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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
"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:
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
- Live view on/off
And that's it!
The first thing to see on the top of the Olympus E-30 is its mode dial. It has these options:
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:
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|Pale & light color
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Using the Olympus E-30
Flip the power switch and the Olympus E-30 performs its dust reduction "shake off" and is ready to start taking pictures about one second later. There are quicker D-SLRs out there these days, but I figure that the average shooter won't mind the wait.
Focus times depend on 1) whether or not you're using live view, and 2) what lens you have attached to the camera. I spent nearly all of my time with the new 14 - 54 mm Mk II lens, which is just "okay" in terms of focus performance. Using the optical viewfinder, focus times ranged from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle to 0.5 - 0.7 seconds at telephoto. Low light performance can be quite slow with the flash down, but with it popped up (and used as for AF-assist) then you should get fast, accurate focusing. Your subject may not appreciate it, though!
In live view mode, focusing takes a lot longer. With contrast detect (imager) AF, delays range from 1 - 3 seconds, and sometimes even longer. The camera performs very poorly in low light in this mode, and the AF-assist flash cannot be used. With the other two modes you'll get better results, though things will still be slower than using the viewfinder alone.
Shutter lag isn't an issue if you're shooting with the viewfinder, and it's barely noticeable with contrast detect live view. However, if you're using either hybrid or AF sensor live view, you can expect to wait about a second between the time you fully press the shutter release and when the photo is actually taken.
Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, regardless of the image quality setting or whether the flash was used. You can keep shooting until you fill the buffer, which isn't easy.
There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode first.
There are a ton of image quality options available on the E-30, and I've compiled them into this handy chart for you:
A few quick notes before we go on. First, you can take a RAW image alone, or with the JPEG at the size of your choosing. I left out the RAW+JPEG combinations in the chart, as this would make the list even longer than it already is. The super fine JPEG option is something you have to turn on manually, using the custom settings menu. By default, only fine, normal, and basic are available.
Olympus uses a rather unusual file naming convention on their cameras. Files are named PMDD####.JPG where M = month, D = day, and #### = 0001 - 9999. Photos taken with the AdobeRGB color space start with an underscore ("_"), instead of a "P". You can customize the first two characters of the file name in the setup menu, if you wish.
The E-30's menu system is quite similar to the one found on the E-420 and E-520, except for the fact that it more options. It's fairly easy to navigate, though some items are buried deeper than they should be. The menu is divided into five tabs, covering shooting, playback, and setup options. Here's the full list of menu items:
|Shooting Menu 1
|Shooting menu 2
I've got about a million things to cover before we can move on to the photo tests. Let's start with Picture Modes:
|Picture Mode menu||Editing the custom picture mode|
Picture Modes contain sets of color and exposure settings. You've probably seen this feature on other D-SLRs, though with different names. The preset Picture Modes are fairly obvious: vivid, natural, or muted colors, plus portrait for smooth skin tones. For each of those, you can tweak the contrast, sharpness, and saturation. For black and white shooting, there's a monotone mode. There you can apply virtual color filters, or add a color tint to the image. Finally, a custom option lets you select a Picture Mode as a starting point, and you can then adjust the settings I just mentioned, plus the gradation, which I'll cover below.
The gradation feature takes advantage of Olympus' Shadow Adjustment Technology. The normal option is your standard automatic contrast feature. Auto gradation breaks the image down into smaller segments, and adjusts the contrast for each of those areas. This should result in more shadow detail. You can also use the high and low key options for subjects that are mostly highlighted and shadowed, respectively.
|Normal gradation (default)
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If you flip between the two images above, you can see what auto gradation does to your photos. It certainly brightens things up, but keep in mind that it will increase noise levels, especially at higher ISOs.
There are numerous white balance options available on the E-30. First, you've got the usual presets, and each of those can be tweaked in the amber/blue or green/magenta directions. The custom WB option lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual and mixed lighting. Do note that you must set the Function button to One-touch WB first, though. You can also set the color temperature, with an available range of 2000K - 14000K. If that's still not enough, deep inside the custom settings menu is an option to fine-tune all the white balance settings at once.
What are those AF modes all about? Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release button. Continuous AF keeps focusing, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. Manual focus does just as it sounds. The Single AF+MF and Continuous AF+MF modes let you manually focus after the camera has finished focusing automatically.
There are a whopping four types of bracketing on the E-30. You can bracket for exposure, flash exposure, white balance, and even ISO sensitivity. For each of those, the camera produces three photos (or five, in the case of AE bracketing), each with a different exposure/WB setting/ISO. White balance can be bracketing in both the amber/blue and green/magenta directions.
A quick and dirty multiple exposure example
One of the new features on the E-30 is its ability to take multiple exposures. You can take up to four exposures, and combine them into a single photo. You can also overlay new images onto an existing one. You can leave the brightness of each image untouched, or you can turn on the "auto gain" feature to make things blend in better. In playback mode, you can use the image overlay feature to combine up to four RAW photos that you've already taken into one, in much the same way.
Another new feature is the ability to shoot in nine different aspect ratios. If you've ever wanted to take pictures with a 7:6 ratio, the E-30 is your camera. This feature is best used with live view, since there are no framing guides in the viewfinder to help you compose the image at anything but 4:3. As you might imagine, the resolution of your photo will be lower than 12 Megapixel, and will depend on which aspect ratio you've selected.
Two last custom functions to mention. The E-30 lets you fine-tune the focus on up to twenty FourThirds lenses. You can make one sweeping adjustment that covers all lenses, or adjust things on a lens-by-lens basis. Finally, the camera allows you to fine-tune metering -- a feature I can't say that I've ever seen before.
Okay, that's all for menus -- let's talk photo quality now. I used the F2.8-3.5, 14 - 54 mm Mk II lens for the macro and studio ISO test, and the "classic" F3.5-4.5, 40 - 150 mm lens for the night shot. I didn't have the 14 - 42 mm kit lens with my E-30, so there's no distortion test in this review. You can see the results of that test by looking at our E-520 review.
The E-30 did a fantastic job with our macro test subject. The only minor quibble I have is that there's a slight brownish cast to the image, though that could probably go away if you fool around with the white balance enough. The subject is remarkably sharp for a digital SLR, with lots of detail captured. Colors are vibrant, and there's no noise to be found here.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you have attached to the camera. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens (which I did *not* use here), it's 25 cm. If you're a close-up enthusiast, you might want to consider picking up one of the dedicated macro lenses offered by Olympus.
Whenever I have a FourThirds camera and need to take the night shot, I always reach for my "vintage" 2004 40 - 150 mm lens. When paired with the E-30, this lens produced a tack sharp photo of the San Francisco skyline, from one corner to another. There's a little noise visible in low contrast areas, but not enough to concern me. I see some purple fringing here as well, though you should be able to reduce that by closing down the aperture a bit more. The camera did clip highlights as well, and I found that shooting in RAW mode helped with that a bit (see below).
There are two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the same night scene you can see above. Here we go:
ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp mask
While the photos get a little bit noisier as you go from ISO 100 to 400, it doesn't really become destructive until you reach ISO 800. At that point, it might be a good idea to shoot RAW, or fool around with the Noise Filter option. I threw in a pair of RAW conversions -- untouched and retouched -- so you can see that there is a benefit to going that route. You can also see that the highlight clipping wasn't as bad. There's quite a bit of detail loss at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I'd pass on those sensitivities in low light situations.
We'll see how the E-30 performed in normal lighting in a moment.
I don't expect to see redeye on digital SLRs, and there's none to report here. If you do encounter this annoyance, you can remove it digitally in playback mode.
Here is the second of the ISO tests in this review. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the image quality at each sensitivity, I highly recommend opening up the full size images, so you can get the complete picture (no pun intended).
ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
Everything is super clean through ISO 800 -- no complaints here. At ISO 1600 the image softens and a "staticky" kind of noise appears, though details are left relatively intact. I again threw in two RAW conversions, so you can see what you get from shooting in that format. The image taken at ISO 3200 is pretty soft and short on detail, so I'd save that one for desperation only.
Overall, the Olympus E-30 produced photos of excellent quality. They were generally well-exposed, with really vivid color. The camera does tend to clip highlights a bit more than I would've liked (the purple fringing torture tunnel photo being a prime example). Images are fairly sharp by D-SLR standards, with lots of detail captured. In terms of noise, the E-30 performs quite well, though if you look hard enough you'll spot some noise in shadow areas of a photo (even at lower ISO settings). The best D-SLRs out there are a little cleaner in terms of noise, but the E-30 really isn't that far behind. The camera is quite usable up to ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light, especially if you shoot RAW. Purple fringing is another one of those things that is lens dependent. For the new 14 - 54 mm Mk II lens, it wasn't a problem. Past experience with the 14 - 42 mm kit lens has also been positive in that regard.
Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. Browse through the photos, maybe printing a few if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the E-30's photo quality meets your needs!
The E-30 does not have a movie mode.
The E-30 has a pretty nice playback for a digital SLR. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, image rotation, image protection, and zoom & scroll are all here. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo by as much as 14X, and then scroll around to make sure that everyone's smiling.
Calendar view (it was a slow month)
Photos can be viewing one-at-a-time or as thumbnails of varying sizes (some of which are tiny). You can also navigate to photos that were taken on a certain date by using the calendar view (pictured).
The camera offers two edit modes -- one for JPEGs, another for RAW images. The JPEG editing feature lets you downsize an image, apply shadow adjustment technology (which brightens your photos), remove redeye, crop a photo, or convert it to black and white or sepia. The RAW data edit feature is handy, but not as easy to use as it could be. Instead of just adjusting the RAW properties right there in playback mode, you first need to set the desired settings in the record menu, and then return to playback mode to use the RAW edit function. The resulting image is saved as a JPEG.
Something else you can do in playback mode is overlay RAW images. You can select between from 2 to 4 images and then combine them into one photo. You can adjust the gain for each of the photos.
Side-by-side image viewer
Another nice feature is a side-by-side image viewer. Press the focus point selection button to split the screen, select the image you want for the right half, and then you can compare them easily. You can zoom in and out, and when you scroll one image, the other one scrolls with it.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the info button a few times and you'll get a lot more, including histograms and a display of over and underexposed areas.
The E-30 between photos instantly in playback mode.
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
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!
Check out our photo gallery to see what kind of pictures you can take with the E-30!