DCRP Review: Olympus E-10
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, January 22, 2001
Last Updated: Sunday, November 25, 2001

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The Olympus Camedia E-10 ($2000) is the first "professional" camera to come from Olympus, and many folks (myself included) couldn't wait. In fact, I bought an E-10, instead of getting a review unit per the usual. After using the Canon EOS-D30, I hesitate to call the E-10 a "professional" camera -- perhaps "near professional" is more appropriate. While the E-10 is very similar to the D30 (which costs $1500 more), the big difference is the lens. Unlike most "professional" SLR cameras, you cannot remove the lens on the E-10. While this helps to keep dust off the CCD, it does limit your options a bit. Olympus does, however, provide several lens accessories (detailed below) for those who want more flexibility.

One the biggest issues that arose with the E-10 after it began shipping were "pixel problems", as I'll call them. This review was written using two different E-10s (though both had firmware v. 42-0120), which both had their own unique pixel problems.

The first E-10 had what is known as "stuck pixels" -- see my lens cap test to see them. You'll see white pixels at the top center, as well as lower left. The problem with stuck pixels it that they show up in all photos, regardless of settings. I was torn about whether to return the E-10 for another one. What if I got another one with the same problem, or worse? I was concerned about that possibility, since many DCRP readers wrote in complaining of pixel problems themselves. Is 2 bad pixels out of 3,763,200 in the image unacceptable? A failure rate of 0.00005 would be considered exceptional in almost any product or system -- are digital cameras an exception?

To make a long story short, I was told by many DCRP readers that I shouldn't accept anything but a perfect CCD, so I sent back the E-10. A few days later, another E-10 arrived. The first thing I did was the lens cap test again -- no stuck pixels to be found. However, upon further inspection, I found out that I now had "hot pixels". These pixels, usually red or blue, only show up on longer exposures (1/2 sec or slower). I decided that I was going to keep the camera, and deal with the hot pixels -- I'd seen this before in other cameras I've tested, and I've given up trying to get the perfect CCD -- maybe it doesn't exist.

Now that I'm done with that part of the story, read on to find out how I liked the E-10 otherwise!

What's in the Box?

The Olympus E-10 has an average bundle, with almost everything you need right in the box. It includes:

  • The 4.0 Mpixel Olympus E-10 camera
  • 32MB SmartMedia card
  • Two CR-V3 lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Lens hood
  • Lens cap
  • Remote control
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software
  • 200 page manual

The E-10's bundle is good, with three notable exceptions:

1) In what is becoming a disturbing trend, Olympus is no longer including rechargeable batteries with their cameras. I remember when they used to throw in a NiMH charger and 4 batteries -- but those days have passed. Now, you get two CR-V3 "Long Life" lithium batteries. While they do last quite a well, they end up in the trash after a few days. I suppose Olympus wants you to buy their optional battery grip, but it costs over $600. My advice: get yourself a few sets of NiMH batteries and a fast charger.

2) The 32MB SmartMedia card would be very nice on a 2 or 3 Megapixel camera. But on a 4.0 Megapixel camera, it's pretty small (see the chart later in the review for more details).

3) While I'm pleased to see that the C-3040Z finally includes one, the E-10 lacks a strap to keep the lens cap safely tethered to the camera. Go pick one up at your local camera store, because you're bound to lose it otherwise.

E-10 shown with remote control, battery cage, and lens hood.

Two nice bonuses include a lens hood, and the now famous RM-1 remote control. Do note that the remote cannot control the zoom on the E-10.

I've covered Olympus' Camedia Master software before, so see the C-3030Z review for more on that. I'd imagine, however, that most E-10 users will be relying on more sophisticated image editing software, such as Photoshop.

The TCON 300 Tele Extension lens gives you serious zoom power (photo courtesy of David Weikel)

Olympus sells a ton of accessories for the E-10, ranging from battery grips to lenses to flashes. If the 4X optical zoom isn't good enough for you, then try the TCON-300 3X extension lens. David Weikel has an E-10 website with lots of info on the TCON 300S (among other things).

The E-10 manual is the best one I've seen from Olympus. Everything is clearly labeled and instructions are easy to follow. There's even a section on shooting techniques that is sorely missed in most consumer digital cameras.

Look and Feel

The Olympus E-10's body is definitely "professional". It feels as nice as the Canon D30 that I reviewed recently, and looks just like an SLR film camera. It has a solid aluminum body that feels strong, without being too heavy. All the components on the E-10 feel "well made", from the notchy feel of the switches, to the "action" of the shutter release button.

The E-10 is a big camera, but I wouldn't call it bulky. Though probably not the best idea, you can use the E-10 with one hand. The dimensions of the E-10 are 5.1 x 4.1 x 6.8 (W x H x L), and it weighs 2.3 pounds. That's about as much as the Sony MVC-CD1000 weighs, but that camera is made of plastic. Let's being our full tour of the E-10 now.

And where better to start than the "star" of the E-10, the lens. This F2.0-2.4 lens has a 4X zoom of 9-36mm, which is equivalent to 35-140mm on a 35mm camera. According to Olympus, this is the first lens 100% designed for a digital camera. Again, this lens is not removable -- but for most uses, the 4X zoom is more than adequate. The lens is threaded for 62mm attachments -- in fact, I have a Tiffen UV Haze filter for my E-10.

Other items of note on the front of the camera include an infrared AF transmitter, remote control receiver, and a button for manual white balance (hidden behind the lens here).

Moving on now to the back of the camera, where Olympus has done a good job of simplifying the controls. The optical viewfinder is large, and it bulges out enough so your nose won't be up against the LCD. Underneath the image in the viewfinder, you'll see a line of information about flash and exposure settings, like you'd see on a "real" SLR camera. This is most helpful, and every digital camera should have it. For those of us with glasses, there's a diopter correction ring behind the rubberized portion of the viewfinder. It's a little hard to reach while you're looking through the viewfinder, but it does the job. Just to the left of the optical viewfinder, you'll see a little switch (with the red dot). This closes the optical viewfinder, so no light gets in when your eye isn't there. I found this useful during night shots, when I'd do long exposures using a tripod and the LCD.

Speaking of the LCD, you can see in the above photo that it can pop out and swivel. It's not as fancy as the Canon PowerShot G1 or Pro90, where it swings out to the side too, but it's definitely a really nice thing to have.

One bizarre thing about the LCD is the poor quality. One of the nice things about the E-10 is that you can use the LCD to preview photos (just like on all other cameras) -- this is a first for an SLR digital camera. But the problem is that the image is choppy and over-sharpened. I've seen Olympus' nice LCDs on their other cameras, and was puzzled why the E-10's was so bad.

Getting back to our tour now: below the LCD you'll find three buttons: Info, Protect, and Delete. While I'll describe their main functions (in playback mode) later in the review, I will show you what the Info button does in record mode:

The info button moves between showing nothing to showing exposure settings to showing current focus status. The dumb thing here is that it covers up part of the image! Why they didn't make this overlay style is beyond me.

Back to the tour again: to the right of the LCD, there are buttons for invoking and navigating the menus. The button with the monitor on it toggles the LCD on and off. Above that is one of the main dials for changing various settings on the camera. Also, in playback mode, this dial can be used to zoom into photos, or zoom out to thumbnail mode. To the right of that dial (top right of the picture), you can find the AE Lock button. This is useful in situations where you to lock the exposure settings - like in a multi-shot panorama.

Now, here's a look at the top of the camera. You can see the hot shoe for an external flash towards the right of the picture (it has a cover on it). Olympus sells the FL-40 flash, or you can use another brand via the flash sync port.

The buttons on the top include: SM/CF (chooses between the SmartMedia and CompactFlash slot), flash, quality, and white balance settings, and a very nice "light" feature.

This is one feature that I wish every camera had -- the backlit LCD info display. Now if they could only light up all the controls like this!

The quality settings on the E-10 should seem familiar to Olympus camera owners:

Quality Resolution Compression File Size Images on 32MB card
TIFF 2240 x 1680 1:1 11.3 MB 2
SHQ 2240 x 1680 1:2.7 2.8 MB 11
HQ 2240 x 1680 1:8 950 KB 34
SQ 1280 x 960 1:8 300 KB 110

Also on top of the camera is the second function dial. At this point, I should bring up an interesting note about changing settings on the E-10. Unlike most cameras where you just hit, say, the flash button repeatedly to change the setting, on the E-10, you must hold down the button, and use one of the dials to move between settings. This prevents accidental setting changes, and it's nice after you get used to it. One thing I didn't like about this function dial was that it's too close and too similar to the mode wheel. In the dark, I found myself changing modes, instead of settings.

Speaking of the mode wheel, here are the various modes you can choose from:

  • PC Connect
  • Printer connect
  • Playback
  • Program Mode
  • Shutter Priority Mode
  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • Full Manual Mode

In the manual modes, you have the following choices:

Shutter Priority: 1/640 sec - 2 sec, in 1/3 sec increments
Aperture Priority: f2.0 - f11, depending on zoom setting
Full Manual: Same aperture choices; Shutter choices of 1/640 sec - 8 sec; Bulb mode also available (up to 30 sec)

I'm not sure why Olympus won't let you do longer exposures in shutter priority mode. If you can do 8 seconds in full manual, why not in shutter priority mode?

If you like buttons, there's even more on the left side of the camera. Here we've got buttons for exposure compensation, macro, "drive" (turns remote control or self timer on), and metering. There's also a button to pop up the flash, and a switch to toggle between auto and manual focus. If you switch to manual focus, you use the ring at the end of the lens to focus. Do note that this is an electronic focus ring -- it's not mechanical.

Above the focus switch are ports for a flash sync cable and a remote shutter release cable. Towards the lower right of the photo, there are various I/O ports. Here's a close-up:

That's a power port to the lower left, and USB and video out in the center.

Here's a quick look at the other side -- not much to see here. What you will find though is the memory card slots.

Behind a plastic door that doesn't always want to open (on E-10 #2 at least) you'll find one of the E-10's nicest features: dual memory card slots. You've got your SmartMedia slot, which is normal for Olympus cameras, and you've also got a CompactFlash Type II slot. Now the bad news: the CF II slot doesn't support the IBM Microdrive (presumably due to its higher power consumption). Since I don't actually have a Microdrive, I can't say for that they don't work, but I'll take Olympus' word for it.

And last but not least, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery "cage", a metal tripod mount, and a speaker to produce a phony "shutter click" sound if you'd like.

Overall, I was very impressed with the layout, design, and feel of the E-10. Now how well does it perform?

Using the Olympus E-10

Record Mode

The E-10 takes between four and five seconds to "warm up", before you can start taking pictures. Once you start shooting, there's no more waiting. The autofocus lag is practically nil, and the delay before the shutter is opened is negligible. Thanks to a large SDRAM buffer, you can keep shooting as fast as you can compose the shots -- this thing is amazingly fast (I'd love to try the E-100RS, which is even faster). One caveat: if you have the "Preview" function on (which shows the photos on the LCD after they are taken), it will slow down your shooting a bit. Also, saving a TIFF file takes a lot longer than a JPEG, and therefore you won't be able to take as many consecutive shots.

Since you control the zoom with your hand, it's as smooth as you want it to be. The amount of control you get with a true manual zoom is wonderful, compared to the button mashing you must do on most cameras. Then again, that's why this one's aimed towards professionals.

Most of the important settings on the E-10 are changed via buttons, rather than menus. Here's what you'll find in the menu system (which was a bit sluggish):

  • Card Setup: Erase All / Format
  • ISO: Auto, 80, 160, 320
  • Auto Bracket: On/off, with +- 1/3, 2/3, and 1EV increments
  • Flash exposure compensation: -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV steps
  • Sharpness: Hard, Normal, Soft
  • Contrast: High, Normal, Low
  • Quality edit (you determine what TIFF, HQ, SHQ's resolution and compression settings are)
  • Interval (time lapse) - take a shot every 1 minute to daily
  • Sound settings (menu beeping, phony shutter sound)
  • Rec View (show photo just taken on LCD)
  • Sleep (power saving mode)

If you put the mode wheel into PC connect mode you can invoke another menu:

  • Macro setting (normal, with conversion lenses)
  • Date/time
  • File naming (auto, reset)
  • Raw mode
  • Histogram (in playback mode)

A note about RAW mode. This is similar to the feature found on some of Canon's cameras, where the E-10 saves the raw data from the CCD, and then you use Camedia Master to export it into another format. I'm not entirely sure of the benefits of this (the manual wasn't too clear), but it's there if you want it. An uncompressed TIFF mode is also available.

Now, a look at some other settings that the various buttons on the camera control:

Exposure compensation: -3.0EV to +3.0EV in 1/3EV increments

White balance: Auto, 3000K, 3700K, 4000K, 4500K, 5500K, 6500K, 7500K, manual. All of these color temperatures correspond to various light settings. For example, incandescent light is 3000K, whereas sunlight is 5500K. If none of those work out, hit the manual white balance (called Quick Reference WB here) button and you're all set.

Flash settings: Auto flash, auto flash w/redeye reduction, slow synchro w/redeye reduction, slow synchro, slow synchro 2nd curtain, and fill-in flash.

Click to see reduced-sized image (800 x 600, 176KB)
Click to see full-sized image (2240 x 1680, 732KB)

I was exceedingly pleased with the quality of nightshots taken with the E-10. You've got your choice of long shutter speeds (including bulb mode, which can go as long as 30 seconds), and lots of manual controls to tinker with. Of course, a tripod is a must with all nightshots -- and the remote cable release that Olympus sells wouldn't hurt either, as even the movement of the shutter release button can blur these pictures. Noise was minimal in my nightshots -- you can't even find the "hot pixels" that showed up in my lens cap test.

Click to see full-sized JPEG (2240 x 1680, 372KB)
Click to see full-sized TIFF (2240 x 1680, 6.6MB)

The macro test was equally impressive - one of the best yet. Do note that I used manual white balance in this shot - the lighting in my "lab" fools the auto white balance of almost every camera, including the E-10. Straight out of the box, the E-10 is not the best choice for macro shots, though. You can only get as close as 20cm / 8 inches. By comparison, the Nikon Coolpix 990 can get as close as 0.8 inches! All is not lost, however. Olympus sells the MCON-35 Macro Extension Lens ($140), which lets you get as close as 12 cm / 4.8 inches.

The E-10 doesn't record any sound or video. Which is not surprising, considering the target audience here -- professional photographers don't want gimmicks.

Overall, the photo quality on the E-10 was excellent. There's been a lot of chatter on the Internet about noise problems with the camera (especially in photos with lots of sky), but I don't see a problem. If you want to see noisy sky, take a look at some of the shots from the Canon PowerShot G1, especially with the ISO at 100 or higher. I didn't see any "purple fringing" (aka chromatic aberration) with the E-10 either, thanks in part to the ED glass lens. The E-10 definitely met my expectations for photo quality!

Playback Mode

The E-10's playback mode, though on the slow side, is very complete. The basics are here: slideshows, protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode. There are a few other features worth mentioning as well:

You can find out increasing amounts of details about your photos in playback mode

You're able to get quite a bit of information about your photos in playback mode. From exposure data to a histogram, it's all here (see above).

The E-10 has the ability to copy photos between the two memory card slots. I can't think of a situation where you'd do this, but it's nice to know it's there.

By using the dial on the back of the camera, you can either zoom into your photos, or zoom back out to thumbnail modes of various sizes. The "zoom and scroll" function was painfully slow, and I found myself rarely using it. I realize these images are large, and perhaps I've been spoiled by the ultra-fast Canon PowerShot cameras, but this feature is just too slow to use regularly.

And that's the main issue with playback mode - it's just sluggish. Since I haven't used any other 4 Megapixel cameras, I really compare it -- but compared to 3.3 Mpixel models I've tried, it's slower than average.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus Camedia E-10 sits in a pretty uncrowded area, between the high end 3.3 Megapixel cameras (Nikon Coolpix 990, Olympus C-3030Z, etc.) and the even more expensive professional cameras (Canon D30, Fuji FinePix S1 Pro). At nearly $2000, most consumers will just see the E-10 in their dreams. For the serious amateur or pro who doesn't want to spend $3000 or more for a camera (usually just the body), the E-10 is a great choice. If you've already got an investment in Nikon or Canon lenses, you might want to look at the Fuji FinePix S1 Pro and Canon D30 respectively. If you have a 3 Megapixel camera, I'm not sure I'd upgrade -- the resolution is higher, but not that much. Most of the manual controls are available on cheaper cameras, minus the fancy body and SLR feel.

For my own usage, I bought the E-10, upgrading from a Nikon Coolpix 950. The resolution increase and added functionality made it the right choice. If I want a camera with lots of bells and whistles, I usually have a review camera I can use. But for "serious" photography, the E-10 will be my first choice.

What I liked:

  • Very sturdy, well designed body
  • All the manual controls you'll ever need
  • First rate photo quality
  • Impressive night and macro ability
  • SmartMedia and CompactFlash Type II slots
  • Ultra-fast shooting speeds
  • Handy backlit LCD info display and swiveling LCD
  • Ability to preview shots on LCD as well as viewfinder (a first for an SLR digital)

What I didn't care for:

  • Lens not removable
  • Somewhat sluggish in menus and playback mode
  • Disappointing LCD quality
  • IBM Microdrive not supported
  • Expensive
  • Possible quality control issues with CCD (see beginning of review)

The E-10 sits by itself at this price level, as I mentioned. There are two ways to go: up, and down. If you're willing to spend more, consider the Fuji FinePix S1 Pro and Canon EOS-D30 (see our review). If you want to spend less, check out the Olympus C-3030Z and C-3040Z (coming in March), the Nikon Coolpix 990, and the Canon PowerShot G1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the E-10 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a few more opinions?

Be sure to read the reviews from Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and Digital Photography Review!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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