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Olympus E-30 Review


Review based on a production E-30

The E-30 is the long-awaited high-end enthusiast model that fills the gap in the Olympus E-Series lineup between the E-520 and the ostensibly professional level E-3. Such is the pace of change in the digital camera market that the new model leapfrogs the E-3 by offering a higher pixel count (12MP), larger screen and improved contrast detect AF system - as well as introducing several novel features including a digital spirit level, multi exposures, aspect ratio options and a handful of built-in special image effects ('Art Filters' as Olympus calls them). It loses the E-3's class-leading weather sealing and has a slightly smaller optical viewfinder, but otherwise offers almost exactly the same features and performance in a slightly lighter, very slightly smaller and - at launch - similarly priced body.

Since this review was started Olympus has fleshed out the middle of its DSLR range even more with the announcement of the E-620. The E-620 takes a slightly cut-down version of the E-30's feature set and squeezes it into an incredibly compact body that isn't considerably bigger than the E-420. The E-30, in turn has seen hints of a coming price 'realignment' to a level more consistent with its market position.

The E-30 goes head to head with the Nikon D300, Canon EOS 40D/50D, Sony Alpha 700 and Pentax K20D, and - on paper at least - offers a compelling feature mix in the most attractive Olympus body for a long time. But does it have what it takes to do battle with the big beasts of the digital SLR jungle, and does it really offer a viable alternative to the E-3? Let's find out.

Compared to E-3 - key differences

Although designed to sit between the E-520 / E-620 and E-3 in the E-Series lineup the E-30 is far nearer to the latter than it is to the consumer level models - with the added beneft of a year or so of development, meaning the E-30 gets all the new toys introduced since the E-3 (most important being contrast-detect AF). The biggest differences are the body material and weatherproofing (where the E-3 wins hands down), the viewfinder (the E-3 is again the winner, though anyone moving from one of the consumer level four-thirds SLRs is going to see a huge improvement in both size and brightness) and the sensor - up from 10 to 12 megapixels. There are also a handful of new features and spec changes.

  • Glass fiber reinforced plastic vs weatherproof magnesium alloy body shell
  • Slightly (8mm) shorter and around 115g lighter
  • Slightly smaller viewfinder with reduced frame coverage
  • New 12MP LiveMOS sensor (E-3: 10.1 MP)
  • Brighter and larger LCD screen
  • E-30 has a mode dial
  • Art Filters, multiple exposures, aspect ratio options and lots of scene modes
  • No card door lock, no eyepiece shutter
  • AF fine tuning for up to 20 lenses (and per AF point!)
  • Built-in digital level guage
  • Contrast detect (Imager) AF with face detection
  • Slightly reduced raw buffer size (12 frames)
  • Adds vertical panning mode to stabilizer (IS3)

Compared to E-620 - key differences

The E-620 offers a lot of the E-30 condensed into a smaller, more consumer-friendly body. The viewfinder is smaller, but the cameras share the same 12 megapixel sensor, Truepix III+ processing and a great many other features. The differences between the two cameras are easier to list than the similarities:

  • E-30 is larger (by around 1cm in each dimension) and around 180g heavier (body only)
  • Visibly larger viewfinder with better frame coverage (E-620: 0.96x, 95%, E-30: 1.02x, 98%)
  • 11-point (all cross-type) vs 7-point AF (5 cross-type)
  • E-620 actually has slightly improved LCD (Hypercrystal III, vs. E-30s' version II unit)
  • Two control diasl (E-620 only has one)
  • Faster continuous shooting rate and larger buffer
  • Fewer aspect ratio crops (3 vs. 8)
  • No built-in digital level gauge
  • Only allows two exposures to be overlaid in multi-exposure mode (vs. 4)
  • No PC flash sync or DC-in sockets
  • Slower x-sync (1/180 sec vs. 1/250 sec) and max shutter speed (1/4000 sec vs. 1/8000 sec)
  • Lower capacity BLS-1 battery (7.2V 1150 mAh) vs. BLM-1 (7.2V 1500 mAh)

Key feature comparison (vs E-3 and E-620)

Olympus now offers one of the roundest, fullest digital SLR lineups on the market, with a relatively logical progression from the entry-level E-420 to the flagship E-3. Where Olympus is slightly different to other manufacturers is that you rarely see much difference in sensor resolution from model to model (we'd expect the entire range to be 12 megapixels by the end of the year - and to stay there for quite some time). Instead moving up the range gets you gradually better viewfinder, gradually more advanced features and more sophisticated controls, higher performance, and an increasingly large body design with increasingly robust construction.

And compared to some manufacturers Olympus doesn't tend to dumb down its entry level models quite so aggressively, which means that the three cameras here actually share a lot of features. The key differences for most users are going to be the viewfinder, screen, continuous shooting and physical design, though you also get gradually more customization options as you move up the range.

Viewed from the front there's less of the homogenity we see with some camera ranges, but there's a strong family resemblence. You can easily see the gradually increasing size of the cameras - and the size of the pentaprism / pentamirror hump as you move up the range.

The chart below shows the key spec differences between the three cameras that currently sit at the top of the Olympus DSLR range.

 
Olympus E-30

Olympus E-3

Olympus E-620
Sensor

• 4/3 type Hi-Speed Live MOS
• 13.1 million total pixels
• 12.3 million effective pixels

• 4/3 type Hi-Speed Live MOS
• 11.8 million total pixels
• 10.1 million effective pixels

• 4/3 type Hi-Speed Live MOS
• 13.1 million total pixels
• 12.3 million effective pixels

Body Material Glass fibre reinforced plastic Magnesium alloy Glass fibre reinforced plastic
Weatherproof? No Yes No
Continuous • 5.0 fps
• RAW: 12 frames maximum
• 5.0 fps
• RAW: 19 frames maximum
• 4.0 fps
• RAW: 5 frames maximum
Max Shutter Speed 1/8000 sec 1/8000 sec 1/4000 sec
EV steps • 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV steps • 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV steps • 0.3 or 1.0 EV steps
Auto Focus • 11-point TTL Phase Difference Detection
• EV -2 to 19 (ISO 100) detection range
• 11-point TTL Phase Difference Detection
• EV -2 to 19 (ISO 100) detection range
• 7-point TTL Phase Detection (5 cross-type)
• EV -1 to 19 (ISO 100) detection range
Live View AF • Three mode AF (Imager, AF sensor, Hybrid)
• Face Detection
AF sensor (mirror flip) autofocus only • Three mode AF (Imager, AF sensor, Hybrid)
• Face Detection
Flash • Auto Electronic pop-up
• x-sync speed 1/250 sec
• Guide no. 13
• Built-in pop-up
• x-sync speed 1/250 sec
• Guide no. 13
• Auto Electronic pop-up
• x-sync speed 1/180 sec
• Guide no. 12
Scene modes etc

• 16 Scene mode

None

16 Scene modes

Viewfinder

• Eye-level TTL Optical Pentaprism
• Field of view approx. 98%
• Magnification 1.02x with a 50mm lens and -1 dioptre
• Dioptre adjustment -3 to +1 dioptre
• Clip-fit eyecup
• Focusing screen: Interchangeable type

• Eye-level TTL Optical Pentaprism
• Field of view approx. 100%
• Magnification 1.15x with a 50mm lens and -1 dioptre
• Dioptre adjustment -3 to +1 dioptre
• Built in eyepiece shutter
• Focusing screen: Interchangeable type

• Eye-level TTL Optical Pentamirror
• Field of view approx. 95%
• Magnification 0.96x with a 50mm lens and -1 dioptre
• Dioptre adjustment -3 to +1 dioptre
• Clip-fit eyecup

LCD monitor • 2.7" HyperCrystal II TFT LCD monitor (wide viewing angle, semi-transmissive)
• Vari-angle (swing and tilt)
• 230,000 pixels
• 2.5" HyperCrystal TFT LCD monitor (wide viewing angle, semi-transmissive)
• Vari-angle (swing and tilt)
• 230,000 pixels
• 2.7" HyperCrystal III TFT LCD monitor (wide viewing angle, transmissive)
• Vari-angle (swing and tilt)
• 230,000 pixels
Top panel info LCD? Yes Yes No
Connectivity • USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
• Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
• IR Remote control (optional)
• DC-IN
• PC Sync flash terminal
• USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
• Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
• IR Remote control (optional)
• DC-IN
• Remote terminal
• PC Sync flash terminal
• USB 2.0 (Hi Speed)
• Video Out (NTSC / PAL)
• IR Remote control (optional)
Other features • Electronic 'spirit level'
• Six 'Art Filters'
• Variable Aspect Ratios
• Multi Exposure Mode
  • Six 'Art Filters'
• 4 Aspect Ratios
• Multi Exposure Mode (2 frames)
Dimensions 142 x 108 x 75 mm (5.6 x 4.3 x 2.9 in) 142 x 116 x 75 mm (5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in) 130 x 94 x 60 mm (5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 in)
Weight (inc batt) 730 g (1.6 lb) 885 g (1.9 lb) 521 g (1.1 lb)


If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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DPReview calibrate their monitors using Color Vision OptiCal at the (fairly well accepted) PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the (computer generated) grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally A,B and C.

This article is Copyright 2009 dpreview.com and the review in part or in whole may NOT be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. For information on reproducing any part of this review (or any images) please contact: Phil Askey

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