Magazine Article


Olympus E-300: What Tussle?
The Digital Imaging Scene

bow of warship
Bow of the warship was almost directly overhead, as shown practically distortion-free by the exceptional 7-14mm lens on the E-300.
Olyympus E-300
Olympus E-300
view of warship
Crisp, vivid colors and very clean whites are typical of the E-300. “Dropping foreground” of 7-14mm zoom emphasizes the vessels. Note absence of “fisheye” curvature.

Digital SLRs have been our fascination for most of the past two years, because they're bellwethers of digicam potential, and because their direction in the marketplace has been obvious, earthshaking, and inevitable. What also was inevitable was the traditional rivalry between those jovial giants of the 35mm SLR game, Canon and Nikon. Leapfrogging each other for years, sometimes with innovations that paralleled each other and sometimes on opposite tacks, their competition was as much a focus of attention as their products were. It reminded us of one of the things the world's greatest promoter said.

The world's greatest promoter, as we've mentioned before, was Jack Gilbert, whose ad agency in the mid-1960s did much to put the original Nikon F in the first rank of perception among American SLR buyers. It was he—at least I think it was he—who once asked:

"Do you remember being a kid in the schoolyard?"

"Yes," we replied.

"And what always got your closest attention?"

"At what age?" we inquired, having inhabited schoolyards at different times when, for example, girls were invisible and when they were all we could see.

"At any age," he replied.

Faster than you could say "G-g-g-g-g-," he continued. "I'll tell you what got your closest attention. A tussle!"
A tussle?

"Right. There'd be a big commotion at one side of the schoolyard, and somebody would yell ‘Fight!' and everyone would run over and stand there, staring while Chip and Biff duked it out."

In our case, it was Benny and Floyd.

And we had to agree that we mightn't have known the names of the two combatants previously, but we'd remember them evermore for their moment of notoriety, and always in tandem. Benny and Floyd. As inseparable as Tom and Jerry. Jekyll and Hyde. Peas and Carrots. B and H. The Coen Brothers. Canon and Nikon.

If either comes up in one breath, the other's not many breaths away. A tussle isn't the only way to get a reputation, but it's a good one.

Leapscotch and Hopfrog
At any given point in their competition, it could be hard to remember who's ahead now? Let's see, wasn't it Nikon that came out first with a high-speed DSLR, the D1H, but Canon came out with something faster, then Nikon came out with the D2H, but Canon came out with something with twice the pixels, then Nikon came out with a 12-megapixel model, but Canon came out with a 16? Anyhow, it was something like that.

If the schoolyard tussle got really good, both kids would fall down and start rolling around, fisticuffs—which could hurt somebody—yielding to something more like wrestling. They still probably coulda clobbered each other, but that would have ended the tussle. And then who'd they be? They'd roll around a while, and Benny would be on top, and they'd roll around some more, and Floyd would be on top. Oh, it was exciting to watch.

As for Canon, the debut of the Digital Rebel changed their relationship with Nikon. Up till then, a general trend was Nikon with the firstest, Canon with the mostest. With the D-Rebel, it was Canon with the firstest and mostest for the budget-minded buyer seeking a top-quality performer.

It took Nikon awhile to come up with the D50, and when they did, they were following Pentax and Olympus, who had already followed Canon into the sub-$1k market. Canon outflanked them all with two digital Rebels, the original having six megapixels like the D50 but priced a hundred bucks less, and the new XT having eight megapixels and priced a hundred bucks more.

There's much more to the comparisons between the Canon and Nikon "economy" models, but those are the headlines.

Underneath The Boardwalk
While Jack was correct that the tussle pre-empted everything, its authority did change with the years. With the advent of G-g-g-g-g, there were distractions. So spectators at the tussle might eventually say thanks fellas, lemme know how it works out, hi, what's your sign, do you come here often?

In the past, SLR manufacturers attracted and maintained customer loyalty with their accessory systems, especially lenses. Still, it was always nice knowing that if you ever needed a shift lens, or a fisheye, or a macro, you could find it in your manufacturer's line. The SLR was sold, in large part, on a promise of a better tomorrow with a system of thirty or forty lenses you could grow into. That promise doesn't apply in quite the same way in the digital SLR market of today.

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