What Price Affordability?

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Here’s an interesting time line. Back in 1995 Canon introduced the EOS-DCS 1, its second D-SLR based on the 35mm EOS-1N, but using Kodak digital capture technology. It cost $55,000 and, we were told much later, just one was sold in Australia. In 1998 Canon launched the EOS D2000 – another collaboration with Kodak – which was a 2.0 megapixels D-SLR costing $32,000. Then, in 2000, came the EOS D30 which was Canon’s first ‘home grown’ D-SLR, but more significantly, it was more compact than anything that had been seen before and was priced at a more ‘affordable’ $6000 for the body only.

That money bought you 3.25 megapixels of resolution, continuous shooting at up to 3.0 fps and a massive 32 MB of buffer memory. Luxury!

At the time of the D30’s launch, we observed “… this camera is proof positive that the truly affordable D-SLR – and one capable of matching film’s picture quality – will become a reality… the writing is on the wall”. It would be another three years before this did actually become a reality, in the shape of the EOS D300 which was the first D-SLR specifically targeted at amateurs and very similar in size and weight to a comparable 35mm body. It was priced at $1999 with an 18-55mm zoom lens and offered 6.5 megapixels of resolution, continuous shooting at up to 2.5 fps and all the key features that are standard on D-SLRs today.

So here we are in mid-2018 with the EOS 3000D, the first D-SLR that you can buy brand new for under $500. Well, the recommended retail price is nominally $549, but shop around and you’ll find it selling for $499 with, incidentally, the mark III version of that original EF-S 18-55mm ‘kit’ zoom.

Interestingly, at the time of the D300’s launch, we also heralded the arrival of the EOS 3000V, Canon’s first autofocus 35mm SLR to sell for a snip under $500. Making a comparison with the D300, we noted, “It’s going to be some time before you’ll be able to buy a D-SLR for this sort of money…” Well, nearly 15 years to be precise.

So, what do you get for your $500 besides one dollar in change? For starters, Canon wants us to know that entry-level D-SLRs are doing very well, thanks for asking. Along with the Nikon D3400, the outgoing EOS 1300D notched up an impressive 35,000 sales in Australia during 2017. We don’t know the split, but regardless that’s a lot of cameras for a market of this size.

Savings Plan
Now the long-serving 1300D is replaced by the EOS 1500D (see the end of this review for an overview) and there’s the entry-level entry-level 3000D (4000D in some markets) so, notwithstanding the gathering momentum of its mirrorless camera program, Canon clearly thinks there’s life in the old D-SLR dog yet.

And jeez, at $499, you’d have one just because you can, wouldn’t you? After all, there’s an 18.7 megapixels ‘APS-C’ sensor in there along with OK AF and AE systems, a built-in flash with a half-decent power output, a swag of Canon EOS digital smarts, Full HD video recording, a surprisingly long list of frills, WiFi and compatibility with the biggest interchangeable lens system on the planet. Packaged in any other configuration (especially minus a mirror box and optical viewfinder), all this would almost certainly cost at least twice as much.

OK, Canon still has a bottom line to look after, so what’s the catch? Well, there’s definitely a bit of a built-to-a-price feel about it, although the bodyshell is GRP just like any of Canon’s entry- or mid-level D-SLRs so maybe it’s just a perception. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the build quality – it’s definitely just as good as the 1500D – but a few of the little cosmetic touches that finesse the overall finish are missing.

Canon is almost apologetic about the main mode dial incorporating an ‘Off’ position, but we actually think it’s quite a good idea. Do we really need a separate power switch? Nope. The built-in flash has to be manually hoicked into the up position, but again this is no big deal… at least there is a built-in flash and, what’s more, it’s got a healthy metric GN of 9.2 at ISO 100. It’s actually useable in other words.

A lot of fuss is being made about the polycarbonate lens mount (as opposed to stainless steel on the 1500D), but both Canon and Nikon have done this before on entry-level cameras including, coincidentally, on the 35mm EOS 3000V. Nah, the real ‘poverty pack’ feature is the 3000D’s monitor screen… it’s just 6.8 cm in size which feels really small when 8.0 cm or even a big bigger is becoming the norm and, worse, the resolution is only 230,000 dots. Eech! This is almost join-the-dots stuff now, but at this screen size images actually look fine and there’s an adjustment for brightness. Fortunately, of course, there’s the optical viewfinder to do all the heavy lifting, although to be honest, the live view experience isn’t a particularly bad one.

Long Service
The 18.7 MP CMOS sensor is a Canon veteran, having done service in a range of models over the years, including the 7D, 60D, 550D and 600D which means it dates back to circa 2010. The ‘DiG!C 4+’ processor is in the same queue to collect its aged pension, but never before have you been able to have this combo at such a low price. It’s worth noting that the EOS 7D started life at $2699 for the camera body alone.

The effective pixel count of 18.0 MP delivers a maximum image size of 5184x3456 pixels at the 3:2 aspect ratio, but for JPEG capture, there’s the choice of three other aspects – 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 – with five image sizes available in all of them, plus two compression levels. RAW files are captured with 14-bit RGB colour and at the maximum image size of 5184x3456 pixels. Yup, 14-bit colour in a 500-buck camera… and there’s the choice of sRGB or Adobe RGB colour spaces too. The sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 100 to 6400 with a one-stop push to ISO 12,800… so unchanged from when this sensor made its debut in the 7D.

The in-camera processing options for JPEGs are pretty much as you’ll find a fair way up the EOS D-SLR food chain – ‘Creative Style’ presets. ‘Creative Filters’ effects (only five, but all the key ones), ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ for dealing with contrast, ‘Peripheral Illumination Correction’ (vignetting correction specific to 20 lenses), and noise reduction for both long exposures and high ISOs.

Both the autofocusing and exposure control systems are Canon EOS stalwarts, with the 63-zone dual-layer metering sensor initially doing service in the pro-level D-SLRs of the day. Nine AF measuring points may seem a bit rudimentary by today’s standards – and it is – but it wasn’t all that long ago that this was considered pretty snappy.

The points are arranged in a diamond pattern to optimise coverage and the central point is a cross-type array so we’re not entirely back in the Dark Ages, but you may have to re-learn how to use the focus lock again. In live view, though, it is back to the bad old days with horrendously slow contrast-detection (how quickly we’ve become used to the delights of Canon’s ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’).

On the plus side, if you decide to focus manually – which is actually quicker most of the time – there’s a magnified image at either 5x or 10x to assist you.

The standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes is supplemented by six subject programs, but the EOS 3000D also has the more contemporary ‘Scene Intelligent Auto’ mode which, as the name suggests, performs automatic subject mode selection. It also has the ‘Creative Auto’ mode which is essentially also fully automatic, but also allows access to some basic controls primarily to adjust the depth-of-field or the ambience. The latter’s adjustments comprise Vivid, Soft, Warm, Intense, Cool, Brighter, Darker and Monochrome, each with three settings levels except for Monochrome which can set to neutral, sepia or blue instead. Yes, this is all the ‘Creative Styles’ presets distilled into a single, more-simplified menu.

Also available for exposure control is an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing over three frames (at up to +/-2.0 EV of variation per frame). And the bracketing can be combined with the exposure compensation so you can pick anywhere across the latter’s range as the mid-point.

Auto bracketing is also available for white balance control, as is the option of Ambience Priority or White Priority for the auto correction, and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 200 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin… none of which you would have previously seen on an entry-level D-SLR. Nor, in live view, would you have had the choice of brightness or RGB histograms… or grid guides for that matter.

Slow Start
Operationally, the first thing you notice about the 3000D is how slow it is to get going after switch-on or wake-up. We’ve become accustomed to near instantaneous start-ups, but the 3000D faffs around for at least a second or so before getting its act together and presenting for duty. After this though, it’s all pretty standard Canon EOS D-SLR fare… well-organised and easy-to-navigate menus, a handy ‘Quick Control’ screen (also available in live view) and an external control layout based around the aforementioned main mode dial (with its ‘Off’ setting), a front input wheel and a five-key cluster for navigation and direct access to the key capture functions.

For reasons best known only to Canon (but presumably cost-related), most of the keys have their function indicators located alongside rather than actually on the control itself so, if you’re in the habit of simply jabbing at the markings, you’re going to wonder why nothing is happening. It took a little while to reset the brain, especially as these flush-fitting keys are all the same colour as the body and so can be quite hard to see in low lighting conditions.

The replay options include a thumbnail with a set of RGB histograms and basic capture info or, instead of the latter, a brightness histogram (or, if you prefer, the other way around). There’s the choice of pages of either four or nine thumbnails or, going in the opposite direction, zooming up to 10x. The slide show function has adjustable display times, fade in/out effects and background music. You can also rotate, resize, organise for a photobook or apply the ‘Creative Filter’ effects. In fact, post-capture is the only way you can use the special effects, but this is no bad thing given that you end up with both the original file and the edited version. You can also give images a star rating which subsequently becomes a search criteria.

Speed And Performance
With a quoted top shooting speed of 3.0 fps, putting the 3000D through a time trial is pretty much an academic exercise and it certainly can’t make full use of our high-speed reference memory card, a Lexar 128 GB Professional SDXC UHS-II/U3 (Speed Class 3) ‘2000x’ device. But, for the record, we shot a sequence of 65 JPEG/large/fine frames in 21.582 seconds which represents a shooting speed of… guess what? Precisely 3.01 fps… which, of course, is bang on the quoted spec. The buffer emptied very quickly and the average file size was in the order of 7.1 MB.

The nine-point autofocusing system may be dated, but it still works well enough – albeit with more limitations than we’re used to these days, particularly when shooting smaller subjects or in low light situations. As we noted earlier, the focus lock is probably going to get more use than is now generally the case. The AF speed is best described as adequate and, in fact, the 3000D really isn’t in a hurry to do anything… probably because the ‘DiG!C 4+’ processor is off having its afternoon nap.

The 18.7 MP ‘APS-C’ sensor has served Canon well for many years and while we have moved on in many ways, it still does a pretty good job here. For starters, there are still quite a few mirrorless cameras with resolutions in the region of 16 to 18 MP even if this is now at the bottom end of today’s pixels count. Forget the numbers and just look at the images which, as JPEG/large/fine files, look more than acceptable in terms of definition and detailing, colour reproduction and overall tonality.

As always, the ‘Creative Style’ presets provide plenty of scope for tweaking the saturation, sharpness and contrast to suit personal tastes, but Landscape still seems to most effectively balance a pleasing saturation with realism. The tendency to slightly oversaturate the reds which we remember from earlier D-SLRs which used this sensor appears to have gone and so, in particular, paler skin tones now look nicely neutral. Where this sensor/processor combo does betray its age, however, is in the high ISO performance which is excellent up to ISO 1600, but starts to fall off noticeably from ISO 3200 and beyond, particularly in terms of chroma noise.
Most latest-gen ‘APS-C’ sensors are now holding everything together very well up to ISO 6400 or even ISO 12,800 thanks to advances in noise reduction processing. Overall, though, the image quality still meets contemporary expectations which mostly shows you how ahead of the game Canon has been in the past. You certainly don’t get the impression that you’re making too many major sacrifices here in order to save money.

TEST IMAGES above and below:
Test images captured as JPEG/large/fine files with the EOS 3000D and EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 III zoom lens. The 18.7 MP CMOS sensor may be getting a bit long in tooth, but it still delivers good definition and detailing, pleasing colour reproduction (especially with the Landscape ‘Creative Style’ preset), and a surprisingly wide dynamic range. Noise reduction processing isn’t quite up to current standards, but everything still holds together very well up to ISO 1600.

Making Movies
Not entirely surprisingly, the EOS 3000D’s video story is a pretty brief one. It records Full HD video at 25 or 24 fps and in the HD resolution at 50 fps using H.264 interframe (IPB) compression in the MOV format. The NTSC recording speeds are also available. The built-in microphone is mono and there’s no provision for connecting anything else, but you can adjust the recording level manually and there is a wind-cut filter… so it’s possible to tweak the sound quality a bit.

Manual exposure setting is possible prior to commencing recording and both the AE lock and exposure compensation are available if using auto control. The ‘Picture Style’ presets (including Monochrome), white balance controls, grid display and corrections such as the ‘Auto Lighting Optimiser’ (ALO) and ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ can all be applied. Autofocusing during recording is possible, but the contrast-detection measurements mean it’s likely to be anything but smooth. The old 4.0 GB file size limit – which represents around ten minutes of Full HD footage – means you’ll have to start a new file if a sequence is any longer (but think of it as good discipline and stick to making shorter clips).

The Verdict
Right now, the EOS 3000D is the cheapest interchangeable lens camera on the market, reflex or mirrorless, but it’s not so pared-down that the price is the only  good thing about it. The basic feature set is actually pretty generous because presumably anything processor-based really isn’t that expensive to include, but you start to feel the pinch with some of the physical elements, most notably the small monitor screen with its low resolution.

The bigger and better screen on the 1500D is possibly the most convincing argument for shelling out an extra 100 bucks, especially if you’re going to be using live view on a regular basis.

It’s always a balancing act between cutting costs – especially this aggressively – and risking compromising any appeal or, worse, frustrating users so much they end up going elsewhere.
In this regard, Canon treads a very fine line indeed with 3000D, but given the firmware ultimately outscores the hardware, it is a camera you can live with, either to learn the basics or enjoy D-SLR photography on a very tight budget.

Whether it will succeed in making D-SLR converts out of smartphone users – or, indeed, compact camera users – is another matter, but the affordability has to have some attraction, but read our comments about the 1500D before making any decision.

So… recommended, but with some reservations.

Canon EOS 3000D
Dimensions (WxHxD): body only = 129.0x101.6x77.1 mm.
Weight: body only = 436 grams (with battery pack and memory card).
Price: $499 with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 III zoom (estimated average street price).

A Hundred Bucks More?
Yes, we know Canon’s reflex camera model numbering can be confusing, but it’s always been this way… ‘1’ always symbolises the flag-ship and then the numbers get progressively greater as we head towards entry-level. So, 1500 is greater than 3000, OK?

The EOS 1500D will cost you around $100 more than the 3000D and for this you get, most importantly, a higher-res sensor (at 24.7 million pixels), but also a bigger LCD monitor screen (with a decent 920,600 dots resolution), the convenience of NFC for connecting to WiFi, an accessory input (for either a remote trigger or GPS receiver), a stainless steel lens mount and various other enhancements such as much faster start-up.

Worth it? Depends, as the AF, AE and white balance functionality are all the same as are the video recording capabilities (i.e. so still basic then). However, the extra pixels do deliver a slight increase in image quality, but more noticeably, better high ISO performance. On balance, we reckon it’s $100 very well spent… the 1500D is definitely nicer to use and it’s undoubtedly more 2018 than the 3000D which seems a bit like 2008 revisited (just a lot cheaper).

Canon EOS 1500D
Dimensions (WxHxD): body only = 129.0x101.3x77.6 mm.
Weight: body only = 475 grams (with battery pack and memory card).
Price: $599 with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 III zoom (estimated average street price).