Conclusion - Pros

  • Good tonal balance, average resolution, neutral color, almost no sharpening artifacts
  • Wide range of image parameter adjustment (color, tone, sharpness)
  • Selectable sRGB or Adobe RGB color space (with embedded profile)
  • Hybrid white balance system performs well in both natural and incandescent light
  • Wide range of preset white balance settings, all fine-tunable
  • Designed as a digital SLR system from the ground up
  • Lens and optical system specifically for the 4/3 size sensor
  • Solid magnesium-alloy body (rated as 'splash proof')
  • Good physical design, ergonomic and comfortable
  • Majority of lenses smaller and lighter than 35 mm equivalent
  • Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
  • Excellent connectivity; USB 2.0 and FireWire (IEEE 1394)
  • Soft-press shutter release button
  • Quiet shutter release mechanism (well damped, smaller mirror, etc.)
  • Good tripod mount with rubber surround
  • All controls are 'locked' (require a hold of button and turn of dial to change)
  • High performance of CF interface, short write times
  • RAW mode provides the 'digital negative', about 1 stop of latitude in over exposed images
  • Excellent provided 'Olympus Viewer' although no 'High Function' RAW conversion engine
  • Powerful, lightweight Lithium-Ion battery
  • Optional Power Battery hold provides huge capacity (about 220%)

Conclusion - Cons

  • Bayer interpolation and moiré artifacts
  • Resolution not as good as we would expect from large five megapixel sensor
  • Noise levels higher than the competition from ISO 800 upwards (especially RAW)
  • Noise filter and lens shading features have only limited effect on final image
  • Huge performance hit when enabling noise filter or shading compensation
  • Auto focus provides just three focus points, about as fast as an EOS 10D
  • Continuous AF not as fast as some other D-SLR's
  • Focus by wire MF doesn't have the same 'feel' as mechanically linked
  • No histogram / highlights display in record instant review
  • No way to cancel / delete image in record instant review
  • Opening CF compartment cancels buffered write process
  • Limited range of lenses (all of which are expensive)
  • Best image quality only available by shooting RAW
  • RAW files about 3 MB larger than they need be
  • The competition

Overall conclusion

The E-1 is the first lens removable digital SLR which is based around a totally new lens system designed specifically for a smaller sensor. This means smaller, lighter lenses and body. Our side-by-side example of the E-1 with the E 14-54 mm lens demonstrates that it is impossible for a 35 mm based digital SLR with high quality 35 mm lenses to come close to it for compactness and light weight. That's not to say that the Canon's and Nikon's of this world are standing by and not doing anything, both have recently announced 'digital only' lenses which are smaller and lighter.

Olympus are clearly aiming the E-1 at the professional market, this in my opinion is a hard sell. From a marketing and positioning point of view I feel that the E-1 is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It doesn't really offer the continuous shooting or AF speed required for professional sports photography. At the other end of the spectrum it doesn't offer the resolution expected by professional studio photographers, ignoring the 'megapixel race' I feel that it falls short of delivering the full potential of a five megapixel sensor with a vertical resolution of 1920 photosites.

As a photographic tool there is also no doubt that Olympus's design team deserve a pat on the back, the entire camera is designed extremely well and this is matched in the final build quality. In use it feels solid and reliable, it's also responsive enough (talking here about shutter release lag and AF) although probably isn't a match in this respect for Canon's EOS-1D or Nikon's D2H both of which have extremely short shutter release lag and viewfinder blackout.

I was particularly disappointed to see the jagged Bayer interpolation artifacts we discovered in JPEG / TIFF images straight from the camera as well as RAW images converted using the 'High Speed' RAW conversion engine. It's clear that Olympus have a better processing algorithm in the 'High Function' engine but that the E-1 doesn't use that in-camera. Moiré was another matter and that did appear in all images, even RAW using the 'High Function' engine. If you're going to be critical (and I normally am) you see a superbly designed camera which isn't achieving its full potential.


So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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