So Far - So Good
Canon Digital Rebel (300D)

Two years ago I posted on this space first results from my Digital Rebel. This page is in process of update after two years with the camera. It should be obvious I am not a professional photographer and my opinions may be taken as just that. This is posted to show results you might expect from the camera and to report my findings regarding some lenses and accessories. More will be added as I have something different to show. I would be happy to hear criticisms and discuss techniques but those who believe you can't shoot anything with the Rebel will not want to look any further. Email me at dougsmit (at) comcast.net

There has ben a lot said about the low quality of the 18-55mm EF-S lens supplied as part of the 'Kit'. I consider the lens a very worthwhile effort and one really good reason to buy the 300D. Canon was aiming their new product at those of us to whom $1000 is a lot of money and did what was necessary to be able to sell the Kit for $999. Since that time the Rebel has been updated to the 350D (XT) which upgrades everything shown here to some degree. The lens was designed to allow wide angle images even with the 1.6x cropping factor caused by the fact that the digital sensor is smaller than a 35mm frame. The Kit lens is not the equal of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens available for $70 but that lens will not shoot wide angle images. Neither is it the equal of the Canon EF 17-40 f/4L USM lens which is available for $700. The question is whether I would be happy with the lesser quality lens and the $600 savings. I made my decision and bought the Kit lens. I do not regret it. For those to whom another $1000 was no problem, the decision might be different. Canon (among other companies) makes several models for that market segment as well.

Kit Lens Samples

ISO 400, Kit lens at 18mm, f/9, 1/1600 second

The main advantage of the kit lens is that it offers a moderately wide angle view at a low price. Quality is quite satisfactory for general family photos. This example was shot at 18mm (29mm in 35mm equivalent) which still could be wider to get in the whole building from this vantage. Those not allowing for the 1.6 crop factor when selecting lenses will be limited to telephoto views.

ISO 1600, Kit lens 18mm f/11

While pushing the camera to limits, the house below was shot using the highest ISO speed available. At ISO 1600 I would expect considerable noise and there is some granularity in the shadows. I would compare it to ISO 200 with my previous Prosumer digital cameras. This image is presented reduced in size with insets showing full size sections. It was shot at f/11 in the hope of finding the sharpest point on the lens and a tripod was used. For an 18mm lens, I do not consider this all that bad for a $100 lens. Your opinions may differ.

Not by the Kit Alone!

Having defended the Kit lens, I will now say that one big reason I bought the camera was that it has the capability of interchangable lenses and would allow me to make good use of those old pieces of junk that I have owned since the 70's. Certainly I would rather have the latest Canon 'L' glass but there are shots that just would not be possible without buying several times the price of the camera in top-of-the line equipment. Other than price, a major feature I considered in selecting the Canon camera is that the meter works with lenses that lack electrical contacts. This means that, unlike Nikon digital SLR's, the Canons retain aperture priority exposure automation and thru the lens manual metering when used on a microscope, telescope, T-mount lens or anything you can put in front of that opening in the body. 99% of owners will never care about this feature but it has enabled me to use equipment I have gathered over the years. Adapters to mount my old lenses on the Canon are easily available and reasonably priced. I am having fun with my hobby (that is taking photos, not buying lenses - a different hobby altogether!).

My first oldie is a 1970's vintage 400mm f/6.3 Tele-Astranar which has a preset diaphram and T-mount. I purchased a Canon EOS T-mount adapter for $20 and was pleased to find it performed as well with the digital as it had on my Pentax Spotmatic years before. No, it is not as good as the latest models and I would love to have automatic diaphragm and autofocus. Still, I am relatively pleased with the results. The first sample shows a Tufted Titmouse shot on a bird feeder. The image is reduced to fit here and accompanied by an unreduced crop of the bird's head. This was taken at f/11 and on a tripod. While I admit f/11 is about as shart as this lens gets, camera motion or subject motion ruins a number of the shots I have taken in this manner. Even a heavy tripod and careful technique will not stop a quick moving bird. This Titmouse was cooperative and sat still. The lens does show some chromatic abheration and manual focus on the dim screen of the 300D is not a snap. I might not advise buying this lens new unless it is the only way you have to achieve this focal length and you are willing to work for images that are not the finest available. Was it worth buying the adapter? It sure was.

ISO 400 400mm f/6.3 Tele-Astranar at f/11

When trying out a new telephoto, there are some things you just have to do. The moon is one of those. This lens is not new but using it on the digital is. This image is a crop from the full frame but has not been reduced. I also tried using the same 400 f/6.3 Tele-Astranar lens with an old 2x extender but the result was a larger disk with no better detail. It was necessary to use manual exposure for this since the Digital Rebel's lack of a small spot meter mode caused overexposure on auto. This shot shows nothing except that those interested in astrophotography will probably want a telescope rather than a 30 year old tele.

Coins


Those who know me would understand I need to have a way of shooting coins. Here I am using my old Yashica 100mm macro. It was adapted to the Digital Rebel using a Russian M42 to Canon adapter on a home made CY to M42 adapter (two old extension tubes and Gorilla Glue - I kid you not). Obviously this rig only works for macro but it works. Exposure was made using f/11 and Av mode to select the proper speed. The lighting is two screw base fluorescent bulbs using the custom white balance feature. Two images were combined to show both sides of the coin. This system requires much less post processing adjustment than my earlier efforts with Prosumer digital cameras.

I have since updated to a Canon lens which is superior but the difference can not be seen on small images posted on the web. Several more coin images and a photo of my camera rig can be found on my 2004 coin photo page. The interchangeable lenses and through the lens metering of the Digital Rebel allow the photographer extreme control over the imaging process. My last digital (Minolta 7i) lacked the capability of really small close ups. The Digital Rebel with removeable lens allows no end of tubes. Below are two ways of shooting really close.

Shot through microscope using old Pentax microscope adapter and the Russian M42 to Canon adapter. There is virtually no depth of field. The coin is a well toned silver denarius of Septimius Severus. The inset (eye) has not been reduced. The full image lacks sharpness but the detail on the coin is not sufficient to support more sharpness.

My smallest Greek coin (5mm diameter, .1g. of well toned silver) taken with Leitz 50mm enlarging lens at f/16 using several extension tubes. Compared to the microscope, the adjustable diaphragm allows better depth of field. The image was considerably reduced for this page. Again the coin detail limits the sharpness more than the lens.

Old Pentax Lenses

Another left over from the 1970 Pentax Spormatic was the 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar lens. The lens was adapted using the same Russian M42 to EOS ring used above. Since I no longer own a working Pentax screw body, I did not mind having to remove a piece of metal from the mount to allow the adapter to seat properly. This tab was used by the last screw mount Pentax cameras to tell the meter the wide open speed of the lens and allow open aperture metering. As it turned out, I later discovered that the Japanese made M42/EOS adapters did not have this ring so I did not need to remove it. The lens is not in very good condition which makes the results even more hard to believe. At f/1.4 the lens is a bit soft and the lack of any focusing aid on the 300D made getting sharp focus a bit of a chore. At f/2.8, it was quite a different matter. At all apertures the lens delivered considerably more color saturation than does the Kit lens. After my first test, I decided it was necessary to use Parameter 2 since the additional saturation and contrast of Parameter 1 made the images almost garish. Focus was manual and there is no diaphragm automation. The 300D was set in Aperture Priority mode and gave best results when set to underexpose one stop. Otherwise, it tended to wash out the brightest highlights. The sample selected for this paragraph is 1/20th second f/2.8 ISO 400. Lighting was mixed with a window at the right and lamp on the right but the Auto White Balance did the best it could. Overall I am happy with the results but do not consider the lens useable at f/1.4 more due to the difficulty of accurate focus with no screen aids than to a lack of sharpness of the lens. By f/2.8, it is sharper than the kit lens as one would expect from a Prime of normal focal length even if it is 30 years old. This sample was from the Parameter 1 shoot and required use of Paint Shop Pro to tone down the excess saturation. The sample was before I discovered the wisdom of working with RAW images.

50mm f/1.4 Takumar at f/11, ISO 100, Parameter 1 during snow flurries (aperture priority about 1/20th second). Colors remained quite intense despite the weather. Perhaps Parameter 2 would have been more accurate but this looks OK. Obviously this was taken from much further away than the 18mm, ISO 1600, sunny day shot. This appears no sharper than the kit lens at f/11 but you have to allow something for the weather.

Christmas

Christmas proved to my satisfaction that I was right buying the Kit lens. Between the tree, presents and numerous family members, a wide angle lens was needed to get many of the shots I wanted.

After using the camera for a very short time, it became obvious that the built in flash would not meet my expectations. I have never been a big fan of direct flash and the small unit included on the Digital Rebel is really suitable for nothing beyond fill flash from short range. After very little research into the subject I bought a Sigma EF 500 DG Super. I have not had time to investigate the features (UPS delivered it on Christmas Eve) but just put it on the camera with a bag of bubble wrap over the flash head (a bounce diffuser trick I have used for years) and shot the images illustrating this paragraph. Obviously these have been reduced and cropped for this space but it gives the idea of what I got with the flash straight out of the box. I hope to improve after I read the instruction book. This was shot with the Kit lens used at f/10 and 1/30 second on Manual mode.
Two examples of family photos illustrate the bubble bag flash used outdoors. On the left, the flash fills (perhaps a bit more than I'd prefer) a back lit scene adding considerable contrast to the plaid fabric. On the right, a no flash version required considerably more work in post processing to correct the flare from the backlighting. The best result would probably have been between these two with the flash turned down using the Sigma FEC (flash exposure compensation) adjustment.

The kit lens does show some flare in this situation (worst on the shoulder of the no-flash image) but considering the angle of the light, this is not too bad. Again, I consider this an example of acceptable performance from a $100 lens if not a professional quality image. Scenes like this present themselves very quickly and the quick focus and mimimal shutter delay of the 300D made these images possible. Cameras with longer shutter lag might miss the moment.

At close distances the bubble bag becomes a different type of diffuser that proves useful. Here the Sigma flash was mounted on the hot shoe and the camera turned vertical so the bagged flash was to the right side. At close range, this causes the light to come from the side enough to avoid the look of on camera flash but provides a rig capable of use with a mobile subject. (Here, left, he had stopped for a momentary rest.) Moving again, the flash adds needed light without completely destroying the natural look of the room light. As a goal, rarely attained, I would prefer that flash shots do not look like a flash was used.

Similar bubble bag lighting also works with a telephoto for tighter cropping. 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm, f/8. Inset (right) shows 1:1 crop

The bubble bag diffuser attracted quite a bit of unwanted attention from people who wondered why I neglected to remove the packaging so I fashioned another diffuser from a Wishbone salad dressing bottle. The effect is similar but the items is not quite so attractive to comments from people who recognize the item. It has the advantage of not deforming easily if touched but takes up much more space in the camera bag. My belief is that the important thing is to diffuse the light and cause some of it to go forward filling shadows. How this is accomplished is secondary. Several commercial products duplicate the effect for those who prefer to look professional.

Go here for more on my experiments with Bounce Flash Toys.

A documented fault of the 300D is poor white balance correction in incandescent light. Both auto white balance (AWB) and tungsten settings give results much warmer than desirable. While these images can be corrected to some degree in post processing, the better answer (short of shooting RAW which is definitely the best way) is to use manual white balance. The lower left image was shot after setting the manual white balance from a white card shot under the same lights. Another method that works is to add an 80a conversion filter (the way it would be done with film) but our sample on the lower right points out the need to be sure added filters are clean. The general haze over the image and flare from the lamps is the result of dirt on the surface of my 25 year old 80a filter. Using the filter also added considerable time to the exposure compared to the manual white balance shot. While the 80a color is best straight out of the camera, a more careful selection of white card (or use of a commercial 18% gray card) would be better. Certainly the lower left image would be correctable in postprocessing.

The first hint of Spring weather led us to the Metro Richmond (VA) Zoo. As zoos go, this is rather small but it is set up for small childern to be able to see the animals rather than to test out a new camera. Some animals were in large enclosures behind chain link fenses and did not get photographed. All these were shot with the Canon 70-200 f/4L handheld at f/8 and ISO 400. Many were at or near one end or the other of the range. The day was bright and light was harsh on the bare dirt. These images, in addition to being reduced for this space, also had some selective burning and dodging in Photoshop Elements 2. The Llama on this page made it to the front of the group by the back lighting on white fur (which I liked). The Chimp was the only one of her kind awake so deserves this top billing.

Flash for macro work, whether fill or the prime light source needs to be placed more carefully than was possible when mounted on the hot shoe. Therefore, I built a hand holdable mount that would position the flash near the front of the lens. Synch connection is provided by an off camera cord (this is a Promaster but Canon makes one, too). The mount is a small poplar branch selected for having the correct bend and notched to accept the Canon tripod mount A (black version) on the 70-200 f/4L. The shape of the wood makes it easy to hand hold but a tripod mount was added by drilling a hole from the top and inserting a 1/4-20 flange. The notch secures the camera without danger of slippage. Using round wood (hurricane Isabel surplus) gives added strength and smoothness over cut lumber.

Rotating the lens within the ring allows positioning the light on any side desired. More exact positioning is achieved by a Leitz ball and socket tripod head I have owned since the 60's. The samples here (from my yard) show Mountain Laurel (left, 1/25, f/16, 154mm) and Columbine (right, 1/200, f/5.6, 172mm). Both were lighted by the bubble bagged flash. This size subjects required use of two of the Kenko set of three extension tubes and provided a lens hood to subject distance between one and two feet. At the closest distance with all tubes, this mount can place the flash slightly beyond the subject resulting in lighting that may not be right for every subject. This is improved by removing the ball head which adds extra height to the flash. Testing of this rig will occur as Spring brings more different subjects to my yard.

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