The successor to the Olympus E-1 dSLR has been talked about for years. Since the E-1's launch in 2003, the Japanese company has concentrated mainly on entry- to mid-level dSLRs, though it has mentioned a replacement model for the E-1 from time to time. Finally, Olympus has announced the new E-3, a camera that brings together all the best features in its line of dSLRs. Here are some initial thoughts about the new camera.
Those familiar with the E-series from Olympus will know that the cameras are relatively light for its class, starting from a mere 435 grams for the E-500 to 660 grams for the E-1. The E-3 isn't particularly heavy, either, when compared to other dSLRs, but at 810 grams, it is certainly not as light as its predecessors. It will be competing in the same space as the Canon EOS 40D and Nikon D300, which at 740 grams and 825 grams respectively, are very similar to the E-3.
Getting a group photo with the photographer in it is possible with the built-in swivel screen.
Framing shots using the LCD display (live view) is a dSLR feature pioneered by Olympus that's also been incorporated into the E-3. Though not as big as some of the 3-inch camera displays in the market, the 2.5-inch LCD on the E-3 has a useful capability. Like some prosumer cameras, the LCD screen can be flipped out and swiveled to face different directions. These two features, live view and the flexible screen, make it possible to frame shots that would have been difficult to do with other dSLRs. For example, it is now possible to hold the camera above the head and still be able to frame a shot -- useful for capturing a photo through a crowd. Someone using the E-3 can also take a self portrait as the LCD can be swiveled to face the front, though we suspect most photographers will prefer to stay behind the lens.
Aside from the LCD, the viewfinder on the E-3 has also been improved. It now shows 100 percent of what the camera will capture. A magnification factor of 1.15 times further helps to enlarge the viewfinder image.
Notice the SWD mechanism which helps to make autofocusing fast using this 12-60mm lens.
Olympus claims that the E-3 has the fastest autofocus among dSLRs. While we cannot immediately verify this, we certainly did find the focusing extremely speedy compared to cameras we have used. A part of this is dependent on the SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive) feature found on some of its lenses. The innovation is in the motor on the lens, which we managed to catch in action thanks to a special demonstration set with a see-through case.
Other features of the E-3 include an image stabiliser built into the body, 11-point autofocus sensoring and dust reduction using its SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter) technology. The Olympus camera uses the Four Thirds system and lens mount.
Though targeted at professionals, Olympus faces a huge challenge in convincing long-time photographers to switch over to its cameras. After all, most of them are already used to a particular system (such as Nikon's or Canon's) and has invested heavily in the compatible lenses and accessories.
Notwithstanding, the E-3 has several few innovative features that will appeal to serious photographers. Those already using the Four Thirds system will certainly look forward to the culmination of Olympus' dSLR technologies in the E-3.
The Olympus E-3 is available now, priced at AU$2,499 for the body only, or AU$3,599 with the 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD Standard Wide Zoom kit lens. Check back soon for our full review.