Canon EOS D30 to 40D

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2009-07-10

In late 2003, Elaine Ashton very kindly offered to give me her old Canon EOS D30, because she was upgrading to a 10D. The camera travelled from Finland to Germany by post, then to India with a friend early the next year; and in August, I bought a 50/1.8 lens and took my first digital photographs. (Here's one of them.)

In January 2008, my parents very kindly got me a Canon EOS 40D for my birthday. Amazon shipped it to Chicago, and it travelled to India with a friend in February. We took it with us on a camping trip to the Himalayas at the end of the month (here's one of the first photos), and I've been using it ever since.

(My only other camera is a 1984 Nikon FG-20, bought used from Munich in 2001 and still dearly loved, albeit through a layer of dust.)

The D30 was Canon's first digital SLR, and it was introduced at a time when I was lusting after the Nikon FM-3A (an all-manual film camera). I would never have bought the D30 on my own. I was too fond of the elegant FG-20 with its match-needle metering and simple controls to be seriously interested in something so slow, with so little resolution, such a small viewfinder... and so on. Nevertheless, once I got a lens for the D30, it became the only camera I ever took out of the cupboard. In contrast, the 40D is the first Canon digital SLR that I really wanted (although its confusingly-named predecessor, the 30D, came very close).

The D30 and the 40D look and feel more alike than any of the intervening models (and they can use the same batteries). When I first used the 40D, the larger LCD screen (3.0 inches, rather than 1.8) was the only obvious difference. Everything else felt completely familiar. The 40D can shoot in much faster and longer bursts; and though its single-shot performance is also faster on paper, the D30 felt more limited by its CF write speed (which the 40D also improves greatly upon).

The 40D has many other nice features. The automatic sensor cleaning came at a time when I was just beginning to notice dust on the D30 sensor at f/22. Live view helps with manual focusing (which is all I've used it for). Customisable profiles go well with expanded control over sharpness, brightness, saturation, etc. The separate RGB and luminosity histograms are a nice touch. (One change that startled me, however, is that the 40D depends on the flash to aid autofocusing in low light, while the D30 has a dedicated light for this.)

The two cameras (and, as far as I know, all other EOS cameras) share one bad habit that has always annoyed me. In aperture-priority autoexposure mode, the wheel behind the shutter button controls the aperture and the dial on the back controls exposure (via a ±2 stop compensation). In manual exposure mode, these functions are gratuitously reversed, and the front wheel controls exposure directly.

The 40D has a bad habit of its own. Sometimes it simply stops trying to autofocus at the long end of a zoom lens. I've noticed this with my own Sigma 70-300 and someone else's Canon 100-400L. Zooming out, refocusing, zooming back in and refocusing again fixes the problem, but it has made me miss more than a few bird photographs in the bargain. I do not know if this affects all 40Ds, but others have observed a similar problem. Apart from this, the autofocus performance of the 40D is excellent.

But finding only two things to complain about in five years of taking photographs makes me feel very lucky. Thanks again to Elaine and my parents for these two wonderful cameras.