Of course, right in the middle of the camera back is the flip-and-twist 230,000-dot 2.7-inch LCD. Though it's a bit smaller than the 3-inch versions on most competitors, I'd gladly exchange that tiny bit of screen real estate for the flexibility of the articulated LCD. Otherwise, the display is pretty typical; bright enough for viewing under a variety of lighting conditions, but not accurate enough to make serious decisions about color or exposure tweaks. The viewfinder is pretty good as well: it's large and bright, with plenty of information. And while it doesn't offer 100 percent coverage, it's pretty close at 98 percent--better than the 50D's 95 percent and the D90's 96 percent.
One last notable feature is the dual-card slots: one CompactFlash and one xD-Picture card. (For more details on the features, control layout and implementation, you can scroll through the slide show and download the PDF manual.)
The E-30 certainly includes all the essential features (and then some) that you'd expect in a camera of its class. In addition, Olympus throws its new Art Filters presets into the mix, a set of six effects--Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale and Light, Grainy Film, Light Tone, and Pin Hole--that the E-30 applies during shooting. On one hand, I can understand (in theory) how applying the effects at shot time, where it can simultaneously compensate exposure, white balance, and so on, can help produce a better result than applying effects afterward in software. And in practice, they're really kind of fun. Since you can shoot JPEG plus an untouched raw image simultaneously, you can feel free to experiment--sort of. Unfortunately, there are just a few too many drawbacks to keep this from being more than a now-and-again novelty. It's a fully automatic mode, so you can't set shutter speed, aperture, or even ISO, which limits the desire to experiment. (Yes, you've got the raw file, but if it's shot at ISO 800 it may not do you much good.) Nor can you modify any of the parameters for the effects, such as amount of grain in Grainy Film or color saturation in Pop Art. I hope Olympus adds some flexibility to this feature for future implementations.
Given their internal similarities, it's no wonder that the E-30's performance on CNET Labs' tests matches--and in some ways outpaces--the E-3's. While its 0.7 second time from power on to first shot beats the E-3's, the E-3 is oddly slow to start up, and the E-30 is still slower than the rest of the competition. However, as with the E-3 it seems as if a fast AF system helps deliver best-in-class single-shot performance in both bright and dim light: 0.3 second and 0.7 second, respectively. However, that low-light performance is an average. The E-30 displays quite a bit of variability in its low-light focus speed, and in the field I frequently found myself waiting as the lens loudly ratcheted through its iterative focus search. Its 0.6 second raw shot-to-shot time (JPEG is a hair faster) is about the same as the typical Nikon midrange dSLR, but slightly slower than Canons'. Its 4.9 frames per second continuous-shooting rate is more than adequate for nonsports shooters, and as you'd expect it falls right in the middle between its more- and less-expensive competitors.
Overall, I'm quite happy with the photos produced by the E-30. Though its weakness seems to be high-contrast light (which may require 14-bit processing rather than its 12-bit to adequately capture the dynamic range), it otherwise fares very well. Under most conditions it renders very accurate colors, even correct exposures, and with a good lens, a very sharp image. While the sensitivity range maxes out at ISO 3,200, photos are usable all the way up (depending upon scene content, of course), and excellent at ISO 800 and below. (For more details about photo quality and examples, click through to the slide show.)
A lot of the E-30's competitive appeal will depend upon the trend in the street prices of it and its competitors. Unless you need the dust- and weather-sealed body construction or better burst performance of the E-3, the higher-resolution E-30 makes a great inexpensive alternative--but I've seen prices for the E-3 dropping. If you're not committed to a system from Canon or Nikon, the Olympus E-30's in-body stabilization and articulating LCD alone probably make it worth the consideration.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)