Working with a D30 (cont.)
(Phil: Originals for all the pictures on this page and many more are available in Neil's D30 gallery).
One of the best features of the Kodak DCS 520 is the excellent software that comes with it. Here the Canon loses. As a photojournalist I use the naming, viewing and captioning elements of the Kodak Acquire plug-in (TWAIN on a PC) before opening the images in Photoshop. The Canon software doesn't re-name or batch caption pictures so a third party solution is a must for me. What would have taken about two hours with the Kodak was a four hour chore with the Canon - even using Fotostation 4. I obviously hadn't established a decent workflow, a must when you handle up to 500 images a day!
The pictures themselves were on the whole really great. Good colours, reasonable sharpness and even contrast at 100 and 200 ISO, little noise at 400 and still good at 800. The 800 ISO images were less noisy than the Kodak DCS ones without using any noise reduction software. With Quantum Mechanic the two types of files are pretty similar at 800, with the Canon just winning in the shadows which is where problems will show up. Having shot under most types of lighting on the first day I had found the photographs to have pretty good colour which was easily adjusted in Photoshop. On balance the colour was easily as good as the Kodak images and image sharpness was as good too. The pre-set white balances that I tried on day one were all well set up but I found the custom white balance to be largely unuseable. It uses the whole frame and unless you use a grey card it's a real lottery to use. The Canon images are as easy to work with in Photoshop as the Kodak ones. Lesson number four: be prepared to optimise images in Photoshop rather than relying on the in camera sharpening and contrast controls.
Write Speed Concerns
At the end of day one my final thought concerns write speeds. The Lexar cards seem to be quicker than the IBM microdrives to both write and read. I have never been a microdrive fan, mine never really worked in my DCS520s. I've had no problems with the 340Mb card in the D30 but the Lexar seems to handle bursts better. This is an un-scientific opinion, but after two years shooting digital I'm pretty sure that I'm right.
Day two was a lot less hectic, with a portrait out in Buckinghamshire of film director Stephen Frears ("My Beautiful Laundrette", "Grifters" and "Dangerous Liaisons"). The quality of the 100 ISO files convinced me to use the D30 for the big set-piece portrait. I set up two Lumedynes on the main sound stage which was undergoing a major set re-build and shot a couple of test frames with the press officer standing in for him. I got the electrician to rig up and switch on two big (10k and 12k watts) lights and I was ready. The LCD screen review worked very well in this situation and I shot some pictures that looked good on it. Lesson number Five: The D30 LCD is very reliable. What it shows is pretty accurately what you have shot. Five minutes on, and he was off to teach some film students. I followed and in the classroom I put a Canon 550ex, set to slave mode, on a stand with a Sto-fen diffuser. I had the STE-2 on the camera which was on 400 ISO and shot some live teaching pictures with the flash on the main subject. Another ten minutes and we were off to an edit suite where Stephen Frears was working with a single student. Having a room full of cables, monitors and junk food makes shooting pictures difficult, but with STE-2 and two 550exs I worked away at making pictures. By this time I'd been on site for two hours and shot pictures for only 20 minutes.
Back in the office I was determined to refine the workflow (click here for Neil's D30 Workflow article) before shooting a couple of product shots on white backgrounds with Elinchrom lighting and big soft boxes.
Day three has been spent shooting portraits of an 86 year old ballet student at her home in Surrey and saying gooodbye to our editor who is leaving us today. Nothing much new has come up with the D30 except that I have heard the microdrive spinning, which shows how quiet it can be out of the city.
At the end of day three I have really got to grips with the D30 and I am very impressed with it. Obviously it was built down to a price so it hasn't got a lot of the professional features that the DCS520 has (waterproofing, fast autofocus, voice captioning, large internal buffer memory, top class software etc.). There were many features of the D30 that I would build into a hybrid D30/DCS520 camera, which in turn would go a lot of the way to providing a feature set for Canon's eagerly awaited professional model next year. The weight and size of the D30, it's exceptional E-TTL flash peformance and 800/1600 ISO quality would all go in. The autofocus, custom white balance and AF assist light wouldn't make it. The D30s batteries are excellent and will surely be used in the next model, although the tiny orange catches that hold the batteries in place will need to be beefed up for a pro' version. A lot has been said about the D30 and shutter lag. My perception is that it is no worse (and may well be better) than the DCS520, the difference comes in the shutter release action which on the DCS is progressive and easy - against the on/off quality of the D30. Any future professional model will have to match the EOS1v both in shutter lag and pressure sensitivity to please everyone. For 90% of applications the D30 shutter lag isn't an issue, and it hasn't bothered me at all.
Finally we come to the big question: would I buy this camera? Yes. It's not up to the standard of the DCS in most areas, but the images are as good and the flash kicks butt!! At less than half the price of a DCS520 it represents a bargain for photographers moving into digital ahead of the much anticipated fully pro model due within twelve months.
You can find more of Neil's work at his website: www.dg28.com