Reichmann, Michael H.: Digital Camera Canon D30 vs. HiRes Film Fuji Provia 100F, in: 2000.

THEMES: Reichmann, Michael H.
YEAR: 2000
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ORGANIZATIONS: Luminous Landscape
PEOPLE: Canon | Fujitsu | Reichmann, Michael H.
THINGS: Comparison | Digital Camera | Film | Photography | Resolution
TIME: 2000

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The Luminous Landscape

All text and photographs unless otherwise indicated are Copyright 1993 - 2000 by Michael H. Reichmann

UpLead UpISO ComparisonRAW Vs JPGD30 Vs Film

D30 Skyline
Provia Skyline

D30 Vs. Provia 100F

The Test and The Methodology

Before you can evaluate these results for yourself, and understand my interpretation, you need to understand the methodology that I used and what I was trying to achieve.

For the past year whenever I've seen Nikon D1 output I've usually been favourably impressed, but no one has ever been able to show me a side-by-side comparison between it and film. Therefore one of the tests that I wanted to do more than any other for myself when the Canon D30 arrived was to mount the same lens and shoot the same subject and draw my own conclusion.

The images you see below were taken on a moderately bright overcast day. They show the skyline of Toronto and were both taken with the Canon 100~400mm f/4.5L lens. The two cameras used were the digital Canon EOS D30 at ISO 100, and the other was the Canon EOS 1V using Fuji Provia 100F. I used this film for the test because it is arguably the finest grained, sharpest ISO 100 speed film available. It also is the film that I use 95% of the time.

The lens was mounted on a tripod and the bodies were interchanged. The lens was zoomed to accommodate the difference in magnification ratio between the two system (1: 1.6). As you can see, the film-based image is slightly larger. I wasn't as close in matching as I'd wanted to be. But since the advantage is to film, if there's any bias it's in film's favour.

Image Processing

I was obviously concerned that I not introduce any unnecessary biases into the comparison since the film would have to be scanned, and both it and the D30's output processed in PhotoShop. The scan was done using an Imacon FlexTight Photo at 3200 DPI. This produced a 34MB file. (The Imacon is one of the highest quality scanners available and retails for USD $10,000). The scan was done using the software's default settings and with no sharpening. Only an Auto Levels was done.

The D30 image was shot in RAW mode and therefore no White Balance, colour enhancements or Sharpening were done in the camera or prior to loading into PhotoShop. A roughly 9MB file was produced.

Both images were loaded into PhotoShop and Unsharp Masking was done using NIC Sharpener Pro in Auto mode. I find that this program produces superior results to using PhotoShop's Unsharp Mask function and it also allowed me to be removed from making subjective sharpening decisions.

Again, to remove subjectivity as much as possible the only other adjustment made to either image was to use PhotoShop's Levels in Auto mode.

It should be noted that both images are shown here at 6" wide (9" wide on their stand-alone pages) and that the Provia image is slightly higher because 35mm film has a different aspect ratio to the D30's imaging chip.

So that's the methodology. It seems to me to have removed as many subjective variables as possible and even weighted the comparison slightly in film's favour because of the slightly larger magnification (I'm a photographer, not a scientist). Finally, I should mention that the evaluations below have been made by looking at 8.5" X 11" and 13" X 19" prints as well as on-screen. Critical evaluations were also performed by my friend and associate Chris Sanderson an award winning cinematographer and film director. (We agreed in every aspect).

Both images taken with the Canon 100~400mm f/4.5L IS zoom at 1/250th sec @f/5.6

Canon EOS D30 Canon EOS 1V on Provia 100F

D30 Detail Provia 100F Detail

And The Winner Is?

No one will be more amazed at the conclusion than I was. The D30's digital image actually was better in almost every respect.


The first thing I looked at was, of course, resolution. As can be seen by the detail blow-ups immediately above, the D30 image shows finer detail. It easily does so on an 8X10" print as well. Look at the central row of windows and also at the windows in the brownish building at the left.

Though Provia 100F is rated as an extremely fine-grained film at this magnification the grain is just starting to show. It can be seen in the smooth areas of the central light blue building. The D30 has no grain of course, and even in an 8" X 10" print look much smoother as a consequence. In fact it's only because the D30 image has absolutely no grain that any is discernable in the Provia print.

Dynamic Range

In both prints the white tennis dome in the lower right hand corner displays identical clean detailed white. (The prints show this much better than the low-res JPG images shown here; trust me). Looking at the shadow details it appears to me that there is about a half stop more detail in the D30 image. I hope to do more definitive testing in this area soon.

Colour Saturation

This was possibly the biggest shocker. I've been shooting Provia 100F and its predecessor Provia 100 for years. I've always regarded it as a moderately low contrast, neutrally balanced film. I know its characteristics and have done many hundreds of scans from it.

The D30 blows it away in colour accuracy. I know that this is hard to believe, but in this test at least (soft light) the colours are richer and truer from the D30. If you know Toronto you'll recognize the gold coloured building on the far left. It's the Royal Bank building and it's colour is very distinctive (they used real gold in the glass). In the D30 print the colour is exactly as I visualize it, while in the Provia 100F print it is less saturated and inaccurate.

You'll also notice the reddish wall of the warehouse and the red brick of the building just above the tennis dome. Again these are more saturated and closer to reality than the Provia image.

Another Example

D30 Detail Provia 100F Detail

Here are sections from a larger image (on the main review page) that again shows that the D30 is in fact sharper than Provia 100F on 8X10" prints. These 72 dpi JPGs, even though I've posted them here with minimum compression, may not show this very well, but the difference jumps out on viewing a print.

Again there is better detail in the shadow areas and the colours from the D30 have a broader and more subtle range of tonalities.

Conclusion (Tentative)

I was not prepared for this result. While I expected that the D30 would account itself well I never anticipated that it would actually produce an image that in most ways is superior to film. I'm drawn to the unavoidable conclusion that the Canon D30, when shooting in RAW mode, is able to produce comparable images to Provia 100F scanned on a high-end scanner. Now, ain't that a surprise?

Where Did The Extra Resolution Go?

This is a puzzler. The D30 produces a 9MB file. The 3200 DPI scan from the Imacon a 34MB file. Common wisdom has it that a scan of somewhere between 3000 and 4000 dpi will capture just about all of the information there is on ISO 100 transparency film. How then can a file that's almost 4 times smaller produce a print that subjectively, at least, appears as sharp?

I don't know, but I do know what I see. I've made prints of the above images on 13" X 19" paper on an Epson 1270 printer using Pictorico Hi-Gloss Film — the sharpest paper available. Both images are roughly 11X15" (allowing for the different aspect ratios) and were both printed at 264 DPI. (The D30 image was ressed up using Genuine Fractals Pro to match the Provia scan's size). Besides its lack of grain and superior colour saturation and shadow detail — none of which are affected by image size, the D30 photograph looks essentially as sharp as the film scan even though at this size the resolution is interpolated rather than actual. The results speak for themselves.

A Theory and Some Further Thoughts

I've been writing for magazines and technical journals for as long as I've been a photographer; more than 30 years. In all that time this is one of the most controversial opinions that I've published so I'm concerned that I understand what it is that I'm seeing. After spending a number of additional hours examining images on screen and on paper, and sharing the evaluation with both pros and laymen, I've come to the following preliminary conclusion.

It is inescapable that the D30 produces sharper, better looking images than the scanned film combination at sizes up to about 10 X 13". Larger than this 35mm wins, but it isn't till above 11X15" or so that this starts to become obvious. Most lay observers can't see the difference. (The D30 image is, of course, ressed-up in Genuine Fractals for sizes above 6X9").

What appears to be happening is that the degree of superiority over the film/scanner combination is about 20%. It is only when the D30 image is res-up beyond this amount that the playing field levels.

I have received quite a number of emails and seen message board comments calling my conclusions into doubt, for various reasons. Let me start by saying that I'm the first to admit that I'm a photographer, not a scientist. But, I do understand the scientific method. (I have 8 granted U.S. patents in the field of telecommunications and computer interface methodology, so I have some experience in this area). Having said that I will also add that all that I care about is how an images look on a print. As a fine-art landscape and nature photographer what counts most for me is what will appear on gallery and purchaser's walls. Theory is secondary.

One comment that I've seen is that my comparison is flawed because my prints were made on an Epson 1270 inkjet printer and that if they had been Cibachromes done on an enlarger the difference would have been the other way. I disagree. I have been a Cibachrome / Ilfochrome printer for 25 years and have taught workshops and written articles on it. I closed my darkroom 2 years ago because I believe inkjet prints to be superior in almost every respect. Many professional and fine-arts photographers believe similarly. Ciba prints Vs. inkjets is an old debate that I'm no longer interested in.

Another reason to dispute this position is that the superiority of the D30 image is clearly visible on-screen, even before a print is made. This visible difference then carries over to prints. In any event what we are doing here is a comparison, not a measure of absolute goodness.

Another objection is to the scanner used. Again, this is a pointless debate. The Imacon Flextight Photo is one of the most highly regarded scanners on the market and is used extensively around the world as a viable alternative to commercial lab drum scanners. Is a better scan possible? Yes, almost certainly. Will 99% of all photographers ever have such a scan made? Unlikely. Is the Imacon better than almost every other desktop scanner under USD $10,000. Most would agree.

The point that I wish to stress again is that what I have attempted to do is compare D30 output with a well scanned transparency. Not to see which can be blown up to 30 feet. Not to compare Ciba to inkjet. Not to argue the merits of various scanners, printing papers or other methodologies. My tests, evaluations and opinions are done under conditions as good as if not slightly better than most photographers would use if they were doing them. I'll leave absolute scientific rigor and exactitude to others more qualified and especially those more interested in such minutia. As for me, I'm going out to take pictures.

Don't forget to also read my full review of the D30 as well as other related articles.

Canon EOS D30

If you are a newcomer to this site you should briefly know that I am a fine-art landscape and nature photographer. In addition to this web site I regularly contribute to Photo Techniques as well as other magazines, and I conduct workshops and seminars on landscape photography and digital imaging.

This and linked pages were last updated October 25, 4:30pm, EDT.
If you've been here before please recheck all sections for updates.
— The
RAW Vs. JPG report has been completely revised! —

First Looks

Few cameras have been as eagerly awaited at the Canon EOS D-30. Nikon owners have had the D1 for about a year and more recently the Fuji S1 Pro as well. But for the hundreds of thousands of Canon owners the D30 represents the first affordable camera body capable of utilizing the investment that we have made over the years in Canon EOS lenses and accessories.

This review represents a first-look, as I use the camera and become familiar with its features and capabilities. It will be updated frequently in the days ahead. Eventually it will be compiled into a full review for this site and within a month or so a more formalized version will appear in one of the major U.S. magazines.

Now, if you have not already seen it please have a look at Phil Askey's extremely comprehensive test of the D30 which can be found at Digital Photography Review. This will provide you with all of the nuts-and-bolts technical information that you need. Do come back here though to learn more about this camera from a professional photographer's perspective.

My camera (approximately serial number 100) is one of the first production cameras to reach consumers hands. Canada (I live in Toronto) appears to have received them slightly before the U.S. and Europe. Since I have received many emails requesting my impressions as soon as they are available I am going to be posting them here over the next few days as quickly as I can. Please check back here frequently as I will be changing both the text and pictures often.

Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 100. 1/180th sec @ f/4.5 with a Canon 100~400mm IS Zoom @ 160mm. RAW Mode.

The Camera

At first glance one would be hard-pressed to tell that this was a digital camera. It looks and feels much like any current Canon SLR except that it has an LCD screen on the back. No, it is not built to the quality level of the EOS-1V, but then again, what is?. The D30 is heftier than an EOS3 and in fact feels just as substantial.

Is this then a pro level camera? The story goes that Canon has had an agreement with Kodak not to market a pro-level digital SLR until some time in 2001. For this reason Canon has designed and positioned the D30 at a somewhat lower level. Don't let any of this categorization mislead you though. This camera is a highly capable performer and likely to take all but the most severe abuse.

All of this aside my take is that Canon is doing what it always does — trying out new technology on a consumer-grade camera before bringing it out in a pro model. They've always worked this way, most recently with the EOS-3 preceding the 1V to market by a year or so. The current rumour is that Canon will be bringing out a 1V level digital SLR with a 6 megapixel imaging chip some time in 2001. Probably a spring introduction followed by a late summer or early fall release. In the meantime lets focus on the D30.

In Use

Eager to try the camera out I popped in the battery and the supplied 16MB CF card and went into my back yard. A few snapshots of the fallen leaves and I was back in my lab loading the card into PhotoShop. I hadn't even bothered to load Canon's software yet.

First impressions are very favourable. I had read Phil Askey's comprehensive technical report and pretty much knew what to expect. I put on the Canon 28~70mm f/2.8L lens and set the camera to the Large/Fine quality level.

From an operational perspective I was very pleased to see that the camera operates in a shooting priority mode. That is, no matter what you're doing (such as reviewing images on the rear screen or adjusting any of the settings) the instant that you press the shutter release the camera is in shooting mode. No switches to turn or buttons to press. Excellent design.

I was also impressed with how well the rear LCD did in bright sunlight. There will be no problem reviewing images in the field; just shield the viewfinder with your body from direct sunlight. The image zoom button also works very handily and allows you to blow up an image and check to make sure that frames are properly focused and sharp.

In fact, although I had a small advantage by having read about the camera beforehand, even without the manual I found the controls to be simple and intuitive. The ability to not only see the image just shot but also to have a histogram visible at the time of shooting is a real plus in terms of confidence.

Two things became obvious immediately. Firstly, when my film cameras are out of their bags they are always turned on. There no point in fumbling with a power switch when a photographic opportunity presents itself, so I started to use the D30 the same way. One needs to be aware that the D30 is not instantly available. It takes over a second from pressing the shutter release until the camera is ready to take a frame. Also, unlike film-based SLRs it takes more than a light touch of the shutter button to turn the camera on. You need to press the release completely to wake the camera up. Not a bad thing, just different from what I'm used to and something to remember.

I was also surprised to see that the D30's viewfinder shows somewhat less than the full image that is captured; probably about 95%. Since there's no slide-mount to account for this I am quite surprised.

First Impressions

On-screen the retrieved images were beautiful in terms of colour purity and saturation. They were a bit soft though (as expected), but a modest amount of Unsharp Mask in PhotoShop quickly fixed that. I played with Levels and Curves a bit and it seems to me, looking at the histograms, that there is excellent colour detail available.

Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 100. 1/90th sec @ f/4.5 with a Canon 100~400mm IS Zoom @ 100mm. RAW Mode.

Now I was ready to do some real photography. I have just returned from a major trip to Great Smoky National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee and North Carolina, shooting fall colour. I wish that I'd had the D30 last week because that would have been a great field test. Alas, I missed the opportunity by a few days.

Though the afternoon was quite overcast the leaves are changing here in Toronto and a short walk after lunch to a local ravine allowed me to do some more serious testing. I took along the D30 and the EOS1V as well, with the Canon 100~400mm IS zoom. My intention was to shoot some side-by-side comparison images. In the 1V I was shooting Fuji Provia 100F, my standard film, and arguably one of the most fine grained, sharpest transparency films available. The D30 was set to ISO 100 and I used RAW mode, the highest quality settings available.

Click here for the comparison of the D30 and Provia 100F film.

About Memory Cards

The D30 comes with a 16MB CompactFlash card. Not nearly enough storage for any serious use. I have a new 1GB IBM Microdrive for use with my D30. It seems to me that if you're going to spend USD $3,000 or so on a D30 then $500 for a 1 Gigabyte drive is not inappropriate. In Fine/Large mode this provides 799 images on a card — equivalent to some 22 roles of 36 exposure film. In RAW mode (which I intend on using most of the time for maximum quality) one can get 289 frames — the equivalent of about 8 rolls. (Click here for a comparison of RAW Vs. the JPG modes). Since the battery is good for some 500 frames on a charge, and it's a rare day that I shoot more than 5 or 6 rolls, these capacities seem quite appropriate for field use, particularly when away from AC and laptop. (I also have a second 340MB card and a spare battery. More on this later.)

This issue of film equivalency was brought home to me shortly after taking some of the frames seen here. I dropped into my film lab to pick up the results from my shoot last week in Smoky. Paying for the processing I realized that the $300 or so that I had spent on film and processing for the 3 day shoot would soon be a thing of the past. Maybe not this year, but once digital becomes my norm the thousands that I'll save each year on film and processing will quickly make the cost of a Microdrive or two seem like a reasonable expense.

One additional thought about memory cards. Make sure that your camera has one inserted before setting out to take photographs. A film-based 35mm camera shows whether it's loaded though a window on the back, indicating if film is loaded. The only way to tell if the D30 has a card inserted is to check the top LCD for the number of frames remaining. If it's blank, better load one. An easy mistake to make since the camera will actually take a shot even if the CF slot is empty!

Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 100. 1/180th sec @ f/4.5 with a Canon 100~400mm IS Zoom @ 160mm. RAW Mode.

Quality & Image Size Issues

A 1440ppi inkjet printer, such as the Epson 1270 or 2000P, requires a file of at least 240ppi for maximum quality. The D30 can produce a 6" X 9" image at that resolution. Now, my experience over a 30 year period as a photographer is that roughly an 11" X 14" print is about the largest that one can make from 35mm film, either in the traditional or the digital darkroom. So I was eager to see, using the best technology available, if I could make a print that large, and what it would look like.

Using Genuine Fractals Pro I ressed-up the above image to 11" X 16.5" @ 240 DPI, and made a print on the Epson 1270, on Super A3/B sized Pictorico Hi-Gloss Film. The section on the right is a crop of that blow-up at "actual pixels" resolution. This file became 30MB to be able to be printed at that size.

I wish I could show you the actual print. It's quite remarkable because it's hard to believe that a 3.3 megapixel camera can produce such a detailed image. Maybe it's the smoothness of the tonalities, or maybe it's the complete lack of grain, but I'm very favourably impressed. Prints of this size are simply not a problem!

Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 100. 1/125th sec @ f/4.5 with a Canon 100~400mm IS Zoom @ 200mm. RAW Mode.


The following is the workflow that works best for me at the moment.

Since I currently have more than 100 Gigabytes of scanned files I am very sensitive to this issue. I use a PC card reader attached to a USB port and insert the Microdrive (or any CF card for that matter). Thumbnails are immediately visible. Using Canon's Zoombrowser EX I transfer all of the RAW mode files from the card to the PC. This takes about 6 seconds per image. At this point the card can be removed and reformatted for further use.

I then select the file that I want to work on and choose File / Convert Raw Image. (A hint: If you use File / Convert Raw Image With User Defined Parameters you'll be able to view a somewhat enlarged thumbnail in this dialog box. Since the Zoombrowser thumbnails are quite small, this can be very handy when judging image quality).

This then creates a TIFF file and on my 600Mz Pentium III takes about 32 seconds. I then right click on that image thus created and choose Edit Image Using PhotoShop. This loads the file, ready for processing in PhotoShop.

Of course this is also a good time to review the thumbnails and delete any files that aren't of interest. Even with compressed RAW files at only 3MB apiece this can add up to serious storage requirements quickly.

Photographed with Canon D30 at ISO 100 with a Canon 100~400mm IS Zoom @ 250mm. RAW Mode.

What You Work With

I must say that I was astounded when I loaded the first few RAW-based TIFFs into PhotoShop. These files have no White Balance or Sharpening applied and represent the naked data obtained form the imaging chip. Consequently I'd expected a file which would require a great deal of work.

Just the opposite is true. With the exception of a need for the application of Unsharp Masking these imported files are remarkable. Colour balance can be an issue since no White Balance is applied to RAW mode files. In the case of these photographs shown here, mostly shot on a quite cloudy afternoon, about 5-10cc worth of adjustment of the Blue Channel in Levels was all that was needed to suck out the blue cast. No different than what I would have done with a film-based scan.

I was particularly taken with the purity of the colours. In a 13X19" print of the above shot the greens and yellows can be seen just as I remember them. No saturation increase was needed (something that likely would have been with Provia — a somewhat desaturated film).

What I was very pleased about was that there was, of course, no need to do any "spotting" with the cloning tool. The files are completely free from the usual dust spots and micro-scratches that scanned film is ere to.

RAW Vs. JPG — Large/Fine JPG mode is almost as good as RAW. Quite a surprise.

D30 Vs. Film — The results of this comparison are remarkable.

ISO Comparison — ISO 400 looks almost as good as ISO 100.

More to come....

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