Canon 30D and 100-400mm IS

Posted on 14 July 2007, 22:19

I’ve been using my Canon 30D and 100-400mm IS lens for a while now – since June 2006 – so I thought it was about time for a few words.

And because I’m petty and vindictive, I’ll be making direct comparisons with my Nikon D70 and the Nikon D200 where appropriate..!

There’s such a lot of prattle about Nikon’s “superior” logistics and handling. In truth, they do feel great in the hand, and everything is easy to get to.

The 30D is supposedly poor in comparison.

Well it ain’t.

As I suspected would be the case, it’s simply a matter of getting familiar with the different layout. As long as I can get to the parameters I want to change (mainly EV Comp, ISO, shutter speed and aperture), without having to re-read the manual or go through a menu, I’m happy, and there are no issues with the Canon in this respect.

Press the relevant parameter button, turn a wheel, press the button again, and you’re done.

Handling and feel has been further improved since I added Canon’s battery grip.

The lens is different to what I was used to with the Sigma 80-400mm OS in that it has a “push-pull” zoom, rather than a ring zoom.

I thought that would bother me, but no, it’s straightforward enough. In truth I spend most of my time with the lens at 400mm anyway, but when I’ve needed to reduce the focal length quickly, the sliding lens has been quick and intuitive.

As an aside, there is much talk that this approach means that the lens will suck in dust – you’ll hear the 100-400mm referred to as a “dust trombone”!

And yet, I have no problems – presumably because I use the lens as a lens and don’t pump the thing in and out like a bicycle pump…

Among the many issues I had with the D200 was inaccurate Auto Focus (AF). Well I can say, hand on heart, that the 30D is in another league.

Not once since I started using the camera have I missed a shot (or more to the point, had a shot spoilt) because of the AF letting me down.

I use exactly the same/equivalent setting on the 30D as I did on the D200 (and the D70, which was fine too) – single centre point focus point – and the Canon just gets it right every time.

Interestingly, I use AI Servo (Continuous Focus) pretty much all the time on the Canon, whereas I was much happier with the “One Shot AF” mode with the Nikons, because I felt that their continuous mode struggled.

That might be attributable to the Sigma lens though, which didn’t have an ultrasonic motor and was that little bit slower off the mark than the Canon lens as a result.

I routinely use spot metering, and the 30D seems very consistent (much more so than the D200), though I am struggling a wee bit to get used to shooting white birds against dark backgrounds in good light – the Canon seems to be particularly conservative in exposing for the highlights, which is getting me a lot of very dark backgrounds!

Not a problem, just a difference: but I recall that the D70 was easier to get the best out of in those situations.

Noise performance is interesting….

It’s a given that the 30D walks all over the D200 – never any doubt there – but the D70 really holds its own.

And yes, the nature of the noise is different – more colour noise from the Canon, as expected.

But I’m still happy to shove the 30D up to 800 ISO without any qualms, and I’ve yet to bin a single picture for noise.

By comparison, I binned 90% of the 1000 or so pictures I took at Brundall with the D200 for noise/detail loss/exposure/AF problems – and I never took that camera above 400 ISO intentionally (though the unpredictable metering would often make the Auto ISO take it up to 800 ISO for no good reason).

As a RAW user I have noticed that I get less obvious chroma noise from the 30D when I use Rawshooter Essentials as my converter, compared with my previous favourite Bibble Lite – though both produce perfectly acceptable performance in that regard.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Neat Image seems to be particularly 30D friendly: I often run images through Neat Image even when noise isn’t an issue because it does a great job of blurring the background without hurting detail on the bird.

And there of course, is the single biggest difference between the 30D and the D200: 30D noise does not hurt detail, whereas the D200 utterly destroys it.

One thing that has really impressed me about the 30D is how much I can crop into a picture and still get a usable image – this isn’t simply down to the extra 2 megapixels over the D70 (the D200 has a similar “advantage” over the 30D, remember), it seems to be that the 30D’s CMOS sensor simply resolves detail better at extremes.

The big buffer in the 30D is appreciated: RAW files are big, and I don’t use the fastest CF cards, but this is barely an issue even at 5 frames per second – I can rattle off 11 continuous shots before the camera even notices.

All told then, the camera is excellent.

I sometimes struggle to see the (nice big 2.5”) LCD properly in bright light – the one in the D200 was very good in any light.

Added 12 January 2007: I don’t seem to notice this “problem” any more. Maybe it was just a case of getting used to the viewfinder, but I can’t recall the last time I thought “I can’t see a bloody thing here…”!

But whereas I was so doubtful of the D200’s image quality that I found myself looking at the monitor constantly to see if – just this once – the picture was going to be worth keeping, I’m so confident about the IQ of the 30D that I hardly ever chimp.

But even if I do, battery life in the 30D is right up there with the D70, and – again – an order of magnitude better than the D200.

Funny really: Nikon fanboys insist that one big reason why the D200 eats batteries is the size of the LCD. Yet the same sized screen is on the 30D, and batteries last bloody ages…

Lens performance is excellent too – every bit as sharp as the Sigma 80-400mm, and surely sharp enough for me.

A lot of bollocks has been written about how the 100-400mm is significantly softer than the Canon 400mm f/5.6 prime at 400mm.

Well it just isn’t true, in my experience. I’ve posted shots up straight from the camera that have only been converted and resized, and they’re as sharp as you like: and some pictures, with a tiny bit of sharpening, are almost too sharp.

A lot of this comes from the Image Stabilisation (IS) of course – no point having a sharp lens if you can’t make use of the sharpness because your hand-holding technique throws the supposed sharpness advantage away!

So there you are: simply put, a camera and lens combo which knocks the competition out of the ring.

Wish list
I’d like the 30D to have proper Auto ISO and a Manual mode that would allow me to set my preferred shutter speed and aperture and let the camera pick the ideal ISO setting, but I get by well enough without, shooting in AV mode and taking personal responsibility for keeping the ISO (and therefore the shutter speed) up.

And on balance, I think I’d prefer the lens to be black!

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