DCRP

Olympus E-30 Review

Using the Olympus E-30

Record Mode

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:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
RAW
4032 x 3024
RAW 13.9 MB 144
Large
4032 x 3024
Super fine 8.2 MB 242
Fine 5.7 MB 350
Normal 2.7 MB 752
Basic 1.8 MB 1122
Middle
3200 x 2400
Super fine 5.4 MB 374
Fine 3.4 MB 600
Normal 1.7 MB 1184
Basic 1.2 MB 1752
Middle
2560 x 1920
Super fine 3.2 MB 632
Fine 2.2 MB 932
Normal 1.1 MB 1826
Basic 800 KB 2722
Middle
1600 x 1200
Super fine 1.3 MB 1578
Fine 900 KB 2324
Normal 500 KB 4410
Basic 400 KB 6396
Small
1280 x 960
Super fine 900 KB 2460
Fine 600 KB

3552

Normal 300 KB 6732
Basic 300 KB 9138
Small
1024 x 768
Super fine 600 KB 3762
Fine 400 KB 5330
Normal 300 KB 9840
Basic 200 KB 12792
Small
640 x 480
Super fine 300 KB 8528
Fine 200 KB 11630
Normal 100 KB 18276
Basic 100 KB 25586

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
  • Card setup (All erase, format)
  • Custom reset setting (Reset, reset 1, reset 2) - reset to defaults or to the settings of your choice
  • Picture mode (Vivid, natural, muted, portrait, monotone, custom) - more below
  • Gradation (Auto, normal, high key, low key) - see below
  • Image quality (RAW, Large/Fine, Large/Normal, Medium/Normal, Small/Normal, RAW+L/F, RAW+L/N, RAW+M/N, RAW + S/N) - you can customize what JPEG sizes/qualities are on this list
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent x 3,flash, custom, color temperature) - see below
  • ISO (Auto, 100 - 3200)
  • Noise reduction (Off, on, auto) - for long exposures
  • Noise filter (Off, low, standard, high) - for general noise reduction
Shooting menu 2
  • Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
  • Flash RC mode (on/off) - for wireless flash control
  • Flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • AF mode (S-AF, C-AF, MF, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF) - see below
  • AF area (All target, single target, dynamic single target) - described earlier
  • Anti-shock (Off, 0 - 30 secs) - flips the mirror out of the way for a set amount of time, to reduce the risk of blur in sensitive situations
  • AE bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV, 5 frames/0.3EV, 5 frames/0.7EV, 5 frames/1.0EV) - see below for these next four
  • WB bracketing (Off, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/4 steps, 3 frames/6 steps)
  • Flash bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV)
  • ISO bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV)
  • Multiple exposure - see below
    • Frame (Off, 2 - 4 frames)
    • Auto gain (on/off)
    • Overlay (on/off)
Playback Menu
  • Slideshow (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 49, 100 frames) - how many images are on the screen at once in the slideshow
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - rotates images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Edit - I'll discuss these later
    • RAW/JPEG
    • Image overlay (2 - 4 image merge)
  • DPOF print marking (One, all)
  • Copy all - from one memory card to another
  • Reset protect (on/off)
Custom Menu 1
  • AF/MF
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Focus ring (Clockwise, counterclockwise) - since the focus ring is electronic, you can pull this off
    • C-AF lock (on/off) - when on, prevents the focus from suddenly changing
    • AF area pointer (on/off) - whether the focus point illuminates in the viewfinder
    • AF sensitivity (Normal, small) - select the size of the focus point for 1-point AF
    • Focus point setup (Off, loop, spiral) - how you move through the camera's focus points with the command dial
    • Reset lens (on/off) - sets focus to infinity when camera is turned off
    • Bulb focusing (on/off) - whether you can adjust the focus during a bulb exposure
    • Live view AF mode (AF sensor, hybrid AF, imager AF) - described these earlier
  • Button/Dial
    • Dial function - select what the command dials control
      • Program mode (Program shift, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation)
      • Aperture priority mode (Aperture, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation)
      • Shutter priority mode (Shutter speed, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation)
      • Manual mode
        • Main dial (Shutter speed, aperture)
        • Sub dial (Shutter speed, aperture)
      • Menu
        • Main dial (Left/right, up/down, value)
        • Sub dial (Left/right, up/down, value)
    • Dial direction (Dial 1, 2) - I guess this is for letting you select the effect of turning the dial in a certain direction
    • AE/AF lock - how this button works; I'll save the details for the camera manual
      • S-AF (Mode 1, 2, 3)
      • C-AF (Mode 1, 2, 3, 4)
      • MF (Mode 1, 2, 3)
    • AE/AF lock memory (on/off) - whether the lock "sticks" when you let go of the button
    • Function button (Face detection, preview, live preview, one-touch WB, home focus point, manual focus, RAW quality, test picture, program mode, My Mode, level gauge, off) - define what this button does
    • My Mode setup (My Mode 1, 2) - save your favorite camera settings here
    • Button timer (Off, 3, 5, 8 sec, hold) - how long the "direct buttons" are active
    • AE/AF lock <--> Function swap (on/off) - swap the functions of these two buttons
    • Arrow pad lock (on/off) - keeps you from accidentally changing settings with the four-way controller
  • Release/Continuous
    • Release priority S (on/off) - whether focus lock is required for shutter release
    • Release priority C (on/off) - same as above, but for continuous AF mode
    • Continuous low fps (1 - 4 frames/sec)
  • Display/Sound/PC
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Sleep (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
    • Backlit LCD (8 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, hold)
    • 4 hour timer (Off, 4 hr) - turns off camera after 4 hours
    • USB mode (Auto, storage, MTP, control, easy PictBridge, custom PictBridge)
    • Live view boost (on/off) - boosts low light visibility in live view
    • Live view frame rate (Normal, high)
    • Face detection (on/off) - for live view mode only, of course
    • Info setting
      • Playback info
        • Image only (on/off)
        • Overall (on/off)
        • Histogram (on/off)
        • Highlight & shadow (on/off)
      • Live view info
        • Histogram (on/off)
        • Zoom (on/off)
        • Multi view (on/off)
        • Image only (on/off)
        • Complex gridlines (on/off)
        • Rule of thirds gridlines (on/off)
        • Axis gridlines (on/off)
    • Level gauge (on/off)
  • Exposure/Metering/ISO
    • EV step (1/3, 1/2, 1 EV)
    • ISO step (1/3, 1 EV)
    • Metering (Digital ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
    • AE Lock metering (Auto, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
    • ISO (100 - 3200)
    • ISO Auto set
      • High limit (200 - 3200)
      • Default (200 - 3200)
    • ISO Auto (P/A/S, all modes) - when auto ISO is available
    • AE Lock metering (Center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
    • Bulb timer (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 20, 25, 30 mins) - preset a time for bulb mode
  • Flash custom
    • X-sync (1/60 - 1/250 sec)
    • Slow limit (1/30 - 1/250 sec)
    • Flash exp comp + exp comp (on/off) - I believe this links flash exposure compensation with exposure compensation
    • Auto pop-up (on/off) - whether the flash pops up as needed in auto or scene mode
  • Quality/Aspect/Color/WB
    • All white balance compensation
      • All set (-7 to +7) - in either the amber or green directions
      • All reset
    • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
    • Shading compensation (on/off) - supposed to help reduce vignetting
    • Image quality set (Large/Medium/Small, Superfine/fine/normal/basic) - select the size and quality of the four image quality slots
    • Pixel count - select the resolution for these two sizes
      • Middle (3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200)
      • Small (1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
    • Image aspect (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5, 3:4)
    • Aspect shooting (LV, all) - whether you can use the aspect ratio feature with the viewfinder
  • Record/Erase
    • Quick erase (on/off) - whether camera prompts you to delete a photo
    • RAW+JPEG erase (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG) - what's removed when you delete a RAW+JPEG photo
    • File name (Auto, reset)
    • Priority set (No, yes) - initial position of the cursor when All Erase or Card Format is selected
    • dpi setting (Auto, custom) - the latter lets you select the dpi of your choosing
  • Utility
    • Cleaning mode - flips the mirror up, for manual sensor cleaning
    • External WB detect (on/off) - whether the external white balance sensor is used
    • AF focus data - allows you to fine-tune the focus for all lenses, or up to twenty individual lenses
    • Exposure shift (ESP, center-weighted, spot) - lets you fine-tune the exposure metering from -1EV to +1EV, in 1/6EV increments
    • Battery type (1 - 3) - for using AA batteries with the optional grip
    • Battery warning level (-2 to +2) - how quickly the low battery warning comes on
    • Level adjust (Reset, adjust) - calibrate the level meter

Setup Menu
  • Date/time (set)
  • Memory card (CompactFlash, xD)
  • Edit filename
  • LCD brightness (Auto, manual)
    • Brightness (-7 to +7)
    • Color balance (-7 to +7)
  • Language
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Rec View (Off, auto play, 1 - 20 secs) - post-shot review; the auto play option enters playback mode after a photo is taken
  • Pixel mapping - removes hot pixels from the sensor
  • Firmware - displays the firmware version of the body and attached lens

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)
View Full Size Image
Auto gradation
View Full Size Image

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 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp mask

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

ISO 3200

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!

Movie Mode

The E-30 does not have a movie mode.

Playback 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.

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