Top of camera controls (right)

Olympus hasn't reinvented the wheel with the E-3, and operationally it is obviously cast from the same mold as the E-1 and every subsequent E-system SLR (even users of high end Olympus compacts will find themselves in familiar territory here).

For professional users this kind of consistency of operation between models and from one generation to the next is important (something the main players know all too well, as evidenced by the remarkably slow evolution of the Canon and Nikon professional system cameras, whose basics haven't changed for almost two decades).

The fact that there hasn't been a 'professional' Olympus SLR for four years, and that this is only the second model, means that Olympus could quite easily have used the E-3 as an opportunity to re-think its entire user interface, something that might have been a good idea. By comparison the aforementioned Nikon and Canon pro systems feel more mature, more consistent and more intuitive (this is particularly true of the menu structure, more of which later). You can't help feeling that it will take a few more generations of E-System pro cameras before Olympus refines the user-interface to a point where the incredibly extensive range of features and options available are truly 'tamed' and operation becomes totally fluid. Anyway, on with the tour of the body...

The top right of the camera features the usual plethora of buttons ranged around the large, clear information LCD ('control panel'). The dedicated function buttons (WB, exposure compensation, ISO etc) can be used in conjunction with the top panel LCD or the 'Super Control Panel' display on the main color screen.

Buttons (shooting mode)

LIGHT Control Panel Back light

Pressing this button turns on the Control Panel back light.

White Balance

 • Auto
 • 5300 K (Daylight)
 • 6000 K (Cloudy)
 • 7500 K (Shade)
 • 3000 K (Incandescent)
 • 4000 K (Fluorescent 1)
 • 4500 K (Fluorescent 2)
 • 6600 K (Fluorescent 3)
 • 5500 K (Flash)
 • One Touch WB (4 memories)
 • Custom (Kelvin) WB (2000 - 14000 K)

Exposure Compensation

 • -5.0 EV to +5.0 EV
 • 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps

Pressing the AE compensation and ISO buttons together for two seconds resets the factory default settings.

ISO ISO Sensitivity

 • Auto
 • ISO 100
 • ISO 125
 • ISO 160
 • ISO 200
 • ISO 250
 • ISO 320
 • ISO 400
 • ISO 500
 • ISO 640
 • ISO 800
 • ISO 1000
 • ISO 1250
 • ISO 1600
 • ISO 2000
 • ISO 2500
 • ISO 3200

You can change the ISO step value (1.0 EV or 0.3 EV).
Auto Exposure / Auto Focus Lock

The AEL/AFL button can be programmed in a variety of different ways for different focus modes (Single AF, Continuous AF and Manual Focus). It can be programmed to be momentary AE Lock or Memo/Cancel AE Lock, it can also be programmed to perform and lock Auto Focus at the same time (these modes are described later in this review). It's also used to trigger Auto Focus in Live View mode.
Fn FUNCTION (Fn) button

This button can be customized to perform any one of four functions (some of which require the use of the main or sub dial):

 • One-touch White Balance
 • AF home position (user defined 'home' position for the AF point)
 • Manual Focus (to toggle AF/MF)
 • RAW: switch from JPEG to RAW+JPEG or from RAW+JPEG to JPEG
 • P/A/S/M (switch shooting mode)
 • Test Picture (hold to take a shot without saving)
 • My Mode (hold to use recorded 'My Mode' settings)
 • Underwater (switch between water wide and under water macro modes)
 • Off

Auto focus point

After pressing this button turn the main dial to select between the three different AF points / modes:

 • Automatic selection from 11 points (All area AF mode)
 • Single Area / Small Single Area (using one selected AF area)*
 • Dynamic single area AF mode (If the camera cannot focus on the subject using the selected AF area, the camera focuses using the adjacent AF area.)

* The AF sensitivity custom function allows you to decide whether the camera focuses only on the selected AF area ('Single Area Small') or on the selected area and the surrounding area ('Normal')

Buttons (Play mode)


Although not labeled as such pressing the exposure compensation button while in play mode rotates the displayed image through 90, 180 and 270 degrees.
Thumbnail index / zoom out

Rotate the main dial clockwise to switch to thumbnail index view, the E-3 provides a range of index views; four images, nine images, sixteen images, twenty-five images and finally a calendar view. If the playback magnification is active then turning clockwise steps out.
Play magnification

Rotate the main dial counter-clockwise to magnify the currently displayed image, there are a range of magnifications available; 2.0x, 3.0x, 5.0x, 7.0x, 10x and 14x. Use the multi-direction controller to move around the magnified image.
Protect / Unprotect

Protects (or unprotect's) the current image, this sets the file system 'Read Only' flag which means you can't accidentally delete the image using the erase button, however this does not protect against formatting of the storage card (an extra 'This card contains protected images, really format?' dialog would be good).

Top of camera controls (left)

On the top left of the camera are three more buttons, all of which have at least two functions (depending on which of the command dials you turn and which mode you're in), plus the release for the pop-up flash. I used the E-3 for several months and still got confused by the button/dial combinations in this area of the camera, something that's not helped by the fact that the icons are printed up the side of the pentaprism casing, which is difficult to see when using the camera normally. Of course any camera this complex is a challenge initially, and I'm sure anyone using it exclusively for an extended period would eventually master the controls completely. It could just be easier, that's all.

Buttons (Shooting mode)

Flash up

The first flash button is a mechanical release for the pop-up flash (the flash does not pop up automatically).
Hold Button Turn rear Dial Turn front Dial

Flash mode

Hold this button and turn the main dial to select flash mode:

 • Auto
 • Red-eye reduction
 • Flash on (Fill flash)
 • Flash off
 • Red-eye reduction & Slow-sync
 • Slow-sync
 • Slow-sync (Rear curtain)
 • Full
 • 1/4
 • 1/16
 • 1/64
Flash Intensity Control

Hold this button and turn the sub dial to change vary the output of the flash in auto mode (from -3.0 to +3.0 EV in 1.0, 0.5 or 0.3 EV steps).


Exposure Mode*

Hold this button and turn the main dial to select exposure mode:

 • Program Auto
 • Manual
 • Aperture Priority
 • Shutter Priority

Drive mode

 • Single shot
 • Continuous H
 • Continuous L
 • 12 sec Self-timer
 • 2 sec Self-timer
 • IR remote
 • IR remote with 2 sec Self-timer


Focus Mode*

Hold this button and turn the main dial to select exposure mode:

 • Program Auto
 • Manual
 • Aperture Priority
 • Shutter Priority

Metering mode

Hold this button and turn the sub dial to select metering mode:

 • Digital ESP metering
 • Center weighted metering
 • Spot metering
 • Spot metering - highlight control
 • Spot metering - shadow control

*Note: pressing the AF and MODE buttons together allows you to set bracketing options.
Note also that the functions of the front and rear dials can be swapped.

Buttons (Play mode)

Copy / PictBridge Print

Allows you to copy images between the CF and xD cards (multiple images using the marking system). If a PictBridge printer is connected to the camera via USB then you can print the currently displayed image.