By Kathleen Cullen PC World | on July 08, 2009
Price When Reviewed: 750
Pros: Very good autofocus in daylight.
Cons: Complicated customizable menus; unimpressive performance at high ISOs.
The E-30 shares the Gradation settings of the E-520 and E-530. These settings, which you access through the menu, work reasonably well when used judiciously. You can switch among Off, Normal, High-Key, and Low-Key. The proprietary Gradation technology will open up a picture's shadowed areas (and tone down blown highlights) in closer approximation with what the human eye sees. In my hands-on tests, the Gradation settings brought out additional midtone detail and kept extreme darks and lights from going flat.
However, Gradation is meant to be used only under certain circumstances, such as a landscape with low foreground light and high sky lighting, and it will not do you any good if you leave it on all the time. And I found that Gradation was no substitute for spot-metering of highlights in a high-contrast image, because the E-30 tended to blow out highlights in my tests.
Generally, though, the E-30 was capable of taking incredible, sharp shots outdoors at ISOs of 400 and below. The camera produced saturated but realistic landscapes (it offers Vivid, Natural, and Monochrome settings if you're in the mood to mess about). The 14mm-to-52mm lens's autofocus was quick and almost always accurate, except in low light and indoors.
Regrettably, the image quality falls off from ISO 400 depending on the lighting situation, and the performance of the Live View screen also declines, losing saturation and sharpness. The noise rendered in indoor shots taken above ISO 400 was muddy. In low light, I also found that, even with the AF assist lamp, the lens hunted for focus and the shutter often fired regardless of my AF point, doing so long after the subject had moved away.
The new features and extra megapixels of the Olympus E-30 may be enough to draw some current E3 users, or people wishing to graduate from a more entry-level model. This camera, with its high degree of customizability and the good-quality optics of its kit lens, could be an attractive upgrade. However, it's competing with the Nikon D300 and the Canon EOS 50D, and its performance is outclassed by both.