Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nostalgia

I loved my Olympus E-3 very much. It was a gem and it performed according to expectations.


I started off with Olympus because I wanted to be different from the rest of the others who were on Canon or Nikon. I still take out the trusty E-510 once in a while when I feel like reliving my past when things were much simpler with a beginners camera.

I got Kim (my E-3) through ebay from an owner who used it in the states. I loved the extremely vibrant and natural colours that the Truepic III image processor produced, especially for portraits and landscapes. It didn't have art filters, but I think it doesn't really matter that much. (My favorite was black and white, but more often than not, it blew out the highlights and severely limited the depth and tonality of the resultant image.) The swiveling LCD screen was also a nifty idea, enabling me to easily compose shots with live view, although it only had a 230k resolution screen. The body feels well built and solid, and it is a very immersive experience to hold an E-3 with the HLD-4 battery grip and the GS-2 handgrip. No worries about the solid build quality and weathersealing. I've brought it out in the rain before, and it works flawlessly. As advertised, it should perform well in adverse conditions. Image stabilisation works well, and you can get relatively sharp images (handheld) at 1/10s and below. Any issues changing lenses? No worries, the SSWF (supersonic wave filter is your ultimate dust buster.

When the E-3 is fitted with the Zuiko armada (namely the 7-14, 14-35 and 35-100), it produced glorious images straight out of camera, and I truly attest to this fact. The images were sharp from edge to edge, and well detailed at low ISOs (using good quality image sizes of course, namely large JPG or ORF). It was relatively quick to focus albeit Olympus only claims its the fastest focusing system in the world with the 12-60SWD. Focusing accuracy is a separate issue though.

So the Olympus faithful have been eagerly waiting for a replacement E-3 model. Ok.. Eagerly is an understatement. Let me rephrase - Extremely desperate... Yes that sounds better. During its heydays, the E-3 was up against the 40D and the D300, which are still very capable and sought after camera models in their own right even today. As time passed, the pond got gradually more crowded with better and more capable cameras, such as the Pentax K-7, Canon 7D and the Nikon D300s.

 I was intially excited when Olympus announced the launch of the E-5 yesterday. My colleagues were talking about it (My boss monitors Dpreview every day), and I did hear the faint mention of the word "Olympus", but it slipped off my mind not too long after that. So here you go.. the Olympus E-5.


OK... from the front , both look indistinguishable (like the Nikon D3 and Nikon D3s, for example). The more obvious changes are from the back, where the 2.7" 230k dot screen is replaced with a spanking new 3" 920k screen which puts it on par with other competitors.

From the back, some buttons have been rearranged because of the newer and larger LCD screen. Now the buttons look small and as if they're competing for space with the screen. I still miss the controls of the E-3, I guess.

The E-5 sports a new 12.3 MP sensor which maximises detail and reduces noise through the True Pic V+ processor. Yes, I believe detail has been increased, but noise is still noticeable even at base ISO 200, especially in the shadow areas. The new 3" 921k screen is a welcome, but due to the increased power consumption, they also had to revamp their battery technology, which I still suspect is behind Nikon's and Canon's. I admire the concept of a CF / SD card for more image back up security (they should have abandoned the XD technology a long while ago).

In my opinion, the release of the E-5 this time is very muted. This could very well be the last of iteration of the Olympus flagship model which began with the Olympus E-1 which was then superseded by the E-3. Perhaps I'm dreaming that Olympus would come up with something really novel, something that would tantalize our senses and set them apart from other manufacturers.

But we have to be realistic. The fourthirds sensor, being the smallest existing DSLR sensor format has some rather limiting factors that inhibit its growth. It's low light / high ISO performance isn't on par with the D300s and the 7D, for example. It's dynamic range isn't very good too, and you wouldn't be able to get too much detail even by processing the Olympus RAW files as compared to other models which allow you to recover one stop worth of blown out highlights, for example. Canon has taken it a step further by introducing the 'highlight tone priority' feature, which expands the dynamic range from 7 stops to 8 +2/3 stops whilst retaining the highlights and boosting brightness in the shadow areas.

The metering wasn't very reliable too. The camera tends to underexpose, especially in bright light. When this happens, I switch to manual mode to make the exposure constant, especially if I'm shooting jpegs. This works well if the light doesn't change too much. Focusing in low light is a bit of a challenge too. If there isn't enough contrast, the camera refuses to focus at all.

Yes, 5fps is relatively 'fast' for sports and action photography, but with other manufacturers taking it further to 8fps (with the 7D for example), I for once do wish that the camera wouldn't be capped at that speed. If it could be upgraded to 8fps with the battery pack (such as the d700), that would be a really nice addition. For serious sports and nature photography, one would like to capture as many frames as possible, and pick the best one. If full frame cameras can do 10fps, shouldn't Olympus with a smaller sensor and shutter unit be able to to do so with less problems, while at the same time boast a 150k shutter life?

The art filters are pretty nifty. Yes, i guess they make the camera cooler with regards to its features, but I just can't get out of my mind that the art filters make the camera look amateurish in some way or another.

I've heard somewhere that some people really like Olympus lenses, but their camera bodies 'aren't quite there yet'. I'm afraid this would be the same scenario. With plunging full frame DSLR prices (the 5DII and D700 have a retail price of about RM 6k body only, Olympus will be in very tight spot to compete with its competitors.

Do I have to wait for my dream to materialize? Nope, not really.


The D3 is big and beautiful. With the vertical grip infused into the camera body, it offers superior grip and a great shooting experience, alongside the large viewfinder and the ergonomically placed buttons. There are a whole host of lenses to play with, such as this beautiful 85/1.4D or the ridiculously affordable but sharp 50/1.8. Any issues in low light? Nope.. almost none at all. It focuses quickly and accurately, and the high noise capabilities enable iso 6400 to be used straight out of camera without requiring noise reduction techniques in post processing. The anti-aliasing filter is pretty light so the files are really packed with detail, especially if you examine the NEF files. Yes, Olympus is claiming the E-5 is equipped with  "fine detail processing" to maximise image quality at higher ISOs, but I think N and C got the basics right quite some time ago.

I like the D3, but I don't love it. Where are the accurate natural colours, true-to-life skin tones and brilliant blue skies? Where's the image stabilisation that enables ridiculous hand holdable shutter speeds?

Olympus did pioneer many things in the DSLR market, and I tip my hat to them for their inventiveness. But now, every camera has similar features. Canon even had the cheek to blatantly copy almost all the features from the E-system into their new 60D, such as the vari angle 3" LCD, creative image filters, aspect ratios, etc. I bet the engineers in Olympus Tokyo have been crying blue murder ever since the 60D was officially announced.

I guess I'm not the only one being disappointed here. I reckon other faithful E-users around the world are thinking the same thing. Nikon bombarded dpreview today with announcements of their D7000, 35mm/f1.4G, 200mm / f2G and sb700 flash, causing the news of the Olympus E-5 release the day before to disappear into oblivion. Any news of new fourthirds lenses, flashes, or accessories compared to the announcement of its predecessor, the Olympus E-3? Practically none.

The future of the E-system looks bleak. Perhaps one day it will disappear altogether. But you know, I will always keep my Olympus cameras. As I look back upon them, I can say that I appreciate my Olympus pedigree, and it has made me the photographer that I am today. Thank you Olympus.

1 Comment:

p.f. said...

"I like the D3, but I don't love it. Where are the accurate natural colours, true-to-life skin tones and brilliant blue skies? Where's the image stabilisation that enables ridiculous hand holdable shutter speeds?

Olympus did pioneer many things in the DSLR market, and I tip my hat to them for their inventiveness. But now, every camera has similar features. Canon even had the cheek to blatantly copy almost all the features from the E-system into their new 60D, such as the vari angle 3" LCD, creative image filters, aspect ratios, etc. I bet the engineers in Olympus Tokyo have been crying blue murder ever since the 60D was officially announced.

I guess I'm not the only one being disappointed here. I reckon other faithful E-users around the world are thinking the same thing. Nikon bombarded dpreview today with announcements of their D7000, 35mm/f1.4G, 200mm / f2G and sb700 flash, causing the news of the Olympus E-5 release the day before to disappear into oblivion."

I'm with you on this. They can do more like you said on the battery & especially the innovations. But I do understand competition is tough for them with CNS. Perhaps they should hire somebody from C or N for their product strategy & marketing...

 

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