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Friday, January 9, 2009

E-30: A Short Review


I got the E-30 on Wednesday, and straight away went out for some shooting session. Being coy, I had explicitly asked for the ultra-wide angle Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4-5.6 together with the E-30 and Zuiko Digital 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 II kit.

The first thing that caught my eyes was how small the 9-18mm. It was really petite! Just look at it! It was gorgeous.

Wooops, before I get way over my head with the overdriven enthusiasm, the review had to cover certain aspects of the E-30 features.

It seemed to me, at least, Olympus tried to sell the E-30 to creative shooters like artists and hobbyist with these Art Filters, equipped with a speedy AF system, and an articulating LCD. My first impression was that this was just some marketing hoopla to provide something different than the competition.
*Take note that the AF and LCD features were already inherent with the E-3, which was released in late 2008.

The E-30 to me shared too much of E-3 DNA. How was that? These included the 11 cross-hair points AF, 5-stop in-body Image Stabilization, 5fps sequential shooting, wireless TTL flash; and enhanced above E-3 with 12.3MP resolution with a new TruePic III+ image processor, multi-exposure layering, and a level gauge. The III+ nomenclature, as explained by the Olympus representative, was the ability to do advanced image processing with specific photographic effects in which was called the ART filters.

Now, the Art Filters. What are they?


By selecting the ART/SCN mode on the dial selector, all I could see on the LCD screen was the list of 6 filters with specific functions. In this mode, the LCD screen was made useless as the only function was to select each of the 6 filters via the D-pad & OK, or select SCN using the
right-direction D-pad
button. The only way to change the camera setting was to use the dedicated buttons.



These 6 ART filters: (You can click following filters to jump to the respective blog page.)
Somehow the names of these filters were self explanatory, and I had little problem in understanding its uses. Actually, what really struck me was the usage of each filter required some level of creativity in the first place. With Olympus only allowing the filters to function during the actual shoot, it was impossible to edit in-camera to apply the effects.

Now, that was something to think about while using these filters.

Furthermore, it was not possible to stack these effects; such as Pin Hole effect with Grainy Film. That was quite a bit of a letdown.

I also did some tests with regards to the usability of the Articulating LCD to shoot with Live View in various High and Low Angle shots. Olympus called this the Free-angle Live View. Further tests also was done for the fast AF system, particularly fast approaching objects. (You can click the hyperlinks to jump to the respective blog page).

Olympus asked me to also test some other main features with the E-30. You can click on the hyperlink to jump to the respective blog page.

Okay, with that out of the way, I can get on with my physical impression of the camera. Having owned the E-3 and 14-100mm F2.0 lenses, all I can say was that the E-30 with the 14-54mk2 was just perfect for lightweight photography with heavyweight E-3 functionality (cut for the metal build and weather-sealing).

It felt good in the hands, better than E-510 but not as good as E-3. The ergonomics was more towards E-3, so any E upgraders will find the learning curve to be quite steep! Suffice to say, the size was just perfect for the High Grade f2.8-3.5 lenses.

Balance was good, with the 14-54mm and 9-18mm lenses; however, with the F2.0 zooms, it was better only after attaching the HLD-4 grip. Yes!! The grip was compatible! Hurrah!

The viewfinder was quite large compared to E-xx0 series, but compared to E-3 it felt tiny. To test, I put the ME-1 magnifier that increased it by 20%, and it was similar to E-3 albeit dimmer. Oh yeah, I tested this with the 14-35mm F2.0 bright lens; thus, the dimming effect was quite apparent.

The Live View AF is acceptably fast, and can be viewed in the 2 videos that I had made.

Imager AF using the 14-54mk2
video

Hybrid AF using the 14-35SWD
video


To my surprise, the SWD speed was really fast even in Live View Imager mode. With the E-3, the focusing will only start after tripping the shutter which was just lame.

One thing I did notice with the E-30 was the improved Dynamic Range over the E-3. Although I suspect maybe just by +2/3 of a stop, this was much. I found that the highlights were better tamed, and was made really apparent using the ART mode. Somehow, the ART Engine was able to churn out exquisite looking JPEGs while retaining the Olympus' bold colors and rich tones.

High ISO was as good as E-3. The bonus improvement: there was no mild banding for ISO3200. In my real experience using the E-3, similarly I would only recommend up to ISO2000 for E-30, though.

There were a few niggles regarding the design of the camera. For one, I am very annoyed with the location of the ART mode on the dial. It was located to the other end of the rotation from "M"mode! That meant that I had to click through most of the modes on the dial before getting between my favorite "A" and ART. It was agonizingly slow! It should have been between "P"and AUTO.

Another niggle was the quite flimsy Power switch. ON/OFF was not as sturdy as the E-3. It was a ring circling the D-pad, and I always got the impression it would simply fall off one of these days.

Overall, the E-30 is a fun camera to use. The lightweight setup at just over 1kg with the 14-54mk2, coupled with the heavyfeight features will just be more than enough for aspiring creative shooters. Carry along an FL-36R, it will be a formidable portable combo indeed. The free-angle LCD will only leave your own imagination as the limitation (you can easily shoot low and high angles without breaking a sweat!!), and with one of the fastest AF system in the business, it will not disappoint to get "that"shot!

If you are an E-xx0 user, this camera is the perfect model for further expanding your photographic and creative skills. If you are an E-3 user, like myself, then this camera is perfect for backup and also for those JPEG moments.

My personal impression is that if you are a wedding photographer, this camera is one of the best to get!

Click HERE to browse into the E-30 gallery.



2 comments:

Khai Pin said...

Could you please post up the comparison pictures for high ISO between E30 and E3, and also, the said higher-dynamic range than E3? Would really like to see some real examples. =)

P/S: If only it's weather sealed!!

KP

Thru-the-Zuiko said...

Not to worry. The pics are coming. Olympus wants me to release the review in stages.

:D