A feature-rich Four Thirds System DSLR for photo enthusiasts.Designed for photo enthusiasts and amateur photographers who want a more sophisticated camera, the new Olympus E-30 is the first in a series of ‘double-digit’ models that will slot in between the ‘three-digit’ entry-level models and the professional ‘single-digit’ camera. The new camera’s 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor replaces the 10-megapixel imager currently used across the company’s DSLR range. The E-30 also features a new image processor. . . [more]
Front view of the E-30 with the Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens. (Source: Olympus.)
The body designs and ergonomics of the E-30 and E-3 look quite similar, although the E-30 has even more button controls than its ‘big brother’. There are dedicated buttons for accessing the metering mode, drive settings, autofocus, flash modes, white balance, exposure compensation, ISO and stabilisation settings, along with combinations of buttons and dials for fine-tuning them. Novice photographers may find this complexity quite confronting but, in fact, once you learn what each button does, they actually make accessing some settings quicker and easier.
Rear view showing the degree of adjustment with the free-angle LCD screen. (Source: Olympus.)
Unlike the E-3, the new model has a mode dial on its top panel. It’s split into two sections: the ‘advanced’ P, A, S and M settings and the ‘easy shooting’ settings. The latter comprise a full auto mode, five scene presets and an Art filter/Scene setting that accesses six in-camera special effects and 11 more scene pre-sets. These modes will be covered in more detail in the Controls and Functions section below.
Top view showing the mode dial and LCD data panel. (Source: Olympus.)
Other features carried over from the E-3 include the top panel LCD status display and image stabilisation system (which works with all lenses and provides three levels of stabilisation). Like the E-3, the new model’s LCD screen is adjustable, flipping out through 180 degrees and rotating through 270 degrees. However the monitor on the E-30 is larger and uses a new type of HyperCrystal LCD.
In Live View mode you can check white balance and exposure compensation on-screen and see a live-histogram or grid template overlays. A digital magnifier with magnified depth of field preview is provided to assist precise close-up manual focusing.
While the Canon EOS 50D and Nikon D90 (which compete in this market space) have 3-inch, 920,000 pixel LCD screens, the E-30 is disadvantaged by its 2.7-inch, 230,000 pixel display. The E-30’s display is bright and reasonably punchy for its type and quite fluid in live view mode. But it’s not as sharp and provides nowhere near the scope for magnifying sections of images that the higher resolution displays offer.
Whereas the E-3’s viewfinder covers the entire sensor field of view and gives 1.15x magnification, the viewfinder on the E-30 provides 98% field-of-view coverage plus 1.02x magnification. It includes an all glass prism but is 50% lighter than the E-3’s finder. Its eyepoint is higher than the E-3’s at 24.2mm (vs 20mm) but it provides the same diopter adjustment of -3.0 to +1.0 dpt.
The E-30 can use most of the same accessories as the E-3, including the FS flash system and PS-HLD-4 battery grip which accepts AA alkaline or NiMH batteries. It can also be operated with the RM-1 remote control.
Sensor and Image Processing
The E-30 features a new LiveMOS sensor with 12.3 megapixels effective resolution, which is sourced from its Four Thirds System partner, Panasonic. It also introduces a new TruePic III+ image processor that supports burst speeds of up to five frames/second. Both ORF.RAW and JPEG file formats are provided, along with simultaneous RAW+JPEG recording. Raw files are losslessly compressed by 65%.
Image file choices are somewhat ambiguous. Although the user manual claims the E-30 offers seven file sizes plus four levels of JPEG compression, the review camera only provided two compression levels: Fine (1/4 compression) and Normal (1/8 compression), along with three file size options for each aspect ratio. Raw files are only recorded in the 4:3 aspect ratio and files are typically around 13.9MB in size.
The menu page covering resolution settings on the review camera.
When shooting JPEGs, photographers can choose from nine aspect ratio settings: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5 and 3:4. The selected aspect crop is shown in Live View, although not in the viewfinder. Up to four combinations of image size, JPEG compression and aspect ratio can be registered in the camera’s memory.
Aspect ratio settings.
The table below shows the average file sizes we obtained with the review camera for JPEG shots at the 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios.
4032 ø— 3024
2560 x 1920
1280 x 960
4032 ø— 2688
2544 x 1696
1296 x 864
4032 x 2272
2560 x 1440
1280 x 720
Olympus provides very little information about the Truepic III+ image processor, which makes its debut in the E-30. This chip is responsible for colour reproduction (range of hues, saturation and brightness), sharpness control and image noise management and it also supports the camera’s Live View, face detection and continuous shooting functions. It also underpins the Art Filters capabilities.
Art Filters and Other Adjustments
Like most DSLRs in the current market, the E-30 provides a range of pre-set ‘Picture Mode’ adjustments that can be applied to JPEG images at the point of capture or to ORF.RAW files as part of their conversion into other, editable, formats. Five pre-sets are provided, along with a Custom mode that lets photographers adjust any of the pre-sets and register the result as a new Custom setting.
Users of the E-30 can choose from the following pre-sets (shown below with examples and comments on the nature of the adjustments:
Vivid: produces vivid colours by tweaking saturation and contrast.
Natural: no adjustments are applied to contrast, sharpness or saturation.
Muted: brightness, contrast and saturation are lowered to produce flat tones.
Portrait: hues are slightly warmed and contrast is reduced to produce ‘beautiful skin tones’.
Monotone: converts the image to black and white.
The adjustable parameters vary with different Picture Modes but most modes support adjustments for contrast, sharpness and saturation. You can also apply B&W filtration and replicate the effects of neutral, yellow, orange and red colour filters with B&W film. Monochrome images can be further adjusted via the Picture Tone setting which lets photographers add sepia, blue, purple or green colour effects.
Olympus has made much of the E-30’s built-in Art Filters, which enable users to apply selected special effects to JPEG images recorded in the camera. Users can choose from six settings, which apply the following changes (quoted from the E-30 press release) to the captured image:
Pop Art: intensifies colours and creates strong, vibrant images.
Soft Focus: softens subject detail, providing a classic, soft filter look.
Pale Light & Colour: utilises a muted colour palette to create a light image feel.
Light Tone: subdues highlights and shadows to create the appearance of soft lighting.
Grainy Film: recreates the rich, grainy look and tonality of high contrast black & white film photography.
Pin Hole: reproduces the peripheral vignetting and distinctive colour tone of photos taken with a toy camera.
The E-30 isn’t the first DSLR to offer this type of in-camera image processing. The Pentax K-m also offers six Digital Filter effects: Toy camera, High contrast, Soft, Star burst, Retro and Extract colour – and each of them can be fine-tuned across between three and five parameters or levels. In contrast, the E-30’s effects are non-adjustable and don’t work with raw files (although they can be applied post-capture when the files are processed).
Of all the effects provided, Photo Review feels the Pin Hole effect is the most successful – and the most likely to be used. However, we feel these effects are more of a novelty than a serious imaging tool. In practice, all of them – and many more – can be applied to images post-capture with editing software.
We also believe the kind of standardisation of images these effects provide could work against photographic creativity. When thousands of other photographers apply exactly the same adjustments to their shots, the results begin to look like replication – and are therefore, less eye-catching than genuine innovation.
Controls and Functions
One of the best new features in the E-30 is the built-in Digital Level Sensor, which detects the camera’s pitch and roll and displays it in the optical viewfinder. It’s particularly handy when shooting landscapes or buildings as it’s an easy way to ensure your horizons – and horizontal subject components – are parallel to the image frame. The default setting is Off so you must set it to On before it can be used.
The system is based on accelerometer readings and we found it could only show lateral tilt; not when you tilt the lens down or up. In the viewfinder, the level indicator looks like an exposure compensation bar running across the screen just below the image window. When you tilt the camera, press the Fn button and half-press the shutter button, dots light up to show the direction and extent of the tilt. It’s a complex procedure that novice users may find difficult but worth the effort when you need level horizons.
In Live View mode, the display is accessed by toggling the Info button. However, we could only call up the display on the LCD when no other data or image was showing. No display could be seen either superimposed on or beside the image windows and the menu system provided no help when we tried to rectify this situation.
The Levels Gauge display in Live View mode.
We’ve never been fans of Olympus’s menu systems and, although we found the Super Control Panel (which uses graphic icons for ease of use) on the LCD was reasonably easy to use once we’d worked out where the various adjustments are and how to change them, it still takes a bit of getting used to. We feel the E-30 could be daunting for inexperienced users because even the Super Control Panel has 19 settings to choose from.
The Super Control display on the E-30’s LCD screen.
Hit the Menu button and you’re faced with five sub-menus; two covering shooting settings, one for playback and two setup menus. Furthermore, the order in which the various menu items is placed is open to dispute as it can take three or more button presses to reach functions like ISO and metering and AF modes. Nomenclature on individual menu items can also be confusing.
The Format control is located in the Card Setup sub-menu while if you want to stop the flash popping up automatically you have to locate the Flash Custom setting in the first setup menu (which takes nine button presses) to switch it off.
We couldn’t locate a dynamic range control function – a feature offered in most competing cameras. Instead, the E-30 has a Gradation menu containing four options: Auto, Normal, High Key and Low Key. The Auto setting claims to ‘divide the image into detailed regions’ and adjusts the brightness separately for each region, which presumably also controls dynamic range. But this information is only revealed in the instruction manual.
The Gradation sub-menu.
Fortunately, a post-capture fix is available for JPEG images via the Shadow Adjustment setting in the playback menu, which brings out more details in shadows. It’s reasonably effective for brightening backlit subjects but doesn’t address wide brightness range subjects particularly well – although the overall dynamic range of the review camera was wider than we expected for its sensor size.
Post-capture editing options.
There are two settings relating to noise control: Noise Reduction and Noise Filter. The first appears to apply to long exposures, while the second is for high sensitivity. But you have to refer to the user manual to discover this – and the manual isn’t easy to follow, thanks to small print size and patchy indexing.
Fortunately, some functions are very easy to access and use. The E-30’s Live View shooting capabilities are essentially the same as the E-520 with a new Live View Perfect Shot preview function that provides 4-in-1 screen previews of exposure compensation settings. Users can zoom in on displayed shots up to 10 times to check focus and depth-of-field.
The AF sensor system, which is carried over from the E-3, uses an 11-point array of full twin-cross sensors to ensure fast and accurate focusing in low light levels (Olympus claims down to -2EV). It also supports a maximum shutter speed of 1/800 second and five frames/second continuous shooting with C-AF (continuous) mode. The system is 50% more sensitive than the sensor in the entry-level models with a range of -2EV to +19EV over all points.
AF target selection lets users choose between all and single point focusing. With the latter, dynamic single target mode enables the camera to use adjacent AF points when it can’t focus with the selected target. Individual points are selected by toggling with the arrow pad. You can register a frequently used AF target mode and the position of that AF target as a ‘home position’.
Face Detection for up to eight human faces is also available in Live View mode as well as in playback zoom. Furthermore, a new multi-exposure mode enables users to combine up to three images in Live View mode (including raw shots) and produce a single image file. Fine-tuning of exposure levels is available in 1/6 EV steps across +/- 3 EV in all shooting modes, in addition to flash output adjustment across the same exposure range.
White balance adjustments are similar to those in the E-3, with a full-auto mode, eight pre-sets, a ‘one-touch’ measurement mode and a custom mode that lets you set a specified Kelvin temperature. Kelvin colour temperatures are shows beside each icon in the pre-sets, and all pre-sets are adjustable across two axes: amber/blue and green/magenta. Four steps of bracketing is available across the amber/blue axis and two for green/magenta.
The white balance sub-menu.
A new addition to the Live View mode is a multi-exposure function that provides an overlay of a previous image onto a live preview of the current scene. Up to four frames taken with the camera can be overlaid and saved as a separate image. Each shot is saved with the record mode set when the image is saved and shots can be combined as they are recorded or in playback mode.
The E-30 also includes a separate non-linear compositing function that lets users combine previously captured ORF.RAW images in playback review mode. This function can be used for creating multiple-exposures from shots that were taken at different times and places. Restrictions on combining shots are similar to those for the multiple-exposure mode; up to four shots can be combined to make a new image.
Playback is accessed by pressing a dedicated button on the rear panel, which calls up the last image recorded. The E-30 provides the standard suite of playback settings, including single and index views, slideshows and shooting data overlays. Index playback options are wider than average with four, nine, 16, 25, 49 or 100 frames on the screen. Calendar and Slideshow playback are also supported.
One of the Index playback options.
The rear control dial is used to scroll backwards and forwards through images on the card, while the horizontal arrows on the arrow pad jump backwards and forwards by 10 frames. Pressing the Fn button magnifies the image by up to 14x in steps and you can move the magnified area around the frame with the arrow pad and rear dial. When Face Detect is on, a frame is displayed around a detected face.
You can view a ‘Lightbox display’ showing the playback image and another image together on the left and right sides of the monitor by pressing the […] button and select images for viewing with the dial control. Displayed images can also be magnified simultaneously with the same dial.
The Lightbox display in playback mode.
Information display options include image only, simplified and detailed data (which includes RGB histograms), image plus brightness histogram and highlight/shadow point warning. Pressing the +/- button on the top panel rotates the displayed image in 90 degree steps. Auto rotation is also provided in the menu system.
The Information display with RGB histograms.
Recorded images can be edited and saved as new images. For JPEG files, adjustments include shadow adjustment, redeye fix, cropping, B&W and sepia conversion and saturation adjustment. You can also convert images to 1280 x 960, 640 x 480, or 320 x 240 pixel sizes for online use and change the aspect ratio of images.
Monochrome conversion in playback mode.
The E-30 also supports in-camera raw file conversion – but only to JPEG format and no fine-tuning is provided. Up to 4 frames of RAW images taken with the camera can be overlaid with the Image Overlay function and saved as a separate image. The image is saved with the record mode set at the time the image is saved unless the record mode is raw only. In such cases, the file is saved as Large/Normal JPEG plus raw.
The software disk supplied with the E-30 contains multi-lingual versions of Olympus Master 2 for Windows and Macintosh plus a user registration interface and a 30-day trial version of the more sophisticated Olympus Studio 2 image editor/raw file converter, which sells for $119.95. We’ve covered both applications in the review of the E-410.
Since raw files from the E-30 can be opened in the latest version of Adobe’s Camera Raw and Lightroom, which work with Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, we can’t see why anyone would pay extra for a product we consider less easy to use, less flexible and with lower performance.
Pictures taken with the test camera were sharp and colourful, with a wider dynamic range than we expected from a high-resolution Four Thirds System DSLR camera. In bright sunlight, both highlight and shadow detail were recorded with minimal blow-out in brightly-lit areas and little in the way of shadow noise. Backlit subjects could be photographed with minimal flare.
Autofocusing was fast and accurate in most situations and metering was generally spot-on. Colours looked realistic although, with the default Natural Picture Mode setting, the overall bias was slightly warm. This was particularly noticeable in landscape shots but also visible in skin tones.
Imatest showed resolution to be up to expectations, with ORF.RAW files producing slightly higher figures in our tests than JPEGs. Colour accuracy was confirmed with our Imatest tests, which showed slight elevation of saturation in reds and some minor hue shifts in reds, orange and blues and a shift in skin hues towards red.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between low and moderate (more information is available in the review of the Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens). Some coloured fringing could be seen when test shots were enlarged to 100%. An example is shown below.
White balance performance was fairly average. The auto setting failed to correct the inherent cast in incandescent lighting, while the pre-set over-corrected slightly. With fluorescent lighting, the auto setting produced close-to-neutral colours and it was possible to match one of the pre-sets to the light source we used. It was possible to achieve neutral colour rendition under incandescent lighting with the manual white balance control and the in-camera adjustments provided.
Low light performance was good at ISO settings up to 800, where image noise started to become apparent. For short exposures with flash, we found a relatively small increase in image noise at ISO 3200 but little in the way of blotchiness. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
For long exposures, image noise can present problems. Although 30-second exposures taken with ISO settings up to 800 were relatively noise-free in our tests, noise was obvious at ISO 1600 and shots taken at ISO 3200 were grainy-looking and dotted with stuck pixels. Applying long-exposure noise reduction processing eliminated most of the granularity and stuck pixels – but at the expense of image sharpness.
Flash performance was excellent and exposures were evenly balanced throughout the ISO range. The test camera’s flash was capable of illuminating an average-sized room at ISO 100 and little noise was visible in shots up to ISO 1600. Even at ISO 3200, noise was relatively subdued.
The review camera powered up almost instantly and capture lag was effectively negligible. Regardless of whether we pre-focused, average lag time over a set of five shots was less than 0.1 seconds. This was true for recording JPEG and raw images and RAW+JPEG pairs. It was difficult to measure image processing times because the indicator light on the camera went out before the camera was ready to take another shot. However, JPEG and raw files averaged 5.4 second processing times, while RAW+JPEG pairs took an estimated 6.3 seconds.
In continuous shooting mode, the review camera recorded 10 frames in 1.8 seconds in high-speed continuous mode, regardless of the image size and resolution set (including RAW+JPEG). It took 5.6 seconds to process a burst of JPEGs and 6.5 seconds for a burst of RAW+JPEG pairs.
Swapping to low-speed continuous mode, we captured 10 frames in 2.6 seconds and this rate remained constant for JPEG, raw and RAW+JPEG settings. Processing appears to be on-the-fly in this mode as it took 5.4 seconds to process each burst of 10 frames.
Buy this camera if:
– You’re looking for a small DSLR camera that can accept a wide range of relatively compact lenses.
– You’d like to choose from the widest possible variety of image aspect ratios when shooting JPEG files.
– You require sophisticated in-camera image stabilisation and effective dust reduction technology.
– You’d enjoy a DSLR with lots of in-camera adjustments and special effects for JPEG files.
– You want a Live View system that offers extensive preview functions plus support for autofocusing.
Don’t buy this camera if:
– You want to shoot video (the E-30 can’t).
– You’re a low-light photography enthusiast or a sports photographer who requires faster continuous shooting speeds than 4 frames/second.
– You’re not prepared to grapple with the complexity of the controls and menu system.
Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Olympus Studio 2.
(JPEG graphs can be found in the review of the Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens.)
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
14mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
Skin tones: 54mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/180 second at f/4.5.
Long exposure at ISO 100: 30 seconds at f/2.8.
Long exposure at ISO 3200: 30 seconds at f/13.
Flash exposure at ISO 100: 1/125 second at f/3.5.
Flash exposure at ISO3200: 1/125 second at f/3.5.
Additional sample images can be found at the end of the review of the Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens.
Image sensor: 18.0 x 13.5 mm High-Speed Live MOS Sensor with 13.3 million photosites (12.3 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: Four Thirds mount
Focal length crop factor: 2x
Image formats: RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, JPEG+RAW
Image Sizes: 4032 x 3024, 3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 (4:3 aspect ratio)
Aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5, 3:4
Video Capture: No
Image Stabilisation: Built-in (Imager sensor shift type image stabilisation); 3 modes; max. compensation approx 5EV steps
Dust removal: Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF)
Shutter speed range: 60 to 1/8000 sec. plus Bulb
Exposure Compensation: ±5 EV (selectable in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps)
Exposure bracketing: 3 or 5 frames selectable in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 or 1 EV steps
Self-timer: 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)
Focus system: TTL phase-difference detection AF, High-speed imager AF; 11 AF points with full twin cross sensors
Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual Focus (MF), S-AF + MF, C-AF + MF (C-AF/C-AF+MF not available with the High-speed Imager AF)
Exposure metering: Digital ESP metering (49-point multi pattern metering), Centre weighted average, Spot metering, Spot with Highlight control, Spot with Shadow control
Shooting modes: Auto, P, A, S and M plus Scene (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport, Night+Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, Digital Image Stabilisation, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama [requires Olympus xD-Picture Card], Fireworks, Beach & Snow) and Scene select AE
Picture Style/Control settings: Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, Custom (default setting: Natural); Yellow, Orange, Red or Green filter and Sepia, Blue, Purple or Green tone available for Monotone; six Art filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale light & Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film and Pin Hole
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
Custom functions: 2 Custom menus with 60 settings in CM1 and 9 in CM2
ISO range: Auto / Manual (ISO 100-3200 selectable in 1/3 or 1 EV steps)
White balance: Hybrid detection system with High-Speed Live MOS Sensor and dedicated external sensor; 8 presets (3000K – 7500K); WB compensation of ±7 steps in each A-B / G-M axis (in Auto/Preset/One-touch WB mode)
Flash: Retractable auto pop-up flash, GN=13 (ISO100); x-synch at 1/250 sec or slower
Flash exposure adjustment: Up to ±3 EV in 0.3, 0.5 or 1 EV steps
Sequence shooting: H mode: Approx. 5 frames/sec., L mode: 1 to 4 frames/sec.
Storage Media: Dual-Slot for CompactFlash Type I/II (UDMA compatible), Microdrive plus xD-Picture Card
Viewfinder: Eye-level reflex; 98% field of view, 1.02x magnification, 24.2mm eyepoint; diopter adjustment -3.0 to +1.0dpt
LCD monitor: 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD with approx. 230,000 dots; 15 levels of brightness and colour temperature control
Live View modes: Exposure compensation pre-view, White balance adjustment preview, Gradation auto preview, Face detection preview, Perfect shot preview, MF/S-AF possible, 5x/7x/10x magnification possible;
Data LCD: Yes
Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (4/9/16/25/49/100 frames), Calendar, Close-up (2 -14x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Light box; Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Highlight/Shadow point warning, AF frame, Photographic information displays; in-camera raw file development to JPEG
Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, NTSC/PAL video, socket for optional RM-UC1 Remote Cable
Power supply: BLM-1 Li-ion Battery
Dimensions (wxhxd): 141.5 x 107.5 x 75.0 mm
Weight: Approx. 655 g (body only)
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RRP: $1799 (body only); $2499 as reviewed with 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 ll lens
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9.0
- Ease of use: 8.0
- Image quality: 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.8