Olympus E-30 launched: hands-on video preview

by Reads (206)

Olympus is filling a significant perceived gap in its DSLR line-up this evening with the announcement of the Olympus E-30.

Olympus E-30

First shown in prototype form at Photokina and built around an all new 12.3 megapixel sensor and revamped image processor, the E-30 fills the “prosumer” niche in Olympus’s selection of models, slotting in between the squarely consumer-oriented E-520 and Olympus’s professional E-3 system camera.

While we were at PhotoPlus a few weeks back, the folks at Olympus graciously agreed to give us (and our video camera) some hands-on time with a pre-production E-30. Based on our initial experience exploring some of the camera’s unique features, we’ve put together the following detailed video preview of the new model.

Sensor, processor, and auto focus innovations
As noted, the E-30 is the first Olympus DSLR to get the manufacturer’s next-generation 12.3 megapixel “Live MOS” sensor. This CMOS based Four Thirds format imager replaces the 10 megapixel Live MOS technology currently in use across Olympus’s DSLR line. The E-30 also lands a newly developed TruePic III+ image processor.

Olympus E-30

Like the professional Olympus E-3, the E-30’s 2.7 inch “HyperCrystal” LCD can be rotated/swiveled as desired. Working with the E-30’s Live View system, which continues to play a prominent role here as in previous Olympus models, the display allows for shot composition from positions – over the head, at ground level, and so on – that would be difficult if not impossible with traditional “viewfinder only” DSLR shot composition.

Olympus E-30

For its focusing system, the E-30 uses an 11-point phase detection system when shooting through the viewfinder that appears to be a variant of the E-3’s extremely fast AF technology. Even more significant, though, are the improvements to Olympus’s Imager AF contrast detection focusing technology (which allows the camera to auto focus while shooting in Live View mode without a screen black-out period).

Olympus E-30

According to Olympus, updates to the manufacturer’s 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lens – re-released as a “II” variant – have allowed for significant speed and accuracy improvements when using auto focus in Live View mode.

Olympus E-30

In our hands-on time with a pre-production E-30, the performance wasn’t unlike the responsiveness we’ve seen from Panasonic’s new G1, which uses the same focusing technology. All of this bodes well for the E-30’s Live View performance, making this camera unquestionably the most promising and feature-rich DSLR when it comes to on-screen shot composition yet released by Olympus.

Olympus E-30

With all of this emphasis on Live View, it’s worth noting that the E-30’s through-the-viewfinder capture process hasn’t been neglected. The new model comes with a nicely speced optical viewfinder, providing 98 percent field-of-view coverage and 1.02x magnification. In the same vein, Olympus has added a “digital level” to both the E-30’s viewfinder and LCD indicators, making it easy to make sure you’re correcting for both left-to-right and front-to-back pitch when setting up shots.

Artist-friendly features
In all official information about the E-30, Olympus is heavily promoting the new model’s artistic side, with lots of emphasis placed on the camera’s user-friendly creative processing options. Chief among these is the E-30’s Art Filters shooting mode: working from a list of six presets – including emulators for grainy film, pinhole cameras, and soft focus filters – the E-30 applies the selected filter at the time of capture. Gimmicky? Maybe a bit. But fun to explore as well, and potentially highly useful if you prefer processing at time of capture. Plus, even though there’s really nothing here that can’t be done in post-process, the E-30 not only saves the step, but also allows you to preview the impact of its Art Filters before shooting if you’re composing with Live View enabled.

Olympus E-30

The E-30 also features multiple-exposure capture, allowing shooters to overlay multiple images in a single frame. “For instance,” Olympus’s press release notes, “take one shot of the full moon with the E-30 and the image will appear on the camera’s LCD. Then take another shot while the moon still appears on the LCD and superimpose a close-up of an owl perched on a tree branch. The two images will merge together seamlessly to form one dramatic image that has the haunting effect of a Halloween night.”

In practice, the integration of Multiple Exposure mode and Live View shooting makes creating digital double (or triple, or quadruple – the E-30 can combine up to four captures) exposures particularly easy, as the camera overlays previous captures on the screen as you compose subsequent frames. The E-30 can also build multi-exposures from previously taken raw images, or a combination of previous captures and real-time shots.

Olympus E-30

If having a built-in soft focus filter aims to grab the attention of wedding and portrait photographers, the E-30’s advanced wireless flash control system should do the same. Like it’s big brother, the E-3, the E-30 has one of the most advanced built-in multi-group wireless flash controllers on the market, allowing shooters to custom tailor the lighting balance from multiple Olympus flash units without the need for connecting cables.

Those who shoot for different markets or media types, or those who just want to explore different looks, may also find Olympus’s Multi-Aspect function worth checking out. In addition to its native 4:3 aspect ratio, the E-30 can capture images in eight other unique ratios, including 16:9 widescreen, 3:2, 5:4, and even 6:6 square format like a 120 film camera.

Analysis, pricing, and availability
With its heavy emphasis on accessible creative controls, the E-30 takes a unique approach among cameras in the $1000-plus market segment, providing lots of fun filters and exposure tools to explore while still offering the serious imaging hardware users expect from a camera in this class. The E-30 looks to cover a wide range of users – from amateurs looking for more creative freedom and flexibility, to working Olympus shooters seeking a lower-cost first or back-up body – and we’ll be watching closely to see how Olympus’s unique approach to a prosumer model is received by consumers in a segment bursting with exciting new technology from the likes of Nikon and Canon.

The Olympus E-30 is slated for retail release in January 2009, with an estimated street price for the body only ringing up at just under $1300. The matching Zuiko 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II lens will also be available in early 2009, for a suggested retail price of $599.

Olympus E-30 Specifications:

Sensor 12.3 megapixel Live MOS, Four Thirds format (17.3×13.0mm)
Lens/Zoom Four Thirds system mount, 2x crop factor
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7″, 230K-pixel HyperCrystal II TFT LCD; optical viewfinder, 98% coverage, 1.02x magnification
Sensitivity ISO 100-3200
Shutter Speed 60-1/8000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Apeture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Scene, Art Filter
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Children, Sports, High Key, Low Key, Digital Image Stabilization, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents
White Balance Settings Auto, Lamp, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade
Metering Modes Digital ESP, Center-Weighted Average, Spot
Focus Modes 11-point TTL phase-difference detection system, 11-point contrast detection AF; Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF
Drive Modes Single Frame, Sequential
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, First Curtain Slow Sync, Second Curtain Slow Sync, Fill, Manual, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats CompactFlash Type I/II, Microdrive, xD-Picture Card
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, raw
Max. Image Size 4032×3024
Max. Video Size
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Lithium ion rechargeable
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Face Detection, Art Filters, Multiple Exposure mode, Multi-Aspect, Shadow Adjustment Technology, Perfect Shot Preview, Live View, TruePic III image processor
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