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Color reproduction

Color reproduction provides a quick overview of the general look of images from the camera as well as an ability to compare this to other cameras. Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

The E-30 produces a typical Olympus performance with bright, punchy colors that avoid looking over-saturated. Looking at the 1000's of real world images we took during the course of the review we felt that the E-30 was possibly producing slightly flatter, less immediately punchy results than the E-3 (or most other Olympus models). This test confirmed that there is a slight difference (certainly between the E-30 and the E-3), though most of this is down to the E-30 having a slightly more gentle tone curve and lower default contrast.

Olympus E-30 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
NaturalvividMutedPortrait
MonoAdobeRGB

Artificial light White Balance

The E-30's white balance is generally very good in outdoor situations but is less sure-footed under artificial lighting, where the color fidelity drops dramatically (despite, like the E-3, having a dedicated White Balance sensor). The only way to get a truly neutral result is to switch to 'one touch' custom WB (which you'll need to assign to the Fn button), and use a neutral target to create your own preset.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 8.7%, Blue: -12.0%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 3.5%, Blue: -3.8%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.6%, Blue: -11.6%, Average
Fluorescent - Cool White Fluorescent
Red: 6.9%, Blue: -5.6%, Average

Flash

No complaints here; with generally good metering (though we did occasionally see some overexposure at normal portrait distances) and good flash power output, the built-in flash works well. Our only complaint (occasional exposure issue aside) is that a camera at this level should have a 'proper' AF illuminator; using fit-inducing bursts of flash to illuminate a scene is a far from satisfactory solution.

Built-in flash Built-in flash

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

It's rare for a modern digital SLR to give much cause for complaint, and the E-30 is no exception. Like all Olympus cameras it struggles at higher ISO settings, with noise a little higher than most of its competitors at anything over ISO 400 (though in its favor, you do at least get a truly honest 'noise filter off' option), but in every other respect the E-30 impressed.

The rather tight dynamic range we've complained about on many Olympus DSLRs (including the flagship E-3) has been improved noticeably, and the default JPEG tone curve delivers subtle highlight roll-off without harsh clipping and is far more forgiving of slight over exposure. That said, if anything the E-30 metering tends to be quite conservative, tending to underexpose a little, which ensures highlights are preserved.

Although you get the usual punchy color with deep blue skies and vibrant foliage we felt that the E-30 was producing slightly more subdued results than we're used to seeing from Olympus SLRs, with a slightly less immediate 'Olympus' look to them. The culprit appears to be a combination of marginally lower default saturation (a lot of what people call 'Olympus color' is simply a higher default saturation) and - more importantly - a gentler tone curve producing lower contrast at the default setting. The result is that compared to some Olympus models the E-30's output can look a little flat - something that's exacerbated by the conservative exposure and exaggerated by the shadow lifting effects of Auto Gradation. Two seconds of post-processing (Auto Contrast in Photoshop for example) will soon bring back the familiar punchiness for those that miss it.

This is, however, an approach we actually prefer. Olympus JPEGs have always been so well optimized that they rarely need anything doing to them, but the 'punchiness' also makes them rather difficult to post-process as there's very little 'headroom' to play with. It's easy to rack the contrast of a JPEG up in Photoshop; a helluva lot more difficult to turn it down. By turning the dial down a notch or two Olympus has produced JPEGs that can be fine-tuned in post processing without the need to shoot RAW 100% of the time (as usual with Olympus the JPEGs contain so much of what the sensor spits out that there's little advantage to shooting RAW if you get the white balance right).

Like the E3 we found the autofocus to be a bit twitchy when used in multi AF mode (it's a lot more robust when locked to the center point), and it can struggle to focus quickly in low light at longer focal lengths (despite the 'world's fastest AF' claims), but overall we had few serious focus, exposure or white balance issues when shooting under natural light.

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