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Introduction

The Olympus E-30 is based on the flagship E-3 DSLR but introduces the latest technologies and improvements in a sturdy but non-weatherproofed body. The E-30 steps up from the 10mp image sensor of the E-3 to 12mp. The build is more compact than the E-3 but the articulating LCD screen is maintained.

The E-30 seems to be a DSLR designed with broad appeal in mind as it has many features to keep the most serious of professionals happy but has the preset subject based exposure modes that the novice may find useful. For those that require a lighter camera there is the E-620.

Features

The Olympus E-30 is certainly feature pack with enough built in tools to tackle  a wide range of situations. The key features are as follows:

  • 12.3mp Live MOS image sensor
  • TruePic III+ image processor
  • High speed 11 point  (all cross type) AF sensor array
  • In body Image Stabilisation
  • 1/8000 second fastest shutter speed
  • 1/250 flash sync
  • Max. 5fps continuous shooting
  • Level Gauge
  • Live view
  • Art Filters

The E-30 has a very comprehensive custom menu so the camera can be specifically tailored to user requirements.

Image Stabilisation

The E-30 provides image stabilisation built into the body of the camera rather than having it in each lens. This has the benefit that any lens that is attached to the body can be image stabilised.

There are three operating modes provided for the image stabiliser:

  • IS 1 - Image stabiliser on
  • IS 2 - Only vertical axis stabilised for panning horizontally
  • IS 3 - Only horizontal axis stabilised for panning vertically

For non-4/3 lenses, the focal length can be manually entered.

Autofocus

The E-30 has a high speed 11 biaxial sensor AF array making each sensor sensitive to both horizontal and vertical image information. Three modes of operation are provided:

  • Wide Area AF
  • Single target AF
  • Dynamic single target AF

There are three main focus modes provided:

  • S-AF (Single AF)
  • C-AF (Continuous AF)
  • Manual

Additional modes provided manual focus in the S-AF and C-AF modes.

Performance

The power on switch is on the back of the camera neighbouring the arrow pad. As soon as the camera is switched on the SSWF is activated to remove any dust on the image sensor (a SSWF indicator will blink to show when the feature is active). Even with this the camera is ready to start shooting very prompt. The shutter release is nicely placed and the front and rear control dials fall to hand nicely.

All the usual exposure modes are presented on the mode dial along with present modes designed for taking portriats, landscapes, macros and sports. For the experienced photographer, the preset modes will not see much use.

Customisation

Probably the most important aspect of the camera is the degree of customisation it provides. This has made it essential when first using the camera to take the time to go through the menus. Certainly initial shots with the E-30 were disappointing, partly because of the exposure settings and partly because of handling. If you are use to shooting with a different system you may find that the control dials don't respond as expected. Thankfully Olympus has provided sufficient customisation to permit assigning the required functions to the necessary control dial. For example, you can assign the front dial to adjust the aperture (when in aperture priority) and the rear dial to adjust exposure compensation. In terms of exposure adjustment, the direction that the dial is adjusted to say raise exposure can be customized.

The Viewfinder

Olympus has provided the E-30 with a very detailed viewfinder. Just about all the information that can be found to be useful is presented. The 11 point AF array is can be seen with the active AF point lighting red when focus has been obtained. Along with the usual exposure indications of shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation, the ISO setting is also shown. It is not the norm to this information presented in the viewfinder but it came in useful to quickly confirm the ISO sensitivity without removing the camera from the eye. When shooting in auto ISO the chosen ISO will be displayed.

The level gauge information can be represented in the viewfinder although only the horizontal alignment information is presented.

Image Aspect Ratio

The standard aspect ratio is of course 4:3 but the E-30 also has provision for the following aspect ratios:

  • 3:2
  • 16:9
  • 6:6
  • 5:4
  • 7:5
  • 3:4

JPEG images are automatically trimmed to the required aspect but RAW files are untouched. The RAW files do however contain the relevant aspect information which is displayed in Studio 2 raw image processing application. This at least keeps options open should another aspect ratio be preferred.

Full Auto Mode

The Program mode will determine the aperture and shutter speed combination for the required exposure. The program line is not only determined by the brightness faced by the camera but by the type of lens attached. In practise it was found necessary to make use of the program shift in order to get the required aperture/shutter speed combination. However, there are times when there is no time to think about exposure controls and the program mode serves its purpose  here. 

The E-30 features Art Filters to give photos an added dimension. There are six filters provided: Pop Art, Light Tone, Soft Focus, Grainy Film, Pale and Light Colour, and Pin Hole. These make an interesting variation to the scene modes that are also provided.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
Pin Hole Filter

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
Grainy Film Filter

The Art Filters are saved in JPEG (sRGB) format. With the E-30 set to save images in both JPEG and RAW, the RAW image will still be recorded with the Art Filter enabled which permits an unprocessed image to be retrieved if required.

Shooting Modes

The E-30 has Easy Shoot modes. These are pre-programmed exposure modes for tackling, portraits, night-portraits, landscapes, macros, sports  and art filters.

Exposure Metering

The ESP metering is generally neutral with a slight bias to protect against blown highlights. What makes the metering interesting is that its sensitivity can be adjusted without recourse to exposure compensation. Through the custom functions the metering bias can be altered to the users preference. There is another of Olympus's usual features that will be handy for some photographers who have their own specific requirements.

Although there is centre weighted and spot metering options available, ESP evaluative metering (together with a certain degree of exposure compensation at times) was found suitable for most situations encountered during this review.

 

Auto ISO

The auto ISO turned out to be a handy mode to operate the camera as its range can be specified in the menu system. Although the E-30 can have it's ISO set as low as ISO 100, with the Auto ISO the minimum auto ISO is 200. The maximum that can be set is ISO 3200. To ensure a good level of flexibility and image quality, the Auto ISO was typically set with a range from ISO 200 to 800.

Flash Unit

The built in flash has limited power but is very suitable for providing fill flash. The lens used with the camera will determine whether flash can be actively used. The Zuiko Digital12-60mm SWD lens will partially obscure flash light casting a shadow. Removing its lens hood helps a little but a shadow will be seen cast at the bottom of a photo especially with the lens set to its widest focal length.

The built-in flash units more interesting aspect is that it can act as a wireless controller. When partnered with the FL-36R or the FL-50R flashguns a wireless system can be set up to permit greater flash lighting flexibility. [More details in the FL-50R review].

The flash unit has an addition purpose which is to act as a focus aid light. For a camera of this class and sophistication this is a surprising implementation as it would of been better to have a built in dedicated focus aid light.

Auto Gradation

Many cameras these days have a method of getting more balanced photos in high contrast situations and E-30 is no exception. Auto Gradation is designed to bring out the detail in dark or shadow areas and it tends to do a respectable job. The gradation feature can be set for high or low key subjects but during this review it was mainly used in its auto mode.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
Normal Gradation

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
Auto Gradation

The above images are good example of what the gradation feature can achieve. In this case auto gradation has been enabled and has nicely brought out the detail in the tree truck as well as in the shadows. The result still looks natural. This feature does need to be used with care as it can result in an image having more image noise than it should have so it best to avoid leaving the feature on all the time. It is worth keeping in mind that if saving images in the RAW format the same effect can be applied using Olympus Studio 2 software.

The Autofocus

The wide area focus mode is of most use for when dealing with subjects which does not require focus to be at a certain point such as the case when dealing with scenics. It is potentially of more use when shooting fast paced sports with continuous AF enabled. Unfortunately the viewfinder does not visually indicate AF sensor handover which makes it difficult to determine exactly where the camera is focusing.

In terms of sports, it may be better to use the Dynamic Single Target AF mode. Shooting with this mode permits the selection of an AF sensor neighbouring the main sensor and reducing the likelihood of the subject being missed and focus ending up on the background.

The E-30 was mainly used in the Single target AF mode. The actual area covered by a single AF point is larger than indicated in the viewfinder. This works well enough in most cases but there are times when more precise focusing is required. An example of this is shown in the photography of the flower below.

The E-30 does not have a dedicated AF control like some other cameras do. Pressing the AF button and then turning the control dial is fine when speed is not essential. However, the arrow pad can be assigned to select AF points during normal use.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 200 - f/4 at 1/1000 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
100% crop - Sharp focus on the flowers stamen provided by the small spot AF

The small focus area has ensured that the stamen of this flower has been reproduced in sharp detail.

Control Dials

The E-30 has front and rear control dials which makes adjustment of exposure fast and efficient. Through the custom functions there is provision to alter the configuration of the dials. This aspect may be most appreciated by users more familiar with other camera systems. Not only can which exposure parameter (shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation) be specified for each dial but also the effect the direction of adjustment has (i.e. to increase or decrease the parameter).

Image Noise Analysis

Image noise is always a concern for the modern photographer especially those who intend to make significantly big enlargements. The E-30 generally copes well in bright daylight conditions (although image noise can be introduced can significantly raised if Auto Gradations is enabled) but when light levels drop things get more interesting. The noise filter can be set to one of the following conditions: off, low, standard and high. All the photos illustrated here were shot with the noise filter set to standard.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 400 - f/5.6 at 1/125 sec
Olympus E-30 DSLR review

100% crop - ISO 400 - f/5.6 at 1/125 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 800 - f/4.5 at 1/80 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
100% crop - ISO 800 - f/4.5 at 1/80 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 1600 - f/4 at 1/10 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
100% crop - ISO 1600 - f/4 at 1/10 sec

In the photo below the only available light is artificial resulting in an exposure of 1/10 second at f/4. The ISO was set to 3200. At this light levels the AF is severely taxed with the AF having to be tried several to ensure accurate focus.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 3200 - f/4 at 1/10 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
100% crop - ISO 3200 - f/4 at 1/10 sec

It is clear that image noise can be seen from ISO 400 upwards but whether the noise will prove intrusive is dependant not only on the brightness levels but also on the white balance set.

Note: All the photos were shot hand held and shows the capabilities of the image stabiliser.

 

Long Exposure Photography

Long exposures are another situation where image noise can be an issue. The E-30 provides noise reduction to deal with this situation. The following sequence of photos the typical noise levels at various ISO settings.

Olympus E-30 DSLR review 

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 100 - f/13 at 60 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 200 - f/18 at 60 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 400 - f/22 at 60 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 800 - f/22 at 30 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 1600 - f22 at 15 sec

Olympus E-30 DSLR review
ISO 3200 - f/22 at 8 sec

The E-30 seemed very capable of getting decent results during long exposures. No doubt the camera will be mounted on a tripod or some kind of stable surface which means that it should not be necessary to use ISO settings. Results are smooth enough for a 60 second exposure at ISO 100 and longer Bulb exposures should be rendered well.

Live View

Pressing the Live View button instantly puts the E-30 into live view mode. This change in mode is obvious with the change in the display and the audible sound of the mirror moving out of the way of the image sensor. The LCD screens shows a whole wealth of information with a similar AF array arrangement to that in the standard mode.

The E-30 was used with the 12-60mm SWD Zuiko lens. Unfortunately, this lens does not currently support full live view AF operation. With this lens the camera resorts to a hybrid forcing mode. In this mode there is an initial contrast based focus when the shutter release is half pressed and then more accurate focusing carried out when the shutter is fully depressed. This latter aspect is carried out by dropping the mirror to use the standard phase detection. This method makes the process slow and better suited to situations where no subject movement is expected (portraits, landscapes macros etc.). 

Hand the E-30 been fitted with a live view compatible lens a moveable focus target would of been presented. Autofocus would be a little faster as it is entirely contrast based with no need to drop the mirror and use conventional phase detection AF.

This is provision for face detection but with a semi compatible lens like the 12-60mm its use felt limited because of the hybrid AF.

Unlike the standard (non-live view) mode, with live view any change in image aspect ratio can be ready seen. The optical viewfinder cannot show or indicate an aspect ratio change and so in standard mode it feels more comfortable to shooting in the standard 4:3 aspect. Live view gives more freedom here.

The articulating LCD screen is very welcome and felt necessary to get the full benefit of live view. Shooting at ground level, waist height or above heads is made easy.

Level Gauge

Keeping horizontals horizontal can be a challenge at times. It is all too easy to end up with a sloping horizon. Through the custom functions it can be activated and if necessary it can also be re-calibrated (should the need arise). Both horizontal and vertical information is presented.

In the viewfinder, the area usually assigned to show exposure compensation is used to show horizontal level information. This information is only shown when the shutter is half pressed.

When the live view mode is active both horizontal and vertical alignment can be displayed. Unfortunately, with this information displayed there is no provision for showing general exposure information and/or histogram. This is an unfortunate oversight.

Conclusions

The Plus Points

  • Comprehensive feature set
  • Fast AF
  • Responsive camera
  • Image stabiliser
  • Solid build
  • Comprehensive custom functions
  • Metering
  • Tunable AF points
  • All AF points cross type
  • Articulating LCD screen
  • Live view (great for studio use)
  • Level Gauge
  • ISO sensitivity shown in viewfinder
  • Wireless flash controller

The Negative Points

  • Menu system can be difficult not navigate
  • AF can hunt
  • No focus aid lamp
  • Image noise a little high
  • Live View (focus is too slow and full feature depends on lens)

Summing up

The Olympus E-30 is so pack with packed with features that is review can easily be doubled in length. In many ways it's not a case of which features it has but what it does not. The menu system can seem daunting because of the large array of options and at times its possible to be lost. This is however dealt with over time as familiarization of the camera builds.

No matter many features a camera has in the end it comes down to image quality. The AF system is competent and the fact all the AF sensors are cross type helps matters a great deal. It is felt a dedicated AF aid light show of been provided to help matters in low light or poor contrast situations rather than having to rely on the built in flash unit.

It is hard to complain about the metering. The ESP metering worked well in most situations and should it be found to be lacking there is the provision to shift the exposure.

The image sensor has sufficient resolution for most purposes and the rendered images as a result are detailed and colourful. Getting the right exposure is important with the E-30 as the image noise floor never seems far away. The auto gradation can make the image noise more obvious even at low ISO. Although the ISO sensitivity has a maximum of 3200 it was preferable not to go above ISO 800. This was helped by the fact that the image stabiliser worked very well.

Although it has preset exposure modes it is not a camera best suited to the beginner or novice. The large array of options makes it important that time is spent initially customising the E-30 to personal preference. The E-30 serves as a great to inspire creativity and is certainly a photographers camera. It's a well rounded photo taking machine.

 

Specification

Mini News

22 November 2012: Sigma 18-250mm now available in Sony's A-Mount

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17 October 2012: Firmware update for Sony NEX 7 v1.01

Sony NEX firmware update provides the following;

  • Addition of capability to enable or disable the MOVIE button
  • Addition of exposure settings of bracket shooting (three frames /1.0EV,2.0EV, 3.0EV)
  • Improvement of response for showing auto review image.
  • Improvement of image quality when using a wide angle lens
  • Improvement of indication when setting “Flexible Spot”.

Visit the link: http://www.sony.co.uk/support/en/product/NEX-7/updates

Firmware updates are also available for the a77, a65, and a57.

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