If Time Machine doesn't work…

… and you get the little exclamation sign within the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, and Time Machine will not back up your Mac any more, then here’s what worked for me, twice so far:

  • Reboot the Mac.
  • Before doing anything else, go into the Time Machine drive, locate your Mac’s folder inside the Backups folder, and look for a single file that starts with a date and ends like this: .inProgress. Move it to the trash.
  • Tell Time Machine to “Back Up Now”.

That’s it. It should start backing up again. But if it doesn’t, you may want to visit the Apple support forums and see what worked for others. Some are saying you’ll need to toggle the backup disk to None, then back to the usual backup drive.

Updated 8/14/08: Make sure you delete the .inProgress file once you move it to the Trash. If you can’t delete it, do a Get Info and make sure you have Read & Write privileges to it, then delete it. It may take a while to delete it, but let the Finder finish the job, don’t cancel it. If you don’t delete that file from the Trash, Time Machine may continue to give you errors and remain unable to back up your Mac.

How to transfer photos between Lightroom catalogs

This screencast will show you how to transfer photos between different Lightroom catalogs, and it will go beyond that by also demonstrating how the whole process could be made a LOT easier if Adobe wanted to.

In the screencast, I refer to an article I wrote a while back, entitled “The next stage for Lightroom“, where I put forth a proposal for improving the way Lightroom stores photos, with an eye on catalog portability (laptops, for example). If you have the time, please read through that article after you see the video.

The video is about 10 1/2 minutes long, file size is 78MB, and it’s 720p HD, MOV. You can view it online by clicking on the screenshot below, or download it.

How I moved all my content from comeacross.info to raoulpop.com

A place in this world

Background info

As midnight approached this past New Year’s Eve, I was busy working on a long-term project. I was about to move all of my content (every article and post I’d written) from comeacross.info to raoulpop.com. There were many reasons for this, but consolidation was the most readily apparent.

As detailed on my About page, I’d already combined my content from other sites of mine onto comeacross.info, but there was one more piece of the puzzle that needed to fall into place. I’d alluded to it already. I was thinking about doing it in 2006, believe it or not. As a matter of fact, when I sat down and thought about whether to start writing at comeacross.info or raoulpop.com, I knew deep down I should choose to start writing on my personal domain, but worried it might be too difficult for people to remember and type the name.

After a year or so at ComeAcross, I realized that the subjects I was writing about were much too varied for a standalone site. I was writing in a personal voice, using a lot of 1st person, and it only made sense to have that sort of content reside on my personal site. Plus, there were so many splogs (spam blogs) on the .info TLD, that I worried whether I would be taken seriously if I stayed on .info. I’d owned raoulpop.com for a long time, I wasn’t really putting it to good use, and it didn’t make sense not to.

I set a deadline of 12/31, and got to work on planning and research. What better time for such a big change as this than New Year’s, right?

I’m documenting this for you because someone else might need to know how to do it. And I figure the thought process that went on behind the scenes is also worth knowing.

Planning and research

My biggest challenge was to figure out how to redirect all of the traffic from comeacross.info to raoulpop.com, reliably and accurately. I needed to make sure that every one of my articles and posts would redirect to my new domain automatically, so that a URL like

http://comeacross.info/2007/12/30/my-photographic-portfolio/

would automatically change to

https://raoulpop.com/2007/12/30/my-photographic-portfolio/

and the redirect would work in such a way that search engines would be properly notified and I wouldn’t lose my page rank.

I knew about 301 redirects, but I wasn’t sure how to accomplish them in the Linux/WordPress environment the way that I wanted them to work. I had worked mainly with Microsoft web servers until recent times, and Linux was and still is fairly new to me. I was using John Godley’s Redirection plugin for WP (it’s an awesome plugin btw), and I knew it could do 301 redirects quite nicely. I had been using it heavily when I changed post slugs or deleted/consolidated posts at ComeAcross.

I worked out a line of Regex code that I could use to create a site-wide redirection, I tested it and it worked fine. In case you’re wondering, you can easily test it by creating a 307 (temporary) redirection instead of a 301 (permanent) redirection. Here’s how to do it:

Create a new 301 redirection where the source URL is

/(.*)

and the target URL is

http://www.example.com/$1

Make sure you check the Regex box, add it, and you’re done.

Just to make sure, I contacted John Godley to confirm whether it was the best way to do things. He said that would certainly do the job, but there was a MUCH easier and faster way to do it, one that saves a lot of the overhead that comes into play when WP gets used. It works through the .htaccess file. He was kind enough to provide me with the code, which is reproduced below.

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>

RewriteEngine On

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

</IfModule>

Just paste that into your .htaccess file (remove all other code but make sure you back it up somewhere in case you need it), save it, upload it, and you’re done.

Don’t do anything yet though! Not before you’ve thoroughly backed up everything! Let me outline the steps for you, and keep in mind that I wanted to mirror all of my content from two separate WP sites using the same WP version, and to redirect from the first to the second. These two conditions have to be met in order for my advice to apply to your situation.

  1. Make sure both sites are on the latest and greatest version of WP, or at least they’re on the SAME version of WP
  2. Back up the database from the old domain
  3. Download all site files from the old domain
  4. Upload site files to new domain
  5. Restore database to new domain
  6. Make changes to .htaccess file as shown above
  7. Log into your new domain’s WP admin panel and change the site and blog URLs. Now you’re done! Check to make sure the redirection works properly and all of your content is there.

Upgrade your WP installs

The two sites have to be on the same version, or else things might not work as expected. Upgrade both sites to the latest and greatest, or at least make sure they’re on the SAME version before you do anything else. Go to WordPress, download and install the latest versions. There’s also an Automatic Upgrade plugin, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t vouch for it.

BEFORE you do any sort of upgrade, you need to back up. Yes, you can’t get away from this… You’ll need to do two backups, one before you upgrade, and one after you upgrade, before you transfer the content.

Back up your content

This combines steps 2 and 3 listed above. Backing up your site files is easy. Use an FTP client to access the files on the web server and download them to your hard drive. I always keep a local copy of my site files. It just makes sense.

Backing up your database is a little more involved. Your database contains all of your site content (posts, links, comments, tags, categories, etc.) so you definitely don’t want to lose it. There are detailed instructions on backing up the database on the WordPress site. You can follow those, or you can go to your site’s Admin Panel >> Manage >> Export and download the WordPress WXR file, which you can import into your new site afterwards.

While this is great for backups, restores are another matter. I tried it and found that the import operation kept timing out at my web host. Given that I have thousands of posts, I didn’t want to sit there re-restoring the WXR file only to get a few posts done with every operation. I needed something quicker.

There is a plugin called WordPress Database Backup which lets you download a zipped SQL file of the database. You can use this to restore the database through the MySQL Admin Panel, if your webhost provides you access to it.

What I did was to simply point my new site install to my old database. This is a very handy and easy solution if you plan to host both sites with the same web host. But this still doesn’t excuse you from backing up the DB before you upgrade the WP install! 🙂

Restore your content to the new site

This is a two-step process (see #4 and #5 above) and involves reversing the steps you took during the backups. You will now upload your site files to the new domain, and you will restore the database to the new domain as well. If you’re in my situation, where you’re using the same web host, you can simply point the wpconfig.php file on your new domain to the old database.

Make sure all your content is properly restored before going on to the next step!

Make changes to the .htaccess file

You will need to make sure you don’t touch the .htaccess file before you transfer it to your new domain. Only the .htaccess file on your old domain needs to change. Remember this, or you’ll be wondering what’s going on with the redirects afterwards…

Use the code I’ve given you above, in the Planning and Research section, to make changes to the .htaccess file on your old domain, after you’ve made absolutely sure that all of your content is now mirrored on the new domain. Once this is done, the redirects will occur automatically and seamlessly.

Final checks and tweaks

This is very important. Surf to your old URL. You should get re-directed to your new URL. Do a search in the search engines for content of yours that you know is easily found. Click on the search results and make sure the links get redirected to your new site. Because you’re using 301 redirects, the search engines will automatically change their search results to reflect the URL changes without affecting your page rank, so you shouldn’t lose any search engine traffic if you execute the content move correctly.

There are a few more things you’ll need to check:

If you’d like to make changes to your site feed (and I did), you’ll need to handle that properly. I use FeedBurner, and there are people that subscribe to my content via RSS or via email. I needed to transfer both groups of subscribers to my new feed seamlessly. The FeedBurner folks helped me do just that, and I didn’t lose a single subscriber during the move. I detailed that process in this post.

What about internal links? If you’ve blogged for a while, you’ll have linked to older posts of yours. Those link URLs now contain the old domain, and you’ll need to change all of them at some point, or you’ll risk making those links invalid if you should ever stop renewing your old domain. Fortunately, there’s a Search and Replace plugin for WP that lets you do just that. It works directly with the database, it’s very powerful, and it’s very fast. That means you have to be VERY careful when you use it, because there’s no undo button. You can easily mess up all of your content if you don’t know what you’re doing.

What I did was to replace all instances of “.raoulpop.com/” with “.raoulpop.com/“. That did the trick nicely. I then did a regular site search for all instances of ComeAcross and manually made any needed changes to those posts. (Here’s a thought: back up the DB before you start replacing anything. This way you can restore if something should go wrong.)

Finally, if you’re using the Google Sitemaps Generator plugin, you’ll want to make sure you manually rebuild your site map. You don’t want to have your old site information in the site map as Google and the other search engines start to crawl your new domain.

That’s about all I did for the site content transfer. It occupied half my New Year’s Eve night, but it was worth it. It’s quite a bit of work, but if you plan it out, it should only take you 4-5 hours or less to execute the transfer, depending on your familiarity with this sort of thing, and the speed of your internet connection (keep in mind that upload speeds are a LOT slower than download speeds on most broadband connections).

Given how much work is involved, I was a bit surprised to see Matthew Mullenweg (founding developer of WordPress) talk about doing his own switch to a new domain in “2 seconds“. I think what he referred to is the changes to the .htaccess file and the blog URLs, which are the fastest parts of the process. There is, however, quite a bit of work that needs to take place behind the scenes before those switches can get flipped. And I also believe (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that he pointed both domains to the same web files — in other words, re-used his existing WP install — so he bypassed a lot of the steps that are otherwise required.

Hope this proves helpful to someone!

Why music doesn't sound great any more

Growing up, I listened to music on vinyl records. I had a huge stack of mostly classical music at home, and it was a real treat to put on a record, sit the needle on it, and hear music come out of the speakers. It was never tiring. It was always enjoyable, and I could listen to music while doing homework or reading.

As I got older and moved to CDs, and more recently, MP3s, I kept wondering why I couldn’t do the same. I kept getting headaches from listening to music for prolonged periods of time. Even while driving, too much music was stressful. I found that when I turned off the radio, it was as if I’d break down a wall of sound that would constantly barrage my ears. I put it down to changes in my personality and tastes in music, though I’d read some articles in the past that suggested music recording practices were changing.

It turns out those early grumblers were right. The Rolling Stones have a great article called “The Death of High Fidelity“, and it explains very well what’s going on. Now that I’m aware of these practices, I call them the bastardization of music as we know it, and I don’t think I’m mincing words.

It’s no wonder most music just plain stinks when we listen to it. And it’s also no wonder that certain recordings resonate with us if they’re done correctly. Norah Jones is one famous example. Another, more recent one, is Yael Naim. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard her song, “New Soul”, in the MacBook Air commercial.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to ask music producers to stop putting police sirens and telephone rings in songs. They hide these sounds behind the normal tracks, but they make them stand out just enough to be noticed. Seriously, it’s very disturbing to drive on a road minding your own business and hear a muted police siren, then freak out because you don’t know where the sound is coming from. I understand the reasoning behind it: jog the listener’s short attention span, get them to listen to the music, subconsciously trigger an emotional response, etc. The way I see it, it’s disingenuous, it’s manipulative, and it cheapens the song. Stop doing it, please.

Here’s hoping things get back to normal. Or if they don’t, that at the very least, recordings using preferable sound mastering methods are labeled accordingly, as some people suggest.

How to backup and restore your Mac and PC

I had a conversation yesterday about this very topic that made me realize it’d make a great article. So here’s how to backup — and if needed, restore — both your Mac and PC in a pretty much foolproof sort of way.

Before I start, let me clarify three things.

First, using backup software does not necessarily mean you can restore your entire computer in case it crashes, gets infected with a virus, or the hard drive dies. Keep that in mind! Backing up your files means just that: you’re backing up your files and can restore them, not your computer. The question you need to ask yourselves is: “Does my backup software let me restore my entire computer (operating system + my files) or just my files?”

Second, you’ll need a good backup device. It won’t do to have both your computer and your backup device fail at about the same time, or you’ll be nowhere. So make sure to get a good external drive with plenty of space (I use these) or to use a device that’s built to secure your data against hardware failures (like a Drobo, which I also use). Apple has just released a wireless backup drive called Time Capsule, which should work nicely with Macs.

Third, I’d rather not get into arguments about how some piece of software is better than that piece of software. The point is to make things easy for those of you that are confused by all the pieces of software out there. In the end, you use whatever software works for you, but remember that this is what I recommend. I don’t want to bog people down with doing their virus checks with Whodalala and their spyware checks with Whodalulu, and… I think you get my point. An all-in-one solution works best, especially something that you install and then runs automatically. I believe strongly in automating these sorts of tasks and making it easy for the average person to use the software, and I’ve written about this in the past as well.

How to backup and restore a Mac

Mac OS X Leopard’s Time MachineThis one’s really easy. Get Mac OS X Leopard and use Time Machine. It’ll do both file-level restores and full restores. It backs up your computer automatically every hour, and the first time you run it, it’ll do a full backup of everything on your computer. It’s great, I use it too, it works. In case your Mac should go kaput, you can restore it in its entirety after it gets fixed by booting up to the Leopard DVD and choosing “Restore System from Time Machine” from the Utilities menu. Should you only need to restore files, you’ve probably already seen the cool demo video and you know all about that.

Carbon Copy ClonerDon’t have Leopard? Still on Mac OS X Tiger? It’s okay. Use Carbon Copy Cloner. It’s wonderful, it’s free (you should donate if you find it useful though), and it can do full and incremental backups and restores. (Incremental means it’ll only backup or restore the files that have changed since the last backup or restore.) It works with both Tiger and Leopard, so you’re fully covered.

How to backup and restore a PC

This one’s a little trickier, but you just have to remember two names: OneCare Live and Norton Ghost.

Microsoft OneCare LiveOneCare Live is made by Microsoft and will do most everything PCs need: defragmentation, virus checks, spyware checks, firewall, and backups. What’s more, the software will remind you if you haven’t backed up or ran scans lately. It’s an all-in-one piece of software that I’ve used for over a year, and I like it.

A nice thing about its pricing is that it lets you use one license on up to three computers and manage the OneCare settings from a single machine. This means you can install it on your children’s PC and your wife’s PC and manage their security settings from your own machine. You can even schedule all three to back up to a central location like a network drive or a Windows Home Server.

The thing to keep in mind about it is that it does NOT do full backups and restores. It will only look for your files (documents, spreadsheets, movies, photos, etc.) and back those up to an external device. That means that unless you want to be stuck re-installing the operating system and applications every time your computer crashes, you’d better have something else to work alongside OneCare.

That certain something else is Norton Ghost. I’ve used it as well, and it sure works as advertised. Many system admins swear by it, because it makes their jobs a lot easier. The way to use it is to get your computer all set up and ready to go (with the OS, apps and latest patches and updates all installed), and BEFORE you start using it, ghost it. You can either boot up from the Ghost CD and clone your entire hard drive to an external device like a USB drive or to DVDs, or you can run the Ghost application right from the operating system, with your computer functioning normally while it’s getting cloned.

Once you’ve ghosted your machine, keep that ghost image safely somewhere and do regular backups with OneCare Live. If your PC should ever crash, you can boot up with the Ghost CD and restore it from its ghost image, then do file-level restores with the OneCare application.

Just remember, it’s important to ghost your PC at that critical point after you’ve gotten everything you need installed, but BEFORE you get it infected with something or installed stuff you’ll want to uninstall later, otherwise the ghost image will understandably be pretty useless to you.

Hope this helps!

Do not allow websites to resize your browser window

Websites that resize my browser’s window or maximize it are completely annoying. When someone does that to me, no matter how interesting their content may be, I go somewhere else instantly. Fortunately, there’s a way to block anyone from messing with my browser windows or tabs in Firefox. Here’s how to do it:

First, go to Tools >> Options, then click on the Content icon in that dialog box. It should look like this:

Firefox content options

Now click on the Advanced button next to the “Enable JavaScript” checkbox. You’ll get the following dialog box:

Firefox advanced javascript settings

Make sure to uncheck the following options:

  • Move or resize existing windows
  • Raise or lower windows

Click on the OK button twice to save the changes, and then you’re done. This will disallow any website to adjust the size of your browser window. It’s a great way to make sure your browsing experience stays yours.

When animation trash gets called art

Last year, I stumbled over the blog of one of the directors for the Ren & Stimpy cartoons, by the name of Vincent Waller. I subscribed, curious to see what one of the people who’d worked on that horrible cartoon was doing nowadays. It didn’t take long for me to find out…

A few days later, he blogged about a cartoon made by one of his fans. He lavished so much praise on it that I watched it. It was an utter bunch of filth, filled with suggestive sex, curse words, violence and bestiality. It was done in the style of the Ren & Stimpy cartoons — same sort of animation, similar character movement, similar colors, etc.

I left a comment on his post, telling him that I couldn’t believe he’d posted that garbage to his blog. I honestly thought the guy knew better than that, but I was wrong. He deleted my comment. I left a subsequent comment. He deleted that as well. I contacted him via email. He answered back and seemed somewhat rational. I thought I might have a decent conversation with him, and I asked him out of sheer curiosity why the Ren & Stimpy cartoons ever got made. What was the rationale behind them? I told him I found them depressing altogether, and I found the subject matter crude and filthy. I said that as a child, I wanted to see cartoons on TV, and very often, only Ren & Stimpy were on in the evenings, so I had to watch them if I wanted to watch any cartoons at all.

He told me to go away and not bother him again. He said that there was something wrong with me, that I should have watched something else, and that he and the series creator happened to like them, and that’s why they got made. That was the end of that conversation.

But, it got me thinking about the people behind Ren & Stimpy and the other horrible cartoons that our children can watch on TV nowadays, or were able to watch until not long ago — stuff like Beavis and Butt-head, for example.

These people make this horrible crap that appeals to their sick and twisted minds, filled with all sorts of suggestive behavior and language meant for adults, and they put it on TV, where it gets shoved by the cartload into the minds of our children. Do they take any responsibility for their actions? No, they do not. They blame the viewer for watching their stuff if he or she complains.

What they also do not want to recognize is that stuff that’s on TV carries weight with people (yes, it still does, in spite of widespread cynicism). If it gets shown on the air, people assume it’s been vetted and there’s some merit to it. It’s a false assumption, I know, but most adults don’t know this, much less the children. They don’t know the stuff is crap. If it’s on Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network, it must be good, right? Wrong.

Generally speaking, crap cartoon shows get made because the creator is friends with a network exec, or he’s worked on a successful series and can now pitch his idea with some leverage. But that doesn’t mean that these shows are any good or that they’ve been vetted responsibly. It only means they got into the channel through the back door, and yes, they smell like it, too. What’s more, series creators and directors often get “artistic freedom” once a show has been approved. Execs don’t dare censor stuff, because that would stifle the series’ “creativity” — and I use that word very loosely in this context. So a bunch of weirdos with no self-control get to put together shows that get shown to children. What’s more, they absolve themselves of any blame whatsoever if children are influenced negatively by their work, and call people who protest “legless, armless lumps” (that’s the term used on me by that director I mentioned in the first paragraph), because they should know better than to watch their stuff.

They do not want to acknowledge, however, that children do not yet have the power to filter things properly. They don’t have a fully developed moral compass, and more often than not, choose to sit in front of the TV and hope that something good is on. Or, these thoughtless, immature “artists” also pull out the parent argument. They say that parents ought to monitor what their kids watch. Well, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’re at work and your child is at home. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are supposed to be fairly safe channels, so you can’t just disallow them altogether. If you can’t even allow them, what can you allow?

But does any of this register with them? No. All they care about is making their crap, expressing themselves “artistically”, and getting paid for making their crap.

The sad thing is that the creator of Ren & Stimpy (whose name is not worth mentioning here) is now enjoying some sort of fame, since he was one of the few people who still adhered to the old animation methods (storyboards, character development, hand drawings, etc.) when he made Ren & Stimpy. He’s getting praised on various animation sites for that, and for contributing heavily to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive.

I think ALL of that praise is misplaced… You can follow all of the right methods, you can make all the storyboards you want, you can draw painstakingly well, but if your original vision is horrible, the end result will be horrible as well. Ren & Stimpy should have never made it to TV. It should have been released to tape, and I bet if that had happened, we’d have it archived in obscure, seldom-seen videos on YouTube, uploaded and viewed by a few animation geeks, because no one else would have liked it.

In spite of the fact that this man is doing his part to preserve a somewhat lost art in animation, he’s a poor example of putting that art to work. Judging by the stuff he’s created so far, he’s not fit to hold a candle to Preston Blair or any other of the Golden Age animators he is aping. There’s a LOT to be said about censorship in animation, and Disney, in spite of all his shortcomings, had a very, very bright idea when he kept an iron grip on what got made and put out at his company. He made sure it was okay to show to children. The man was a genius.

I’ve done a lot of talking about bad cartoons in this post. What about good cartoons? What cartoons do I think are appropriate for children? Well, it just so happens that I wrote a post on how to find cartoons for children last year. It’s a good read, so have a look at that. I encourage parents out there, and the younger folks as well, if you’re looking for good cartoons, don’t stop looking, and don’t settle for garbage. Go looking for better stuff. If you have to buy DVDs, buy them. You can also rent from Netflix.

Make sure the stuff you watch is good stuff. You’ll know it’s good stuff because it’s the stuff that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and comfortable when you watch it. When you get up after watching it, you feel happier and better. Look for the good stuff, and let the bad stuff go to waste, because that’s where it belongs.

Lens review: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Zoom Lens

The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens is the professional standard zoom from Canon, and so far the golden standard for sharpness, contrast and bokeh in a zoom lens. Photographers drool over it and swear by it. Its focal range on a full frame sensor makes it very appealing for event photography. It goes from a wide 24mm to an almost portrait-length 70mm to allow for close-ups. It’s also plenty fast for a zoom — f/2.8 — just about the fastest a zoom lens can get these days. (I’d like to see an f/2.0 standard zoom, but I don’t know when that’ll happen, and the cost will probably be fairly high.)

I’m going to talk exclusively about the 24-70mm lens in this review, but if you’re interested, I also wrote a comparison of this lens and the 24-105mm f/4L zoom. You may want to read that as well, in order to get a better idea of how this lens performs.

As you know if you’re a regular reader, I write about how products feel and the results they give me. My reviews aren’t spec-heavy. I give you my honest opinion about a product, and tell you what results I got with it.

With that in mind, the 24-70mm zoom is a good lens. It’s plenty sharp, has plenty of contrast, and the bokeh is great. I liked it. But it’s heavy — really heavy. When you hold it in your hand, it doesn’t feel that heavy, but when it goes on your camera, your wrist really takes a beating, and it feels as if the camera’s body is going to give. This lens is incredibly front-heavy. That means there’s no chance of holding the camera with one hand for long when you use it. On my 5D, it’s really hard to use the lens without a vertical grip, which gives me more finger room. Without the grip, you have to support the lens itself when you take the shots, and then you have to be careful that you don’t grip the focus ring and impede the auto focus from rotating when you press the shutter button. I use a keyboard and mouse all day long, so I realize I may not be the strongest guy around, but I lift weights once or twice a week. Still, I tell you, this lens really took its toll on my wrist joint and finger muscles. It was a real workout. I didn’t expect this kind of weight from a standard zoom. I did expect it from the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM zoom. If you’re so results-oriented that you’re willing to overlook the weight, great, get it, you’ll love the results.

I mentioned the useful focal range above. Let me illustrate it with a few examples below. At the wide end, you can capture beautiful landscapes… or nice wide angle shots of buildings. At medium range (30-60mm), you can get photos like these. The lens also has a very useful close-focusing range (0.38m), which allows you to get close-ups like you see below.

Let’s talk about low light. This lens has no image stabilization (like the 24-105mm zoom) and that means the maximum aperture of f/2.8 starts to show signs of strain in low light. It means we have to bump up the ISO and make sure the shutter speed stays at or above the focal length, stabilize the camera, and/or use a flash. Like I said in the opening paragraph, this isn’t a fault of the lens — f/2.8 is the fastest aperture for a zoom lens on the market, so that’s just how things are.

I enclosed a few photos taken in low light above. The first was taken inside a piano store, and although there was plenty of fluorescent lighting, I found that it wasn’t quite enough to shoot freely, like I would have done with a faster prime lens. I can’t argue with the sharpness and bokeh though. It’s beautiful.

There’s a second interior photo, where I had to use a speedlite. I used the 580EX II, also from Canon, and bounced it off the white ceiling. The lens does fine with a good speedlite, so that’s no problem.

The last two low light photos were taken in downtown Bethesda at night. For the first, I stabilized the camera with both hands on a balustrade in order to take it. The second photo of a VW Bug was taken handheld from a lower angle.

A lot of photographers use this lens for portraits, so I thought I’d show you a portrait I took with it as well. It’s on my wife’s website, Fun Piano Lessons. The tele end of the focal range is just right for portraits, and the sharpness, contrast and bokeh are great, especially with a wider aperture like the f/4 used in that photo.

All in all, this is a lens that does not disappoint. I expected professional results when I used it, and got them, without a doubt. The only two things that I minded were the weight — in particular its front-heavy distribution — and the lack of image stabilization. But if you were to get this lens and the EF 70-200 mm zoom, you’ll have covered most of the useful focal range you’ll need with just two very versatile lenses. Some food for thought there.

More information:

Lens review: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens

I’m going to talk about the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens in this review. It’s a wonderfully versatile L series zoom with surprising image quality and great image stabilization built right in. I’m also going to show you lots of photos I took with this lens, to illustrate the various points I’m about to make.

If you’re interested, I also wrote a comparison of this lens and the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L zoom. It might help you decide which lens to get if you’re interested in purchasing either of them.

EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens

So, that’s the lens, right there on my table. It’s not as tall as my 100mm macro, but it’s also heavier, which is to be expected. There’s a lot more glass in zoom lenses. When you turn the zoom ring, the barrel extends outward. There’s some zoom creep, but that’s pretty much a “feature” on all zoom lenses I’ve tried, including other, more expensive zoom lenses.

I found its range to be just what the doctor ordered. At the wide end, the 24mm is great for landscapes or other interesting compositions, like you’ll see below, and at the tele end, 105mm is great for portraits and for bringing in distant details. Believe me, there’s a ton of difference between 70mm and 105mm when you’re trying to focus on some distant object. That extra reach is great! (By the way, I just dropped a hint in this paragraph. Did you catch it? It has to do with the 24-70mm f/2.8L zoom… There’s a review of it coming soon.)

The photo below was taken at 24mm after sunset, on a tripod.

Dusk

This one was taken from the same spot, but at 105mm. See how versatile the focal range really is?

Dusk II

I mentioned something about interesting compositions at wide angles above. Here’s one:

Goaty

I had doubts about this lens. After all, the 24-70mm L series zoom costs the same, yet it has no image stabilization and the focal range is shorter. How could a lens that packs in a longer focal range plus IS be as good as the other and at the same price? Let’s not also forget that Canon offers this lens as a kit lens for the 5D. Granted, it is an L series, but still… right? Well, prepare to be surprised.

I went to downtown Bethesda at night, and shot handheld, with the IS turned on. Keep in mind that the widest this lens will go is f/4.

Crenels

The photo above was taken at a shutter speed of 1/15th sec, handheld. At 1:1, those crenels are still sharp. But wait, that’s not all… The photo below was taken at a shutter speed of 1/8th sec — I propped my elbows on a balustrade to take it:

Arches

The details here are even sharper than in the previous photo. In my book, this means the lens is great in low light for a zoom. Nothing can beat my 24mm or 50mm primes at f/1.4, but there’s no mistaking the fact that the IS built into this lens does a great job of compensating for the smaller maximum aperture.

What about the contrast, sharpness and bokeh, you ask? Well, let’s look at a few photos:

Tiled

The photo above was taken at close range, almost macro range. I believe I switched to manual focus when I took the shot. I was so close the AF stopped working. I did very little post-processing to the shot, and certainly didn’t alter the colors. The lens plus the camera did most of the work, including enhancing the colors present on that old barn. Having been there in person, I know the colors were more faded.

Here’s another photo taken at close range:

Waking up to this

Look at the photo of the cat below. When I downloaded the photos from my 5D and looked at it, I was struck by how 3D it felt. The sharpness is all there, even at 1:1, the contrast is beautiful, the colors are great. That’s when it hit me: this lens is really good!

Mr. Whiskers

Let’s talk bokeh. Every lens has its approximate sweet spot when it comes to it. Stray from that proper distance to focal range ratio, and the bokeh looks all screwed up. Some lenses are better than others, and produce great bokeh across a larger focal range. I think this is one of those lenses. The bokeh isn’t entirely creamy, like you’d get with a fast prime opened up all the way — remember, it can only open to f/4 — but the bokeh’s there, and it does its job, which is to bring out the subject and fade out everything else pleasantly. Have a look at the photos shown below, and you be the judge:

Thingamajig

Lily

Blackberries

I really appreciated its versatility. I love my primes, but let me tell you, there’s nothing more annoying than missing a shot because I have to switch lenses. Primes are great for controlled conditions — nothing beats them there — but when you’re out and about, you don’t want to be futzing around in your camera bag, looking for your lenses, while your photo op passes by.

Have a look at these next few photos. It felt great not to have to switch lenses and still be able to take all of them.

Silo

She thinks my tractor’s sexy

Lazying about

This is one lens that does not disappoint. It’ll likely stay on your camera body for 70-80% of the time. It’s an L series, so you know it’ll perform over a long period of time. It’s lighter than other L series zooms with similar focal ranges, and the image stabilization works just as I’d expect it. If you’re in the market for one, buy it.

You can find it at:

Peachy

Lens review: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Zoom

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L Zoom Lens

I rented Canon’s premier mid-range zoom lens, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, and had the chance to play with it for a day. I put it through its paces: daylight, dusk, low light and early morning light. The result: I love it and plan to buy it. This lens works better for my needs than the EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS USM, which I rented and reviewed recently.

Created beauty

Oh, I rented the EF 1.4x II Extender along with this lens as well, and it worked great. It’ll decrease the aperture from f/2.8 to f/4, but I didn’t find that to be too much of a problem, even in lower light, while shooting handheld. I simply boosted my ISO and switched to Shutter Priority, to make sure my shutter speed stayed above 1/60th of a second.

Deposit

On a full-frame sensor like my 5D, I got exactly 70-200mm, and 98-280mm with the aid of the 1.4x extender. On a cropped sensor like that in the 30D or the Rebel, you’ll normally get 112-320mm, or 157-448mm with the extender. Those are pretty nice ranges indeed.

Slanted

Even though I shot mostly handheld, and for most of the time, in fairly low light (thick forest, ground-level), the image stabilization built into the lens worked great, even with the extender attached. I was able to get clear shots while keeping the shutter speed even below the focal range of the lens. We probably all know about that simple rule of thumb of keeping the shutter speed equal to the focal length, right? Well, I was able to get crisp shots at 1/80 while the focal length was over 100 mm and more. For example, the shutter speed of the photo enclosed below is 1/100 while the focal length was 150mm (with the extender attached). Still, the photo is plenty sharp at 1:1, and that’s pretty good to me.

Taking a break

I have only praise for this lens. It works great! I love the short travel of the focal length selector. It’s amazingly short given the large focal range. I love how crisp and sharp my photos come out. The bokeh is great. The lens handles just like it should, and autofocus times are pretty small. But, it is heavier than the 100-400mm zoom. A LOT heavier. You won’t realize just how heavy it is until you go out there and use it for a couple of hours. Your biceps will get a workout!

Harried hare

I plan to buy it at some point in the future. At $1,500-1,600, it’s not cheap, but it sure is great!

White lily

Nature, unruly

Just ducky

Mr. Turtle comes up for air

White flower bokeh

Burgundy lily

More information:

Lens review: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Zoom

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Zoom Lens

I had a chance to play with Canon’s affordable 100-400mm L series zoom last week. I rented it for a day from Penn Camera at Tyson’s Corner, mounted it on my 5D, and ran out to chase wildlife as soon as I got home from work. As the sun began to set, I took it up to the roof, set it on my tripod, and took photos of the horizon. In the morning, I snuck out onto the terrace at sunrise and got photos of that as well. All in all, I put the lens through its paces, shooting in daylight, dusk and dawn conditions, handheld and on a tripod. Even though I only used the lens for a day, albeit a pretty full one, I’m fairly comfortable with what I’m about to say.

Leap year for Mr. Chipmunk

Tree cover at sunset

The robin examines me

I liked it. The 100-400mm range is a versatile range, and the fact that you can get this L series lens at around $1,400 makes it a bargain. The lens isn’t as heavy as the 70-200mm L series zoom (which I played with today), and it’s fairly comfortable to hold for moderate amounts of time. It has a push-pull mechanism for extending the focal range, and that has its benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is that it does make it a bit easier to get through the large focal range a little faster. It’s also necessary in order to make the lens affordable. Push-pull lenses are cheaper to make than regular zooms, and require less glass as well, making them lighter.

Bethesda, as seen from the top of Grosvenor

Tuckerman Lane at sunset

➡ Updated 7/4/07: Erik Persson asked me two relevant questions this morning via private email. One is about how the autofocus handled, and the other was about whether autofocus is possible at all with an extender, or whether manual focus needs to be used. Autofocus was a bit slow, but that’s to be expected. This is a big zoom that can focus over a large distance. There is a focus limiter switch that decreases the focusing distance. You tell it to focus either from 1.8m to infinity or 6.5m to infinity. If you know you’re only going to shoot things farther away than 6.5m from you, then set the switch to that, and the autofocus will be a little faster. I’m not sure how to answer Eric’s second question. He suggests autofocus on EOS models up to the 5D is possible only up to f/5.6, and Mark 1D models can autofocus up to f/8.0. Not sure about that. I can only point you to this lens chart at Canon, which talks about the compatibility of the extenders with various lenses, and tells you what the expected aperture will be, and whether or not autofocus will be possible at all. I checked the specs for the 5D and 1Ds, and can’t find the upper f-stop limits for either models. Perhaps a call to Canon will clear this up, but it is the 4th of July today, and I doubt they’re open. Maybe one of you who has more information is willing to comment on this.

Beautiful swallow

Ugly one awaits

➡ Updated 7/6/07: Erik got back to me once more with a link to a review by The Digital Picture, where the AF to aperture specs are discussed. Furthermore, he provided a link to specs from Canon for the EOS 1v SLR (film camera) where the bit of information about being able to use AF with lenses that only open to f/8 is provided. So it looks like you’ll have to use manual focus if you stick extenders on the 100-400mm zoom. Thanks Erik! You know, you could just as well use the comments instead of sending me emails, but whatever works for you. 🙂

Moon rises over Grosvenor

Grosvenor rooflines

If you’ve been looking at the 400mm f/2.8L tele, which retails around $6,500, and you’re wondering why this lens is so inexpensive, you should know there is a reason for the price difference — but I doubt you needed me to tell you that. I stated the reasons in the paragraphs above, and they are: less glass, push-pull mechanism for the EF 100-400mm zoom lens. I haven’t tried out the 400mm tele myself yet, but I have a feeling it’s a great deal sharper and has more contrast than this lens.

Early morning contrails

Clarity

I think you can already guess what my two complaints are: the details are a bit soft when the photos are viewed at 100%, and the push-pull mechanism creates a sort of vacuum between the camera and the innermost lens. Every time I extended or contracted the lens, air rushed in or out through the crevices. I’m sure things are isolated pretty well and dust doesn’t get sucked in, but it feels odd, and it makes it difficult to stop at say, 300mm. It’s certainly a lot easier to either pull the lens all the way out to 400mm or push it all the way back in to 100mm. You know how they say that zoom lenses are soft at either ends of the focal range? Well, it would have been nice to have some sort of limiter switch that could let me stay between 110-390mm, or something like that. With the push-pull mechanism, it was hard to get the focal length just below or above its limit in order to avoid softness.

Wood duck advances

EF 100-400mm lens, wide

Having said all this, let me reassure you that this lens is a bargain at its price. If you’ve had your eye on it, get it. Realize you won’t get the results you might get with a more expensive tele, but you won’t pay through the nose for it either. This lens will definitely shine on cropped sensors like those found in the 30D and Rebel, where the effective focal range will be 160-640mm. How else can you get in the 600mm focal range without spending a ton of money? What’s more, with extenders like the 1.4x or the 2x, you can get up to 800mm on a full sensor or up to 1260mm on a cropped sensor. That’s pretty amazing!

Heron at Grosvenor Lake

Afternoon traipse

There are a few other things to keep in mind though. The maximum aperture at 400 mm is f/5.6, and that means you’ll need pretty good light in order to shoot handheld with it. If you stick an extender on it, the effective aperture will get even smaller, so you’ll either need serious daylight or a tripod. But, as I’ve already said, you get amazing range with this lens, and it’s inexpensive for an L series zoom. If you’re willing to live with the few issues I’ve outlined, then get it.

Many lives

Waterside

Buy the lens

Sun sets over Grosvenor

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