MANY HANDS ON THE E3

opinions from multi users on a safari weekend in derbyshire uk

Olympus kindly loaned the group a beta version of the E-3 for a weekend in the real world.


RAISON D'ETRE By John Foster:

A weekend photo safari was organised for Olympus users some time before the E-3 was formally announced. It struck the organiser, Brian Mosley, that it would be a wonderful opportunity for Olympus to glean 'authentic' user opinion by giving the group access to an E-3 for true 'field' testing. Olympus agreed. The company also agreed to allow publishing of the results from the weekend, the opinion of the camera and some of the results on a completely independent website, rather than any Olympus sponsored sites.

Brian contacted me and I agreed to construct and host the report on this site as it is well known to Olympus enthusiasts, but totally independent.


INTRODUCTION by Brian Mosley:

First of all, thank you to John Foster for constructing and hosting this article... having a non-affiliated website as home to this information is essential to the integrity of what we're doing. My own business is based on the honest recommendation of stuff that works, so I know how important trusted referrals are to making a buying decision. I saw the opportunity to do something here which I think is very exciting and unique... luckily Olympus agreed with the concept, and had enough faith in their product to throw it into the field for us to give a thorough 'real world' stress test!

The forums are great, in that they allow like minded enthusiasts to meet on-line, but they are also an extremely limited form of communication, and the anonymity makes some people forget to offer others the respect they deserve. I suggested the first Olympus Photo Safari, to introduce people to the beautiful place I live, and help them get to know each other personally... I'm relieved to say, this weekend delivered in spades on that promise!

Attendees came from all over the UK, and even Europe and future Photo Safaris will extend to international venues, bringing a human backbone to the online community.


GEOGRAPHY & WEATHER:

The safari week end took place in Derbyshire. More precisely starting on Saturday at Grindleford Cafe, into Padley Gorge, and then to the Scotsman's Pack

Grindleford Cafe meeting point: Google Map: Grindleford Cafe

Scotsman's Pack: Google Map Scotsman's Pack

Sunday started with a sunrise shoot on Mam Tor, which turned out to be an overcast gale force drenching! Mam Tor: Google Map: Mam Tor

Followed by an absolutely glorious afternoon at Carhead Rocks, and on to Higger Tor.

Carhead Rocks: Google Map: Carhead Rocks

Higger Tor: Google Map: Higger Tor

As to the weather, it ranged from overcast in the woods, to drizzle and overcast at Hathersage... to gale force fine rain on Mam Tor, to glorious dramatic skies and sunshine on Carhead Rocks and Higger Tor - the E-3 sailed through all conditions, producing outstanding results throughout.


ATTENDEES; BACKGROUND & EXPERIENCE:

John Farrell: I started with my fathers original camera a Box Brownie around 60 yrs ago graduated through a folding Kodak then through a series of DSLR's Pentax, Contax, Konica before starting with Olympus. A fabulous OM1n with 50mm and a Tamron adaptall zoom to which was added an XA.

When the OM took a swim it was replaced by the film forerunner to the e-10 a and when the shutter gave way decided the E-1 was too much for me (now know this was a serious mistake) moved to a Canon 350D which after a succession of lenses left me frustrated so now I have upgraded to a 510 and the safari was a great introduction to what is possible. When I have mastered the 510 the E3 will make up for not having the E1.

I travel world wide on a regular basis taking photographs of my visits whever possible, the small size of the 510 and kit lenses has proved itself already as a great tool, ready to hand with all of the flexibilty needed.

John Farrell's opinion

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Denis Ong: I started taking photographs three and a half years ago, with my dad's Camedia C-4000, which I'd taken with me to London. There was no manual mode, but it allowed some control over aperture and exposure compensation (I think). It got blown away in the wind when I was in Paris, having been balanced on some uneven ground without a tripod.

My first camera purchase was the C-8080, after extensive research. It was an excellent piece of equipment, and I'd say better than the Sony R-1 (and more portable too). The jpegs are amazing if you stay below ISO 400.

Two years later, the camera fell with me into a lake in Italy and I thought my holiday was over. But I dried it out in the sun, and it's functioning well.

By then I had been thinking of a DSLR for some time, and had already looked the various models on offer. My dad had just bought a Canon 350D for himself, and I had a play with it and a friend's 20D as well. I decided that neither was for me.

Last Christmas I bought the E-1 when the price came down to 350 with the 14-42 kit lens. This was quickly followed by a series of lens purchases - the 11-22, 50/2, 50-200 and an ex-25.

I take pictures mostly of the places I visit, which often annoys whoever is travelling with me. You can view the pictures on http://anyhowshoot.multiply.com

Denis Ong's opinion

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Andrew Swan: Photographic experience - Hobby photographer (starting out 3-4 years digital cameras). Olympus C8080 WZ progressing now to an E-500 with 17.5-45 kit lens, 40-150mm kit lens, 14-54mm lens.

Andrew Swan's opinion

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Stephen Elliott: I was brought up in the heart of the Hope Valley, and have always loved the beautiful scenery that the Peak District has to offer and enjoyed taking pictures since I bought my first SLR camera.

I live in the village of Hathersage with my wife and 2 children. My family knows that my first love is a great sky with dramatic clouds and the opportunity to be on a hillside with my camera.

My day job is at the Lafarge cement works in Hope, which I can see from the joint perspective of a place of employment and bringing much needed income into the rural setting but also the impact on the scenery. I do like the fact that I work close to home and am not subjected to the daily grind of commuting into one of the nearby urbanizations and can in fact think about the next walk and the chance for photography whilst driving to Hope, inspired by the surrounding hills.

I enjoyed working with film but have embraced the change to the digital age and the inclusion of computer technology with great enthusiasm.

I have been using the Olympus E300 for about 2 years and feel that my photography has improved as I've got to fully understand the camera and its capabilities, having immediate feedback from the camera is a real bonus as you are able to experiment and learn as you go.

I'm lucky to have a job that enables me lots of time to get out into the Peak District with my camera; I supply several shops and galleries through the area with a range of prints and greetings cards and also have my own website as an outlet for my photography, I have a hobby that I love which also covers the cost of the equipment, I doesn't get much better than that! You can take a look at my work here:

www.stephenelliottphotography.co.uk

Stephen Elliott's opinion

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Pete Monk: I am a university science researcher who uses microscopes, high-end CCD cameras and image analysis software on a regular basis (Nikon, Olympus, Hamamatsu et al). Apart from a brief flirtation with film SLRs cameras in my youth, my photography experience is entirely digital with a series of Olympus cameras over the last 3 years (C-5050, E-20, E-300, E-500), although I have also used a Canon 20D and a Sony A100 for short periods.

My present kit is an E-1 for bad weather use and portraits, an E-330 for travel photography and an E-400 that I carry with me on most days. Ten percent of my photography is event/publicity for work or my children's schools and sports clubs; the remainder is simply for pleasure.

Pete Monk's opinion

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Andrew Parsons: Started taking pictures in 1970 with a second-hand Zenith E, a real clunk-click camera, then progressed on to Pentax spotmatic - sold that in 1980's, on to Mamiya 645's.

In 2001 bought a second-hand Olympus E20, 2003 - 2007 bought two E-1 bodies, E-510 body with 7 lenses. The 645's are now redundant. I have a small nature reserve on the farm and give tuition on nature photography to Camera Clubs and individuals. I now make most of my living out of photography - for example weddings and portraits.........

www.andrewparsonsaswpp.co.uk

www.acornfarmvisits.co.uk

Andrew Parsons' opinion

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Richard Simpson: Have been taking photos since the age of about 6 a long time ago! Have used 35mm extensively, mostly with OMs. Moved to Digital in 2001 with the Nikon CP 990, then 995, then 5000 before buying the E10 and later E20.

After a brief flirtation with Fuji S2 and S3 returned to Olympus with the E1 and E300. Now use a number of bodies depending on the situation E330 is still a favourite along with the Panny L1.

I take landscapes, but mostly strong graphical images using mainly 7-14 or 11-22 and 50-200 Zuikos.

Richard Simpson's opinion

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John Begin: My serious photography started with a Russian Zorki, then Zenith E, Yashica Electro AX and finally a Rollei SL35ME with excellent lenses before trading up to an Olympus OM2n in 1978. Because I was young I wanted a good, moderately priced camera with a power winder, but I soon began to appreciate the qualities of the OM2, such as 'Off The Film' (OTF) metering and TTL flash metering. Both world firsts; Olympus innovates!

The OM2's quality and reliability (works well at 29 years old) persuaded me to stick with Olympus for 35mm and I've added XA2; AF1/Infinity; OM1 and IS1000 having traded in my medium format stuff. Olympus digital cameras include C1000L, an E100RS, C5050 that died at seven months, C7070 (as replacement). I moved to DSLR with an E300 in Jan '06 and a E330 in '07 (I'm now sold on Live View).

Olympus is a world leader in innovative camera design such as LiveView and dust removal. But it's not just innovations, it's excellent electronics, fine mechanical engineering and superb optics that keep me in the fold.

John Begin's opinion

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Alistair Hamilton: I'm relatively new to photography, with my previous forays through film cameras thwarted by frustration and lack of knowledge. The Internet and digital photography has changed all that, as I suspect it has for a lot of people, and two years ago I took the plunge into taking photography more seriously by buying into the E-System.

I currently shoot with the E-330 and E-410 though I also have an E-1 sitting waiting on a shelf for that rainy day. My passion has become landscape photography, particularly the South coast of the UK, but more recently the Peak District where I now live.

Alistair Hamilton's opinion

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Brian Mosley: I'm a freelance telemetry engineer, negotiator and problem solver. I've also been building a business as an Independent Herbalife Distributor for the last few years... which all allow me plenty of freedom to pursue my passion for digital photography around time with my young family. I've been shooting digital since 1997 for pleasure and business, from the first Olympus C-800L through the Nikon D1, D1x and more recently Panasonic LX1 to my latest E-400 and E-1, with an E-3 in my very near future!

Brian Mosley's opinion

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Paul Shrigley: I started shooting digital in 2000 when I bought a Fujifilm MX1700 which I used for 18 months, then graduated to a secondhand CanonPowershot Pro70 for 2 years, passed the Canon on to my sister in law who is still using it. Bought a Fujifilm S602 and used that for 1 year but had a hankering for a DSLR so acquired the Olympus E 300 in 2005 and also bought a Canon Ixus 430.

Paul Shrigley's opinion




OPINIONS OF E-3:

It was agreed by all those who attended that each would provide an honest appraisal of their time with the E-3. In this way we hope to give you, the reader, some direct thoughts, impressions and opinions from these folk. There is nothing quite like trying something out 'in the field' to exaggerate weak spots or underline true performance in 'real' conditions. It is hoped that this unique collective hands-on experience in the weather conditions of the weekend will provide you a level of information not available elsewhere................................. read on.

John Farrell's opinion

With the E-3, Olympus have used their experience and knowledge gained from the use of the sensor in the 410/510 to bring a truly professional level to the results it produces. This was amply demonstrated through the range of weather experienced, from dreadful wet through overcast leafy to sunny conditions using a wide variety of lenses available from the assembled gathering who all approached their shots with different philosophies.

There could be no better field trial than the two days we experienced. On top of that the photographs the E-3 could produce were outstanding.

John Farrell.

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Denis Ong's opinion

My thoughts about the E-3: I love the large viewfinder, swivel screen and the feel of it in the hands - even more than the E-1. I miss the C/S/MF switch though; I had trouble changing the modes in the menu, but it's probably down to unfamiliarity more than anything else.

Autofocus was instantaneous in the dark room where we had dinner.

The shutter slap was only very slightly louder than the E-1's.

Image quality, as far as I can tell from the samples we took, was excellent. Colours were vibrant and the noise handling was good.

I'm really tempted now to buy it... and as soon as I have the cash available, I will!

Denis Ong.

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Andrew Swan's opinion

Being relatively inexperienced using dSLR systems (10 months) I was surprised how easy it was to pick up the functions on the new E-3; although not identical to the E-500 the thought process and layout behind the menus was similar enough for me, a relative beginner, to use reasonably effectively (the mushroom shot with difficult lighting and F22). The IS was definitely of assistance to me as my skills in holding the camera steady are just starting to develop.

Enjoyed having the live view to take the shot of the font from directly above showing the full circle. This was taken standing on the step of the font and holding the camera directly over the font above my head to get the full circle in the shot composed using the live view.

As much as I would love one I recognise that it is probably more camera than I can justify at this point in my photography. I need to learn to full utilise my E-500 first then maybe!!!!!!

Andrew Swan.

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Stephen Elliott's opinion

I first got to handle the E3 for a few minutes on the Saturday evening in a dark room at the back of a pub, on it was the 7-14 it felt very heavy but surprisingly well balanced, the viewfinder was large and very clear considering the dimly lit surroundings. The E3 had no problems with AF locking on smoothly and quickly.

My next encounter with the E3 was the following morning where a few of the photo safari members assembled in the dark at the top of a hill to experience the wonders of a Derbyshire sunrise. The wind was blowing hard over Mam Tor ridge with a few spots of rain mixed in. I fitted my 11-22 and was soon getting to grips with the various buttons and functions on the E3. I had only skimmed through the manual so wouldn't say I was particularly familiar with all the functions, but found just using the buttons and menus were enough to get a good idea and I found them to be intuitive.

Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and the few spots of rain turned to driving rain, but at least we were able to test the weather sealing of the E3 and 11-22 combination! Not too many photos were taken as the lens was covered in rain spots within seconds of being cleaned. We did get to try the 'Live View' function and with the camera on a tripod and the screen swung and tilted made the experience a positive one. It was useful to be able to assess the WB, exposure etc. without having to stoop and look in the viewfinder, the live histogram proved extremely useful. It was also good for the fact that the whole group could gather round and easily see the screen. I could see this as a useful tool for someone teaching on a photography course. We gave up on the ridge as not only had the rain become torrential but the mist came down and put an end to our fun!

We retreated to my house to dry off and have a brew, we dried off the E3 and spent more time getting familiar with some more of its functions. We put on the 50-200 and with the lens fully zoomed out tested the IS ability, shooting at 1/80 handheld the E3 produced very sharp results, with the IS off the camera shake was very evident and couldn't produce a useable image.

Later in the day the rain cleared up treating us to some wonderful light so we made our way to Carhead Rocks and Higger Tor above the village of Hathersage for more testing. I'd now had a couple of hours with the E3 and was really enjoying myself, the camera felt right at home in my hands. I was operating the controls without having to think too much. I really like the viewfinder; it looks huge and bright at the side of my E300, also having a 100% view meant I didn't end up with a shadow that intrudes into the edge of the frame. By the end of the day I felt that I'd been using the E3 for weeks not a few hours and felt reluctant handing it back!

Reviewing the RAW files later on Olympus Master I am bowled over by the sheer quality of the images the E3 had produced, the colour and tone is stunning. It is hard to believe that these are the RAW images straight out of the camera, they are in a different league to my E300 and I've been more than happy with the images from it.

The E3 has definitely got my vote, I have one pre-ordered and can't wait to get it in my hands, my passion is for landscape photography and this is one serious piece of kit.

Stephen Elliott

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Pete Monk's opinion

Great weather-proofing: The E3 was liberally splashed with driven rain, to no ill effect at all. We simply toweled it dry and carried on. I would feel as confident carrying the E3 as I do the E1, in heavy rain with no waterproof bag.

Weight: heavier than the E1 but very 'easy' in the hand; it felt well balanced with the old 50-200mm lens.

Ergonomics: After using the E1, the controls on the E3 felt 'right' very quickly;

VF: the viewfinder is much bigger than the E1 VF but as bright after a side-by-side comparison with 11-22mm on both cameras. Interestingly, I felt that I had to 'explore' the E3 VF with my eye rather than just being able to see everything immediately, as with the smaller E1 VF. I suspect a better eye-cup (circular EP-1 style) allowing you to push your eye closer to the VF would be better than the existing square one. The overall impression of the VF was excellent, much closer to the film SLR experience.

IS: the IS worked very well with the (old) 50-200, giving sharp images at 200mm@1/125s (although I only checked by zooming in on the rear screen); Steve has the images and should be able to provide pictures if necessary.

AF: AF is good with the 30mm f1.4; I tried to get focus lock on black objects in a fairly dim room. It worked well: not astonishingly better than the E1 but quicker. I was disappointed not to be able to toggle between all the AF points using a rollerball or joystick to get changes in both dimensions; this might be possible via another procedure but I need to RTFM!

LiveView is excellent, with a similar lag to the E330 in B mode. The only thing that I didn't like was not being able to pull the screen up behind the camera to act as a discreet waist-level VF. I rarely use LV A in the E330 for shots with moving subjects, so the lack of LV A in the E3 will not make much difference to me.

Overall: a very good camera. Pending analysis of the images, I expect to be getting one next year, to replace the E330 and E1 for amateur event shooting, travel photography and documentary shooting, and occasional 'pro' work that is part of my job (publicity shots, product shots etc).

Pete Monk.

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Andrew Parsons' opinion

I first handled the E3 in the cafe at the start of the photo shoot. First impression - very similar to the E1 which is still my favourite for portraits & wedding. On opening the door on compact flash slot I found it flimsy and it wouldn't take much to get broken; (change it for E1 cover.) The rest of the body was great. I noted s,a,caf were on the menu; something I would miss but I guess would get used to. I put on my 14mm - 54mm in the darkest part of the cafe and the camera had no problem in focussing where the E1 would have struggled.

Using the E3 outside the IS & live view were tested together on some fungi. With a little practice you soon get used to viewing the subject. The E3 was laid flat on the ground then tilted up slightly; f20 @ 1 second; very sharp, something I couldn't achieve with my other cameras.

Noise is very much improved on the E3 compared with my other cameras.

Quality was very good straight out of the camera.

Will I buy? Yes but will have to built up some funds! As you can see I have had a mega spend on equipment this year

A big thank you to Olympus UK for letting us use their flagship camera; I am sure it will do well.

Andrew Parsons.

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Richard Simpson's opinion

E-3 My thoughts and observations.

My overall impression after a brief days acquaintance with the E-3, was that for the Professional market it is aimed at, it pretty well meets every expectation.

HANDLING

It is a big camera, no getting away from it. It is heavier than the E-1 by some margin, but oddly enough it felt so comfortable to hold that these factors seemed less important the longer I used it. The controls are all logically placed and grouped and easy enough to use, but there is little similarity with the E-1, - more an advancement of the E510 type layout. The thing felt beautifully engineered and solid, and even the thumb wheels have a rubberised nice touchy finish to them. The viewfinder is large and very clear, and it was great to have the readout along the bottom of the screen rather than along the side. And another plus ISO readout in the viewfinder!

SWIVEL LCD

A major step for a flagship DSLR, and very solidly made. No creaks, just solidly engineered. It also tucks away into the recess of the body to give a very modest projection at the back of the cam. But rather disappointingly it functions exactly as the E510 and E410 and due to the mirror/focus cycle and feels just as crippled. Fine for still images and macro work, but of little real use for action or street shooting.

FOCUSING

No complaints whatsoever! Swift and accurate even in very low light. The multiple focus sensors have a number of menu options that I didnt look at, but at least the multiple points are there for those who need them. Focussing was quick with all lenses it seemed, and that included the 7-14 and 50-200.

METERING

Not much chance to try out the various modes, but I deliberately took several shots of isolated leaves against the sky using ESP and exposure was virtually spot-on. I couldnt detect any discernable problem with blown highlights, and so I am starting to wonder if significant improvements really have been made in this area. Judging by the ORF results seen at the end of the day, with their accurate colours and exposure, that may indeed be the case!

NOISE

I took the E-3 into the busy Pub bar it was a Saturday night! Difficult lighting to say the least, but with the E-3 set on 1600 ISO and then 3200 ISO, I snapped away in both B&W and colour at somewhere between 1/13 and 1/60 second. Hard to be objective about the level of noise as the images need to be looked at, but to me, noise seemed to be very acceptable. Focus was quick, and images were crisp and sharp, which supports the view that the IS worked very efficiently.

Richard Simpson.

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John Begin's opinion

So to the new E3:

I don't really have much to add to what others who spent more time with it have written. I didn't really familiarise myself with the camera, having wanted to simply enjoy the day taking pictures and chatting with like-minded Oly users. However, when I saw it, the first obvious thing is its size - apparently weighs twice that of an E410 - but in handling, it fit very nicely in my hand and it didn't feel overly large nor heavy with a 14-54 lens. The viewfinder was bright. The one thing I am most 'excited' about is the fact it has Live View -- plus it has a fully articulating screen. More useful than the few degrees down and 90 degrees up of the E330. But one thing I really appreciate about the E330 is that it has two Live View Modes. Live View 'B' uses the imager, while Live View 'A' uses a separate chip in the viewfinder path. This feature is lacking in the E3 - because it utilizes a pentaprism rather than the series of mirrors of the E330. Of course the pentaprism is brighter, but the Live View 'A' mode of the E330 has no time lag. One of the main advantages of Live View is that you can hold your camera away from you to catch otherwise missed opportunities - having a time lag may cause such photos still to be missed.

Apart from these few observations, only the price really stands between me and owning an E3 - but in 18 months time or so...

John Begin.

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Alistair Hamilton's opinion

I'll have to restrict my comments to purely handling, since I didn't see any of the output.

Look and Feel:

As someone who likes small cameras, I initially wasn't too excited by the initial publicity photos of the E-3. It looked kind of big and clumsy to me, and not a camera I could grow to love. However, once I saw the E-3 in the flesh, I was rather smitten, I have to admit. It looks a lot more attractive than I thought it would and in the hand it felt very comfortable, more so than the E-1. I didn't find the weight an issue at all either, and couldn't really tell much difference to the E-1 in practice, maybe because the grip was more comfortable.

Controls:

Anyone coming from an existing E-series camera will instantly feel at home with the E-3. It seems to have taken the best features from the existing cameras and incorporated them here. The controls felt solid and reliable, I'd say more so than the E-1.

Large and bright, again an improvement on the E-1. I liked the shooting info along the bottom, but as a glasses wearer did find I had to 'look around' the viewfinder more than the existing E-series line-up. I guess that's just an issue with a bigger viewfinder.

LCD:

Loved the tilt-swivel LCD, but have a worry about how solid it will be when flipped out. I can see it being caught easily, and wonder how strong the joint is? But otherwise a joy to use.

Liveview:

Hmm.......... As an E-330 user, I still feel it's not an ideal implementation, and much prefer the A-mode version with proper autofocus. I find the E-3 (and E-410) versions to be too clunky, though OK for landscape and still-life I guess.

Build:

On the whole, pretty solid, though I do wonder about the plastic CF card door? Maybe it's just designed to break and be replaced, but it seems to let the camera down. Please Olympus, remove the 'IS' logo from the front :(

AF:

Coudn't fault it, though as someone used to using one AF point, I've no idea how easy it will be to use in anger! But the speed and accuracy seemed great.

Alistair Hamilton.

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Brian Mosley's opinion

I've just recently bought an E-1, and regard that camera as a design classic - when you pick up the E-1, it fits beautifully into your hand... and feels lighter than it should do. I already had an E-400, so I was concerned that the E-1's relatively low resolution, combined with the extra bulk would make it redundant... how naive I was! In many respects, the E-1 still outperforms the later prosumer grade (E-400, E-410, E-510) cams by some margin. I was worried that the E-3 would share too much of the E-510's internals to be considered a worthy successor to the pro-level E-1.

When you pick up the E-3, it feels more dense - and the shape is subtly different... Olympus seem to have taken the E-510 and given it a full metal jacket! I wasn't encouraged by the extra complexity of the user interface over the E-1... I think you would need a few days to become truly comfortable with the user interface of the E-3. I didn't figure out how to control the AF point selection in the couple of days I had the camera.

I also have a Sony R1, and know how useful it is to see the histogram in live view before taking the shot... but on the E-3, I had the "live view boost" option enabled, and in this mode, the histogram is centred regardless of the AE adjustment - I think this is a bug in the pre-production model. With live view boost disabled, the histogram works as with the R1 - excellent!

Where the E-3 really delivers is in AF speed, accuracy, industrial strength weather sealed body, and most importantly on image quality... these things make it the Olympus flagship and worthy successor to the E-1. I'm convinced that I need this camera to complement my E-400 and E-1 - now I need to go on safari, to make the most of it!

Brian Mosley

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Paul Shrigley's opinion

My impressions of the E3:

Camera feels solid and well balanced. I like the large viewfinder and the information is easier to read along the bottom as opposed to the side on my E300 viewfinder. The articulating LCD will prove useful (I used one on my old Canon Pro 70). Generally feels responsive in use.

The door to the card compartment felt flimsy; not as solid as the one on my E300. The shutter button had a delay when pressed (maybe this will be sorted in the full production model) and yes, the live view felt 'clunky'.

Paul Shrigley

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OPINION OF IMAGES:

I'm incredibly frustrated by the delay in sharing images from the E-3 with you, but I can assure you that the out of camera jpegs have taken the legendary E-1 colour tonality, improved on it, and delivered pixel level sharp 10MP resolution. I'm just looking at a shot of Stephen Elliott's cat, shot with this pre-production E-3 in RAW using Studio v2.1... and it's so exciting to see the pin sharp detail - the fur and whiskers going down to individual pixels!

That should be all any Olympus E-1 user would want to know. Shooting in auto ISO, allowing the camera to ramp up to 800 ISO was not a concern to me... the quality holds up easily to 800 ISO with fine, film grain style noise.

There's a lot of nonsense discussion about dynamic range, partly fueled, I think, by dpreview's poor DR test methodology, as exposed by Jay Turberville and others... what I did experience was a dreadful overcast Friday morning, you know - where you shoot anything with sky and can expect either blown sky or ridiculously underexposed ground detail. The E-3 gave me a well exposed, balanced image which coped perfectly with the scene - I don't know whether this was DR, shadow adjustment technology or what, but I was very impressed.

[Update (19/12/07) : congratulations to dpreview for responding to our constructive criticism, the latest DR test methodology has been significantly strengthened.]

Further, I came back from that overcast stroll with zero expectations, but was surprised to have two or three images that I was very happy with... this camera delivers on the promise. A worthy successor to the legendary E-1.


IMAGE FILES:

About 286 images were recorded over the weekend and the best were submitted to Olympus for approval before release to the public. No approvals have been received. Remember, the E-3 used had only beta firmware onboard so we fully appreciate and understand Olympus' motives regarding image release.

As soon as we receive consent images will be available from this site as well as the Olympus servers.

Please bookmark this page in your browser and keep looking back for those all important images. See you soon.......


IMAGE QUALITY OBSERVATIONS (John Foster):

Late in the evening of 3rd November many RAW (.ORF) images were made available on the Internet. These have been confirmed to be from an E-3 with production firmware (version 1.0 confirmation thanks to Brian Mosley). I downloaded a selection to scrutinise and manipulate in Master 2.04. I selected images at ISO's 160, 800, 1600 & 3200 though my personal concern was that ISO 800 performance should be acceptable.

For those who haven't found the link to download the images from it is:

http://www.raw.fotosite.pl/index-Olympus_E-3_ZD_12-60_f2.8-4.htm

Without spending inordinate amounts of time explaining and rationalising what I did (no doubt you will just want to do this yourself) I'd make the following brief comments.

ISO performance: Highest ISO is acceptable and mid ISO appears absolutely fine (to me). I was especially pleased to see ISO 800 results were well within my acceptance criteria and I've nothing to be worried about. I simply wish to be able to crank it up to ISO 800 without reaping any undue consequences.

COLOUR: I've been told that Olympus use Fuji colour interpretation algorithms; whatever, the colours look nicely achieved indeed though I'd like to see some more colourful images.

IMPACT: Reminds me very much of images I get from the E-330; just better. This new 'look' seems to be an amalgamation of best bits of Kodak and Panasonic rather than trying to capture the subtle class of Kodak CCD or the ISO performance of the Panny (L)MOS. Logically, I suppose this is the way it had to be and I for one am pleased.

OVERALL: I'm glad Olympus set about improving the various processing algorithms with their conservative hat on. From colour to noise reduction it seems just about a perfect balance. I'm relieved as I was expecting some pretty aggressive non-selectable Noise Reduction.

We are hoping to bring you more comments on the image files from the weekend testers when (if) Olympus sanction their image release. This will be more relevant as these folks can compare the reality of the scene to the cameras interpretation. Please keep looking back.


AT LAST - SOME E-3 firmware 1.0 IMAGES:

Today is the 9th November. Olympus have sent us a production E-3 to shoot with over the weekend. We were out Saturday and Sunday.

We've selected some 35 images in High Res JPEG and ORF (RAW) processed with Studio. The images are hosted by kind arrangement with John Begin. Clicking a thumbnail will take you direct to the JPEG image on the server; from there you will have the option of downloading the .ORF if you wish.

1: PB110696 ISO100, 1/25, f=11, cmp 0, 12mm

2: PB110700 ISO100, 1/8, f=11, cmp-0.7, 24mm

3: PB110729 ISO320, 1/80, f3.5, cmp -0.7, 26mm

4: PB110731 ISO200, 1/60, f=3.5, cmp-0.7, 12mm

5: PB110747 ISO640, 1/125, f=4, cmp-0.7, 60mm

6: PB100526 ISO800, 1/20, f=3.2, cmp 0, 12mm

7: PB100669 ISO100, 5s, f=13, cmp 0, 60mm

8: PB100532 ISO800, 1/4, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

9: PB100586 ISO100, 1/13, f=11, cmp 0, 50mm

10: PB110804 ISO400, 1/1000, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

11: PB100591 ISO100, 1/6, f=13, cmp 0, 50mm

12: PB110806 ISO400, 1/1000, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

13: PB110807 ISO400, 1/1600, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

14: PB110822 ISO400, 1/2000, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

15: PB110831 ISO400, 1/2500, f=4, cmp 0, 60mm

16: PB110832 ISO400, 1/1600, f=10, cmp 0, 12mm

17: PB100636 ISO800, 1/15, f=7.1, cmp -0.3, 60mm

18: PB100648 ISO100, 4s, f=20, cmp -0.3, 26mm

19: PB110840 ISO100, 1/60, f=10, cmp + 1.0, 12mm

20: PB110848 ISO100, 1/60, f=13, cmp 0, 14mm

21: PB110849 ISO100, 1/50, f=13, cmp 0, 60mm

22: PB100650 ISO100, 6s, f=14, cmp 0, 46mm

23: PB110851 ISO100, 1/80, f=13, cmp 0, 43mm

24: PB100656 ISO800, 1/20, f=8, cmp -0.3, 60mm

25: PB110864 ISO400, 1/640, f=8, cmp 0, 27mm

26: PB110866 ISO400, 1/320, f=8, cmp 0, 49mm

27: PB110867 ISO400, 1/320, f=8, cmp 0, 23mm

28: PB110870 ISO400, 1/40, f=9, cmp + 0.7, 26mm

29: PB100671 ISO100, 5s, f=13, cmp -0.3, 46mm

30: PB100616 ISO100, 1.6s, f=14, cmp 0, 16mm

31: PB110760 ISO100, 1/500, f=5.6, cmp-0.7, 21mm

32: PB100612 ISO100, 0.4s, f=14, cmp 0, 50mm

33: PB1005940 ISO100, 1/5, f=11, cmp 0, 50mm

34: PB100580 ISO100, 1/60, f=6.3, cmp 0, 20mm

35: PB100660 ISO100, 2.5s, f=13, cmp -0.3, 60mm



HAVING DIFFICULTY OPENING THE FILES?

You will need either Sudio 2 (with update) or Olympus Master 2.04 to view the E-3 .ORF files.

Studio 2 is available as a 30 day trial from here. Remember to apply the update.

Olympus Master is available from here. Install the software and then apply the 2.04 update from within Master 2.03; you need to have Master 2.04 to view/manipulate the files.

Or you can view the new RAW files using IrfanView and PlugIn, both of which are avaiable from here.


FINALE By Brian Mosley:

I believe this review is unique and groundbreaking, in that it presents multiple honest opinions from independent photographers, in context with their personal experience and intended use. All of the reviewers, and our hosts John Foster and John Begin have given their time, resources and passion to this project freely - it is a review by users for users.

The field test was real-world. We organised the meetings well in advance and took our chances with the weather, which ranged from gale force rain, overcast, to glorious sunshine; a typical British weekend!

By passing the Olympus E-3 from reviewer to reviewer, we put the camera through a wide range of uses in a remarkably short period. We covered macros, portraits, candids, landscapes, waterfalls, woods, tripod work and handheld; and the E-3 revealed itself to be a hugely capable beast!

PROS:

Tough! Weathersealed and sensor cleaning that works flawlessly.

Responsive: the camera can be tuned to your needs, for example I've set the function button to trigger live view with DoF display - this makes it easy to switch between live view and fast action shooting.

Flexible: 5fps with flexible bracketing options make HDR and image stacking very practical. I'll be doing some 20MP+ fine art imaging using PhotoAcute.

Leading Edge 4/3 Image Quality: 4/3rd designed for digital lens quality; 4/3rd advantage of legacy lens support

10MP: compressed RAW is an ideal balance between resolution and manageability

AF and AE: both enhanced dramatically - improved legacy lens support by new AE system which works perfectly down to f1.2: these two aspects have a huge impact on the quality of your images.

Noise performance: who decided this should be such a high profile consideration in lab based reviews? Canon? I wonder why? The E-3 is an excellent performer, but if you need to shoot predominantly low light, be prepared for fine grained noise.

Classic Olympus colour and tonality still there, and improved Dynamic Range - Shadow Adjustment Technology is highly effective.

CONS:

Olympus have a superb, real-world capable camera... but the herd mentality is strong, and sheer numbers of Canon and Nikon users will be recommending their brand cameras to new users.

All of the above pros have yet to be confirmed by the majority of Olympus users; it will take some time for our experience to be confirmed and to become common knowledge...


CONCLUSION?

There is no conclusion to this review..... we believe you are able to make your own mind up, considering which factors are important to you personally. Good luck, and we hope you'll join one of our future exciting events.

I'd like to thank all concerned; to Olympus UK for trusting the group with a pre-production unit; to the folks who made their journeys to attend the first safari shoot; to John Begin for arranging to host the images and finally to John Foster for use of his web site.

There's not much more to say. All you have to do is make up your mind whether or not to buy an E-3!


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Posted November 2007 Copyright © 2007 John Foster & Brian Mosley