Working with a D30

(Phil: Originals for all the pictures on this page and many more are available in Neil's D30 gallery).

The D30 was never trumpeted by Canon as a professional camera, but a lot of photographers are looking to it as their way into the world of digital SLRs. I have been using DCS520s for two years and the D30 for three days so it would be impossible for me to avoid comparisons. Phil and others have posted excellent reviews of Canon's baby so I am going to treat the D30 as a serious alternative for professionals and judge it on that basis - no quarter given.

Quite simply I have substituted the D30 for one of my DCS520s for the past few days, and it has been my main camera at all times. Obviously, I have no control over where the paper sends me so the D30 hasn't had it's assignments chosen to suit it at all. I have amassed three pages of handwritten notes and there are a million thoughts going through my brain, so here goes.

Body, Feel and Setup

Like most reviewers I was shocked by just how re-assuringly heavy the camera body is (lighter than a DCS though). I have used it throughout with two batteries installed in the vertical grip because I found that the body alone was just too small to be balanced with my arsenal of L series lenses. The rubberised plastic that covers the body is of a pretty low quality and I was disturbed to find that it had a "blue" colour in the sunshine. That aside the camera looks fine and fits pretty well in the hands, although the handgrip itself could do with being a little more sculpted. My first evening with the camera was spent playing, getting used to the controls and setting all of the various custom functions and menu items to my way of working. That meant leaving most things as they were, although given more time I might have set my own customised sharpening/contrast/saturation parameters. The RAW format was tempting, especially as I'm used to the Kodak TIFF format which also allows the highest possible quality images to be produced. Sadly I had to discount it as it would have been impossible to work at my normal speed with it. Everything has been shot on Jpeg Large.

The sheer number of choices in the menu did slow me down a little, but once I had mastered them (the instruction manual is excellent by the way) I really appreciated the breadth of options available. Getting used to the viewfinder information has been a little harder, but after six years using the EOS1n and it's digital sibling I am sure that it is just unfamiliarity. I have missed the red coloured light that illuminates the selected focus point in the top end Canons, but again that is more about personal preference. The mode selector dial on the top left of the camera is simplicity itself, I would have liked a lock on it, but alas there isn't one. This dial also seems the most likely place for water to get in if the camera is used in heavy rain - not tested that I'm afraid.

The first evening

That first evening also saw some testing of the D30 with a 550ex, a 380ex and then with the 550 and an STE-2 transmitter. It's at this point that I must say that the D30 has the best TTL flash metering that I have ever used (haven't used an EOS3 or a 1v yet). Wow. It was hard to fool it at all when the camera was set on matrix metering, and even on centre weighted it was very very good. Bounced flash, direct flash and even flash with the 550ex inside a small soft box were all within half an f stop of perfect. The whole set up worked well even with the transmitter. The D30 is far superior to the DCS520 when using TTL flash.

Day One, Job One

First morning out with camera and an early start at a school on the other side of London for a very straightforward portrait of the headteacher, Sir Alan Davies. I was quickly told that I wasn't allowed more than ten minutes with him so I decided to set up some lights before he came into the small office. One Lumedyne pack, head and umbrella on a stand and in he came. I had already decided to flash meter everything until I learned to either trust or disregard the D30's LCD. The flash reading was f4.5 on 100 ISO (100 ISO, what a luxury after the minimum 200 on the Kodak) so I shot a number of safe shots using my 85mm f1.8 USM lens. Lesson number one: set the film advance to continuous if you want to use the instant review function, otherwise you waste time waiting between exposures. The two second view proved to be enough, and four definitely too long. The multiple frame advance takes care of the wait because it keeps firing and only brings up the final frame of the burst. Being used to a constantly updated LCD screen on the DCS520 I thought that the two second view would bug me, but halfway through this first job I had got used to it. Lesson number two: I wish that I had got used to the "busy" signal that comes up in the viewfinder if you fill the buffer memory. My heart stopped when the camera did, but I finally realised what was going on and moved the light during what seemed to be a very long pause.

My ten minutes wasn't up, so I decided to test the fluorescent white balance. The ISO was raised to 400 and the lens was opened up to f1.8. 1/90th, that's OK so I shot a few frames making sure that his eyes were in focus. At this range the depth of field is less than an inch, I had the safe shots anyway - so I played! ten minutes up. Shake hands. Goodbye. Job one over, 58 frames onthe 340 Mb microdrive and back to the car.

Day One, Job Two

General street scenes of the London Borough of Islington to illustrate it's yuppie credentials. Yes it's winter and they want street cafes! Two hours on the parking meter, a 70-200 f2.8L in my pocket and the 17-35 f2.8L on the D30 - travelling light (ish). It was overcast, and as I don't trust auto white balancing I set the camera to the little cloud symbol (daylight, overcast) and the ISO to 200. Apart from a quick "Starbucks" break I, shot for about one and a half hours putting another 240 images on the microdrive of everything from pigeons to statues and from babies in prams (strollers) to pensioners passing the time of day. I started metering manually (as is my usual way), but after a while I went to aperture priority at f4.5.The sun came out and I had a few frames on the wrong white balanced before changing to the little sun symbol. In practice it made no noticeable difference, which disappointed me when I was viewing the images later. The shutter on the D30 is not only very quiet, it also makes a very satisfying sort of noise. Another one up to the D30!

It was lunchtime so I went for a little stroll in London's Hyde Park and shot some frames. I'd filled the IBM Microdrive so I Changed over to a Lexar CF card before doing a quick laptop edit in the car. I chose to use the PC card adapter that comes with the microdrive rather than bother with either a CF card reader or a USB cable with my Mac' Powerbook. Lesson number three: Fotostation 4 is a much quicker way of viewing the images, re-naming them and batch captioning them before copying them to my hard disk. I'll look at them later.

Day One, Job Three

To photograph the rehearsals for the School's Proms. This major annual youth music event takes place over three days at The Royal Albert Hall in central London. I have shot it many times over the years on black and white film, tungsten transparency film, colour negative film and twice already with Kodak DCS520s. You could say that I know this event, so using the D30 there was a real test. The lighting is pretty much all tungsten so I slected the tungsten white balance and put an 81b gel under my Sto-fen diffuser on a 550ex. Six acts and another filled microdrive later I had shot on a variety of ISO settings, with and without flash, with and without the STE-2 transmitter and with every lens from the 17-35 f2.8 to my 300mm f2.8 IS. The only disappointment from the afternoon was that the D30s autofocus wasn't as good as the DCS. It relies too much on the focus aid light which is often obscured by your right hand and the lens hood on any decent sized lens. I will change the custom function in question to see if having no AF assist light makes the system work better. It's back to the car and home for a major editing session.

(there are two pages in this "sub-review" click on Next below)