Olympus E-3 SLR Review

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Olympus E-3 dSLR

Steve's Conclusion

The E-3 is a professional camera, however, that should not deter advanced amateurs from trying it out. Built on a magnesium-alloy chassis, it's comfortably lightweight at 28.2 ounces, yet has a professional look and feel. The camera boasts a splash-proof design, resistant to moisture and dust. While we did not test that feature, the camera's doors and covers do appear to be well-sealed. We're happy to report the controls are logically-organized and easy to use, while the large grip offers a nice secure feel, making it well balanced for extended use.

Intelligent and ergonomic design is evident in the E-3 from the well-planned control layout to the comfortable grip. A soft, comfortable rubber eyecup and diopter adjustment will facilitate use by those of you wearing glasses. The viewfinder is very bright, provides a 1.15x image magnification and has an info bar that displays camera info such as aperture value, shutter speed, record mode, AF confirmation mark, WB, AE lock and ISO value. Within the image area you'll find guides indicating the position of the spot metering and the AF areas. The E-3's precision-crafted pentaprism is made from high refractive index glass with a reflective silver coating.

If you need complete info on the E-3's settings just look to the monochrome Control Panel LCD on top of the camera. It displays a wealth of information and can be illuminated by depressing the E-3's Light switch, allowing it to be used even in the low light situations. The LCD Control Panel compliments the viewfinder information for fine-tuning of the exposure settings while taking shots.

The 2.5" HyperCrystal LCD display offers 230,000 pixels of resolution, and provides a Live View function with 100% field of view. A sensor on the LCD detects ambient brightness and the screen will brighten or dim for optimum visibility and to reduce glare. While in Live View mode the LCD shows you an Exposure and White balance adjustment preview in real time. The LCD has a brightness control, and we found it usable in a variety of lighting situations. The ability to turn and twist the LCD is always a major benefit. Playback mode is quite useful for field-checking your images, offering both a histogram and the ability to zoom in and pan across the entire shot, as well as an index of 4, 9, 16 or 25 frames at one time.

When we reviewed the E-1 in 2003, we found the shooting performance was not equal to other professional cameras. Thankfully the E-3 is more competitive. From power-on till the first image was captured measured 6/10 of second , while "wake-up" to image capture measured approx. 2/10 of a second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was almost instantaneous at less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and 3/10 second including auto focus time for a high-contrast subject. Shot-to-shot delay averaged 2/10 of a second. Continuous Shooting mode captured 22 shots in only 4 seconds and required 20 seconds to write all the images to CF card. The E-3 can continue to capture additional frames at 6/10 second intervals while saving to the memory card. Using the internal flash, the shot to shot interval was 3/10 of a second. In RAW mode, I was able to capture 15 images in 2.9 seconds before the camera slowed down to approximately 1 frame every 4/10 of a second with a full buffer. The above times were observed using a Lexar Media Professional 1GB 80X compactflash memory card, Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm (24-120mm) 1:2.8-4.0 SWD lens, flash off, daylight lighting, 3648x2736 JPEG, SHQ quality. Times will vary depending on lighting conditions, media used, camera settings, etc.

Image quality is very good and reminiscent of the Olympus E-510 we reviewed in the Summer of 2007. Colors are nicely saturated with accurate exposure and pleasing sharpness. The only problem I had was related to the auto white balance. A portrait sample shot in morning diffused sunlight came out with an unsatisfactory blue hue. The same photo taken with a flash looked great. I also thought the ISO samples taken in ambient light had an unpleasant yellow "warm" hue compared to tests shot with other dSLR models.

Autofocus is quite sensitive with 11 selectable AF zones. Olympus has created a unique design that uses a layered, offset, CMOS sensor array to improve accuracy and low-light sensitivity. As a result, all 11 AF zones should be active cross-sensor types with any aperture lens. With new ZUIKO SWD Lenses like the ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0, the E-3 offers 5 frames-per-second continuous shooting, and 1/8000 second top shutter speed. Hoping to make a more intelligent AF, the 11 AF target points on the E-3 can be selected to work individually or dynamically in combination with adjacent target points. And manual focusing is also available for accurate focusing by hand.

Zuiko Digital lenses are available in Super High Grade, High Grade and Standard Grade lines. The SWD lenses (Supersonic Wave Drive) on the E-3 enable auto focusing at high speed with precise and quiet operation. Mechanical focusing is also available for easy and accurate manual focusing by hand. Olympus continues to offer more for demanding photographers with the introduction of four new lenses we outline on Page 2 of this review "Body, Imager & Lenses". Each incorporates at least one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens element to effectively reduce chromatic aberration across the entire image area and return optimal results.

A common and annoying problem with an interchangeable lens system is keeping the imager dust free. Olympus hopes to reduce spots on photos are with their dust reduction system. When you turn on the E-3 the Supersonic Wave Filter vibrates 30,000 times per second and dust is physically removed from the sensor. The dust reduction system also removes dust attached by intermolecular force that can't be shaken off or discharged with static electricity.

Bottom line - Priced at a MSRP of $1,699, there's a lot to like about the E-3 (and the Olympus lens and accessory system). The camera produced excellent shots and is quite responsive. Much improved shooting performance (over the E-1), superb image quality and the combination of image stabilization and anti-dust technology makes the E-3 a challenger in the heavyweight professional camera market. This is a professional dSLR, but the balanced handling and logical controls will make the E-3 attractive to any photographer ready to step up to a durable, pro-level camera system.

Olympus E-System Firmware Updates

Firmware Updates for E-System components

The ability to update the firmware in E-System components; bodies, lenses, flash units; is one of the key advantages of a 100% digital design. Firmware updates are available through Olympus Master and Olympus Studio software applications.

The following firmware updates are now available:

E-3 DSLR body:

  • Dial operation on the power grip HLD-4 has been improved. The relationship between the rotation of the dial and the movement direction of the AF target has been optimized.
  • Battery check function has been improved to extend shooting time when the power grip HLD-4 is attached.
  • Focusing now stops immediately when the AF start button (AEL/AFL or Fn button) is released.
  • Improved performance with the FL-50R or FL-36R flash units when undertaking bounce flashes at short distances.
  • The selection and prioritization of the central five ranging points when shooting in C-AF mode and dynamic-single target mode has been improved.

E-3 DSLR and E-510 DSLR bodies:

  • Image stabilization is now available for OM mount non-Four Thirds System interchangeable lenses.

For more info, visit the Olympus Support site.

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