The Digital Journalist
Camera Corner:
Hands-on Review of the Olympus E1
December 2003

by Eli Reed

I approached the digital camera as if I were approaching a sun crazed rattle snake. A fellow photographer watched with amusement as I insisted on reading the instruction book cover to cover to completion before I dare try charging the the camera's operational battery. Maybe I was the one who was actually snake bit by this frightening (new to me) technology.

It was the Olympus E-20 camera given to me by the Day In The Life Of Africa people, to be used on my shoot in Malawi, Africa. The camera worked for me to the extent that my film camera was left in my bag for 99 percent of the time. I was on my way.

I don't consider myself that much out of touch with the changing technology of photography. I was just doing my best to ignore it even though I basically accept it, the next evolutionary step in photography. I figured that I had plenty of time left before I had to jump into the river to sink or swim but of course I was wrong. I survived the dunking because of the kindness of Ray Acevedo of Olympus America, Inc. I'm probably the best candidate that you will ever find who couldn't care less about the machinery. I prefer not jumping through hoops to make technology work for me. The child in me just wants it to work with the least amount of pain. I am not a believer in sitting in front of computer screens to make sure the picture looks right. I want to get it as close to right as possible when I release the shutter button.

Eli Reed/Magnum
I care about the pictures that I can make using the photographic machine but it sort of ends there. I survived well enough to eagerly check out the new Olympus E-1 Digital camera and see what Olympus had wrought this time. I had used Olympus 35 film cameras in the past, and I was very fond of the lightweightness of the cameras, the precise metering, and the ease of it's form follows function reality.

The Olympus people have done it again. The Olympus E-Digital SLR system has delivered into this new digital age a camera for the ages. It is the first 100 per cent digitally designed SLR. After years of development by the Olympus engineers, they have delivered a camera that is ready-made for the professional photographer and while doing so, have introduced ground-breaking new features that leap over their professional rivals while keeping the price down to reasonable lows.

The E-1 camera has great image quality which makes use of a new Super Latitude CCD, Advanced Color Controls, RAW File Capture (You can shoot raw/jpeg together), and extraordinary Noise Filter/Noise Reduction. I used the camera shooting test images on a movie set I am working on right now and it knocked the ball out of the park at 1600 ASA. While working on this movie for the last few months, I have been shooting anything that catches my fancy off and on the set as a matter of course.

The E-1 is durable. It comes with a utra rigid magnesium alloy die cast body, splash free design to handle hostile weather, and a exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter @trade; - patented new ultrasonic technology cleans and protects the imager from micro dust so it's never seen in your picture: it basically sucks out those nasty dust particle demons every time to turn on the camera - among the many other useful features. I walk around in the rain not thinking about it and the camera continues to work as if it is a Spring day. It has good speed in the areas that are important for the pro and reasonable working size for the working pro.

The Olympus E-1 has introduced new exclusive technology with the following: Supersonic Wave Filter,

Digital Specific Lenses, Full Frame Transfer CCD (FFT-CCD), New 3 Asic Digital Engine, Next Generation True Pic Technology, and the Neo-Lumi-Micron Matte II Focusing Screens. To be fair about the above --- the thing that I appreciate and understand most is the quality and picture resolution. It is no longer just about megapixels , it's about a camera that feels comfortable in my very large hands and that delivers more then I would think to ask for.

One of the ways that they reached this place in time was to make use of interviews and surveys of professional photographers. They watched, asked questions, and listened hard in order to deliver a camera that would fulfill the needs of the photographic community. At one, I became one of the many photographers interviewed during that process.

Eli Reed/Magnum
I was also fortunate enough to talk Olympus into loaning me a bare bones E-1 pre-production model with their 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 lens. I used it to shoot a GQ magazine twelve page layout of one of Japan's biggest movie star actress/singer/model because they said they needed a quick turnaround. I thought, "Why not?" It which was published in the October issue of their Japanese issue. The shoot was done over a couple of days in Paris, France last July during Bastille Day celebrations. Happily in spite of my digital photography innocence, the shoot proceeded forward in good speed and the GQ editor loved the final results. He commented during a later email conversation that after the magazine was published, he received a large number of compliments about the layout from parties outside the magazine. This was my first fully digital magazine photographic assignment.

I have used two of the Zuiko Digital lenses. The two lenses are the 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 which translates to 28-108mm in 35mm analog lingo and the 50-200mm f2.8-3-5 translated to 100-400 which is a pretty amazing deal in a small package. I also have handled the 50mm f2.0 Macro (100mm) and the 300mm f2.8 Super Telephoto (600mm). Both lenses seem pretty hot and 14-54 and 50-200 are sharp as a razor's edge. I have used their new FL-50 flash which synchronizes with the camera metering and focus and seems to do a good job. It offers sync capabilities up to 1/4000th of a second which I haven't had the time to fool with.

I didn't use any reflectors or flash equipment during the Paris shoot but I did photograph another model during a photo shoot in New York using one studio light on location for the final shooting session which I was extremely happy with.

It is an amazing camera that is unique in a number of ways. One of those ways is its ushering in of the Four Thirds System which is a new, open standard for digital cameras and interchangeable lens systems that utilize a 4/3-type image sensor. Olympus, Kodak, Fuji, and other leading manufacturers have adopted this system to help build this new measurement standard.

© Eli Reed

Eli Reed is a prize-winning documentary photographer, and a member of Magnum. He also works in the motion picture industry as a special photographer. See a feature portfolio of Eli's work.