DCRP

Olympus E-30 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus E-30 is a very good digital SLR, and arguably one of the best they've ever made. It offers very good photo quality, image stabilization, generally snappy performance, live view on a rotating 2.7" LCD display, plenty of manual controls, and built-in support for wireless flashes. Other nice touches include a built-in level and pitch meter, the ability to preview different exposure and white balance settings, and yes, even the art filters are kind of fun. The biggest problems I have with the E-30 are 1) its price and 2) its tendency to clip highlights. Aside from those issues, there's very little to complain about. If you don't mind paying $1300 for it, then the Olympus E-30 is a D-SLR that I can easily recommend.

The E-30 has a lot in common with its big brother, the E-3. The E-30 has a smaller and lighter body (but it's by no means compact) and no weather sealing, but it retains the rotating LCD of the E-3. The camera has a metal/plastic chassis on the inside, and a sturdy composite shell on the outside. It's quite solid, with even the often flimsy plastic doors feeling sturdy. The camera has a good-sized right hand grip, and the rubberized surface gives it a secure feel. Like all of Olympus' E-series cameras, the E-30 has a FourThirds lens mount, with a 2X focal length conversion ratio. It also features sensor-shift image stabilization, which means that every lens you attach will have shake reduction. Another traditional Olympus feature is the Supersonic Wave Filter, which helps to keep dust off of the Live MOS sensor. There are three ways to connect an external flash to the E-30: hot shoe, flash sync port, or wirelessly.

On the back of the camera you'll find a 2.7" LCD that can flip to the side and rotate a total of 270 degrees. The screen has 230,000 pixels -- less than some of the competition -- but it's good enough for most purposes. In addition to performs its menu navigation and image playback duties, the LCD can also be used for live view. Live view has its good points: you can see exactly how your photo will turn out, white balance and exposure can be previewed, face detection is available, and manual focusing is a breeze. At the same time, the contrast detect AF is quite slow, and the other two focus modes introduce some shutter lag. As a result, I've found that live view is a poor choice for shooting anything in motion. I can say that the LCD is easy to see outdoors, movement is very fluid (if you turn on the high speed LV feature), and you can see fairly well in low light (with LV boost on). Don't want to use live view? Then you can use the E-30's optical viewfinder, which has a magnification of 1.02X. While that's large for a FourThirds camera, it's still on the small side compared to other midrange D-SLRs.

The E-30 is chock full of features, for beginners, enthusiasts, and (as Olympus likes to call them) "creative people". If you want a point-and-shoot D-SLR, then you can put the E-30 into Auto or Scene mode and let the camera do all the work. The new art filters are sort of an extension of scene modes, and they're pretty fun to fool around with. I don't know how many people are going to buy the camera specifically for that feature, though. You can also take multiple exposures on the E-30, combining up to four shots into a single image. The E-30 also offers nine different aspect ratios, though you'll probably want to use live view to compose things properly. A feature I personally liked quite a bit the pitch/level indicator, which helps make crooked horizons a thing of the past. If you're a photo enthusiast, I think you'll be more than satisfied with the manual controls on the E-30. You'll find the usual manual exposure controls, numerous white balance options, and four different types of bracketing. You can even fine-tune metering and tweak the focus on up to twenty lenses! Naturally, the E-30 supports the RAW image format, and Olympus includes a good (but not great) RAW editor with the camera. The camera supports remote shooting (without live view), though you'll have to pay $100 for the privilege.

Camera performance is very good in most respects. One area in which it's just okay: startup time. The E-30's dust reduction cycle runs at power-on, so you'll have to wait about a second before you can start taking pictures. Autofocus speeds depend on a number of factors, most notably your choice of lens, and whether or not you're using live view. Using the viewfinder and the 14 - 54 mm Mk II lens that I used, the E-30 focused at a decent clip, though I've seen better. If you're using the LCD to compose your photos and using the default Imager AF, expect to wait for 1 - 3 seconds for the camera to lock focus. The other live view modes are a bit quicker, and may be worth using instead (though you'll lose face detection). Shutter lag is only a problem if you're using hybrid or AF sensor focus with live view. Shot-to-shot speeds are excellent -- you can keep firing away without delay (except for a few of the Art Filters). While the E-30 won't win the fastest burst rate award, it's continuous shooting mode is still very good. With a fast CompactFlash card, I was able to take 15 RAW or 19 JPEG shots in a row, a 5 frames/second. Battery life is well above average on the E-30, and if you pick up the optional battery grip, you get double the battery life, plus the ability to use AAs.

Photo quality was very good. The E-30 took photos that were generally well-exposed, though the camera tends to clip highlights more often than I'd like. Colors were accurate and vivid, and images were sharp by digital SLR standards. While the top cameras in the midrange class do a bit better, the E-30 still has relatively low noise levels through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light. As is usually the case, shooting RAW will get you better looking photos at the highest sensitivities. Purple fringing will depend on what lens you're using, and I didn't have much of a problem with it. Something else that wasn't an issue was redeye, which is always good news.

The only other issues I wanted to raise were that the camera lacks any HD video output (most of the competition has an HDMI port), and that the manual could be both more user friendly and detailed.

Overall, the Olympus E-30 is a very competent digital SLR, and one which I can highly recommend. I do think that it costs about $200 - $300 more than it should, though I imagine prices will trickle down over time. Whether you want to spend the $1300 now, or wait a little while for the price to drop, you can't really go wrong with this camera -- it's a solid pick.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see below)
  • Well built, easy to hold body
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Live view on a flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display; screen easy to see outdoors
  • Full manual controls, and then some; RAW format supported
  • Large buffer means lots of shots in a row in burst mode
  • Handy features: pitch & level meter, Perfect Shot Preview
  • Good live view feature offers face detection, contrast detect AF, decent low light viewing, and a fast refresh rate
  • Four types of bracketing, plus white balance, metering, and focus fine-tuning
  • Unique art filter and multiple exposure options
  • Nine aspect ratios to choose from
  • Redeye not a problem, though a removal tool is available just in case
  • Three ways to connect an external flash, including wirelessly
  • Good quality kit lens
  • Dual memory card slots; CompactFlash slot supports fast UDMA cards
  • Great battery life; optional grip doubles it, and supports AA batteries, too

What I didn't care for:

  • A little too expensive
  • Camera clips highlights more often than it should; images are a bit noisier than the best cameras in this class
  • Viewfinder smaller than most of competition
  • Contrast detect AF in live view is very slow, and only supports a few lenses
  • Lacks HDMI port found on other cameras in this class
  • Manual could be more detailed and user friendly

Some other midrange digital SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS-50D, Nikon D90, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, Pentax K20D, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the E-30 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our photo gallery to see what kind of pictures you can take with the E-30!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.