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The new Olympus E-1, an all-digital SLR "system" with interchangeable "smart" lenses, is the very first of its kind and is sure to set a new benchmark for digital photography. There are many features of this camera that are getting people excited, the biggest being the way in which the lens, body and image sensor perfectly sync up to create images with unparalleled quality.

In short, Olympus has developed a new standard (their "Four Thirds System") whereby the lens-mount syncs up precisely with the image sensor to render optimal-quality images. And once a "smart" lens is mounted, the camera is then able to determine how much to compensate for its particular lens distortion and corner shading. To give you an idea of how much thought went into the making of the E-1, consider that it even has a "Supersonic Wave Filter" built in to vibrate dust particles off of the image sensor!

The entire feature list of the E-1 and its accessories are too numerous to list here, but if you're interested, you can view the specifications at the Olympus site.

This review simply illustrates some of the key features and benefits of this groundbreaking new camera system.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Defining megapixels
  • Anatomy of the Four Thirds System
  • How "Smart Lenses" work
  • Improvements on shooting and playback speed
  • Using Record mode to determine resolution
  • How digital ISO works
  • Using White Balance to color balance your photos
  • Downloading images to your computer

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.


    When you hold the E-1 in your hands, it feels solid and well-weighted, just like a pro 35mm camera. Made of magnesium alloy, it's about the same size and weight of a traditional film camera, and the shutter fires just as fast.

    Yet unlike a film camera, this fully digital rig runs on 3 mini computers, uses a 5 megapixel, "full frame transfer" type sensor (as opposed to the lower-grade "interline transfer" type of most digital cameras) and is able to capture information through the lens more effectively than any other digital camera ever built. What does all this mean? Simply, that by way of this new Four Thirds System, the E-1 is able to render images that are more often superior in quality to 6.3MP+ cameras.

    First of all, not all 5 megapixel sensors, or CCD's (Charged Coupled Device) are made, or function, in the same way. There are different "Types" of CCD, and each one possesses different sized pixels and transfers information differently than the next.


    For example, the Olympus C-5050 Zoom uses a 1/1.8 Type sensor, the Olympus E-20N uses a 2/3 Type sensor, and the Olympus E-1 uses a 4/3 Type sensor.

    Each is capable of capturing 5 million pixels of information, but the pixels in the E-1 are much larger and can process and transfer information much quicker and more accurately (figure 1).

    Figure 1


    Secondly, most people will not need the extra pixels required to make prints in excess of 20"x30". While I was at Olympus headquarters, I was shown an amazing 20"x30" E-1 print of a complex product shot in which the detail was astonishing. If the E-1 can make a print this big look good, why would you need for it to have more than this 4/3 Type 5 megapixel sensor?

    (TECHNICAL NOTE: The fraction noted in these sensors refers to the diameter of the projected Image Circle, and not the diagonal diameter of the Image Sensor. The projected Image Circle from the E-1 system works out to be 1 and 1/3 inches, or more elegantly, "Four Thirds". See Figure 2 below.)

    Of course, the 4/3 sensor is only part of the equation with this camera. It is also unique in that the diameter of the Lens Mount is approximately twice the size of the projected diameter of the Image Circle. Basically what this means is that light can be projected more evenly across the entire sensor, not just in the center. This makes for better color reproduction and greatly reduces the "cornershading" that occurs in other digital cameras (figures 2 & 3).


    Figure 4


    The E-1 is also just like a traditional SLR in that it allows you to use interchangeable lenses for different photographic situations (figure 4).


    However, these razor-sharp Zuiko Digital Specific Smart lenses have an advantage over traditional film lenses in that they efficiently transmit light information onto the image sensor in direct, 90-degreee angles. Film lenses, on the other hand, transmit light at oblique angles, resulting in significant loss of digital information (figures 5 & 6).




    Not only is the shooting speed fast like a film camera, its operating speeds are equally accelerated. The shutter lag time is no longer a noticeable factor and the waiting-waiting-waiting experience of buffer load and playback is a thing of the past. It shoots at 3 frames per second up to 12 frames, regardless of the image quality mode in which you happen to be shooting (JPEG, TIFF, RAW), and playback in any of the modes is nearly instantaneous. By contrast, the E-20N shoots at just over 2.2 frames per second up to 4 frames, and it can take up to 30 seconds to fully record an image in the TIFF mode.



    The controls on the E-1 are very similar to that of a traditional SLR, yet in addition to the various exposure (manual, aperture and shutter priority, program) and focusing modes/features (AF, MF, Continuous, AEL), you can also adjust most of the other important settings (Image Quality, White Balance, ISO) externally, saving you from having to enter the internal menu system (figure 7).

    Figure 7


    The fastest shutter speed on the E-1 is 1/4000th of a second and the slowest speed is 2 seconds in any of the auto modes (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority) mode, 60 seconds in manual mode. Set to the Bulb setting, the E-1 can expose a scene for up to 8 minutes.


    Figure 8

    FOCUSING MODES There are three focus modes in the E-1: Single Auto-Focus (S), Continuous Auto-Focus (C) and Manual Focus (MF). Both of the Auto-Focusing modes are surprisingly quick and accurate, even in low-light situations (figure 8).


    The E-1 comes with a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery designed specifically for the E-1. Although you can expect to capture and play back many images for each charging, I recommend that you invest in at least one more Lithium-Ion battery so that when you run out of power, you won't have to suspend shooting until your only battery fully charges (figure 9).

    Figure 9

    Figure 10

    Another alternative is to purchase the optional Lithium-Polymer battery, which can last several days without having to recharge it. I can't recommend this accessory enough. It's a must-have when you are on location away from electricity. Even in the studio, it's worth it not to have to spend your time changing and charging batteries (figure 10).


    The E-1 has one CompactFlash media bay that can use Type I and Type II cards up to 2GB, as well as IBM Microdrives. And there are optional CompactFlash Adapters that will accommodate xD-Picture cards as well (figure 11).

    Figure 11

    Figure 12

    The super bright LCD can be viewed with or without a protective cover, great for travel photographers or for those who are less than ginger with their camera gear. The E-1 body and lenses are even "splash-proof" (figure 12).


    And FINALLY, with the help of the new capture software, you can trigger the shutter directly from a FireWire cable connected computer. This alone can save you countless hours if you're working in the studio.

    RECORD MODES The E-1 offers a variety of Record mode settings that ascend in both image size and quality. They are:

    SQ - Standard Quality
    HQ - High Quality
    SHQ - Super High Quality
    TIFF - Tagged Image File Format
    RAW - Olympus Raw Format (.orf)- files can only be displayed as images with the Olympus capture software or in Adobe Photoshop with specific plug-in software (available at www.olympus.com).

    The chart below illustrates the approximate number of images you can expect to record to either a 256MB or 512MB CompactFlash card at various Record modes.


    Photos per Memory Card

    Photos per Memory Card


    If you prefer to shoot in either TIFF or RAW modes, I recommend purchasing larger CompactFlash cards (128MB+), as you will only be able to record 2-4 images on an empty 32MB card.

    ISO The term ISO (what used to be known as ASA) is used to measure the speed of photographic film. The higher the ISO rating the faster the film is, and fast film affords better exposures in low light situations. The offshoot is that the faster the film gets, the more the grain size increases.


    I have found that higher ISO numbers in digital cameras result in increased noise rather than larger "grain". Notice the noise that appears in the shadow of this remote control unit as the ISO is increased (figure 13).

    Figure 13


    Because of this, I recommend setting the ISO to 100 (its lowest) for most situations, as this renders the best image quality. Among the ISO settings are -A- (Auto: 100 to 400), 100, 200, 400 and 800. In the E-1 Menus, the ISO can be expanded to ISO 1600 and 3200 for very low-light conditions.


    The E-1 offers a variety of White Balance (WB) settings so that you can render natural-looking colors in your photographs.


    You can leave it on AUTO and let the camera interpret the correct color temperature for any given situation. The camera is quite adept at determining the appropriate color temperature in most situations. However, there will be times when you will want to either choose a Preset WB setting or create a Custom WB setting.


    There are many different Preset White Balance settings from which you can choose that will Color Balance such situations as sunny days, cloudy days, shade in daylight and many different artificial lighting conditions. You can experiment with different color tones by selecting different Preset WB settings. The color temperatures (measured in degrees Kelvin) available for Preset WB are as follows: 3000K, 3300K, 3600K, 3900K, 4000K, 4300K, 4500K, 4800K, 5500K, 6500K, 6600K and 7500K. It is even possible to make fine tunings to the Presets in the WB Compensation menu, where you can adjust the color temperature in 50K increments.


    There are times when the Presets do not quite match the color temperature of a given light source. For example, a Photoflex Starlite Lamp is a photographic light source that is designed to have the color temperature of a true Tungsten light: 3200 degrees Kelvin. Yet the closest Presets in the E-1 are 3000K and 3300K degrees Kelvin. While 100 or 200 degrees may not seem like a lot, it can noticeably throw off your Color Balance.


    Figure 14

    In the example below, this group of pencils was lit by a single Starlite Kit and photographed with two different WB settings: the 3000K preset and a Custom WB setting. Notice how the left-hand result has a slight magenta cast to it, particularly in the shadows, whereas the image on the right has no colorcast whatsoever. This demonstrates the color shift of 200K (figure 14).


    In situations like these, it is obviously better to create a Custom WB setting. Here's how to set the White Balance to neutralize any single light source.

    Listed among the White Balance presets in the control panel are 4 Custom options: -0- 1, -0- 2, -0- 3, and -0- 4. Once you select one of these options, you will want to find something neutral, like a white sheet of paper, a gray card, a camera bag, from which to take an exposure. The E-1 has a One Touch WB button placed on the front of the camera. Fill the frame with the white sheet of paper and press this button (figures 15 & 16).



    When you press the One Touch WB button the shutter will sound, indicating that the color temperature has been recorded. If you have strobes synced up to the camera, they will also be triggered when the One-Touch button is pressed.


    When you press the One Touch WB button the shutter will sound, indicating that the color temperature has been recorded. If you have strobes synced up to the camera, they will also be triggered when the One-Touch button is pressed.

    Figure 17


    The E-1 comes with new software that allows you to tag raw images for categorization purposes, as well as to run batch processing for image manipulation and format conversion. The E-1 also comes packaged with the robust Adobe Photoshop Elements2.

    In total, the E-1 system may very well prove to become the proverbial "dream come true" for professional and amateur photographers alike. And with a price tag close to where the Olympus E-20N was originally listed, Olympus may have a hard time keeping this camera in stock. Should you decide to buy the E-1, you will find an included CD containing 10 Web Photo School lessons that demonstrate lighting and camera techniques using this camera.


    Equipment Used:
    You can click on the blue links below for more info.

      Recommended Links

      • To learn more about Photoflex equipment, go to www.photoflex.com
      • For more tips and techniques on lighting and cameras, visit www.webphotoschool.com and sign
        up for access to the Member Lessons.

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