Olympus E-3 (Live View) Four-Thirds Digital SLR Camera Review
By: Michael Phrakaysone


Purchasing your very first Digital SLR camera probably made your first month enjoyable.  It presented you with a steep learning curve and often made you seek out how to maximize your DSLR to its fullest.  Eventually as time passes by, you get to the point where you’ve learned everything there is to know and feel that you need an upgrade to a newer and better camera.  You haven’t been following the industry and as a result; don’t know what is offered and that’s understandable (that’s what we’re here for).  Depending on how far you’ve grown and how far you want to go, you’ll decide to upgrade either to a mid-range offering or if you decide that you want to pursue photography as a business, you may opt for a professional-grade DSLR.

Today I will be looking at Olympus’ crown jewels; the Olympus E-3 (Live View) Four-Thirds Digital SLR Camera. 

Currently all DSLR cameras use a sensor that falls under three categories.  These categories have relation to film formats we used in the past.  From biggest to smallest is full frame, APS-C, and Four-Thirds. 

The size of a full-frame sensor (this is the reference/benchmark) is the same size as a 35mm film frame that is 35mm wide.  The size of an APS-C sensor (the most commonly used sensor format among consumer DSLR) is close to 25mm wide and lastly Four-Thirds is about 17mm wide, or about 30% less in size compared to the APS-C sensor.  By knowing the size of the sensor, you have to understand a term called “crop factor”.  Crop factor is the ratio between the imaging area offered compared to the imaging area offered on a 35mm full frame format.

Think of three rectangles representing full frame, APS-C and Four-Thirds sensors.  Notice how APS-C and Four-Thirds does not fill the whole 35mm frame.  This means if you compare cameras that utilize full-frame, APS-C and Four-Thirds, place each lens at the focal length of 15mm, you’ll notice among all three cameras that the distance of 15mm is actually different between each other even though they are at the same focal length according to the lens. 

On full-frame, 15mm is really 15mm, while on APS-C, 15mm is actually about 22.5mm (if we use a crop factor of 1.5x), and on a Four-Thirds system like the E-3, 15mm is actually 30mm (using a crop factor of 2x).  Using this example, we can see one advantage is that crop factor can actually give your lens more reach (more bokeh too), however on the flipside; crop factor can actually work against using your lens at wide angles.  And remember when I said the general rule of thumb is the larger the sensor, the better the image quality and better control of noise, well that still matters.

About Olympus (pulled from Wikipedia)

“Olympus Corporation (オリンパス株式会社 Orinpasu Kabushiki-gaisha?) (TYO: 7733) is a Japanese company specializing in optics and imaging. Olympus was established on October 12, 1919, initially specialized in microscope and thermometer businesses [2]. It is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, while its United States' operations are based in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, and European operations are based in Hamburg, Germany.”

I pulled this quote from Wikipedia because it reflects more of what I wanted to share about Olympus than what was on Olympus’ own website.  This company has been in business for a really long time specifically in the business of optics and imaging and it only made since for them to enter the camera business, both in the past and present giving Olympus lots of experience throughout the years.   

Features and Specifications


  • 10.1 Megapixel High-speed Live MOS Sensor (Four-Thirds)
  • 2.5” HyperCrystal LCD with 360-degree free-angle swivel
  • Live View technology allows composition control and simulation of photo
  • World’s Fastest Auto Focus* (According to Olympus - when coupled with the new Zuiko Digital Supersonic Wave Drive ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 Lens)
  • Continuous shooting burst-rate of up to 5-frames per second
  • 1/8000-second high-speed, high-precision shutter enables you to freeze even the fastest subjects
  • Supersonic Wave Filter™ Dust Reduction System that silently vibrates an amazing 30,000 times per second eliminating dust particles on the sensor ensuring spotless photos
  • Image Stabilization System (in-body) effectively reducing blur in photos
  • Large optical viewfinder that shows 100% of the image.  What you see is what you get.
  • Rugged magnesium-alloy construction with advanced splash/dust protection (weather-sealed)
  • Professional level  shutter mechanism tested to 150,000 cycles



Mind you the Olympus E3 was announced in October 2007.  By the time you read this, it’ll be February 2009 and there have been plenty of changes to the DSLR landscape.  Thus when looking at the E-3 specifications, you can’t but help notice one number that Olympus is lacking compared to its “professional range” competitors; megapixel count.  I realize that megapixel ratings can be deceptive and don’t tell the complete story.  Sometimes the general public (and for that matter, the manufacture) focuses too much on megapixel rating and thinks that if a megapixel rating of camera A is higher than camera B, then that means camera A is better than camera B.  That’s not always the case.

But this is supposed to be a professional model DSLR.  How are you going to sell a professional DSLR to customers in this current DSLR landscape with only 10-megapixels when today’s top models of Sony,  Nikon and Canon all peak over 20-megapixels with the Sony A900 sporting the highest megapixel count of 24.6-megapixels.  That’s a big difference. 

Here’s the reason for the big disparity; sensor format.  There’s only so much you can pump out from a small sensor such as the Four-Thirds sensor.  The Sony A900 is utilizing the full-frame sensor which is the largest sensor out there to choose from.  It’ll be interesting to see how far Olympus can go utilizing the Four-Thirds sensor over the next couple of years.  It should be safe to say when comparing to the overall market, the Olympus E-3 shouldn’t be technically classified as a professional model but rather a higher-end mid-range offering.  I will be treating the Olympus E-3 as such and will make references to cameras that are similar to the E-3 in specifications and price to make things fair. 

Looking at the competition where the Olympus E-3 stands, having similar megapixel ratings and specifications is the Nikon D300, Canon 40D, Sony DSLR-A700, possibly the Pentax K20D and FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro.

In terms of pricing, you’re looking to pay roughly $1799CAD for body only.  The Olympus Zuiko Digital Supersonic Wave Drive ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens will be another $1000CAD therefore total cost should be around $2800CAD + taxes.  That’s a lot of money to spend on a camera and a single lens but if you decide to pursue photography as a business, you should pay it off rather quickly.  And if you’re just purchasing it for personal use, you have already researched and know the commitment you’ve made and will be keeping the E-3 for a long time servicing you well throughout the years.
The Olympus E-3 is capable of a fast continuous shooting rate of 5-frames per second ensuring if you’re ever into sports photography, you’ll get the shot you want.  I’ve experienced this aspect of the E-3 and the manufacture claim seems accurate.

The implementation of a dust reduction system is a definite benefit and Olympus has in my opinion the best dust reduction system in the business (I say that now having experiences with the system).  The Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) vibrates 30,000 times per second upon initial startup to discharge dust from the sensor filter.  It’s inevitable that dust will sneak into the sensor area when you change out lenses and having something like SSWF is a huge plus so it can prevent black dust spots from showing up in your pictures.  And guess what?  No black spots for the E-420 and this Olympus E-3.  That’s amazing considering these cameras are review units that go less care than normal swapping through lenses often without the caps on the body.

First Impressions

I was fortunate enough to have Olympus supply the camera with the lens that enables the E-3 to have the fastest auto focus according to Olympus.  It’s the $1000CAD Zuiko Digital Supersonic Wave Drive ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens.  I couldn’t wait to get started.  If we take into account a crop factor of 2x, this lens is the equivalent of 24-120mm.   This is an obvious advantage this Four-Thirds system has and will benefit folks who use the added reach for nature or wildlife.

The Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm f4.0-5.6 lens was also provided with the Olympus E-3 so I could test out the advantage of having a 2x crop factor would give when we needed long reach, this lens being the equivalent of an astonishing 140-600mm.  I wonder how difficult it will be to handled hand-held.
The E-3 comes in a plain box with product feature information around the side of the package and content listing on the rear.  The styling of the box is the exact same as the E-420 we reviewed so I think it’s used across the line.  The Olympus packaging is very subdued and could be considered boring.  But as the saying goes, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. 

Upon opening the Olympus E-3 box, you’ll find these items with your purchase…

  • Olympus E-3 DSLR
  • BLM-1 Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery
  • BCM-2 Battery Charger
  • USB Cable
  • Video Cable
  • Strap
  • Eyepiece cover
  • Caps for Body and lens
  • Olympus Master 2 CD-ROM
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Instruction Manual
  • Warranty Card

Whereas the E-420 had a proprietary standard for the USB, the E-3 does not and that’s a good thing.
Purchasing a DSLR is never enough as you have to make room to purchase a memory card among other items and accessories if you choose to do so.  The Olympus E-3 has dual memory slots that supports CompactFlash Type I/II, Microdrive and xD-Picture Cards.  A great thing is that the E-3 supports UDMA-enabled CompactFlash cards which are the fastest CompactFlash type available for blazing read/write speeds enabling you to store more photos on the buffer.

A thing you’ll love about a DSLR is the battery life.  Generally among DSLR’s, batteries last a much longer times than digital cameras with standard AA batteries.  A long battery life is valued by everyone owning a camera and I’m sure you’ve owned digital cameras that drain batteries like there’s no tomorrow lasting in the low hundred shots. 

I used to dread changing out AA batteries when my digital camera died, even though I had good NIMH batteries.   On a DSLR, when others have run out of battery life, you’ll continue to take shots with the battery in your DSLR.   The BLM-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery that comes with the E-3 looks almost the exact same and has identical specifications as my old Nikon D50 battery.  It’s rated at 7.2v, 1500mAh and lasts relatively long under mix usage (600-ish) shots per charge under mixed testing (use of flash, LCD display).  Without using Live View and flash, I managed to pull in even more shots closing in on 850.

General Impressions – Body

Olympus E3

I’ve never held a camera this large before so I was in new territory.  The Olympus E-3 is built like a tank.  The entire shell is constructed out of magnesium-alloy, does not have one hint of flex and will surely take a beating.  I’ve seen a video of an Olympus representative standing on the magnesium-alloy body and it doesn’t even flinch.  After being taken aback to the physical size and weight of the camera (5.6 in. (W) x 4.58 in. (H) x 2.9 in. (excluding protrusions) and 1.79lbs body only), the E-3 felt surprisingly comfortable with lots of space and a ridge for my hands to grip onto the cameras rubber.  After being accustomed to lighter cameras all these years, the weight of the Olympus E-3 was not really a problem once I’d gotten use to it.

Olympus lays great claims of the E-3 being weather-proof so you can feel confident of shooting through virtually any type of condition such as rain or snow.  Opening up compartments on the E-3 revealed rubber gaskets, the same ones you find in your vehicle, to prevent any condensation or liquid from getting inside the seams of the body and this is done throughout.  That’s not to say its water-proof.  There’s a difference between weather-proof and water-proof, I don’t suggest drowning the Olympus E-3 in water and expecting it to survive.  I can attest to the claims of Olympus though.  Since it’s snowing in Canada, I paced the E-3 through many conditions where the E-3 was covered with snow, in subzero temperature, was in a rain, the Olympus E-3 was never fazed by these conditions and continued to operate without any problems. 

Coming to the front of the camera we observe a couple of things.  The E-3 has more buttons throughout.  There is the Olympus body cap protecting the internals, a lens release button to the right, the red indicator above that is for self-timer and remote control use, the external flash connector, to the left now is the white colored white balance sensor, beside is the sub dial and at the bottom is the preview button . 

This must be an Olympus thing because it will be the second time that I find no AF Assist Lamp similar to ones incorporated on Nikon’s DSLRs.  I’m not sure if Nikon has an AF Assist Lamp patent but the Olympus implementation by utilizing the on-board flash to act as the AF Assist Lamp by flashing,    strobe/blink multiple times quickly to provide light for the lens to focus on the subject does not work better than a lamp.  Plus it’s just plain annoying. 

The memory compartment door lays to the right of the camera and is operated by a spring.  We have dual memory card slots able to accommodate both CompactFlash and XD-Picture cards.  We have a 1GB Olympus/FujiFilm Picture Card supplied with our E-3.

The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment and metal tripod mount.  This battery compartment door has a latch to open/close and features a red latch that prevents/releases the battery and rubber gasket to prevent water from coming in.

Let’s go the rear of the camera where we find a host of buttons.  First off we are welcomed to the Olympus logo engraved on the back of the LCD screen.  This LCD screen offers 230,000-pixels of resolution and is a little different than ones we’ve seen previous making Live View more useful than before by having the ability to rotate 360-degrees allowing you to shoot in positions in which you could not previous. 

Looking above the LCD is the conventional optical viewfinder.  I have nothing to nitpick about the optical viewfinder as I’m in love with it.  The viewfinder is huge offering a diopter magnification of 1.15x and offering 100% field of view meaning what you see is what you get.  There is a diopter adjustment dial to the left of the screen for necessary adjustments you may want to make.

To the right of the viewfinder going clockwise is the AEL/AFL button, FUNC button, AF-target button, main dial, playback button, directional pad with OK button, IS (Image Stabilization) button, power switch, memory card lock, SSWF indicator, Live View button, MENU button, INFO button and erase button.

Over the top of the camera from left to right we have the flash mode/flash intensity control button, shooting mode/remote control/self-timer/sequential shooting button and metering/AF mode/AE bracketing mode button.  I’ll explain the AE bracketing mode a little later on as it’s a great little function to have allowing you to shoot three different shots with one push of the shutter.  Looking to the middle we find the flash hot-shoe, the LCD control panel to the right, a light button for the LCD control panel, white balance button, reset exposure compensation button and ISO speed button.  We finish off with the shutter release button that is on a slight curve.  Man that is a lot of buttons, each having specific functions and ability to change options with the main/sub dials and LCD control panel.  You don’t even need to use the main 2.5” LCD to change options.

General Impressions – The 2.5” HYPERCRYSTAL LCD Display

The LCD display on the E-3 is better than the E-420’s but not marginally better.  In terms of resolution, it’s not utilized to the fullest.  Roaming around the menu, the text is not defined and detailed.  The resolution looks like if you were to change your monitor resolution to 640x480.  The only time when resolution becomes clean is when reviewing pictures you’ve taken.

Performance of the LCD when given great lighting performs very well being smooth and generally easy to use.  This could be attributed to the fact that it contains an illumination sensor beside the LCD to automatically adjust brightness of the LCD depending on the surrounding brightness.   The fact that the LCD can rotate 360-degree will allow you to shoot in ways it just wasn’t possible.  Factor in the “preview” buttons located in the rear and front, it allows more flexibility and usefulness to Live View.
Under average and low-lighting conditions the display begins to slow down so I advise not using the Live View under such conditions because there is really no point. 

General Impressions - Zuiko Digital Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD) ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 Lens

Zuiko Digital 12-60mm

The Zuiko Digital SWD ED 12-60mm lens is Olympus’ High Grade product offering.  What characteristics constitute being given the high grade classification?  Here is what Olympus says: “These high-performance lens series have been developed for the top level brightness, close-up shooting capability and sharpness in the class.  Dust and splash proof construction allow you to use the lenses even in harsh conditions.”

Three new lenses were released for use on the E-3 when it arrived.  The Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm is one of those lenses bringing forth Olympus’ new Supersonic Wave Drive technology which allows for super-fast, super-quiet auto focus speed.

I love the Zuiko Digital SWD ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens.  Without a doubt it’s one of the best all-around lenses I’ve come across.  Every claim by Olympus is true.  Under operation, the lens is a delight to use.  It’s dead quiet, superman-like fast when auto focusing on subjects, fast in general (being f2.8) and provides sharp photos.  You’ll notice that the fascia is huge (72mm thread size) compared to other lenses so purchasing filters at this size will obviously be more expensive.  The Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm compliments the E-3 so well I think it’s probably the only lens you’ll need for this setup unless you need to go even wider or demand using only a prime lens.

Regarding construction, the Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm is first-rate.  The weight of the lens compliments the E-3 when mounted.  It’s not heavy nor is it too light being just the right weight coming in at 575g and making the E-3 + 12-60mm combo weighing around 2.45lbs. Touching the lens for the first time reveals something of high-quality.  It uses high-quality (seems thicker or at least harder) plastic for its construction and there was no flex I could find.  Rounding it off is a metal mount with rubber seals allowing it to be splash proof.  A rubber gasket seal is placed also on the barrel of the lens when zooming so you have confidence in using the lens in just about any environmental condition you come across.

The lens barrel has a perfect feel to it.  Zooming feels natural and not tight nor loose.  The focusing ring performs the same way.  I like how the rubber on the lens is actually functional unlike some of the budget lens offerings.  I guess it better be real since the lens is $1000CAD.

General Impressions - Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm f4.0-5.6 Lens

Zuiko Digital 70-300mm

The Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm f4.0-5.6 lens is Olympus’ Standard Grade product offering.  What characteristics constitute being given the standard grade classification?  Here is what Olympus says: “These interchangeable lenses have been developed for cost-performance and portability.  The best choice for the enthusiasts and Digital SLR beginners as well.”

The Zuiko Digital 70-300mm is a solid performer but obviously one-dimensional and only used for specific types of photography such as nature, bird or wildlife photography where long reach is needed.  Factor in crop factor of 2x and the equivalent length translates into an amazing 140-600mm all costing a little over $380CAD dollars making this an extreme value.   

I find that it provides good value considering the price but it’s not the fastest lens out there and will slow down in less than perfect conditions such as in overcast, gray or hazy skies.  Under these conditions the lens is just not fast enough at telephoto to capture the shot without having motion blur and requires that you either check your shutter speed or bump up your ISO speed to compensate.  It’s a good idea to enable Image Stabilization with just about any telephoto lens and the E-3 certainly helps in this regard as it can provide anywhere from 3-5 stop performance. 

Photos are relatively sharp, having decent to good bokeh, good color, great close-up magnification and just a solid performer.  However, I did notice some hint of purple fringing (chromatic aberration) in just a few of my photos at different lengths.  It was not a major problem though and for the most part minimized. 

The 70-300mm not incorporating Olympus’ SWD technology meant that the focusing motor was audible and not totally quiet.  Auto-focusing speeds were quick when you had focus but sometimes the lens would hunt to find focus.  At this point the lens barrel would “rewind” in and out making this a noisy and slow affair. 

Construction wise, the 70-300mm does have some heft to it but still relatively light (only 620g compared to the 575g 12-60mm) considering the length it offers.  It can be difficult to handle hand-held so I think it’s a good idea to use a tripod and that’s probably what most people will do since the lens is long (even more so with the lens hood).  My only beef is that the lens has no tripod collar like the more expensive units have because mounting it on the E-3 and having it on a tripod; the balance is not even.  Hand-held shots are possible but again the environment has to be in great conditions (sunny) for you to pull it off. 

The 70-300mm body is of good construction but obviously not in the same class as the high-grade lens offering.  The plastic feels less durable and possibly not able to handle a fall.  The good thing is that it contains a sturdy metal lens mount.
The lens barrel has a decent feel to it but felt a little bit loose and the rubber on the zoom wasn’t really grippy.  The focus ring performed nicely though provided good feedback.

How it performs

Turning on the Olympus E-3 is very fast and is only hindered for a second by the SSWF cleaning system.  Once that is finished, you’re able to take a photo as fast as the camera can handle which is at superman-like speeds.  I was actually surprised at how fast it was actually able to lock onto focus.  Olympus’ claims of the fastest autofocus speed are more than likely accurate.

The Olympus E-3 is capable of shooting in continuous fashion up to 5-frames per second and that’s pretty quick for capturing action although not the fastest in the segment. Supplied with a 1GB xD-picture card, the Olympus E-3 shot 21 pictures in JPEG fine before the camera could not shoot any longer and cleared its buffer in 34 seconds.  Shooting in RAW mode, the E-3 shot 14 pictures before the camera could not shoot any longer and cleared its buffer in 50 seconds.  Utilizing a faster UDMA CompactFlash card will decrease these times no doubt.

With the Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm lens, the Olympus E-3 is very balanced and performs admirably.  The lens features Olympus’ Supersonic Wave Drive technology which enables the 12-60mm to be hushed under operation (very low noise motor) and one of the fastest autofocus speed on the market.  Although the Olympus E-3 doesn’t have an AF Assist implementation that I enjoy, focusing at less than stellar conditions is still relatively quick thanks to a great lens taking just a second or two to achieve focus.

Being at the top of the top of the Olympus lineup, the E-3 offers a more advanced metering system and more AF-targets than its siblings.   Their “matrix” metering system is called ESP metering and offers a revised algorithm offering 49-point multi-pattern design.  Other modes are the usual center-weighted and spot-metering.  Pair this with 11 AF-targets selectable in the viewfinder; you now have more flexibility than before.

One of the things I like about Nikon DSLR’s but is consistently absent from Olympus’ offerings is the ability to allow the user in real-time to select where they want the autofocus area to be with the directional pad instead of pre-selecting it inside the menu.  This is something the Nikon can accomplish and is a feature you’ll be able to use easily.  The only way you can do this on an Olympus is to pre-select the AF-area in the menu or tell the E-420 to focus on whatever it thinks is closest.

Internal Flash

The internal flash on the E-3 is pretty powerful and does a fine job at giving proper exposures to photos.  You’re able to adjust flash exposure if need be.  The E-3 on-board flash has a guide number of 13 meters @ 100ISO. 

Feature Set, Menu and Playback

Olympus DSLR

You have two menus.  You have the main menu (by pressing the Menu button) and you have the Super Control Panel.  The Super Control Panel is basically a shortcut menu that prevents you from digging deep into the main menu (the main menu is long and somewhat confusing offering no HELP explanations). Pressing OK brings up the Super Control Panel where all the important options related to shooting are located (ISO, WB, picture mode, flash mode, self timer/continuous shooting, metering, saturation, gradation, exposure compensation, AF mode, AF area, face detect, color space, image quality, CF/xD).  You change the settings by pressing OK or using the dial (much faster) to make changes.

One of the neat features I like about the Olympus E-3 is something called “bracketing”.  This is where the camera will shoot 3 different shots with one push of the shutter.  For example, with the E-3 you can shoot 3 different exposures with one press of the shutter, shoot 3 different ISO speed shots with one push of the shutter or shoot 3 different flash exposure compensation shots with one push of the shutter.  The best thing is the values for the photos can be customized to your liking before you shoot.  Bracketing is a very convenient feature that allows you to have a variety of the same photo to pick from.

In terms of picture modes on the E-3, some professionals more often than not want natural looking pictures and do post processing themselves.  In this case you’ll select natural picture mode on the E-3.  Additional picture modes include Vivid, Portrait, Muted, Monotone and Custom.  In custom mode you can adjust parameters that include contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation and also give picture tones/filter effects under monotone mode.

Playback is informative.  You can view pictures individually, in thumbnail view or calendar view.  Once selected you can use the dial to zoom in up to 14-times magnification, rotate the picture, view as slideshow and show shot information regarding size, shutter speed, f-stop, white balance used, etc.   Additionally a histogram can be displayed so you can see how to a particular shot came out and how it can be improved exposure wise.  Rounding off is a blown highlight/shadow point indicator. 

The Olympus E-3 contains in-body Image Stabilization.  A great thing about in-body Image Stabilization is that it is universal to any lens that mounts to the body.  That means if one of your lens has no image stabilization, you won’t have to worry about it since it’s already in the camera body. 

Photo Quality

The Olympus E-3 is a very capable performer and produces very good looking photos out of the camera.  I really enjoyed my time with the E-3 and I suggest printing out some of the full-size samples below to get a sense of what I’m talking about.  Magnify the full-size pictures to 100% and you’ll notice the detail the camera can capture and how sharp and clear they are showcasing the difference between an entry-level offering and a pro-offering.  Coupled with the Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm lens, picture quality is very good with great level of detail in its photos through the ISO ranges.

The camera produces natural looking accurate colors but provided a mixed bag of results for its dynamic range since I still had photos that had blown highlights and felt that the E-3 wasn’t marginally better than anything I’ve already seen from the E-420/D60.  I feel dynamic range could have been better and I do believe it’s due to the size of the sensor and not much can be really done to improve.

Another limitation the size of a sensor will affect is noise and the Olympus E3 is no different.  Being dubbed a professional model, I can’t help but feel disappointed with the E-3.  Noise wasn’t as smooth as the entry-level Nikon D60 and could be picked up from as low as 400ISO and got worse from there.  The Nikon D60 performs better than the E-3 in this regard at every ISO range; it’s that much of a difference.   The E-3 maintains a compact but wide range of ISO speed settings not seen on lower-end DSLR models.  The ISO speed ranges are as follows: 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500 and 3200.

As for if I had experienced any problems during my time with the Olympus E-3, I only had one strange issue that since has been linked to this lens being voluntary recalled if the user notices focusing issues.  The issue I had was that the camera could not focus on anything at the very wide angles of the lens.  Between 12-16mm the E-3 could not focus lock on anything if it was at far distance, unless I zoomed in closer and additionally if it did obtain lock in those wide angles, the picture would turn up with the wrong focus.  Obviously this would become counter-productive for the professional but Olympus has found out why this happened and has arranged for free inspection and repair if necessary with all costs paid by Olympus.

Picture Gallery and Photo Quality Tests

Full-size "out of the camera" pictures below for download. JPEG Fine, resolution size 3648x2736.

Next we have the modified picture gallery.  These are photos that I have taken with the Olympus E-3 and with experience you'll learn to modify your photos like I have to express how you want your photos to be presented.


Down below are what you can expect out of the Olympus E-3 DSLR.

Contrast Comparison (Least + Most shown, normal/middle is left out)

(Roll over all images with mouse unless told otherwise)

Gradation Mode (Low Key, Auto, High Key)

The last picture of the gradation rollover above is an up/down/over image placeholder.  Rollover to see pictures 1+2 and click to see picture 3.



Sharpeness (100% magnification crop, +2 can be seen fullsize)


Take a look at the full resolution images of each picture mode (Natural, Portrait, Vivid, Muted and Monotone) available on the Olympus E-3.

For reference purposes only, here is the difference between an entry-level DSLR and mid-professional range DSLR.  Compared to the Nikon D60 which sports similar megapixel count (10.1MP compared to D60’s 10.2MP), there is no comparison.  The Olympus E3 provides more detail in its photos compared to the Nikon D60.  Settings for both cameras were set to default (natural/normal) settings.

Please rollover the pictures with your mouse to see comparisons.


There’s a lot to like about the Olympus E-3 and at the end of the day, this camera is a very capable camera for enthusiasts and semi-professionals.  It offers blistering autofocus speeds, very good image quality, natural looking colors, weather-sealing for use in just about any environmental condition, in-camera image stabilization, a large viewfinder, strong chassis and the E-3 is very comfortable to handle.

Biggest letdowns that leave the E-3 at a disadvantage to its competitors are in regards to noise and dynamic range.  These two disadvantages are limitations of the E-3 sensor being revealed.  Noise was not the best and I would even say not as good as than the entry-level Nikon D60, I don’t think you can dispute that.  Whereas noise on the Nikon D60 is smooth just about through to 1600, the same cannot be said for the E-3 noise being fine grained and distributed throughout the photo, even being distinguishable at lower ISO speeds.  I expect better noise control for a camera in this class.  800 ISO and higher may become a problem for those who do high ISO work.  For those who deal with lower ISO ranges, then the E-3 is worth looking at.

Would I recommend it?  Yes and no.  Yes, if you won’t be shooting at high-ISO and are getting the camera for a good price.  No, if you shoot over 800-ISO and expect better dynamic range because the limitations of a small sensor are being magnified.  It’ll be interesting to see how far Olympus can go with their Four-Thirds sized sensor.

Pros and Cons

    • + Photos offer great level of detail at just about every ISO
    • + Almost instant autofocus speed with Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm lens
    • + Accurate colors
    • + Live View implementation is faster and becomes more flexible with LCD swivel arm
    • + Super Control Menu is quick and easy
    • + Out of the box JPEG files are very good quality
    • + Bracketing
    • + In-camera image stabilization
    • + Large optical viewfinder
    • + 70-300mm lens provides great value and high reach
    • - More noise than competitors
    • - LCD screen is still average quality.  I had to trust the camera instead of the LCD
    • - Lack in the megapixel department compared to others in same class
    • - Main menu is too complicated
    • - AF Assist Lamp implementation is poor.
    • - Some focus issues for 12-60mm lens.  But can be fixed.
    • - Dynamic range still leaves more to be desired
    • - Low-lighting performance because of noise and AF assist implementation
    • - 70-300mm is noisy when hunting for focus



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