Howl or Growl Review of the Digital Olympus E-1

Intro Compare Images Battery A Few Days Manual and Modes Focusing Dust Features Flash Final

In Loving Memory

"In Loving Memory" A deadly roadside reminder. Olympus E-1 at ISO 100 at 1/200th at F4 with Digital ESP  Metering (14-54 MM Zuiko Digital Zoom)

Introduction

Rating: One Howl and Three Growls

Purchasing a 5 Megapixel Pro Camera system takes guts when there are 35 mm 14 Megabyte camera systems available. This is a system that you purchase when both eyes pointed toward the future with confidence that as you build a system more lenses will be available and newer bodies will sport more megapixels. Your bet may already be paying off with the recent introduction of the 8 megapixel Olympus Evolt E 300. This system is built from scratch for digital capture of images using a new concept called the 4/3rds system and uses a CCD sensor.  The 4/3rds system was created with a joint venture between Olympus and Kodak.

The 4/3rds system means smaller lenses and a lighter camera body (1.6 pounds). The lenses are designed to cover a CCD sensor 17.3 x 13 mm creating a magnification factor of approximately two. Hence, when you are shooting with a 14-55mm lens your effective focal length is 28 to 110 mm. Not to shabby. Olympus also claims a dust/drip sealing system using a supersonic wave filter to fight the dreaded dust problem inherent to a CCD sensor. However; there are still cleaning instructions in the manual!

Kodak Professional DCS 14N

During this test, I also shot some direct comparison shots which included the Olympus E1 up against the Kodak DCS 14n, the Nikon D70, Contax ND, a Contax G2 and a Contax 645. The latter two systems being a top end 35 MM. rangefinder and the other a top end medium format 6x4.5cm system loaded with Astria 100F slide film!

Comparison Images

Comparison Photographs Click for Comparison Shots! Click for Comparison Shots! Click for Comparison Shots! Click for Comparison Shots!

Olympus E-1 at ISO 100 Severe Crop versus Kodak DCS 14n at ISO 80 versus Nikon D70 Widgeon at ISO 200 ... the lowest ISO setting on the D70 (Above)

Note how the Olympus Image being an original 5 megapixel image looses alot of detail compared with the 14 megapixel Kodak or the 6 megapixel Nikon.

Olympus E-1 at ISO 3200 versus Kodak DCS 14n at ISO 400 (Highest ISO in 14 Megapixel Mode) versus Nikon D70 Widgeon at ISO 1600 (Highest ISO Setting) (Above)

ISO 3200 reveals so much noise the Olympus Image is barely useful. ISO 1600 was not much better.

Battery

The Olympus E-1 uses and Olympus Lithium Ion battery BLM-1. The battery comes out of the E-1 and slips into a charger that has a light that is either green (Charged), red (Charging) or blinking red. Blinking red indicates a malfunction. Shooting 160 shots required no additional charging of the battery. I found no chart in the manual indicating how many shots could be taken, but my guess would be in excess of 500. All the shots taken were either in Raw mode or in Super JPG mode.  You can also use an A/C adapter which allows you to shoot without having any battery worries ... but then you are tethered to an outlet.

A Few Days of Shooting

The unit leased included the Zuiko 14-54mm Digital Zoom. The "rig" was obviously very well made and professional in appearance.  The lens was beautiful and of very high quality. Unlike some cameras that rely heavily on the menu system, the Olympus E-1 uses buttons and toggle switches to relay alot of information to the camera. The hardest thing for me to figure out without using the manual was how to switch file sizes and types.

The viewfinder is bright and clear, but on the smaller size but does show nearly 100% field of view for the recorded image. One aggravating point for me was the shutter speed selector dial located just behind the shutter release button. Most cameras typically have the shutter select dial IN FRONT of the shutter release dial. Alot of cameras also have the f-stop selection dial on the back of the camera. Even after taking over 100 exposures I still had a tendency to hunt for the shutter selection dial.  Sure, you'll get use to this if you only shoot with the Olympus, but if you use several cameras this might just take to be fitted for a white coat. Minor, but aggravating in that if you are resting your trigger finger on the front right of the camera (in front of the shutter release), you have to come back and pass over the shutter release to find the speed dial.

The camera takes compact flash cards or a micro drive. Compact flash cards are great - very rugged and inexpensive. Exposures were very accurate using the Digital ESP Metering unless the scene included some foreground and some sky. These type of images are much better served with the center weighted or spot meter. And unlike the Contax ND, shooting in Raw mode still allowed on camera previews of the images!  Switching to a higher ISO was a piece of cake up to 800 ISO. To get to the 1600 and 3200 ISO settings you had to use the menu system and use a special BOOST ISO feature.

The 3 frames per second processor allowed up to 12 images to be taken before there was a lag. A top end shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second along with the 2x focal factor for easy telephoto shots makes this a good candidate for sports photography but the flash sync is limited to 1/180th of a second.

The days I had the camera were dark, rainy and gray. Perfect for capturing available light photographs!

The toughest time I had without initially consulting the manual was to figure out the nomenclature for the save (capture) file modes. Finally, I found the magic button ... the RECORD MODE button on the top of the camera. I still had to consult the manual to figure out the difference between SHQ, HQ and SQ.

Capturing images occurs in one of five modes:

Simply hit the top RECORD MODE button in conjunction with either the main command dial or the sub command dial to select the capture image mode.

If you select the SQ mode you need to use the menu system to indicate what size JPG file to create.


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"Plants on Table" Olympus E-1 at ISO 100 at 1/10th F5.6 set at 23mm (ZUIKO 14-54 MM Digital Zoom)

The back view of the camera shows:(Starting at bottom left ... Counterclockwise)

The Top of the Camera Shows:

(Starting at front, bottom left with the camera facing you! Counterclockwise)

Side View

(Starting at bottom left ... Counterclockwise ... no photograph)

Bottom View (No Photograph)

Viewfinder! (from left to right, no photograph)

And finally ... AUTO FOCUS GRID AND FRAME

Manual and Modes

The 182 page manual was great. The size is just the right compromise between the Nikon D70 hard to read manual and the Kodak Pro DCS 14N manual that is thorough but to big for the camera bag. This one is big, easy to read and still fits in your bag!  The manual also comes on the software CD-ROM.  This is absolutely expected for a pro camera. The index is complete and it's easy to find your relevant topics.

When you first get the camera, be sure to tell the camera what the current date is and to auto number your images.

Exposure Modes

The Olympus E-1 has four Exposure Modes

Use the top dial to specify your mode and type of shooting. My favorite mode is Manual or Aperture priority for general shooting.

There are NO select scene modes on the camera.

Focusing

There are three focus modes for the Olympus E-1. Use the focus mode lever on the side opposite the shutter release button (near the bottom) to select a mode.

An Auto Focus illuminator will help with the focus if this option is turned on in the menu system.

There are three focus frames in the viewfinder (left, center and right). The camera automatically selects the best one unless you specify the focus frame with the sub dial when the "focus selection button) is depressed.

Overall the auto focus worked with very few problems.

Metering

Metering is TTL and user selectable in one of three modes. Hold the metering button and rotate either the main or the sub command dial to select the metering mode:

Metering System: TTL - full aperture metering system

Dust Problem

The Olympus E-1 has a full frame CCD sensor that has Supersonic Wave Filter to help keep the sensor clean. Remember, this full frame CCD sensor is for the 4/3 system and does not equate to a full frame 35mm sensor which allows for the actual focal length of 35mm lenses to have a one to one correspondence in focal length. Don't expect to be able to take an 11mm wide angle shot! The sensor on the system that I leased was as clean as could be so perhaps the Supersonic Wave Filter really does its' job ... but the manual still shows a cleaning procedure.

Dust Problem on CCCD!

"Mourning Dove on Wire"

Olympus E-1 check for Dust on CCD taken at ISO 100 at 5.0 at 1/400th of a second at 54MM.

Note that there is no apparent dust problem with the CCD! (Above)

Features

Now, with digital photography, there are two distinct personalities to a camera: the shooting process and the computer processing process. The shooting process, in its simplest form, is the combination of shutter speed, f-stop (aperture) and film sensitivity. Variables such as type of light (daylight vs. tungsten) used to be taken care of with film type or with a filter. Now this is taken care of with the white balance setting on the camera. Sensitivity to light with a film-based camera was taken care of with the type of film using a different sensitivity rating (ISO/ASA). On the Olympus E-1 this ISO ISO is set using the top button in conjunction with the dial to go from ISO 100 to 800. You use the menu system to "BOOST" the ISO to 1600 or 3200. Other menu settings include contrast, saturation, hue, sharpening, noise reduction and image quality.

White Balance

There are three options for setting the white balance with the Olympus E-1:

Remember, the lower the color temperature, the more red while the higher the temperature the more blue. 5,300 is considered "daylight"

Olympus E1 Specifications

Product Type

Image Pickup Type

Viewfinder:

Monitor

Shutter

AutoFocus

Exposure Metering

White Balance

Recording

Playback

Drive

Flash

External Connector

Dust/Drip Proof System

Power Supply

Dimensions, Weight and Operating Environment

Custom Functions:

There are 46 custom functions. 26 of these can be "registered". You can have up to four "registered" list of custom functions for how you want the camere to behave under different circumstances.

An "R" denotes if the function can be "registered".

The following functions are available via buttons and dials)

This is typical of the type of information displayed in the information section of a JPG EXIF information:

Compared with the basic information from a RAW ORF file:

Raw Hardware Information

Raw Shooting Information

Raw Image Information

One disappointment in both the raw mode and the JPG EXIF information was that the distance the subject was photographed from is not displayed.

Flash

The Olympus E-1 has no built in flash but is fully compatible with the FL-50 flash. Limited functionality is available with FL-40 and the FL-20 Flash.

Effective Guide Numbers at ISO 100

These can be either mounted via a flash shoe or off camera with a flash bracket cable.

The flash modes include:

The user can modify the flash output by using the flash mode button in conjunction with the sub-command dial from -3EV to 1 EV in 1/3rd, 1/2 or 1 stop increments. This information is displayed on the top LCD and the viewfinder.

Software

As mentioned earlier, the camera manual comes on the main cd. Going through the installation process you have these options:

On my notebook running Windows XP (SP2) the Olympus Viewer always came up with an error message. The program allows for viewing and image manipulation of your images, but I have no idea how effective the software is since it did not install properly! Probably, going to the Olympus support site would resolve the problem. The Studio Trial version worked and is available as a full version for another $150.00. The trial version "works" for 30 days. The program was complete and robust, although simply opening RAW files and saving them seemed a painful task.

Final Comments

The Olympus E-1 is a finely made camera but had a few irritations:

As stated earlier, purchase this camera as an expensive "starter" camera for your system or check out the new Olympus Evolt 300. You are pruchasing the concept of the 4/3rds system as much as the camera and hoping that Olympus will continue the line and have more professional end cameras to offer.

Any user of the Olympus E-1 should realize that as with ANY digital camera, the original file recorded to the Compact Flash media will usually need to be tweaked to make a presentable image. Most film processing services only take the image and print it as straight shot without any tweaking. In contrast, film processors and printers usually have an operator "tweaking" and adjusting the film- based shots. Hence, you need to give the printer a "print ready" image. This image can also vary from what you see on your monitor depending on the color profile embedded in the image. Just expect to spend a lot of time with a digital darkroom when using ANY digital camera.

Original out of the camera shotShot with Post processing

An Example of an image out of the Olympus E1 with no adjustments versus an "adjusted" and cropped image.

One Howl and Three Growls for the Olympus E-1.

This review was written by Michael Hahn of Outback Coyote, Inc.  Steps were taken for accuracy in reporting but the reader should check the manufacturer's website to verify the information provided. All images taken of the Olympus E-1 were taken with the Contax ND at ISO 25.

The Olympus E-1 was leased at: www.competitivecameras.com

Call (972) 768-7469 coyote@outbackcoyote.com

Copyright 1998, 99, 00, 01,02,03,04,05 Outback Coyote Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Last Modified 01/18/05.

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