Even though it’s billed as a mid-range digital SLR camera, the Olympus E-30 is one of the better models on the market for inexperienced users who are thinking of making the switch to a D-SLR but have been scared off by all the dials and buttons. In addition to being a fully customisable camera with buttons and dials for all of its exposure settings, the E-30 offers an easy-to-use on-screen menu, preset scene modes, face detection and the best implementation of Live View we've seen.
Olympus should know a thing or two about Live View, since it’s the company that pioneered the technology. In the Olympus E-30 it works like a charm. Its 2.7in LCD screen is crystal clear, there is no lag when you pan and tilt the camera, and, best of all, auto and manual focus functions work — and swiftly, too. In fact, we preferred using Live View to frame all of our test shots, mainly because the optical viewfinder in the E-30 is uncomfortable. It feels too small, and we could never get it entirely blur free, which made it hard to focus. We had a much better time using the Live View mode.
Of course, it’s hard to view the LCD screen while outdoors on a bright day, so you won’t be able to use Live View all the time. The LCD screen can pop open and flip to let you line up self-portraits or low- and high-angled shots. The LCD screen also comes in handy when you want to change settings; there is no need to wade through tabbed menu systems, as all the exposure information is presented on the screen and all you have to do is navigate to each setting using the 5-way controller on the back of the camera. It’s convenient to use this menu if you are new user who isn’t yet comfortable with all the manual controls located on the body itself.
The E-30 is approximately 14cm long and 9cm wide, and very comfortable to hold. It’s not as heavy as we expected, yet it feels solidly constructed. On the inside it has a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor with image stabilisation and anti-dust technology (which you can hear when you switch the camera off). It uses the Four Thirds lens mount, which was created by Olympus; in addition to using Olympus’ own lenses, you can find Four Thirds glass by Sigma and Leica. We used the Olympus DIGITAL 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 ED lens for our tests, which comes as part of the E-30 Single lens kit for $1899.
The images produced by this kit were quite good overall, with vibrant colours, plenty of detail and only slight lens distortion at the widest angle. Noise was an issue in many shots, however, especially those shot at ISO 400. It was mainly noticeable when scrutinising pictures at their full size, but in pictures with lots of dark areas, the noise became visible even when viewing them at 50 per cent of their full size. Flare from the sun was not handled well by the lens, as it manifested in rainbow streaks rather than a neat array of beams.
Using manual mode, we were able to set the correct exposure levels in dark and bright areas easily, and the aperture priority and shutter priority modes worked well, too. We also made good use of the art scene modes, which pick the exposure settings automatically and add a particular effect to your photos. For example, you can use a black and white film grain setting, a soft focus wedding setting, and a vignette setting. These all looked great, although some people didn’t like the fake-looking vignette pictures.
For focusing, the Olympus E-30 has manual and autofocus modes, as well as face detection. For precise focusing, you can select from 11 focus points on the screen, but you’ll probably need to read the manual to find out how to change these points, as it’s unintuitive. The camera did a good job of focusing fast and with the 14-42mm lens could focus as close as 8cm to subjects.
Even though images were a little too noisy for our liking and the optical viewfinder is poor, we can’t help but like the Olympus E-30 because it’s fun to use. Its Live View mode is very useful and its dials and buttons are all logically laid out; it’s a fast camera with a crisp shutter sound and a high-speed burst mode that is capable of capturing more than 30 frames before its buffer runs out. We do wish there was a switch for quickly shifting between manual and autofocus modes, as well as an easier way to change focal points, but these aren’t major issues once you learn how to use the camera.
We recommend the Olympus E-30 to anyone who is considering making the leap from an advanced compact camera to a D-SLR, as it’s an easy camera to use overall, and the Live View mode will make it a relatively smooth transition.