Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Olympus E-1 Experience Report

A review by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller


Part 1

This review will be written again in the form of a diary. Most recent findings on top.

1/13/2004 New lens and flash

Here is a press information from Olympus on a new lens and new flash systems:

"The Zuiko Digital Specific 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 wide-angle zoom lens ($699.95 USD MSRP) features two aspherical glass lenses that minimize distortion, spherical aberration and "koma" aberration. A new multi-coating process applied to the first two lenses helps remove ghosting and glare, problems often associated with wide-angle lenses. The 11-22mm focusing system also utilizes a floating mechanism to deliver sharp, high contrast images up to the lens' closest focusing distance, 11.02 inches(0.28m) at any zoom setting.

The SRF-11 Ring Flash Set (MSRP $700.00 USD) delivers soft, even illumination ideal for seeing inside crevices and revealing detail. The STF-22 Twin Flash Set (MSRP $950.00 USD) delivers light from the sides instead of directly from the front, casting shadows that reveal surface texture as well as detail. These new flashes deliver the consistent, even distribution of light necessary for digital capture.

With film photography, you can have drop-off of the light at the edges and still get a decent image. For digital photography, the light illumination from the center to the edge needs to be more consistent with less drop-off, and that's what our flashes deliver.

Both products will be released in late January and early February."

Olympus is really growing there system.


12/7/2003 Final Day with the Olympus E-1

We will send the E-1 back tomorrow to Olympus.

Today we had the chance to use the 50mm Macro lens.

Macro shot with the 50mm Macro

100% pixel crop

As we like closeups and near macro shots the 50mm would be a must if we would own an E-1. The 50mm Macro allows only 1:2 magnification. This may be not large enough for some macro fans but is no problem for our style of work. Also to note is that AF can be problematic as the auto focus starts hunting with low light and less textured objects.

The 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens would be one of our favorites. Here a few shots from our walk in the Los Gatos Vasona park.

Fall in December

California Fall

Fall Reflections

We may add future entries to this diary if we would get a new raw converter from a third party company.


We can recommend the Olympus E-1 as a nice travel camera where size and weight matters most. As said before the photographer is still the most limiting factor. For most ambitious photographers the E-1 will not be a real competition to the huge camera systems from Canon or Nikon at this point in time.

On the other side this is the first ever 4/3 camera by Olympus and we will follow up on the development of this system. In some way we think Olympus is the only player right now that might establish a successful complete digital camera system apart from the big players Canon and Nikon.



12/3/2003 E-1 in Monterey

E-1 with 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 @200 (effective 400 in 35mm)

Monterey Wharf (same data as above)

The E-1 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 is a nice lens. We shot it side by side to the Canon 400mm f/4 DO lens on the Canon 1Ds. The Field of View is about the same except that the E-1 has a 4:3 aspect ratio (what a difference in lens size).

14-54mm lens

As said the E-1 will make a perfect travel kit.

In the daily work the missing histogram preview is really a pain.


11/30/2003 Olympus Studio and Adobe Camera Raw 2.0

Phil Askey compared the raw conversion performed by Olympus Studio and Adobe Camera Raw 2.0. It demonstrates that ACR outperforms Olympus Studio but there seem to be some Bayer artifacts in overexposed areas. But any raw converter has a hard time to deal with overexposure. That is why checking the histogram is essential. Also keep the possibility of overexposure in just one channel in mind (see our red marked note below).

Note: Camera Raw 2.0 does not support the E-1 officially. Read Thomas Knoll's comment here.

Please read my essay "The Camera and the Photographer". There I made some comments in the context of the Canon 300D. But the same is true for the Olympus E-1. The E-1 will be no excuse for poor image quality and content.

I mentioned elsewhere:

Probably nearly all our portfolio photos could be taken with an Olympus E-1 (of course they could not match the Canon 1Ds resolution but resolution is not everything).

We have to discuss in our reviews all the findings. They are are often very much on the technical side. But once you work inside these limitations only content counts. We could go a long way with an E-1 system (we already own a complete Nikon and Canon line). Hold the Olympus E-1 in your hands. If you like it go for it and photograph. This is not a statement to please Olympus but an honest feeling with this camera so far.


11/29/2003 First Look at the Olympus E-1

We just got an Olympus E-1 in. The last real Olympus digital SLR we reviewed was the Olympus E10. We liked the E10 a lot and even recommended it to some of our best friends. Not all photo lovers want to carry a big bag with many lenses. The E10 used an excellent fixed zoom and allowed changes of focal length only by extension adapters.

The E-1 very much feels like the E10 (as far as we remember) but allows to switch lenses. We have the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 available. This covers a range from 28-400mm if compared to lenses on a 35mm system. For some there may be a lack in the wide angle range but for us this is a very complete range. About 99% of all our serious photos would be in this range. The only complaint is that the 50-200 should feature image stabilization. Image stabilization helps us to use our Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 freehand in many situations.

Olympus markets the E-1 as a professional camera and it really feels like a well designed and well made camera. I have smaller hands and the E-1 is really fun to use. But we have to face it, the professional market is owned by Nikon and Canon. The E-1 won't change that picture.

The E-1 and it's lenses are not cheap. If you look into the build quality you know why. All feels very solid. Hold a Canon 300D and a E-1 in your hands and you know what we mean. The E-1 feels like a marvel and the 300D like a modern consumer camera. But this has nothing to do with the final image quality you can get from both cameras.

The Olympus is the first camera that supports the 4/3" sensor (here a Kodak 5 MP sensor) standard created by Kodak and Olympus. The aspect ratio of 4:3 breaks with the 3:2 35mm tradition. We actually think that might no be a bad thing but have of course so much more experience with the 3:2 world (nearly burned into our brains :-)).

As a camera we just love the E-1. The viewfinder is bright and easy to use. The autofocus works for us although it is not as sophisticated as the systems from Canon and Nikon. But no problem for us. We even like the electronic controlled manual focus feature as the mechanical manual focus for some lenses is not always fun to use (often not that precise). The shutter and mirror slap is soft and very silent.

How about the digital Side of the E-1?

As our regular readers know we only use all digital cameras in RAW mode. The good news is that the E-1 support RAW (*.ORF files) but they seem to assume that most E-1 users will use JPG. Why? Otherwise they would put more attention into RAW.

  • A 5MP file uses 10MB on the CF card and later our disks while a Canon 1Ds 11MP file needs less space. Olympus does not only use no compression they not even pack the 12bit data in their files. Fortunately the new larger CF cards can handle it. But if you think of professional users then the 1000s of files fill up computer disk space.
  • The Olympus Studio to handle RAW files is not nearly in the league with Capture One DSLR (does not support the E-1 right now) and Adobe CS. Fortunately Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS supports the E-1 so we only will use ACR 2.0 for the E-1.

One other issue is the missing preview histogram. Michael Reichmann had some strong words for this missing feature and we think he is right. What are we talking about? Experienced digital photographers only check the exposure after they took the photo. The histogram is the most valuable aid for judging exposure (see also our note at the end). Today most digital SLRs can display the histogram as part of the automatic preview after you took the shot. This feature is missing in the E-1. The solution is to wait until the file is written to the CF-Card or Microdrive, then hit Play and Info buttons (you have to setup info to show the histogram). So in the end this is by no means a show stopper for us, but we also hardly photograph in a rush.

The E-1 at different ISO Levels

You can find the original RAW files here (so especially all Photoshop CS users can make up their own opinion)

We have the impression that the photos have excellent colors but are a bit on the soft side. This might be due to a strong AA filter. Anyway we felt we needed stronger sharpening than with other digital SLRs. This time we used Noel Carboni's Fractal Sharpening)

Some ISO tests

Olympus E-1

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800


For a well lit scene the ISO noise is quite good actually. The noise gets more visible if you capture deeper shadows.

The rendering in the shadows is good at ISO 100.

Shadow Details

ISO 100

ISO 400


Even the shadow noise at ISO 400 is acceptable.

For us the Olympus E-1 would be the ideal travel camera. Only 2 compact, well built and at f/2.8-3.5 bright lenses would all we needed (we might add the 50mm Macro though). The image quality of the E-1 is also good enough for very serious photography.

With the E-1 we find that less is more. Means you may not have that many choices of lenses but the lenses offered seem to be very good. Often people buy consumer lenses to get started. The result: image quality will suffer. The E-1 is not for a photographer on a budget but wants a compact, well built set of camera and lenses. We think that the Olympus E-1 fits the bill.


Note on exposure histograms (also valid for all Nikon & Canon cameras):

We as photographers want a histogram that shows all three RGB channels as the current luminosity histograms do not show blown channels (mainly red or blue). As far as we know only the Fuji S2 and the Sigma SD 10 (a bit small though) show channel histograms.

We will repeat this request until we get it in all(!) digital cameras. We already successfully influenced some raw converters to show channel histograms!


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