|Olympus E3 Optical viewfinder
What surprised me the most was the viewfinder. I am used to the small and dark viewfinders of the FourThirds System that almost force you to use Live View. So viewing through the Olympus E3's viewfinder for the first time I was pleasantly surprised. Although the sensor is small it is a superb viewfinder. It is large, clear and offers sufficient information. The less frequently used settings such as colour space require watching the monitor on the back. Other than that it is just a matter of keeping the Olympus E-3 in front of your eye, watch your object and settings and pressing the shutter release at the right moment.
Olympus E3 Focus points
The eleven focus points you see in the viewfinder belong to the fastest auto focus in the world at present, according to Olympus. The points are nicely divided but a tad close to the centre. Olympus did some research on pictures and photographers to find out where the captured object is usually placed in the composition and positioned the eleven points accordingly. Personally I like to see some focus points closer to the edge of the viewfinder. I like to place my object on the edge. Placing an object in the centre of the picture usually makes the picture somewhat duller. And when the manufacturer places the focus points close to the centre you won't be challenged to try a different focus. The story of the chicken and the egg really and what came first…
Olympus E-3 Auto focus system
It is rather difficult to decide whether the Olympus E-3 is offering the fastest AF. You'd have to set up different camera systems and shoot the same object at the same moment. And still then… But in itself it is not that important to find out if it is the fastest AF or not; that is more interesting for marketing purpose only. The fact the Olympus E-3 is capable of focussing fast goes without a doubt. Although at low contrast and in dim light conditions it finds it difficult at times to focus correctly. In 99.5 % you will benefit from the new AF. To be able to use the fast auto focus correctly you must use SWD lenses. Naturally we have used them for testing the E3.
|What's even more important than focussing in itself is that the camera focuses precisely and that is what the E3 does. From all the pictures I have captured there were only a few (explainable) flaws. You can choose to work with a focus point and change from focus point yourself, or you can work with groups of focus points. You can also choose from continuous or one-time focusing with the possibility for both modes to overrule them and focus manually. It is a true mature system as we know from Nikon for example.
Olympus E-3 Focussing
You only benefit from the fast focus if you photograph using the viewfinder. When using Live View you encounter a vast delay. To enable focussing you have to fold up the mirror and when you do so, you lose view for a second. It may be clear that the shutter lag is considerable then. You can prevent this by focussing prior to capturing and locking the auto focus with AFL. Live View is not really meant for action photography, but it will come in handy and efficiently when working in a studio environment for example.
Olympus E3 Live View
Live View also comes in handy when you have to take a picture from an unusual position. For example trying to capture a flower in macro mode. You can place the Olympus E3 on a low level on a tripod and at eyelevel you can still see what you are capturing by tilting the monitor. You will get all the information you want when shooting with Live View, a live histogram included. Very handy when dealing with critical exposure! Also press photographers will appreciate Live View. It can be very handy when you are in the midst of a crowd trying to capture something or someone. Just hold the camera over the heads and you can see what you're doing. Even if it is somewhat annoying having to deal with the slower focus when using Live View. Street photographers are able of making pictures whilst holding the camera on chest level to keep a low profile, just like in the old days with the twin-lens reflex cameras.
Olympus Release button & Auto focus
Through the custom functions you can program a number of buttons. The menu has been structured reasonably well. I lost my way a few times but the main functions can be found easily. What I find very pleasant is the fact that you can unlink the shutter release button and the auto focus. There is an extensive choice for the shutter release button and the AE-L/AF-L button. I dedicated the AE-L/AF-L button to the focus, while the release button measures and locks the exposure. Unfortunately the AE-L/AF-L button is positioned too far away from my thumb. You can overcome this by switching it with the Function button (Fn). If someone else gets to work with the camera he will have to try and find out how it all works, but I am satisfied with it. Funny enough there is no AE-L/AF-L button on the grip. There is an Fn button though. Changing the buttons on the grip might thus be very useful too.
Olympus E3 Manual white balance
I encountered some large problems when making my own white balance. Only a thorough study of the user's guide made it clear that the only way of making a manual white balance is to dedicate the 'One Touch White Balance' to the Function button. I cannot understand why on earth Olympus did not apply a separate button for the manual white balance. Even the menu does not let you set a manual white balance. This should be enabled through a firmware upgrade I suppose. Anyway, if you have programmed the button correctly it still isn't easy to set the white balance precisely. In itself it's a matter of pointing the camera at a white surface. But you have to press the Fn button and the shutter release button at the same time which is rather inconvenient. The main problem is that you need a lot of light for the E-3 to approve of the white balance. And it is merely in fluorescent light, when it is too dark, that you need to adjust the manual white balance.