This has been the most eagerly awaited digital camera since Nikon announced its D1 two years ago. Many professional and amateur photographers use Canon’s EOS-series 35mm film cameras, so they now have the chance to use their lenses and flashguns with a decently specified digital SLR camera. Until now, all lower-cost digital SLRs have used Nikon lenses, and only the expensive Kodak DCS models have been available in Canon form, based on the professional EOS-1 film camera.
The D30 is also notable for its use of a CMOS sensor instead of the more usual CCD. It’s easier and cheaper to make high resolution CMOS sensors, but earlier cameras produced very poor image quality with low contrast and high image noise. Canon’s CMOS uses new manufacturing technology with image-enhancement circuitry built into the chip.
Like all other digital SLRs to date, the small size of the sensor means that the effective focal length of any lens is increased, in this case by 1.6x. Its resolution is 3.25 million pixels (2,160-x-1,460) but 1,440-x-960 is available to save memory space. Continuous shooting mode lets you shoot up to eight full-res images at three frames per second, until the buffer memory is full.
Canon has cracked the CMOS limitations to a remarkable degree. Our sample images were certainly in the same quality league as rival CCD-based cameras, the Fuji FinePix S1 Pro and the benchmark Nikon D1. Colour saturation is excellent and the contrast range is pretty well the same as the Fuji and Nikon. The Nikon D1 still has the quality edge due to its extremely sharp images, despite a lower resolution of 2.7mp, but its street price is £3,100 compared to the Canon’s £1,999.
The D30’s sensitivity can be switched between 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO, though noise increases at the high end. For long exposures (more than one second) Canon provides a unique feature: a noise-reduction filter. This works very well, killing off all visible noise without noticeable quality loss, merely at the expense of doubling the exposure time with post-processing.
Although the D30 is all digital and not a converted film camera, it looks almost identical to Canon’s new EOS 30 film camera, which at £450 is in the low to mid-range of Canon’s SLR family. The plastic-coated aluminium body is smaller and at 780g, much lighter than the Nikon and Kodak pro-digital models, but unlikely to absorb the same punishment.
Unsurprisingly, the D30 shares some of the EOS 30’s hardware (shutter, mirror, and viewfinder systems) and its sophisticated exposure controls: automatic, semi-auto, compensation override and full manuals, plus two basic program modes and five pre-programmed settings (for things like portraits and sports).
While the EOS 30 has eye-controlled three-zone autofocus, the D30 doesn’t – it automatically selects one of three focus targets in the viewfinder, though you can override the choice. Canon’s clever AI Server technology can automatically predict focus to compensate for fast-moving objects.
The single-lens reflex mirror and viewfinder system give an unbeatably clear view through the same lens that shoots the image – but as with other digital SLRs – this means that the D30’s LCD monitor can’t display a preview image, only a playback.
The 1.8-inch monitor is on the back panel, together with seven digital-related control buttons. The monitor also displays menus. A large control wheel on the back is a selector for menus and playback, with a central button to execute choices. The wheel also selects some exposure settings when you’re taking photographs.
The monitor can either show a full-screen image, or a smaller image plus an exposure histogram and numerical data. It also shows groups of nine image thumbnails. The menu includes resolution, compression and playback controls, plus 13 advanced custom settings. You can define your own white balance, but surprisingly there’s no B&W setting. You can also define and store up to three menu combinations for instant switching.
The 7.4v lithium-ion rechargeable battery has an excellent capacity between charges. The charger can handle two batteries and doubles as a camera mains adaptor. An extra-cost Battery Grip screws into the camera base and adds a second battery plus a second shutter button and control wheel.
There’s a small pop-up flash above the lens, but for serious use, you’d want to fit an external flashgun. The D30 has both a standard hotshoe and an X-sync cable socket so can accept any flashgun, but if you use Canon’s own Speedlite EX series, you get full interfacing with the exposure system.
The D30 takes Compact Flash Type I or II memory cards. The 16MB card supplied can only hold ten 3.2mp images with minimal JPEG compression, or just three using the uncompressed Raw setting. You’ll probably need more capacity.
The digital output port can be used with either a USB or serial cable, both supplied, and there’s also a PAL video-out port. Canon’s RemoteCapture preview and download software is a Photoshop-compatible plug-in, and Canon supplies a copy of Photoshop LE for Mac and Windows. You also get PhotoStitch (panorama), ZoomBrowser (image viewer/organizer), PhotoRecord (printing) and RemoteCapture (which controls the camera from a computer).
If you need a digital SLR, particularly if you use Canon lenses, the D30 should be high on your list. It’s versatile, easy to use, produces excellent quality and the street price has already slipped below £2,000.