Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
About 7 months ago, I discovered this site after reading Philip and Alex's Guide to Web
Publishing, resulting on my taking on photography as a hobby. I went and
bought a nice
Olympus Stylus Epic
P&S camera. I saw that I liked photography, but I also found out that trying
to save and aim low didn't pay (I didn't have enough control over what I did to
produce the effects that I wanted), so I was on the market for a 35mm SLR camera,
and finally picked this camera.
The first thing you notice when holding this camera is its light weight, being
a bit more than half the weight of an
EOS-30 (Elan 7e). This would make this
camera particularly interesting for travel or as a backup body.
The other thing that I noticed while starting making photos with this camera
is that it is pretty quiet. It is not as quiet as the
EOS-30, but it is much quieter than the
Nikon N65 for example. I like taking candid shots, so a quiet camera is certainly
Finally, there is a lot of plastic on this
camera, rather than metal. Two plastic parts in particular could make some people
nervous: the lens mount and the battery cover hinge. I don't suffer too much from
plasticophobia, but I have to admit that there is a chance that the lens mount
will wear over time. On the other hand, this is probably the reason for this
camera's incredibly low weight.
This camera has a 90 percent coverage viewfinder, which I find falls a bit
short, but can do. The eye relief is ok, but if you wear glasses, it becomes
uncomfortably insufficient. I usually wear contact, but sometimes I wear glasses,
so I got to try it both ways, and when I leave the house with some photography in
mind, I always make sure to put on the contacts. The active focusing point is
not illuminated on the focusing screen. The focusing screen has no aid
for manual focusing (like micro-prisms or split-circle focusing aids), and while
it is bright enough for easy composition, you need good eyes to make out proper
manual focus. Diopter is not adjustable, but Canon offers replacement eyepieces
with diopter correction.
The viewfinder display tells you about automatic and flash exposure lock,
shutter speed, aperture, indication of the active focusing point, a metering
scale (from -2 to +2 stops in half-stop increments), as well as flash readiness,
high-speed sync and in-focus indication lights.
Unfortunately, this camera has only one control wheel to control both aperture
and shutter speed in manual mode. Like so many other entry-level SLRs, you change
shutter speed with the wheel, and change aperture by holding a little shift
button on the top right corner of the backside. In the automatic exposure modes,
exposure compensation is done by holding that same shift button and operating
this wheel. This is quite disappointing, but can be lived with if you don't do
too much photography requiring fast reaction times, like sports.
This camera is the first entry-level Canon EOS camera
to sport a depth of field preview, which is much welcomed for beginners trying to
get a grasp of what is going on DOF-wise.
The built-in flash is popped up by pressing a small button on the top left of
the lens mount. Some people seem to appreciate better being able to simply pull
the flash up, but I found that if I decide that I need some fill flash at the
last second, it is easier and faster for me to simply flick my thumb to pop up
the flash than to reach out for the top of the camera.
The mode control wheel is standard Canon fare, with the "creative" modes at
the top and the idiot modes at the bottom. The control wheel has no locking
mecanism, and sometimes turns the camera on while carrying it in my bag. I would
have liked a separate shutter lock, like Nikon's.
Two optional vertical grips are available. The
BP-200 features a duplicated shutter release
(but no other controls) and let you power the camera with four AA batteries. The
other is the
GR-100TP, which doesn't
seem to help much in the way of vertical shooting, but packs a mini-tripod and
might be welcome for users with large hands, as this camera is not very big to
This is not a very good aspect of the
EOS-300, which features very little in the
way of flash control. Maximum sync speed is only 1/90th of a second (the
Speedlite flashes have a high-speed sync feature that enables faster shutter
speeds), which reduces the use of the built-in flash as fill flash,
There is no flash compensation, which is rather disappointing, since it would
have required no additionnal manufacturing costs, only smarter firmware. Rumor
has it that there is an automatic flash compensation that kicks in when the light
is bright enough to serve fill flash purpose, but I have no further detail. In
manual mode, you can always fool the camera TTL flash exposure system by changing
the ISO rating (if you shoot ISO 100 film, setting the ISO rating on the camera
to 64 will give you a -2/3 stops flash compensation). I believe this trick only
works in manual mode, but I might be wrong.
At least, it is compatible with all Canon Speedlite dedicated flashes,
including the EX-series which features Canon's E-TTL automatic flash exposure.
Using a dedicated flash also enables flash exposure lock with the AE Lock
Second-curtain flash sync is not possible, even with a Speedlite.
When loading film in the
EOS-300, the camera will completely wound it
unto the take-up spool. Then, as you take pictures, the film is wound back
inside the film canister. There are two advantages to this: you know
precisely how many frames you have left, and in the (unlikely, I admit) case that
you open the back of the camera accidentally, your exposed film is safe. The
downside is that you have to wait for the film to be fully wound before being
able to take pictures. At first, you could think that winding at the beginning or
rewinding at the end is the same time wasted when changing film, but one could
use the time a normal camera rewinds the film to hunt for another film canister.
Hopefully, having a precise count of the remaining frames will help you be aware
of when this downtime is coming (having the camera start rewinding after the
second shot of a three shot sequence is quite frustrating!). This also gives you
more control about when your camera will make loud mecanical noises (loading the
film is noisy, but the end-of-roll short rewind is short enough). Also, if your
slides or prints get numbered, they are in reverse (or have the same thing as
shown on the camera frame counter, depending on how you see this).
Also related to film transport, this camera uses an infrared sensor to measure
the amount of film to pull for every frame. This is very precise, and allows one
(equipped with a leader extractor!) to change films in mid-roll without losing
frames. Of course, there is a downside: high-speed infrared film will get fogged
by the sensor. All is not lost though: some films are not sensitive (or only
slightly so), and as the sensor is over the film sprocket holes area, some
reports that the fogging does not extend significantly into the picture area of
the film. So say that the infrared sensor is turned off only when the camera is
turned off (in the "L" position), so you should leave the camera off as much as
possible when using infrared film. Your mileage may vary.
While I never use the idiot modes myself, I found them useful for the few
times that I gave my camera to someone else to take a picture of myself. But this
isn't really a feature of this particular camera, as most modern SLRs will have
Avoid the kit! The zoom lens bundled with the kit is of
abysmal quality. Get the body alone and a cheap prime lens like the
50mm/f1.8, or, if you just have to
have a zoom lens, get a more reasonable one like the
28-105mm/f3.5-4.5 II USM or maybe the
24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 USM, depending on
whether you prefer having more long end or more short end.
There are no "custom functions" on this camera, which means that you cannot
set the famous CF4 option when using USM lenses. Also, having paid the "price" of
the infrared film sensor (the IR fogging problem), it would be nice to be able to
take advantage of the precise film advance by having a leader-out rewind
There is no mirror lock-up, no even a mirror pre-fire when using the
The autofocusing, while not impressive, is good. Canon did not put a manual
switch to select between one-shot or continuous focus, so instead the camera
decides for you which one to use, with very limited success. It will often think
that a moving subject doesn't move enough and will use one-shot autofocus, or if
you do the "focus, reframe, shoot" dance a bit too quickly, it will think that
the subject is moving and will engage continuous focus.
Often, I will not agree with the automatic focus point selection. If you are
not using flash, this is not a problem, as you can simply set it up for the
central focus point and do the "focus, reframe, shoot" dance, but if you use the
flash, you have to know that the TTL flash exposure will be done approximately
around the active focus point. Thus, if your reframing puts a far away background
in the central section of the image, the TTL flash exposure system will
(hopelessly) try to light up the far away background, while completely ignoring
the fact that your subject, being close to you, is getting over-exposed. Changing
the focus point is done by pushing a button on the top deck of the camera and
rolling the wheel, but this button can be hard to find without lowering the
camera from your eye.
In low light, the flash is used to provide autofocus assist light, which is
accomplished by firing flash bursts. Do that a few times to people, and they
might start developing agressive behavior toward your person. The good side is
that you can run away while they are totally blinded by the flash bursts, and the
angry expressions on your subjects faces will be extremely realistic (but they
might not be looking directly at you, since they can't see you anymore). If you
are in the "creative" modes, the camera will only do this if the flash is already
popped up (so you could wait until the focus is done to pop up the flash), but in
the idiot modes, the camera will pop up the flash as needed.
A downside of the very simple user interface (as few buttons/dials as they
could get away with) is that it is actually non-obvious how to use various
features. For example, the focusing modes problem just mentioned, or how to use
center-weighted metering instead of matrix metering, or how to activate the
The eye-piece seems to develop a tendency to fall off easily after removing it
and putting it back a number of times. I already had to replace it once.
For some people, the light weight of the camera is a negative, as some mass
will help stabilize the camera against vibration and shake. My opinion on this is
that while you can make a lightweight camera heavier (with heavy lenses and the
battery pack vertical grip for example), you cannot make an heavy camera lighter.
This gives me choice. Of course, this is a personal opinion. A lighter camera has
also less energy to absorb in case of a shock, so it might actually survive
This is a nice camera for some purposes, like as a backup body, as a traveling
SLR or for less demanding users, but I feel that in the long run, if you are
serious about photography, getting into the mid-level range of Canon cameras
EOS-30) is quite worth it.
I should point out that joining the
50mm/f1.8 lens to this camera makes a very
nice combination. They are both cheap and extremely lightweight, the optics of
this lens are of very good quality (vastly better than the cheap zoom lenses
often included in kits) and 50mm is a good all-around focal length and is the
classic "learning" lens, all for less than $400.
If you are serious about photography, you will outgrow the
EOS-300 at some point. It is an acceptable
body to start with, but if you can spare the money for an
EOS-30 with the
50mm/f1.8, you should go for it.
Alternatively, depending on your photographic goals, having the better
50mm/f1.4 USM lens (optically of
similar quality, but slightly faster, has the USM focusing motor and is better
built) might be more important for you than the additional features of the
EOS-30 body, so the
EOS-300 might do. As you buy a fancier body
later on, you will be able to keep this one as a backup. This is slightly more
expensive than the
50mm/f1.8 combo mentioned