Olympus E-100RS Review

Steve's Digicams

Olympus Camedia E-100RS

Steve's Conclusion

I don't know how many times I wished that I had a digital camera that could capture an action sequence the way my old motor-drive Nikon 35mm SLR did back in the 70's. Well, there is one available now that can do it, the Olympus E-100 RS is definitely fast! The first time I set it on 15fps and pushed the shutter button I was a believer. Neither Superman or a speeding bullet could outrun the capabilities of this camera to capture it. Just make sure you have a large CompactFlash card to store it all on.

The E-100 RS handles pretty much like the less expensive C-2100 UltraZoom, it has the same basic body design and awesome 10x (38-380mm 35mm equivalent) optically stabilized zoom lens. The most noticeable difference is the all black body and the large, rubber eyecup around the electronic viewfinder (EVF.) Externally the two cameras share many similar attributes but internally they are as different as night and day. The E-100 RS has the first CCD image sensor that I've ever seen promoted with a "megahertz" speed rating. According to Olympus specs the CCD is rated at 28MHz, that coupled with the fastest image processing hardware and a 9.5 megabyte DRAM buffer is the reason why this camera is so fast. The high-speed burst mode (3, 5, 7.5 or 15fps) is only available with the JPEG modes but even when set to TIFF mode the E-100 RS can capture them at a rate of one every 1.2 seconds at full resolution. If you're up against that speeding bullet then you'll really appreciate the shutter speed range of up to 1/10,000 second.

Besides the high-speed burst mode the E-100 RS also sports a unique pre-capture mode that can record one to five frames of action BEFORE the shutter is fully depressed. The first time that I read this I was a little confused -- how could the camera capture images before the shutter was pressed? The way it works is this, you set it for the desired number of frames to pre-capture and then aim it at your subject and half- press the shutter. It does the usual autofocus and exposure calculations but it also begins capturing images. The images are cycled using the "first in, first out" buffering method in the camera's DRAM but are not actually stored until you press the shutter release fully to begin your normal capture sequence. In this manner the shutter lag time is eliminated completely using the pre-capture frames so even if you misjudged the shutter release time by a half a second or so you still get to capture the entire sequence.

Having a camera that can capture 1.5-megapixel images at a rate of fifteen per second also means that you need some serious storage space. The E-100 RS sports the same dual-media capabilities as the E-10 SLR. There is both a SmartMedia and a CompactFlash Type II card slot in the camera and both can be occupied simultaneously. You switch between the card slots by making a selection in the menu system. Unfortunately the CF Type II card slot will not accomodate the Microdrive due to power restrictions but there are plenty of large capacity Type I solid state cards out there now. I did most of my testing with a Lexar Pro Series 12x 320MB card as it was 5 times larger and many times faster at read/write operations than my 64MB SmartMedia card.

The E-100 RS is not just a rapid-fire sports camera, it's also loaded with lots of real camera controls and exposure modes. It has Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, and Scene Program exposure modes. The Scene Program has presets for Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Night and Custom. In Shutter Priority mode the user can select from 2 seconds up to an incredible 1/10,000 of a second and as long as 16 seconds in the Manual mode. Aperture control is from F2.8 to F8 with exposure compensation of +/- 2.0 in 1/3EV increments. Just like the C-3040Z, the E-100 RS has four different metering modes: digital ESP, Center-weighted averaging, Spot and the Multi-Metering option that can use up to eight spot readings from different portions of the frame. The ISO sensitivity is adjustable for 100, 200 or 400 or can be set to Auto and the camera will vary it between ISO 100 and 200 as needed. And the white balance has the usual Automatic setting as well as presets for Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, and Fluorescent as well as a "one push" manual adjustment.

Other image capturing modes include AEB; Auto Exposure Bracketing where the camera will capture 3 to 5 frames and vary the exposure compensation and/or white balance between each shot. AF Sequential mode where the camera captures a sequence of shots similar to the high-speed burst mode except that it pauses between each shot to autofocus the frames individually. Ten second delay Self-timer or Remote Control capture controlled using the included RM-1 infrared remote control. Full motion video capture at up to 30 frames per second with audio and full VGA (640x480) motion video capture. Using the audio capabilities you can also add four-second voice annotations to still images.

Overall the image quality is very good to excellent, something that we have come to expect from all the current Olympus digicams with the iESP metering and focus systems. We did notice signs of the dreaded "purple fringe" effect in some areas of extremely backlit subjects but no worse than what we've seen on most of the other 2- and 3-megapixel cameras. Image saturation was usually very good but there were times when I noticed that skin tones were a little under saturated. All things considered I thought it did very well under a variety of normal to harsh lighting conditions and the few times that it wasn't close to perfect it was still easy to adjust afterwards in software. The default in-camera sharpening setting is probably where most people would like it but I prefer to use the softer setting and do my sharpening later in PhotoShop.

The Olympus E-100 RS is not going to be a "top seller" because it is a specialty camera that was made for a very small share of the digicam market. The $1595 price is close to double that of the C-2100UZ, but for those with a "need for speed" it's well worth the investment. The combination of a stabilized 10x optical zoom, 1.5-megapixel sized images and the capture rate of a machine gun put this camera in a class by itself and to sum it up simply -- it's pure fun to use !

Here's an excellent white paper on how the Olympus E-100RS performs its magic. It goes a long way to explain in detail how the buffering system works on this fast, unique camera. It was prepared by Ron Tussy, Principal Analyst at Imerge Consulting Group

Olympus E-100RS White Paper (.PDF)

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