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30D first impressions and rapid shooting tests

James Colwell , Mar 19, 2006; 08:34 a.m.

As I said a few days ago, I just picked up a new 30D to be my second dSLR. My first dSLR is a 20D, which still works well, but needs a partner to reduce how often I change lenses, plus to be a digital backup. I figure it may have been the first one sold in North America, as I bought it at 08:30 Atlantic Standard Time on Friday - did anybody in Newfoundland get one on Friday morning ? Anyway, here are a few of my initial thoughts, and an informal test comparing continuous shooting and fast shooting performance between the 30D and 20D. For those who think these throughput tests have no real world value, you should try shooting rugby and soccer games from the sidelines. The 20D does a great job, but you frequently miss important opportunities while the stinking buffer is being cleared. My tests suggest that the 30D will not be limited in this way.

Overall impression: I'm completely satisfied. For me, the 30D enhancements are worth the extra cost in comparison with buying a new 20D (of course, the 20D prices will probably drop further for a while, before they're all gone). The 30D layout and controls are basically the same as the 20D. The first difference I noticed was the larger and brighter LCD screen on the back of the 30D. The on-screen content is basically the same as the 20D (but better-arranged in a few places, such as file quality), and so the text and symbols are proportionately bigger and easier to read.

The 30D ISO setting is graduated in finer increments that the 20D. For example, the 20D has three settings from 100 to 400 (100, 200, 400); while the 30D has seven (100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400). Also, you can see the ISO setting in the finder while in the change-ISO mode. Maybe Canon is listening, sort of...

As advertised, the 30D uses all of the same accessories as the 20D (BG-E2 grip, remote shutter release, body's battery compartment door, etc.) I did a walk-around yesterday in downtown Halifax with the two bodies and three lenses (17-40/4L, 70-200/2.8L IS, 300/4L IS) and it was absolutely wonderful. It significantly reduced the number of times I had to change lenses and made it much easier to get the shots that I wanted. I've often used the same lenses with an Elan 7 as backup, but I only used the 7 when there was just no time to change lenses on the 20D. To me, it made no nevermind which lens was on which body (20D vs 30D). But it will when rugby season starts up again (soon), and here's some throughput tests that show why.

The following tests were performed with a 70-200/2.8L IS lens set at f/2.8 on manual focus with IS turned off, and shooting an outdoors daytime scene in Av mode with shutter speeds of 1/2000 sec and faster. Cameras were set to ISO 100 with RAW files only being saved (except for one test shown at the end). Each test was performed three times, with identical results each time. Elapsed time was counted in my head (one thousand, two thousand, ...), in a consistent and repeatible cadence which is probably quite close to real time. All tests were performed with the same Sandisk Ultra II 1 GB CF card and same BG-E2 grip & batteries. The CF card was erased before each test. BTW, the 30D erases in-camera images much faster that the 20D, which is great for running multi-shot tests, but probably has no direct payoff in real life; however, it is indicative of the 30D's overall better file handling performance. The 30D has firmware version 1.0.4, and the 20D has 2.0.3

The number of shots shown below is how many you can take before the write-to-CF-card buffer saturates, and the camera stops shooting until the buffer clears.

continuous shooting, RAW only:
30D 5fps = 11 shots (10 sec to clear buffer completely, continuous write activity)
30D 3fps = 12 shots (11 sec to clear buffer completely, continuous write activity)
20D 5fps = 6 shots (16 sec to clear buffer completely, sporadic write activity)

fast shooting, RAW only:
drive on single shot mode, take 2 shots, wait 2 sec, take 2 shots...
30D = probably all day (lost interest after 25 pairs of shots)
20D = 10 shots (5 groups of 2 shots)

fast shooting, RAW only:
drive on single shot mode, take 3 shots, wait 3 sec, take 3 shots...
30D = probably all day (lost interest after 19 triplets of shots)
20D = 10 shots (3 groups of 3 shots + 1 shot)

fast shooting, RAW +fine.small.JPG:
drive on single shot mode, take 3 shots, wait 3 sec, take 3 shots...
30D = 20 (6 groups of 3 shots + 2 shots)

Ciao for niao, Jim

P.S. I turned off the AF to eliminate shutter lag, and turned off IS to avoid repeated on/off IS cycles during the shoot-some, wait- some tests, as the wait-time between bursts of two or three shots was long enough for the IS to time out (i.e. turn off), and it then has to turn back on for the next burst. In real life, I would have both servo-AF and IS turned on, and the camera would probably already be in focus with IS running before firing and while firing repeated rapid shots - the relative buffer performance between the 20D and 30D should be the same.


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Leon Chang , Mar 19, 2006; 11:43 a.m.

Wow....I use manual cameras and can take the same pictures as you can...

ralph raymond , Mar 19, 2006; 12:01 p.m.

Outstanding tests James! Thank you very much for posting this.

You've definately got a winning combo!

Ralph Raymond

Ken Papai , Mar 19, 2006; 01:46 p.m.

Niced report James. (and to PN super newbie Leon, typical dribble from him) (Leon, one more thing, no one uses a Leica on the sidelines, so Leon, stick to what you know)

James, post a sample representative image? Not that it would be all that different from a 350D or 20D image, but just to be first I guess.

James Colwell , Mar 19, 2006; 02:09 p.m.

Ralph & Ken, thanks for the kind remarks. Here's a shot I took yesterday at an indoor Sport & RV show just before the crowd was let in. I spend too much on you-know-what to buy one of these, but they sure are pretty. Taken with EOS 30D and EF 24/2.8 at f/2.8 t=1/100 sec, hand-held, no flash. The EXIF shows "ISO Value - 32767 (other)", which is interesting, and the EXIF also reminds me to set my name in the camera. Now where did that USB cord go...

James Colwell , Mar 19, 2006; 02:12 p.m.

oops, here it is (resized from the in-camera small.fine.JPG, no other processing)

Attachment: bikes.jpg

Jim B , Mar 19, 2006; 02:57 p.m.

Nice work on the 30D review, James.

I just had a look at your picture. It's true - who can afford a motorbike with a DSLR habit :) . By the way, I've read some pretty ugly reports of poor reliability with the Victory's. Heads up if that's the brand your interested in.

James Colwell , Mar 19, 2006; 03:03 p.m.

Jim, thanks. I'm not in the market for a motorbike, but they sure make an interesting subject for photomatography. I was at the Sport & RV show to do a shift at the Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia booth. We're strictly people-powered. It felt a bit odd to be wedged in between the way-large Mercury and Kawasaki displays. My only hardware (aside from a pair of dSLRs) was a beauty original Chestnut canoe. Jim.

Sitthivet Santikarn , Mar 19, 2006; 07:26 p.m.

James, any idea on the battery life on 30D vs 20D? The 5D only gets half the number of shots on the battery compared to the 20D. Now that the 30D got a bigger lcd I wonder if the battery might not last so long as before.

James Colwell , Mar 19, 2006; 07:49 p.m.

Sitthivet, I don't know. I figure that they'll be about the same, but I'll post if I notice any difference. I suspect that I'll be swapping grips & batteries between the cameras often enough that I won't be able to keep track without a formal protocol, which I don't plan to do. Jim.

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