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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

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"I've had to learn several times over in my years as a camera reviewer: you have to use it before you really know anything about it. You at least have to hold it before you really have a sense for what it's all about."

Truer words were never spoken.

I would be very curious to see it's AF speed, the PR emphasized its superiority multiple times... and honestly, I have no idea at all on how one could objectively measure a camera's AF speed.

Yawn. I'm a huge Olympus fan; I began with the OM system when I was 8 yrs old when my father taught me to use his OM-G. When I was 11, he got me one of my own, which I had till i wrecked my first car when I was 16 and the camera got broken. I replaced it with an OM-4T, which I still have. I have since added another OM-4T, an OM-1n, and 10 Olympus OM lenses, a couple of winders, flashes, etc. I LOVED the OM-System and still use my OM equipment every day.

When I went digital I passed on Olympus and went with Nikon. I have no regrets. The E-3 looks like a nice camera but its still outdated. When I eventually replace my D70 or my Kodak 14n I'll be looking at the D300 or maybe the D3x if they come out with a higher res version of the D3. The Oly E-3 is just too little too late, and that comes from someone who really wanted to stay with Olympus when I went digital but I just couldn't....the cameras just weren't worth the money asked for them compared to Nikon and Canon.

Chris, with the danger of sounding like a blinded fanboy, what the _hell_ is outdated about E-3?

Judging by what you intend to buy, it's apparently resolution. Then, if 10MP is outdated, why Canon put 10MP in two out of three of its newest cameras?

You apparently haven't really tried any of Olympus cameras. You certainly haven't tried this one either. And you're still quick to proclaim it outdated even if it's better on paper than 40D and obviously comparable to D300.

Geez...

The E3 should be a "dandy" camera. Olympus has done an excellent job with the high-end P&S and the E series.
The only issue I see it that the 11MP may be the end of the line as far as increased resolution sensors. With the 11MP pixel density, it will put huge pressure on lens quality as the lenses will be diffraction limited by F5.6 and must be razor sharp across the frame to be successful.
To Olympus's credit, they do have the fast glass required and continue adding.

Ah! But it's not just the bodies that are important; the lenses are where the true value is exhibited.

A very conventional looking camera. I don't think manufacturers are really looking at all the possibilities of released from film, in the way Canon looked at being released from mechanical controls with Colani and the T90. I guess it would take an outside influence like that to really look fresh at SLR camera design.

It seems that many people speak fondly of Olympus cameras without mentioning that the sensor size of the 4/3 system is smaller than that of other DSLR's. From what I've read, the sensor size might be the single most important variable in choosing a camera; it certainly seems to be for those who are willing to plunk down five figures for medium format. With a crop factor of 2.0, the Oly has a sensor that has only 50% of the area of a full frame 35 mm camera, and only 75% of a Nikon D200 or D300; despite a similar weight.

"you have to use it before you really know anything about it. You at least have to hold it before you really have a sense for what it's all about."

Bah, humbug! I read posts all the time from people who know all there is to know about a camera, good and bad, just from looking at a picture of it on the internet. I don't know how they do it; I guess they're just real smart. Evidently, "hands on" is vastly over-rated.

It seems (on the paper) a very good camera, but I don't need much speed and my eyes are good enough to use the E-500's viewfinder. So I'll use money on lenses (...maybe the 2X teleconverter).

We all know that outdated cameras refuse work ................it must be something in the water they say........true!!

Seems a considerable upgrade from my E300. 100 % percent viewfinder (bright too) weather seals, Image stabilized for all lenses I own. Live view with a useful screen that articulates. More pickles....etc

As long as it is a measurable increase in image quality at 400 - 800 ISO I will buy one. None of the new lenses really do much for me. I have a 14 -54 a 50mm and and a longer zoom I never use. I too would like something around17-20mm non macro and not huge and $1000 like the Leicasonic. I also dont care if it is f1.4......f2.8 and a pedestrian price is plenty fast for me.

Not sure about all the other stuff like multiple AF points though I am ok with faster. Although they claim "fastest" only with the new SWD lenses.

I can't recall the link or article you posted Mike...

Sort of a check list for buying or "upgrading" to a new cam. I would like to read it again, but I am confident that this is a large upgrade on enough points. The E510 came close but not nearly close enough.

PS I think the Olympus forum on DPreview is great entertainment right now when viewed through the right lens.

Mike,

Barring shenanigans on Olympus' part, do the specs on the viewfinder (1.15x magnification and approximately 100% field of coverage) constitute the holy grail?

I have been closely following viewfinder evolution since your article on LL so long ago:
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-03-03-16.shtml

Not all that different from the other five 10-12 MP cameras in the $1000-$2000 range to justify the long gestation, or anything "special" about it to excite buyers. Just a slightly different set of features, some of which will be important to some users, some of no concern to others.
Where was Olympus' genius innovative designer Yoshiisa Maitani when they needed him? (Retired, and he's only 75. Pity!)

E-3: seems like a nice body, but overpriced compared to the D300 which is much more feature-rich IMO. Not to mention the fact that the 4/3 sensor is smaller, which means higher noise and greater DOF (perhaps an advantage for landscape/wide-angle shooters, but a real problem for portrait shooters).

But where Olympus really lags is their lens selection. Very, very few primes available, and those that are are expensive, big and heavy.

The 14-35 f2 zoom looks incredible... if you have $2,200 to plunk down on a "normal" zoom lens, that is. For the bargain price of $4,000 you can have a semi-pro body and one (albeit great) lens!

I'll go with a Pentax K10D and 16-50 f2.8, or even Sigma 18-50 f2.8 (one of the sharpest lenses of any brand or focal length, according to Photodo) for about 1/4 - 1/3 of the price any day.

Hoainam,
I haven't seen it yet. Promising, from the looks of it.

Bill,
Really, the proof's in the prints. The *most* important feature of the camera--the sensor--is something we really don't have any real-world information on yet.

Mike J.

Chris,
I certainly agree with your complaint about the lack of primes. I was happiest as an amateur/artist photographer when I "wore" my camera around like a clothing accessory (I think it was David Vestal who said he put his camera on in the morning and took it off at night before bed, just like his shirt), and it's just not comfortable doing that with great big zooms, although I don't mind big and/or heavy lenses at all when I'm doing a job or any other kind of "dedicated" shooting.

If Olympus had *one* nice, SMALLISH moderate-wide prime I'd feel a lot better about getting into the system. If there was a compact 20mm f/2 available I'd probably order an E-3 tomorrow. I've been saying that since the E-1 came out, and I mean it.

However, I think it's unfair of you to complain about the price of the 14-35mm f/2. Olympus makes several other normal zooms, including the very nice 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 for $430 and a surprisingly good 14-45mm for only $200. The company can hardly be faulted for offering its customers a choice: small, light, slow, and very cheap all the way up to super-fast, superbly built and weather-sealed--and expensive, with an intermediate choice in between that's a compromise between the two extremes. If the 14-35/2 is too dear for you, there's nothing that says you have to buy it. I'd much rather the premium lens exist as an option than not.

Mike J.

There's always OM primes. The OM 21/3.5 is absolutely tiny, handles very nicely, and has the best performance this side of a (gigantic) $3000 Zeiss. Oly made a 21/2 as well, and its performance is generally considered at least as good as the 21/3.5, although I haven't heard reports of its performance on 4/3rds.

Oly also made an 18/3.5, and of course their 28mm and 50mm primes are excellent.

If the Oly primes don't trip your trigger, there are also mount adapters for Pentax K, M42, Nikon F, and a number of other mounts: http://www.cameraquest.com/adapt_olyE1.htm

You'll need to use stop down metering with all of these, of course. Also, the E-510 disables its image stabilizer when used with manual lenses, so I suppose the E-3 might do the same. I have heard someone is selling adapters with a chip attached to re-enable the stabilizer, so even that isn't a dead end.

If Olympus refreshes the E-410 to add a stabilizer, I'm jumping on board. An E-410 with a 21/3.5 seems to me the modern embodiment of the "digital OM-4" I've been longing for.

Chris,
Stop-down metering is no way to live, and you may quote me.

I'd seriously rather use an all-manual camera and guess my exposures.

Mike J.

Big Claims Department:

1) 5 stops of IS

2) fastest AF

Proof in the pudding.

Curious no 14-bit processing?

I have to agree with Mike on this one. I think the choice is great. But I would note that until the latest press release, I found the overlap among Olympus' zooms confusing. I thought the latest press release on the new lenses did a good job of clarifying the "Top Pro Lens Range", the "Pro Lens Range" (note that BOTH of these lens lines are splashproof) and the "Standard Lens Range", however. And as Mike pointed out, what other camera manufacturer offers you a splashproof 28-108 mm-e f/2.8-3.5 lens for $430? That seems like a great deal.

I'm also a prime fan (preferably a 50 mm-e), but I wouldn't be so quick to slap such a lens on an E-3. Like Mike, I don't mind big cameras and lenses when I have a specific project I'm working on, but when it comes to the always-with-me camera, I like both the lens AND my camera to be small. That's why the E-510 seemed like a step back for me, compared to the E-410, even though it has other benefits.

Not that Olympus (or any other manufacturer) is particularly interested in what I think, but here is what I would like to see: an upgraded version of the E-410 both with an improved viewfinder and with a small prime. The viewfinder should be similar to the E-3's. Yes, I do realize that would make the body bigger, but it's not impossible. I love my ME Super and MX. Both have fantastic, full coverage, high magnification, bright viewfinders and are smaller than any SLR currently out there. If the viewfinder is good enough, I don't even need autofocus. I realize this is an unrealistic pipe dream, however. And the last thing the world needs is another photographer describing his personal "dream camera" that only he would buy...

Last note: there is one serious problem with the Olympus system, however. While I don't think sensor size is currently a problem, and while Olympus may well have the best lenses for digital now, the Olympus lenses presumably only cover the 4/3s format sensor. With Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc. you can buy full frame lenses that are usable on APS-C cameras, but that will also be usable on full-frame cameras in the future. Canon has had full frame cameras for a while, Nikon just introduced one, and Sony is supposedly due to introduce one soon. No such upgrade path is possible with the digital Zuiko lenses. Still, at $430 for a fast, splashproof lens that is supposedly quite good, who cares?

Best,
Adam

So long as my viewfinder is bright enough to focus and compose, I don't mind stop down metering at all. I just leave the lens set to f/5.6 or whatever I'm going to shoot it at. It's no different than my f/5.6 zooms, really.

For me the handling of one of these manual primes is a bit like shooting a rangefinder. I'm constantly prefocusing as I walk around, and I often crank the aperture open as I fiddle with the focus ring, as I most often shoot snapshots wide open. The Oly primes have a nice positive feel to their aperture rings that make it easy to find the aperture you want by feel.

It seems to me the E-3 would make life with stop down metering pretty painless. It apparently has a nice big viewfinder from the specs, and the net effect of the smaller sensor is more DOF for the same AOV. A 21/3.5 shot wide open on an E-3 would give a similar look to a 40mm prime set to nearly f/8 on a film SLR or FF DSLR, but with a viewfinder brighter than your average zoom lens.

I certainly would like to see some very fast wide-ish primes for 4/3rds to make up for the added DOF you get from needing wider lenses to compensate for the 2x crop factor. But while I'm waiting for that 14/2 and 18/1.4 the old manual primes fill the gap as well as anything.

Chris,
The E-400 + 21/3.5 OM with an adapter is a great combo. I've shot it on dozens of street shooting expeditions since last year. Leave the aperture at 3.5 or 5.6 and focusing is no issue at all. There's some flare, but I've found that an old UV filter and a cut-down old Zuiko shade just about eliminate it.

The real eye opener in all this is that the kit 14-42 lens that came with the camera, plastic mount and all, is a fantastic lens. It is barely longer than a Nikon prime lens, maybe 5 mm longer than the 21/3.5 with a cut down hood. It also weighs next to nothing and focuses quickly and accurately with the E-400. I pretty much treat it like a prime, except I have a choice of a 28, 35, or 50.

I can't say I'm overwhelmed by the paper specs of the E-3, but as Mike says, proof's in the prints. It is a bit disappointing that it is exactly the same size as my D200. At least with that I can use a bunch of nice F-mount primes if I want to.

A 4/3rds sensor camera but its even bigger than the 40D?

I thought Olympus is the only hope to a high quality and SMALL DSLR

I dunno but its probably neither (neither small nor high quality because of its limited sensor size).

I still like my Sony a700 more!!

Not really relevent, but since people are waxing nostalgic, I really loved my Olympus XA.

Charlie H

Well, as an E-1 user (E-1 converted to infrared only recently) I bought the E-400 as a stop-gap.
The E-3 seems to have most of what I'd like to have. but as far as lenses go, I really, REALLY hope olympus will release a number of prime lenses in 2008. And no, not another macro lens, please!

"a 4/3rds sensor camera but its even bigger than the 40D?"

laurencepak,
Again, I'm not sure this is a fair complaint. Some people like bigger cameras, and Olympus does give you a choice. The E-410 and E-510 are both very small compared to most DSLRs. If size is the major issue for you, you can always choose one of those. And the E-3 is nowhere near as big as the biggest Canikons.

Mike J.

To support your small voice in the wilderness...you might like to see this summary of some research:

http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2007/10/gossip_beats_facts_any_day.html

For those excited about the 1.15x viewfinder magnification, bear in mind that the magnification rating on DSLRs is based on a 50mm lens, not on a "normal" lens as it is for other formats.

After adjusting the focal length to get the same composition, the viewfinder magnification on the E-3 is 0.55x in 35mm terms. This is not very good. In an article about the inflation of viewfinder magnification numbers (http://photo.net/columns/mjohnston/column67/), some bloke named Mike Johnston wrote this about the 0.55x viewfinder on Canon's original Digital Rebel: "a 'prison window' viewfinder — which, as one correspondent put it, is like looking at a postage stamp at the end of a tunnel."

For comparison, the Sony A-700 and Canon 40D have 0.59x viewfinders, the Canon 1DmkIII has a 0.61x viewfinder, the Pentax K10D and Nikon D300 have 0.62x viewfinders, and the "full-frame" DSLRs have viewfinder magnifications in the range of 0.70 to 0.72x.

Of course, compared to the 0.43-0.46x viewfinders of earlier Olympus offerings it's definitely an improvement.

I think there's something wrong with your numbers Doug. I'm pretty sure the E3 viewfinder is larger than the rebel's. According to the Imaging Resource preview the viewfinder is slightly larger than the 40D's.

For those who bemoan the lack of primes, Olympus has chosen a direction that is quite valid in that, at the moment, their energies are devoted to that line of lenses that are clearly more important from an sales and profitability point of view - zooms.

Olympus offers three ranges of lenses to meet everyone's budget, and even the budget lenses are of high quality. Unless you have an Olympus camera and the highest quality lenses, you are not really in a position to comment on prices (other than the fact that to you they are expensive - to others, they are not).

I was set to order an E-510, but stopped after reading Phil's report on the 410: "Dynamic Range less than competition (highlights by about three quarters of a stop; 0.7 EV)." After spending 40 years fighting against washed out highlights with Kodachrome, I'm not about to buy a digital camera that does this.
So, I'm looking forward to the actual E-3 test to find out if they've fixed the problem. If so, I'll buy one. If not, forget it.

I had a chance to briefly play with the E-3 at Photoplus Expo yesterday. I didn't spend long with it as I'm just not interested in other systems (it was just out of curiosity). First impression: wow, this thing is BIG ! Second impression: what the heck are all these buttons for ? Third impression: nice camera, but doesn't exude the kind of quality the E-1 did for whatever reason.

The first one I tried handheld had the 70-300/4.5-5.6 (may be off slightly on specs) ... a consumer grade lens that felt pretty cheap (zoom & focus mechanisms). The VF image was ok, but not impressive indoors with a slow lens. Oly may advertise AF to EV -2, but this thing hunted and when it hunted it turned excruciatingly slowly down to mfd & back. Much slower than the Min 100-300 APO on my 7D which has a reputation as a slow lens. (My 7D also hunted in the low lighting with a 5.6 lens - the new 16-105 - but the A700 with that same lens had no such problems).

Then I tried a body with the new 12-60 lens. With a slightly brighter (and, of course, wider) lens, the WOW factor of the VF kicked in ... very nice (should be for such a huge camera). Unfortunately, while AF seemed very quick with this combo, the camera was bolted down so I could only pan, and could only vary subject distance between maybe 20 & 40 feet or so. Absolutely nothing about this combo would sway me from an A700 with the CZ16-80 (very fast AF that makes the 7D look like a toy).

I too spent some time with the E3 today at photoexpo, about 40 minutes with a bunch of lenses. I tried to like it, really I did, but to no avail. The VF is dim, AF is slow and quite unsure of itself, and the images enlarged on the LCD looked uniformly uninspiring, the lenses felt like the dampening was too stiff and jerkey for zooming, not pleasant.

All in all, the best (to me) cameras that I looked at were the Nikon D3 (nice feel, excellent glass, looks great when pixel peeping on the LCD), the Leica M8 (very sharp images, excellent), the EOS 1Ds MkIII has by far the biggest and brightest VF image. Full disclosure, I use EOS but and am happy, but not in love with it, they are excellet tools but fail to inspire any passion. The Nikon and Leica inspire passion. Olympus seems like a bust. My 2¢.

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