Magazine Article


The Digital Imaging Scene

With "enlargement" print sizes, of course, infrastructural pandemonium breaks loose. Albums and frames abound for 5x7s and 8x10s, but both sizes mismatch 4:3 and 3:2 too, so they always need cropping or borders. We need a little work done on those print sizes.

The E-1's caught-up in the fray to the extent that its user relies on standard albums and frames. This would include most portrait, event, and wedding photographers. Those shooting for publication are possibly above the fray, since it's not they so much as an art director who determines the size, shape, and format of the final results. Magazine covers come in many different formats, probably more, even, than albums and frames do.

Our verdict? We agree with everyone. It's probably a quirk of our subject matter, that it fits most succinctly into the 4:3 format. More often than not, we crop pictures we've taken with 3:2 pictures down to 4:3 for the better fit. On the other hand, if the print needs to be straightened first—and when you take pictures on rocking boats it's sometimes tough to stay level—it's easier to straighten a 3:2 original and then crop out its 4:3 center.

Camera by Subscription

Olympus first put an E-1 in our hands last June, with an odd request: Please don't print any pictures (see The Digital Deal, PTN 8/03 issue). They were still tweaking the firmware, and weren't ready for the spotlight. And we were quite sympathetic. Firmware- and software-tweaking is an ongoing process, and often continues long after the product's released. That's how come we're no longer using DOS version 2.1 on our computers.

By the time we got our "release version" of the E-1 in December, Olympus was quite proud of its workings. We would confirm their assertion that the picture is sharp, clean, and probably as blow-uppable as that from some 6-megapixelish cameras. That's for pictures taken under normal conditions.

We sometimes take pictures under abnormal conditions, like before dawn, after dusk, and the gloom of night. There are boats on the water at all times of day, almost always in motion. Pictures like this require fast shutters. Exposures for the same conditions require fast maximum apertures, and high light-sensitivity for the imager. We cranked the E-1 up to 1600 speed. Then we hit 3200. The results were spectacular.

This wasn't the world's greatest photographic imaging—the pictures were noisy to be sure—but it was superb 3200 imaging. Best we've seen. The noise, though apparent, was not overwhelming. It could be modified in RAW camera files (the camera also shoots JPEGs and TIFFs) using Olympus software (John Knaur says its noise-reduction is superior to that obtained in Photoshop CS, which can directly read the Olympus .ORF raw format).

The E-1 shoots individual pictures, or bursts at about three per second. This would seem to cover all shooting modes, but it doesn't, quite. Sometimes some folks want to shoot individual frames rapidly, without using the "burst feature." The reasons are intangible—something to do with relating to the subject, synchronizing yourself to its rhythms—and this the E-1 won't do. About one frame per second is as fast as you can go by pressing the button manually. This is the only operational difference we found between the E-1 and the other "professional" cameras, and we'd welcome the upgrade.

And maybe, one of these days, we'll get it. For by midwinter, Olympus had announced firmware upgrades for the E-1. This is in keeping with another recent trend, shown for Nikon and Kodak Pro DSLRs, in which upgrades to the latest firmware can keep the camera "new." In the others, so far, this means returning the camera to the factory for revision. For the E-1, it means hooking the camera to you computer (USB or IEEE 1394), going to the Olympus website, and downloading the new firmware.

At the time we did it, a week before going to press, firmware upgrades were available for the E-1 body, the 14-54, and the 50-200. The dedicated flash, and the other Zuiko lenses, presumably could receive upgrades in the future.
The upgrades this time were modest enough—increasing the incremental steps between minimum and maximum in-camera sharpening, say—but were thought, after a few months on the market, to embellish operability. The lenses could similarly be treated to minor adjustments. Firmware upgrades are a way to ensure that "early" E-1s remain current E-1s.

Cameras upgraded by internet! What a futuristic idea this would have been at the dawn of the 21st century. But, except for the internet part, there's nothing new about it. Many robotic machines are programmable and reprogrammable to take on varied and diverse functions in, for example, manufacture. It looks like a grand family tradition—tools that are reprogrammed to make better cameras that are reprogrammed to make better pictures. Welcome to tomorrow.


Don Sutherland has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. His first article predicting the future of digital photography (1976) is becoming truer and truer. Don is a photo historian as well as futurist, and is author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly." Email Don at