Olympus E-30 Steve's Conclusion
By Mike Flacy
Joining the ranks of the prosumer dSLR market is the E-30 by Olympus. This 12.3 Mega-pixel camera brings a more creative option to the class. Featuring in-camera image stabilization, 12.3 mega-pixel 'Live MOS' imaging sensor, new TruePic III+ image processor, Live View with auto AF and Face detection, 270� degree swiveling HyperCrystal II LCD screen, dust reduction system and the Four Thirds Mount System, you will not find a more equipped camera. The only thing that is missing is HD video capabilities that have recently starting show up on this class of dSLR cameras.
An important feature of the E-30 is the 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD screen. With 230,000 pixels, a 270� swiveling mount, 100% field of view and 15 levels of brightness and 15 levels of color balance control make the LCD a vital accessory to the camera. The swiveling screen combined with Live View mode give you the ability to frame and shoot accurately in crowded or difficult situations. By angling the LCD down, you can then lift the camera over people or objects and easily frame your images instead of just shooting and hoping for the best. The brightness and color balance allows you to adjust the screen to your personal preferences. It is easy to see outside in direct sunlight by turning the brightness up and is easy on the eyes in darker situations by turning it down. Finally the LCD is used for navigating the well thought out and easy to follow menu system.
Handling and operating the E-30 is very easy and comfortable. The grip on the right side fits your hand perfectly while many of the controls rest at your fingertips. Two dials on the camera, one in front for the index finger and one on the back for the thumb, allow you to make your changes quickly and easily. There are numerous shortcut buttons on the camera that allow you to quickly access the settings that you want changed. The Fn button is also programmable to the setting of your choice.
Performance from the E-30 is excellent. Startup is the only part that is a little slow, taking 1.4 seconds to capture the first image after hitting the power switch. When the camera is pre-focused, the shutter lag (time between pressing the shutter release and when the image was captured) is less than 1/10 of a second and between 1/10 and 3/10 of a second when allowing the camera's AF to run its course. In single shot mode, the camera can capture 5 images in 1.2 seconds (1.4 xD card) if you only release the button half way between your shots. This allows the lens to hold the focus. If you completely let up, the lens must refocus and you have to wait roughly 3/10 of a second extra between each shot. This is the same when using the flash, capturing 5 images 2.6 seconds (2.9 xD card) but only if you half release the button.
The camera also includes two continuous or burst shooting modes. Low continuous can be set in the menu to capture 2, 3 or 4 frames per second. High continuous was able to capture 10 images in 1.9 seconds (approx. 5.25fps, 2 seconds 5fps xD card) which is slightly faster than the 5fps that Olympus claims. In this mode the buffer fills after 16 Large Superfine JPEG images or 11 RAW+ Large Superfine JPEG images. All of our tests were completed using a 16GB Kingston Elite Pro 133x compact flash card or an Olympus M+ 2GB xD card, Program, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings on the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
Shooting with the camera in Live View mode gives you a separate set of useful features. In this mode, you have the ability to use the camera in the same way as a point and shoot, by enabling the face detection mode (up to 8 faces) or you can get up to 10x closer in order to check for detailed focus points. The drawback to using Live View is there is a significant slowdown in the auto focus system. You will now be using a Contrast detection system instead of the Phase-difference detection system. This is much slower when focusing, taking around 2 to 2.5 seconds at times. Your shutter lag will also increase to 3/10 of a second after the camera is focused due to the moving of the mirror. Once shooting, however, the camera does not suffer in the capturing of images.
Image quality from the E-30 is very good. Our outdoor images provide great exposures when in bright sunlight, but the museum shot is slightly underexposed with the overcast sky. The color in the images is rich and realistic, combined with the exposure gives you a very pleasing picture. In the firehouse you will see some slight aberrations on the right side of the building and with the 14-54mm lens you will see some barrel distortion on the wide end.
ISO levels show very little or no noise at ISO levels of 800 and below, while above 800 the noise becomes more noticeable and even unacceptable at any ISO over 1600. The camera's auto white balancing system does an excellent job of producing the colors that you see as well as keeping flash and non-flash shot colors the same. In our portrait shots, our subjects came out well exposed with natural skin tones and no red eye with either the built in or external flashes. The built-in flash is a bit weak for dSLR model as it was not powerful enough from 5-6 feet away with the camera set at ISO 100, but attaching an external flash like the Olympus FL-36 gives you plenty of range.
Olympus has included 6 'Art' filters into the menu with the SCN settings. These filters give you the ability take creative and artistic photos without having to edit your images on a computer afterwards (shown on the samples page). Another new feature is the cameras multiple exposure function. This allows you to capture several images and combine them on the fly or later on in playback mode. Finally the E-30 gives you total control over framing your images by providing you with 9 aspect ratios to choose from.
As in-camera editing is becoming a bigger and bigger feature on all digital cameras, the E-30 comes with a slew of internal editing features. The main feature is the ability to take 2, 3 or 4 files and overlay them. In our sample I quickly compiled an overlay to show the ability of the camera to combine images. This is something that could only previously be done on a computer. The camera also features in JPEG mode: Shadow Adjust, Redeye Fix, Crop, Black and White Conversion, Sepia Conversion, Saturation, Resize and Image Aspect. It's like having a photo editing suite built into the camera.
Powering this Olympus is a 7.2V, 1500mAh, rechargeable Li-Ion battery that is capable of capturing up to 750 images when using only the optical viewfinder. During our tests we were able to capture approx. 400 images mostly using the viewfinder, but at some times switching to the LCD screen. The external battery charger allows you to keep another battery or two charged and on hand at all times, so you always have an extra source of power.
Bottom Line - The E-30 by Olympus is another great entry into a quickly growing class of dSLR cameras. Although it doesn't have the performance or quality to blow away all of the other cameras, it has no problem keeping up. At the same time it does include a wide variety of artistic and creative features that you will not find on the others. Although it does not have any video capabilities, which HD is a big feature starting to show up on dSLR's, the MSRP of US$1299 (body only) is a great buy for anyone looking to upgrade from an entry-level dSLR, especially if they already have money invested in the Four Thirds Mount System.
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