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Body & Design

A quick glance at the E-1 shows clear heritage from the previous E-10/E-20 design. The lens mount is located very close to the right hand edge of the camera with a deep hand grip on the left. This is a much less 'conventional' design than other digital SLR's which tend to be based on (at least the look of) 35 mm SLR's. The E-1's design works well from a photographers point of view and feels no less professional than the best from Canon or Nikon. Build quality is very high, the camera feels very solid and weighty with absolutely no creaks or rattles (the metal used in the body construction feels to be of a thick grade). All controls are firm and damped. Every control is protected against accidental change by requiring a hold of the button and roll of the main or sub dial, the exposure dial can only be turned by holding the lock button on its top.

Seals

All compartments and interfaces between body components have rubber seals and this says Olympus helps the camera to be 'weather proof' (to standard IPX1). That is not to say the camera is water proof, but that it could withstand a light shower and/or dusty conditions.

Side by side

Below you can see a picture of the Olympus E-1 sandwiched between the Canon EOS-10D and the Nikon D100. The E-1 body is slightly smaller than both of these thanks to the location of the lens mount on the right edge of the body. Also interesting is a comparison of the zoom range of the lenses and total weight of each cameras in this shot:

Camera Lens Equiv. FOV (35 mm) Total weight
Canon EOS-10D Canon EF 28 - 70 mm F2.8 L 44.8 - 112 mm 1692 g (3.7 lb)
Olympus E-1 Olympus 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5 28 - 108 mm 1174 g (2.6 lb)
Nikon D100 Nikkor 28 - 70 F2.8 D AF-S 42 - 105 mm 1520 g (3.4 lb)

As you can see the E-1 and the Olympus 14 - 54 mm lens weigh in over 500 g lighter than the EOS-10D and just over 300 g lighter than the Nikon D100. Arguably the Canon and Nikon lenses are slightly better as they have a constant F2.8 maximum aperture, however the Olympus lens provides a larger zoom range (3.9x vs 2.5x) and a much more usable 28 mm wide angle. I think this goes some way to proving the point Olympus has been trying to make about the advantages of the 4/3 system.

In your hand

The E-1 feels very comfortable and very steady thanks to a soft rubber hand grip and soft rubber pads on the rear of the camera. Weight balance is good, the camera body is slightly lighter than an EOS-10D but of course the smaller E System lenses will always provide the E-1 with a weight advantage. With the optional 'Power Battery Holder' and vertical and grip the camera becomes a little heavier but obviously provides the advantage of a vertical hand grip and vastly extended battery life. All thumb / finger controls are repeated on the grip.


LCD Monitor

The E-1 has a bright and sharp 1.8" 134,000 pixel LCD monitor on the rear, this has a good gloss-finish anti-reflective coating which appears to cut down reflection well outdoors. The camera is supplied with a clip-on screen protector which has a clear center and makes virtually no difference to the image provided by the monitor.


Control Panel

On top of the camera is the control panel, it is the first I can think of which benefits from a similar anti-reflective coating as the LCD monitor. The panel itself is angled very slightly towards the photographer (rear of the camera). It provides an overview of the current camera settings as well as remaining storage space (number of frames), buffer status and other options. When changing settings such as ISO and White balance the panel changes state to display the current selection. This panel also has a backlight which can be activated by pressing the LIGHT button.

A detailed breakdown of displayed information can be found on the diagram below.


Viewfinder

The E-1 has a pentaprism type viewfinder which produces its image from a mirror between the lens and shutter just like a standard 35 mm SLR camera, but unlike the E-10/E-20. The viewfinder has a dioptre adjustment and internal shutter, the later of which is engaged by turning the small left-hand lever clockwise. This shutter is used to remove the possibility of light entering the imaging chamber through the viewfinder (for example when taking long night exposures).

The viewfinder comes with the EP-1 standard Eyecup, you can also buy the optional EP-2 which has a larger rubber cup which fits over the eye and cuts down on any extra light from entering the viewfinder. The Eyecup is removed very simply by turning it anti-clockwise (bayonet fit).

Through the viewfinder you see the matte focusing screen (FS-1 standard) which very clearly indicates the current focus position, it is a huge improvement over the E-10/E-20. The the middle of the focusing screen is a center metering circle and the three AF areas. The center area is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail, the outer two areas only to horizontal detail.

Below the focusing screen is a status bar with various items of information including metering mode, shutter speed and aperture, exposure compensation and remaining buffer space. I was pleased to see that when changing settings such as ISO and White Balance the selection is repeated on this status bar allowing you to make changes without removing your eye from the viewfinder.

Note that the focusing screen is removable, the optional FS-2 focusing screen has a 48 cell grid pattern for more accurate framing

A detailed breakdown of displayed information can be found on the diagram below.

1 Super FP flash 8 White Balance
2 Auto Focus Lock 9 Flash indicator
3 Auto Exposure Lock 10 AF confirmation
4 Shutter speed 11 AF area
5 Aperture 12 Metering mode
6 Exposure mode 13 Exposure level / compensation
7 Auto bracket 14 Buffer space available / exp. compen.
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