When Canon introduced the 12.8-megapixel full-frame EOS 5D with its new print-ready Picture Styles options, we knew the follow-up to the hugely successful 8.2MP EOS 20D was on its way.
Although there have been numerous refinements, the new EOS 30D features the same 8.2MP APS-C size CMOS sensor and image processor of the 20D. As the next model up from the entry-level EOS 350D, the 20D was adopted by enthusiasts and pros alike.
Well-specified, well built and highly portable, few would argue there was much wrong with the outgoing model.
The 30D retains the 20D's look and the familiar layout, but the compact magnesium alloy body is sleeker. Around the back is the most visible difference: a 2.5- inch screen now brings the 30D into line with the last two EOS models, as well as most of its rivals.
It still fades in bright sunlight, but the new LCD has wide viewing angles. This makes it more comfortable when reviewing images, and menu selection is also clearer.
New to the 30D, the scenebased Picture Styles seen on the 5D and EOS 1D MkII N replace the image parameter settings required for JPEGs, both in camera and when converting RAW files in the supplied Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software. Just as photographers using film would choose the type according to the subject, so the digital photographer can select a preset.
The rationale is not unlike that behind the six scene-based exposure mode options. It's fairly intuitive; select Portrait for warmer skin tones, Landscape for bold greens, deep blue skies, and so on. There's even a Monochrome mode, along with a set of effects filters for B&W print-ready JPEGs.
Unless you're shooting RAW or you decide to leave it to the default (Standard), Neutral or Faithful settings, you need to select a style for each shot. You can, if you wish, fine-tune each preset - including the Standard setting, download four others from the Canon website or add up to three custom options.
The 30D is nothing if not versatile, and a shortcut can be programmed to the rear command dial, making it simple to swap from shot to shot. What's more, colour response between EOS models is said to be consistent - handy if you have a 5D or 1D MkII N already.
Simultaneous RAW and JPEG capture with various compression and resolution options isn't new, but it's the most flexible shooting option, with or without Picture Styles and DPP software.
Although the 20D was responsive, the 30D with its upgraded shutter feels lightning fast. Burst rates now peak at five frames per second for up to 30 JPEGs or 11 RAW - that's less than the Nikon D200 but a slight improvement on the 20D.
Plus, Canon has added a handy, slower 3fps option that increases burst depth for JPEGs by around 30%.
Another feature borrowed from the 5D is the addition of a narrow (3.5%) spot metering option for heavily backlit scenes, and it works a treat. Also handy is the new RGB histogram showing individual colour channels rather than the overall distribution, though that option is still available.
Room for improvement
There are a few things we'd like to see improved, such as a more secure battery compartment door, larger buttons, and maybe some additional protection for the screen.
Also, the cover for the CompactFlash card compartment is similar to that of the original D30, Canon's first wholly built digital SLR. While it's quite secure, if opened inadvertently while images are still being written, they'll be lost.
Like the 20D before it, the 30D's performance is consistent from shot to shot and picture quality is fantastic. Even lowlight shooting at the equivalent of ISO 3200 isn't out of the question. But although the EOS 30D is stunningly effective in what it does, it can't quite match the Nikon D200 and there isn't enough here for 20D users to consider trading up. Kevin Carter