Olympus E-30 Review
Originally Posted: February 12, 2009
Last Updated: June 21, 2009
The E-30 ($1299, body only) is a midrange digital SLR that fits between the E-520 and the flagship E-3 in Olympus' line-up. The easiest way to describe the E-30 is this: take the E-3, subtract the weather-sealing, then add a higher resolution sensor, a new image processor, a larger LCD, and "art filters". Here's a summary of the stand-out features on the E-30:
- 12.3 Megapixel CCD
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- Dust reduction system
- Flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD
- Live view with contrast detect AF and face detection
- 11-point autofocus system (same as the E-3)
- 5 frame/second continuous shooting
- Nine aspect ratios to choose from
- Pitch and level display
- Art filter and multiple exposure options (more on those later)
- Dual memory card slots (xD and CompactFlash), with the latter supporting UDMA cards
A pretty impressive list, if I do say so myself.
Confused about the differences between the E-520, E-30, and E-3? Maybe this chart will help:
If you're like me, you might be thinking "gee, why buy the E-3 when you can get the nearly equivalent E-30 for a few hundred less?". Unless you need the more durable body and larger viewfinder of the E-3, it seems to be that you could do quite well with the E-30.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's start our review of the E-30 now, and save the conclusion for later!
What's in the Box?
The E-30 is available in two kits: body only ($1299), and with a 14 - 42 mm lens ($1399). Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:
- The 12.3 effective Megapixel Olympus E-30 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Olympus lens [lens kit only]
- BLM-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Eyepiece cover
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- Video cable
- CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master
- 153 page camera manual (printed)
If you purchase the E-30 lens kit, then you'll find the Olympus' 14 - 42 mm lens in the box. On the E-30 (and all other FourThirds cameras, for that matter), this lens has a focal length equivalent to 28 - 84 mm. This is a pretty nice lens, as kit lenses go, with good sharpness and decent build quality. There are plenty of other FourThirds lenses available, ranging from macro to super telephoto.
Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so if you don't have an xD or CompactFlash card already, you'll have to buy one. The E-30 has two slots: one for xD and the other for CompactFlash. I'm not sure why Olympus continues to bother putting an xD slot in their SLRs -- the cards are low capacity and very slow. Thus, I'd use the CompactFlash slot instead, which can take both Type I and II cards, and it supports high speed UDMA-enabled models, as well. I'd recommend picking up a 2GB or larger card with the E-30 -- the faster, the better.
The E-30 uses the same BLM-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery as the E-520 and E-3. This battery contains a whopping 10.8 Wh of energy, which is about as high as you'll find. Here's how that translates into battery life:
Olympus has managed to improve battery life on the E-30 to the point that it's well above the group average. Only the Nikon D90 does any better.
Two quick things to note about the proprietary battery used by the E-30, and all of the cameras on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will set you back at least $44), and you can't use off-the-shelf batteries in emergencies. You can, however, use AA batteries if you pick up the optional battery grip and AABH1 battery holder.
Optional HLD-4 battery grip; Photo courtesy of Olympus
Want more battery power? Then pick up the HLD-4 power battery grip. It holds two BLM-1 batteries, giving the E-30 double the battery life. The grip includes the AABH1 battery holder, which lets you use six AA batteries to power the camera, though they won't last nearly as long as the two BLM-1's. As usual, the grip also gives you extra controls for shooting in the portrait orientation.
When it's time to charge the BLM-1, just pop it into the included charger. And then prepare to wait for five hours for it to be charged. If you want a faster charger, Olympus would be happy to sell you one -- for $70! Whichever charger you use, you'll have to use a power cable with them, since they don't plug directly into the wall.
Since it's a digital SLR, the E-30 has a ton of accessories available. Below is just a sample of the the most popular add-ons that you can buy:
Unlike the E-420 and E-520, the E-30 supports an AC adapter. The bad news is that it costs an arm and a leg. There are plenty of other accessories available too, especially viewfinder and flash-related.
Olympus Master 2 in Mac OS X
Olympus includes version 2 of their Olympus Master software with the E-30. Olympus Master is pretty snappy, the interface is simple, and it can do just about everything you can imagine.
After you've transferred photos over from the camera (either into albums or folders on your hard drive) you'll arrive at the usual thumbnail screen that is standard in all photo viewing software these days. The thumbnail sizes are adjustable, and you can see shooting data and a histogram on the right side of the thumbnails. There's even a built-in RSS reader for subscribing to Olympus-related news feeds (or the DCRP feed, if you're so inclined).
From this screen you can organize photos, e-mail or print them, or display them in a slideshow. If you have a bunch of photos that you want to stitch into a panorama, you can do that with a few clicks of your mouse.
You can also use Olympus Master (or Studio) to update the firmware on the camera and any attached lens or flash.
Editing JPEGs in Olympus Master 2
Above you can see the edit window, which you access by either double-clicking on a thumbnail or by clicking the Edit button in the toolbar. Functions here include resizing, cropping, brightness/contrast/sharpness adjustments, redeye reduction, distortion correction, and much more. When you're performing one of these edits, the software does a side-by-side before and after comparison, so you can see exactly what changes you've made.
Editing RAW images in Olympus Master 2
Olympus Master also features a pretty complete RAW editor. It lets you adjust exposure, white balance, picture mode (color, b&w, sepia), contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, the noise filter, and more. When you adjust any of the settings, Olympus Master shows you the results after a few seconds of grinding away. Do note that you don't get the before and after view like you do when you're editing JPEGs.
Edit screen in Olympus Studio 2
If you want more advanced RAW editing tools then you might want to consider buying Olympus Studio 2 ($100). This adds tone curve adjustment, false color suppression, aberration compensation, distortion correction, batch processing, and much more. It also gives you the ability to...
Olympus Studio 2 - Camera Control Feature
... take photos using your Mac or PC! You can adjust all the settings on the camera, and the images are saved right to your computer's hard drive. The software allows for time-lapse photography, and control over three sets of wireless flashes. Unlike with some other D-SLRs, you can't use live view in Olympus Studio. You can take a preview photo, but that's as close as you'll get.
Oh, and if you have no idea what the heck RAW is, I'll tell you. Basically, it's a file containing unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer first (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. Be warned that RAW images are considerably larger than JPEGs, which means that they take up more space on your memory card and decrease camera performance.
I should point out that Camera Raw 5.3 allows you to edit the E-30's RAW images in Photoshop, as well.
Olympus includes a fairly thick and detailed manual with the E-30. It's certainly not user-friendly, with a confusing layout, and lots of fine print. Even so, you should be able to get most questions about the camera answered after a little digging. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.