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Friday, 30 May 2008


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Eamon, if you have an E-1, you should have some non-SWF lenses for 4/3. How well do you find the AF on the E-3 working with them. My experience with the 50/2.0, which with its long travel was a potential problem AF lens on the E-1, is not perfect but pretty good with the E-3. So is the AF improvement due to camera as well as to SWF?


As a note, the D300, while not quite as fast to lock on as the D3 (which shares its AF system but has more processing power), tracks every bit as well as any pro body (D3, EOS 1D series) and better than Nikon's older pro digital bodies. For AF tracking at speed it's a major step up from anything else in the sub-$4000 market and can do an excellent job of tracking at its 8fps max. The D300 is quite capable of pro-level sports work with its 8fps and ultra-fast AF. The D3 is merely better.

The D300 also offers better frame coverage for AF sensors than any other camera due to its high sensor count (51 points) and crop factor.

The E-3, while a major leap forward for Olympus, can offer similar lock-on speeds as the D300, but can't track movement nearly as well (in its defense, no camera with a low sensor count can match the pro 45-51 point systems for tracking).

Not that anyone should necessarily care, but I have to say that in decades as a photographer, I have never once needed focus tracking. If I think hard I might be able to come up with an instance where I might have used it. But I would have to think. Personally it's just not how I shoot. Naturally you can tell from this that I don't shoot flying birds, or airshows, or sports.

Mike J.

Great review. It seems that Olympus and Pentax are in a very similar position trying to update their AF systems.

Interestingly, as a K20D shooter, I photograph roller derby with a couple of guys, one of whom uses a Nikon D200 and another who uses a Canon 40D. They have big f2.8 zoom lenses and tracking AF, while I use a manual short telephoto (a K105/2.8, for people who care) and use the trap focusing method where I switch on AF, focus manually, then keep my finger on the shutter button until something comes into focus. Consistently, my shots have better focus than theirs.

Part of it could be chalked up to more experience on my part, but it makes me wonder why, especially at the amateur / budget-semi-pro level, there are so many people griping about poor tracking, and not so many people looking for alternate setups.

Hi Adam,

Your comments are well-taken, but just to clarify: I did not say that the E-3 AF was equal to the D300's. I don't actually know, having never used the D300 for sports.

I've been trying to avoid detailed Brand X vs. Brand Y feature comparos because they so often end up as theological debates. My comment about suitable pro sports cameras was based on fairly strict standards about not only AF but also, and equally, high ISO performance. So that's the root of my reasoning, for anyone who wonders how many angels can dance on the head of that pin :-)

Adam -
I too love "trap focusing" with the pentax for moving subjects. I think too many folks (particularly at that level) are expecting the camera to do too much for them, instead of working on technique. I'd rather take 10 carefully composed trap-focused shots and be more confident in getting "keepers" rather than blasting off 100shots at 10fps with tracking AF. Not to sound like a retro-grouch or anything :-)

Have you used the D300 for focus tracking in low-light conditions?

I have.

I photographed gymnasts performing indoors in low light for at least a total 18 hours using a D300 equipped with a Nikkor 50/1.8 AF lens. The D300 was equipped with a grip, so I used high FPS too. The light level forced me to shoot at f 1.8 or f 2.0. I was 10 to 16 feet from the subjects. The D300 success rate in continuous focus mode with high FPS was amazing.

I then used a D200 for about 8 hours in identical conditions. Compared the D300, the D200 struggled with continuous focus.

Of course I've never used The E-1 or E-3, For all I know they are better than the D300 (and D200) at AF in low light. But don't lump the D300 in with cameras that are have a hard time with continuous focus in low light. It excels in those conditions.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but phrases such as "capable of credible focus tracking," "my experience was fairly good," and "perfectly adequate," don't give the impression that you were impressed with the E-3's AF tracking or low-light focusing abilities. As Mike pointed out in his comment, some photographers wouldn't be at all concerned about marginal performance in these areas. On the other hand, it makes me wonder where the E-3 excels. This is, after all, a camera that sells for roughly the same price as the Nikon D300. One would hope that for that kind of money one was getting a camera that was at least as good, if not better, than its competitors.

Am I alone thinking that the Olympus line is now basically two semi-pro lenses (SWD). Are they planning in up-grading the pro line to SWD, if so, when?


Chris, they have the Top Pro 14-35 SWD. There are no announcements for the rest of the Top Pro line, but 35-100 does quite a good job and is faster than the old Pro (mid-grade) line.

BTW, Gordon, yes, it excels in being a camera you can take anywhere...

Ed Z,

OT here, but I'm curious about your "retro-grouch" reference. Do you, by any chance, ride a Bridgestone, or at least a Rivendell bicycle?


High ISO performance is indeed also part of the bargain, and the D300 will not let you down there either. It will easily match or exceed a Canon 1DmIIN and utterly destroys a D2H or D2Hs and only gives up about a half-stop of noise performance over the 1DmIII and about a stop over the D3 (D300 at ISO 3200 looks like the D3 at 6400). The D3 with its huge pixels is still out ahead of everything, but the D300 will not let you down as a sports body on this front either.

The D300 offers performance that until last November was only offered by a 1D series body. It simply is the first sub-$2000 body capable of shooting action as well as a full-on pro body.

Now the E-3 offers a different set of advantages, being the only truly splashproof camera capable of shooting fast action at all (the K20D & K10D lack the AF speed and fps, the Canon and Nikon bodies are not sealed nearly as well) and the AF is quite fast for initial lock-on.

Impressive. But could it could it keep pace with the altogether brisker European game of football?

Only joking!

Gordon Lewis said "it makes me wonder where the E-3 excels. This is, after all, a camera that sells for roughly the same price as the Nikon D300. One would hope that for that kind of money one was getting a camera that was at least as good, if not better, than its competitors."

The infamous 'leaked' PDF had Olympus designing the E-3 to counter the 30D and D200 only for Nikon to bring out the quietly superior D300 and Canons' far less expensive 40D. While we can all wish for this, want that or demand the other, I think Olympus did the best it could do at the time. They DID after all, build a D200... but as I say, nikon then moved the goalposts with the D300! Ouch!

The E-3, and 4/3rds, still has it's strengths and attractions though: there's a series of tiered 'zoom' lenses that are all designed for the sensor, in sensible ranges, and all come with pretty good to very good IQ corner to corner.

Olympus gear is mostly maintenace free seeing that the bodies have on-demand pixel mapping, the higher bodies/lens tiers have the sealing, there's the dust shaker (the proper one and not some patent-dodging design) and there's user-inplemented vignetting and/or distortion removal either in-body or during editing (depends on what generation of body, iirc). Add in the ability to download lens, body and flash firmware updates, if you buy Olympus kit, you'll likely only have to send it away for defect repairs!

Factor in all the E-bodies (except the E-4xx line) use the same BLM-1 battery and it's these little things that make a attractive user experience as there's no buying a different £60-odd battery for each body you have.

So why do people buy into the small DSLR format that brings with it so many IQ issues? (DR, high ISO, etc) Well there must be enough purchasers around that only take photos in daylight of quite sedentiary things. Quite a percentage of 4/3rds fora members say they never go out of ISO100 and NEVER above 400.

Well it is what it is.

I myself always thought that Olympus should have made more use of that 2x multiplier and tailored bodies to suit 'telephoto' roles or niches where that 2x would be a strength, i.e nature, sports, aviation, etc. I suppose I'm taking about an 8MP E-3 that has great high ISOs and DR? However, that idea won't fly without their equpping the top tier of zooms with the SWM motors and they'd have to provide more, and better, focus control switches on this body a la D200/300

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