review is finally complete. The descriptions and sample photos
in this review are from a production model camera. Product
shots have been reshot where necessary. Thank you for your
E-1 ($1799 street price, body only) marks the long-awaited
debut of the FourThirds system, which was jointly developed
by Olympus, Kodak, and Fujifilm. The FourThirds system was
created from scratch, with the aim of being the first SLR designed
for digital. The FourThirds system is a standard, so you'll
be able to swap lenses and accessories between cameras.
Three CCDs: 1/1.8 (used in C-5050Z), 2/3
(used in E-20), and new 4/3-type (used in E-1)
are the basic facts about the FourThirds system and the E-1,
according to Olympus:
Megapixel, 4/3-type Super Latitude Full Frame Transfer CCD
for improved dynamic range, better color, and less noise; CCD
has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Full Frame Transfer CCD uses more of the pixel area to actually
act as a sensor with a wider aperture for the photodiode and
larger pixel capture area. With its larger capacitor, a Full
Frame Transfer CCD captures more electrons than a conventional
Interline CCD to deliver higher sensitivity, higher Signal/Noise
ratio, and wider dynamic range and greater latitude.
correct color with a choice of image capture using either sRGB
or Adobe RGB color spaces
Digital Specific Lenses are designed specifically for digital
capture with technology that delivers edge-to-edge sharpness
with reduced distortion and shading.
of Operating and Buffer RAM, coupled with the E-1’s parallel
data processing 3 ASIC Digital Processor engine, overcome many
of the bottlenecks in image processing and camera operations.
+ RAW capture mode with no reduction of performance
Wave Filter significantly reduces the chances of dust settling
on the CCD or image and blocking pixels.
developed Noise Compensation technology and the existing Noise
Reduction technology produce clear, clean files.
alloy metal body is lightweight and durable; Splash-proof body
and lenses (everything is sealed).
focal length conversion ratio; Thus, a 35 mm lens is "really" a
70 mm lens.
and USB 2.0 for image transfer
E-1 is the "pro" model. Olympus is working on a "consumer" model
for a 2004 release.
shoppers have quite a few choices when it comes to D-SLRs. How
does the E-1 hold up against the competition? Find out in our
in the Box?
with all D-SLRs, the E-1 is sold without a lens or memory card.
That way, you can pick a lens that's best for your needs. Inside
the box, you'll find:
5.1 (effective) Mpixel Olympus E-1 camera body
Li-ion rechargeable battery pack
featuring Olympus Viewer and Adobe Photoshop Elements
page manual (printed)
are two different batteries available for the E-1. The camera
includes the BLM-1 lithium-ion battery, which has a very hefty
10.8 Wh of energy. I was told that you can take about 500 shots
per charge with this battery.
E-1 includes an external battery charger for the BLM-1 battery.
It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't
one of those nice "plug it right into the wall" chargers
-- you must use a power cable.
the BLM-1 just isn't enough for you, then pick up the $500 SHLD-2
power battery holder (shown on the camera below). The grip uses
the larger BLL-1 battery, which has a whopping 24.5 Wh of power.
No word on how many shots you can take with this one, but 1200
sounds like a good estimate to me. The BLL-1 batteries uses a
different charger than the BLM-1 -- and it's included with the
power option is the AC-01 AC adapter ($150). This is a great
thing to have in the studio, or even for transferring photos
to your PC.
is always the case with D-SLRs, the E-1 does not include a memory
card. The E-1 uses Compact Flash Type II cards, which are available
in capacities as high as 4GB.
E-1 with the power battery grip and FL-50 flash
surprisingly, Olympus includes a lens cap (no retaining strap
though) with the E-1.
a totally new format, Olympus has to start from scratch in the
accessory department. Here's what's available for the E-1 as
of this review:
- 22 mm F2.8 - F3.5 lens
- 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 lens
- 200 mm F2.8 - 3.5 lens
mm F2.0 1:2 Macro lens
mm F2.8 Super Telephoto
Flash and Accessories
Power Flash Grip
Battery Holder Set
thing you've got to remember about the FourThirds system: you
must buy all new lenses! This will be a big issue for the target
market that Olympus is trying to capture with the E-1, as most
professional photographers already have a large collection of
Canon or Nikon lenses.
has two new software applications to go along with the E-1. Olympus
Viewer (included with the camera) is like a fancy version of
the Camedia Master software that comes with Olympus' consumer
cameras. It can download photos from the camera, convert RAW
files, print or e-mail images, and view EXIF data.
RAW development is one of the nicest features of Olympus Viewer
(and the RAW format in general). Here you can edit various properties
of an image, allowing you to do a virtual re-shoot of the photo.
Botch your white balance setting? With RAW format, you can adjust
it in software, with no loss in quality. You can also adjust
saturation, contrast, sharpness, and the color space. You can
turn the noise filter on and off as well.
2/15/04: Here's something else cool that the Viewer
software can do: update your E-1's firmware! Just plug the camera
USB or FireWire), choose the appropriate menu item, and you're
on your way. You can update the firmware for all the camera's
components -- even the lenses. It would be nice if more cameras
could do this!
$150 more, you can upgrade to the Olympus Studio software, which
is just like Viewer, with the following changes:
14 day demo of Studio is included with the E-1.
image editor in Olympus Studio lets you do all kinds of things,
- Brightness & contrast
- Hue & saturation
very nice feature of Olympus Studio is the ability to control
the E-1 with your Mac or PC. Just hook the camera up via USB
or FireWire (I couldn't get the latter to work with my PowerMac
G5) and you're set. Pictures are saved right on your computer,
so there are no memory card issues. You can change all camera
settings in Studio, instead of using the menu system. A time-lapse
mode is also available (don't forget your AC adapter, though).
a nice change from their normal routine, Olympus actually includes
a full, printed manual with the E-1. The quality of the manual
itself is good, which is important on a camera as complex as
(Paragraph rewritten 1/22/04)
E-1 is one of the smaller D-SLRs out there. It fits comfortably
in your hand, like so:
E-1's magnesium alloy body gives it a very strong, professional-grade
body. It definitely feels more solid than my EOS-D60 and is much nicer
than the Digital Rebel.
is the E-1 next to my personal D60 (sorry about those reflections
in the lens). The E-1 has a nice, large grip for you right hand.
Attach a lens, and you'll find plenty of room for your left hand.
E-1's body and lenses are sealed, making it "splashproof".
Please note that this does not mean that you can go swimming
with it -- it is not waterproof.
dimensions of the E-1 (without lens or battery grip) are 5.6
x 4.1 x 3.2 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 660 grams. For
the sake of comparison, the numbers for the Canon EOS-10D are
5.9 x 4.2 x 3.0 and 790 g, the Pentax *ist D comes in at 5.1
x 3.7 x 2.4 and 550 g, and the Nikon D100 is 5.7 x 4.6 x 3.2
and 700 g.
let's get our tour of the E-1 underway, starting with the front.
I mentioned, the E-1 uses the new FourThirds lens system. That
means you've got to toss your existing lenses and buy new ones.
You attach lenses in the same way that you would on any SLR.
The lens release button is over to the right of the lens mount.
E-1 does not have a built-in flash, unlike the other lower-end
the lower-left of the lens mount is the depth-of-field preview
button. To the upper-left of that (on the grip) is the remote
from the lens mount, we find the white balance preset button
-- in the same location that it was on the E-10/E-20. Above that
is the AF illuminator (yay!), which doubles as the self-timer
lamp. The illuminator shoots a red light onto the subject, to
assist the camera with focusing in low light.
that is an external white balance sensor. Now that's something
you don't see everyday.
a former owner of the Olympus E-10, I was quite familiar with
the back of the E-1.
camera has a 1.8", 134k pixel LCD display, which is bright
and sharp. One thing to note: unlike the E-10/E-20, you cannot
preview images on the LCD before they are taken -- only after.
This is how all D-SLRs work.
the LCD is the huge optical viewfinder. It displays
100% of the frame, as you'd expect from an SLR. Exposure information,
shots remaining, and shooting mode are displayed in green text
at the bottom of the viewfinder. Olympus gives you the option
of replacing both the eyecup and the focusing screen with different
ones. The viewfinder has a diopter correction knob as well as
a shutter that closes over the eyepiece for situations where
you don't want light from behind you to enter the camera.
the right of the optical viewfinder is a dial used for changing
manual settings, and for the "zoom and scroll" feature
in playback mode. Below that is the button used to enter playback
downward, we find the menu button and the four-way controller.
To the right of that is the release for the CompactFlash slot
door, and the "ok" button (used in menus).
the LCD are buttons for info (toggles what is shown in playback
mode), image protection, and photo deletion.
are hard to see in this shot, but at the top right are buttons
for AE lock and manual focus point selection. You can select
from three focus points (left, center, right), which seemed a
little skimpy for a "pro" camera -- even the Digital
Rebel lets you choose from seven points. The AE lock is a custom
button, whose function you can define in the menu.
attached the optional battery grip in the above shot. It has
extra AE lock, focus point, and shutter release buttons, as well
as another command dial.
is a lot to see on the top of the camera.
begin with the hot shoe, which has a plastic cover which covers
it with when not in use. Olympus has created the new FL-50 flash
just for the E-1 -- it was shown earlier in this review. The
flash modes include TTL Auto (for the FL-50), plus "regular" auto
and manual modes. Third-party flashes will work as well, though
you'll have to put both the camera and the flash into manual
mode. Small flashes will sync at 1/180 sec or less, while large
flashes sync at 1/125 sec or less.
to the right, we find the LCD info display. I'm not going to
bore you will all the details about what it shows, other than
saying "everything". The info display can be backlit
by pressing the Light button below it. If you've got the FL-50
flash attached, pressing the Light button will also turn on the
backlight on the flash's info display.
three other buttons surrounding the info display control the
setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, slow sync w/redeye
reduction, slow sync, slow sync 2nd curtain, fill flash)
quality (RAW, TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ) - more on this later
(Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800) - can turn on 1600/3200 by turning
on ISO boost in menu
to the right of those buttons is the mode dial (with power switch
beneath it) and exposure compensation button. The exposure compensation
range is impressive: -5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments. There
are only four items on the mode wheel -- quite a contrast compared
to the other D-SLRs. They are:
mode - camera chooses aperture and shutter speed. The program
shift feature lets you select from several sets of apertures/shutter
priority mode - you choose aperture, camera chooses appropriate
shutter speed. Aperture range depends on lens being used. On
the 14 - 54 mm, it's F2.8 - F22.
priority mode - you choose shutter speed, camera chooses aperture.
Shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec. A bulb mode lets you
keep the shutter open for up to 8 minutes.
manual mode - you choose both the aperture and shutter speed.
the mode dial is the other command dial (used for changing manual
settings), and the white balance button. There are tons of white
balance settings available on the E-1, including:
(neutral white fluorescent)
can fine-tune the each of those white balance settings ±7
via the menu system, where each step is equivalent to 20K. The
custom option lets you shoot a white or gray card to get perfect
white balance in any lighting.
final item on the top of the E-1 is the shutter release button,
which has a nice "springy" feel to it.
the side of the camera. One interesting thing to note about the
lens you see here: the manual focus ring is electronic, not mechanical.
It reminded me of the focus ring on the Sony DSC-F717.
the right of the lens is the release button, which is used to
remove the lens. Below that is a switch for focusing: choose
from single, continuous, or manual focus. Single AF mode locks
the focus only when the shutter release button is pressed halfway.
Continuous AF mode continues to focus, even while the shutter
release is halfway pressed. This is what you want to use when
your subject is moving.
the lens release button is the flash sync port, which is kept
under a plastic cover. To the right of that is the port for the
remote shutter release cable.
the far right are three I/O ports, kept under a sturdy, sealed
plastic door. They are FireWire (IEEE1394), USB 2.0 (high speed),
and video out.
those ports, under a rubber cover, is the DC-in port. Here's
where you'll plug in the AC adapter.
to the very top of the picture, you'll find three buttons:
(±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV) - 3 or 5 shots
in a row at different EV settings
(Single-shot, sequential shooting, self timer [2 or 12 secs],
remote control [1/2])
(ESP, center-weighted, spot)
mode will let you shoot at 3 frames per second, for up to 12
shots, regardless of the image quality setting (yes, even TIFF
and RAW files). The Canon Digital Rebel takes up to 4 shots at
2.5 fps, while the EOS-10D takes nine at 3 fps. The Nikon D100
takes up to 6 shots (4 in RAW mode) at 3 fps, while the Pentax
*ist D does 5 shots at around 2.5 fps. The bottom line: the E-1
has the most capable burst mode.
thing to look out for in sequential mode is that you cannot use
it with noise reduction turned on. It took me a few minutes to
figure out why I couldn't use burst mode after I had been out
taking pictures the night before.
a side of the camera without a lot of buttons! The only thing
to see here is the CompactFlash Type II slot. Microdrives are
fully supported, including the new 4GB models (the camera supports
the FAT32 file system).
the bottom of the camera, you'll find a metal tripod mount as
well as the battery compartment (the BLM-1 battery is shown as
tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect on an SLR.
the Olympus E-1
E-1 starts up quickly, in well under 2 seconds. This number may
vary depending on what kind of memory card you are using.
the shutter release halfway, and the camera focuses nearly instantly
-- very impressive. In low light, or when the E-1 has to use
its AF-assist lamp, except to wait for about a second for the
camera to lock focus.
the button fully and the picture is taken instantly, with no
lag. Even at slow shutter speeds, there is still no delay.
are just as good in terms of shot-to-shot speed. Like other D-SLRs,
you can shoot as fast as you can compose -- at least until the
buffer memory is full.
review or delete the photo you just took, you can press the red
delete button below the LCD.
let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices
on the E-1:
you can see, there are quite a few choices. The E-1 can also
shoot a RAW and JPEG at the same time -- with no performance
the deal with RAW? This format is lossless, raw CCD data, which
you can manipulate in software later (as I described in the first
section of the review), or right on the camera. Note that you'll
need special software in order to read RAW files.
uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen.
Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C),
d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers
are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering
is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
of that, let's move onto menus now.
E-1 has a totally new menu system, which is easy to use. The
menu is divided into four "tabs": shooting, playback,
custom 1, custom 2. Here are the menu options.
setup (All erase, format)
(0 - 4)
space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
balance bracketing (Off, 3 frames/2 step, 3 frames/4
step, 3 frames/6 steps) - more below
filter (on/off) - for random noise patterns, like sky
reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in long exposures;
doubles shooting time
compensation (on/off) - reducing shading (dark edges)
at wide-angle by brightening the edges
(on/off) - to prevent the mirror action from blurring
mapping - reduces hot pixels
show (1, 4, 9, 16) - start the slide show and choose
number of pictures per screen
data edit - discussed later
step (1/3EV, 1/2EV, 1EV)
boost (on/off) - gives you access to ISO 1600/3200
balance tuning (-7 to +7, in 1 step increments) - fine
tune each white balance setting; 1 step = 20K
setting (see chart) - choose the resolution and compression
for the SQ setting
lock button - customize its function for each of the
- choose which dial adjusts the manual settings, such
as program shift, aperture, shutter speed
ring - choose which direction of rotation manually focuses
AF + MF (on/off) - allows you to fine tune the focus
manually after the camera autofocuses
priority S (on/off) - allows shutter to release even
without focus lock [in single AF mode]
priority C (on/off) - same thing as above but for continuous
mode (Storage, control) - control mode lets you control
the camera using Olympus Studio
setting (yes/no) - customize the cursor position on the
mode - removes dirt from sensor by using the "Supersonic
naming (Auto, reset)
view (Off, auto, 5 sec, 20 sec) - for post-shot review
(Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 min)
setup (All erase, format)
(English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese)
out (NTSC, PAL)
are a few things in the menus that I want to touch on quickly.
The first is the white balance bracketing feature. The camera
will take three shots in a row, each with a slightly different
white balance setting (you set the interval in the menu). One
image is natural, another is slightly red, and the other is slightly
Noise filter off
Noise filter on
noise filter promises to reduce "random noise" in your
images, which are most often seen in the sky. Now, I could think
of many cameras that need this feature more than the nearly noiseless
E-1, but it does work as advertised. The 200% crops (of the same
patch of sky) above show you the reduction in noise using the
filter. There's a catch, though: shot-to-shot speed slows dramatically,
and sequential shooting is disabled. You can also use the noise
filter (on RAW images) using the Olympus Studio and Viewer software.
shading reduction function promises to eliminate dark edges in
images. Quite frankly, I never even has this problem, so I don't
know how well this feature works.
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
the right lens, the E-1 is a macro machine. I took the usual
shot above using the awesome 50mm macro lens, which has a minimum
focus distance of 24 cm.
subject has good color and plenty of detail. So does this shot:
glad I'm not using Photoshop CS yet!
E-1 took a beautiful shot of the SF skyline (though it's a bit
crooked, sorry). With full control over shutter speed, the camera
is able to bring in more than enough light. Noise and purple
fringing levels are very low.
few weeks earlier, I took the same shots, but forgot to turn
on noise reduction, so I threw them away. Here's
the one I kept, taken with the full power of
the 50-200mm lens.
way to bring in more light is to crank up the ISO sensitivity.
I took the shot above at many of the ISO settings. Have a look:
levels are nice and low through ISO 400. Once you get to ISO
800 (and 1600 and 3200, by using ISO boost), things get pretty
the E-1 does not include a lens or a flash, I won't be doing
the distortion or redeye tests in this review. Since you are
required to use an external flash with the camera, I can assure
you that redeye is minimal.
you'd expect from a digital SLR, the photo quality on the E-1
is stellar. Color and detail are very good, and noise is low.
Thanks to the "ED" lens element on all the Zuiko lenses,
purple fringing was not an issue.
I had one complaint, it's that the camera usually underexposed
by 1/3 - 1/2 stop. Thankfully I learned that early on, and started
bracketing all my shots. If you don't do that, you can also shoot
in RAW mode, where you can adjust the exposure compensation later
on your PC.
should also mention that shooting in RAW mode gets you a slightly
higher quality picture. I saw some "jaggies" at the
best JPEG setting that were not there in the RAW photo (they're
not easy to see). If you've got the space on the memory card,
I highly recommend shooting in RAW mode. Not necessarily for
the minor improvements in image quality, but more so for the
ability to adjust the image later in software (as described earlier).
your eyes are the judge of image quality. Have a look at the extensive
photo gallery, and decide for yourself i the E-1 meets you
digital SLRs have movie modes.
E-1 has a playback mode typical of those on D-SLRs. The usual
features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking,
image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll.
zoom and scroll feature lets you blow up the image 2, 3, or 4
times, and then scroll around. While this feature is well-implemented,
it would be nice to have more zoom options.
can rotate photos, but not resize them.
RAW data edit feature lets you apply the current camera settings
to a RAW image. Did you botch the white balance? Choose the one
you wanted to use, then use RAW data edit to fix your image!
The original RAW image is saved. For more control, use the Olympus
Viewer or Studio software on your computer.
you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've
taken. A histogram is also shown. Switching between these screens
was totally unintuitive, and much harder than it should be.
camera moves through images very quickly, moving between high
resolution photos in about a second.
Does it Compare?
whether or not the Olympus E-1 is a great digital SLR is not
difficult -- it's excellent. Deciding if it's right for you is
the hard part.
E-1 excels in all areas: photo quality, performance, build quality,
and expandability. The camera takes sharp images with low noise
and no purple fringing. I did notice that photos tended to be
underexposed a bit. In terms of performance, the camera keeps
up with the competition in all areas, except for continuous shooting,
where it blows past them. You can take up to 12 shots at 3 frames/sec,
even in RAW or TIFF mode. Speaking of RAW mode, you'll get slightly
better photo quality, as well as more post-processing ability,
by using it. The camera has excellent battery life as well, especially
with the power battery grip installed. The E-1 lives up to its
billing in terms of how it's put together -- it's built like
a tank. It's also "splashproof". The Canon Digital
Rebel feels like a toy compared to the E-1. Finally, there's
expandability. As with all D-SLRs, the E-1 offers a wide range
of lenses and flashes. There aren't nearly as many lenses as
the other guys, but what is available covers the range of 11
- 300 mm, and all of them are designed specifically for this
are few. I mentioned that images tended to be underexposed a
bit, based on my usage. The noise and shading reduction features
all slow the camera down greatly, and disable sequential mode,
too. While both of the noise reduction features worked as advertised,
I saw no improvement by using shading compensation -- then again,
there never was a problem in the first place. I found that getting
to exposure information was way too difficult in playback mode
-- there must be an easier way. And finally, while I like the
cool Olympus Studio software, I wish it was included with this
I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Olympus is targeting
this camera toward pro photographers who either don't have a
lot of lenses already (from Canon or Nikon), or who are willing
to give them up. I'm not sure how large of an audience that is.
There are, however, many advanced amateurs who want to trade
in their fixed-lens camera for a D-SLR.
you've already got an investment in Canon, Nikon, or Pentax glass,
I'd probably stick with whoever makes your lenses. If you're
starting from scratch, the E-1 is an intriguing option. It's
built far better than the Digital Rebel, EOS-10D, D100, or *ist
D. Performance on the E-1 is also better, though you lose a Megapixel
of resolution. While the other guys have more lenses, the E-1
has brand new lenses designed specifically for the camera. The
camera has more manual bells and whistles than most of the other
cameras (especially the Digital Rebel), though some of them (e.g.
shading compensation) don't seem terribly useful. Two features
that are very useful are the ultrasonic dust removal system and
pixel mapping. The E-1 is the most expensive camera of the bunch
(for both the body and lenses), and it doesn't have a built-in
flash, so you need to factor that in. In the end, it's a tough
choice -- if you've got the extra dollars laying around and need
the extra performance and rugged body of the E-1 (and don't already
own someone else's lenses), it's well worth a look. Try them
all and see which you like best!
photo quality, though images sometimes underexposed
well built (and I mean it)
of manual controls
are designed for the camera
handy dust and hot pixel removal features
noise below ISO 800
images can be manipulated in-camera or on your PC
can be controlled on your computer with optional (and expensive)
Olympus Studio software
shoe and flash sync port for external flash
2.0 and FireWire
I didn't care for:
mode cannot be used when noise reduction, noise filter, or
shading compensation are turned on
resolution, higher price than competition
selectable three focus points
exposure info in playback mode is too difficult
D-SLRs to check out include the Canon Digital
Rebel and EOS-10D, Nikon
D100, and the Pentax
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try
out the E-1 and its competitors before you buy!
out the E-1's photo quality in our gallery!
a second opinion? How
more reviews at Steve's
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