Fixing the D30’s Focus Problems

As good as it is theCanon EOS-D30 and D60have a serious flaw. Their ability to focus in low light is quite poor. AsD30andD60owners will have noticed thereisa white focus assist light built into the camera that illuminates when there is difficulty autofocusing. Frankly, this light hardly provides any benefit (if it even does so at all) and is an annoyance rather than an asset. The infrared autofocus assist lights as used on previousCanoncameras, such as theA2E,did a much better job. The white light is also an attention-getter and distraction to subjects, both animals and people, and consequently many users have disabled it by usingCustom Function 5.

Since the theD30andD60reached the market there has been much discussion about how to fix the problem. One solution is to select and use only the central focus point. This is the most sensitive of the three points and it’s a significant improvement to simply use the central point to focus, and then re-frame the shot.

Infra-Red to The Rescue

Another alternative is to always keep aCanon 550EXor420EXflash unit mounted on the camera. These have an infra-red focus assist light built-in and make autofocus possible, even in total darkness. Of course this is a non-starter of a solution, since who needs the bulk and weight of a flash unit onboard simply to aid autofocusing?

Fortunately Canon makes a solution, and an elegant one at that. But it will cost you aboutUSD $200. This is theST-E2 Speed Light Transmitter. This is a small device, about the size of a package of cigarettes. It mounts on the hot-shoe of the D30 or D60. Turn it on and it emits a powerful infra-red focus assist beam when needed. TheD30(or theEOS-3orEOS 1Vor1Dor1Ds) will now focus in complete darkness if needs be.

Lower Antelope 3

Photographed with a Canon EOS D30 and 14mm f/2.8 Sigma lens at ISO 100.

Oh Yes — It’s Also a Remote Trigger

Of course theST-E2is more than an autofocus assist device. It also serves its primary function as a wireless slave trigger. This means that with theST-E2mounted on-camera aCanon 550EX, 420EX,orMR-14EXflash unit within about 30 feet (about 10 meters) can be triggered remotely.(Please note that theST-E2onlyworks with these three flash units — no others. Though of course its role as an autofocus assist light doesnotrequire any flash unit to be used.)

My tests have shown that in this role the unit functions very well indeed. FullE-TTLcapability is retained, and I’ve been successful triggering a550EXthat was located some 15 feet away,around the corner in another room. The unit has a test button for determining if the receiving flash unit is capable of "seeing" the triggering infra-red pulse.

Furthermore, theST-E2can trigger two different flash units at the same time and these can have different lighting ratios. In fact you can have more than 2 units remotely fired by grouping them together on the same channel. This makes for a very sophisticated wireless, multi-unit flash setup. If your style of shooting needs this capability you’ll find theST-E2does an admirable job. But, if all you need it for is to fix the problem with theD30 or D60’sinadequate autofocus you’ll also find it a handy, though expensive device to have. Shame onCanonfor not building it into these two camera

Canon 1V, 1D and 1Ds should be aware that the ST-E2 allows these camera, which focus very well in low light, to focus in complete darkness. There are times when this capability is necessay, so this is more than a one trick pony.

Parting Thoughts

D30 & D60 only — Remember that you need to turn onCustom Function 5on the camera for theST-E2to work. Also remember to turnRed-Eye Reductionoffon the main menu otherwise the annoying white light will still illuminate — something you likely don’t want.

TheD30’s & D60’sbuilt-in flash willnotoperate when anything is attached to the hot shoe, including theST-E2.Even the use of theOff-Camera Shoe Cord 2prevents theD30’sflash from operating.