The Olympus E-3; A Pro-Caliber 10Mp D-SLR Page 3

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The white balance presets often produced very good results except under artificial lighting. Activating the new external white balance sensor provided greater accuracy in such conditions, but the Custom and Kelvin white balance features were still required for perfect results. The "gradation control" options should be useful for providing greater highlight and shadow detail under contrasty conditions, but they did not provide a significant improvement. Even so, I would recommend leaving the camera set to the Auto Gradation mode, for a slightly wider dynamic range.

Low ISO image quality is superlative. My best ISO 100 to 400 JPEGs are clean, silky smooth, and finely detailed. Resolution is outstanding, color saturation, contrast, and sharpness are quite high for a very pleasing overall effect. In all of these aspects the E-3 is even better than the EVOLT E-510. I was able to make gallery-quality 13x17" inkjet prints at 240dpi after slight optimization and re-sizing in Photoshop CS3. The ISO 100 and 200 images would stand up to much greater enlargement.

I did not hesitate to use ISO 1600 when necessary for fast shutter speeds. At this sensitivity level, the images are more "grainy" but the pattern is fine and tight; prints as large as 8x10" are highly satisfactory. (Image made with the SWD 50-200mm zoom, at 1/100 sec.)

At ISO 800 digital noise is certainly apparent but it's not objectionable; resolution of intricate detail is well maintained. By ISO 1600 and especially at ISO 3200, the noise pattern is obvious but the specks are not colorful so the effect resembles film grain. Because the noise pattern obliterates intricate detail at ISO 3200, that level is really for use when there's no other way to get a steady photo in dark conditions. Setting a higher level for the Noise Filter does produce smoother images but smudges fine details causing a loss of resolution.

When using the standard level for the in camera Noise Filter, images made at ISO 800 are quite smooth and finely detailed, better than average in overall quality. A higher and lower noise reduction level can be selected, but Standard produced the best results at ISO levels above 400. (Image made in Vivid Picture Style mode at ISO 800 with the SWD 12-60mm zoom.)

The JPEG algorithms are really excellent so there's really no need to shoot in the Raw mode in terms of image quality; the difference is barely noticeable even in 11x15" prints. Of course, a raw capture does provide other benefits: greater color depth (if desired) and the ability to make major technical modifications with a nondestructive process in the raw converter software. The Olympus Master 2 program is family-oriented, providing only basic raw adjustment tools. It's worth paying extra for the multipurpose Olympus Studio 2 program which provides many pro-caliber utilities; it also allows for remote control of the E-3 from a tethered computer.

The Bottom Line

Higher resolution or a faster framing rate might attract a wider range of professionals, at least those who do not already own a full system of another brand. On the other hand, not everyone needs to shoot more than 25 frames in 5 seconds and the 10-megapixel resolution is adequate for many purposes. Because of its great reliability, comprehensive feature set, and great image quality, the Olympus model should certainly appeal to the most advanced photo enthusiast. More importantly perhaps, the price is right! In fact, in the professional category, this one deserves my "Best Value" award. It's not only the most affordable but offers excellent return on the investment, making Olympus competitive in the high-end category.

I did not hesitate to use ISO 1600 when necessary for fast shutter speeds. At this sensitivity level, the images are more "grainy" but the pattern is fine and tight; prints as large as 8x10" are highly satisfactory. (Image made with the SWD 50-200mm zoom, at 1/100 sec.)

The Olympus Master 2 program includes a browser as well as some tools for JPEG or raw image adjustment. It's fine for occasional family use but serious photographers will want the optional Studio 2 software or Photoshop Elements 6 or CS3, especially for raw file enhancement.

Technical Specifications
Sensor: 17.3x13mm Live MOS; 10.1 megapixels (3648x2736) effective; 4:3 aspect ratio
Lens Mount: Four Thirds; 2x focal length magnification factor
Shutter: Electronic; speeds from 60 seconds to 1/8000 sec selectable; also, Bulb
Capture Formats: Numerous JPEG options, raw (12-bit), raw + JPEG
ISO Equivalent: ISO 100 to ISO 3200 and Auto
Exposure Control: Center-weighted, 49-zone Digital ESP, spot (1 percent), highlight and shadow based spot metering; exposure compensation, bracketing, and AE Lock
Operating Modes: Aperture and Shutter Priority AE, metered Manual, Underwater Program, shiftable Program
Image Stabilizer: In camera mechanical sensor shift system, with two modes; compatible with all Four Thirds lenses
Color Space: Adobe RGB or sRGB
Storage: CompactFlash or Microdrive and xD-Picture Card slots; UDMA card compliant
Connectivity: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and video output
Power: Rechargeable BLM-1 lithium ion battery; optional AC adapter and vertical battery grip
Dimensions/Weight: 5.6x4.6x2.9"; 1.79 lbs
Average Street Price:
$1699, body only

For additional information on the E-System cameras, lenses, flash units, and other accessories, visit the Olympus website at: www.olympus-esystem.com.

You may also contact Olympus at 3500 Corporate Parkway, Center Valley, PA 18034; (888) 553-4448.

A long-time "Shutterbug" contributor, stock photographer Peter K. Burian (www.peterkburian.com) is the author of "Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging" (Sybex) and several "Magic Lantern Guides" to SLR cameras. He is also the co-author (with Tim Grey) of "Photoshop Elements 5 Workflow" (Sybex) and teaches two online digital photography courses at BetterPhoto.com.

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