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photo:olympuse3

Olympus E-3 dSLR

www.ayton.id.au_gary_images_olympuse3.jpg 

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disclaimer: this is not a review, these are just my opinions from the facts available to me and the limited time I had playing with one in the shops and much is an extrapolation from my experiences with my Olympus E-510 dSLR, Olympus E330 dSLR and Canon 1D MarkIII. I do not receive any benefits from any camera manufacturer or their representatives.

Main features of the E-3:

  • available November 2007.
  • semi-pro / pro model
  • 10mp upgrade from the E-1 with:
    • fast AF mechanism with great low light performance due to each AF sensor having twin sensors and the new SWD fast, silent AF lenses.
    • the most effective sensor dust protection mechanism - most efficient of all manufacturers
    • added Live Preview LCD similar to the Olympus E510 but with an articulating and rotatable mechanism which allows self-portraits as well as shooting from the waist
    • added mechanical CCD-shift image stabilisation with industry leading 5EV efficiency image stabilisation 
    • significantly improved digital noise at high ISO 
    • Hi-speed USB 2.0 at last
    • rugged, weatherproofed body - you can even poor a bottle of water on it
    • beautiful ergonomic design
    • built-in flash which also acts as a wireless TTL controller
    • wireless TTL flash at last with matching wireless TTL capable flash units with “R” designation on their model numbers.
    • improved dynamic range
    • perhaps the best AWB system on the market - dual assessment method.
    • +/- 5EV exposure compensation - great for HDR work
    • includes cables and software to allow camera control and live video stream from live preview shown simultaneously on your laptop. (see here
    • optional HLD4 vertical grip which allows a 2nd battery or 6xAA's to be used in an emergency.
    • BLM-1 battery and charger are the same for previous models (C8080, E330, E510) which makes for efficiency when using these as backup cameras but there is also a new charger.
  • 5fps x RAW and unlimited JPEG
  • image size 3648×2736 at full resolution.
  • body 800g incl. battery.
  • $A2599 body only
  • $A3599 with the very nice ZD 12-60mm SWD (24-120mm) lens

What is so good about this camera?

  • high quality 10mp is a perfect size for most people - you can create beautiful 20“ x 30” prints. 
  • a medium size dSLR which is a perfect compromise for travel, wildlife and bushwalking when you want performance combined with high image quality, ruggedness and weatherproofing for shooting in the rain but you don't want to carry a big, heavy 1D MarkIII with a big, heavy IS telephoto.
  • the weatherproofing is so good, you can pour a bottle of water on it with the flash up - don't think the Canon or Nikon users would be that confident.
  • don't underestimate how useful an industry-leading 5EV effective image stabiliser can be - I leave mine turned on for all shots except tripod shots (on my E510).
  • industry-leading auto-focus speed and effectiveness at low light levels (down to -2EV).
  • you can use the live preview for:
    • the times when you can't physically place your eye on the camera such as when you want to put the camera on the other side of a wire fence (eg. at the top of the Eiffel tower - try composing there with a Canon 400D).
    • ease of taking family self-portraits or self-portraits when bushwalking (don't forget the wireless remote to trigger it, otherwise use the self-timer)
    • accurate manual focus - far more accurate than can be achieved using a viewfinder, and IS can be activated to assist this.
  • sensor dust removal system is a proven technology and seems much more effective than competing technologies.
  • there are some really nice lenses especially designed for this format.
  • 5fps burst mode is sufficient for most people - if you want substantially faster (eg. 10fps) then you need the more expensive, much bigger & heavier Canon 1D Mark III digital SLR.
  • see also my comments about the Olympus E330 dSLR and Olympus E-510 dSLR.
  • for the 1st time a dSLR has BOTH Live Preview AND image stabiliser in a weatherproof body which makes this camera perfect for:
    • hand-held ambient lighting of interiors where an ultra-wide angle is needed and tripod is not possible
      • for example, interiors of cathedrals in Rome or urban street scenes in low light
      • combined with the incredible but expensive Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens, the creative options are suddenly expanded when you now have an ultra wide with IS
        • sure you can get a Canon 40D with Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 but:
          • there is no IS so hand holding at slow shutter speeds to give subject motion effects without camera shake is not as good.
          • you can crank the ISO up on this by 1-2EV which allows you to use faster shutter speeds in low lighting but this will tend to freeze your subjects and not give a creative blur, particularly when you want the image to emphasise the architecture and not the crowds of people. 
          • only gives 16mm wide instead of 14mm
          • optical quality does not match the Olympus 7-14mm
        • if you get the Canon 1D series, there is no lens as wide and none with the optical quality let alone IS capability.
        • if you get a full frame Canon, you can get a 14mm EF lens or a 16-35mm EF but again, these do not have IS, and their sharpness is poor in the periphery of the full frame.
        • if you get Nikon DX, you could get a Nikkor DX 12-24mm which would give a wide angle of 18mm or even wider with Sigma or Tokina lenses, but again, no IS and inferior optical quality.
      • have a look at my urban night photos hand held: here
    • hand-held manual focusing with Live Preview is much more accurate with IS:
      • combined with the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro, hand-held manual focusing is made even easier with the ability to turn IS on during Live Preview to make it easier to visualise focus and depth of field.
  • Olympus has produced a high quality versatile pro “kit” lens and a great telephoto zoom:
    • a ZD 12-60mm f/2.8-3.5 (24-120mm coverage) with SWD AF
      • what a great combination and with 5EV IS in the camera, to me is a better option than what is available on competing brands 
      • I am not that impressed with image quality on my Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS L lens and it is only 2-3 stops IS with a lousy f/4 aperture and still doesn't get to 120mm, and worse if used on the Canon 1DMIII you lose the wide angle coverage due to its 1.3x crop.
      • if you buy the Canon 40D, you could go for the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM at ~$1999 but it only covers 27-88mm and again only 2-3 stops IS.
      • if you buy the Nikon D300, you could go for the new DX Zoom-Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm VR kit lens but again this only covers 27-83mm, while the popular DX Zoom-Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF VR lens although covering an enormous 27-300mm has lower image quality.
      • if you are lucky enough to afford the superb Nikon D3, you could get the Zoom-Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF VR but it is 1-1.5 stops slower and only has 2-3 stops IS, but then you could bump up the D3's ISO to compensate.
    • match this with the new ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD to give a fast 100-400mm lens a perfect range for many users.
  • Olympus has managed to improve its digital noise profile significantly:
    • image noise at high ISO is similar to Canon/Nikon cropped sensors and perhaps 0.5-1 stop difference from the Canon 1D Mark III
    • see my comments at top of the page regarding dynamic range tests.
    • to offset this though, IS is available for all digital lenses via the body and lenses tend to be 1-2 stops faster than available in Canon/Nikon.
    • of course if you really need reasonable image quality at very high ISO, then look at the Nikon D3 which can get to ISO 25,600 albeit with noise.
  • Olympus has stuck with only 11 AF points
    • why is this good?
    • better to make a smaller number of points more effective in low light than have lots of less effective points.
    • it is simpler and forces the user to think about what they are focusing on, for most cases, just set it to ONLY use the centre AF point and lock focus on the subject using this point, then recompose (I set the camera's menu settings so the shutter button does not set AF, that way I don't have to keep my finger half-pressed to lock the focus and risk accidentally taking my finger off and losing it or accidentally triggering the shutter - I do this on the Olympus E330, E510 and even on the Canon 1D Mark III with its 49 AF points).
    • lots of AF points may be of benefit for:
      • sports photographers capturing action, but in my experience with the Canon 1D Mark III, the camera seems to set AF on everything BUT the subject's eyes - hence I routinely only use the centre AF point for stationary subjects and even for sports.
      • use on a tripod where changing the composition by moving the camera is a pain - easier to just select another AF point which hopefully lies on your subject.
        • maybe you won't need to use the tripod as much now that you have IS for all digital lenses.
      • cameras with facial detection systems 
        • no dSLR has one that really works - yet.
    • although this is not designed for infrared photography, if modified, it would make a PERFECT IR camera as you could compose and manually focus accurately on the Live Preview thus bypassing any inaccuracies in calibration of the AF mechanism.
      • but lack of expertise in modifying the IR filter.
    • results without modifying the camera and using a R72 IR filter on the lens outdoors on a partly cloudy day:
      • set Live Preview boost mode ON so composing and focusing IR is easier (can't do this with the 1DMIII which is much more difficult to compose and focus)
      • with the Olympus E-3 and E510 Live Preview you can turn IS on which makes accurate focusing even easier if hand held
      • sunlit exposure of ISO 800, f/2.0, 1/5th sec
      • on the E510 (have not tried on an E3), using an f/2.0 lens (the ZD 50mm macro) with a r72 filter, you can only just see sunlit objects in the viewfinder and can compose and AF quite well, alternatively, you can use the live preview.
      • if using auto-exposure, you may need to set exposure compensation to ~+5EV (check the red channel in the RGB histogram to determine if this needs to be altered).
      • you can do hand-held IR with R72 filter and IS on in bright sunlight using ISO 400-800 and a fast aperture (eg. f/2.0) as shutter speeds are 1/6th-1/40th sec depending on scene and ISO.
      • in my opinion, of all the latest versions of unmodified dSLRs (excluding the Fuji IR dSLRs), the Olympus E510 is the easiest to use for IR work in bright sunlight but the improved IS on the E3 makes the E3 even better.
  • depth of field is greater than with equivalent configuration on a Canon or Nikon:
    • this is due to the sensor size and is a good thing for macro work and much of travel photography but not so good for portraiture although the 50mm macro at f/2.0 gives a pretty good portrait with good bokeh, as does the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, and even better on the super pro lenses, the 35-100mm f/2.0 and 50-250mm f/2.8.
  • Live Preview now has:
    • 5x, 7x as well as 10x live magnification
    • ability to temporarily activate IS to steady the magnified image to make focus & DOF assessment easier
    • live histogram

What is not so good about this camera?

  • before you read on, this list is really a wish list of mine and a reminder to potential purchasers of what they may be missing out on and so they can make a more informed decision - no camera has all these features and the features of the E3. Despite these, I feel the Olympus E3 with its superb lenses is at least as good if not better than the Nikon D300 and Canon 40D, its main competitors.
  • depth of field is greater than on a full frame dSLR
    • but this can be a good thing, depends what you are shooting - see comments above.
  • no live preview with real-time AF “mode A”:
    • well you can't have everything, and I wouldn't expect the E-3 to have this, I just hope there is a successor to the E330 which has IS and Live Mode A.
    • Live Mode A as on the Olympus E330 dSLR, uses a separate sensor within the viewfinder so it works when the mirror is down and you can still see through the optical viewfinder and still have real time exposure metering and AF.
    • Canon don't have this either.
    • Nikon D3 and D300 have a “tripod mode” which allows a much slower contrast detection AF mechanism to work, I suspect this would only confuse many users and maybe the Olympus approach is better.
  • no Live preview “silent”, instant mode:
    • as with the E330 live preview mode B and E510, when you press the shutter in Live Preview mode, the mirror drops back down so that exposure, AWB and AF can be set, then the mirror goes up and an exposure is taken, this is acoustically noisy and causes a rather long shutter lag.
    • now I can understand this is necessary in the auto modes BUT WHY CAN'T WE have a mode where if white balance has been preset, manual focus is being used or AF has already been set and using manual exposure, then the mirror just stays locked up, we would then have an almost silent imaging mode with almost zero shutter lag.
    • I know, there is no other dSLR with this feature (Canon 1D Mark III almost achieved it), but surely its just a bit of programming to make it work this way!
    • if this camera had this, I could take photos of my daughter's cello recitals without making any noise and distracting her and the audience, imagine how good it would be in church's, during wedding vows, etc.
    • just preset everything and click away without noise - currently, I still use my C8080 for this task.
  • RAW file converters:
    • as with all new cameras, you need to upgrade from Adobe PS CS2 to CS3 or use another product such as:
      • Olympus' software
      • Adobe Lightroom
      • Phase One LE 
  • IS only works with digital lenses designed for Four Thirds:
    • well, this makes sense, but its a pity, as it would be nice to have IS for all my legacy OM lenses.
    • this is presumably due to the fact the camera needs to know what focal length is being used to give the correct amount of sensor movement.
    • if you mount a non-FourThirds lens on the E510 with IS turned on, IS is disabled until you again mount a Four Thirds lens UNLESS you purchase a 3rd party adapter with chip which gives a focal length indication to the camera.
    • I wonder if Olympus could instead prompt the user to select a focal length so IS could still be used in future versions - but then why would Olympus encourage people to use old lenses instead of buying new ones?
  • no AF confirm for legacy MF lenses:
    • this is available on Canon, Nikon, Pentax - seems like time that Olympus joined in with this functionality.
    • you can do this with 3rd party adapters with chips on them.
  • Olympus ZD digital lenses use focus-by-wire MF:
    • the focus-by-wire technology for manual focus feels quite different and can take a bit of getting used to.
    • must say I prefer the old style MF, especially for macrophotography and astrophotography.
  • Olympus have not made underwater housing for this model:
    • Olympus have housings for the E330 and E410 but not the E510 or E3 yet.
  • No dedicated mirror lock button:
    • As with the earlier models, you can set mirror lock “Antishock” on the menu to occur a number of seconds prior to the exposure, but unfortunately you can't set it to be locked NOW, so when you take the photo there is minimal shutter lag.
    • BUT it is arguably better than Nikon's approach where mirror lockup is one of the modes and thus you can have it AND another mode such as self timer.
  • this is not designed for astrophotography
    • while you can do astrophotography with it, and it has some advantages with manual focusing with its Live Preview, there are 3 main problems:
      • noise at high ISO - ideally one wants to use ISO 1600-6400 but on this camera they are just a bit too noisy (and limited to 3200 ISO)
      • lack of specialised astrophotography software support to control the camera
      • lack of expertise in modifying the camera by replacing its IR filter so it can image emission nebulae (those red nebulae which fall in the IR range).
  • memory card slots:
    • whilst the E3 can take either xD or CF, I would have preferred the Nikon approach - two CF slots - this would allow it to write RAW to one and jpg to the other (you can do this on the Canon which use sD and CF slots but I think the dual CF slots is a better approach - maybe Olympus knows more about the future of its xD cards than I do).
  • user interface:
    • I know Olympus tried to keep its interface reasonably similar to its previous pro model so users would feel comfortable upgrading, but its a bit different for those using the E510 and similar cameras and even more dissimilar if using a Canon or Nikon at the same time like I do.
    • The way I operate, I like to have a camera-lens combination optimised for one job and a separate camera-lens combination optimised for a second style of shooting which minimises having to change lenses and dropping them, getting dust in the camera or having a lens or camera body stolen while you are occupied.
    • Now as it happens some jobs are better with a cropped sensor while some are better with a camera such as the Canon 1DMIII (I know it is still cropped but only 1.3x) or a full frame.
    • It would be great if the manufacturers would come up with an agreed user interface for all so we are not finding ourselves hitting the wrong button when we swap cameras.
    • somehow I don't see this happening in the near future.
    • having said this, from what I have seen of the Olympus E3, it does have a nice user interface and ergonomics, its just different.
  • no inbuilt intervalometer:
    • well, Canon doesn't have one inbuilt either - you buy an expensive accessory to do this.
    • Nikon D3 and D300 has one in built.
  • no facility for shooting multiple exposures:
    • whilst this can largely be done in Photoshop, there are some advantages of being able to combine exposures within the camera with RAW data.
    • the Nikon D3 has such as facility with an option to set auto gain which automatically reduces each exposure before adding them.
    • the new Canons do not have this feature either.
  • 12bit and not 14bit:
    • although the number of bits does not equate with dynamic range, it does mean there are more steps recorded and thus can minimise posterisation effects from occurring in post-processing.
    • it may be that Olympus felt there was not much to be gained from going to 14bit in a 2x crop sensor or that the cost in computer processing overhead and file size outweighed its benefit.
  • no shutter speed limits able to be set:
    • whilst the camera allows setting ISO to AUTO so the camera will automatically increase the ISO within the range you set, unlike the Nikon D3 and D300 you can't change the lowest shutter speed the camera will start increasing ISO at.
  • limited regional support:
    • Olympus is only just ramping up its regional support for pro users and this is still no match for the support including rental options available that Canon or Nikon pro users enjoy.

Firmware updates:

photo/olympuse3.txt · Last modified: 2012/03/10 03:12 by gary1