Olympus E-30 Review
The 12MP Olympus E-30 is a prosumer digital SLR (DSLR) that fills the gap in Olympus’ DSLR line between the flagship “pro” E-3 and the entry level E-620. As a prosumer level camera, the Olympus E-30 has more in common with the E-3 than the E-620 but shares some features with both models.
Olympus was the first to incorporate Live View and a dust reduction system in its DSLRs and, of course, includes these features in the E-30. Like all newer Olympus DSLRs, the E-30 offers sensor-shift image stabilization and a set of creative in-camera Art Filters. Expanding creative options even further, the E-30 also offers the ability to make multiple exposures—a feature rarely found on other DSLRs. The camera is outfitted with a 2.7-inch swivel LCD, making it easy to take pictures from any angle when Live View is engaged. A built-in leveling gauge to ensure straight horizons is also part of the E-30’s many features.
Where to Buy
If you are looking to buy an Olympus E-30, please purchase from one of our partners and help support Photo.net.
If you are new to digital photography, start with the photo.net guide Advice on Choosing a DSLR.
Physical Design and Build
The Olympus E-30 has a similar look and feel to its siblings but, at about 1.4 pounds (body only) and measuring 5.57 × 4.2 × 2.95 inches, it is smaller and lighter than the E-3 and slightly larger and heavier than the E-620. It’s weighty enough to provide a steady handhold during low light/low shutter speed shooting but light enough to carry around all day with no strain.
Although it’s constructed of heavy duty plastic and doesn’t have the weatherproofing of the E-3’s magnesium alloy body, the E-30 feels solidly built. A nice-sized grip is designed well and provides a comfortable handhold for both smaller and larger hands.
Like all DSLRs, the E-30 has both an optical viewfinder and an LCD. With a 98% field of view, the viewfinder offers better coverage than much of the competition. It’s also large and relatively bright, which makes it easy to compose and to read the display of shooting data, i.e., flash/flash intensity, AE lock, metering mode, white balance (except auto WB), aperture, f/stop, shutter speed, ISO, and battery gauge. An exposure/EV compensation indicator is visible across the bottom of the viewfinder when shooting in manual mode and, when activated, the horizontal level gauge can also be seen in the viewfinder.
One of the features that sets the E-30 apart from most other DSLRs is its articulated LCD. The 2.7-inch monitor’s resolution is 230,000 pixels and while some other DSLRs offer higher resolution (and larger LCDs), the Olympus E-30’s monitor is still usable under all lighting conditions. If/when there’s a glare from the sun, just tilt the screen. In Live View, the adjustable LCD is invaluable for composing shots at different angles—overhead, low to the ground or even self-portraits.
In addition to a full-sized status display panel atop the camera grip, full camera settings are displayed on the rear LCD. Press the OK button on the back of the E-30 to switch to the Super Control Panel, which allows you to change a myriad of options without digging into the menu or using the external controls. Despite the fact that the Super Control Panel provides access to everything from the basics like ISO, white balance, metering and flash mode to picture mode, white balance fine-tuning, sharpness, saturation, gradation (auto, normal, high key, low key), and face detection, the panel never feels crowded or difficult to navigate (until you get to individual menus—more about that below). No worries if you’re unfamiliar with the icons representing the different functions; Olympus provides a text ID for each one as you scroll through the various options.
Multiply display options are available in Live View, including the leveling gauge mentioned earlier. In Live View, though, the gauge measures both pitch and roll (horizontal and vertical). The E-30 also gives you the option of displaying visual aids such as a live color histogram, grid overlays, adjustable focus area, and live previews for white balance choices and exposure compensation. The latter two provide multiple thumbnails so you can see how different selections affect the image. The white balance preview is a helpful quick fix when you’re unsure of how lighting conditions will affect your image and/or you’re unable to do a manual WB reading.
Buttons and dials are logically distributed across the Olympus E-30 surfaces and, for the most part, are within easy reach when holding the camera. When shooting with the E-30, I tend to mix it up and use both the external controls and the Super Control Panel to change settings. When I’m in the midst of capturing a series of images or a quickly changing scene, I’ll use the buttons and dials so I don’t have to take the camera away from my eye (at least not for very long). If the scene is static, I’m changing locations or need to change settings that aren’t available via external controls, I’ll use the Super Control Panel. Between the two, just about all the features you need to make a good photograph are available. There’s also a customizable Fn (Function) button to which you can assign one of a number of functions including Face Detection, Live Preview, switch between auto-focus and manual focus, change recording modes (i.e., JPEG to JPEG+RAW or vice versa), among others.
It may seem inconsequential but props to Olympus for equipping the E-30 with two control dials, unlike some DSLRs that only offer one. In shutter-speed or aperture priority modes, either dial will adjust the exposure so you don’t have to remember which dial adjusts one or the other. In full manual exposure mode, the front dial changes aperture; the rear changes shutter speed. Either dial can be used to scroll through menu settings as well. Both the main dial and the sub dial can be assigned functions such as exposure compensation if you’d like.
The E-30’s mode dial provides access to the standard Auto, Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-speed priority, and Manual exposure modes. Additionally, there are dedicated icons for basic scene modes as well as a special Art Filter/Scene mode. (See below for more on the E-30’s Art Filters.)
Atop the grip, you’ll find the comfortably angled shutter release and buttons for the display panel light, white balance, exposure compensation and ISO. Rear controls to the right of the LCD include the function button and the AF target selection button. The latter allows you to manually adjust the single focus point or a group of focus points, which is very handy for shooting off-center compositions.
The rear of the E-30 also provides access to controls for AF/AE lock, review/playback, power on/off, IS (image stabilization) and a four-way controller for scrolling with a center OK button. Buttons to access Live View, the information display on the LCD, the menu and to delete images are aligned along the lower edge of the LCD.
Auto-focus selection and the dual-function metering and remote control/self-timer/sequential shooting buttons sit to the left of the optical viewfinder. Auto-focus options include single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, as well as combinations that allow you to use auto-focus and then tweak the focus manually in single AF or continuous AF. Five metering options can be accessed with a single press of the metering button: digital ESP (wide area metering), center weighted and three spot metering settings: standard spot, highlight control (which overexposes to ensure whites come out white and not gray), and shadow control (which underexposes to ensure that black areas are not captured as gray). Highlight control should be used when the background is bright; shadow control when the background is dark. Discovering this option is one reason it’s always good to at least skim the user guide when you get a new camera.
Another benefit to reading user guides is to find out about dual button scenarios. For example, press the AF and the metering buttons at the same time and you can set up exposure bracketing. Press the white balance (WB) and metering buttons at the same time to set up white balance bracketing. The E-30 offers many options that aren’t in plain sight so the manual does come in handy.
Since the external controls and the Super Control Panel provide access to pretty much everything you need to control the E-30’s settings, you will rarely have to access the full menu system. The main exception to the rule is setting up custom shooting modes. The E-30 offers two custom mode options: My Mode1 and My Mode2 but you’ll have to assign My Mode to the function button and press both the shutter and function button at the same time, which is a little awkward. I found that it was simply easier to change settings on the fly than to set up the customized modes but that’s a personal preference since I shoot a lot of different scenarios. If you find a combination of settings that work well for specific types of images you shoot on a regular basis, then the My Mode option may be worth the effort it takes to set up and access.
The Olympus E-30’s menu system is pretty straightforward, once you understand what each icon represents. Icons are fairly universal across DSLRs, so you shouldn’t have a problem figuring out what’s what.
Navigating the menus isn’t quite as easy as it could be since you have to scroll sequentially through the options rather than being able to jump from one to another. For example, White balance has three rows, with four options in each row. In order to get from Auto, which is the first position in the first row, to Flash WB, which is in the first position in the third row, you have to scroll through the 7 options in between instead of jumping from the first row to the third. Since the Super Control Panel and the external control buttons all rely on the same menu system, there’s no way around this time-wasting—and often frustrating—navigation.
The Olympus E-30 is equipped with a new 12.3MP Live MOS image sensor (designed to provide Live View), which should be more than enough resolution for most uses. Fortunately, the megapixel wars are over—sort of—and sometimes less is more considering that squeezing additional megapixels on a sensor can increase image noise, as well as increase file sizes that can slow down read/write speeds and take up valuable space on your hard drive.
Other E-30 features that appeal include a built-in dust reduction system and sensor-shift image stabilization. The latter means that you don’t have to buy special (and more expensive) image stabilized lenses since the sensor shifts with camera movement to allow you to handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds. Olympus claims a 5-stop advantage when image stabilization is activated; I think it’s probably more like 2-3 stops at best but it really depends on how much caffeine I’ve had.
Live View has become a standard option in DSLRs and while the Olympus E-30 doesn’t offer video capture, the camera’s Live View auto-focus works pretty well (albeit a little slowly). And it’s one of the few DSLRs on the market with a swivel LCD for comfortable shooting at various angles.
Dual card slots—one for CompactFlash, the other for xD—are a bonus, although I’m not a big fan of the physical size, capacity limitations and price of the semi-proprietary xD card (only Olympus and Fujifilm use this format media card). C’mon Olympus—go with a second SD slot, please.
Although it’s a mid-range camera in price, Olympus didn’t skimp on the E-30’s feature set. There are plenty of basic and advanced controls that address white balance, highlights and shadows and other important aspects of an image. As I mentioned earlier, the E-30 has a live Perfect Shot Preview, which allows you to see how a setting affects an image before you capture the shot.
Having nine aspect ratios, including 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5 and 3:4 is a nice touch but I’m not sure how often photographers will go beyond the standard formats. Still, it’s always nice to have a feature or function that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere just in case you need it or want to experiment.
Olympus has taken the idea of special effects to the next level with its Art Filter mode. Rather than relying on post-processing to apply special effects to images, you can use the E-30’s in-camera options to capture a half dozen different “looks.”
- Pop Art delivers bright, fun, highly saturated images; think Peter Max in the 1960’s.
- Soft Focus creates soft, moody (but not darkly Goth) pictures.
- Pale & Light Color utilizes pastel colors and gentle lighting—it’s sort of a sweet look without being cute.
- Light Tone seems to just slightly desaturate colors
- Grainy Film is my absolute favorite—black and white with soft but imposing grain.
- Pin Hole surrounds the center of the image with a shadowed aura; similar to what you’d achieve with an actual pin hole camera.
This is the first generation of Art Filters and while I don’t know if any further development is planned, it would be nice to have control over how intensely the filter is applied. But you can adjust some parameters, such as ISO, exposure compensation and white balance, for example, when shooting in Art Filter mode. Be sure to shoot in JPEG+RAW if you want an un-filtered copy of the image otherwise (the E-30 saves the processed JPEG with the effect applied; the RAW will be untouched). Not surprisingly, it takes a little longer for the camera to write an Art Filter file; not a big deal, though.
Another fun feature is the ability to shoot multiple exposures. And it’s a lot easier than it used to be when shooting with a 35mm film camera. Head into the menu, turn multiple exposure on and choose how many frames (up to 4) you want to combine. Then shoot. If you want a more precise layout of multiple exposures, you can shoot and save RAW images and then combine them when you’re ready. Between the two features, there are tons of possibilities.
High ISO Performance
For those of you who think that 12MP may not be enough, consider that with this sensor, the Olympus E-30 controls image noise very well. Whether or not the E-30’s sensor could handle a lot more megapixels and keep the image noise levels as low is, to venture a guess, doubtful.
With an ISO range of 100-3200, the E-30 doesn’t offer the extended light sensitivity of other, generally more expensive, DSLRs but combined with the built-in image stabilization, this camera can handle a wide range of lighting conditions.
Although image noise is slightly visible in shadows at ISO 400 when viewed at 100% on the computer, it won’t affect prints. In fact, shooting at ISO 800 or, in some cases, even 1600 the E-30 kept image noise at relatively low levels in all but the shadow areas. Even with noise reduction turned on, the camera was surprisingly capable of holding on to most details. If push comes to shove, ISO 3200 images are usable; they’re just not great. As always, the recommendation is to keep the ISO as low as possible to get the cleanest output. For the E-30, I’d recommend staying at ISO 800 or below.
Like the higher end E-3, the Olympus E-30 features an 11-point Twin Cross sensor for fast and accurate auto-focus. To get the best performance, you’ll need one of Olympus’ new SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive) lenses.
Although I tested the E-30 with the 14-64mm kit lens rather than one of the designated SWD models, the E-30’s auto-focus was responsive, particularly in bright light. There was very little hunting, even when shooting at telephoto. But, an any focal length, extremely low light, there was a slight delay before the lens popped into focus.
In Live View, auto-focus works surprisingly well. It’s just a little slow, with the lens performing hunt-and-seek, particularly in lower light.
Overall, the Olympus E-30 is responsive—shutter lag is almost non-existent, as expected from a digital SLR and shot-to-shot time is more than acceptable. The on-board flash, which also acts as an AF-assist lamp can slow things down slightly when it’s engaged, i.e., in very low light conditions.
Even without the flash’s AF-assist, the E-30’s autofocus system (11 points full-twin cross AF sensor) works pretty well in low light. It’s faster still in bright light, especially in single AF mode. Continuous AF, with Olympus’ 14-54mm lens, is occasionally slightly sluggish (and noisy) when the lens initially hunts for a focus point but generally tracks pretty well.
The E-30’s continuous shooting speed, which Olympus estimates at about 5 frames per second in High; selectable 1-4fps in Low, can hold its own against the competition. Although the E-30 has dual slots (CF and xD), stick with high speed CompactFlash cards like the SanDisk Extreme III (or IV) for the best performance.
I was able to capture 11 JPEG Superfine + RAW images at slightly less than 5 frames per second but it took about 20 seconds to save the images to a SanDisk 2GB Extreme III card. Set on Low, capacity and write time was the same. After switching to Superfine JPEG only (no RAW) on High speed, I was able to capture 20 images before shooting speed slowed down. After that, it took about 8 seconds to write the files to the CF card.
Like other DSLRs with Live View, the Olympus E-30 slows down considerably in this mode since it takes time for the mirror to flip up and, with the mirror up, only the slower contrast detect autofocus is available. And, to make matters even more complicated, contrast detect autofocus only works with specific lenses: 25mm f2/8, 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6, 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6, 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6, 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5II.
While the Olympus E-30 may not be the fastest DSLR on the market or in its class, the camera will certainly meet the needs of most photographers whether they’re shooting static or fast-moving subjects.
When left to its own devices—Auto or even some of the presets—the Olympus E-30 tends to produce warm images when shooting under basic indoor household lighting. But there are so many white balance options, from manual and Kelvin temperature settings, to tweaking the Amber-Blue/Green-Magenta axis (+/- 7 steps in each axis in Auto, Preset, and One touch WB modes). You can also register one custom WB setting and, for the ultimate coverage, the E-30’s white balance bracketing can be used. The 3-frame bracketing can be set in 2, 4, or 6 selectable steps in each A-B/G-M axis. Yeah, there’s a learning curve there but once you master the E-30’s white balance options, the camera can handle most any lighting condition you throw at it.
The E-30 is well-equipped with an on-board flash, hotshoe, and wireless capabilities. The built-in flash has all the standard options such as auto, forced on/off, redeye reduction (including slow sync), slow sync at 1st or 2nd curtain, and manual adjustments at ¼, 1/16, and 1/64 power. Flash intensity can be adjusted up to +/-3 EV in 0.3, 0.5, and 1 EV steps. Fortunately, all the flash adjustments can be made directly on the Super Control Panel on the camera’s LCD.
The built-in flash also acts as an AF assist lamp by shooting out a series of light flashes—effective but annoying, especially to your subject who has to endure the bright output.
Accessory flashes are available for the E-30 including the FL-50R, FL-36R, FL-50, FL-36, FL-20, although the 50R and the 35R are the only models that support wireless flash. All have a synch speed of 1/250th second or less, which is pretty standard. The wireless strobes offer TTL Auto, Auto, Manual, FP TTL Auto and FP manual options.
Choosing a Lens
One of the most important specifications to consider when choosing a lens for the Olympus E-30—or any Four Thirds DSLR—is that the effective focal length is twice (2x) the lens’ 35mm focal length. So, for example, if you choose a 14-42mm lens, the effective focal range will be 28-84mm. Most other DSLRs have a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor, so the E-30 is great if you want that extra telephoto reach without lugging around (or investing in) a huge lens.
On the other hand, you’ll have to carefully choose lenses for your wide-angle work. The relatively affordable Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 lens or the more expensive Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/4.0 are about the widest lenses Olympus offers.
Olympus categorizes its lenses into three segments: Standard (most affordable, i.e., <$600); High Grade (mid-range, from about $500-$1200) and Super High Grade (from $1800-$7000). But it’s not just the price that differentiates these lenses. Although even the lower-priced lenses produce good results, the higher end models provide excellent optics.
Third-party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron also offer lenses that will work with the E30, as does Panasonic since its DSLRs are also built around the Four-Thirds system.
However difficult it is to justify spending more on a lens than you did on the camera, keep in mind that the quality of your images is highly dependent on the glass you use so choose your lenses wisely and buy the best glass you can afford.
Compatibility with Older Olympus Lenses
When Olympus decided to enter the digital SLR arena, they started from the ground up to build a digital system, including designing a new lens mount. While Olympus doesn’t recommend using Olympus OM 35mm SLR lenses on its E-system cameras, it is possible to mount some OM lenses on the E-30 with an OM to Four Thirds Lens Adapter (MF-1 OM Adapter for $100).
However, it’s wise to take Olympus’ advice since. Some of the key limitations to mounting an OM lens on a Four-Thirds body, according to the Olympus website, include: no autofocus, stop-down metering is used, spot metering does not work properly, and there are limitations to shooting in program auto, aperture- and shutter-priority exposure modes. It sounds to me like it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
The Olympus E-30 is equipped with dual card slots: CompactFlash and xD Picture Card. You can select which card is used to save the images but that’s about it.
A high speed CompactFlash card like those from SanDisk and Lexar will deliver better performance, particularly in continuous shooting mode. I admit that I’ve never been a fan of the xD Picture Card format. The cards are physically small, don’t match the capacity or speed of CF or SD/SDHC cards and are more expensive than other card formats.
If you have both CF and xD formats, I suggest using the CF for your main card and only use the xD card as a back-up in case you run out of space on the CF card. You can also copy all or some images from one card to the other.
A Li-ion rechargeable battery (and charger) are bundled with the E-30 and a fully-charged battery will deliver about 750 shots when the optical viewfinder is used. If you’re shooting full day of fashion shows or know that you’re going to be shooting a lot, pick up an extra battery or one of Olympus’ optional power supplies. The HLD-4 is a vertical grip that holds two BLM-1 lithium ion batteries and also comes with a battery holder so you can opt to use 6 AA batteries. The AA battery holder is also available separately, as is the LBH1-W—a battery holder that accommodates 3-CR 123A batteries (the equivalent of 6 AA’s).
Hit the playback button on the E-30 to get a modest range of playback features including single and multiple displays, as well as a calendar (date) and a slideshow option.
RAW files can be edited in camera, although options are very limited, i.e., white balance, sharpness, and then saved as a separate JPEG file. This type of feature always seemed useless since you have so many more options when processing RAW files with software. But it can come in handy from time to time—if you want to make a print straight from the camera or media card, or if your favorite RAW processing software hasn’t yet been updated to handle a particular camera’s file. At this point, there’s no problem with processing the E-30’s RAW file in any number of software applications.
In playback on the E-30 you can also adjust brightness, saturation, reduce redeye, trim (crop) the image, change it to black and white or sepia, as well as change the aspect ratio or pixel dimensions of an image. For fun, you can overlay about 4-5 images in playback.
Compared to the Olympus E-3 and the Olympus E-620
The E-30 fits neatly in between the flagship, but now a little long in the tooth, E-3 and the affordable, consumer-friendly E-620. In most ways, the E-30 combines the best of both worlds. A couple of megapixels aside (the E-30 is 12MP; the E-3 is 10MP—not a big deal), the E-30 actually exceeds the E-3 in many ways since it’s a newer camera. Some of the perks of the E-30 include a larger LCD screen, addition of a mode dial, art filters and scene modes, a more sophisticated image stabilization system and contrast detect autofocus with face detection in Live View mode. Where the E-3 excels is with its more rugged and weatherproof magnesium alloy body and better optical viewfinder, though they’re about even in continuous shooting speeds.
As a newer model in the E-series, the E-620 also benefits from some of the latest options such as art filters. It’s also a smaller, lighter and easier to use camera than either the E-30 or the E-3. But, there are also some limitations such as a slower continuous shooting rate (4 frames per second), slower maximum shutter speed (1/4000th vs. the E-30’s 1/8000th), fewer AF points, only 95% field of view in its viewfinder, among other slight “downgrades.” Still, the E-620 keeps pace with the E-30 when it comes to most features.
Compared to Non-Olympus DSLRs
Probably the two closest non-Olympus competitors are the Canon EOS 50D and the Nikon D90 and the biggest difference is that these two cameras offer video capabilities while the E-30 does not.
While the E-30 can keep up in terms of features, other than video, there are a few differences to note. The Canon 50D and Nikon D90 have 3-inch LCDs versus the E-30’s 2.7-inch monitor but the Olympus’ is a swivel design for easier overhead and low angle shooting. The Canon 50D with its 6.3fps continuous shooting beats out the D90 and E-30 with their 4.5fps and 5.0fps speed, respectively. And, if you’re still counting megapixels, the Canon 50D offers 15 versus the other two cameras. Of course, there’s always the Nikon D5000 to enter into the mix but at a slightly lower price than the E-30.
If I had to choose the best, out-of-camera image quality, I’d have to go with the Nikon D90—by a margin over the 50D and definitely at high ISO over the E-30. But, in addition to art filters, multiple-exposure capabilities, digital level sensor, among others, the E-30 has in-camera image stabilization. Given that Nikon and Canon DSLRs depend on more expensive lenses for image stabilization, the Olympus’ built-in IS may be the one feature that makes a difference to you (and your budget) if you’re a telephoto or a low light shooter.
The Olympus E-30 is a good, albeit not amazing, mid-level digital SLR with tons of features that will meet the needs of experienced photographers and/or those looking to move up from an entry-level Olympus camera. If you already have an investment in lenses for another brand, then it’s certainly not worth dumping your current gear to switch to Olympus, though.
Olympus does a lot of things right with their DSLRs and the E-30 is no exception. There are numerous advanced features for tweaking capture settings as well as more than a dozen scene modes and Auto and Program Auto modes for photographers who are just honing their skills. Cool features like Art Filters and multiple-exposures are just that—cool but not essential. Perhaps if (or when) Olympus expands their functionality, allowing users to control the amount of effects applied, then the Art Filters may become a more useful tool. Still, I had great fun with most of them, notably the grainy black and white option.
It’s not the fastest, nor the slowest, DSLR in its category but handles well and I wasn’t disappointed during testing other than a little searching during autofocus. Of course, Live View—even with AF and face detection—still (in my opinion) isn’t up to speed and for general shooting, has limited usefulness. But I’d say that about all Live View implementations to date.
The lack of video may demote the E-30 to a lower position on your shopping list but, seriously, how often will you shoot video with a DSLR? I’m not saying that you won’t but it’s important to decide beforehand (and realistically) how important this feature is to you.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big proponent of using the best glass one can afford and it makes a difference. But even with some of Olympus’ standard lenses, the E-30 can pull out some really nice images. Just keep the ISO as low as you can and make good use of the camera’s image stabilization.
Is the E-30 my favorite digital SLR on the market? No. But I did have fun shooting with it and have been very happy with its capabilities. It’s hard to commit to a new system but if you’re starting anew, the E-30 could easily make the cut to your list of possibilities.
Where to Buy
If you are looking to buy an Olympus E-30, please purchase from one of our partners and help support Photo.net.
If you are new to digital photography, start with the photo.net guide Advice on Choosing a DSLR.
- Theano’s member page
- Photo.net Digital Camera Forum
- Photo.net Olympus and Four-Thirds Discussion Forum
- Building a Digital SLR System