Reviews

A review of the Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery software

Having lost photos and videos in the past, I am fairly cautious about my media these days. I keep local and remote backups and I use hardware that writes my data redundantly onto sets of drives, so that I don’t lose anything if one of the drives goes down. I have also purchased data recovery software, just in case something goes bad: I own both Disk Warrior and Data Rescue.

When someone from Stellar Phoenix contacted me to see if I’d be interested in looking at their Photo Recovery software, I agreed. I wanted to see how it compared with what I have. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know they gave me a license key for their paid version of the software.

I put it to a test right away, on what I deemed the hardest task for data recovery software: seeing if it could get anything at all from one of the drives I pulled out of one of my Drobo units.

As you may (or may not) know, Data Robotics, the company that makes the Drobo, uses their own, proprietary version of RAID called BeyondRAID. While this is fine for the Drobo and simple to use for Drobo owners, it also means that data recovery software typically can’t get anything off a drive from a Drobo drive set. Indeed, after several hours of checking, Stellar Phoenix’s software couldn’t find any recoverable files on the drive. I expected as much, because I know specialized, professional-grade software is needed for this, but I gave it a shot because who knows, someday we may be able to buy affordable software that can do this.

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The Seagate 8TB drive is the one I pulled out of the Drobo

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What the software found is data gibberish; there were no MP3 or GIF files on that drive

Now onto the bread and butter of this software: recovering photos and videos from SD cards. I made things harder for it again, because I wanted to see what I’d get. I put a single SD card through several write/format cycles by using it in one of my cameras. I took photos until I filled a portion of the card, downloaded them to my computer, put the card back in the camera, formatted it and repeated the cycle. After I did this, I put the software to work on the card.

Before I tell you what happened, I need to be clear about something: because no camera that I know of and no SD card that I know of has any hard and fast rules about where (more precisely what sector) to write new data after you’ve formatted the card, the camera may very well write the bits for new photos/videos right over the bits of the photos/videos you’ve just taken before formatting the card. This makes the recovery of those specific photos that have been written over virtually impossible. What I’m trying to tell you is that what I did results in a file recovery crapshoot: you don’t know what you’re going to get until you run the software on the card.

When I did run it, it took about 40 minutes to check the card and it found 578 RAW files, 579 JPG files and 10 MOV files. Since I write RAW+JPG to the card (I have my camera set to record each photo in both RAW and JPG format simultaneously), I knew those files should be the same images, and they were.

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The software found photos and videos from several sessions and dates

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As you can see from the dates, they ranged from March 11 to February 13

I then told the software to save the media onto an external drive, so I could check what it found.

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It took about 30-40 minutes to recover the data

When I checked the files, I saw that it recovered two sets of JPG files: each one contained 579 files, but one of the sets began its file names with “T1-…”; they were the thumbnails of the images. All of the JPG files were readable on my Mac. It was a different story with the RAW files. It recovered three sets of RAW files, each containing 578 files. The first set was readable by my Mac. The second set, marked with “T1-…” wasn’t readable at all and the file sizes were tiny, around 10KB in size; they were the thumbnails of the RAW files. The third set, marked with “T2-…” was readable, but the file sizes were around 1MB a piece; they were the mRAW files written automatically by the camera, at a resolution of 3200×2400 pixels. A typical RAW file from the camera I used for my testing ranges in size from 12-14MB and its resolution is 4032×3024 pixels. It’s kind of neat that the mRAW (or sRAW) files were recovered as well.

Now I took 3,328 photos with that camera from February 13th – March 11th. It recovered 578 photos, so that’s a 17% recovery rate. Granted, I made it very hard for it by writing to the card in several cycles and reformatting after each cycle. When I only look at the last set of photos recorded to the card, before the last reformat, I see that I took 523 photos on March 10th and 3 photos on March 11th. The software recovered 525 photos on March 10th (so there’s some doubling up of images somewhere) and 2 photos on March 11th. However, don’t forget about the JPG files, which contained the missing image. So that’s a 100% recovery rate.

In all fairness, there is free software out there that can do basic recovery of images from SD cards and other media, so the quality of a piece of software of this nature is determined by how much media it recovers when the free stuff doesn’t work. I believe I made things hard enough for it,and it still recovered quite a bit of data. That’s a good thing.

Let’s not forget about the video files. Those were written to the card with another camera and they ranged in dates from November 3-6, 2017. I’m surprised it recovered any at all. It gave me 10 video files, out of which 5 were readable, so that’s a 50% recovery rate.

Just for kicks, I decided to run Data Rescue on the SD card as well. It also found 579 JPG files and 578 RAW files. All were readable by my Mac. It also found 10 video files, but none were readable. However, I have Data Rescue 3, which is quite a bit old. Data Rescue 5 is now out, but I haven’t upgraded yet. It’s possible this new version might have found some more files.

Price-wise, Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery comes in three flavors: $49 for the standard version (this is the one I got), $59 for the professional version (it repairs corrupt JPG files) and $99 for the premium version (it repairs corrupt video files in addition to the rest).

The one thing I didn’t like is that the Buy button didn’t go away from the software even after I entered the license key they gave me. As for the rest, it’s fine. I think it crashed once during testing and it didn’t happen while actually recovering data. The design is intuitive and at $49, this is software you should definitely have around in case something bad happens to your photos or videos. It may not recover all of what you lost, but whatever you get back, it’s much better than nothing, which is what you will definitely get if you don’t have it. It’s also a good idea to have multiple brands of this kind of software if you can afford them, because you never know which one will help you more until you try them all. And believe me, when you’re desperate to get your data back, you’ll try almost anything…

Remember, back up your data and have at least one brand of data recovery software in your virtual toolbelt. Stay safe!

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Thoughts

File corruption rears its ugly head

During the last few weeks, I’ve seen the following error in Adobe Lightroom 3.

There I am, editing photos, minding my own business, and when I try to view a photo for editing, I get the error message you see above: “The file appears to be unsupported or damaged.”

When I try to view the file in the finder, I get the same error message, this time directly from the OS: “The file […] could not be opened. It may be damaged…”

Here’s my workflow:

  1. Shoot RAW
  2. Import RAW files as DNG into Lightroom (LR converts them on the fly)
  3. Process in LR
  4. Export as JPG or as needed
  5. Back up the catalog and check its integrity weekly

It’s pretty straightforward, and that’s the way I like it. I currently have about 85,000 photos in my LR library, whose catalog is stored locally on my MBP, with the files (DNG, RAW, JPG and TIF) residing on a Firewire Drobo.

Fortunately, the file corruption is only temporary, meaning there’s an error somewhere along the way:

  • It could be Lightroom
  • It could be the DNG file format (because I haven’t gotten the error with RAW or JPG files)
  • It could be OS X: I wonder how much testing Apple did for 10.6.5 with volumes greater than 4TB
  • It could be the Drobo: it’s a big volume (4.4TB) with lots of data that’s constantly being updated, lots of I/O traffic

I don’t know, and I hope someone reading this has an answer.

What fixes the error every time is quitting LR, ejecting the Drobo, cycling its power, mounting it, and starting LR. I’ve also tried just restarting LR, or just ejecting the Drobo, but those methods didn’t work.

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Thoughts

Metadata: DNG vs RAW

Generally speaking, I prefer the Adobe DNG format over the proprietary RAW format given to me by a camera, because I like the fact that it’s more or less future-proof. With a DNG file, the meta-data resides inside the file — like with a JPG — but the format is lossless, same as a RAW file — and unlike a JPG.

In spite of the fact that it’s a “publicly available archive format”, I would like to see more camera manufacturers adopt it, so I can feel more comfortable using it. I realize companies like Hasselblad and Leica have already adopted it, and you can take photos directly in DNG format on some of their cameras, but until the big camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon adopt it, it won’t have the mass acceptance it needs to ensure its long-term survivability.

Still, I have begun to convert the RAW files in my photo library to DNG. By my count, I have converted about 30% of my 77,000 photographs to DNG format, and I am converting more of them every day. Let’s hope Adobe sticks to its word in the future and I’m not left holding the bag, having locked my photos into a format that might become obsolete.

Long-term benefits and potential caveats aside, I should point out a more current disadvantage between DNG and RAW. It has to do with metadata.

Yes, it’s true that with a RAW file, you’re stuck working with your metadata in sidecar XMP file, and that file may get corrupted, or you may lose it, thus losing your metadata and the processing directives for Camera Raw or Lightroom or whatever you’re using to process your photos. With a DNG, everything resides inside the file. There’s no XMP file, which is a good thing, most of the time.

But when you’re backing up your library, and let’s say for the sake of the argument that you’ve got to back up 20,000 photos, which is what I’m doing right now, and you’ve made minute changes to the metadata of all those files — only changed one EXIF or IPTC field — the backup software won’t care. You’ll have to back up 20,000 DNG files, each (in my case) between 12-24 MB. That’s going to take a LOT longer than backing up 20,000 XMP sidecar files, each of which is only 15-25 KB, because those are the only files that will have been changed if I update the EXIF or IPTC data for a whole bunch of RAW files.

That’s one area where RAW trumps DNG. I’m willing to overlook it if DNG will indeed prove to be a future-proof format, but that remains to be seen.

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Reviews

A tangible argument for working in RAW format

I photograph exclusively in RAW format these days — unless I happen to be using a camera that doesn’t have that capability. This post is a small but tangible example why shooting in RAW is a good thing.

Have a look at the photo below. That’s what happens when you combine dark streets, tall buildings and bright skies. It’s hard to get the exposure correctly, especially if you haven’t got the time to sit there taking lots of photos of the same thing while you adjust the aperture and shutter speed manually. If you expose for the shadows, you get an unpleasantly bright sky, like here. If you expose for the sky, you get really dark buildings, and then you can’t make out the details.

Overexposed sky

Fortunately, I can adjust the exposure of a photo (within limits) after the fact if I shoot in RAW. I can also make tonal adjustments much better than with a JPEG file. Here’s that same photo, post-processed. I only used Lightroom, no Photoshop here. (In case you’re wondering, I also made contrast and color saturation and luminance changes.)

Cafe 123

I was able to recover the highlights and even get a decent amount of detail in the clouds. Yes, you can tell the sky isn’t natural, but hey, it’s a whole lot better than a blown out highlight. And there’s still plenty of shadow detail.

If your camera lets you shoot in RAW, don’t hesitate, take the plunge. Yes, the files will be a little bigger, but you get a ton more creative capability in post-processing. And you don’t have to use Lightroom or Bridge if you can’t afford them. (I know Bridge is free but you need Photoshop or another Adobe app to get it.) Both Picasa and iPhoto will work with RAW files. One caveat about iPhoto: at the time of this post, it does NOT work with DNG files (Adobe’s own RAW file format). It does, however, work with Canon, Nikon and other RAW formats. Your camera may also have come with software that lets you develop and manipulate the RAW files. Get started exploring this new medium — it’s the equivalent of a film negative — and have fun improving your photography!

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Reviews

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

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Reviews

Hasselblad H2D-39: A 39-megapixel DSLR!

The Hasselblad H2D-39 DSLR Camera

Hold the presses, because I’ve just stumbled onto an amazing DSLR. I used to think 22-megapixels was really something, but this puppy cooks up 39-megapixels! It records in RAW format, and the photos are so big that it comes with an external 80GB hard drive. You can even connect it directly to your Mac or PC and transfer the images as you take them.

Of course, if you yearn for mobility, it also writes to CF cards. I can’t imagine how big they’d need to be or how many you’d need for a typical commercial photo shoot, but hey, it’s your call, right?

It comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery that will let you take up to 250 photos, or “captures”, as they call them in 4 hours. Needless to say, you won’t be able to put it in your pocket: the camera plus battery and CF card comes in at 2,175 grams, a little over 2 kilos, or 4 pounds.

So how much will all this megapixely goodness cost you? $29,995 seems to be the going price, although I’ve seen it listed on Froogle for as high as $32,973. I can’t say that I’ve got a burning need to get one, but I suppose if my livelihood depended on delivering really high quality pics, it’d be on my shopping list. Read up on it right here.

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