Compared to...

As with the majority of our studio image quality comparisons we selected the nearest competition by category, specification, price and feature set. As per the previous page this means the Canon EOS 40D, Nikon D300 and Sony A700. Out of interest we've also included comparisons with the Olympus E-510 and Panasonic DMC-L10 (which we suspect uses the same sensor as the E-3).

Lenses used

For direct comparisons we always use sharp prime lenses stopped down, typically to F9 for 35 mm lenses and F6.3 for Four Thirds lenses. Here we have used the Minolta 50mm F1.4, Pentax 50 mm F1.4, Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro, and Canon EF 50 mm F1.4.

Studio scene comparison (JPEG)

Before we move onto the E-3's real competitors let's have a look at how it compares to the E-510 (mainly because it's fair to assume that many E-510 owners will be looking at the E-3 as a potential upgrade). Although both cameras have a 10MP sensor it's not the same; the E-3 has an upgraded version that is faster (allowing a higher burst rate) and is claimed to offer superior quality.

As covered in detail in the E-410 and E-510 review, those cameras suffer from a distinct loss of resolution if you leave the Noise Filter turned on, even at base ISO (and there is a 'bug' in the implementation of sharpening linked to the Noise Filter setting). The E-3 thankfully doesn't suffer from these issues, so the JPEGs in the comparisons over the next few pages are taken at the default setting, with the noise filter turned on. For this comparison we're using the E-510 at its optimal setting, with the Noise Filter off, and the sharpness turned down to -2.

This is our standard studio scene comparison shot taken from exactly the same tripod position. Lighting: daylight simulation, >98% CRI. Crops are 100%. Ambient temperature was approximately 22°C (~72°F).

Olympus E-3 (default) vs. Olympus E-510 (NF Off, sharp -2)

Camera settings:

  • Olympus E-3: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 Macro lens, Aperture Priority, ISO 100
    JPEG Large/HQ, Manual WB, Default Parameters (Natural), Self-Timer (with MLU)

  • Olympus E-510: Olympus 50 mm F2.0 lens, Aperture Priority, ISO 100
    JPEG Large/SHQ, Manual WB, Anti-shock 2 sec
Olympus E-3
Olympus E-510 (NF Off, Sharp -2)
4.5 MB JPEG (3648 x 2736)
5.6 MB JPEG (3648 x 2736)

Aside from the fact that the E-510 (even with its sharpness turned down) is applying more sharpening to the image than the E-3, there's little difference in the amount of detail between these cameras. Although the E-3's slight softness is a little worrying, here's no doubt that the E-3 is producing a cleaner, less processed image, which is good news for JPEG shooters who like a little latitude for post-processing, but we're talking about a pretty subtle distinction here, and it's fair to say that the E-3 is producing impressive output with good 'per pixel' detail.

More importantly we're very pleased to see that the E-3 is handling highlights in a far more pleasing manner, with a far smoother 'roll off' and far less of the harsh clipping that the E-510 shows in the paperclip crop. This is reflected in the increased highlight dynamic range we saw in the lab tests and is a welcome (albeit small) improvement.