DCRP Review: Olympus E-100 Rapid Shot
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, March 19, 2001
Last Updated: Monday, March 19, 2001

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After a while, all the cameras that come and go here at the DCRP start to seem the same after a while. That's why it's so nice to try something different for a change. When I first read about the Olympus E-100RS ($1499) and it's claim to be the fastest digital camera out there, it didn't hit me very hard. But when I actually got a hold of this camera and shot my first sequence of photos at 15 frames per second, I couldn't believe my eyes. Once you get the hang of things, you can take some amazing action shots.

How does Olympus pull this off? Well, for one, there's less information to work with -- the camera uses a 1.5 Megapixel CCD, as opposed to the 2-4 Mpixel cameras we're used to. In addition to this, there's a lot of buffer memory (I'm not sure how much) which stores all those photos. The E-100RS takes the shots in the time it takes most cameras to lock focus. Read on for more on this speedy camera...

What's in the Box?

The E-100 Rapid Shot has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 1.5 Mpixel Olympus E-100RS camera
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • Four AA-size rechargeable NiMH batteries
  • NiMH battery charger
  • Lens cap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Remote control
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • 225 page manual

I'm a bit puzzled by Olympus' bundles sometimes. The high end Olympus E-10 ($2000) lacks rechargeable batteries of any kind. The E-100RS ($1500) includes batteries and a charger. All the cameras below that don't include the battery kit (though they used to). On the E-100RS, Olympus gets everything right. Well, almost.

The 8MB SmartMedia card is fairly skimpy for a camera with this price range - you'll fill it up quickly. In addition to the SmartMedia slot, the camera also has a CompactFlash Type II slot. Microdrive support seems a bit unclear. At the back of the manual, it says "micro driver not compliant", but when I tried a 340MB Microdrive in it, it worked okay. I'd say use the Microdrive at your own risk.

The ubiquitous Olympus RM-1 remote control is here too, and it's always welcome. It comes in quite handy as both a remote shutter release, and for playing back photos on the television.

Olympus includes a lens cap, but not a strap to keep it attached to the camera. Buy one or you'll risk losing the cap - this thing had a tendency to pop off with the slightest bump. Olympus includes lens cap straps on their new C-2040Z/3040Z models, so hopefully it will be on all future cameras.

I covered Olympus' Camedia Master software in a previous review. Overall, I found it to be better than the average software that comes bundled with the camera.

The manual, while covering everything, seems confusing and poorly laid out to me. They should get whomever wrote the E-10 manual to do the rest of them, as it was a cut above all of Olympus' other manuals.

Look and Feel

The E-100RS is not a camera you shove into your pocket -- after all, it has a 10X optical zoom "snout". (It will be interesting to see how the new Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom compares). That doesn't mean that it's hard to hold -- in fact, quite the opposite. There's a nice grip for the right hand, and the rubberized lens barrel gives plenty of room for your left hand. Most of the body is metal, and it feels of quality and good craftsmanship.

The dimensions of the E-100RS are 4.7 x 3.4 x 6 inches, and it weighs in at 575 grams / 1.3 lbs empty. That makes it a bit heavier than its cousin, the C-2100 Ultra Zoom.

The E-100RS has the now familiar 10X optical zoom lens, which is also seen on the C-2100 Ultra Zoom, and most likely, the Canon PowerShot Pro90 as well. The zoom range of this F2.8 lens is 7-70mm, which is equivalent to 38-380mm on a 35mm camera.

The camera supports Olympus' wide and telephoto lens, but you'll need to get the step-up ring first. The FL-40 external flash is also supported (the camera lacks a hot shoe, so you'll need a bracket).

The back of the E-100RS should be familiar to anyone who has used an Olympus camera recently. The 1.8" LCD is bright and fluid, like most of Olympus' LCDs (I still wonder why the E-10's is so bad). You can adjust the brightness via the setup menu.

Above that is the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), which measures 0.55" diagonally. I've already stated my preference for a real optical viewfinder in past reviews, and it's still true here-- though I like the extra information that you get with an EVF, it's no substitute for the real thing. One difference between the C-2100 and the E-100 is the rubber eyepiece over the EVF, which the C-2100 lacks. One thing in common is that both models have diopter correction for those of us with glasses.

To the right of the EVF are buttons for flash [rec] / delete photo [playback] and info. To the right of that is the four-way switch for menu operations.

The three buttons to right of the main LCD are: Manual Focus [rec] / OK [menu] / Protect [play], LCD/EVF toggle, and Menu.

At the top right of the photo you can see a button for AE Lock [rec] / DPOF print marking [play].

Now onto the top of the camera. The LCD info display shows the usual items; here, it's stabilizer (on), metering mode (ESP), flash (off), quality (HQ), memory card slot (SmartMedia), and photos remaining (21).

To the left of that you'll see buttons for macro, metering, and drive. Over on the other side there's the mode wheel, with the power switch underneath it. On the mode wheel, you have the following options:

  • Movie Mode
  • S-Program Mode (more below)
  • Full Manual Mode (you set aperture + shutter)
  • Shutter Priority Mode (you set shutter speed, camera sets aperture)
  • Aperture Priority Mode (you set aperture, camera sets shutter speed)
  • Program Mode (automatic)
  • Playback Mode

The choices in the manual modes are as follows:

  • Shutter priority: 2 sec to 1/10000 sec
  • Aperture priority: F2.8 - F8.0 (dependent on zoom position)
  • Full manual: Same aperture values; shutter values of 16 sec to 1/10000 sec.

Like on some other recent Olympus cameras, you can only get the longer exposure speeds in full manual mode. Why, I do not know.

S-Program mode is a fairly new feature on Olympus cameras, which borrows a concept seen for a long time on Casio's cameras. You can choose from different situations, and the camera picks the best settings for them. These include:

  • Portrait Shots
  • Sports Shots
  • Landscape Shots
  • Night Shot

The final button of note on the top is the zoom control (which also zooms in while in playback mode). The zoom control is smooth and accurate and is well placed.

Here's one side of the camera, with all the I/O ports. Behind the plastic door you'll find ports for remote shutter release, USB, DC in, Microphone, and A/V out.

Just to the right of all that is a five pin flash sync port.

Right in the middle of the photo you'll see the release for the pop-up flash. Olympus claims that the flash range is 1.0 - 13.1 ft in Wide, and 3.3 - 10.5 ft in Telephoto.

Here's a look at the two memory card slots -- the CF II slot is to the left of the SmartMedia slot (shown with the included card).

And here's the full side shot, with the door closed. Not much to talk about here, so enjoy the view.

That brings us to the final stop on the tour, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find a speaker, battery compartment, and metal tripod mount.

Using the Olympus E-100RS

Record Mode

The E-100RS, as you might expect, is an exceedingly fast camera. Startup time is about 4 seconds, and that's probably the longest you'll wait. When you depress the shutter release button halfway, it takes less than one second to lock focus (using Full Time AF can speed this up as well). When you fully depress the button, the photo is taken in about half a second. Thanks to the hefty amount of buffer memory, shot-to-shot speed is amazing-- you can shoot as fast as you can compose. The only exception is when shooting TIFFs-- you'll have to wait about 10 seconds while it saves the image to the card.

Continuous shooting is where the E-100RS really stands out (and earns its namesake). You can choose between 3, 5, 7.5, or 15 frames per second! And you can shoot for more than one second too, as this chart explains:

Record Mode # shots in continuous mode
8MB card 16MB+ card
TIFF N/A N/A
SHQ 7 10
HQ 21 27
SQ (640 x 480, Normal) 82 100

Sorry folks, no 15 frames/sec while recording Tiffs!

Another option (which can be used with the mode described above) is Pre-capture shooting. Here, the camera starts recording when you press the shutter release halfway. I suppose this is useful in situations where you're a little slow with hitting the shutter release button.


What you'll see on the LCD and EVF in record mode

While we're on the subject of how many photos you can store, here's a look at the many recording options on the E-100, and how many fit on the included 8MB card, as well as a 64MB card (for reference sake).

Record Mode # of Pixels File Format # of photos
8MB card 64MB card
TIFF 1360 x 1024 TIFF 1 15
1280 x 960 2 17
1024 x 768 3 27
640 x 480 8 68
SHQ 1360 x 1024 JPEG 8 68
HQ 1360 x 1024 21 173
SQ-High Quality 1280 x 960 9 78
1024 x 768 14 120
640 x 480 36 284
SQ-Normal Quality 1280 x 960 24 199
1024 x 768 38 306
640 x 480 82 664

As you can see, there are tons of options available in the resolution and quality department. Let's go over some of the menu choices you have on the E-100:

  • SM/CF - Choose between the SmartMedia and CompactFlash slots
  • Continuous Mode settings (3, 5, 7.5, 15 fps)
  • Pre-capture (on/off, # of photos)
  • White balance (auto, daylight, overcast, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
  • Flash intensity (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Slow Flash (on/off)
  • Auto-bracketing (set up)
  • Multi-metering (on/off)
  • Image Stabilization (on/off)
  • AF Mode (iESP, spot)
  • Full-Time AF (on/off) - when on, camera focuses without pressing shutter release halfway.
  • Super Tele (on/off) - aka 2.7X digital zoom
  • Function (black & white) - what happened to sepia and the white board modes?
  • Card setup - format the memory cards
  • Sound record (on/off) - record 4 second audio clips after photo is taken
  • Mode Setup - set basic camera prefs and defaults
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • S-Prg - choose which mode you want
  • Record mode (TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ)

One very welcome addition over the C-2100 Ultra Zoom is the manual white balance, which lets you decide what "white" should be.

The E-100 performed admirably in our macro test, as you can see above.


Distant


Closer

The camera did pretty well on this muggy night on Twin Peaks. There are some hot pixels in both of these pictures-- just look for the blue/purple "stars" in the sky. For those of you who care, the SF skyline isn't as bright as it used to be-- they're turning off some of the lighting on the buildings to save power.

Like the other cameras that use the same lens, the E-100RS displays chromatic abberations (also known as purple fringing) in some situations. I noticed it the most on cloudy days, or at full telephoto. Take a gander at the beach/Cliff House photo in the gallery to see what I mean. Aside from that, photo quality was very good -- and the ability to grab action shots is amazing. Again, see the gallery for a few samples and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The E-100RS is the first camera I've tested that has a 640 x 480 movie mode, with sound! In fact, you have a number of choices:

Quality Resolution Frames/Sec Secs on 8MB card
HQ 640 x 480 30 6
15 12
SQ 320 x 240 30 12
15 24

Even if you have a larger memory card, your recording times will not be longer in most cases.

Thankfully, you can use the optical zoom during filming. I don't know why some cameras won't let you.

The sample below will give you an idea of the movie making abilities of the E-100RS.


Click to play movie
(5.6MB, 640 x 480, 15 fps, Quicktime format)

Playback Mode

The E-100RS's playback mode covers all the bases. There's slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, zoom & scroll, and more.

The camera takes merely one second to go between SHQ photos. You can zoom out to 9 thumbnails at once, or zoom in to take a closer look at your photo. The zoom & scroll mode, as I call it, is pretty good - you can zoom in as far as 3X, and then move around inside the picture. The only wish I have here is that the scrolling around was a bit snappier -- you've got to hold the four-way switch down for a bit before it really starts moving.

If you want to get more info about a photo, you just press the Info button. While not as detailed as some cameras, I think most users will be happy with the information given.

One other nice feature is the ability to rotate photos, by using the macro and metering buttons. You can only go 90 degrees in either direction (you can't flip a photo over).


Playback menu

When looking at a group of photos taken sequentially, only the first photo of the group will be shown. You have to hit a button to "extend" the photos so all are shown. This was nice, since you don't have to wade through as many photos when just looking over your photos.

The only thing really missing here is the ability to delete a group of photos at a time, but that's a minor gripe.

How Does it Compare?

It's hard to compare the Olympus E-100 Rapid Shot to other cameras, since there isn't another camera like it on the market. It's ability to shoot 15 frames per second is unmatched by any prosumer digital camera out there. While it's resolution is only 1.5 Megapixel, most folks will find that to be enough. On top of its incredible speed, the E-100RS also has a very nice 10X lens (though it has some fringing problems at times), full manual controls, and a nice bundle. If you're looking for ultra-fast shooting, look no further than the E-100RS.

What I liked:

  • Amazing 15 frames per second captures action like no other consumer digital camera
  • 10X optical zoom
  • Full manual controls
  • Manual white balance
  • Support for external flash
  • Uncompressed TIFF format
  • 640 x 480 movies with sound!
  • Both SmartMedia and CF II slots

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Only 1.5 Megapixel
  • Does the Microdrive work or not?

I can't suggest any other super-fast cameras, but if you're looking for a "big zoom" camera, check out the Canon PowerShot Pro90 and the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom.

Photo Gallery

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

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the E-100RS! If that's not enough, Imaging Resource has one too!

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

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