In a nutshell
- 12.3 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor
- Four Thirds Format
- Truepic III processor
- Built in Image Stabilisation (5 step efficiency)
- 5 frames per second max
- ISO sensitivity 100-3200 in 1/3 stops
- 1/250 sec flash sync and 1/8000 sec shutter
- Creative Art Filters
- Camera body price:
- Camera kit price: from
In the hand
Being a diehard Canon user, and a Nikon user in the days of film, I was looking forward to trying out the Olympus E-30 digital SLR. Digitally I’m only really familiar with full frame sensors, so I’ve got a pretty tough yardstick to measure the E-30 up against, yet the “Four Thirds” system from Olympus seems to be fast gaining a lot of respect.
Straight out of the box the camera feels pretty good, and the controls are almost exactly where you would want to find them. Without opening up the instruction book, the menus and functions are more than intuitive enough to get you started straight away - most of us will only turn to the instruction manual when we can’t admit we’ve been defeated!
The LCD panel has a twist, literally. It’s a “tilt and twist” number, 2.7 inches in size and displaying the same kind of clarity as its big brother, the Olympus E-3. It’s reminiscent of a camcorder screen in the manner that it folds out and I wonder why more cameras don’t have this feature. Done shooting? Then fold the screen away – simply genius! Not a new feature, but a great one nevertheless. Olympus have also incorporated live view into the LCD panel - and here’s where I had to turn to the manual for the first time in an effort to switch to live view - only to discover there’s a button on the camera back that takes you straight into live view mode and straight out again when you’re done.
The body fits very nicely in the hand too. These days I think everything is described as “ergonomically designed” – whether this is or isn’t, it fits very nicely and that’s what counts. If a camera doesn’t feel right from the beginning then it never will, so this one gets full marks from the word go in that respect.
The loan model came with the Olympus 14-54mm lens which felt perfectly balanced on the Olympus E-30 body. If I was going to use longer or heavier lenses, I’d recommend the battery grip (Olympus HLD-4), primarily for the extra stability when shooting handheld, but also for the increased battery power it will give you. No matter how much Image Stabilisation there is (and on the Olympus E-30 there is plenty, in two directions at least) nothing beats a little stability in the hand. The grip can always be budgeted for at a later date.
Creative Art Filters
There are six ‘Art Filters’ that can be applied when shooting. These are Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pin Hole. They pretty much do exactly what they say on the tin. My guess is that every user will have their own personal favourites - mine were Grainy Film and Pinhole, which are probably the most creative looking. Grainy film is the closest thing I’ve seen to a pushed roll of Tri-x or Tmz3200, reminiscent of black and white rock ‘n’ roll promo pictures from the 70’s and 80’s. Pin hole creates a vignette darkening the corners of the frame drawing you into your subject similar to more traditional hand made prints and great for portraiture. There will of course be those users who are very adept with computers that will always want to create their own after effects - but these do the job admirably well too, and they’re handily applied at the time of shooting. Soft Focus has that 1970’s glamour look off to a tee, and for the Pop Art filter, it helps if your intended image is strong in colour to begin with – you’re going to want something to saturate!
It’s a nice touch on a camera in this price bracket. After all, there is a part of photography that is meant to be fun as well as creative; you can make of it what you will.
Image quality is of course paramount, and the evolution of digital 35mm has long surpassed film. I’m going to put my head on the chopping block a little here, but these days I think almost too much is made of pixel count, noise, and various lens aberrations. We’re at a stage where most manufacturers are producing great sensors offering top quality results, and Olympus is no exception. The important question is whether or not the image looks any good? The first handful of out of the box snaps of anything in my way are looking promising and get the ball rolling. For the record, the Olympus E-30 digital SLR has the biggest pixel count in the range superseding its big brother the Olympus E-3 by a cool couple of million pixels, which should keep the numbers gang more than happy.
Through the range of ISO’s, pictures at 100 are beautifully crisp and detailed – and up to ISO 400 we’re still holding a good level of detail. A little noise begins to creep in at 800 (but at a very acceptable level), and get up to 3200 and the files do get noisy - but this is the case on most modern digital SLRs; the point being that you can still get images at these settings whereas just a couple of years ago the high ISO’s really were no-go zones. But you know, a little noise adds a little atmosphere, and that’s no bad thing. I think Olympus has got the balance right in this respect.
With the ISO set to 100, in conjunction with the Olympus 14-54mm lens, the results feel “photographic” which is a major plus point, in both the Olympus RAW format (.ORF) and also the camera’s jpegs. That’s not such an odd comment as it may seem; some cameras feel very digital and personally I prefer my pictures to feel like photographs, not a rendition of over-sharpened pixels.
Metering and Pop-Up Flash
It’s only when I came to write the review that I realised, in the all too brief a time I had with the camera, I hadn’t given the meter too much thought, but that speaks volumes for the Olympus E-30 digital SLR. I left it in the standard evaluative mode, ESP, a 49 zone affair.
But lets face it, Olympus have been making meters inside cameras for years so this is no great surprise. If you’re looking for more specific control then you’ll find Centre Weighted, a 2% Spot, and Highlight and Shadow offerings too.
The pop-up flash was a pleasant surprise as I’ve always been a little sneery towards the world of pop up, and I used this the only time I thought the camera’s meter needed a little help. Used as a little fill flash in daylight, or shooting portraits into the sun whilst keeping a little detail in the subject, the results were inspiring and nicely balanced. Just don’t try to light the inside of Wembley Stadium with it – that’s not what it’s intended for!
Focusing & Image Stabilisation
The focusing with the Olympus 14-54mm lens was fast and efficient. A little more care was needed when testing the higher ISO settings in low light - but this is the norm with most autofocus systems. Camera systems that are double the price still “hunt” in low light. You get 11 focus points to choose from, which can be used automatically or selected manually. I personally preferred to use the centre point and then focus lock on the subject and recompose. Left to its own devices on fully auto (the camera selects the focal point for you) it did a pretty good job too, and I chose the most difficult subject here too - my kids. You only get one chance with kids! I suspect though that most people buying a camera at this level will take a little more control and use the fully auto settings for “lazy days” where fun is more important than consideration!
Olympus also offer SWD lenses described as “the astounding ZUIKO Digital SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive) models which boast the world’s fastest autofocus speeds...” So if shooting action is your thing… Image Stabilisation is offered in two directions. One is in both the XY directions (up and down and left to right to you and me) and the other is in the Y direction which is useful for panning shots in sports etc
Making the choice
More pixels than its big sister the Olympus E-3, and more sturdy in the hand than its little brother the Olympus E-520, the Olympus E-30 only seems to be missing the weather proofing of the E-3. But how many of us stay out there when it’s teeming with rain and no cover? I certainly don’t!
With so much of today’s electronics having so much to offer, and the Olympus E-30 is no exception here, you’d need a month of Sunday’s to cover it all. Fortunately, the full camera manual is available as a download from the Olympus website along with the brochure. And if you’re serious about buying the camera you could do a lot worse than download and have a read. My guess is that you’d have to up the cash by quite a hike to find a camera that was substantially better than this in its price range.
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