dpreview.com’s in depth review of the Olympus E-30 dSLR

Written by Gary on March 25th, 2009

For my earlier blog on the E-30 and other reviews please see here.

see dpreview.com’s review.

Go to the conclusions, and not surprisingly, there were the usual cons attributable to Olympus and Four Thirds cameras’ smaller sensor – higher noise at high ISO, 1/2 stop less dynamic range in the highlights.

These are just the compromise for the many advantages this system offers and certainly not show stoppers for most people unless they value high ISO or need maximum dynamic range over the high optical quality edge-to-edge in a compact, light kit that Olympus offers.

The other negatives were rather minor and would not be major issues:

  • for white balance in artificial light, one should always use custom WB or incorporate a WB target in the image for RAW development rather than rely on presents or AWB – very few if any camera does well in all artificial light using AWB or presets so Olympus is not alone here.
  • the viewfinder has been made smaller than the E-3 to allow for a lighter, more compact camera – you can’t have your cake and eat it too – I have got used to the even smaller viewfinder on the E510 so it’s not a big deal.
  • the LCD resolution has not been updated to that of the competition – this is a pity but it won’t adversely affect your image quality – my main gripe with the Olympus camera LCD is the magnified view on playback uses a tiny jpeg so you don’t actually get to see the actual image quality at more than 7x magnification – I hope Olympus rectify this in future models if they haven’t already done so.
  • interestingly, the base ISO seems to have been lifted to ISO 200 which is similar to Nikon dSLRs for several years but a first for Olympus – personally I am not a fan of this but at least you can shoot at ISO 100 and it is one of the trade offs in sensor design for trying to improve high ISO performance
  • contrast detect AF in live view will always be slow with systems not fully designed for this such as all current dSLRs including Nikon and Canon. If you want faster contrast detect AF go for the new Micro Four Thirds system with its dedicated contrast detect AF lenses.

Now the negatives are out of the way, let’s look at the positives of the “best dSLR” Olympus has made – better handling than the weather-proof E-3 and with more features although obviously not weather-proof (presumably the E-4 will have the features of the E-30, plus E-3’s larger viewfinder and weather-proof body).

The most important positives which differentiate this camera from the Nikon and Canon dSLRs are:

  • availability of high quality dedicated lenses with edge to edge sharpness
  • built-in image stabiliser which will work with ANY lens even old manual focus lenses
  • swivel LCD with built-in horizontal and vertical leveling guide to assist in awkward or overhead camera positions to get those unique shots not easily possible with other cameras
  • built-in creativity of “art filters” and multi-exposure mode
  • superb jpeg image quality straight out of the camera without need for post-processing

BUT, if you already own a Canon 1DMIII like me for high ISO and speed in action photography and third party radio wireless TTL flash, the reason for having an Olympus is more about portability and hand held super telephoto reach, hand held macrophotography and creative angles – I would be swayed to go for the much cheaper E620 but the electronic spirit level functionality of the E-30 would come in handy for so much of my work that I think the extra weight of the E-30 might be worth it – pity Olympus didn’t put the spirit level into the E-620!

Even though I am also a Canon user, I would buy an Olympus E620 or E-30 over ANY current Canon or Nikon cropped sensor dSLR because of its image stabiliser and swivel out LCD and beautiful lenses.

And, if I wanted an interchangeable lens digital camera with video capability – then the new Panasonic G1H on which I previously blogged would easily beat any current and near future Canon or Nikon dSLR for video features and quiet mode.


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