Long term user assessment of the Olympus Camedia E-10 digital camera
Words and Pictures Peter Kent
I have been using the Camedia E-10 for approximately sixteen months now and my criteria at the time of purchase was as follows:
I wanted a SLR that came as close as possible to a conventional film-based SLR and I didn't want an electronic viewfinder. I also wanted it to be useful in all general shooting situations with the ability to shoot in the studio with studio flash. It was to be a stop gap between the compact-design digicam (I had previously been using an Olympus Camedia C2020) and the digital SLRs which I knew were about to arrive on the scene. The E10 appeared to fit the bill.
It is worth remembering that, during the period of use, things in the digital photography world have advanced at a rapid pace and the Camedia E-10 was fairly avant garde sixteen months ago with a price tag to match.
Design & handling
The overall design and handling of the camera have come up to all expectations. Although the camera weighs in at over two and a half pounds with batteries inserted, it feels comfortable in the hand, is well balanced, and the main controls fall into place as naturally as a conventional SLR. The build quality feels secure and reassuring and has not let me down. Because many of the most common controls are on the outside of the camera in the form of buttons, dials and switches, shooting is rendered quicker and easier than having to scroll through menus on a LCD. My only quibble would be with the moveable LCD screen, which has the ability to rotate upwards through nearly ninety degrees for right angled viewing. I have never found a use for this facility and have never used the LCD for composing an image, particularly as the LCD image is one of the worst features of the camera. The often quoted example of using this facility to shoot above your head is, as far as I am concerned, a non-starter. The supplied lens hood is efficient, the eyelets for the neck-strap don't get in the way of any controls and the battery compartment and storage card slots can usefully be accessed when the camera is on a tripod. The supplied infrared remote control unit may seem a gimmick, but I have found it useful for tripod mounted time-exposure shots, eliminating all hand/camera shake.
I had to accept the compromise when it came to a fixed zoom lens. The zoom range equates to approximately 35-135mm on a conventional SLR and I have found this to be acceptable considering the purpose of the camera. It has the advantage of not wearing the mount with repeated lens changes, not getting dirt on the rear element, and not getting dirt on the sensor. It has proved to be crisp and fast enough (f/2.4) for my shooting requirements with good contrast and has given no problems.
|The autofocus facility, however, has occasionally given me cause for doubt. The instruction manual makes no false promises and details areas where the challenge may be too great for the system. These are areas common to other autofocus systems and one has to be prepared and you have the option of manual focus. It is not a suitable camera for fast action shots if you want to rely on auto focus. Another disadvantage to this zoom lens is that the focused image won't stay in focus if you then zoom the lens. It's necessary to refocus. One can purchase optional add-on tele or wide-angle attachments, but I have not done so, preferring to wait for an affordable digital SLR that will accept my Nikon lenses
In this early stage of the digital revolution, my expectations have never been too high and in general operation, particularly in auto program mode, the camera has performed well, giving well exposed images with good colour rendering and generally outperforming my expectations, as my Olympus C2020 had done previously. I have been particularly pleased with low-light subjects requiring long exposures.
Colour is subjective. I enjoy using Photoshop. Post- processing is part of the game and the fun, so I'm not too bothered whether someone thinks there is a colour bias here or there as it is usually correctable. Previous reviews of the camera have dealt with the subject more scientifically. Suffice to say that I have been happy with the results.
The metering has worked well in all modes. Certainly better than the Nikon D100 which I recently tried and found to persistently underexpose. The Camedia E-10 may have a tendency to burn out the strong highlights (the illustration right shows particularly strong backlighting) but I prefer this to underexposure. I have found indoor low-light shots to be excellent.
The rechargeable battery life I would consider to be good for a camera of this type. I only use rechargeable NiMH cells of various capacities and I have never been caught out in the middle of shooting anything important. The lithium batteries supplied with the camera were excellent but expensive to replace. Ordinary alkaline cells are not up to the job.
Flash is a good feature. I particularly like the facility to vary flash output when using fill-in. This enables the rendering of natural portraits which would otherwise look over-flashed using cameras lacking this feature. Indeed, the fill-in flash (see illustration) has proved to work extremely successfully in most situations when called upon.
The PC sync socket on the front of the camera body is a feature usually left out on digicams but a great feature on the Camedia E-10 enabling the connection to studio flash without having to buy a hot-shoe adapter.
The macro setting is conservative but I purchased a Hoya screw-on close-up +4 lens from my local retailer for a modest sum and can achieve the results shown in the illustration. The white balance auto setting performs satisfactorily for most general shooting situations and there is a range of optional manual settings. I do, however, have a white balance problem with studio flash. None of the available manual settings quite provide me with the correct result when photographing products against white backgrounds and I rely on Photoshop for correction. I also find it necessary to close the viewfinder rear-blind when shooting in a studio environment with flash units positioned behind the camera. Otherwise the flash entering the viewfinder dramatically affects the exposure. Interestingly, I have not noticed the same problem with sunlight probably because my eye is always close up to the viewfinder in normal environments. I would like to have had an eyecup as part of the viewfinder design as I find bright sunlight, particularly from the side, causes a viewing problem and I need to use a finger as a shield but this may just be a personal thing.
The ability to use SmartMedia or CompactFlash is a useful feature (and one shared by the Fuji S2), particularly if you have other equipment that uses storage cards. Not only can you use either card in the camera, or both at once, but you can also copy between the two. The cover over the storage card slots has a fiddly locking mechanism which someone with large hands may find a nuisance.
For image capture there are a good range of size and resolution options from 2240x1680 pixels in TIFF mode down to 640x480 JPEG with up to four compression settings.
The RAW facility gave me a problem. When I purchased the camera, one had to download a Photoshop plug-in from the Olympus web site to use RAW mode, but I couldn't get Photoshop to load it without crashing. I contacted Olympus with a negative result and gave up. Things may be different now. However I have been happy to shoot mainly in fine JPEG mode with little discernible difference showing between that and the TIFF mode.
One of the cameras weakest features is the speed with which one can view the playback images. Scrolling through JPEGs on a high quality setting, each image takes approximately three seconds to appear. It may not sound a lot but, if flicking through a dozen images, you can waste over half a minute looking at a blank screen.
The quality of the LCD is worse than many cheaper cameras that I have used and not a feature of the Camedia E-10 that I would recommend. The displayed image is coarse and has a constant shimmer. However, this camera was designed as a SLR and I have never found it necessary to use the LCD for composing a picture, finding TTL viewing far preferable. Indeed, I notice that neither the Nikon D100 nor the Fuji S2 allows previewing with the LCD. The playback feature is only a quick reference, but it would be nice to be able to see the results in outdoor daylight without having to put a coat over your head or go into menus and change brightness settings.
I have used a direct USB lead to my PC for transferring images and have used an Epson Stylus Photo printer. An A4 print is completely feasible form this camera with the right paper, printer and appropriate tweaking in an editing program. I have printed up to A3, but a purist wouldn't like it!
The detail of the dog's eye shown here is from an A4 sized image.
The Camedia E-10 has received various accolades over its life thus far and I feel they are generally justified. I love its handling and usability. I have found it suitable for most types of still (as opposed to moving/action) photography. I have been limited by the focal length of the lens for architectural shots and by the white balance for studio shots but have found the camera ideal for portraits giving pleasing, smooth flesh tones. Landscape and general shooting has been no problem. My camera has given no mechanical problems. It has performed reliably when called upon and provided me with the sort of results that, on the whole, I have expected. Indeed, I have constantly recommended it to other people. This is not a lightweight happy snapper camera and you probably wouldn't want it hanging round your neck all day on holiday but it's a serious bit of kit with a quality feel. There are one or two quibbles, notably autofocus and playback, but when you look at the secondhand price of the Camedia E-10 today, who's complaining? This is a well built camera with a four megapixel output that would suit anybody looking for a general purpose SLR but who can't afford the interchangeable lens models at present prices.