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Olympus E-30 - Evolutionary Expressivity

2008-Nov-04
by Alan and Mario



Introduction

Descending upon New York City, in less than two hours, we entered the larger than expected Photo Plus East exhibition. Our focus of the show was a one hour meeting with Japan’s DSLR product manager, Mr. Terada, in which we came prepared to quiz him on the future direction of (Micro) Four Thirds. To our surprise, the meeting began with the signing of an NDA; and thus our silence until now.

This is all probably obvious by now. The meeting was actually about a new product many of you have been excited to learn more about: the Olympus E-30.



Enter The Olympus E-30

Designed to fit the Olympus line up of DSLRs, it sits nicely in between the E-520 and the E-3. Before we get to the juicy bits, here are the primary specifications:
  • 12.3 MP Live MOS sensor
  • 5 fps and 11-point Fast Autofocus
  • 2.7” free-angle HyperCrystal II LCD
  • 5 step IS
  • 1/8000 shutter and 1/250 flash sync
  • Face Detection
  • 98% viewfinder

You may now say, how do the E-3 and E-30 differentiate themselves?
  • E-3 is dust and splash proof
  • E-3 has a 100% viewfinder
  • E-30 is shorter and lighter
  • E-30 has an improved dynamic range
The E-30 does sound very attractive, and while it is understandable that the E-3 serves a high-end niche, we wouldn’t be surprised to see an E-3 refresh in the coming year.



The Juicy Bits

As we all heard at Photokina earlier this year, the E-30 was supposed to be a camera for the “artistic”. It turns out that the meaning behind this is the introduction of several “art filters” built into the hardware itself. The idea behind this is two-fold.
  • There has been an increasing trend in digital photography towards certain types of post-processed images (just take a look at advertisements in today’s magazines)
  • Olympus wants to provide its users with the best out of camera experience by minimizing the amount of post-processing necessary to achieve those results (i.e. capture the photographer's creative intent at the moment the picture is captured)


With this information out of the way, the following contains the list of art filters built into the E-30:
  • Pop Art – not simple PS over saturation as it controls fringing and makes other subtle adjustments
  • Subdued
  • Soft Focus – softens subjects and surrounding environment (samples we’ve seen were most convincing)
  • Pale - flat impressions and/or images bathed in a soft light
  • Light Tone - creates a "calm" atmosphere as though under soft lighting
  • Grainy Filter – conversion to high contrast B&W with an application of gritty grain
  • Pinhole – just as you remember those experiments from childhood
When selecting any one of these art filters, you can preview the effect via Live View. After taking the photo, you will be left with only the art filtered JPEG unless you have chosen to RAW+JPEG in which you’ll be left to use the original RAW file.



Honestly this is a great idea. Just recently we were discussing with fellow photo enthusiasts the pains of post-processing in the digital world and an almost yearning for the days of dropping off photos at the photo lab for simplicity sake. While this doesn’t quite solve that problem entirely, it does allow for some common yet elaborate post-processing steps to take place within the camera itself.

...and while this is a great idea, we hope to see improvements in the future before the competition gets to it. When asked whether these art filters can be applied to RAW files within the camera itself, the answer provided was “no” because the art filters themselves rely on the camera exposing the images differently depending upon the filter selection. We think they should seriously consider this for this first release of the E-30.



The other area for improvement we caught occurred when we queried whether the E-30 can receive a firmware upgrade that would change or add art filters into the camera’s arsenal of productivity. The answer to that was also “no” because the filters are a part of the hardware itself and therefore not upgradeable via this method. This is truly unfortunate because it expandability would allow Olympus to stay ahead of the competition in this regard.

In any case, this feature is here first and it does get Olympus ahead of the competition in terms of out-of-camera usage of images.



More Juice

Other items of note are also clever and very usable in day-to-day use of the camera. Olympus has built into the E-30 an easy to use leveling gage for both pitch (vertical) and roll (horizontal). Never again will your horizon be anything but horizontal.

Keeping in line with their focus on out-of-camera results, the E-30 also allows you to choose from many different aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6, 5:4, 7:6, 6:5, 7:5 and 3:4.

Perhaps this last feature of the E-30 should have been included in the “art filter” section above however we have chosen to give it mention at the end of the article. Olympus has built into the E-30 the ability to create multi-exposure images, of up to four, directly within the camera. You may have to see it to really grasp how well it works but we’ll do our best to describe it here.

After selecting multi-exposure mode, you take your first photo. Once the first photo is taken, you can see it via the Live View screen combined with what you are about to shoot (i.e. the camera overlays the new image on top of original image). Snapping the shutter then seals the deal. While we wished we had examples to show you, we’re also glad we don’t because the Olympus crew used us as models during the demonstration. :-)







In Conclusion

If you like what you’ve seen and read, and you are in the market for something that competes with the Canon 50D and Nikon D90, or if you are looking to upgrade your current Four Thirds camera, then you may want to check out the Olympus E-30 in stores this January 2009. Some may not yet appreciate all of these new-to-DSLR features but most will find a good portion of these new features useful in day-to-day shooting. This is certainly an evolutionary camera!

Price estimated at $1299 USD

P.S. Micro Four Thirds

We arrived at PPE with the intention to drill Mr. Terada on a list of Micro Four Thirds questions which was mostly sidelined by an unexpected NDA at the beginning of the meeting and a nearly 1 hour demonstration of the forthcoming E-30. In any case, we have the following two tidbits to pass along:

  • No one should consider the existing Micro Four Thirds prototype as the final product - it may arrive in a different form and/or multiple models for multiple purposes (i.e. we expressed our interest in an optical viewfinder)
  • Micro Four Thirds cameras could launch with video capture support
While we could not handle the prototype as it was locked away securely, seeing it behind glass was a treat. This is one small gem of a camera that makes the Leica M8 look like an E-3 comparitively (yes they may not be in the same category but the potential is there).




Comment/Rate Share this Article

NO SUBJECT

Thank you very much for this fascinating read. First impressions over my early morning tea before heading to work is congrats and kudos to Olympus for pioneering new ideas and continue to invest in 4/3'rds. I am reassured on this latter point as I must confess to being a little concerned that micro 4/3 may have been adopted as the premier line.

I really like the idea of the leveling gauge and I miss the grid lines in my E1 viewfinder. I know I can have that sorted in the E3 but I wish they had that built in and not to have to sent it off for a major piece of work. I hope they will upgrade the E3 in that regard and I'm sure they will.

With regard to the filters I like the idea of choice and this will bring more people into this form of exploration. Personally I will probably prefer to do my own processing. But, for those who want it straight out of the camera and don't want to have to invest hugely in financial and learning curves in photoshop, this will be attractive for sure - although lightroom offers easy to use features, which are often over-used and not always to good effect imho. It's good to see that protective measures have been built in so that you still have your raw file as well as the filtered jpeg and anti-fringing measures etc etc. It will be interesting to see this tested in the real world of day to day photography.

Anyways, must go to work - thanks again!

Eugene Donohoe HoF Win ¤1 $ at 02:55 EST on 2008-Nov-05 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

Some nice improvement indeed. But no weather-proof probably means no purchase for me. Filters are fancy ideas but may not be good ideas for self-improvement for artistry/technique. Constant learning is too important to ignore. Let's hope the high ISO will perform wonderfully.

Jyh-Lurn Chang HoF Win ¤1 at 13:55 EST on 2008-Nov-05 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

Excited? you bet ... been waiting for a downsized, downweighted, and downpriced E3 to upgrade my E1 for a while (the d90 tempted me a few times in the process! glad I've been patient

Not that there's anything wrong with the E1 but I can use the flip out LCD for better , more creative shooting positions, the extra resolution for more details in the larger prints, the larger and brighter VF for easier compos, the PS like builtin artwork for quick and dirty 'tricks', wireless flash for weddings and studio portraits ... only thing i wish it could be improved is the LCD res, knowing the Canon g10 I own already sports a 460k dots lcd, and the Nikon d90 a 920K one !

Looking forward to January but I'm afraid my E1 would be jealous for not seeing more actions in 2009 ....I can see the 9-18mm lens perfectly mated to this babe ;-))

Thanks for sharing more details on this marvel from Oly ...cheers ;-))

dee vee HoF Win ¤ $1 at 21:45 EST on 2008-Nov-05 [Reply]

HDR!!!

Thanks Alan and Mario! I'm really surprise no one replied the truly amazing feature that i would love to see in a firmware update in the e3, the multi-exposure feature on the Olympus E30 goes further than most, in that it lets you combine up to four frames into a single image, and you can also choose a RAW file from the memory card to use as the first image of your composite. I mean, this is a truly easy way of doing HDR's in the camera! Imagine the potential to landscape photographers! Am i missing something??? Best wishes!

João Medeiros Win ¤ ¤1 at 22:09 EST on 2008-Nov-05 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

I'm with Lewis on this. The lack of water proofing makes this camera a non-starter for me. But, I am sure the pre-set "artsy" buttons will be popular, particularly the "pinhole" option, which will be very popular with those that prefer to produce images that are blurry, out of focus and of a toy camera quality from all those excellent quality Zuiko lenses and high mega pixels!

E. Edwin Ennor ~ (E³) HoF Win ¤ $1 at 22:37 EST on 2008-Nov-06 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

WOW very impressive i guess was worth to wait.

Rina Kupfer Win ¤ at 16:54 EST on 2008-Nov-07 [Reply]

NO SUBJECT

What's the point of making all the new lenses splash-proof but continue to make new camera(s) that are not splash-proof? What is the thinking process?

Would you carry an umbrella without the canopy?

Jyh-Lurn Chang HoF Win ¤1 at 18:18 EST on 2008-Nov-07 [Reply]

Positive news...

Actually, I find this new info encouraging. If they've made this much improvement for a mid-range body, what will the E-4 bring us? My E-3 has served me well so far and my E-520 has made a reasonable backup, although I agree with some above...no weather proofing will keep me waiting for the time being.

Ken Williams ¤ $ at 19:32 EST on 2008-Dec-19 [Reply]