January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Fixing the D30’s Focus Problems

As good as it is the Canon EOS-D30 and D60 have a serious flaw. Their ability to focus in low light is quite poor. As D30 and D60 owners 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 previous Canon cameras, such as the A2E, 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 using Custom Function 5 .

Since the the D30 andD60reached 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 a Canon 550EX or 420EX flash 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 the ST-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. The D30 (or the EOS-3 or EOS 1V or1Dor1Ds) 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 the ST-E2 is more than an autofocus assist device. It also serves its primary function as a wireless slave trigger. This means that with the ST-E2 mounted on-camera a Canon 550EX, 420EX, or MR-14EX flash unit within about 30 feet (about 10 meters) can be triggered remotely.(Please note that the ST-E2 onlyworks 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. Full E-TTL capability is retained, and I’ve been successful triggering a 550EX that 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, the ST-E2 can 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 the ST-E2 does an admirable job. But, if all you need it for is to fix the problem with the D30 or D60’s inadequate autofocus you’ll also find it a handy, though expensive device to have. Shame on Canon for 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 on Custom Function 5 on the camera for the ST-E2 to work. Also remember to turn Red-Eye Reduction offon the main menu otherwise the annoying white light will still illuminate‚ something you likely don’t want.


The D30’s & D60’s built-in flash willnotoperate when anything is attached to the hot shoe, including the ST-E2. Even the use of the Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 prevents the D30’s flash from operating.

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Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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