AT LAST THE E-3 IS HERE

The E-3 has landed! Announced 16th October 2007.

THE E-3 - MAJOR SPECIFICATIONS:

1. LMOS Sensor Gross = 11,800,800 Effective = 10.1MP

2. RAW with 12 bit lossless compression 3648 x 2736 pixels + JPEG + JPEG & RAW

3. Viewfinder FoV = 100%; VF magnification = 1.15x

4. LCD display via LMOS sensor 100% FoV showing Exp. Comp and WB adjustments direct.

5. Image Stabilized on sensor in 2 modes IS 1&2 giving 5 EV steps.

6. HyperCrystal LCD panel 2.5" with 230,000 pixel points.

7. Phase detection AF with 11 cross point multiple AF either single, grouped or all.

8. AF illumination via built in flash. Flash GN = 13 @ ISO 100 synch speed = 1/250th

9. Metering: TTL ESP, CW, Spot, Spot Highlight, Spot Shadow; ISO 100-3200 in 1/3rd or 1 EV steps.

10. Focal Plane shutter 60-1/8000th + Bulb; selectable mirror-up 1 to 30 secs.

11. Burst Rate/Buffer: 5frames per second; 19 RAW's.

12. USB 2, BLM1 powered 600 shots/charge; 142mm x 116mm x 74mm; 810g body only; HLD4 grip.

KNOWN LAYOUT & CONTROLS

CONTROLS/FEATURES/AESTHETICS:

The above images are taken from those posted at the E-3 unveiling in Korea several weeks ago. There follows an explanation of the button 'clusters' referred to above.

LEFT CLUSTER: On the left hand shoulder are placed four buttons. The front most is the flash release button that pops up the on-board flash (GN 13 about right for these diddy units). I also believd there was a red square (5) on the inner surface of the upraised flash that, to me, looked like an IR lamp or receiver - not so). The remaining buttons are FLASH, MODE and A/F. The latter buttons are bracketed together with BKT indicating when pressed together the cameras various BRACKET functions can be selected via a control wheel. MODE appears to replace the PASM dial. IS (image stabilization) has a dedicated button (28) below the 4-way selector on the back section.

SCREEN CLUSTER: Beneath the screen are 4 buttons: DELETE, INFO, MENU and MONITOR (LV).

GRIP CLUSTER: The grip has 2 buttons for AF SELECT, FUNCTION and a control wheel.

4-WAY CLUSTER: Standard selection buttons with OK central. This control is ergonomically sculpted & angled for comfort.

TOP CLUSTER: There are 4 buttons (not 5 as I originally thought) which are: LIGHT (command panel), WB, ISO and COMP.

The raised ridge on the COMP button might suggest a mini-joystick; or it may be simply a tactile reference for button function. The same comment applies to the AF button (33) though it would make sense if Olympus employed a mini-joystick to track over the new 11 point diamond shaped selectable AF grid.

The rest of the controls/buttons & lamps are familiar to any E-system user.

GENERAL:

The SAT (shadow adjustment technology) seems not to be the 'magic bullet' for improving DR I had hoped for. Amongst other things it allows exposure adjustments such as compensation and WB changes to be seen directly and in real time on the monitor when using LiveView. SAT also works in the JPEG processing engine bringing out shadow detail (what else) but precise details are not available yet.

The inclusion of an xD card slot in a pro-level camera is questionable. Perhaps this is my innate dislike of these horrible and slow piddly cards?

The battery grip looks rather bulky; this reflects the decision to move to 2 x BLM1's which are mounted side by side in a fore and aft manner. The grip is reminiscent of E300 and C-series grips.

It is weighty at 810g. Being taller than the E-1 it appears, overall, to be bulkier too. It is of similar dimensions to mid range offerings from other makers. Where has the 4/3rds design advantage of less size and bulk gone? The diminutive E-4XX series is dwarfed by the E-3 and yet it is supposed to share the same design genes.

The prominent feature of the rear is the articulated screen. Its LCD panel is standard 2.5". Movements are in 2 planes and the screen can be reversed to place the hard cover outermost to protect the LCD when not in use. The screen recess effectively protects the unit from sideways stresses too, when folded inwards. Having used the E-330 and C5050 whose screens fold out only in line with the len, I'm wondering if the screen movements on the E-3 might be less usable than we might first think? For emulating a TLR for instance this screen design is practically useless as holding the camera at waist height with both hands and the screen folded out 90 degrees to the camera body is unweildly as the screen is above your left hand. It's advantage however is in portrait use.

The neck strap hangers are via recessed bars.

The camera looks a tad conventional and staid and lacks the Olympus signature. It lacks some of the design eccentricities of the E-1 and is definitely poorer for that. It is heavier than the E-1 but more or less the same size.

MORE IMAGES:

COMMENTS:

The general specifications have been known for some time (though never officially confirmed). Even knowing what was coming I was dearly hoping that Olympus would surprise us in the dying seconds. It seems they haven't. However, there's still a lot of details we don't know and as always 'the Devil is in the detail'.

I'm assuming the 11.8MP (gross) sensor is the same NMOS as fitted to the new Panasonic DMC L10 recently announced. In fact I'm pretty sure the L10 shares a lot of Olympus E-3 DSLR design features - as you'd expect - they are partners after all. Looking at the body sizes of the L10 and E-3 there is very little difference between them. This comparison ignores the huge prism hump on the E-3 which holds the newly designed 1:1.5 viewfinder. The L10 does not enjoy this new feature.

Pricing (UK) is reckoned to be 1099 body; 1499 body + ZD14-54; 1699 body + ZD12-60. Certainly, my best guess of 1299 with the ZD12-60 (several weeks ago) was well adrift. Personally I think it's too expensive and I'll be waiting for prices to drop to a more realistic/affordable level. Olympus' target consumer for the E-3 is the advanced amateur but I suspect many will baulk at this price.

All that said I'm glad it is here. This puts a stop to the endless speculation. It looks to be very competent and full of promise. Many of the crticisms of the E-1 have been addressed, especially AF speed and focus points. It promises to be fast in the processing department too which is a good thing. The RAW buffer capacity (256) might be a tad low but I suppose the line has to be drawn somewhere. I hope Olympus will get the camera into the shops as soon as possible but I doubt it will be by the 27th October as promised by my local dealer.

NOTE: Looks as though Olympus is trying to get the E-3 into the UK market by late November 2007, in time for the Christmas rush. Even so I think the cameras will be in short supply. Those who pre-ordered their units were wise!

At the end of the day the two things that matter most are the cameras overall responsiveness and the quality of the images. Having a quick and nimble machine helps capture those fleeting moments and having a first class image as your record is the essence of photography. The E-3 has yet to be tested against this criteria and while the internal specs appear very promising it's not been tried out 'in the field' and we have yet to see a single test image.

GENERAL RECEPTION:

The forums are certainly not 'alive' with enthusiasm and discussion. There are a lot of posts but the mood seems unusually subdued. I've had many emails about what you are thinking. Like myself most are glad the wait is over, but there is a little disquiet. The main areas of expressed concern seem to be:

1: Size and weight.

2: Price.

3: ISO performance.

4: MP ceiling reached.

5: Not playing to 4/3rds strengths.

OTHER WEB LINKS:

Here are some links I've found:

PopPhoto has a brief look and the best set of images (go to Image Gallery) and can be seen here.

Imaging-Resource has a first preview here.

FourThirdsPhoto also takes a closer look here.

There are some links within posts to DPReview which link to images taken with the E-3. Please be aware these are unofficial images. I suggest you look on the DPR Olympus DSLR forum here.


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Posted October 2007 Copyright © 2004/5/6/7 John Foster