Olympus E-30; a user’s review

For the advanced photographer, this camera really shines. I’ve had mine about 6 weeks and every time I use it I love it more.  The ergonomics are great.  For me, a woman with average sized hands with long fingers, this camera handles like a dream.  Sure, it’s hefty, but I rather like that for its steadying effect.  The build is solid and the finish speaks of high quality.  Not toy-like or plasticky.  Exactly what you’d expect in a camera of this caliber, but typical of all Olympus DSLRs regardless of price point.

The E-30 and the dreamy ZD 12-60mm.

Controls for the most basic functions like white balance, ISO, focus mode and depth-of-field preview are easily reached and utilized.  The main method of operation is covered in two knurled selector wheels in front of and behind the shutter release.  They scroll independently of each other to select settings or menu choices and can be highly customized.  This covers a lot of territory which is better covered by professional reviewers, but here’s an example of what I mean; when you’re in Aperture Priority the front one can be assigned to change the aperture and the rear to +/- EV compensation or vice versa.  It means I don’t have to take my eye off the viewfinder to make adjustments.  The viewfinder itself is bright and large covering a 98% view with built in diopter.  Focusing my legacy glass is no longer painful as it was with a 1st-generation DSLR.  Reading info displayed just below the inside view is a breeze, too.

The E-30 sports both a top LCD display and a rear display (Live View and photo review) so there is plenty of real estate for information.  Let’s talk about that rear LCD for a sec – it not only flips out, but also swivels and tilts.  No more squatting down in uncomfortable conditions to jam my eye against the viewfinder.  How often do you have your camera at exactly head height on a tripod?  How many times have you gotten wet and dirty squatting down to take pictures?  Do your knees beg for mercy only an hour into your shoot?  No more!  Whether it’s on a tripod or handheld it makes Live View MUCH more usable (especially with manually focused legacy lenses).  Macro shooters delight.  I’ve even held it over my head to take pictures perfectly composed.  Oh and the electronic spirit level ensures no more tippy horizons.  Joy!    Using the shadow/highlight indicator in playback mode is extremely useful for quickly seeing clipped highs or lows and there are many other information overlays to choose from.

Check out that screen.

The E-30’s 4/3rds sensor is vastly improved over early iterations.  The dynamic range and detail handling are superb.  I routinely shoot up to 800 ISO with excellent results.  Color rendition is typically Olympus; rich and slightly saturated.  Textures are crisp and well rendered.  Noise reduction is good.  The key is correct exposure.  Larger sensor users decry the 4/3rds IQ at high ISO, but they don’t understand that it’s not the sensor’s ability to render as much as it depends on proper exposure.  Underexposures are prone to noise while correct ones aren’t.  It’s less forgiving than a larger sensor and thus takes more skill to get right the first time.  In that respect it acts more like film used to.

In-body Image Stabilization works with system lenses or manual/legacy glass from any manufacturer with an adapter available.  This is especially useful for me since because of the 2x sensor crop factor, most of my OM Zuiko telephotos become super-telephotos on this camera.  Just set the mm length and you’re good to go.  Who needs in-body Image Stabilization anyway, right?

Mostly though, I use this with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm SWD f2.8-4 zoom lens.  Due to revamped and improved technology in the lens, this is just about the fastest focusing DSLR combination available.  The lens covers a 24mm to 120mm range in the old 35mm format which is perfect for 90% of what many photographers shoot all the time.  As an outdoors/nature photographer it suits me down to the ground.

Strengths –

  • Image quality
  • Electronic spirit level
  • In-body Image Stabilization
  • Flip-out, tilt and swivel LCD
  • Bright viewfinder
  • Ergonomics/build
  • Takes Olympus legacy lenses (with adapter)

The E-30 wearing an OM 35mm f2 manual lens.

Weaknesses –

  • No weather sealing (nice to have, but not a huge weakness for me)
  • Pop-up flash blocked slightly with non-kit zoom lens
  • No SD Card support in addition to CF
  • No video (nice to have, but not a huge weakness for me)

The Bottom Line –

This is my second digital SLR and was very carefully chosen and I’m confident I will use this as my primary camera for many, many years.  It fits my photography style and technique perfectly.  The combination of image quality, usability and features pretty much ensures I won’t outgrow it for ages.

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3 responses

  1. Nice review – and well done.
    Do you think that the Imaging Software supplied (apart from allowing updates) is up to the task?
    Do you have any thoughts on the user manual?

    February 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

  2. thank you. I tried to focus on the things that make the camera perfect for me. Unfortunately I can’t really comment on Olympus Master since I haven’t used it in 5 years. I’m a Lightroom person. and because my used body didn’t come with a manual in English, I never perused one except briefly online. It didn’t contain the info I was looking for so I went back to the specialist website I used to set up the camera in the first place. Japanese to English translated manuals are hit or miss and sometimes unintentionally hilarious.

    February 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm

  3. Mstee4eva

    Nice review, I just got one last week!
    A friend gave it to me Brand New Shipped from Olympus ,’;o]…

    July 7, 2010 at 10:56 am

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