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The E-30 is Olympus's own stepping-stone between the so-called "prosumer" models (what an awful word) and the E-3 professional SLR, being loosely comparable with the likes of the Canon EOS 50D, the Nikon D90 and the Sony Alpha A-350. It shares a lot of the E-3's features and has even overtaken the E-3 in terms of resolution, offering 12mp compared with the E-3's 10.
Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your opinion - some of its features are things that serious photographers don't really want on their cameras and definitely push the E-30 towards the hobby photographers rather than the professionals.
The E-30 doesn't share the E-3's weatherproof casing, in fact it is built from a plastic/fibre-glass composite material, which helps to keep the weight down and, surprisingly to me, doesn't make it feel cheap.
It does look like a professional SLR, especially with the optional battery-grip fitted, and I like the blue trim and button icons. Like most SLRs, available in any colour as long as it's black.
The rubberized grip on the right makes for a firm hold and all the controls are generally well placed, although there are too many buttons for my liking. Also, the control dial on the front (or "Sub dial" as Olympus call it) is a little awkward to use and the Mode Dial is on the left side, whereas I like it to be on the right.
As you aren't likely to use it without a lens attached, the weight is dependant on your choice of lens but the E-30 body is lighter then the Canon EOS 50D but heavier than the Nikon D90.
The menus are easy to read and relatively easy to use, with most of the common functions being available on the "Super Control Panel" on the LCD screen when not in Live View mode. This is displayed by pressing the Info Button.
The sheer number of buttons dotted around the cameras facades are enough to put off anyone who isn't familiar with the functions of an SLR and I would have preferred some of the functions shifted to the menus.
The battery life is very good at around 500 shots but it does take around 5 hours to charge with the standard charger (a faster one is available from Olympus). It is the same battery as the Olympus E-3, which may be a consideration for people with multiple cameras, and the optional battery-grip allows the use of AA batteries.
Image Stabilization is via CCD shift and now has 3 modes, with vertical panning being catered for. This is worth up to 5 stops of shutter speed if you believe the Olympus documentation.
Picture quality is of course dependant on the lens you are using but I have always found the Zuiko lenses to be very crisp. Of course, being a small 4:3 sensor with a high resolution, you have to expect noise problems at low light - it comes with the territory. Also, the versatility of the 4:3 system is limited by having no body-independant Auto/Manual focus switching on the lenses.
The external flash sync port is something that the lesser Olympus models don't have and the built-in flash can act as a trigger for the Olympus wireless flash system when in Remote mode.
One of the outstanding features of the E-30 is the fold-out LCD Screen. This can fold out to 180 degrees and has a rotation of 270 degrees, making it great for situations where you can't conveniently stand behind the camera. Their is a "Live View Boost" option in the menu for low-light situations and you can even change the refresh rate to make it more fluid.
Another neat feature is the ability to select from 9 different Aspect Ratio settings - 4:3 (standard), 3:2, 19:9, 6:6, 5:4, 76, 6:5, 7:5 and 3:4. This is especially useful if you are printing directly from the camera/card with no cropping software involved (JPEG images can also be re-proportioned in playback mode). Also, 4 combinations of image size and resolution can be registered for future use. RAW format is supported, as you would expect.
Live View now has a Perfect Shot Preview mode that alloows you to see what your picture would look like with different White Balance, Exposure Compensation values, etc, before you take the shot. This is much too cumbersome to use in all but the most relaxed landscape shooting scenarios and I found the multiple images that it displays much too small to be of any use.
Autofocus is 11-point and there is a Contrast Detect Autofocus mode that allows for focusing in Live View mode without having to flip the mirror down. Of course, you pay the penalty with a slower AF but this is handy when you are trying to photograph wildlife without making too much noise.
The Mode Dial has the following settings:
Night + Portrait
Landscape - One of 5 Scene Modes on the Dial
There is no place on the Mode Dial for custom settings but these can still be stored via the menu.
The last two features that I am going to talk about fall into the "useless gimmick" category as far as I'm concerned. The first is the number of Art Filters that are available via the Mode Dial. These allow you to apply a Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale Light & Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film or Pinhole filter to your pictures. I know not everyone has a copy of Photoshop but please!!! There are millions of software packages out there than can give you this kind of processing. It's the sort of thing you would expect to find on a mobile phone, not a supposedly serious SLR.
Another thing I don't see the point of is the level indicators - these are digital "spirit levels" that appear in the viewfinder. Very useful if you have completely lost your sense of balance or your job is a strange combination of photography and brick-laying.
Given that the E-3 is only a couple of hundred pounds more expensive, and some of the features on the E-30 are, in my opinion, worse than useless, I would go for the E-3 every time. For the price, I think the Canon EOS 50D and the Nikon D90 are both more attractive prospects.
The E-30 is for photographers looking to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary masterpieces. Autofocus Live View with Multiple Exposure shooting lets you create artistic effects in-camera. Six Art Filters instantly give your images a variety of creative looks. Features like Face Detection, Shadow Adjustment Technology and In-body Image Stabilization ensure clear, crisp images in any shooting situation. It all adds up to a DSLR for photographers who want to express themselves more artistically.