Magazine Article


Olympus E-3
A combination of features not found elsewhere

The 1897 ship Catawissa on her way through the ice to the scrapper's. The seas were bumpy and bitter-cold--makes you glad the E-3 is ruggedized and sealed against the elements.
Don Sutherland

Nothing makes a leggy model look leggier than a low angle. The floor is as low as a camera can go, the E-3's pivoting Live View monitor making it easy to frame.
Don Sutherland

Photo for the ship's owner has tonal values all over, all reproduced nicely by the E-3, with excellent highlight and shadow detail.
Don Sutherland

Camera companies frequently position their products toward specialized groups of photographers-"ours is the best for wedding-and-event," "choose us for sports," "we're the photojournalist's fave"-as if photographers want radically different things from a camera. And sure, there could be nuances-a wedding photographer may be more likely to hook his camera to a PictBridge printer than a shooter for the Associated Press would be. But the trend in DSLRs has pursued malleability and adaptability, aiming to push back the limitations for field photographers of all stripes. Of the most recent models, few do it better than Olympus in their 10.1-megapixel E-3.

The camera provides a combination of features found in no other-they add plenty to cope with the challenges of the real world. Lighting may be very low or contrasty, events may occur without warning, right in front of the camera or far away, people or things may wander between camera and subject, blocking the view. Often, it all happens in bad weather. The E-3 has a snappy comeback for all these exasperations.

For example, it has a sealed construction, starting with a magnesium-alloy shell that completely surrounds the inner workings (some cameras at the same price have large cutouts in the shell). Then, gaskets and seals protect the seams at the doors for battery and memory card, the buttons, and dials. A heavy rainstorm could fry an unsealed camera, and so could a spilled glass of champagne.

No one can ask the real world to stop if something goes wrong with the camera. One that's built for endurance provides the best completion bond, and the E-3 delivers with a shutter rated for 150,000 exposures (at a speed range from 60-1/8000-sec.). Street price for an E-3 body is currently around $1,500.


The E-3 is the only DSLR, at any price, to combine a sealed, ruggedized construction with three of the latest, decidedly useful DSLR features: internal dust-reduction, an in-camera image-stabilization system, and a swiveling live-view LCD monitor. All DSLR manufacturers now offer products with one or two of these, but the E-3 alone comes loaded.

The live-view LCD permits framing and following the subject using the camera monitor, which, until a couple of years ago, served in DSLRs only for the menu. Live-view systems are now offered in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony models to supplement the optical SLR viewfinder, but the E-3 is the only sealed DSLR whose monitor can be turned to almost any position.

Want to place the camera on the floor, and frame-up from above? Or hold the camera overhead, and frame-up from below? Or place the camera in the middle of the table, and frame-up from wherever you can? An enlarged, 2.5-inch live video screen that twists to almost any position (you can even frame-up the scene behind your back) seriously expands your options when photographing the real world.

Image stabilization, or anti-shake as it's becoming known, is seriously useful wherever slow shutters congregate. It can't prevent fast-moving subjects from blurring at 1/20-sec., but it can do wonders for the tremor of your own hand. From that standpoint, anti-shake systems could make your 1/20 shutter equate with something in the range of 1/801/320. Olympus claims a 5-EV maximum improvement with their in-camera anti-shake system. I didn't measure precisely, but I would agree the E-3 does an impressive job at compensating for camera shake.

Being built-in, the system counteracts shake with any lens you can put on the camera. Introduced with the E-3 was a Zuiko 12-60mm, f/2.8-4 lens, whose angle-of-view approximates that of a 24-120mm on a 35mm camera (the E-3's frame measures 3648x2736 pixels, a 4:3 format in contrast to the 3:2 of 35mm). This is a very effective working range for a "standard" lens. The camera can shoot 5 fps for around 16 frames in RAW mode, a lot more in JPEG, depending on the speed of the memory card. The memory cards in the dual slots (XD and CompactFlash) can be used individually or together.

Like all DSLRs for modern pros, no matter how they're defined, the E-3 has a vast menu of features, controls, and adjustments that tweak its interpretation and rendition of exposure, color, and dynamic range. Its pop-up flash can be combined with a wireless strobe unit, handheld if you like, bringing a degree of lighting control to the real world. In most regards the E-3 would be considered state-of-the-art among DSLRs, but in a few regards it goes rewardingly further. Oh, and by the way-it is PictBridge-compatible.

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Don Sutherland ( has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. He is a photo historian as well as a futurist, and is the author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly."