Olympus E-3: First Thoughts

by Reads (216)

Nikon and Canon have dominated the professional DSLR market since the beginning of the digital revolution, effectively condemning Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, Leica, and Sony DSLRs to second tier status. That’s too bad because there are some really exciting and very pro-capable digital SLRs on that second tier, including the new Olympus E-3.

Olympus E-3


It’s a popular fallacy that professional photographers (and serious amateur shooters) need system cameras. The standard argument goes that second tier manufacturers like Olympus, Panasonic, Sigma, Leica, and Pentax can’t produce cameras that are tough enough to stand up to the rigors of pro use. Other common complaints are that second tier camera manufacturers don’t offer a wide enough selection of high quality lenses to cover the needs of professionals, that their professional product development is appreciably slower and less comprehensive than the majors, and that their pro support networks, when compared to Canon and Nikon, are much less effective. 

Those arguments just don’t hold water – realistically, most pro photographers don’t need system cameras. Only a small percentage of pro photographers shoot professional sports, international auto racing, or travel (Art Wolfe like) to the far corners of the globe to photograph exotic wildlife or unique locales. Iconic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, and legions of Life/Look/Magnum photojournalists made their reputations with simple 35mm rangefinder cameras and a single (prime) lens.

The Olympus E-3 (an update of the venerable E-1) is a pro level 4/3 format Digital SLR featuring 10.1 megapixel resolution, a 2.5-inch tilt/swivel LCD with full-time Live View, mechanical image stabilization, dual memory card slots, a 1/8000th of a second top shutter speed, and a top flash sync of 1/250th of second. The magnesium-alloy bodied E-3 is built like a tank with a pro level dust reduction system and efficient dust/weather seals. Ergonomically, everything is exactly where it should be and it all works logically – the E-3 was clearly designed by photographers for photographers. The E-3 also features (according to Olympus) the world’s fastest auto focus. I can’t argue with that claim: the E-3’s AF is the fastest (with the Zuiko 12-60mm zoom) of any DSLR that I’ve used to date.

Olympus E-3
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The E-3 absolutely shines in the image quality department – resolution/sharpness and color rendition (again, with the Zuiko 12-60mm zoom) are equal to or better than any DSLR I’ve used to date, plus noise is very well managed.

Olympus E-3
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Olympus is offering three new zooms (all with fast maximum apertures and SupersonicWaveDrive motors) designed especially for the E-3 – the Zuiko ED 12-60mm F2.8/4.0 SWD ESP, the Zuiko ED 14-35mm F2.0 SWD ESP, the Zuiko ED 50-200mm F2.8/3.5 SWD ESP, plus an ultra-compact Zuiko Digital 2X teleconverter and the new wireless FL50R flash unit.

Olympus‘ new flagship DSLR is up against some very stiff competition, but after almost a month of using the E-3 heavily in a wide range of lighting situations and for a broad variety of imaging chores, I can say without hesitation that this DSLR is worthy of very serious consideration by any serious shooter looking to buy a semi-pro or pro level DSLR. We’ll have a full review of the E-3 (and a separate review of the Zuiko 12-60mm zoom) available soon.

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