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Club 412 Swing 'n Salsa Party - Review of the Canon 30D

by Robert Abrams
September 29, 2007
You Should Be Dancing dance center & Club 412
412 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
212-244-0011
I attended the Swing 'n Salsa party at Club 412. This is a really cool party with two live bands for Swing and Salsa, plus a West Coast Swing room with a DJ. Club 412 has a full bar. The party starts at 8 pm and goes until Midnight. There is an included lesson at 7 pm. $15 before 9 pm, $18 after 9 pm, and $10 with a current college student ID.

I was testing out a Canon 30D. (See more Canon 30D pictures. If you have already read the previous Canon 30D review, you can skip to the second to last paragraph below, since the results were similar in both tests and thus the text of the reviews are the same, except for the extra commentary at the end.)

I have been looking for the holy grail of dance photography: a camera that can take decent pictures without a flash in the low light that is typical of social dance venues. As can be seen from these photos, the Canon 30D comes close. Canon recently released the 40D, which is essentially the 30D with Canon's latest technology. According to the experts at Fotocare, the 40D generates one stop less noise than the 30D, so that a photo shot at ISO 3200 with the 40D will look like a photo shot at ISO 1600 with the 30D in terms of graininess. The 40D also has a better auto-focus system and produces larger files. (But don't be too critical of the focus on these photos since the focus mechanism on the 30D I was testing was malfunctioning in all lighting conditions except at close range.) (The people at Fotocare, by the way, are really great, whether you are buying or renting a camera.)

I used a 24mm 1.4 lens because this allowed me to let in as much light as possible, and 24mm let me get a 6 foot person fully in the frame at a distance of ten feet or so, which is a reasonable field of view for social dance photography. A zoom lens would be nice, but there aren't any zoom lenses that open to 1.4, and since the camera creates files of about 4 MB, there is plenty of material to work with if you need to crop in to a subject who is farther away from the camera.

Based on my tests of the 30D, and what I know about the 40D, I predict that the Canon 40D will be a very good, but not perfect, camera for low light, non flash, dance photography. At $1300 for the body and about $1500 for the lens, this isn't a cheap camera, but it is not a super expensive camera either. Yes, $1500 for a lens is a fair chunk of change, but professional photographers will look at you with respect when you tell them you are using this lens. Or you can buy a 28mm 1.8 lens that costs a lot less, but that is not the choice I would make. Under reference conditions, one should be able to shoot at 1/125 of a second shutter speed with an aperture of 1.4 to about 2.0 to maybe 2.8 and get decent photos of dance with decent brightness. To get the decent brightness, though, you will need to adjust the photos using Photoshop's Curves feature, or the equivalent. Also, keep in mind that at 1.4, your depth of field is going to be very shallow, which can result in very good pictures, but can also be limiting since you can't close the aperture down much farther before the photos get unacceptably dark.

While I hope to field test the Canon 40D, and not simply infer its capabilities from the 30D, I am reasonably confident that the Canon 40D is a good choice for a professional level DSLR with a medium weight form factor that can take decent low light, non flash dance photos, but one should think about buying a flash (if the built in flash isn't enough) because some dance venues will still be too dimly lit for this camera, even when set to its fastest ISO of 3200.

If you compare these photos with the Canon 30D photos from Stepping Out Studios, you will notice that the Club 412 photos, on average, look a little brighter at the same settings, and that the results vary from room to room, even though the lighting looks comparable to the human eye. If the camera always produced the results shown in the best photos, especially the one from the Latin room, the Canon 40D might be the holy grail of dance photography. Unfortunately, the lighting can vary considerably from venue to venue, and sometimes from one side of the room to the other, so for a camera to truly be the holy grail of dance photography, if we call the Club 412 Latin Room the reference lighting condition (since the one photo I am really happy with that was taken with the 30D was taken there, and therefore I can say with confidence that this particular lighting condition with this camera can produce the kinds of photos I am looking for), the perfect camera needs to be able to produce decent photos in conditions one or two stops dimmer than the reference condition. On the other hand, if it requires such heavy hitting equipment to show off social dance in its natural lighting, maybe it is time to reconsider the lighting choices at dance venues. I am not suggesting that dance venue lighting be optimized for the camera at the expense of people. The human eye is much more tolerant of dim light than any camera I have ever used. However, the right lighting will enhance patrons' sense of their experiences, making them that much more likely to stick with social dancing. It would be worth the effort to experiment with different lighting designs and survey dancers as to how the different lighting designs make them feel. My hypothesis is that people will generally prefer lighting designs that are still relatively low light, but which are brighter than the designs often employed at present. One extra strand of tube lighting (what Club 412 has mounted on some of its ceilings) might be enough, so enhanced lighting designs don't necessarily have to be expensive. Such brighter designs would, as a by-product, contribute to better social dance photography, which should help bring more people into the art form.

Coming up: a test of the Canon Mark III. Also, I am trying to arrange a test of the Nikon D3.
Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.0, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.0, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.0, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.0, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.2, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Lindy Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - Latin Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 3200, 1/125, 1.4, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 1600, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 1600, 1/125, 2.8, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room Camera: ISO 1600, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Swing 'n Salsa Party - West Coast Swing Room
Camera: ISO 1600, 1/125, 2.5, Brightness adjusted using Curves in Photoshop

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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