The Olympus E-30 is a mid-range SLR, with the resilience to take heavy use but not the lightness of the company's smaller E-520/620 nor the sheer mass of the E-3. It weighs 23oz without lens, and it feels solid in your hands. The body and buttons all feel resilient, though they are not weatherproofed.

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**Size Comparisons **


In this review, we are comparing the Olympus E-30 to four other currently available cameras. The Nikon D90 and Canon 50D both sit at approximately the same price point as the E-30, around the $1000 mark sans lens. With the E-30, Olympus has introduced a number of features designed for point-and-shoot users stepping up to SLRs, namely a large number of scene modes and Art Filters, so we have also compared it to two lower-priced cameras targeted toward that market. All of these cameras were originally reviewed under a slightly different review process, and the links will take you to the older reviews. We re-tested these cameras under our new system, but the scores from this review and the previous ones may not match up exactly.

**In the Box **


OLYMPUS-E-30-boxshot.jpg

In the box you'll find:

• Camera (w/ body cap)

• Battery

• Battery charge

• USB cable

• AV cable

• Strap

• Eyepiece cover

• CD-ROM

• Instruction manual

**Color Accuracy ***(13.56) *


The first of our array of tests analyzes how accurately the E-30 captures color across all its color modes, unfortunately, it was mediocre across all modes, only beating the Pentax K2000. In general, it did well with flesh tones and dark colors, but for brighter hues it really struggled, especially with oranges and yellows. We test this by shooting the X-Rite color chart under 3000 lux illumination, and use the Imatest image analysis application to measure the deviation from known color values and image saturation for each available color mode. The Olympus struggled in this area, with all of its four color modes either leaning towards the inaccurate or undersaturated. We found the Muted color mode produced the best results, so used that in our in-depth testing.

Below you can see full-size crops of the X-Rite color chart patches for each of the comparison models and the Olympus E-30, in their best modes. On the far left are the ideal values for each color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

When compared to other brands of camera, the Olympus E-30 performed poorly in terms of color accuracy, only managing to beat the significantly less expensive Pentax K2000. The images were consistently undersaturated.

The overall scoring results for our color accuracy testing are shown below; taller bars indicate superior performance.

Color Modes*(4.00)*


The Olympus E-30 has only four color modes: Muted, Vivid, Natural and Portrait, of which Muted was the most accurate, but also under-saturated. However, none of these were particularly amazing in terms of capturing a color as close to ideal as possible.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

In addition to the four modes shown above, there's also Monochrome (which wouldn't provide for a very interesting addition to the chart). Each of the color modes can be tweaked for contrast, sharpness, saturation, and a custom mode can be based off of the presets with additional controls for gradation. Monochrome mode cannot be altered for saturation, but black and white filters can be added (yellow, orange, red or green) or a color tone can be thrown over the top (sepia, blue purple or green).

Long Exposure*(7.93)*


With longer exposure times, the E-30 struggled with low color accuracy and high noise levels, ranking it below the four cameras we compared it to. For this test, we look at how well the camera handles long exposures in low light, testing for color accuracy and noise levels, with noise reduction both on and off. We shoot under dim 20 lux illumination at ISO 400, analyzing the X-Rite color chart using Imatest.

The results in this section have changed slightly since this review was originally published, though it did not affect the overall comparative ranking of the tested cameras. Our testing procedure calls for turning off dynamic range adjustment (which Olympus labels 'gradation') when performing any noise-related testing (this includes both the Long Exposure section and the Noise section that follows). However, the Olympus E-30 does not offer an 'off' option. In our first round of testing, we used the Auto setting. Based on reader input, we experimented with the Normal setting and determined that it does improve image noise performance in the core noise tests that follow. While still not an ideal solution based on our standardized testing procedures, we decided to rerun all the relevant tests with gradation set to Normal. This produced an improvement in our noise testing, shooting under relatively bright illumination, but under low light conditions, the original Auto setting actually produced marginally better results, by roughly 0.3%. For consistency's sake, we scored based on the Normal mode scores below.

In the chart above, a short line is better, as it is a measure of error. As you can see, the E-30 produced reasonably accurate color reproduction until the longest exposure time, 30 seconds, where it overexposed even as low as 20 lux.

For this chart, a small bar is good, as it measure noise levels. This shows how the noise levels were disturbingly high across the board, and using noise reduction made matters even worse. Long exposure noise reduction works by taking a second exposure of the same length directly after the first, but with the lens closed. The logic being that the noise of the second image can then be subtracted from the first, and it will be smoother overall. The problem with this logic is that noise is inherently random, so for the E-30, it worsens the situation overall. With shooting from 1-15 second exposures, noise levels were slightly worse with Gradation set to Normal rather than Auto, which is the opposite of what we saw with high ISO noise.

As stated above, the E-30's battle with image noise let it down in this test. The photographs came out covered with the distinctive speckle of high amounts of image noise, which dragged down the score in this category, even further than its already below-average color accuracy.

*This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on March 31 and July 13, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.

*

Noise*(5.54)*


The miserable performance in the noise section of our review is a distinguishing feature of this camera, unfortunately. It's small sensor size and reasonably high megapixel count combined to produce a decidedly sub-par result. To test noise levels, we shoot the X-Rite color chart at every available ISO, at all noise reduction levels, and use Imatest to measure the levels of noise across red, green, blue, yellow and luma. The score for this section is based on its performance across all noise reduction levels. According to Olympus, if you use Live View for extended periods, you may hit even higher noise levels than we found, due to the sensor heating up from repeated use. All of these tests were shot using the viewfinder only.

Normally, when we run this test, we turn any sort of dynamic range adjustment off. With the Olympus E-30, this feature is called Gradation, and cannot be switched off, but rather is set to Normal, Auto, High Key and Low Key. Our tests were run initially with Gradation set to Auto, but we subsequently learned that this setting can noticeably increase noise levels. We have since reshot these tests with Gradation set to Normal, and adjusted our scoring accordingly. You can see in the two graphs below the effect on noise levels with both settings, and further down the page a table of comparisons between the two modes. However, even with Gradation set to Normal, the noise levels of the E-30 are still problematically high with noise reduction off. With noise reduction on they are now at more acceptable levels, if you don't mind taking a significant hit to image sharpness.

 

 

With noise reduction turned off, the noise levels rapidly increase to 5% at ISO 3200. Even at ISO 400, it sits at slightly above 1.5%, which is noticeable in the images at full size. Turning on noise reduction does noticeably drop the noise levels, but at the cost of image sharpness. For an example of how this will affect your images, our Sample Photos section includes shots taken at various ISOs.

In the chart above, you can see how image noise is spread across colors and gray (luma). While all of these areas are unusually high, luma is a particular culprit, and breaches 6% noise at ISO 3200.

When compared to other cameras, even inexpensive entry-level SLRs, you can see just how atypical these noise levels are. At ISO 400, the E-30 has similar levels to most cameras do at ISO 1600.

However, if you turn the noise reduction up all the way to full, the E-30 relocates to the center of the pack, with noise levels that are more or less on par with other cameras, except at the extremes of ISO 3200. The only problem with this is that the images suffer significant loss of sharpness with the image reduction turned up all the way, so it becomes a balancing act between the two, depending on your needs and situation.

The E-30's small sensor once again betrays it, as it struggled to jam twelve million pixels into not enough space, resulting in a noise score far below any of the other tested cameras. The noise level at ISO 3200 is so high as to render images unrecognizable, which can be mitigated to a certain extent by using noise reduction, which in turn damages sharpness in major ways.

The following chart shows the image noise scores achieved by each of the cameras in our test group; taller bars indicate better scores.

 

To convey the sort of difference you can expect in your images when using the Auto Gradation setting, the table below shows 100% crops at a number of ISOs. The different levels of Gradation also account for the changes in brightness.

 

ISO*(5.50)*


Below you can see 100% crops for each of the cameras at every available ISO. The E-30 runs the gamut of ISO 100 to 3200, in 1/3 or 1 EV. The camera features ISO bracketing for three shots, in ±0.3, 0.7 or step.

This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on 31st March 2009

Resolution*(13.03)*


Our resolution testing looks at three factors: distortion, chromatic aberration and sharpness, though we only score based on the latter two. This is one of the only areas in our testing where the E-30 excelled, which may be partially due to the fact that we tested using the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens, which usually sells for around $500, as the E-30 does not have a kit lens.

Distortion

The E-30's lens had absolutely minimal distortion. At 14mm (equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm photography) there was 0.61% barreling, and at 26mm (52mm equivalent) there was 0.44% pincushioning. For sake of comparison, the Nikon D90 had between 2.5% and 3% distortion at every zoom range shooting with an 18mm-62mm lens.

 

At wide-angle you see the most chromatic aberration, which occurs midway between the center of the lens and the edges. Unsurprisingly, the image is sharpest at the very center of the image, though it drops off as you move away from the middle, and climbs again towards the corners.

Zooming in to 26mm, the chromatic aberration drops across the board, and the sharpness increases, but maintains a similar pattern of losing sharpness in the area half-way between the center and the edges.

Finally, at a maximum zoom of 54mm (110mm in 35mm equivalent), the chromatic aberration evens out across the entire lens. The sharpness stays remarkably high at this point, in keeping with the overall excellent resolution provided by the lens.

Resolution is one of the few areas where the E-30 excelled. It handily outperformed the comparison cameras in these tests, giving it one of its few victories in our extensive lab-testing.

Picture Quality & Size Options*(16.25)*


One of the features Olympus is really pushing on the E-30 is the vast array of image sizes and shapes, as they've adopted a number of aspect ratios beyond their maximum 4:3. The E-30 can additionally be set to 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5, or 3:4. If you're using Live View, the image on the LCD will be cropped to the appropriate proportion, but not if you use the viewfinder.

 

In 4:3 ratio, the E-30 lets you chose which resolutions you want to assign to Medium and Small image sizes, as well as any of four compression levels (superfine, fine, normal and basic). Four combination of image sizes and compression levels can be bookmarked, and then can easily be selected through the quick menu.

Dynamic Range*(2.89)*


In dynamic range, once again the E-30 underwhelmed with a very poor result, far below any of the other cameras we tested. Dynamic range is a measure of a camera's ability to record a wide range of darks and lights within a single image. A camera with a wide dynamic range will be able to capture both highlights and shadows without losing either, where one with a poor dynamic range will struggle. We test dynamic range by photographing a Kodak step-chart at various apertures across all ISOs, and we use Imatest to analyze the results by distinguishing the individual steps of grey within the chart.

The E-30 has a dynamic range adjustment setting called Gradation, which can be set to Normal, Auto, High Key or Low Key, but not turned off entirely. After our initial review was published, including data gathered using the Auto setting, we re-tested the camera with the Normal setting, and still found a disappointingly low dynamic range. When comparing Auto and Normal settings, the Normal has a slightly better dynamic range at ISO 400 and below, but slightly worse above that.

 

At the highest ISO settings, the dynamic range results are very small; the extremely high noise levels in the test images severely limits the dynamic range the camera can accurately capture. However, the procedure used is our standard testing procedure, and scored under the same system as every other camera we test. The bottom line is that the E-30 had much less dynamic range at these levels than all of the other cameras we have tested in our new rubric. Switching the Gradation to Normal widens the range somewhat, but not by a huge amount.

Even at ISO 100, the E-30 only managed a dynamic range of 4.49 stops in our test; significantly less than other cameras. If you shoot on RAW this increases to 6.72, a resounding endorsement for shooting uncompressed if ever there was one. It's difficult to say why the difference between RAW and JPEG is so high; it may be due to some sort of built in noise reduction that the user cannot control, or even some issue with the JPEG compression. At ISO 3200, our results show a range of less than a single stop, though this is result is not directly accurate, as likely due Imatest's trouble differentiating different gray steps due to the high amounts of noise.

When compared to other cameras at ISO 200 (the lowest ISO found across all the comparison cameras), you get a feel for just how poorly the E-30 does when trying to capture the gamut of light levels. It's less than half that of the much less expensive Canon XS, to say nothing of the Nikon D90.

Yet again, the small sensor haunts the Olympus E-30. Its dynamic range was exceedingly poor, dropping below a single stop at ISO 3200. This be due in to the extreme levels of noise, which cause difficulty when trying to ascertain dynamic range, as steps can easily be obscured.

 *This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on 31st March 2009*

Image Stabilization*(11.79)*


The Olympus E-30 uses sensor-shift image stabilization technology to compensate for shaking hands. We test this by shaking the camera at high and low frequency, both in horizontal and vertical directions, using a precisely controlled laboratory mechansim. Lo and behold, the Olympus performed remarkably well. This may be one of the few benefits of having a small sensor, in that the camera can adjust it much faster to compensate for motion. For more details on how this test is run, see our How We Test article.

 

The first of our tests simulates the amount of shaking that you might find when holding the camera in two hands, so there's only a moderate amount of wobble. You can see that the camera is more effective horizontally across the slightly longer exposure as opposed to vertically, which is good, as horizontal shake is more prevalent when holding a camera. With both directions, the sharpness levels off around 1/60 and 1/30 of a second, a standard exposure level for indoor shooting. If you have the image stabilization on at this point, you get a sharpness approximately equivalent of a 1/200 exposure without image stabilization, a dramatic improvement.

 

With faster shaking, about the same as you would encounter when using the relatively hefty SLR one-handed, the improvement was even more noticeable, both horizontally and vertically.

What it boils down to is that the image stabilization on the E-30 is extremely effective. Regardless of the conditions you're shooting in, or your exposure time, if you're not using a tripod you will want to turn this feature on. Even at 1/500 of a second, where you usually won't see any blurring, there's still a noticeable improvement.

If you only want the camera to stabilize in one direction, for panning either left/right or up/down, you can set the image stabilization to level two or three. The former will only stabilize vertical shake, which makes it good for following objects moving parallel to the ground, and the latter only stabilizes horizontally, for targets rapidly ascending or descending.

If you are using Live View, holding down the IS button on the camera's back will engage the stabilization motor so you can see a preview of how it will effect your image without actually needing to take the photograph. However, this also creates a slightly unnerving noise.

Where camera manufacturers Olympus, Sony and Pentax differ from Canon and Nikon, is that they offer their image stabilization in the body of the camera rather than the lens. This means that all lenses retain the benefits of shake reduction, and their prices can be kept lower. The Olympus mount system is known for being able to take other lenses with a simple adapter, so the E-30 lets you manually set the focal length of a non-Four Thirds lens, and the image stabilization will still work.

Below are stills from some of our test photos taken with the Olympus E-30, showing an average image from the horizontal test. The target is a slanted line.

 

Automatic White Balance*(11.30)*


We tested the E-30's abilities to handle different light sources appropriately on both automatic and custom settings, and it performed below average yet again. It did alright on auto, but was less accurate than most other cameras when a manual white balance was taken. In order to test this reliably, we shoot the X-Rite colorcheck chart in the Judge II light box, which provides tightly controlled illumination at precise color temperatures.

Under incandescent/tungsten, fluorescent and daylight illumination, the E-30 tended towards the warm side, leading to slightly yellow images. This was especially noticeable under incandescent light, which is not uncommon.

The Olympus E-30 did relatively well with daylight illumination, though not quite to the level of the other cameras we tested.

All cameras struggle with incandescent light, and the E-30 is no exception, though it dealt with the yellow light of the standard household fixtures better than most.

The E-30 scored worse under cool white fluorescent bulbs than any other camera in our test group except the Nikon D90.

Custom White Balance*(7.92)*


When taking a custom white balance, you expect a high degree of accuracy from the camera. The E-30 had a tendency for its 'one touch white balance' to run slightly cool, but not hugely. While the results is worse than most other cameras on the market, the difference won't be highly visible in actual photos.

One issue we had with the custom white balance, called one touch white balance on this camera, is that the only way to take a reading requires the use of the customizable Fn button on the camera. Since there's no way to take a white balance from the menu system, you have to use your customizable button for this if you want to take an accurate white balance, precluding it from other uses.

White Balance*(9.61)*


While the E-30 did relatively well when set to automatic white balance, its relatively poor custom performance pulled it quite a bit lower in the overall white balance performance comparison. In Custom mode it scored lower than any of the other listed cameras.

White Balance Settings*(9.00)*


These presets can all be tweaked along the amber-blue and green-magenta axes, either individually or all at once. Additionally, white balance bracketing can be set to either axis in two, four or six steps over three photos. If you're using Live View, one of the view options shows you four variations of your current scene with different white balance presets applied.

Interestingly, the camera has a dedicated white balance sensor on the front of the camera, sadly placed where it can easily get blocked by stray fingers. It didn't seem to give the E-30 a performance boost over cameras that don't have it, though, and it can be turned off if the light sources are substantially different between the camera and subject.

Sample Photos


Below is a series of sample images taken with the E-30 in a number of different environments, with four 100% crops beneath each. You can click through to full-size images from the main photos, but they are large and may take some time to load.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Life Examples


Below are comparative examples of our still life taken with every camera at every ISO, even the extended range. Click for larger versions, but be prepared for a long wait if you have a slow Internet connection.

The E-30 shoots in 4:3 aspect ratio where the other cameras shoot in 3:2, which accounts for the slight difference in shape for the images above.

Noise Examples


Below are more 100% crops of a still-life image at each available ISO, with noise reduction turned off for all cameras.

To illustrate the high noise levels produced by the E-30 we created the following table, which demonstrates the effectiveness of all three levels of noise reduction at various ISOs, and the resulting alteration to image sharpness.

 

Playback Mode*(6.75)*


In playback mode, you can zoom in on images up to 14x, or out to 4, 9, 16, 25, 49 or 100 thumbnails, and then out even further to calendar view. Both the front and back dial handle magnification duties, and the four-way controller scrolls around the image, so there is no way to move between images at the same zoom level. When at 1x zoom, the up and down buttons jump forward or back ten images at a time.

If you press the […] button on the camera's rear, you can access lightbox mode, which lets you compare two images at a time. These can be controlled independently or concurrently to set zoom level and scroll around the image. The ± (exposure compensation) button will rotate the image, if you want to change it quickly, though the camera will auto-rotate images taken in portrait orientation. In the playback menu is a fairly rudimentary slideshow function, where you can chose how many images to show at once in accordance with the various number of thumbnails discussed above. There are no fancy fades or musical interludes, which is fine with us.

Pressing the INFO button alters the display during playback. As shown above, these cycle through image only, simple shooting info, full information with four histograms, brightness histogram or shadow/highlight.

In-Camera Editing*(4.25)*


While no replacement for a computer and a competent user of Photoshop, the E-30 has some basic editing tools built in, and one slightly unusual one. For the standard suspects, there's shadow adjust for dark images, red-eye fix, cropping, black and white and sepia modes and saturation adjustment. The image can also be resized or cropped to one of the multitude of aspect ratios supported by this camera (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5, or 3:4). The interesting editing feature is image overlay (which can also be done while shooting if you don't want to stack images after you're done shooting). Using RAW files, up to four pictures can be overlaid on one another, with the gain manually shifted from 0.1 to 2.0. If you want to overlay more than four images, just create two separate composites, and then combine the resulting files.

Software*(4.00)*


The only software that came bundled with the camera is Olympus Master 2, though a demo of Olympus Studio 2, the company's higher-end editing and workflow tool, is also included. Master 2 runs on both PCs and Macs.

Direct Print Options*(3.00)*


As with almost every camera currently on the market, the Olympus E-30 handles both types of direct printing: DPOF and PictBridge. If you know your printing setup, you can specify the DPI of the eventual print-out in advance.

Sensor*(1.50)*


As with all Olympus SLRs, the E-30 uses the Four Thirds sensor format, which has a unique set of advantages and disadvantages due to its small size. First, it has a 35mm crop factor of two, which means that the focal length of a lens is doubled to get its 35mm equivalent, so you can pack a much larger zoom into a smaller space. It also has very wide depth of field, which is great for overall sharpness, but makes isolating specific elements of the composition difficult at times.

Due to the high crop factor, less of the lens's edges are used, which also accounts in part for the excellent sharpness results we found in our testing, along with minimal chromatic aberration and distortion.

However, the negatives are substantial, and for many users will outweigh the positives. Both image noise and dynamic range are unacceptably bad on this camera, and shooting at the highest ISO (3200) outputs photographs that are borderline unusable. In bright light it handles fine, but the poor dynamic range (at least when not shooting RAW) and heavy noise levels are a considerable drawback.

OLYMPUS-E-30-sensor-size.jpg

The sensor is vibrated at high speeds every time the camera starts up in order to knock off any dust that may have landed on it. This slows down the startup time slightly, but only to an average of 1.6 seconds. 

Viewfinder*(5.50)*


The viewfinder isn't going to blow anyone away on this machine. It provides a decent 98% field of view, at approximately 1.02x magnification. The diopter's tucked away on the left side, and alters the focus from -3.0 to +1m-1.

The eyecup can be removed and replaced with other models, including a magnifier, available for purchase from Olympus. The compatable eyecups are the EP-5, 6 and 7. The EP-5 is the standard, the EP-6 and 7 are both larger and useful for people with glasses, and the magnifier is called the ME-1 (and will set you back around $40).

OLYMPUS-E-30-viewfinder.jpg

*The viewfinder has a decent field of view and magnification

*

The E-30 also ships with an eye-piece cover, to prevent light leaks during long exposure work. Some higher end full-frame SLRs have a built-in iris to prevent any leakage, but it's not something you generally find on a camera of this price point.

Looking through the viewfinder, here's what you'll see:

 

 

LCD*(6.90)*


The big drawback of the E-30 screen is its comparatively low resolution. On a point-and-shoot, 2.7' and 230,000 pixels may be fine, this pales in comparison to the Nikon D90's and Canon 50D's 920,000-dot displays. The one major LCD advantage this camera does offer, though, is the way the screen is articulated, pivoting out from the camera body horizontally and rotating vertically. Coupled with the decent Live View system, this is an especially worthwhile feature. The ability to frame shots at awkward angles, while holding the camera above your head, or without needing to keep your eye squashed against the viewfinder provides lots of shooting freedom, and represents one of the few hardware advantages Olympus holds over its competitors.

OLYMPUS-E-30-lcd-open.jpg
OLYMPUS-E-30-lcd-closed.jpg
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OLYMPUS-E-30-lcd4.jpg

*The articulated LCD. The speckles on the image on the top right

are due to the texture of the camera's body itself

*

  • *

The LCD is one of Olympus' HyperCrystal II screens, which allow some light to pass through the outer layer, then bounce back, providing greater brightness in sunlight. The brightness of the screen can be set to 15 levels, and the color balance can likewise be tweaked to 15 steps You can control what's shown on the LCD using the info button, as demonstrated below.

When using the quick menu, a huge amount of information is displayed. By using the four-way controller, you can navigate to any icon on the lower half of the screen and alter that setting.

 

 

LCD Panel

The monochrome LCD on the top of the camera is much like that you'd see on any other mid-range SLR. It shows all the salient details of your current mode, or any shooting controls you're currently altering.

OLYMPUS-E-30-lcd-top.jpg

The basic but useful monochrome LCD

 

Flash*(6.25)*


The E-30 sports a hot-shoe that offers full functionality with TTL-Auto and Super FP flashes. Other strobes will fire, but their brightness can't be altered. Also, if the flash requires more than 250V, it can damage the camera. The E-30 can also handle Olympus wireless flashs via the infrared receiver on the grip.

OLYMPUS-E-30-flash-open.jpg
OLYMPUS-E-30-flash-closed.jpg

The flash, both raised and lowered

The E-30 has a built in flash, deployed by a small button on the front of the lens. Images can be flash bracketed over 3 frames at ±0.3, 0.7 or 1 EV. This flash has a guide number of 18 at ISO 200, or 13 at ISO 100.

 

Lens Mount*(5.50)*


The E-30 uses the Four Thirds lens mount system, which is supported by Olympus and Kodak primarily, but also Fuji, Leica, Panasonic, Sanyo and Sigma. The Four Thirds sensor has a 35mm crop factor of 2x, which means that you double the stated focal length of a Four Thirds lens to get its 35mm equivalent. This allows for long focal lengths to be achieved in a relatively small package. If problems with vignetting occurs, the camera can be set to try and correct for it using shading compensation, sometimes called peripheral illumination correction in other brands.

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The Four Thirds system allows for quite small lenses

Below are examples of the zoom ratio we got out of a 14-54mm lens (28-108mm in 35 mm equivalent).

 

Battery*(7.00)*


The Olympus E-30 uses a proprietary lithium ion rechargeable battery. If you purchase the extended battery holder, you can use AAs for power as well. The Li-ion battery is rated for approximately 500 shots, which is a decent amount, though you can expect this to sink if you use Live View extensively.

OLYMPUS-E-30-battery-open.jpg
OLYMPUS-E-30-battery-closed.jpg

*The battery has a decent life, but it will drop rapidly in Live View

*

Memory*(4.00)*


Olympus has its own proprietary memory card format, xD, which you will find in all their cameras, including this one. xD cards are low capacity and high cost, so thankfully Olympus has also included a CF slot, for more standard cards. In a blatant move to push more of their cards into the consumer's hands, one of the shooting modes, Panorama assist, will only work with Olympus brand xD cards, not even xD cards from another manufacturer.

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OLYMPUS-E-30-card-closed.jpg

We're glad they included the option for CF

Jacks, Ports & Plugs*(1.00)*


The E-30 has two ports, one on the left side, and one just beneath the four-way controller. The left is for an external DC power adapter, should you chose to purchase one, and the one on the camera's back is for a proprietary USB/AV cable. We're not huge fans of proprietary connections. The cables have a tendency to be expensive to replace and hard to find. Also, when the USB cable is plugged in, the down arrow on the four-way controller is exceedingly difficult to press unless you have the hands of an elf. 

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OLYMPUS-E-30-ports1-closed.jpg
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Proprietary plugs are unnecessary for USB, but Olympus uses one anyway

Shooting Modes*(12.50)*


For the shooting modes, the usual suspects are all here.

 

Live View*(4.00)*


The Olympus E-30 has one of the fastest Live View modes we've seen; it keeps up with movement admirably, even in poor light. Its focus system is a step in the right direction, as it's quicker than many others, but still not up to the speed of traditional SLR autofocus.

There are three autofocus modes with Live View. Imager AF focuses within the Live View system, using contrast detection, but takes a long time, AF sensor mode briefly lowers the mirror (briefly blanking out the Live View display), focuses, then raises it again to take the photo. Finally, Hybrid, roughly focuses using the Imager, then fine-focuses with the autofocus sensor. Alternatively, you could always rely on manual focus, with an optional focus assist tool that enlarges the center of the image.

The face detection mode seems to be able to recognize the human head readily, though the inherent slowness of focus does make it a little troublesome for anything but the most well-behaved, slow-moving subjects..

 

 

Pressing the INFO button while in Live View shifts the details on the display. Starting with just the image, then a scale, shooting information, histogram, focus assist and finally multi-view. This final one shows four versions of the image with either different exposure compensation or white balance settings, and is a highly useful function. The ability to essentially bracket without taking any photos, gives you an excellent idea of what exposure you need, or what white balance setting is most appropriate.

Scene Modes*(6.83)*


Unusually for an SLR, the E-30 has a wide array of scene modes, many of which are cribbed from the company's point-and-shoot cameras. The first five of these modes still let you have some degree of control, and are placed on the mode dial, where the others lock down every setting on the camera, and are accessed in Art/Scene Mode.

 

Picture Effects*(9.50)*


With this camera, Olympus have pulled a number of features from their point-and-shoots, in a move to make new SLR users feel more at home. This has resulted in a number of so called 'picture effects', which covers color modes (what Olympus calls Picture Styles), the E-30s Art Filters, and two rather interesting shooting tools. But first, the Picture Styles.

Art modes are different from Scene modes, in that they act like filters over the image to substantially change your picture. Some Scene modes are on the mode dial, and some are accessible in Art/Scene mode, wjhile all the Art Filters are only reachable in Art/Scene mode. Some of the Art Filters are effects that would be easy to replicate in Photoshop (Pop Art and Pin hole spring to mind), but soft focus and grainy film would be a little harder and can create nice effects.

To give a feel for what all these Art Filters look like, Mr. Jerusalem was kind enough to pose for photographs in each. Click on the image for full size versions, but be warned, these are large.

 

Because dealing with Picture Styles, Art Filters and Scene Modes can be overwhelming, here are examples of what each look like under fixed lighting.

While shooting, the camera can inject two types of digital effects. The first is accessed in Panorama mode, located in the Scene Modes menu, and only works with Olympus xD cards. In this mode, you chose a direction to pan, and then snap a series of shots, which can then be stitched together using Olympus software. The problem with this is that there's no image overlay to show you where your previous shot ended, and this functionality can easily be replicated with third party software.

overlay.jpg

A shot created using multiple exposures

The second is multiple exposures, which overlays two, three or four images over one another to create a composite. You can set the gain to either auto (which turns the brightness to 1/n, where n is the number of frames) or full. This editing can also be done in Playback with previously taken images, as long as they're RAW files.

Focus*(8.00)*


The Olympus E-30 uses TTL contrast detection for focusing, when not in Live View. It has 11 focal points, shown below. The focal point can be set to any one of these, the entire range, or a cross of five points. If there's one setup you find yourself using frequently, you can set this as the 'home' autofocus point, which the camera will default to. In low light situations, the flash functions as an autofocus assist lamp by firing a brief burst of light. This illuminates very well, but is incredibly distracting for any candid shots you may be attempting to make.

OLYMPUS-E-30-focuspoints-scan.jpg

The 11 TTL autofocus points

If your lenses are causing you trouble, and not focusing quite right, the E-30 can store autofocus microadjustments for up to twenty registered lenses.

There are five focus modes available, in combination between auto and manual.

Exposure*(4.50)*


The E-30 has an exposure compensation scale that runs beyond the normal ±2 or 3 to the larger ±5, and a wider range is always better. To help with exposure in overly bright or dark situations, Olympus uses a gradation option, which amounts to a dynamic range adjustment. In areas that are universally bright, say a polar bear in the snow, you would put this on High Key, which would pull more information from the bright endof  the histogram. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Low Key, which makes sure generally dark images don't lose detail. Alternatively, there's Auto, which divides the image into sections, and handles each separately, or else Normal if you don't want it to tweak the settings at all.

Depth of Field Preview*(1.50)*


When composing a shot with an SLR, the aperture is usually left wide open to let in the most light, but this doesn't give an accurate indication of depth of field. Depth of field preview briefly stops down the aperture to whatever the current shooting setting is, previewing the actual depth of field that will appear in the final photo, at the cost of brightness in the viewfinder. The E-30 has two different ways of firing up the depth of field preview function. Either press the button next to the lens, or else sacrifice the Fn button's customable functionality by setting it to Depth of Field preview. Frankly, we can't see why you would use the latter while the former is available, but more customization options are better than fewer.

Metering*(6.50)*


The E-30 has five types of metering, including three types of spot.

Shutter Speed*(10.00)*


This camera has an excellent range of shutter speeds, including a bewildering maximum timed shot length of 30 minutes in bulb mode.

Self-Timer*(3.00)*


The Olympus has a standard array of self-timers, but doesn't have the level of customization you see in some Canons, where you can set the length of the timer and number of shots to be taken when the time is up.

**

**

Handling*(6.00)*


The camera has a pleasant heft behind its 23oz (without lens) weight, giving it a certain stability and solidity. It also has a good, deep grip to wrap your mitts around, so you won't be dropping this camera because of a stiff breeze. The button layout is pretty good, though we found the rear dial placed just a tiny bit further away from our thumb's natural resting position than we would have liked. The Delete button is also placed far from the right hand, making it impossible to erase bad images with only one hand. One other small problem is that when the USB cable was plugged into the back of the camera, it became difficult to press the down button on the four-way pad.

 

Controls*(8.00)*


The control scheme on the E-30 is generally laid out well, and the buttons all feel highly resilient, as if they'll take many, many presses without complaint.

 

In addition to buttons, toggles and dials, the E-30 has a couple of neat controls and options tucked away. The level gauge reads an acceleration sensor in two directions to let you know when your camera has a perfect level both vertically and horizontally. If you're doing tripod work, or you don't have access to a spirit level, this could come in handy. If you're shooting in a setup where the vibrations must be kept to a minimum, the anti-shock option lets you set a time delay between the mirror being raised and the shutter released to stop any chance of motion. This can be set to between one and 30 seconds.

levelgauge1.jpg
levelgauge2.jpg

The level gauge tool, in normal mode on the left, and Live View on the right

 

The E-30 also allows for a decent level of customization. The most evident is the Fn button, which can be set to face detection, one-touch white balance, test picture (takes a photo and shows it on the LCD, but doesn't save), My Mode, Depth of Field preview, switch to a saved autofocus point, switch to manual focus, shoot in RAW, or show the level gauge. Unfortunately, the need to take manual white balance readings is usually far more pressing than the usefulness of these other features, and using the Fn button is the only way to take a white balance reading, so you'll probably end up leaving it on that option the majority of the time. My Mode includes two groups of custom shooting settings that can be saved at a time, always a handy option. The camera can set the dials and focus ring to work in either direction, if you have a preference. There's also an option to alter how long after pressing a control button that you have to change the related setting (if you hit ISO, for example, you have three seconds by default to alter the sensitivity level). In the custom menu, you can set this alternatively to five or eight seconds, or else hold, where you have to keep the button depressed in order to alter a setting.

Menu*(4.75)*


The menu system has a series of tabs running along the left side, each of which offers a page or two of options, some of which lead to even further choices. It's not a bad menu system, but the lists can be a bit long, so getting to the desired choice can be a chore. The system would also benefit from a higher-resolution screen, which would make the menu sharper, but it's still reasonably bright and easy to read.

Manual & Learning*(5.75)*


The Olympus E-30s manual is pretty decent. It's well laid out with clear illustrations and a good table of contents and index. Where it fell short was adequately explaining some of the features (like gradation), and in placing the table of contents after the basic guide, so you have to hunt for the contents page before you can start looking for what you really need.

If you're looking for more information, Olympus has a series of online tutorials for their SLRs at Olympus Digital School. There aren't any specifically for the E-30 yet, but there are some good general lessons on the site (though a few border on advertorial).

 

Shot to Shot*(4.63)*


At highest speed, Olympus states the camera can take five frames per second, in our lab testing we clocked it at 4.63, within experimental error of the stated value. This holds true for both RAW and JPEG, though you will notice it starts to slow down after 10-15 shots. The following chart indicates the number of frames per second each camera can rattle off; higher numbers are better.

Drive/Burst Mode*(6.25)*


In addition to the above mentioned five frames per second high-speed continuous mode, there's also a low speed mode. This can be customized between one and four frames per second, depending on the user's preference.

 

This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 15, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.

 

 

Performance

Apart from resolution and burst speed (and that only barely), the D90 is the superior camera hands down. The Nikon runs circles around the Olympus, especially in long exposure and dynamic range. It's worth noting, though, that we don't have image stabilization test results for the D90, and the Olympus scored very well in that test. The D90 is one of the few SLRs available that offers video, and while it's not exactly amazing quality, it's still a worthwhile feature.

Components

The two cameras are more or less on-par in terms of hardware. The Nikon has a higher-quality LCD screen, but the Olympus display is articulated to allow greater shooting flexibility. The E-30 also has a better Live View system, and an overall faster autofocus system. Of course, the big components area where the Nikon pulls ahead is in the substantially larger image sensor, which helps keep noise levels down and dynamic range up. The D90 uses SDHC cards where the E-30 can take CF; the latter has a faster maximum transfer rate.

Handling

Both the Olympus and Nikon are alike in size, shape and weight. The button layout on the D90 feels slightly better, but that's very much up to personal preference. Both cameras feel well made and balanced, and have a good heft to them. We prefer the Nikon's menu system, partly due to the higher resolution screen, but both are perfectly usable.

Controls

The Nikon D90 and Olympus E-30 have a similar degree of control, with a wide range of options. Both have the same level of exposure compensation, similar autofocus systems and burst rates. The E-30 has a better range of speeds for continuous shooting, and wider range of shutter speeds, but the Nikon can extend its ISO range up to 6400 for lower light performance.

 

This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 15, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.

 

**

**

Performance

Considering that the two cameras cost almost the same amount of money, the 50D resoundingly thrashed the E-30 in every lab performance test we ran, bar resolution. It's faster, shoots better quality images with better color and lower noise. We don't have image stabilization data for the 50D, but the Olympus did perform very well on that test. Overall, though, the problems with image noise and dynamic range put the Olympus at a competitive disadvantage.

Components

The two cameras are much alike in terms of hardware, with perhaps a very slight advantage going to the Olympus. The Olympus' viewfinder has a better field of view and magnification, more autofocus points, and the LCD screen is articulated to maximize your shooting options. The Canon 50D has a higher resolution screen, and a battery rated for 800 photographs, 300 more than the E-30s, which can be a key issue when shooting in the field. The E-30 has a focus system that feels slightly faster in general, and noticeably better in Live View.

Handling

The interface of the Canon is quite different from that of the Olympus, as it uses a rear wheel and joystick, rather than dial and four-way controller. Where your preference lies is entirely a personal matter, but both have their advantages and disadvantages. The Canon 50D is a bit heavier without a lens, but not massively so. Both have decent grips to accommodate their weight, and Canon has been far more generous in covering their camera in grip material.

Controls

The E-30 pips the 50D in terms of control, with a wider spread of exposure compensation, and a better spread of shutter speeds, though the Canon can handle ISO settings up to 12,800 with much lower noise. The 50D can also shoot in reduced resolution RAW to retain the high quality but without using quite so much space. The E-30 tends to have better incremental controls, like being able to use exposure compensation in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV, where the 50D can only use 1/3 or 1/2 EV.

 *This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 15, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.*

 

 

Performance

When a $600 entry-level SLR outperforms one twice its price, you know that something is amiss. The Rebel performs much better in long exposure, white balance and startup time, though not as well in resolution or shot to shot bursts. There's a fairly decent chance that the stabilization on the E-30 is better, as it performed extremely well in that test, but we don't have IS data on the Rebel yet.

Components

The E-30 has a much higher quality of components than the Canon Rebel XS, which can feel a bit toy-like at times. It's light, made of low quality plastic, and has relatively fragile-feeling buttons. The XS has an inferior viewfinder, smaller LCD, doesn't have a secondary monochrome LCD on top, and has only the one control dial.

Handling

No question here, the E-30 handles much better than the Canon, with a wider array of buttons and a more comfortable weight. The extra heft makes for a more solid feel, as well as keeping camera shake down. It has a bigger grip, more robust material, and the controls are more directly accessible, rather than relying on the menu system.

Controls

The Olympus has a wider array of controls than the relatively simple Canon XS, which is very limited in what it can do, (though the functions the XS does provide, it handles quite well). The E-30 shoots faster, has a wider variety of exposure compensation, bracketing, white balance controls, ISO range, and just about everything else you can think of. But for all of that, when it comes down to the bare basics, the Rebel XS takes good photos at a much lower price than the E-30, and all the fancy Art Filters can be replicated in post-processing if need be.

 *This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 15, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.*

 

 

Performance

The K2000 is the only camera that the E-30 managed to outperform in color accuracy, and it has a faster high speed mode, but it scored lower in a number of other sections, most noticeably white balance, noise, startup time and dynamic range. The noise and dynamic range differences are most likely due to the smaller sensor, and the nippy startup time is mostly due to the Olympus cleaning its sensor every time you turn it on.

Components

The hardware of the K2000 is much lower quality than that of the E-30, which is expected given its low price. That said, it has a good kit lens with low chromatic aberration and high sharpness. The LCDs of the two models have the same specs, but the E-30s has the articulated mount advantage, as well as Live View, which the Pentax lacks. The E-30 also has a much better viewfinder, but is plagued by the problems of its small sensor.

Handling

The two cameras handle very differently, due to the much greater weight of the Olympus, its larger number of buttons, secondary LCD screen and excellent Live View system (which the K2000 completely lacks). The Pentax is extremely light, and feels fragile when compared to the E-30, and we're definitely fans of the additional mass in this case. The lack of a second control dial and monochrome LCD screen, as well as fewer buttons dedicated to a single function necessitate much more menu digging for each setting when shooting with the Pentax.

Controls

Both cameras have a wide variety of scene modes to entice new users to the SLR scene, but the E-30 has more controls and a more diverse array of options. The K2000 only has exposure compensation ±2 levels, compared with the ±5 of the E-30. The Olympus also has far more customization opportunities, including the customizable Fn button on its back, and just generally more control over the camera.

 *This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 15, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.*

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