Olympus' new E-system DSLR flagship
See our expanded E-3 coverage on our sibling site, Four Thirds User.
In what was probably the worst kept industry secret of the year, Olympus even gave a month's advance warning of the launch date, Olympus has finally revealed the details of its long-awaited flagship DSLR; the E-3. Not only is this Olympus top camera model, it is the top Four Thirds system platform model. A professional-specification design, with 5 frames per second shooting, 10MP Live MOS sensor, an interesting new autofocus system, sensor shift image stabilisation, and magnesium alloy weather sealed body, at £1099 for the body only, the E-3 is competing against Nikon's D200 and D300 models, the new Sony Alpha A700 and the new Canon EOS-40D.
The E-3 is the second DSLR, following the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, to feature a swing-out and tilt LCD monitor for Live View operation. Meanwhile, conscious of the fact that, to date, its DSLRs have been criticised for small-view, low magnification, viewfinders, Olympus has completely redesigned its pentaprism and focus screen arrangement, incorporating a new tilted prism and finder optics to deliver a significantly larger viewfinder view than before.
Of technical interest is Olympus' claims concerning the e-3's brand new AF system. Until now, Olympus DSLRs have only offered three centrally located AF points. The E-3 now offers 11 AF points, all of which are the more sensitive cross-types, thanks to a new CMOS AF sensor. Mated to this is a new range of lenses with sonic AF motors using the same Supersonic Wave technology Olympus developed for its Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWD) sensor dust-busting system. Called SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive), Olympus claims it is the fastest DSLR AF system in the industry, though currently only selected high-specification lens models will be blessed with SWD. The moving sensor integrated Image Stabilisation system is also actuated using a Supersonic Wave Drive system.
The new Olympus E-3 fitted with optional battery grip and 12-60mm (24-120 equivalent) Digital Zuiko zoom, showing the articulating Live View LCD.
The new E-3 faces some tough challenges from both inside the Olympus/Four Thirds community and from potential buyers new to the E-System. Nikon and Sony, in particular, are introducing new DSLR models that are crammed with innovations that the E-3 doesn't offer. The Nikon D300 has over 50 AF points and 6.5fps shooting, plus a three inch, though fixed, Live View screen. Sony's Alpha A700 sports an ISO range that can be cranked up to 25600 ISO, compared to the E-3's modest 3200 ISO. The A700 is also cheaper and has a 12MP sensor. Canon's less spectacularly specified EOS-40D is also a challenge for the E-3, being cheaper and faster.
The Olympus E-3 has a comprehensively splash and dust-proofed magnesium alloy body and a good range of matching sealed lenses.
From the Olympus fans' perspective, the E-3 is - arguably - years overdue. The E-3's image quality, now taken care of by a new TruePic III processing engine, will be closely compared with the original E-System darling, the E-1. The E-1 produced lower than average resolution and relatively noisy images, but its users speak in glowing terms of film-like quality and an impressive image tonality that remains unique, even compared to later E-System cameras. The E-3 is also not as compact and lightweight as its contemporary siblings, the E-410 and E510, as well as the original E-1.
But the E-3 itself is not the only news from Olympus. SWD versions of 12-60 (24-120), 50-200 (100-400) and 14-35 (28-70) are already in the pipeline, as is a completely revised flash system, incorporating wireless slave control for the first time, and Olympus can rightly boast a very highly respected Digital Zuiko lens line-up, now over 20-strong.
See the detailed E-3 coverage on our other site, Four Thirds User:
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