DCRP

Olympus E-30 Review

Look and Feel

The E-30 is a midsize digital SLR. It shares many of the design aspects of the E-3, though it's not weather-sealed, and not nearly as hefty. The body has an inner frame made of a mix of plastic and metal, surrounded by an "engineered plastic" outer shell, and it feels very well put together (and yes, even the doors on the camera are solid). The camera has a large right hand grip with a "sticky" rubber covering, making it easy to hold the E-30 with confidence.


The E-3 and E-30, side-by-side
Image courtesy of Olympus America

The E-30 is a bit of a poster child for button clutter. There are around twenty buttons on the back, top, and side of the camera, so finding what you're looking for can take a little work. I found the buttons below the LCD to be on the small side, as well. The good news is that you can use the camera's "Super Control Panel" to quickly change settings without having to use any of the direct buttons.

Now, let's see how the E-30 compares to other cameras in its class, in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-50D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in. 69.4 cu in. 730 g
Nikon D90 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 620 g
Olympus E-30 5.6 x 4.2 x 3.0 in. 70.6 cu in. 655 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 62.4 cu in. 480 g
Pentax K20D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 714 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 57.7 cu in. 582 g

The E-30 just beats out the Canon EOS-50D as the largest camera in the group. In terms of weight, it's right in the middle.

Alright, let's begin our tour of the E-30 now, beginning with the front of the camera!

Front of the Olympus E-30

Here's the front of the E-30 with the lens removed. The camera has the same FourThirds lens mount as the other E-System cameras, and there are plenty of lenses to choose from. There's a 2X focal length conversion ratio on FourThirds D-SLRs, so a 35 mm lens has the field-of-view of 70 mm. You can release the lens by pressing the button located to the right of the mount.

Like the E-520 and E-3, the E-30 has a built-in sensor-shift image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands (known as "camera shake") that can blur your photos. This can especially be a problem in low light, or when using a telephoto lens. The camera can shift its Live MOS sensor to compensate for this motion, which increases the probability of a sharp photo. Olympus says that the E-30 gives you approximately 5 extra stops of usable shutter speeds. Here's an example of the IS system in action:

Image stabilization off Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of a quarter of a second. As you can see, the IS system did its job well. Since the IS system is built into the camera, every single lens you attach to the camera will have shake reduction. Do note that image stabilization cannot freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for one second handheld shots. But it's certainly better than nothing!

Like all of Olympus' E-Series cameras, the E-30 has the "SuperSonic Wave Filter" dust removal system. This system literally shakes dust off the sensor with ultrasonic pulses, greatly reducing the amount of dust that can litter your photos. The dust reduction cycle is run when when camera is powered on.

Above the lens mount is the E-30's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number (GN) of 13 meters at ISO 100, which is as high as you'll find on a midrange D-SLR. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment, or you can go wireless. The E-30 can control up to three sets of wireless flashes, right out of the box.

If the flash is popped up, the camera may use it as an AF-assist lamp. These flash-based systems allow for much faster low light focusing than traditional AF-assist lamps, with the downsides being that A) you must pop up the flash when you want to use this feature and B) the strobe can be rather irritating to your subject. You aren't forced to take a flash photo, by the way -- just disable the flash in the menu.

Just under the E-30 logo (top-right of photo) is a flash sync port, one of the three ways in which you can use an external flash with the camera.

On the grip, you spy the shutter release button, front command dial, self-timer lamp, and the receiver for the optional wireless remote. The white circle in between the grip and the flash is an external white balance sensor -- a feature you don't see very often.

Back angled view of the Olympus E-30

One very nice feature on the E-30 is its flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display. The screen flips out from the body up to 180 degrees, and it can rotate a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject, all the way around to looking at the floor. Rotating LCDs are great for shooting on a tripod, or taking photos when objects (such as people's heads) are in front of you. The screen can be put in the more traditional position shown below, or closed entirely.

Back of the Olympus E-30

And here you can see the LCD in the traditional position. The screen has 230,000 pixels, so everything is sharp. I found the screen to be fairly easy to see in bright outdoor light. After a while, the backlight on the screen turns off, at which point it starts to look like an old Casio digital watch. You can still see things fairly well, though.

Continuing a tradition started way back on the E-330, you can use the LCD for composing your photos. Here's what I can tell you about the live view feature on the E-30:

In live view mode, you get to see 100% of the frame, there's 11-point contrast detect autofocus, and exposure and white balance appear as they will in the actual photo. Various composition grids and a live histogram are available, as well. The view on the screen is bright, fairly sharp, and quite fluid. Deep in the menu system is an option to increase the refresh rate, and it makes things very smooth. As I mentioned, the screen is fairly easy to see in bright outdoor lighting. In low light situations, you'll be able to see your subject best if you use the "live view boost" feature, though the image will be in black and white.

The contrast detect AF feature, first introduced on the E-420, brings the camera closer to the point-and-shoot experience, though it's very slow, and only compatible with certain lenses. The chart below compares the three distinctly different AF modes on the camera, and their restrictions:

Live View AF mode Half-press of shutter release Full-press of shutter release Restrictions AF Area
Imager AF (default)
Contrast detect
Focuses using the sensor Photo taken Select lenses only 11-point
AF sensor
Phase difference
- Focuses using the sensor, then photo taken None 11-point
Hybrid AF
Both systems
Focuses using the sensor Focuses using the AF sensor, then shooting None 11-point

"Imager AF" is a fancy term for contrast detect AF. As its name implies, the camera uses the Live MOS sensor itself to focus. The camera can autofocus without having to flip the mirror down first, and you get 11 focus points, as well as face detection. The problem with contrast detect AF is that it's VERY slow. You'll typically wait for 1-3 seconds for the camera to lock focus. Do note that Imager/Contrast Detect AF is only compatible with select lenses: the 25mm F2.8, 14-42mm F3.5-5.6, 40-150mm F4.0-5.6, 9-18mm F4.0-5.6, and the new 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II.

The "AF sensor" option is how digital SLRs focused before contrast detect AF came about. Press the AE/AF lock button and the camera flips the mirror down, locks focus using the main AF sensor, flips the mirror back up, and returns to live view. When you fully press the shutter release, the camera will focus again, so you can skip the AE/AF lock button if you'd like. While not as slow as contrast detection, there's still some lag before the photo is taken.

As its name implies, the "Hybrid" option mixes the two previous AF modes. Press the shutter release halfway and the camera uses the contrast AF system for (relatively) quick focusing. Then, when you press the shutter release all the way down, the more reliable AF sensor is used for final focus lock, and then the photo is taken.


Frame enlargement in manual focus mode

When you're using manual focus in live view mode you can enlarge a part of the frame to verify proper focus. Just press the Info button, move the green square to the area you want enlarged, and press the OK button. The image can be enlarged by five, seven or ten times. This feature is especially handy when you've got the camera on a tripod.

Perfect Shot preview for exposure compensation.... ... and white balance

Another neat feature you can use in live view mode is called Perfect Shot Preview. This shows you the effect of different exposure compensation or white balance settings on your subject. The images are on the small side, though they're still pretty helpful.

Info display on LCD when using viewfinder Changing settings on the "Super Control Panel"

When you're shooting using the viewfinder, the LCD displays a myriad of information about current camera settings (it's called the Super Control Panel). It's a bit cluttered, but it covers nearly every camera setting you'd ever want to change. If you want to change any of the settings displayed, you can press the OK button (in the four-way controller), navigate to the option you wish to adjust, and change away (see example). After a few seconds, the info display turns off the backlight (it kind of looks like a digital watch at this point), though outdoors you can still see it fairly easily.

Getting back to the tour now -- let's talk about the E-30's optical viewfinder. The viewfinder has a magnification of 1.02X and frame coverage of 98%. While the viewfinder is fairly large by FourThirds standards, it's still one of the smallest you'll find in the midrange class. Below the field-of-view is a row of shooting data, displaying such things as focus lock, shutter speed, aperture, shots remaining, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by turning the diopter correction knob on its left.

Pitch and level are off When the meters turn green, you're right on

One feature that you can enjoy with either the viewfinder or the LCD is the E-30's pitch and level meter. This feature ensures that the camera is level, so you won't have crooked horizons ever again. It's especially handy when you're taking night shots -- like the ones in this review -- when you can't see the horizon easily. You can see the horizontal level in the viewfinder, and both the level and pitch on the LCD (whether you're using live view or not).

To the immediate left of the viewfinder are two buttons:

  • AF mode (S-AF, C-AF, MF, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF) + Copy + DPOF print marking
  • Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control) + Drive (Single-shot, continuous high, continuous low, 2 or 12 sec self-timer, 0 or 2 sec remote control)

Holding down both of those buttons at the same time allows you to select the bracketing mode, which I'll talk about later in the review. Speaking of which, I'll mention the AF mode and metering options at a later point, as well. The one thing I do want to talk about now is the E-30's continuous shooting mode. There are two modes to choose from, and I've posted the results in the table below:

Quality setting Low speed * High speed
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 13 shots @ 3.1 fps 11 shots @ 5.0 fps
RAW 27 shots @ 3.1 fps 15 shots @ 5.0 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 3.1 fps 19 shots @ 5.0 fps

* At default 3 fps setting
Test performed with a 300X, UDMA-enabled CF card

All in all, the E-30 turned in a solid performance. The camera has a pretty sizable buffer, so if your memory card can keep up, you can take quite a few RAW shots in a row. When you hit the limits shown in the table the camera doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down considerably. If you're in live view mode, the "view" will go black after the first photo in the sequence is taken.


The E-30's three AF area modes

Jumping now to the right side of the viewfinder, we find the camera's rear command dial, which you'll use to adjust manual settings and the various options control by all the buttons on the camera. To the right of that is the customizable Function button, plus the AF target button. By default, the Function button turns on face detection and auto gradation, which isn't always desirable. I ended up giving this button a different function (I'll list those later). The AF target button lets you pick from three different AF area modes: all focus points, single-area, and dynamic single-area. The last item is like single-area, except that it will check adjacent focus points if it can't find anything at the center point. The camera has a total of 11 focus points, which is a nice change from the usual 3-point AF on the E-420 and E-520. If you're using single-area AF you can select from normal and small sizes for the AF point.

Moving downward, we find the AE/AF lock and playback buttons. Under those is the four-way controller, which you'll use for menu navigation and replaying your photos. Right next door is the power switch (which is kind of oddly placed, in my opinion) and the image stabilization mode button. There are three IS modes on the E-30: one for everyday shooting, another for vertical panning, and another for horizontal panning. You can also turn the IS system off entirely, which is desirable when the camera is on a tripod.

To the right of the IS button is the camera's sole I/O port. This port is used for both USB and A/V output. The E-30 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC. One thing not supported on the camera: any kind of HD video output.

The final items on the back of the E-30 are the four buttons underneath that rotating LCD. They include:

  • Delete photo
  • Info - toggles what's shown on LCD
  • Menu
  • Live view on/off

And that's it!

Top of the Olympus E-30

The first thing to see on the top of the Olympus E-30 is its mode dial. It has these options:

Option Function
Art Filters / Scene Modes

Art filters include: pop art, soft focus, pale & light color, light tone, grainy film, and pin hole.

Scene modes include children, high key, low key, digital image stabilization, nature macro, candle, sunset, documents, panorama, fireworks, beach & snow

Night+portrait The most common scene modes, easy to access
Sport
Macro
Landscape
Portrait
Auto mode Point and shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dials.
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, it's F3.5 - F22.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 60 - 1/8000 sec.
Full manual mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). A bulb mode is also available for super-long exposures: the shutter will remain open for as long as the shutter release is pressed (up to 30 minutes).

The first thing I want to talk about are the art filters, which is the feature that Olympus seems to be highlighting the most on the E-30. These are very much like scene modes, in that you pretty much "set it and forget it" (read: most menu options are locked up, though you can use Program Shift to adjust the shutter speed and aperture). There are six different art filters to choose from, and you can compare them using the tool below:

Off
View Full Size
Pop art
View Full Size
Soft focus
View Full Size
Pale & light color
View full Size
Light tone
View Full Size
Grainy film
View Full Size
Pin hole
View Full Size

So there you have the art filters. Some of you may be thinking (and I know I did when I found out about these): can't you just do this in Photoshop? Yes, you certainly can. The difference here is that the camera selects the proper exposure settings for each art filter, for best results. My personal favorite Art Filters are the Andy Warhol-like pop art mode, and the grainy film mode. A couple of other things to note about art filters are that you can't take a RAW image (RAW+JPEG works, but only the JPEG has the filter applied), continuous shooting is disabled, and some of the filters require a few seconds of post-processing before you can take another shot.

Art Filter menu Scene menu

The scene mode list has been trimmed down quite a bit, compared to the E-420 and E-520. The only modes I wanted to mention are low key (for dark subjects), high key (for bright subjects), and panorama mode. The panorama mode, which requires the use of an Olympus-branded xD card (groan), helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single image (using Olympus Master).

In addition to the auto, scene, and art filter modes, the E-30 also features a full set of manual exposure modes, including a bulb mode that allows for exposures as long as 30 minutes. While there are no custom spots on the mode dial, the camera can store up to two sets of camera settings using the My Mode feature. You can set the Function button to act as a shortcut for switching to the custom modes.

Moving to the center of the photo, we find the E-30's hot shoe. The hot shoe works best with the Olympus FL-20, FL-36(R), and FL-50(R) flashes, which synchronize with the camera's metering system. Third party flashes will work too, though you may need to manually select the flash settings. The fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/250 sec, unless you're using the FL-36R or FL-50R, in which case you can use the Super FP mode, which lets you use any shutter speed. As I mentioned before, you can also cut the cord entirely and use the two "R" flashes wirelessly -- up to three sets worth.

To the right of the hot shoe is the camera's LCD info display -- something not found on the cheaper E-series models. This shows just about every camera setting imaginable (too many to list here), and a backlight is available so you can see it in the dark.

Above the info display are buttons for turning on the info display backlight, adjusting white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO sensitivity (more on all those options later). At the top-right of the photo you can see the shutter release button, and catch a glimpse at the front command dial.

Side of the Olympus E-30

On this side of the E-30 you'll find the flash release / flash mode button, plus the DC-in port (for the optional AC adapter).

The flash release button does just as it sounds (though the flash can pop up automatically in certain modes), and you can also use it to select both the flash mode and the flash exposure compensation. The lengthy list of flash modes include auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtian slow sync, full power, 1/4 power, 1/16 power, and 1/64 power. The flash exposure compensation range is -3EV to +3EV, in 1/3EV increments.

Side of the Olympus E-30

On the other side of the camera you'll find its dual memory card slots, which are protected by a strong, reinforced plastic door. The slots here include xD (left) and CompactFlash Type I/II (right). As I mentioned earlier, the camera supports UDMA-enabled CF cards, which you'll want to use for the best possible performance.

Bottom of the Olympus E-30

On the bottom of the E-30 you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course) and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is strong, and it includes a locking mechanism.

The famous BLM-1 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

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