by Ian Burley
Gaps filled by E-30 and revised 14-54 lens, plus some unusual innovations
- Production E-30 image samples to download
- E-30 pre production sample hands-on review
- Olympus E-30 specifications page
We first saw it just a few weeks ago at Photokina, code-named E-A1, but little did we know that what looked like an engineering mock-up would be announced as a product so soon. But today the E-30, as it is officially to be know, is formally announced and as its two-digit model name indicates, this is a mid-ranking model that fills the gap between the E-3 at the top of the range, and the E520 at the more affordable end of the range. Indeed, this is the first two-digit E-Series camera since the pre-Four Thirds E-10 and E-20 fixed lens DSLRs from 6-7 years ago. Olympus has also announced a revised Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, which now sports a 'II' suffix.
Imager Live View AF-friendly Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II
Let's start with the new kit lens. Like the familiar lens it is based on, the new 14-54 is a pro-spec lens, sealed to be splash-proof and constructed to withstand demanding environments. Optically unchanged (though it has a new aperture iris design to make defocussed areas or bokeh more natural, the 14-54 (28-108mm equivalent) has always been a star performer, benefiting from three aspherical elements, not requiring any low dispersion ED elements. While it doesn't have a constant aperture through the zoom range, it only loses two thirds of a stop at the telephoto end. It also affords near macro-like close focusing, throughout the zoom range. So what is new with the Mark II release? Most importantly, a new AF motor has been incorporated, so it will now focus in primary imager-AF live view mode on the E-420 and E-520. There has also been a cosmetic makeover and the the Digital Zuiko trademark blue band has been added to the front part of the lens. Unlike Olympus' SWD lenses, the 14-54 retains fly-by-wire manual focus control. It appears that the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II will be the standard kit lens for the new E-30 body.
Olympus E-30 brings new 12MP Live MOS sensor, in-camera creativity tools and borrows features from E-3 flagship
Olympus has had the tough task of differentiating the E-30 from both the E-520 and the E-3. Key features have been borrowed from both, while the E-30 has a few tricks that are completely its own.
A new 12 megapixel Live MOS sensor, closely related to the sensor used by Panasonic in the new Micro Four Thirds Lumix DMC-G1, lies at the heart of the E-30. My experience of the image quality produced by the G1 is encouraging, with little sign of high ISO banding that does affect all the current E-Series models.This banding is slightly more evident in Olympus Live MOS implementations, so it will be interesting to see how the E-30 compares. Like the E-3, the E-30 offers 5 frames per second continuous shooting, and is compatible with high-speed UDMA bus compact flash memory cards, as well as xD Picture cards.
While the E-30 does not offer the 100% frame view of the E-3, at 98% it's pretty close. But the good news is that the viewfinder magnification is in the same ball park as the E-3, using the same tilted pentaprism finder optics as the E-3, which means a luxuriously large view compared to the E-420 and E-520.
Articulating screen and live view
The E-30 is the seventh Olympus Four Thirds model (before it the E-330, E-410, E510, E-3, E-420, and E-520) to offer live view, but only the third to feature an articulating screen. But the E-30 presents the most comprehensive live view offering from Olympus yet. Not only does the screen swing out and tilt in the most flexible range of positions, like the E-3 screen, but unlike the E-3 there is a full implementation of advanced live view functions, including full time live view AF, real time preview of exposure and colour balance, and face recognition AF. A new feature with the E-30 is range of special effects filters that can be previewed in real time via live view. There is also a multiple exposure option, which can combine up to four overlaid frames. One specification that may be seen as a disappointment is the screen hardware itself. At 2.7 inches, it's marginally larger than the E-3's 2.5 inch part, but there is no boost to the resolution, which stays at 230,000 dots, or 77,000 pixels.
The E-30 is shown here running one of the new live view special effect filter modes.
Camera orientation sensor
An unexpected feature of the E-30 is its dedicated three dimensional orientation sensor. Entirely separate from the accelerometers that serve the E-30's integrated moving sensor image stabiliser, the Digital Level Sensor, as Olympus calls it, not only senses and indicates left/right tilt, helping the photographer avoid sloping horizons, but forward and aft pitch, which will be useful in controlling vertical alignment in areas like architectural photography. The orientation indicator is visible in the viewfinder, on the top-panel LCD, and the back screen LCD in live view mode.
HLD-4 power grip compatibility
Good sense prevails and the E-30 not only has a power grip option, but it isn't another model-specific one, but the HLD-4, originally introduced for the E-3
One bit of excellent news is that the E-30 is compatible with the E-3's HLD-4 optional power grip, which boosts the number of shots between battery re-charges and provides improved handling when the camera is used in portrait orientation.
Controls and displays
A welcome feature of the E-30 is the retention of a comprehensive top-panel LCD status display. It's about the same size as the E-3's and offers a similar range of information displays, as well as the new orientation display indicator. Unlike the E-3 there is a conventional mode selector knob instead of an exclusive function button arrangement, though meter, AF, and shooting mode choices remain button-driven, with the buttons relocated to the top left (rear view) of the back of the body. Two adjustment wheels, in a similar arrangement to the E-3, front and rear, are provided.
External white balance sensor
Another E-3 feature you will find in the E-30 is an external white balance sensor. This should help the camera gauge white balance more accurately than with an image analysis algorithm on its own.
11-point cross-type AF
E-3 users will be familiar with the 11 all cross-type AF points in the E-30.
Multiple choice aspect ratios
While the default framing remains 4:3 aspect ratio, the E-30 now offers a wide range of alternative aspect ratios, including 16:9 wide screen, conventional 3:2, plus 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, and 7:5. The E-30's Live MOS sensor remains 4:3, so all other frame choices will be crops and reduce the image pixel count slightly.
TruePic III+Image processor
It's not yet clear what the addition of the '+' to the TruePic III image processor designation means, but it does appear that Olympus' image processor has been enhanced for the E-30.
Exposure bracketing, ISO range and shutter speeds
Up to five exposures can be selected in the E-30's auto exposure bracketing mode. The ISO range extends upwards to ISO 3200. The fastest shutter speed is 1/8000th second and flash sync is !/250th. All these options are the same as with the E-3.
The E-30 is not designed to be as durable as the E-3 and, nor is it splash-proof weather sealed. Like the E-420 and E-520, the E-30 is made from industrial plastics. At 655 grams, the E-30 body is noticeably lighter than than the 810 grams of the E-3, but heavier than the 475 grams of the E-520. The E-30 is the same width as the e-3, but slightly less tall.
There is no mention of 'HD' or 'HDMI' in the E-30's specification, so there is no live view movie mode recording facility. You can connect the E-30 to an external video display via its multi-purpose compact USB connector, which is the same as that on the E-420 and E-520, though different to the E-3, which has separate USB and video connectors. The same connector is compatible with the optional RM-UC1 remote cable release.
So there you have it. Let us know your personal reaction to the E-30.
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