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Olympus E-30 DSLR Digital SLR Review

Stuck in the middle: Matt Grayson looks at the Olympus E-30 prosumer DSLR.

|  Olympus E-30 in Digital SLRs
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With the highest resolution of the range, the E-30 isn't the highest specification. But what does it have that the others don't?

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Olympus E-30: Specification
  • Resolution: 12.3Mp
  • Sensor size: 4/3in
  • Sensor type: Live MOS
  • Max. image size: 4032 x 3024
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3
  • Olympus E-30Processor: Truepic Turbo III
  • Focus system: TTL phase difference detection system, contrast detection
  • Focus points: 11 point, fully biaxial auto and manual
  • Focus types: Single, continuous, manual,
  • Crop factor: 2x
  • Lens mount: FourThirds
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-3200
  • Storage: Compactflash, Microdrive, xD picture card
  • Metering system: TTL open aperture light metering
  • Metering types: Multi, ESP, spot, centre-weighted, highlight, shadow
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV in 1, ½ & 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60sec-1/8000sec
  • Frames per second: 5fps
  • Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
  • Flash metering: TTL auto
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250sec
  • Image stabilisation: Sensor shift, 5EV compensation
  • Integrated cleaning: Supersonic wave filter
  • Live view: 100% field of view
  • Viewfinder: Optical, 98% field of view
  • Monitor: 2.7in Hypercrystal III LCD
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 141.5x107.5x75.0mm
  • Weight: 655g (body only)
Sandwiched firmly between the E-3 and E-520, the E-30 is aimed squarely at serious enthusiasts who would like the features of a pro spec camera but the budget of a prosumer DSLR. It offers 12.3Mp resolution on a LiveMOS sensor, 11 point AF  system, 5fps and image stabilisation compensating to 5EV.

Olympus E-30
Olympus E-30
Olympus E-30 DSLR
Olympus E-30: Features
Designed on the E-3, the E-30 sits between its bigger brother and the E-520. However despite its obvious connections in styling, it's still been released with the aim of standing alone from its brethren.

An immediate indication that this isn't as high a specification as the E-3 is the inclusion of a command dial for users who aren't as adept at navigating by just using buttons. This dial is found on the left shoulder replacing the mode, AF and flash buttons found on the pro spec model. In fact access to the metering, AF modes, bracketing and continuous shooting modes has been shifted onto the back using two buttons that sit over the top of the screen.

The right side of the top plate has the same layout as the E-3 with white balance, ISO and exposure compensation having dedicated buttons before you reach the shutter release.

The E-30 has the highest resolution of the Olympus DSLR range but at 12.3Mp sounds relatively modest until you compare to its rivals such as the Nikon D300 (12.3Mp), Canon EOS 50D (15Mp) and Sony Alpha A700 (12.24Mp) and realise that it's not all that bad. There could be an argument that the lower resolution models in the list are over a year old which could mean Olympus is lagging.

However, the LiveMOS sensor is smaller than the CMOS sensors found on the other models the Olympus is in competition with. This means that the higher ISOs would only get worse with more pixels.

More cameras are coming up with different overriding modes for creative images to be taken. Olympus have included some in the E-30 and they're accessed by the Art/Scene switch on the command dial. Flicking left or right in this mode will switch between the art modes and the regular scene modes available on the camera. You can choose from Popart, soft focus, pale light & colour, light tone, grainy film or pinhole. Most of these are unique in at least the name with the exception of the pinhole mode which appears to be cropping up on a few cameras these days. The Panasonic LX3 features this mode and the Pentax K-m also features a “Toy Camera” mode which gives a similar result.

For those of you interested in high contrast black & white imaging, the grainy film mode gives the effect of an old 1960s black & white with loads of grain. These are suited to particular pictures and can't be used in day to day photography. It's interesting to see these modes here, though as they suggest an inclination back to the old film days. It would be amusing to see this technological advancement come full circle and have digital cameras emulating film cameras completely.

The E-30 features the same 11 point fully biaxial AF system that can be found on the Olympus E-3. When the E-3 was released it had the fastest AF system in the world and as a current user of the E-3, I can vouch for its ferocious focusing speed.. This means that the E-30 is just as fast because of the vertical and horizontal sensor lines creating 44 points available to collect data and work out the optimal focus point.

Olympus E-30 DSLRA new feature of the E-30 is the picture shot preview and this mode essentially allows you to add different settings to a preview of the image on your screen before you take the shot.

A few other changes discern the E-30 from the E-3 such as the power switch which is a smaller thumbnail activated type and the lack of a card door lock. Because of the squashed body, the sync port has been shifted below the camera insignia and the AF emitter is now back on the grip the same as the E-520.
Olympus E-30: Build and handling
With an interior constructed from glass fibre reinforced plastics, it's not going to be as strong as the E-3 with its magnesium alloy body. However, there's definitely some technology gone into its creation as this is the first camera to bear this material. This helps with weight issues and the E-30 sits around 150g lighter than the E-3 at 655g. That weight is body only and the E-30 isn't sold as a factory packed kit.

I've always found the menu system on Olympus E system DSLRs easy to use and the only thing I've ever had a need to grumble about is the easy to use on screen quick menu with its up, down, left and right compared to the not as easy to use left or right only availability of the internal menu system. It's inconsistent and gets annoying.

The battery is the same as the Olympus E-3 which shows that there's been no technological advancements in the power department but is useful for if the E-30 is going to be a back up camera. It means wider compatibility and must surely make the system more attractive to professionals or serious enthusiasts.

A new prism has been created for the E-30 which isn't as bright and doesn't have as much coverage as the E-3 but it's volume is 60% smaller and it's 50% lighter than previous models which helps keeping the overall weight of the unit down.

Olympus E-30: Performance
At the heart of every true DSLR is a dedicated processor just waiting to rush those images through to the memory card as quick as possible. Any camera worth its salt will have some sort of engine that is designed to improve images as they pass through it. It was decided years ago that because a processor will work everything that goes through it, this made it slower and consumed more power. Dedicated engines such as Olympus' Truepic Turbo are designed specifically for images making transfer speeds faster and the camera more economical.

Olympus are on the third generation of Truepic processors and the newest E-30 is fitted with the Truepic III. This helps to allow the camera to drive 5 frames every second onto the card which is pretty impressive as that's not even UDMA. The camera is dual slot and still takes the irksome xD picture card. I say irksome because of its limited capacity of 2Gb. Sandisk have recently announced a 64Gb CF card and new SDXC cards will allow up to 2Tb (2000Gb) space. Seems tiny in comparison but it's the only card that will allow you to use the panoramic mode.

Every modern DSLR has a dust reduction system and Olympus incorporate the SSW (Super Sonic Wave) filter which implements a filter in front of the sensor which dust will fall on. When the dust reduction facility is initiated it vibrates the filter shaking off the dust which then collects on an adhesive strip. The filter hermetically seals the sensor off from any dust which means that you won't get those annoying grey shapes from dust and the filter is as far away as possible to throw any remaining dust out of focus.

Olympus E-30 DSLRColours appear a little muted here with the exception of the primary blue and yellow which is a surprise as I have to applaud Olympus for the quality of the screen.

Using it on the colour chart and noise tests it was bright, sharp and suffered no blur or the random power saving dim screen that my E-3 has a tendency to do after taking a shot.

Earth images are nice and rich and I like the skin tone tile next to brown. I think the bolder colours could be brighter but the mono tones look well balanced.
Portrait images come out surprisingly well, with a nice amount of sharpness and detail in the hair. Portrait mode has warmed up the image and this has affected the background giving it a slight cast on the white wall. This can be amended in the menu system although that in turn could affect the warmth that using portrait mode brings.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
Portrait mode has warmed the image to the point of creating a cast on the white areas.
This can be amended in the menu.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
Changing to aperture-priority has removed the warmth and retains the detail and exposure.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
Adding flash has filled in shadows, added catchlights and given a much more balanced image.
Switching to aperture priority has removed the cast because I amended the white balance to outdoors mode and a slight warmth boost in post editing would be needed. Using flash has brightened the image, got rid of the cast and added catchlights to bring life to the eyes. It all helps and I like the fact that the shadow is very faint to the point of suppression.

Olympus E-30 DSLRI'm really impressed with the landscape image. It's one of the best results I've seen from a camera in a while in terms of sharpness, clarity and detail. It shows a distinct improvement in sensor technology as the image looks a little calmer than earlier models such as the E-420. I can see more detail which doesn't break up as I magnify to 100%.

Disappointingly, there's a fraction of purple fringing on the white bars despite using a 50mm lens but this could be caused by the sensor or the lens.

Olympus E-30 DSLRJudging by the amount of detail in the macro shot from the E-30 and bolstering that with the results of image quality from other makes such as the Nikon D300, it could be that 12Mp is the perfect resolution to have a DSLR set at. After all, there's only so far the resolution can go before the eye can't detect it.

Individual feathers look great on this macro image though and I've included a RAW file for download so you can see the difference between JPEG and RAW.

Olympus E-30 RAW detail file

The new models (E-30 and E-620) have had new Art Scene filters added for being more creative with your work. I like the pinhole mode as it adds a slight vignette and that warm, dirty feel all over the frame. Other versions, such as Pop Art change the saturation or contrast inOlympus E-30 DSLR Grainy film. Grainy also changes the image to monotone including the added noise which then gives the appearnce of grain.

There's a lot of fun to be had with these modes if they're used in the right situation but at the same time, they can look pretty appalling if they're used incorrectly. I think for the photographer who likes the effects given by photo editing suites but they don't have access to them for whatever reason could enjoy using the Art Scene modes.

Olympus E-30: Focus and metering
Luckily, the E-30 retains the super speedy focusing system found on the bigger E-3 but the main area of upgrade is to the live view focusing. Focusing is using the 11 fully biaxial points integrating a mixture of phase difference and contrast detection by selecting Hybrid AF or one of the two can be prioritised if you prefer.

One thing I noticed as I used the live view was that if I made any amendments in the menu systems, I could focus after that with no loss of light on the screen. Any other time the image would dim slightly as the mirror drops to allow focusing on the AF sensor. It's unusual that it happened and would do it regardless of the type of focusing that was selected. Face detection is available in live view mode as well as normal shooting mode but it's not as evolved as Canon or Fujifilm that can recognise faces that are angled away from the camera.

It's refreshing to see more metering modes available than on other DSLRs available. The three typical multi, centre-weighted and spot metering modes are available and the spot section also has a handy guide on the focus screen so you can see which area of the image is being metered from.

Bulking out the metering menu is spot Hi and Spot Sh. These are designed to help if you have a high or low key image and the Hi mode will help balance whites in high key images while Sh does the opposite, balancing blacks in low key shots.

Olympus E-30: Noise test
I'm usually pretty disappointed with FourThirds noise results and maybe I'm a bit hard on them. To be fair I think they're ok for a smaller sensor. I think they could be a lot worse. But I look at the ISO100 image and I can tell that noise reduction is at work as a small displacement of pixels is detectable in the mid-range tile.

That being said, noise isn't really detectable as the type of noise we know and love until around ISO800 and it certainly isn't much of a problem at that point. Detail is still present at the highest ISO3200 stage but there are flecks of purple invading the orange petals of the flower while noise is a lot more aggressive on the card.

RAW versions of the ISO100 and ISO3200 noise tests can be downloaded from our download area here:
Olympus E-30 ISO100 RAW file
Olympus E-30 ISO3200 RAW file
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO100 test.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO200 test.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO400 test.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO800 test.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO1600 test.
Olympus E-30 DSLR
The ISO3200 test.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Olympus E-30.

Olympus E-30: Verdict
I'm impressed with the results that the E-30 has produced and I think that the resolution is about right for the sensor size and noise performance. I do wonder if keeping the resolution at 10Mp would improve noise and transfer speed.

It's a good release from Olympus and with the advent of the E-620, Olympus are going from strength to strength. The FourThirds system has been knocked in the past but I think that Olympus may have turned a corner.

While I see the benefit of adding the art scenes to the camera, I find myself doubting if anyone will use them. Most people are proficient enough in editing suites to emulate the effects created and those who aren't will be the ones using the feature.

I would consider this as a back up camera for an existing pro E system as a lighter alternative and if you're in this position then it's a camera to consider.

Olympus E-30: Plus points
Super fast autofocus
Good noise control
Nice landscape results
Good build quality
5EV exposure compensation
5EV image stabiliser
Improved autofocus in live view
Expanded metering system

Olympus E-30: Minus points
Muted colours on colour chart
Slight cast in portrait mode
Purple fringing in high contrast areas





See the video review of the Olympus E-30 DSLR here:

Olympus E-30 DSLR video review

I've awarded the Olympus E-30 a highly recommended because of the performance and noise results.

The Olympus E-30 starts at around £899 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Olympus E-30

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Photographs taken using the Olympus E-30

Scotney CastleWreck At Last LightHungry BeesFern PoolDiamond, But Not ForeverArnside SunsetRobinLemur sunbathingCute LemursFlamingoKomodoMandrill with a bad headSwan

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crashby 15 2 United Kingdom
26 Feb 2009 12:21PM

Quote:However, the LiveMOS sensor is much smaller than the CMOS sensors found on the other models the Olympus is in competition with.

It's a little bit smaller. I think "much" is a bit strong. About 25% smaller along the diagonal, and about 10% smaller in the linear verticle. I think that's worth pointing out.
MattGrayson 14 622 3 England
27 Feb 2009 5:00PM
I've taken "much" out to make it fairer. If my calculations are correct, it's about a square centimetre smaller. But they rarely are, so it's probably not. Wink
16 May 2009 11:10AM
Good review thanks

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