The Expected Surprise
Olympus reps originally expected their troops to have misgivings about using the Live View monitor as a problem-solving resource or creative composition aid. It's true that when the Live View screen is opened out fully, hanging off the portside of the camera, you have to relearn some of your wrist movements to direct the pitch, roll, and yaw of the body. It's surprisingly easy to hold the camera at a crooked angle and not notice it. Fortunately, gridlines on the Live View screen can be switched on when required, helping to true-up the picture.
In fact, the company's concerns to the contrary notwithstanding, the flexible viewfinder of the E-3 proved to be one of the most-used features. Everybody loved it, because it adds tremendously to the range of conditions in which you can compose pictures.
The E-3's in-body Image Stabilization system, using an oscillating mount for the imager, is another feature that didn't exist at the time of the E-1. The first camera to offer it (the Minolta Maxxum D7) delivered about a 2-EV improvement in blur prevention. Olympus reps placed the improvement for the E3 at 5 EV, quite an impressive figure to hear. We didn't have a chance to formally time our camera, but would say that the IS improvement is considerable indeed.
Using the new 12-80mm f/2.8-4 Zuiko digital zoom lens, Olympus claims the autofocus system of the E-3 to be the fastest in the business. Again, we didn't have an opportunity to formally time it during the three days of planned exercises, but we would agree that focusing was blazing fast.
Probably more fearsome than any of the major features of a modern digicam is the access route to the relatively minor ones. What about manual white-balance, or cranking-down the output of the on-camera flash when you want the off-camera wireless flash to produce the key light, or adjusting the AE system to give a cleaner rendition of really bright subjects? These and dozens of other fine-tunings are present in nearly all modern cameras, but before you can use them, you must know a) that they're there in the first place, b) how to access them, and c) what to do with them now that you've got 'em.
These are the items cross-referenced in the back pages of the camera manual, possibly an 80-page tome on technical arcania. Do customers consider an 80-page manual a "good read"? The features are there, and they help perfect the pictures the camera takes. But if users don't find them, if they're intimidated to look, the features lie fallow regardless of their good intentions.
The E-3 provides three routes to these innermost sanctums-through dedicated buttons on the camera's left shoulder (and the E-1 didn't even have a left shoulder), through the formal multipage menu on the monitor, and by an "info" screen that stays on all the time (unless you purposely shut it off) to serve as a guide to all current settings of the camera's many controls. The info screen provides immediate access to each of them by pressing a button and scrolling around.
The Olympus boot camp was presumably about learning to use the big, flashy new features of a professional-level digicam-the swiveling Live View, the rapid autofocus, the highly efficient image stabilization-but that was already a fait d'accompli. Everyone took to them like ducks to water. The most advanced features of the E-3 were embraced almost intuitively by everyone in attendance, because of the obvious contributions they make.
Olympus created a "contest" among the recruits, to come up with the best pictures using three of the camera's principal feature sets-its fast focus and 5-fps motordrive to seize the "decisive moment," its pivoting Live View screen to get exotic angles or to overcome logistical problems, and its IS for shooting steady low-light shots at slow shutters, handheld. The result was a varied, diverse, and frequently amusing set of pictures by a cross-section of photographers. You can find them online at http://picasaweb.google.com/sallysmithclemens/OlympusE3WorkshopInPuertoRico?authkey=DfSXXuoW-p8.
The irony of the Olympus boot camp is that as a workshop, it was intended to elevate the comfort zone your favorite photography gurus have toward unique Olympus features. But it was the inner features, the ones in the menus that arrived in photography via digital tech, the ones whose counterparts exist in many modern cameras. They go unused, and a portion of the camera's value lost, because finding your way to them and figuring out their use takes a moment's thought.
The E-3 simplifies that process, and in a sense opens up digital cameras industry-wide. Olympus ran the E-3 boot camp for reasons of its own. But among the results was a greater appreciation for the refinements that permit tuning and tweaking. This is an initiative the entire industry should be undertaking, to clarify for the market just how much value-and unprecedented control-a modern digicam provides each customer.