Targeted towards enthusiasts, high-level amateurs and photo hobbyists, the E-30 finally fills the hole in the Olympus dSLR line-up between the entry-level E-420 and E-520 cameras, and the high-end, professional E-3. For the body only, expect to pay a price of AU$1,799. Throw in the new 14-54mm kit lens and the price will put a dent in your pocket to the sound of AU$2,219.
If you've held any of the previous iterations of Olympus cameras, you'll feel right at home with the E-30. Button configuration, textures and layout all remain similar to the E-520. Its stature is just a little smaller than the E-3 as the prism hump is slightly reduced, and the body itself is lighter at 655 grams.
Compared to its competitors, it is smaller than both Canon's 50D and Nikon's D90 by a fraction; this is also helped by the E-30's four thirds system which is standard on the company's dSLRs.
The E-30 takes the best bits from the E-520 and the E-3, and looks like a serious prosumer digital camera. (Credit: Olympus)
One of the most striking features of the E-30 is the free-angle LCD screen which can be rotated to sit against the back of the camera, facing outwards. We like it a lot more than similar versions that have popped up on other dSLRs like Sony's alpha series.
Flanking the screen on the right-hand side are the standard playback buttons and navigation keypad, and underneath sit a host of additional buttons including live view.
Housing a new 12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor and a free-angle, rotating 2.7-inch LCD screen, the E-30 has clearly taken cues from many of the trends currently affecting the dSLR and compact camera market.
Of most interest to us, though, is this new feature called Art Filter. Essentially, it's a set of six preset modes which you can access through the Art/Scn option on the mode dial, and includes such options as film grain, pop art, and pinhole. It applies a range of effects to your image in-camera, rather than during post-processing, and although it might seem a bit gimmicky at first, in practice it's actually a whole lot of fun. Scroll down for some pictures of these modes in action.
The other intriguing functionality is how the E-30 supports multiple exposures. Rather than fiddling around with separate images in post-processing, the camera will automatically merge up to four frames together, in-camera.
The viewfinder covers 98 per cent of the field of view, plus the E-30 also has the ability to shoot in nine different aspect ratios, 16:9, 3:2, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7.5, 3:4, 4:3 and 6:6. Olympus claims a continuous shooting rate of 5 frames per second, and a battery life of 750 shots. We bemoan the continued support for the xD format; fortunately, there is also a slot for the more standard Compact Flash.
Provided with the camera is a brand new lens from Olympus, the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5II Standard Wide Zoom, which is splash and dustproof (note that the body of the E-30 is not).
Performance and image quality
Overall, we have to say we were impressed with how the E-30 handled most situations we threw at it. While we wouldn't want to be using the E-30 for intense low-light photography at anything over ISO 1,600, in general, the camera performed respectably in our noise test. Start-up time took around 1.5 seconds, and it was ready to shoot almost immediately afterwards.
The E-30 performed pretty well in our ISO test, but note the general yuckiness at ISO 3,200. Click image to enlarge. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
For the company who pioneered the live view system, the E-30's incarnation of the technology is a little disappointing. In bright situations it coped well, refreshing at a reasonable rate, but flick the mode dial into Art Filter and experience substantial delays using live view. We put the reason down to the E-30 previewing the effect on screen. We also had a significant complaint with the autofocus system, which was incredibly loud and slow when live view was active. It took at least 2 seconds to obtain focus, coupled with a weird whirring noise. Switching back to the viewfinder seemed to solve the problem, thankfully.
Our favourite feature on the E-30 was by far and away the art filters. There were only six options: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, and Pinhole, though Olympus hinted that extra settings may appear in future models. Naturally, processing time for these images was a little longer than standard shots but the waiting was worth it as we were able to achieve some stunning effects with minimal effort.
Oh so retro ... the film grain Art Filter in action produces a lovely, washed out effect complete with small artefacts characteristic of high speed black and white film.
(Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CBS Interactive)
As for the kit lens, the 14-54mm coped admirably; it displayed only moderate barrel distortion at its widest, and little to no vignetting. Across all focal lengths its pictures were very sharp too, and we loved how the apertures were relatively wide for a telephoto.
Inside the E-30, its menu system still seems to be caught in the Olympus menus of old — think Windows 3.1 and you're halfway there. We'd love to see the graphical interfaces of future Olympus dSLRs updated to be more in line with its competitors. Functionality was not a problem; we just couldn't stand the grainy, pixel-filled view.
Unfortunately, there was no sign of video mode on the E-30. Olympus has said it's still some time off, and considering that HD video is nowhere to be seen on its compact range, we're not holding our breath.
We must also mention the charger that Olympus provided with the camera. Its cord was ridiculously short, meaning that the battery was left dangling off the power point. It also took an incredibly long time to reach full charge.
For those who have already invested in the four thirds system, the E-30 is a great upgrade. It's versatile and robust for advanced photographers, yet still simple enough for a keen beginner to pick up and play with. If you don't need water and dustproofing, and can stomach the hefty price tag, we would recommend this camera over the larger, professional grade E-3.