November 5 saw the official announcement of Olympus's new "tweener" camera, the E30. Although the announcement had been (no doubt accidentally) released on CNET 24 hours early, it seems to have caught a lot of people on the hop.
As is becoming predictable in four thirds land, reactions ranged from "The sky is falling!" to the "Behold! The new Messiah!" depending on the predilections and mental state of the poster.
I was initially somewhat sceptical as to whether I would ever want the E30 in preference to an E3, but I am now coming around to the view that it could be a useful stopgap.
Firstly, well done to Oly for making the E30 compatible with the HLD4 battery grip. After using my E1 with the HLD2 grip, I wouldn't want to be without one. Once I got used to the extra weight and bulk, the improvement in handling is substantial - especially with long lenses. Were it not for the protruding USB plug (which I just know I'd catch on everything), I'd get the "Ownuser" grip for my E510, especially after seeing Wolves' useful videos on the "Four Thirds user" forum.
Basically, to my way of thinking the E30 is an E3 in a GRP body, with all the benefits that implies. It's not fully weathersealed. As I look out of the window at the rain sheeting down as I type this, I wonder whether this is more important in the UK than some more fortunate climes. However: my E510 isn't waterproof, and neither were my film cameras. My E1 is. Did it ever make any significant difference to my shooting? Probably not. If I was regularly shooting outdoor events, it would be another matter.
Given the present rate of technological development, any digital camera has a limited life. The E1 was a first class camera, as despite it's "limited" 5MP resolution, and still takes excellent pictures. Indeed, their tonality is, in many ways, superior to the E510s, and reminds me of those from the Canon 5D. The E30, like the E5xx and E4xx is more "disposable", because more affordable, but I can't see any reason why it shouldn't still be usable in five years time, whether or not it has a magnesium alloy body.
The 12MP of the E30 is good, but only if it comes at no cost in high ISO noise. Until recently, I had almost never ventured over 400ISO, but encouraged by the very good high ISO examples published on the "Olympus E-System Community" Group I co-moderate on Flickr, I have been pushing the E510 to ISO800, with pleasing results. So long as the E30 is no worse than this, all well and good (reports from other cameras using the same 12MP sensor suggest it may be better, in fact).
Like all "serious" amateurs, I am completely unimpressed by the "Art" filters, "face detection", the electronic level, and other extraneous modes that Oly obviously feel obliged to chuck in to sell the camera to "feature counters" like Which? Multi-aspect ratio and multiple exposure features are just a waste of processor capacity (which would be better employed on providing focus confirmation for "legacy" lenses, IMHO). However, more and selectable AF points is another big plus from the E3, as is the articulating Live View screen (one of the biggest advantages of the E3 for anyone who shoots at or near ground level or in restricted spaces - I'm also finding it useful for handheld focusing with legacy lenses). "Shadow adjustment technology" might be useful. Or not, depending on how it works. Contrast detect-AF in Live View would be useful, but only with a very limited range of lenses (none of which I have or particularly want).
I can see the E30 - if priced well - being a good mid-point option for those wanting something more meaty than the E520, but not wanting the E3. Price will be everything. It worries me that Oly look set to release the camera at too high a price, little different to the E3, currently available in the UK for £929 BO. It will need to be significantly less than that - or why bother with the little brother??? Personally, I can - just - see me going for one to replace my E510 if the price is right, but only in those circumstances. I suppose (and this makes me sad) the E30 means the E4 is further off, and we'll probably have to wait until Autumn 2009 to see what Oly can offer the professional or semi-professional user. Faced with some great offerings from Nikon in particular, how many will wait?
Lichfield Cathedral, E510 with 11-22mm @ ISO800 - some noise reduction in Lightroom applied, and perspective corrected with ShiftN