DCRP Review: Olympus E-1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 23, 2003
Last Updated: February 15, 2004

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This 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 patience!

The Olympus 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)

Here are the basic facts about the FourThirds system and the E-1, according to Olympus:

  • 5 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.
  • The 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.
  • Reproduce correct color with a choice of image capture using either sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces
  • Zuiko Digital Specific Lenses are designed specifically for digital capture with technology that delivers edge-to-edge sharpness with reduced distortion and shading.
  • Loads 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.
  • JPEG + RAW capture mode with no reduction of performance
  • Supersonic Wave Filter significantly reduces the chances of dust settling on the CCD or image and blocking pixels.
  • Newly developed Noise Compensation technology and the existing Noise Reduction technology produce clear, clean files.
  • Magnesium alloy metal body is lightweight and durable; Splash-proof body and lenses (everything is sealed).
  • 2X focal length conversion ratio; Thus, a 35 mm lens is "really" a 70 mm lens.
  • FireWire and USB 2.0 for image transfer
  • The E-1 is the "pro" model. Olympus is working on a "consumer" model for a 2004 release.

Camera 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 review!

What's in the Box?

Like 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:

  • The 5.1 (effective) Mpixel Olympus E-1 camera body
  • BLM-1 Li-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • FireWire cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Olympus Viewer and Adobe Photoshop Elements
  • 181 page manual (printed)

There 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.

The 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.

If 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 battery grip.

Another 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.

As 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.


The E-1 with the power battery grip and FL-50 flash

Not surprisingly, Olympus includes a lens cap (no retaining strap though) with the E-1.

Being 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:

Accessory MSRP Street Price
11 - 22 mm F2.8 - F3.5 lens $699 N/A
14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 lens $599 $499
50 - 200 mm F2.8 - 3.5 lens $1199 $999
50 mm F2.0 1:2 Macro lens $599 $499
300 mm F2.8 Super Telephoto $7999 $6499
EC-14 1.4X Teleconverter $549 $439
FL-50 Flash and Accessories $499 $399
FL-20 Flash $199 $129
FP-1 Power Flash Grip N/A N/A
SRF-11 Ring Flash $700 N/A
STF-22 Twin Flash $950 N/A
Power Battery Holder Set $675 $499
RM-CB1 wired remote $82 $52
RM-1 wireless remote $39 $30

One 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.

Olympus 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.

The 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.

Added 2/15/04: Here's something else cool that the Viewer software can do: update your E-1's firmware! Just plug the camera in (via 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!

For $150 more, you can upgrade to the Olympus Studio software, which is just like Viewer, with the following changes:

  • Faster RAW conversion
  • Image editing
  • Batch processing
  • Time-lapse mode
  • PC camera control

A 14 day demo of Studio is included with the E-1.

The image editor in Olympus Studio lets you do all kinds of things, including:

  • Resizing, rotation, cropping
  • Distortion correction
  • Shading compensation
  • Noise reduction
  • Filter
  • Tone curve
  • Brightness & contrast
  • Gamma correction
  • Color balance
  • Sharpness
  • Hue & saturation
  • Text insertion

One 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).

In 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 this one.
(Paragraph rewritten 1/22/04)

Look and Feel

The E-1 is one of the smaller D-SLRs out there. It fits comfortably in your hand, like so:

The 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.

Here 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Okay, let's get our tour of the E-1 underway, starting with the front.

As 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.

The E-1 does not have a built-in flash, unlike the other lower-end D-SLRs.

To 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 control receiver.

Above-left 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.

Above that is an external white balance sensor. Now that's something you don't see everyday.

As a former owner of the Olympus E-10, I was quite familiar with the back of the E-1.

The 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.

Above 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.

To 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 mode.

Continuing 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).

Below the LCD are buttons for info (toggles what is shown in playback mode), image protection, and photo deletion.

They 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.

I've 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.

There is a lot to see on the top of the camera.

I'll 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.

Moving 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.

The three other buttons surrounding the info display control the following:

  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync 2nd curtain, fill flash)
  • Image quality (RAW, TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ) - more on this later
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800) - can turn on 1600/3200 by turning on ISO boost in menu

Just 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:

  • Program mode - camera chooses aperture and shutter speed. The program shift feature lets you select from several sets of apertures/shutter speeds.
  • Aperture 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.
  • Shutter 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.
  • Full manual mode - you choose both the aperture and shutter speed.

Above 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:

  • Auto
  • 3000K (tungsten)
  • 3300K
  • 3600K (tungsten)
  • 3900K
  • 4000K (white fluorescent)
  • 4300K
  • 4500K (neutral white fluorescent)
  • 4800K
  • 5300K (sunlight)
  • 6000K (cloudy)
  • 6600K (daylight fluorescent)
  • 7500K (shade)
  • Four custom presets

You 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.

The final item on the top of the E-1 is the shutter release button, which has a nice "springy" feel to it.

Here's 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.

To 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.

Above 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.

On 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.

Below those ports, under a rubber cover, is the DC-in port. Here's where you'll plug in the AC adapter.

Jumping to the very top of the picture, you'll find three buttons:

  • Bracket (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV) - 3 or 5 shots in a row at different EV settings
  • Drive (Single-shot, sequential shooting, self timer [2 or 12 secs], remote control [1/2])
  • Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot)

Sequential 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.

One 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.

Finally, 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).

On 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 well).

The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect on an SLR.

Using the Olympus E-1

Record Mode

The E-1 starts up quickly, in well under 2 seconds. This number may vary depending on what kind of memory card you are using.

Press 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.

Press the button fully and the picture is taken instantly, with no lag. Even at slow shutter speeds, there is still no delay.

Things 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.

To review or delete the photo you just took, you can press the red delete button below the LCD.

Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the E-1:

File Type Resolution Compression Approx. file size # images on
256MB card
RAW 2560 x 1920 N/A 10.2 MB 25
TIFF 2560 x 1920 N/A 14.4 MB 17
SHQ (JPEG) 2560 x 1920 1/2.7 3.8 MB 67
HQ (JPEG) 2560 x 1920 1/8 1.2 MB 213
SQ (JPEG) 1600 x 1200 1/2.7 1.4 MB 182
1/8 500 KB 512
1280 x 960 1/2.7 900 KB 284
1/8 300 KB 853
1024 x 768 1/2.7 600 KB 426
1/8 200 KB 1280
640 x 480 1/2.7 300 KB 853
1/8 100 KB 2560

As 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 hit.

What's 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.

Olympus 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.

Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.

The 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.

  • Shooting menu
    • Card setup (All erase, format)
    • Saturation (0 - 4)
    • Contrast (±2)
    • Sharpness (±3)
    • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
    • White balance bracketing (Off, 3 frames/2 step, 3 frames/4 step, 3 frames/6 steps) - more below
    • RAW+JPEG (on/off)
    • Noise filter (on/off) - for random noise patterns, like sky noise
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in long exposures; doubles shooting time
    • Shading compensation (on/off) - reducing shading (dark edges) at wide-angle by brightening the edges
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Anti-shock (on/off) - to prevent the mirror action from blurring your photos
    • Pixel mapping - reduces hot pixels
    • Flash compensation (±2)

  • Playback menu
    • Slide show (1, 4, 9, 16) - start the slide show and choose number of pictures per screen
    • Image rotation
    • RAW data edit - discussed later
    • DPOF print marking

  • Custom 1
    • EV step (1/3EV, 1/2EV, 1EV)
    • ISO boost (on/off) - gives you access to ISO 1600/3200
    • White balance tuning (-7 to +7, in 1 step increments) - fine tune each white balance setting; 1 step = 20K
    • SQ setting (see chart) - choose the resolution and compression for the SQ setting
    • AE/AF lock button - customize its function for each of the focus modes
    • Dial - choose which dial adjusts the manual settings, such as program shift, aperture, shutter speed
    • Focus ring - choose which direction of rotation manually focuses the camera
    • S. AF + MF (on/off) - allows you to fine tune the focus manually after the camera autofocuses
    • Release priority S (on/off) - allows shutter to release even without focus lock [in single AF mode]
    • Release priority C (on/off) - same thing as above but for continuous AF mode
    • Reset lens (on/off)
    • PC mode (Storage, control) - control mode lets you control the camera using Olympus Studio
    • Erase setting (yes/no) - customize the cursor position on the erase screen
    • Cleaning mode - removes dirt from sensor by using the "Supersonic Wave Filter"
    • Custom reset setting

  • Custom 2
    • Date/time
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Rec view (Off, auto, 5 sec, 20 sec) - for post-shot review
    • Beep (on/off)
    • LCD brightness
    • Sleep (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 min)
    • Card setup (All erase, format)
    • Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese)
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)

There 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 blue.


Noise filter off

Noise filter on

The 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.

The 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.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

With 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.

Our subject has good color and plenty of detail. So does this shot:

I'm glad I'm not using Photoshop CS yet!

The 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.

A 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.

Another 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:


ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400 (thank you, Photo Recovery!)
View Full Size Image


ISO 800
View Full Size Image

Noise 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 noisy.

Since 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.

As 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.

If 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.


JPEG
View Full Size Image

RAW (converted to JPEG)
View Full Size Image

I 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).

Ultimately, 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 expectations.

Movie Mode

No digital SLRs have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The 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.

The 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.

You can rotate photos, but not resize them.

The 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.

As 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.

The camera moves through images very quickly, moving between high resolution photos in about a second.

How Does it Compare?

Deciding 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.

The 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 camera.

Downsides 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 pricey camera.

As 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.

If 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!

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, though images sometimes underexposed
  • Superb performance
  • Very well built (and I mean it)
  • Tons of manual controls
  • Lenses are designed for the camera
  • Very handy dust and hot pixel removal features
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Low noise below ISO 800
  • RAW images can be manipulated in-camera or on your PC
  • Camera can be controlled on your computer with optional (and expensive) Olympus Studio software
  • Powerful battery
  • Hot shoe and flash sync port for external flash
  • USB 2.0 and FireWire

What I didn't care for:

  • Images sometimes underexposed
  • Burst mode cannot be used when noise reduction, noise filter, or shading compensation are turned on
  • Less resolution, higher price than competition
  • Only selectable three focus points
  • Getting exposure info in playback mode is too difficult

Other D-SLRs to check out include the Canon Digital Rebel and EOS-10D, Nikon D100, and the Pentax *ist D.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the E-1 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the E-1's photo quality in our gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about more?

Read more reviews at Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and Digital Photography Review.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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