The long-awaited Olympus E-3 is the flagship model in the company's E-Series range of dSLRs. The E-3 boasts live view and assorted features in a dust and splash-proof body. With its lacklustre 10 megapixels and average-sized screen, we wondered if the £1,500 E-3 was already all washed up when compared to the competition.
The magnesium-alloy body is reinforced with weatherproof seals to keep out dust and splashes. It feels heavy compared to other dSLRs, seeming to us weightier than the while still being more compact. The E-Series also is built around the Four Thirds lens standard, which means that lenses made by other manufacturers such as Panasonic and Sigma are compatible.
Despite a wealth of controls, we find the E-3 had a friendly learning curve. Most functions are controlled by two dials at the front and back of the chunky right hand-grip. This allows the forefinger to control aperture with the front wheel and the thumb to control shutter speed at the back.
Holding down any of the other buttons modifies the dials so they alter settings like white balance, ISO sensitivity, flash or focus and program modes. The multi-button combinations were no problem for our fingers, but we found the thumbwheel was placed a little far to the left, so we recommend a thorough hands-on test if you're considering a purchase.
The viewfinder is large and clear, with 100 per cent of the frame in view. A viewfinder shield can be clicked into place to prevent light leaking when switching to live view.
Olympus pioneered the live view technology, and despite a slightly annoying reminder to close the shield, the E-3 boasts one of the best implementations of the concept we've seen. Image stabilisation and depth of field can be previewed onscreen. Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, the screen flips out camcorder-style and can be angled or hidden away completely.
The E-3 is topped off with an accessory shoe and a pop-up flash, although there are a couple of quirks to its operation. You have to manually open the flash hood even in automatic flash mode, and instead of a dedicated focus assist lamp for low light the flash strobes somewhat intrusively.
Compared to other professional dSLRs, the E-3's 10-megapixel MOS sensor seems weedy. But the E-3 packs in plenty of features within easy reach of the straightforward control system.
Settings are viewed via a small LCD status display on the right shoulder. The untrained eye will need a while to get used to the mass of figures without much explanation, but with a bit of practise, the screen makes a handy quick reference.