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Olympus E-3 Digital SLR Review

Claiming the world's fastest autofocus speed, along with 1/8000sec shutter speed, 5fps and a 10mp sensor, Olympus' latest digital SLR could put the company well and truly back in the professional arena. Peter Bargh, spends a day with the camera to check out these, and an array of other demanding features, in a first look preview.

|  Olympus E-3 hands on first look in Digital SLRs
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As my first ever camera was an Olympus OM-1 I have fond memories of the Olympus brand. When Nikon and Canon lead the way in the pro arena with models like the F3 and F1n Olympus beavered away on models that were lighter and quieter. but lacked in durability so when AF arrived Canon and Nikon both lead, leaving Olympus to concentrate on compact cameras. Now things have changed. Peter Bargh and the olympus E3The E-1 made a small dent in the pro arena but this all-new E-3 looks set to reshape Olympus' pro business and become a serious competitor in the field.

Olympus invited a selection of photography magazine editors from around Europe for an exclusive trial of the E3. I joined them for the event in Istanbul on what they'd hoped would be a sunny day but turned out to be wetter than a typical UK day in April. Luckily the camera has waterproof seals!

It was quite a rushed experience giving us a flavour/opportunity to sample many of the camera's features over three assignments - a fashion shoot, an editorial travel assignment and a low light architectural feature.

Olympus E-3 Specifications

  • Sensor: 10.1Mp 4/3 Hi-speed Live MOS sensor
  • Lens: Olympus Zuiko 14-54mm or 12-60mm
  • Focus: TTL phase difference detection, 11 point Auto/Manual
  • ISO range: ISO100-3200
  • Shutter speed: 1/8000-60sec plus bulb up to 30 minutes
  • Exposure: Program/AP/SP/M
  • Metering: Multi Pattern/ESP/Spot/Centre-weighted
  • Monitor: 2.5in Hypercrystal LCD
  • Storage: Compactflash, xD Picture card
  • Batteries: BML-1 Lithium Ion
  • Video Output: NTSC & PAL
  • Size/Weight: 142.5 x 116.5 x 74.5mm/810g
  • Transfer: USB 2.0

Olympus E-3 rear view

  1. Hotshoe
    The E3 comes with a hotshoe for external flash to be fitted which helps for low light portraiture or when the pop up flash just can't cope.

  2. Flip out Live view LCD screen
    The screen of the E3 is not just Live view capable, but also flips out and swivels for getting those shots that are normally impossible, like over someone's head if you're at the back of a crowd or shooting from ground level. It also flips totally over on the body to act as a full protector.

  3. Top plate display
    The top LCD display screen will show critical information like Activated AF points, Exposure information, Drive, Flash and Metering modes. Other information like White balance and ISO can be also be seen on this display.

  4. Navigation pad
    The Navigation pad is for finding your way around the Menu systems of the E-3.

  5. IS button
    The IS button is to activate the Image stabiliser which is built into the body and will help steady camera shake if using a long telephoto or a slow shutter speed in low light. IS works with all lenses and can be set to full two dimension IS mode or one dimension that can be used when panning a moving subject.

  6. Display button
    The Display button will toggle through the display preferences of the E-3 showing information like a histogram, image information, shutter speed and aperture, ISO rating, White balance and how many pictures are left on the card.

Olympus E-3 front view

Olympus E-3 Build and handling
The body of the Olympus E-3 is made out of Magnesium Alloy and is Dust and splash proof so no need to worry when it starts raining. Should any dust get into the camera when changing lenses, it does have a dust removal facility using the Supersonic Wave filter to shake debris off the sensor. I saw a sample of the alloy chassis and it's extremely light, but also strong enough to support the weight of an adult standing on top of it. I tried to bend it in my hands and, despite the thin appearance there was not a sign of any flexing. I also used it on an appalling rainy day and I didn't have to worry about the wet, apart from it falling on the front lens element!

The E-3 has a new Autofocus sensor from which is an 11 point array. Three dedicated processors can be found inside the camera, one for the Autofocus, one for Image stabilising and the Trupic Turbo III for processing the images. The Compact flash slot is UDMA compatible to make use of the ultra fast cards that are starting to emerge onto the market.

The body is festooned with buttons which are supposed to make setting any mode a quick experience. I actually found the set up quite challenging. We had the opportunity to shoot fashion, reportage using wireless flash and extremely low light interiors, each needing very different use of modes and menus. Changing from something a simple as Program to Aperture Priority, for example, is better served on cameras with a mode dial on the top plate. I guess with time the use of all the features would become second nature but they don't appear as intuitive.


Olympus E-3 Side view

Olympus E-3 Modes and features
The E-3 has a new 10Mp sensor which has a faster read time to help enable the 5fps continuous shooting facility and the top speed of the shutter is 1/8000 sec.

The buttons on the back of the camera consist of the Exposure and Focus lock, the Function button which is a small Menu for access to the most frequently used features. Other buttons available for wandering fingers are the Focus point selector, Playback button, the Navigation pad and Image stabiliser . These are to the right of the flip out screen and four other buttons are found beneath it. They are the Delete, Info, Menu and Display options. The Power switch can be found at the bottom as well as a release switch for the

The top of the camera has access to the White balance and ISO ratings as well as a useful reset option by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Bracketing adjust can be found just above the shutter release button.

To the front of the grip is a dial for adjusting the Aperture and the dial to adjust the Shutter speed is located on the back of the camera to the right of the viewfinder.

Olympus E-3 Performance
After a brief presentation of the Olympus E3 and its features I was let loose with the camera. First thing was to try the 11 point AF as I was eager to test the super fast focusing. The photo below left is what I got!

Olympus E3Olympus E3 focusing
The apple was originally in the same place as the jug. I was in front of the serving area and the apple, which shouldn't have been a problem, could not be focused on. The E3 made no attempt to latch onto the plates or the edge of the metal shelf. I called over the Olympus product manager for his view. He stood in the same place but was at a higher viewpoint which presented him with no issues. I asked him to try from the same position and he got the same poor response. So we swapped cameras and the result was the same! Yet in Spot focus mode it focused as quickly as I'd expected, resulting in the shot above right.

Throughout the rest of the day I had no issues with focusing on any subject or lighting condition. So all I can think is that the highlight on the left caused the left-most sensor to juggle with the centre one, causing chaos. Could the same happen again? We'll let you know when we get a sample for our full review later in the month.

E3 model shootThe first main assignment was with a fashion photographer who was showing us the benefit of creative use of the E3's white balance mode and the paparazzi style speed of the focusing.

We were working in a small room with a model, photographer, assistant and stylist. The photographer suggested what we set the camera to and gave us a couple of minutes with his model while overseeing the shoot. The shot on the right was taken with the 8mm 1:3.5 Fisheye while Georgie of Photography Monthly took some portraits.

The photographer was using Quantum flash as the main light source which had a blue filter over it. This was a good opportunity to test out the ISO capability so I took a few shots without flash while the model was being photographed by my editorial friends.

Olympus E3 Noise test

Olympus E3 ISO100 Olympus E3 ISO640
Olympus E3 ISO3200

Above left: ISO100 produced a very fine no noise shot. Above right: even at ISO640 there's little noise so you could safely shoot at this speed for fine quality. Left: ISO3200 produces loads of noise but it's fine and well structured. So much so that it looks almost like film grain which will be welcomed by fast film users.

Olympus E3 noise at ISO3200 This shot was taken from the top deck of a small boat. The water was choppy and it would have been impossible to hand hold at a low ISO setting so I had to rack it up to ISO3200 to be sure of a shot. The noise is poor compared with the black & white option above but, even so, I got a surprisingly sharp shot considering it was taken one handed as I clutched for life on the rail with my other hand.

E3 portrait

Above is one of the shots I got using the ED 12-60mm 1:2.8-4.0 SWD lens. I'm not overly keen on this style of photography using a blue gel and cloudy white balance, but it does show the camera's resolution. The shot on the right is using the black & white shooting mode with a green filter setting. I really didn't like that Quantum flash set up.

Olympus E3 portrait

Olympus e3 fashion
Up close 12-60mm, continuous shot AF and a wet Pete and camera, but a very happy model, and a very waterproof camera!
Olympus e3 portrait

Olympus E3 Shadow Adjustment Technology test
Shadow Adjustment Technology Olympus E3 off Shadow Adjustment Technology Olympus E3 on
The E3's Shadow adjustment technology (SAT) is impressive. Seen here turned off (left) and on (right) This could be done in Photoshop, but is perfect for those who don't want to/can't spend any time at the PC after.

Olympus E-3 Sharpness test
Olympus E3 sharpness You can get a feel for sharpness from most of the shots in this test but i added this one as a stand alone test. It's a shot of a spice market stall in Istanbul. The camera was at ISO400 and almost wide open at f/3.8 to ensure a speed of 1/80sec in aperture priority mode. The 12-60mm lens was set at 37mm and hand held. A grab shot with no processing or white balance correction. Looks fine to me.

Olympus E3 Exposure test

Here's a great test of awkward light and shadow adjustment technology in its elements. The dim illumination in the building presents a yellow cast while the outside late day light is a cool blue.

The camera has balanced the auto white balance well and has created an impressive exposure. This would have been impossible for some cameras. Even the computer monitor is balanced.

I used the E3 in pattern metering mode. The exposure mode was Aperture Priority set at f/4 which gave a shutter speed of 1/30sec at ISO400.

Olympus E3 Wireless Flash test
Olympus E3 Carpet Olympus E3 remote flash
Our group crowded into a small carpet store to be shown how to make the most of the remote flash feature. Our photographer guide walked us through the wireless control system of the E3 which would then be used to light the smoke of the carpet maker. The flash was hidden behind a stack of carpets. The main camera flash was set to -3 exposure. We didn't have a lot of room or time, but enough to show the benefit possible from the flash system, and once again the camera's ability to expose well. The shot on the left shows the group, taken with the 8mm fisheye, and right the sort of shot possible as an unedited RAW file.

Olympus E3 Image Stabiliser
Olympus E3 IS off Olympus IS system

I'm not totally convinced about the IS system and claims it can be effective with up to 5 f/stops at this stage. This was my attempt using the new ED 50-200mm 1:2.8-3.5 SWD lens. The camera was hand held at 200mm with a shutter speed of 1/30sec. There's a known rule that you should always use a shutter speed at least the same as the focal length so that would be around 1/500sec. Taking that to Olympus' claim suggests I should be able to shoot at 1/15sec. I need to do more tests with this to form an opinion, but so far I feel the claims are exaggerated. Above left is without IS and right is with it turned on, so there is a noticeable improvement, but not enough to give a sharp shot.

Olympus E3 Live View

Olynpus E3 live View

Olympus E3 Live View is one of the most talked about features. It gives you all the benefits of a TTL viewing system with the added advantage of seeing exposure compensation, dynamic range depth of field, etc, that is not possible with conventional viewing. The downside is that AF is slower so they provide a pre focus feature on the E3.

I didn't have a chance to use it in bright daylight to see how well the image could be seen. It was perfect for shooting from a church floor using the fisheye lens. I could lay the camera on its back, flip the LCD 180 degrees and see the view above which being fisheye meant I could move to prevent me being in the shot. This is impossible on cameras without a rotating LCD.

Olympus E-3 Verdict
I've not been an Olympus user for years, and didn't really find the E-1 that exciting. This camera would certainly tempt me into the world of the FourThirds system as I can see some clear advantages. It's a solid built model that handles well, menus are complex, but I'm sure anyone who's already a regular Olympus digital User will soon get to grips and those who arent may just need some help from the manual for a few weeks.

The focusing problem I encountered on the first shot is worrying, but as it didn't struggle in any other situation it may have been just one very extreme circumstance. I would suggest you have a good play around with it in your dealer if you're considering buying one. Take advantage of the roadshow that's running around the country from 7th to 24th November 2007.

The E3's exposure system was one of the best I've used, compensation was rarely needed. I wish that was the case with the Pentax K10D and *ist D I use regularly and the Konica Minolta 7D I also use occasionally.

I'm looking forward to spending more time with this camera in the near future.

The Olympus E-3 costs around £1099 body only and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop, along with other lenses, here.

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Photographs taken using the Olympus E-3 hands on first look

The Water of Life.RobinRed leavesChicksReflections Across the LiffyHeronRobinA lovely dayLooking Good Mr Duck

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Pete 20 18.8k 97 England
I've only scratched the surface with this review. If you have any questions please ask away here and I'll try and answer what I can based on my day with the camera.
JJGEE 16 7.9k 18 England
Have you got a link to the Roadshow Venues / Dates ?
Had a look at Olympus UK Website and cannot easliy spot any info ?

If you primarily use a camera on a tripod is there any extra benefit in buying the "SWD" Lenses
Pete 20 18.8k 97 England
Hmm I can't find any details on their site either.
Well here's info from a letter that I was sent (I'm on the club database)
Olympus E-System days
7th November Camera World 14 Wells St. London W1
10am to 7pm 0207 636 5005

9th November J+A Cameras Gamon Walk, Barnstaple, EX31 1DJ
10am to 4pm 01271 375037

15th November Conns Cameras, Clarendon Street, Dublin
11am to 8pm 00353 16777179

16th November LCE Portsmouth 40 Kingswell Path, Ports, PO1 4RR
10am to 4pm 02392 839933

17th November LCE Norwich 12 TIMBERHILL, NORWICH, Norfolk
9.30am to 5pm 01603 630302

23rd & 24th November Harrisons 112-114 London Road Sheffield 0114 2760002

The benefit of SWD lenses (which stands for Supersonic Wave Drive) is the speed and silent operation which has nothing to do with the camera's built in (Imager shift image stabilizer)
Did you get the model's phonenumber ?
Any news on the swivelscreen/live preview Pete ? I mean, you only talk about rather unimportant little gimmicks such as focusing, noise and picture quality. Surely you know that what makes or breaks a picture though is the swivelscreen. So how about it !?
Just Jas 19 26.3k 1 England
Why does it need (have) a 'pop up' flash?

Pete 20 18.8k 97 England

Quote:Did you get the model's phonenumber ?

Yes but I couldn't possible let it slip Wink

Any news on the swivelscreen/live preview Pete ?

I've added a paragraph.

Quote:Why does it need (have) a 'pop up' flash

It's surprising how useful these are. I use mine on the Pentax fairly frequently to add a catchlight, fill in some shadows etc. It can also be sued to trigger the wireless flash.
Paul Morgan 20 19.5k 6 England
How did you find the new viewfinder and prism Pete.
Pete 20 18.8k 97 England

Quote:How did you find the new viewfinder and prism Pete.

Bright and very clear. Pleasure to use actually.
Nice review but small unfortunately. Pete, could you say something about the continuos focus. And how does the flash (internal and external) works? I mean, does it burn some pictures without any logic? does it behave accuratly against a dark or a white subjects?
Pete 20 18.8k 97 England

Quote:Nice review but small unfortunately.

Yes I need to spend more time with a camera to try everything out. One day on a hectic tour around a city (with a camera I'd been given 10mins earlier) is not ideal but did give me time to become familiar with many aspects.

Quote:Pete, could you say something about the continuous focus

I did a shot focusing on the model as she moved towards me - I had one go and the shots were not satisfactorily sharp. This may have been down to the shutter speed though so I will need the camera for a longer duration to test this option fully.

Quote:how does the flash (internal and external) works? I mean, does it burn some pictures without any logic

The shot of the bong smoker was using the wireless flash. I didn't use the internal flash.

Quote:does it behave accuratly against a dark or a white subjects?

I had no issues with metering. As I said in the review, it's one of the best I've used in terms of exposure accuracy. Also for highlight and shadow metering there's a specific spot metering modes for both. If this works as well as the Olympus OM4 I once owned that will be a great asset for accurate exposure. I need to test this element though.
As I explain in the intro it's just a preview which i hope gives a flavour. When we get the review product we will look at questions raised here and find the answers.
CathyT 15 7.3k 18 United Kingdom
Very interesting Pete..

a friend of mine has just bought one of these so I will send him a link to your review....

Cheers Cathy
JJGEE 16 7.9k 18 England

Quote:Also for highlight and shadow metering there's a specific spot metering modes for both. If this works as well as the Olympus OM4 I once owned.

The spot highlight metering adjustment of exposure for snow with my OM4 Ti was "SPOT" on, so to speak !
This may tempt me to start saving and go digital next year Smile
Pete 20 18.8k 97 England

Quote:The spot highlight metering adjustment of exposure for snow with my OM4 Ti was "SPOT" on, so to speak !

Yes, and I'm surprised more camera haven't had this feature, because it makes spot metering easy . Most users use spot metering wrongly because they don't understand the 18% grey that the meter delivers and how to compensate.
I guess i'll have to wait to get all my answers.
But,thanks anyway, Pete.
MDaniel 14 3 3 Ghana
waiting for delivery of mine. Hope it is as nice as my OM3ti and streets ahead of the E-1, which it sounds like it is. Maybe with the live view most people will have to steal a black cloth and lupe from the 5x4 boys, to get the best out of it?
Paul Morgan 20 19.5k 6 England
I wish you lot will stop going on, its just a camera Smile

I`m now getting depressed, I want one.

As for the spot highlight I just love it, have it on another of my E-system camera`s.

Pete, has the highlight spot mode been improved upon since the e330, I find it pretty good on that.
JJGEE 16 7.9k 18 England
Adobe's upgraded Camera Raw & Lightroom now support the E3's RAW File format.

So, Pete, will you have any observations on the E3 RAW / Processing ?
Pete, this was a very helpful review. I have a fondness for Olympus, as my OM-1 was a major set of eyes for about 13 years. (Plus it was a great fit in my hands). I went digital two years ago, with an E-500. I have to say, I've had similar focusing frustrations in those two years. I don't know what happens, but for no reason I can discern, the camera just seems to lock up totally out of focus. It doesn't happen often, and never "on demand" so I don't know if my finger just falls on a button accidentally or what. (That was indeed the case with the white balance button. I figured that out eventually, but the placement of that button on the E-3 seems better. If fact, most of those placements seem better.)

I have been looking to upgrade. Prior to reading your review I was sniffing around some Canon and Nikon reviews, considering a defection. That would be a bit of a shame, as my extension tubes, close up filters, etc. would all have to be replaced. This review gives me pause. There seem to be a lot of improvements, and I do like the live view feature.

I continue to be frustrated, though, at the poor selection of lenses available so far. I thought that 4/3 was some sort of "wave of the future" and that there would be a good selection before too long. Doesn't seem to be the case. I'm looking for a good macro zoom. Any leads?
seems focus lock up could be a big downer for this one. have had this happen often my E-1
Paul Morgan 20 19.5k 6 England

Quote:I'm looking for a good macro zoom. Any leads?

Zooms with so called macro are not really macro they just focus closer. The 14-54 does a pretty good job and can easily focus within a couple of cm of the front element.

These lense are becoming good value on the second hand market now the 12-60 is out.
Pete 20 18.8k 97 England

Quote:Pete, has the highlight spot mode been improved upon since the e330, I find it pretty good on that.

I've not used it on the e330. It works well on the E3.
I've done more tests on the focusing and I couldn't fool it again in 99.9% off situations. One occasion was a black object on a black background with little light. The system just wouldn't lock into focus in any pattern (or spot) I tired using a Samsung GX10 and it didn't struggle, reverted back to the Olympus and it then coped?

This has stumped me. I spent about 20 mins focusing on just about everything I could dark areas, highlights, low contrast areas, areas with no pattern and it seemed to sort it out.

Quote:So, Pete, will you have any observations on the E3 RAW / Processing ?

I've added a file to our download section here. Feel free to download and try for yourself.
I got to have a go with one of these at a demo day at the V+A. Highlight was taking a portrait of one of the musicians in the corner using the 300mm f2.8 handheld in the gloomy light there. Shutter speed of 1/50s, equiv focal length 600mm, hand held and the result was as sharp as anything. And a very nervous me as I was holding 6k of somebody else's kit.

Image stabilisation works then...

I've done more tests on the focusing and I couldn't fool it again in 99.9% off situations. One occasion was a black object on a black background with little light. The system just wouldn't lock into focus in any pattern (or spot) I tired using a Samsung GX10 and it didn't struggle, reverted back to the Olympus and it then coped?

This has stumped me. I spent about 20 mins focusing on just about everything I could dark areas, highlights, low contrast areas, areas with no pattern and it seemed to sort it out.

I don't have an E-3 yet (waiting for it to arrive) but reading other peoples experiences I think the AF SENSITIVITY (p. 96 of manual) setting maybe important to with regards to the focusing problem you had. You can choose between normal and small. "Small" meaning the use of a smaller area and therefore more accurate. If i've understood correctly people suggest the small uses the size of the point where as normal uses a larger area. So perhaps when you do your full review this is something to check out.

Enjoyed the review and...oh I just noticed it's very there a full review now?

Quote:I continue to be frustrated, though, at the poor selection of lenses available so far. I thought that 4/3 was some sort of "wave of the future" and that there would be a good selection before too long. Doesn't seem to be the case. I'm looking for a good macro zoom. Any leads?

Sigma's 18-50 F2.8 EX MACRO maybe worth looking at?
I just bought the E410 and was an upgrade from the LZ1 Panasonic compact, I learned the menu in I am sure that it cant be that much different for this more advanced camera with the same operating system, just a few additions, and faster frames per sec...just have to apply yourself and be patient for it to sink in... is full of logic, and fog clears quickly, please believe me, and have had no troubles with it at all.
You cant get good shots straight out of the box if you touch settings without prior know how, true, sure, but who is going to buy one without being a Tog...The E410 is easier thatn the LZ1 , faster to change settings and I want the E6 when it come out...HEHe....Chen
I have an e500 and e510, but I am saving to get an e3 and sell my e500, as I have tried out the e3 and it is just so much better for photographers like me as I do so much shooting and need something that is more of a pro camera, and I love the swivel live view as I like to get down low without getting my knees dirty or wet, taken so many good shots with my e500, but it is time to move on. My daughter also loves the e3, and can't wait for me to buy it, cheers Jerry.

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