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Olympus E3 Review

After 2 years of shooting with the E3 - here are my thoughts!

olympus e3
By Simon Davies

Having been an Olympus E3 user for quite a while now, I'm really keen to share my impressions of the various strengths, weaknesses and quirks of this camera.

I've had an affinity for Olympus products for some time, and always find them a joy to work with. Whilst it's certainly true that the market presence of their DSLR camera range is no match for that of Canon or Nikon, it would be wrong to assume that they cannot compete with these larger companies on quality.

The E3 was Olympus' flagship camera for a good while, until it was replaced by the newer E-5. But with the chief upgrades to the E5 being an increase in MP's (megapixels) and a video mode, the differences between the 2 models remain fairly small. Indeed, they share almost identical chassis (bodies) and, on first inspection, would be tricky to tell apart!

 

Specifications at a Glance

 

Sensor 11.8

Maximum Image Size

3648 x 2736
ISO Sensitivity 100 - 3200
Shutter Speed 60 - 1/8000
Flash Built in pop-up flash
LCD Screen Size 2.5" articulated/'swing-out'
Weight 800g (no batteries)
Dust Reduction Technology Supersonic wave filter
Movie Mode No

 

Build Quality

 

The build quality of the Olympus E3 is second to none. With its tough weather-sealed magesium alloy body and durable rubberized panels and coatings, it has served me well for 2 years of almost constant use!

It can take just about whatever you care to throw at it, making it ideal for the outdoor photographer. That said, it is more than suitable for studio work too. So build quality is definitely one of this camera's big strengths.

A very minor gripe would be that the cover of the LCD screen occassionally tends to open up. But that could just be my heavy-handedness!

 

Design and Ergonomics

 

At face value the E3 is a typical DSLR camera: nicely shaped rubberized grip, chunky strong appearance and obligatory pentaprism 'hump' - which houses the pop-up flash.

Around the back the scene is familiar to many a camera, with easy-access controls and well planned ergonomic design. But the swing/tilt 2.5" LCD screen is not a feature that all DSLR's can boast!

The ability to reposition the LCD screen and use it to compose a shot (thanks to orientation sensing which keeps the image upright, and a 100% field of view) opens up lots of cool angles that would otherwise be impossible.

olympus e3

When you first handle the Olympus E3, which at 860g (including battery) is weighty and well built, you begin to notice that something is a bit different - a bit unusual!

Then it becomes clear that there are no mode selection dials on the top plate of the camera. Now, this is something that draws very differing reactions and really splits opinion.

Some will raise an eyebrow and consider it a real flaw, For others it will ellicit a little grin. In my case, I grinned! Whilst it's a departure from the typical DSLR design, I really like the uncluttered result. Selecting a mode is incredibly simple. Just choose 'mode' in the menus and scroll through the options using the control wheel.

 

Image Quality

 

Image quality from this camera is superb. I've been impressed with it from the moment I started shooting. Although, I would say that the metering has a tendency to slightly underexpose in most conditions. But this is not hard to rectify if you bear it in mind, especially since no metering is perfect.

The Olympus E3 features an 'in-camera' image stabilization system, which contributes to consistently good quality images. Image stabilization works by compensating for slight movements - camera shake - when a photo is taken, to ensure a sharp image.

This is normally a benefit provided by certain lenses. But with the E3, the technology is contained within the camera itself, meaning you get the benefit of it even when not using stabilized lenses, or Olympus' legacy lenses from the OM series.

The biggest downside to this camera, in my opinion, is the Olympus 4/3 crop sensor, which produces a focal length multiplier of x2. So, this is the equivalent of using a 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens, where that lens effectively becomes 100mm. This is actually something that brings both pros and cons, and I haven't found it a big problem in most situations.

An additional point to note is that the 4/3 sensor of the Olympus E3 does tend to struggle a bit in low light. Though this only becomes noticeable when you push the ISO speed up above 800, at which point quite a lot of noise (grain) appears on images.

Nevertheless, I'm comfortable shooting at ISO 800 as an upper limit, safe in the knowledge that image quality will be good. Plus, the image stabilization technology in the E3 mitigates, to some extent, against the difficulties it has in low light by enabling slower shutter speeds.

 

Auto-Focus and FPS

 

The auto-focus of the E3 is well known for its incredible performance. At one point it could rightly claim to have the fastest auto-focus system of any DSLR on the market!

This record was, in fairness, only achieved when the camera was paired with the Olympus 12-60mm lens, set to 60mm. But the auto-focus is outstandingly fast and responsive in many conditions.

This makes the camera ideally suited to anyone who enjoys photographing fast moving subjects, such as sports games and wildlife.

The Olympus E3 is also capable of shooting 5fps (frames per second). This is pretty decent, although not quite up there with some of its competitors.

 

Dust Reduction Technology

 

(Irritating specks of dirt on the sensor just aren't a problem with the E3!)

The fantastic dust reduction technology is one of the most popular features of the Olympus E3, and indeed many cameras in the Evolt series.

Its rather sci-fi name is the 'supersonic wave drive system', which works by literally shaking the sensor each time the camera is turned on, to remove any dust particles.

I can honestly say that, in the 2 years I have had the camera, I have not required a single sensor clean!

 

Summary

 

olympus e3To summarize, the Olympus E-3 is one of the most reliable, robust and impressive cameras I have ever used. Many of its best features and innovations have since been imitated by other cameras, which is a real endorsement of its quality.

Whatever I'm shooting, I always feel confident that I can make the most of it, and produce some great photos with this fantastic piece of equipment.

 

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