.

All these new models make me wonder what Canon will do with the 5D. I don’t think the 5D will go away. It fulfills a very important role in the marketplace and it’s beloved by many photographers. But what will happen come November? Will Canon announce a second-generation 5D? I’d kind of like them to hold off on upgrading the 5D till next spring, and I recognize that I’m entirely biased when I say that.

Whenever they decide to upgrade it, here’s what I think will happen:

  • It will get the EOS Integrated Cleaning system
  • It will get Live View
  • The pixel count will go up, possibly to 16 megapixels, but not much beyond that. If they go up higher, the renowned low light sensitivity of the 5D will suffer. Remember, pixel pitch (the space that each pixel occupies on the sensor) has a lot to do with low light sensitivity. The more pixels you squeeze on that sensor, that harder it is to keep noise in check. The DIGIC III processor should help with this, and putting microlenses over each pixel should also help, but I don’t think the new 5D will get more than 16 megapixels. Keeping all this in mind, I’d really like the new 5D to be able to go up to 3200 ISO natively, and to 6400 ISO with expansion turned on.
  • The battery life will go up slightly
  • The body will get weatherproofing
  • The AF will get upgraded with the new system present on the Mark III cameras
  • Exposure metering will get more zones, possibly as many as the new 1Ds Mark III, or at least as many as the new 40D
  • Shutter durability will be increased to 300,000 cycles from 100,000 cycles
  • The LCD screen will be upgraded to 3 inches
  • The retail price will be around $3,300, just like with the previous model, and the street price will stick pretty close to that for the first few months after the launch

Meanwhile, the existing 5D cameras aren’t outdated by any measurement, and I look forward to using mine for a long time to come. It was a significant investment for me, and I’ll try to get at least 3 years from it before I upgrade.

Buy the Canon EOS 5D

Camera preview: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR

On the same day that it released information about the upcoming EOS 40D DSLR, Canon dropped a bombshell. The much-expected 1Ds Mark III is ready, and will begin shipping in November. We all knew it was coming, but what we didn’t expect was the medium format-like resolution: a whopping 21.1 megapixels!

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (front)

Here are the specs where the 1Ds Mark III differs from the 1Ds Mark II:

  • Resolution: 21.1 megapixels vs. 16.7 megapixels
  • Processing engine: DIGIC III vs. DIGIC II
  • AF: re-designed 45-point vs. previous-generation 45-point AF (there were some issues with this new AF system in the 1D Mark III, and I hope they’ve been addressed by now)
  • Color depth: 14-bit vs. 12-bit
  • Live View
  • Integrated sensor cleaning
  • WB: 12 vs. 10 settings
  • Viewfinder magnification: 0.76x vs. 0.70x
  • Exposure control: 63-zone vs. 21-zone metering
  • Drive speed: 5 fps vs. 4 fps
  • LCD monitor: 3 inches vs. 2 inches
  • Shutter durability: 300,000 cycles vs. 100,000 cycles
  • Battery: lithium-ion (LP-E4) vs. Ni-MH (NP-E3)
  • Battery life: better, but no data provided vs. 800-1200 shots/battery/charge with the 1Ds Mark II
  • Weight, body only: 1,205 grams vs. 1215 grams

As Canon themselves point out, they wanted to venture into the realm of high-fashion and commercial studio photography with the new 1Ds. Traditionally, medium-format cameras dominated those markets. Besides the wonderful resolution, the 1Ds would bring two other things: portability and affordability. Medium-format cameras are more expensive, and they’re usually heavier. Let’s not forget the 1Ds also goes up to 1,600 ISO, which is unheard of in medium format cameras with digital backs. The ISO range there is usually 100-400, with the occasional 800 seen in some models. The additional ISO range should provide those photographers with more creative uses of light and more flexibility in various conditions.

The camera uses the new DIGIC III image processor introduced with the 1D Mark III earlier this year. But it uses two of them, working in parallel. There’s a lot of data crunching to be done when the resolution is 21.1 megapixels and the frame rate is 5 fps! The CMOS sensor reads out to both processors through eight channels, ensuring fast signal transfers.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (back)

The 1Ds also features a new 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion process, which means that it can recognize 16,384 colors per channel — four times the number of colors recognized by 12-bit cameras like the 1Ds Mark II or the 5D.

In addition to using CF type-I and II cards, the camera is also compatible with the UDMA specification, which doubles the data transfer speed of a normal CF card when used with UDMA-compliant cards.

The sensitivity of the new AF system’s sensor has been doubled to EV-1, for greater accuracy in low light. The AF point of focus can also be micro-adjusted based on the type of lens used, and the focus-tracking sensitivity can also be finely adjusted.

Another really nice feature is Live View, which works in much the same way as on the 40D — see my review of it for those details. The Live View function also works with the EOS Utility software, which means you can see just what the camera sees through your computer’s monitor, and control it remotely for studio sessions.

The EOS Integrated Cleaning System shakes off dust from the low-pass plate installed in front of the sensor with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is turned on or off. A special adhesive collar installed around the sensor collects the dust and holds it there.

Finally, comprehensive weatherproofing is present at 76 locations on the camera, providing protection and allowing the use of the camera in demanding conditions.

The camera will start shipping in November and retail for $7,999. I expect the street price to stick pretty close to that for at least a few months after the launch.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (side)

More information:

Camera preview: Canon EOS 40D DSLR

On August 20, just three days ago, Canon announced the new EOS 40D DSLR, the successor to the very good EOS 30D camera. The camera will begin selling in September, and Amazon has already started taking pre-orders. After reviewing the specs and photos, I am impressed. Canon has made the 40D better than the 30D exactly where it mattered, and more.

Canon EOS 40D (front)

The 40D is a bargain considering its features. Let me run through the important ones:

  • 10.1 megapixel CMOS imaging sensor, capable of up to 3200 ISO natively
  • DIGIC III image processor
  • Redesigned AF
  • 6.5 fps continuous shooting capability up to 75 large/fine JPEG or 17 RAW files
  • 3-inch LCD with a higher brightness level and broader color gamut than the 30D
  • Upgraded viewfinder: 0.95x magnification, 264 degrees viewing angle and 22mm eye point)
  • Magnesium-alloy body with dust and weather resistant construction, unlike the 30D
  • Live View (yes, this isn’t a typo)
  • Integrated sensor cleaning

Although the sensor has the same resolution as the Rebel XTi, it is not the same sensor. The 40D’s sensor has microlenses over each pixel to enable increased sensitivity up to 3200 ISO. More importantly, the sensor can recognize four times the number of colors recognized by the 30D, due to its 14-bit color depth (wow!). In addition to this, the 40D also features Highlight Tone Priority and High ISO Noise Reduction functions as the 1D Mark III professional DSLR.

The amazing frame-rate, which is more than the 5 fps rate of the 30D, is achieved through the new DIGIC III processor, DDR SDRAM memory buffering, four-channel per line sensor readout, and two separate motors for shutter and mirror operation.

The on-screen menu now has the same tabbed format as the 1D Mark III DSLR. The viewing angle had to be decreased from 170 to 140 degrees, in order to make the screen more viewable during bright daylight — this is in addition to the improvements cited for the LCD in the bullet points above.

Canon EOS 40D (back)

AF has been re-designed to produce greater precision at all focal points, up to f/5.6, and increased precision for center AF on lenses at or faster than f/2.8. AF calculations are 30% faster on the 40D than the 30D. Photographers can also opt for two focusing screens: a grid-type screen that makes it easy to compose the shots, or a matte screen re-designed for AF precision.

Not many other reviewers have spotted this, but the 40D offers Live View! Yes, indeed, you can now compose your shots using either the viewfinder or the LCD screen. A quick aside: Olympus was the first company to use Live View on their prosumer DSLRs.

Usually, there’s increased shutter lag with Live View, since the mirror has to swing back down to block out the light, then back up to allow for the proper exposure. The shutter lag with the 40D is said to be minimal because the mirror stays up and only the shutter opens when you click the shutter button. This also helps reduce noise and vibration. Oh, did I mention that you can zoom in on the LCD screen to make sure your focusing is tack sharp during Live View?

The Live View function also works with the EOS Utility software, which means you can see just what the camera sees on your computer’s monitor, and control it remotely for studio sessions.

The EOS Integrated Cleaning System shakes off dust from the low-pass plate installed in front of the sensor with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is turned on or off. A special adhesive collar installed around the sensor collects the dust and holds it there.

There’s a redesigned vertical grip/battery holder, with weather and dust resistance built-in, and a new Wireless File Transmitter (WFT-E3A) has also been introduced. The battery life’s been improved over the 30D, and my guess is you’ll be able to get about 1,500 shots/battery/charge. That means about 3,000 shots altogether with the vertical grip in place.

You can buy the 40D by itself, or with the new EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Standard Zoom (available in October), or the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Zoom (as pictured below).

Canon EOS 40D (side)

More information:

Camera preview: Olympus E-3 DSLR

Olympus has been working on their new flagship DSLR, the “new E-1”, now called the E-3, for some time, and word is that it’s going to be launched later this year, possibly in November, or sooner. I’ve seen some concept photos of the new E-3 body, and it looks pretty sweet. They’re not the final version of the camera, but still, I think the E-3 will look pretty close to the photos you see below.

New E-1 (side)

At the Olympus press event I attended on 8/1, I got to play with an old E-1 that belongs to Gene Hirschel of Internet News. The body was surprisingly light and sturdy, and I liked the various on-camera buttons that gave me direct access to functions like ISO, bracketing, white balance, etc.

I really liked the shutter action. It was unlike any other DSLR shutter I’ve tried. The movement was soft and made very little noise. It was muffled, but it felt great to keep pressing the shutter button. I took quite a few photos with it in the span of a few minutes. This is the body of the old E-1:

Old E-1 (front)

Have a look at the rest of the photos posted below and compare the existing E-1 body with what could be the new one. I’ll be very interested to test and review the new E-1 when Olympus launches it this year.

As you can see, the old E-1 came with a round eyecup, but the new one will likely get the more standard rectangular eyecup. The LCD screen will also be bigger, and quite possibly swivel out, since it will have the innovative Live View feature.

New E-1 (back)

Old E-1 (back)

It also looks like the new E-1 will have a recessed function dial, like Canon DLSRs. I really do think that’s more useful than the fully exposed dial. Having it right there, next to your index finger, saves time, as you don’t need to take your hand off the grip to adjust settings. As a matter of fact, it looks like both function dials will be recessed, which is something I haven’t seen on other cameras. I also like the new On/Off switch.

New E-1 (front)

I also spy an on-camera flash, which would be a new addition. The old E-1 had no flash, much like the Canon 5D. Personally, I prefer no on-camera flash. It’s always better to use an external speedlite, but I guess it is useful for most people to have a simple little flash they could use if they needed it.

All in all, I’m pretty excited about it. If it looks anything like the concept body in these photos, it should be a wonderful design.

Photos from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic

I wrote about the fun day I spent at the William H. Fitzgerald Tennis Center here in DC yesterday, watching the Legg Mason Tennis Classic courtesy of Olympus, and promised I’d publish photos taken at the matches with the new E-510.

After I deleted the blatantly bad ones, I was left with 607 photos. I spent a couple of hours sorting through them, and picked 44, which I then processed. There are a few nice blooper-type photos from the tournament as well, where the players are making funny faces or their bodies are in contorted positions, so those will be kind of fun to see.

Under the cold glow of the big lights

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

P. Goldstein

Overcast

Bryan Twins

Bryan Twins

Bryan Twins

Bryan Twins

Bryan Twins

Unforgiving August sky

Take it in stride

One tall dude

T. Phillips

T. Phillips and P. Goldstein

T. Phillips and P. Goldstein

A. Clement

A. Clement

A. Clement

A. Clement

Saw the light

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

R. Stepanek

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

T. Johansson

A night at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic

I received an exciting invitation from Olympus PR last week. Would I be able to attend the Legg Mason Tennis Classic on August 1st, here in DC? I’d get a box seat and the chance to try out the new E-510 DSLR. Absolutely, I said!

What do you think I did this afternoon? I was center court, sure enough, sitting together with five other folks from reputable news organizations, geeking out on Olympus DLSR stuff and comparing cameras and features. The E-410 was also available to try out. It’s the smallest and lightest DSLR on the market. You’ll remember the E-330 held that title before, but it didn’t have a prism. The E-410 has the prism. It, along with the E-510, now also has Live View, which lets you compose photos on screen.

If you know your cameras, then you know Live View is a pretty innovative feature, which is really hard to accomplish on a DSLR. In the E-330, Olympus used two sensors and a complicated mirror system to accomplish it. With the E-410 and E-510, they’ve simplified things. Now they have only one CMOS that does it all. I’m planning to write a detailed review of the E-510 after I’ve used it thoroughly for a month, and I’ll explain how the Live View works in the review.

Back to the Legg Mason Classic. The weather was filthy hot today, but thankfully the humidity was fairly low for our area, and the sun’s oven-hot rays tapered off around 7 pm. I slathered on plenty of sunscreen, but still got sunburn. Such is life when you’re a pale-face.

The first match, at 4 pm, was P. Goldstein (USA) vs. R. Stepanek (CZE). By the way, you can check the schedule over here. I didn’t know who to root for. Goldstein put up a serious fight and I thought he’d win. Stepanek looked like he was losing, but somehow he kept on top and won the match. Goldstein was the crowd favorite — apparently he grew up in the DC area. Stepanek got booed a few times, but I have a feeling he didn’t really care. He kept at it and brought home the bacon, so to speak — home for him being Monte Carlo, which is not a bad place to call home if I might say so.

The second match was A. Clement (FRA) vs. T. Johansson (SWE). Johansson had some amazingly fast serves. He clocked in at 132 mph once, if I remember correctly. He also had great returns. Clement kept pouting and giving the crowd angry looks if they’d as much as get up from their seats. In the end Clement went home to sulk over a baguette and Brie and Johansson advanced to the next round.

The third (and final match for me) featured the annoying Bryan twins (USA) vs. P. Goldstein and T. Phillips (USA). Yes, you read correctly. That’s the same Goldstein from the first match at center court. How he managed to recover from that exhausting match with Stepanek in the course of a couple of hours, I don’t know, but there he was, ready to put up another good fight. I instantly had to root for him. You have to respect a guy that plays two tournament matches in one night. That’s real dedication and perseverance. Unfortunately, all he and Phillips could do against the (yes, I’ll say it again) annoying Bryan twins was to put up a good fight.

The dynamically annoying duo towered over the shorter Goldstein and Phillips and smiled gleefully as they mercilessly tore away at their opponents. I’m sorry, I don’t care if they’re top seeded and girls find them cute, I found myself calling them names and hoping Goldstein and Phillips would beat the pants off them. I didn’t end up staying for the whole match, and after I got home, I found out that the annoying Bryan twins lived up to their ill-begotten reputation and won it. I so wanted them brought down a notch… They desperately need it.

All in all, I had a LOT of fun, and I’m really glad I got to meet people from the National Geographic Traveler, Internet News and The Washington Post. But all of this would not have been possible without Michael Bourne (yes, that’s his real name) from Mullen, who organized the entire get-together and provided us with some great new DLSRs to test and review. Michael, Mullen, Olympus, thank you! I look forward to processing the photos I got last night, and reviewing the E-510! 🙂

Updated 8/6/07: The photos are available right here.

Should I get Canon or Nikon?

I’ve gotten asked this question a few times lately, and it’s probably a good idea to share my thoughts publicly. Here’s an email conversation I had earlier today:

B.T.: “Simply put, is the Canon 30D or the Nikon D80 the best way to go? […] Was about to get the Nikon D40, but then got a piece of advice that said that Canon might be better in the way of sports photography. I’m not sure if this was a “standard” or a perceived notion. Anyhow, now I’m trying to decide between the D80 and 30D. I know once I buy into either the Nikon or Canon “family” I’m pretty much there because of accessories and lenses.

So… what was it that made you choose Canon? I knew you were considering the D200 for a bit. […] But what are you thoughts on overall image quality between the two given the different types of image sensors (CCD vs. CMOS)? And I’ve actually thought of going ahead w/ the D40 as a stepping stone to the D200. To be honest, I’ve been back and forth a few times… but wondered about your opinion. […]”

My reply, with some additional edits:

I’m always hesitant to give brand-specific advice, because what works for me might not work for you. I have not used Nikon DSLRs yet. People that use them love them. By the same token, people that use Canon DSLRs love them as well. And people that use Olympus DSLRs love them too. And Sigma, and Fuji, etc.

What I can tell you is to try out the camera. Inquire locally, perhaps at your local camera shop, and see where you can rent the camera you’re interested in buying, even if it’s only for a day or two. Then rent the camera from the other brand, and compare. Even if it costs you up to $200 for the total cost of renting them, it’s well worth it considering you’ll be spending thousands on the equipment and will own it for several years or more, particularly the lenses.

When it comes to the 30D and D80, I tried out the 30D for a whole month. Then I went to the store and examined the D80 closely. I liked the grip and feel of the 30D better than that of the D80, but that’s just me, and my hands are different from others’.

What I can also tell you is that it seems the Nikon cameras have a little more noise and they lose some of the detail in low light when compared to Canon. But if you plan to use a tripod for longer exposures or a flash — and both of these devices will allow you to use a lower ISO — the difference in photo quality is going to be difficult to see, so don’t hang your entire purchase decision on this issue alone, unless shooting mostly hand held in low light is going to be one of the main reasons you want the camera.

Once you get above a certain level (you graduate from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR), the brand or the camera itself doesn’t matter that much. It won’t be the camera that takes the great photos, it’ll be you. To a certain extent, the lenses that you use will matter more than the camera body. You can get great photos with any brand of camera, provided you know its strengths and weaknesses and know just how to use it.

One last thought: the CCD vs. CMOS sensor arguments are pretty useless all around. Don’t forget, Nikon itself — while praised for its CCD sensors — uses a CMOS sensor for its flagship model, the D2X. It doesn’t matter what sensor is inside the camera, as long as the camera manufacturer uses it well. It seems Canon makes pretty darn good use of its CMOS sensors, while Nikon makes great use of their CCD and CMOS sensors as well. And after trying out an Olympus DSLR, I was pretty happy with their CCD sensor as well (except in low light). The Fuji Pro line has some pretty interesting sensors as well. And Sigma is doing groundbreaking work with the Foveon sensors in their SD line. The SD14 is a pretty amazing camera, and I would have bought it instead of my 5D if its effective resolution wasn’t 5 megapixels. (Note: the SD14’s advertised resolution is 14 megapixels, because it has three stacked sensors at 4.7 megapixels each, but the effective resolution is still about 5 megapixels.)

The point is to find out what works for you, and know how to use it well. You can only do that when you’ve held the equipment in your hand and researched the field thoroughly. It really helps when you sit down in front of a spreadsheet and add up all of the stuff you want to buy: camera body, lenses, filters, tripods, batteries, bags, sensor and lens cleaning equipment, editing software, etc. You’ll quickly find out what your ceiling price is, and you’ll know what camera body and brand you can afford. And if you compare your choices that way, you’ll have the information you need to make an educated, logical choice. The decision will be all yours, and believe me, you’ll enjoy your equipment a lot more that way.

Walking out on hope

The story behind this photo is a bit interesting. Ligia and I were visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York when I took this photo. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so this was taken handheld with my 24mm lens. This is why I love fast lenses and cameras that have very little noise.

Three weeks later, close friends of ours were visiting, and I had a gift for them. I asked them to go through the photos I took in Manhattan and pick out one they liked best. I’d then postprocess and print it on the spot. They picked this one and I did my part. A day or so later, I uploaded it to Flickr, and it made it to Explore within 12 hours.

Why the title? Because more people seemed to walk out than walk in.

Walking out on hope

Unequivocally

This little daffodil was spreading its pure petals back in mid-March, signaling, and unequivocally so, that spring had arrived. This was one of the first days I had my Canon EOS 30D and 100mm macro lens, and that’s when I realized, also unequivocally, that I’d stepped onto new photographic terrain, and didn’t want to go back.

First blush

A first impression

These are but a few of the first photos I took with my Canon 5D when I got it a few short weeks ago. I got the EF 24mm f/1.4L lens at the same time, and that’s what I used to get these photos. I’m very happy with the 5D and the 24mm. To be able to get photos like these when it’s almost pitch dark out there is a fantastic experience.

I’ll write a more detailed review of the 5D soon, so stay tuned for that. Not sure how much I can add to the multitude of accolades and opinions this camera has already received, but at least I can offer my own personal take.

An eventful day wraps up

Shhh

It’s quiet out here

Calm

The promise of something better

The wonderful thing about using a fast lens is that you can get photos like this in low light. Sure, the depth of field may be thin because the aperture is maxed out, but it’s very liberating to be able to walk around and take handheld photos without having to do long exposures on a tripod.

The promise of something better

Camera review: Canon EOS 30D DSLR

For the past month, I’ve been using the Canon EOS 30D as my primary camera, and I love it. I’ve taken over 5,000 photos with it. I actually got a bit sad when I had to send it back to the good folks at Canon PR. In the span of 30 days, I’ve come to regard this camera as an old friend, and that’s high praise coming from me. Why? Because it works. It works as advertised, and doesn’t let me down, no matter what the shooting conditions are. I know that when I take it out of the bag, it’s ready to go, and I know what kinds of photos I’m going to get with it — great ones — provided I do my part as a photographer.

Canon EOS 30D (front)

Before you go on, just in case you’re not familiar with my reviews, I need to explain something. I focus on real world use when I look at a camera. That’s what matters to me. Lab tests are nice if you shoot in a lab. Yes, for the most part, they can give you a good idea of a camera’s capabilities. But I’m interested in the performance of a camera in the unpredictable conditions of everyday use. How well does it do when I use it as a primary camera, for a whole month, in widely varying conditions (cold, warm, dry, humid, wet, sunny, evenings, nights, mornings, noons, afternoons, etc.)? With that in mind, here’s what I look for in a great DSLR:

  • A decent amount of resolution (8 megapixels or above)
  • Low or non-existent noise at higher ISO (I tend to shoot a lot in low light and do not like to use a flash)
  • High-quality sensor (ability to produce great photos across varying conditions when coupled with good lenses)
  • Great body with a great grip
  • Ease of use (well-placed buttons and controls, easy to navigate menus)
  • Big, clear viewfinder
  • Good battery life
  • Good screen size (at least 2.5″)
  • Fast auto-focus in various lighting conditions, along with ability to choose various focus points
  • Good automatic exposure (expose photos correctly when in automatic or semi-automatic modes)
  • Fast drive (at least 3 fps)
  • Video out, PC terminal, remote

Did the 30D deliver on all these conditions? Absolutely. It even exceeded some of them. Read on for the details.

I won’t list all of the specs. Nobody bothers to read them anyway. If you need to look something up, they’re readily available on the Canon USA website. I will, however, list the important specifications below, and I’ll refer to them throughout my review:

  • 22.5 x 15.0 mm APS-C CMOS sensor, 1.6x crop factor, 3:2 aspect ratio
  • 8.2 megapixels (3504 x 2336 pixels)
  • Compatible with all EF lenses, including (of course) EF-S lenses
  • ISO range: 100-1600 in 1/3-stop increments, expandable to 3200
  • Shutter speeds from bulb, 30 – 1/8000 seconds, tested to 100,000 exposures, 65ms lag
  • Drive speeds: self-timer, one shot, 3 fps, 5 fps
  • Viewfinder: fixed pentaprism, 95% coverage vert./horiz., 0.9x magnification, 20mm, -3.0 to +1.0 dioptric adjustment
  • LCD: 2.5″ diag., 170-degree viewing angle, 230,000 pixels, 100% coverage
  • Formats: RAW, JPEG, RAW + JPEG
  • DOF preview, mirror lock mode, data verification
  • Battery life: 900-1,100 shots
  • Dimensions: 144 x 105.5 x 73.5mm
  • Weight: 700g (body only)
  • Operating temperatures: 32-104°F/0-40°C

In addition to reviewing the specs listed above, I encourage you to take the 3D camera tour, also available on the Canon website. It’ll give you a better idea of how it looks in real life. And as always, before you purchase any camera, it makes good sense to go to a camera store and try it out in person, just to see how it fits in your hand and whether you’ll like the controls.

I always like to ask myself what makes a camera special or different. Where does it fit in? What’s the point? The answer here is that the Canon EOS 30D is a mid-level DSLR that fits in between the Canon Rebel line and the Canon 1D line. No, I haven’t forgotten the 5D — it fulfills a different purpose, and is meant as a less expensive version of the 1Ds Mark II. The 30D has the same sensor size (APS-C) and can use the same lenses (EF/EF-S) as the Canon Rebel cameras, while providing capabilities more akin to a 1D Mark II N camera: faster drive, better battery life, a very nice magnesium alloy body and grip, better low light sensitivity, and similar controls (Quick Control dial, for example). That means that if you own a Canon Rebel and you want to move up, the 30D is your best bet. You’ll be able to keep using your old EF-S lenses while gaining pro-level capabilities similar to the 1D Mark II N.

Alright, let’s get back to my criteria, and take it step by step.

Resolution

The 30D puts out 8.2 megapixels of beautiful resolution. That’s fine by me. It’s at my megapixel threshold, but I don’t mind it. Keep in mind that higher resolution doesn’t always mean better photos. If you don’t believe me, have a look at my review of the Fuji Finepix S9100. Since I always shoot at maximum resolution and in RAW format, all of my photos came in at 3504 x 2336 pixels. I find that resolution sufficient for creative post-processing. I can crop or rotate photos and still retain enough resolution to make prints of 8×10 or larger dimensions. That’s a good thing. While I talk of cropping, I want to mention a pet peeve of mine. [rant] For goodness’ sake, people, crop proportionally! I see so many photos that have been cropped with no regard for a photo’s aspect ratio whatsoever, and they don’t look good at all. If you shoot at 3:2 aspect ratio, let your crop also be 3:2. If you shoot in 4:3, let your crop be 4:3 as well. (There are some exceptions to this rule, but I can’t address them here. I might write a separate blog post about it.) [/rant]

Canon EOS 30D (body only)

Image Sensor

As you can see from the specs, this is an APS-C sensor, with a 1.6x crop factor. It’s also called a magnification factor, but I don’t like to call it that because there is no magnification involved. A smaller sensor uses less surface from a lens’ field of view (FOV), thus yielding a photo that looks like it was photographed from a smaller distance, but really wasn’t. So while a photo taken with a 5D and a 100mm lens looks like it was shot with a 100mm lens, because the 5D has a full frame sensor, the 30D will yield a photo that looks like it was shot with a 160mm lens. It’s like taking a photo with the 5D and cropping out 4 megapixels of resolution. You get the remaining 8 megapixels, and this makes it appear as if the photo is magnified, but it’s not. Some people tout this as an advantage. They say they can get a higher focal length out of their lenses. But they’re mistaken. It’s the same photo they’d have gotten with a full frame sensor, but cropped. I hope this helps some people understand this. It took me a while to get it. There’s nothing wrong with a smaller sensor that uses a crop factor (for one, they’re much more affordable), as long as you understand what you’re really getting. An unstated advantage of smaller sensors is that you can get away with using cheaper lenses. Whereas a full frame sensor would bring out any imperfections in those lenses because it would use their entire surface area, a smaller sensor would only use their center area, which is usually the sharpest portion of the lens.

In order to avoid the confusion around focal lengths and crop factors, Canon has a line of EF-S lenses which are built specifically for the APS-C sensor size used in the Canon Rebel and 30D models. That means the 18-55mm kit lens that shipped with my 30D review unit really yielded photos that matched that focal range. With EF-S lenses, there’s no crop factor involved, since they are built specifically for the smaller sensor. To really see the difference, pick up an EF-S and an EF lens, turn them upside down, and look at the diameter of the rear lenses on both. The EF-S lens will have a much smaller diameter. Short of looking at the label, that’s how you can tell which sensor they’re built for.

A lot of people are making a big deal out of automatic sensor cleaning features on DSLRs, including me. This involves a mechanism that shakes or vibrates the sensor at ultrasonic speeds, hopefully causing dust present on it to fall down onto an adhesive strip laid down in a groove below it. I say hopefully because some dust will sometimes continue to stick to the sensor, necessitating a manual cleaning. And what people also don’t realize is that they’ve got to service their DSLRs every 6 months to 1 year in order to remove the dirty adhesive strip and lay down a fresh one. Otherwise, dust that can’t stick to it anymore will be drawn back to the sensor instead.

The Canon EOS 30D has no such sensor cleaning, and I can’t say that I missed it during my use of the camera. I did notice right away after receiving my review unit that there was some dust on the sensor. It was likely there from previous uses of the camera by other reviewers. There were about 4 big, persistent dust specks. I tried a manual blower (you can get one for about $10), and that removed two of the particles. To remove all of them, I used sensor cleaning swabs and a good solution (total price, about $40), and they worked as advertised. If you use them too, make sure to follow the directions carefully, otherwise you run the risk of scratching the plastic layer above the sensor. And you know what? After using the swabs, I had no more dust problems with the sensor for the rest of my review period (about 3 weeks). I changed lenses regularly in windy weather, outside, and indoors in rooms charged with static from the dry weather, and dust was not a problem in my photos. So while auto sensor cleaning is a nice feature, it’s not needed, and also doesn’t completely eliminate the headaches caused by dust on the sensor.

There’s one more thing I’d like to mention about the sensor and the DIGIC II processing engine. I always shoot in RAW mode, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the 30D’s RAW file sizes were smaller than on other cameras producing 8-9 megapixels. Canon really makes good use of their pixels. For example, the Olympus EVOLT E-500, another 8-megapixel DSLR I tested, produced 13-14MB RAW files at 8 megapixels, while the Canon EOS 30D yielded 7-9MB RAW files at the same 8-megapixel resolution. While this may not seem like a big difference to you, it’s huge when you think in terms of CF card sizes. Using the same 4GB CF card on both DSLRs, I was able to get 293 images from the E-500 and 436 images from the 30D. That’s a big difference no matter how you look at it, because it means I can shoot more images on the same card.

Image quality

As for the quality of the sensor, I’ll let my photos do the talking. I can safely say that I’m impressed. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I took over 5,000 photos, and there were only a couple of situations where I was slightly disappointed. Overall, this sensor is superb. It’s no wonder Canon chose to leave it in the 30D when they retired the 20D. Its low light sensitivity is unmatched when I compare it with everything I’ve tried so far. From what I understand, I’m not alone. Other reviewers concur. The only cameras that can top the 30D are all much more expensive (5D, 1D). People who buy the 30D for its excellent low light sensitivity alone will not be disappointed, and at its selling price, it’s a bargain.

The images look great throughout the ISO range. What I really like is how little chroma noise can be seen at higher ISO settings. Indeed, there’s so little in most situations that I need to view the photo at 100% magnification in order to see it. On average, there is more luminescence noise than chroma noise, although I don’t mind it as much. Both kinds of noise can be easily eliminated using Adobe Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction tools. Let me make it clear though that this sensor has very little noise when I compare it with other cameras. And at high ISO (1000 to 1600), while the smaller details and shades would be lost with other cameras, they’re preserved with the 30D.

I started to post-process and publish the photos taken with the 30D a few days ago, and I’ll continue to do so. There are currently 20 published photos, but they’ll grow to several hundred by the time I’m done. Watch for them over here at Flickr or in this set at Zooomr. Before the purists jump on me, let me say that I post-process my photos with artistic goals in mind. In other words, I adjust WB, colors, tone, etc. to get each photo to look the way I want it. In that sense, they’re not “right out of the camera”. If you’re looking for those sorts of photos, no great loss, plenty of other review sites have them. What you will see here are photos that are meant to showcase the capabilities of the camera, all post-processed individually and to my liking.

As long as I mentioned White Balance, let me say that the auto WB feature in the 30D works very well. In low light, it yields warmer colors, which I like, and in daylight hours, it usually yields colors that are very similar to what I see. In that sense, it’s accurate and satisfies my needs.

The Auto Exposure on the 30D also works pretty well in automatic mode, though I saw that it overexposed photos just a tad in Aperture Priority mode (Av), which is where I stay most of the time. This sometimes yielded harsher lights than I desired. To prevent that, I turned down the exposure compensation value (EV) by -0.5 or -1.0. In Shutter Priority mode (Tv), it exposed things the way I wanted it. And of course it didn’t matter in fully Manual mode, since we are each personally responsible for the exposure we get there. 🙂

To give you an idea of the photos you can get at 1600 ISO in low lighting, here’s one I took of our iMac’s iSight camera:

iSee

What I also liked is that I was able to get great photos even with the kit lens, including closeups. Here’s one of a bamboo leaf:

The dream

Or how about this other macro shot?

Better stay inside

Camera body

One of the things I really like about the 30D is its beautiful body. Even if all the specs were the same between it and the Canon Rebel line, and the only difference was the body design, I’d pay the extra money and get a 30D instead of a Rebel. I just don’t like the body of the Rebel line. Both the XT and XTi feel too small and I can’t grip them. The XT body is at least a little larger, but the XTi body is so small I feel like I’m holding some cheap digicam in my hand.

Canon EOS 30D (three quarters)

What you’re basically getting with the 30D is a body design that’s very similar to the 5D in dimensions and weight. It feels like a serious camera when you hold it. The buttons are where they need to be, and the Quick Dial control is awesome. I hope Canon keeps it as part of their design for a long time to come. Using the Quick Dial, I was able to change ISO settings, among other things, without taking my eye off the viewfinder. It’s a huge advantage over the predominant four-button design. It’s also very easy to scroll through photos using the dial instead of pressing arrow keys repeatedly.

The weight of the camera is great. It’s just heavy enough to feel like a solid, pro-level camera, without being too heavy on the wrist. A 50mm lens barely adds weight, so it’s great to carry it around like that. The kit lens is also very light, so it isn’t felt at all.

The interface was also wonderfully simple. After a quick perusal of the user manual to clear up some settings, I was ready to go. The menus were much simpler than on other cameras I used. Given the technical complexity of the 30D, I found this very refreshing. The Quick Dial control made it a breeze to navigate through the options and select the features I wanted. The only thing I would suggest is the ability to mark and delete batches of photos in review mode. I could only delete single photos or all photos on a card, but I often wanted to delete only groups of photos.

I really liked the viewfinder. It’s big and clear. I was able to make dioptric adjustments to fit my vision perfectly, and that was great. It was also easy to see the shutter, aperture and ISO indicators at the bottom of the viewfinder window. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that the viewfinder has 95% coverage, so there are little slivers of space at the edges of your photos that you won’t see in the viewfinder. Frame your shots accordingly or crop afterwards as needed.

The LCD screen size is just right. We’re getting used to larger and larger LCD screens these days, and I don’t mind it one bit. The 2.5″ screen of the 30D is great for reviewing shots on the fly, either as you shoot, or afterwards, in “chimping” mode.

Speed

The EOS 30D emphasizes speed in its mechanisms. This is demonstrated by the fast 5fps drive, the small shutter lag, and the fast, 9-point autofocus. I tell you, there’s a big difference between a 3fps drive and a 5 fps drive. In those critical moments when you absolutely need to capture something, it’s really nice to be able to press the shutter and get a quick burst of photos. The shutter lag of the 30D is really good. At 65 ms, it’s a lot faster than the new Rebel XTi (100 ms). I could not find data right away on the shutter lag of the 1D Mark II N, but I have a feeling 30D’s shutter lag is close to it.

Autofocus is, of course, directly dependent on the lens used. As such, autofocus times will vary widely. On fast lenses, the time is obviously going to be really fast, and on slow lenses (zoom, macro) autofocus times are going to be slow. Light is also an important factor to consider. In low light, pretty much any camera will “hunt” or delay autofocus while it tries to find appropriate focal points. I used two lenses while I tested the 30D: the kit lens, which is an 18-55mm EF-S lens, and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. The autofocus times on the kit lens were almost instantaneous, even in low light, while autofocus times on the macro lens were slow, as expected. It was surprising to me to get such fast autofocus times out of the kit lens, especially when considering its maximum aperture is f/3.5. I can only attribute it to the 30D.

Battery life

The 30D’s battery life is great. After the first charge, I was able to get 1,400 exposures before I emptied the battery. I couldn’t wait long enough to drain the second charge. I’d exceeded 1,400 exposures and was getting ready to take a trip where I wanted to use the camera extensively, so I plugged it in. Afterwards, I lost count of the number of photos taken per charge. What I also liked about the 30D is that it gave me ample forewarning of low battery. I was able to take over 300 photos on a low battery, and could have probably gotten more if I hadn’t recharged it.

The long battery life surprised me because the specs state 900-1,100 shots per battery charge, depending on the temperature. I used the camera in decidedly cold weather, in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and yet I was still able to get over 1,400 shots per charge. Although I barely used the flash, I did enable the preview feature that displayed each photo taken for approximately 2 seconds, so it’s not as if I was a battery miser.

Let’s review

I really liked using the Canon EOS 30D. It’s a solid camera with a great sensor that produces quality images, with unmatched low light sensitivity in its class. Its magnesium alloy body feels great and grips very well. Its controls are well-placed and easy to use. Its speed is also unmatched in its class, and its battery life exceeded my expectations. Overall, the camera was a pleasure to use, and inspired a sense of being well made and reliable. Would I purchase one if I were in the market? Absolutely. Given its features and price, you can’t go wrong with this camera.

Here are a few more sample photos.

Speed of light

Shaken

Candy striper

Was there ever any doubt?

How to buy it