The Olympus E-3 Launch Party

Back on August 15, I wrote about the “new E-1”, the Pro DSLR from Olympus that would replace the existing E-1. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the launch party for that new DSLR, officially called the E-3, on October 16. The party was held at the Museum of Natural History in NYC, and it started at 5:30 PM EST.

This post is rather long, so I thought I’d summarize it for your benefit:

  • First part: my thoughts on the event and the E-3, with photos of the camera
  • Second part: video from the event
  • Third part: my photos from the event

Olympus E-3 DSLR (front view with battery grip)

I was impressed with the quality of the event. Olympus rented an entire wing at the Museum of Natural History, and set up stations where we could talk with specially-chosen pro photographers about the E-3 and try out beta units of the camera. (The firmware isn’t yet finalized, so actual review units weren’t available.) There were food and drink bars (the cheese was fantastic) and all sorts of other goodies were spread all around (like a timeline display of all of the representative Olympus digital cameras, starting with their first model, and ending with the E-3). The event went nicely according to plan, and there was even a drawing where a lucky winner got an E-3 Pro Package (camera, speedlite, lenses, etc.) plus an all-expenses paid trip to India with one of the Olympus pros. I didn’t win it, unfortunately.

The atmosphere wasn’t one of hard sell. I could chat at ease with photographers and relax while looking at slideshows of photos taken by the pros or snacking on food. Ligia and I enjoyed ourselves. The weather was gorgeous. It had been sunny all day, and as evening descended on the city, the sky stayed clear, and a cooler breeze made it feel like a proper autumn night.

The E-3 surprised me in several ways:

  • It didn’t differ much from the concept photos I’d seen earlier, which was interesting. It means Olympus had been working on it for a long time, pretty much had the form factor down, and were simply perfecting it.
  • It was bigger and heavier than I expected. Having worked with the E-500, E-510 and E-410, I expected the body to be lighter and smaller. It wasn’t. The weight of the E-3 is exactly the same as the weight of my Canon 5D: 810 grams. It’s also as big as my 5D – actually, a little taller.
  • It felt very solid. When I gripped it, there was no mistaking it: I held a Pro DSLR in my hand.
  • The ISO sensitivity went all the way to 3200. What’s more, the camera’s Auto ISO function also varied the ISO from 100 to 3200. That’s a rarity. There’s usually an upper limit (something like 800) to Auto ISO on other cameras.
  • The camera uses an 11-point AF system. I complained about the 3-point AF on the E-510, and it looks like that’s not a problem on the E-3. It could focus very fast in lower light conditions, even at f/4.
  • The CMOS resolution is 10.1 megapixels. I honestly expected it to be 12 megapixels, just because everyone is pushing the envelope on resolution these days. I have a feeling this may be a limitation of the sensor’s surface area. The more megapixels one crams onto a sensor, the more chance there is for noise in lower light. It’ll be very interesting to watch and see how Olympus deals with the need for increased resolution in their Four-Thirds system.
  • The LCD screen swivels out, just like on the E-330.

Here are some more photos of the E-3, from various angles. The E-3 was launched with a brand new lens, the 12-60mm f/2.8-4. The effective focal range of this lens is 24-120mm, because of the 2x crop factor of the Four-Thirds system sensors.

I didn’t get a chance to play too much with the controls on the camera. One thing to say here is that Olympus built in a lot of buttons to allow for one-touch access to the camera’s most-used functions. I did find it a bit awkward to change the mode and ISO settings. To change the mode, I had to press the Mode button on the camera’s top left side, then rotate the back dial. To change the ISO, I had to press the ISO button on the top right of the camera, then rotate the front dial (located underneath the ISO button). Both movements felt odd, and I wondered how this would work out in the field.

To be fair, I don’t know if that was the right or only way to change those settings, and I can’t really judge the placement and ergonomics behind the controls after only a few minutes of trying out the E-3. I did like the idea of having two dials, one for the thumb and one for the index finger. I look forward to trying out a review unit for my usual 30 days, and then deciding if the controls work well or not.

I took a few photos at high ISO (1600 and 3200) and was pleasantly surprised by the low noise visible on the camera’s LCD screen, even at f/4. Since I used my own CF card to take the photos, I really looked forward to examining those photos closer when I got home. Unfortunately, one of the Olympus representatives present at the event saw me do it and erased my card. His reasoning was that the camera’s firmware is not yet final, and he didn’t want me to get the wrong impression about the E-3’s capabilities. Sounds logical, and he apologized profusely, but I still couldn’t help feeling it was a pretty stinky thing to do to me, right after I’d talked with an Olympus engineer from Japan who had no problem whatsoever with the photos I’d taken, and who actually encouraged me to go home and have a look at them on my computer. I have to say I was pretty disappointed about that, but I didn’t let it ruin my evening.

Olympus launched three new lenses with the camera. Two were new (12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD and 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD), and one was re-engineered (50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD). They also launched a re-engineered FL-50 speedlite. I realized once more the big advantage of the Four-Thirds system when I looked at their lens line-up, which was on display at the event. They have a 150mm f/2.0 lens, and a 300mm f/2.8 lens. You may not think that’s much until you realize their crop factor is 2x. That means that they’ve really got a 300mm f/2.0 lens and a 600mm f/2.8 lens. Let that sink in for a bit. That’s pretty spectacular. No one has lenses with that focal reach and at that large aperture on the market. To think that you can get f/2.8 at 600mm effective focal length is mind-boggling to me. Wow.

Overall, the E-3 is truly the new flagship camera from Olympus. It represents the culmination of their efforts in many areas: the Four-Thirds system, AF, durability, ruggedness, optics and image processing. Now that it has arrived, I’m sure many people, including myself, can’t wait to try it out and see what it can do.

I put together a short video (about 4 minutes) of the party. It ends with the lens line-up and a cross-section of the E-3 with the 12-60mm lens mounted on. It’s pretty cool, and it gives you a unique look at the camera from the inside out. You can watch it below or here.

I’ve also got more photos from the event below. They were not taken with the E-3 (for the reason given a few paragraphs above). They were taken with my Canon 5D.

There were some really, really cool ice sculptures on display at the event. There was even a bar made out of ice, with the Olympus logo embedded in it.

Rhomboid

Mellow yellow

Ice sculpture

The guts of the E-3 were on display.

The components of the E-3 DSLR

Gene Hirschel of Internet News was there. I met him at the previous Olympus PR event, which announced the E-510 DSLR.

Gene Hirschel

John Isaac is one of the Olympus Pro photographers, and he’s currently specializing in wildlife. He worked at the UN for 30 years as an official photographer.

John Isaac

The man below is the sculptor of the many amazing crystal figures on display at the event. I have a photo of one of them below, and they’re also featured in the short video I made. I’m terrible with names and I didn’t catch his.

Crystal sculptor

One of the crystal sculptures

Guess who took this photo of us? It was Anne Day, and she used my 5D. I consider it a privilege, especially after I saw some of the other people whose photographs she’s taken. Have a look at her site and see what I mean.

Ligia and Raoul

Here’s Anne Day in person:

Anne Day

I took this as I rested on a table, watching slideshows of travel photography. The blue light of the LCD projected reflected in my glass of tonic water.

A glass of tonic water by candlelight

I caught Ligia thinking about something when I took this.

Ligia

If you thought Ligia’s photo was out of focus, you’re going to get a real surprise out of the next one. The thing is, I LOVE out of focus photographs. There’s a certain sweet spot that varies with lighting, distance and focal length, but if you get it just right, the colors really pop, and the shapes become very interesting. These are people at the launch party. I’m probably going to share more of my out of focus photographs in the near future. I’ve been accumulating a lot of them within the past several months.

People at the launch party

To demonstrate the E-3’s dust proofing, they buried two cameras in sand. They’re supposed to still work without any problems after this happens to them. I didn’t try them out, but it’s very likely that they worked just fine afterwards.

Olympus E-3 buried in sand

Olympus E-3 buried in sand

Gary Kralle (one of the other Olympus Pros), John Isaac and a friend were talking when I took this photo. Gary came up to me afterwards and we chatted a bit about cameras.

Gary Kralle, John Isaac and friend

I love abstract shots that emphasize bokeh. Here are a few that I took at that night.

Grow

Cactus

Four lights

When we left, there were swag bags ready for us. Here’s what was inside: a travel document holder, a pen, a paperweight, a coaster, and lots of details on the E-3. All were emblazoned with the Olympus logo. Pretty nice!

Swag from launch party

Michael Bourne, thank you very much for the invite! I look forward to reviewing the E-3 properly when it becomes available.

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