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Olympus announces midrange E-30 dSLR

The company finally fills the gaping hole in its dSLR product line.

Olympus’ E-30 fills the hole in its dSLR lineup.
Olympus’ E-30 fills the hole in its dSLR lineup. Olympus America

With a price gap of about $900 between the Olympus E-520 and the E-3, Olympus has long had a pretty big hole in its dSLR lineup--a hole populated by extremely popular competitors like the Nikon D90, the Canon EOS 40D, and the Canon EOS 50D. But with the announcement of the E-30, it looks like Olympus is entering the ring swinging.

First, some key specs:

  Canon EOS 50D Nikon D90 Olympus E-30 Olympus E-3
Sensor 14.7-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 10.1-megapixel Live MOS
Color depth 14 bits 12 bits 12 bits 12 bits
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 2x 2x
Continuous shooting 6.3 fps
90 JPEG/16 raw
4.5 fps
100 JPEG/n/a raw
5 fps
n/a JPEG/12 raw
n/a JPEG/12 raw
Viewfinder 95% coverage
0.95x magnification
User interchangeable focusing screens
96% coverage
0.94x magnification
fixed focusing screen
98% coverage
1.02x magnification
fixed focusing screen
100% coverage
1.15x magnification
Mfr. interchangeable focusing screens
Autofocus 9-pt AF
all cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
all cross-type
11-pt AF
all cross-type
Live View Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 3 inches 3 inches 2.7 inches 2.5 inches
Approximate street price (body only) $1,399 $999 $1,299 $1,499
The E-30’s tilt-swivel LCD can give it an advantage over the competition.
The E-30's tilt-swivel LCD can give it an advantage over the competition. Olympus America

As with Canon and the 50D, it almost feels as if Olympus is insecure about the audience for this model. Canon introduced its Creative Auto mode, which seems more geared toward the entry-level, and Olympus delivers Art Filters, a set of six effects--Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale and Light, Grainy Film, Light Tone and Pin Hole--which 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.

On the other hand, it seems like a very entry-level feature. Especially since you can't modify any of the parameters for the effects. Ditto for face detection, which (in my opinion), only exists to make the auto focus-point selection in cameras work properly. But if you're paying $1,200 for a camera body, chances are you're going to learn to use it properly, which means not allowing the camera to choose your subject for you.

Olympus revamped its 14-54mm lens.
Olympus revamped its 14-54mm lens. Olympus America

While I can see Canon struggling to meaningfully differentiate the 50D from its other dSLRs, since it has so many, Olympus doesn't need to do that. And the irony is, without all the gimmicks--which you can ignore, of course--the E-30 sounds like it might be a really nice camera. It has the same extremely fast AF system as the E-3, which I increasingly appreciate. It also incorporates a flip-and-twist LCD, which makes Live View a lot more useful and which none of its big competitors offer (The similarly priced Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 also has the flip-out LCD, but isn't a very compelling alternative). While the viewfinder isn't as big as the E-3's, it still sounds better than most of the others. It has a built-in electronic level, like the Nikon D3, which shows both pitch and roll, as well as more popular capabilities such as a built-in wireless flash controller and sensor-shift image stabilization. This model also introduces an interesting multiple-exposure mode. In fact, unless you need the dust- and weather-sealed body construction of the E-3, the higher-resolution E-30 sounds like it might be a nice inexpensive alternative to that.

Along with the E-30, Olympus is also issuing a refresh for its veteran 14-54mm lens. The Zuiko 14-54mm II f2.8-3.5 (28-108mm equivalent) retains the dust- and splashproof construction for pairing with the E-3 and adds improved contrast AF performance (for Live View focusing); a switch to a circular aperture design, which we're seeing quite a bit of, for better bokeh; and the ability to focus closer than 3 inches (down from 8.7).

The E-30 and lens are slated to ship in January 2009. The body will have an estimated street price of $1,299 and the lens will cost about $599.