Olympus E-3 DSLR

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Don't worry, be happy now.

The Long Version: The E-3 is now a year old. When it first shipped in late November 2007, it was enthusiastically greeted by people who were waiting a long time for it, and not so enthusiastically received by everyone else. Looking back at the reviews that were written the camera seems to have been criticized for not being a Canon 40D, a Nikon D300, or even an Olympus E-1. Now, one year later, I'm already reading some grumbling about Olympus lacking A Next Big Thing to respond to the "ooh, Shiny" Canon and Nikon product launches. After all, Full Frame Cameras are now almost a mere $3000 each, and fifteen megapixels and a clean iso3200 are needed for any print larger than a business card.

I hate camera review sites.

Okay, I hate overly technical camera review sites.

The point behind comparisons is to find differences between similar items, and it's a part of human nature that the less significant the difference is the more weight people give to it. (This has been shown in scientific studies, but DPreview.com provides ample evidence.) I constantly see people paralyzed by meaningless technical specificity that means absolutely nothing. There's actually no real difference between 10 and 12 megapixels. One-third of a stop of dynamic range is imperceptible. And the Auto White Balance for every camera sucks in mixed or artificial light.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would debate whether Ferrari or Lamborghini was better. We were twelve. None of us could drive. Really, what was the point? And most camera reviews are no more meaningful. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on the E-3, based on nothing more than common sense, fifteen thousand exposures, and broad but shallow experience with almost every SLR on the market.

Image Quality:

I'll happily put the resolution and dynamic range of the E-3 up against any sub-$2K camera that's been run through a heavy rain shower. It's something that the E-3's designed to do, so why not compete on its own terms? Sure, the 40D shoots an extra frame per second, and the D300... well, it's the D300. But neither camera is as tough as the E-3, and neither are the lenses from any other maker. Weatherproofing and toughness are the reason why I bought the E-1 all those years ago, and it's still one of the best features of the E-3. It's a trait of all of the best cameras, which doesn't include anything else in the E-3's price bracket except for the Pentax SLRs. Considering the investment in bodies and lenses that (some) photographers make, buying an unsealed camera and lenses is very much like getting a car that can't drive in bad weather.

Design and Ergonomics:

The E-3 has two control wheels, and both can be configured to control different variables and do it differently in different modes. I have mine set to always control aperture or shutter speed with the rear dial and exposure compensation with the front. Auto-ISO and Auto-WB takes care of those settings, effective in-body image stabilization removes the need to think about shutter speed, and raw capture takes care of the rest of the settings. I'm not really concerned with where the rest of all the little buttons are. A faster way to change the focus points would be nice, but that's about it. I like the prominently placed Chimp button, and find the flip-out screen to be an amazing feature for shooting from the LCD. Beyond anything else, this is what other photographers notice. The E-3 is a well-designed and utterly reliable tool that is tougher than almost any other on the market and takes just as good photos.

And finally...

I could easily write a long an involved article about the E-3, but the essence is this: find the camera closest to you, make sure it has a fresh battery and an empty card, and go take some photos. When you get back to your base, pick a few of your favourites and print them. If the camera you used is an E-3, you'll probably really like your photos. If your camera isn't an E-3, you'll probably really like your photos.

Be creative and have fun.

Updated August 2009: I'm now using the E-3 alongside the Nikon D700. Don't forget to click on the other tags to read more, like the reviews of the Olympus 35-100 and 7-14, Nikon 50/1.8 and 85mm tilt-shift lenses, and others. Click on photography, cameras, lens, Olympus, or Nikon. Of course, as your best source for diverse and varied reviews of dubious consistency, there's a lot more here than photography gear.


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