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Olympus E-10

A 4 megapixel sensor and unique SLR optics make for a major coup for Olympus! (Final review, based on full-production model.)

Review First Posted: 1/26/2001



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MSRP $1999 US

 

*
True 4 megapixel sensor for resolution to 2240x1680
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High-quality 4x zoom lens, 35-140mm equivalent
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Unique SLR design with beam-splitter for live LCD preview
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Very flexible exposure controls, good user interface
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Amazing low light capability


Manufacturer Overview
As this article was written, Olympus already had one of the broadest digicam lines in the industry. In rapid succession though, they announced the C-2100 Ultra Zoom, the E-100RS ultra high-speed digicam, and the E-10 four megapixel SLR (the subject of this review). What we see in each of these cameras is a product developed to appeal to specific market segments, rather than being just another "general purpose" digicam.

The E-10 is clearly intended to compete at the highest image quality levels of the digital SLR field, thanks to its true 4 megapixel CCD resolution. This current review was based on a preproduction prototype, so we can't draw any firm conclusions on issues such as color accuracy, but other image quality parameters looked very good indeed. (And the color wasn't bad at all either: We specifically avoided comment on it because Olympus told us there would be about two more rounds of "tweaking" before the final units hit the stores, but what we saw even at this early stage looked quite good.) With an initial selling price of $1,999 US, the E-10 is thousands cheaper than most competing models, and actually outperforms them in several areas. After spending a week or so with the camera, we found ourselves liking it quite a bit: The combination of high image quality, good optics, extraordinary low light capability, and a relatively compact design (smaller than many film-based SLRs) added up to quite a package. We suspect there will be a lot of people for whom $4,000 plus for one of the competing SLR models (including a lens) would be an uncomfortable stretch, but who'll happily find the $2,000 for an E-10. Olympus could have a real winner here - Read on for the details...


High Points

Executive Overview

We couldn't wait to get our hands on the Olympus E-10 and take it for a test drive. A very large step by Olympus towards the professional digicam realm, the E-10 offers excellent exposure control (as with their earlier high-end models) in an SLR design, with the look and feel of a traditional 35mm camera. It also boasts the highest sensor resolution (4 million pixels) of any digital camera selling for less than $10,000 as of this writing. (October, 2000) Where the E-10 differs from other pro SLR digital cameras is in its use of a fixed lens: Most other pro digicams are built around lens systems originally designed for 35mm photography. The benefit of 35mm-based lens systems is that there are a lot of photographers with substantial lens kits that can immediately be adapted to digital usage. As it turns out though, there are also a number of disadvantages of the removable lens approach, including a less than ideal match between the lens' focusing and the tiny dimensions of the CCD arrays, and the tendency to get dust on the CCD itself, as a result of the camera body's integrity being breached during lens changes.

Olympus addresses the issue of focal length flexibility by offering a range of front-element adapter lenses for the E-10, that combine with the camera's built-in 4x zoom to give focal lengths equivalent to 28 to 420 mm in the film-based world. (And at impressively "fast" maximum apertures.) We had our hands on a full set of Oly lenses for only part of a day, but the few shots we took with them revealed them to be of very high optical quality, much better than we'd expected from front-element designs.

The E-10's SLR design works quite differently than traditional mirror-based SLRs, in that it uses a "beam splitter" to carry the image from the lens to the optical viewfinder and the CCD at the same time. The main benefit of this is that it allows a live preview image on the LCD in an SLR camera design. (The traditional SLR design, with a mirror to direct light to the viewfinder blocks the CCD when the optical viewfinder is in use, precluding a live preview image.) Oddly, there's still a brief "blackout" when the shutter trips though, which surprised us given the beam-splitter approach used. The camera features both an optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor for composing images, the optical viewfinder actually being a very fine-grained ground glass design that permits direct focus evaluation, the same as in a 35mm SLR. The 1.8 inch LCD monitor has the ability to pop up and off of the back panel, so that it can be tilted upwards 90 degrees or downward by about 20 degrees (beneficial when shooting from odd angles). Both viewfinders feature a fairly extensive information display, reporting the exposure values, modes, etc, as well as a histogram function that's available in all capture modes.

The E-10's built-in 4x, 9 to 36mm lens (35 to 140mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) features non-rotating 62mm filter threads for attaching conversion lens kits. Focus can be manually or automatically controlled, with a range from 1.97 feet (0.6m) to infinity in normal mode, and from 8.0 to 30.0 inches (0.2 to 0.8m) in macro mode. Zoom is manually controlled just as a film camera's lens would be, via a textured-rubber ring around the outside of the lens. A second adjustment ring at the end of the lens controls manual focus. We found these manual adjustment rings quite comfortable and familiar, very similar to a 35mm lens design.

Exposure control is quite extensive on the E-10, with Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes available. Apertures can be manually or automatically controlled from f/2.0 to f/11.0, depending on the zoom setting. In Manual mode, shutter speed ranges from eight to 1/640 seconds, with a Bulb setting for even longer exposures (up to 30 seconds maximum). The shutter speed range changes slightly in Shutter Priority mode, varying from two to 1/640 seconds. We regret that the maximum shutter speed was only 1/640 of a second, as this limits your exposure flexibility somewhat, especially in very bright or fast paced shooting situations. The inclusion of the Bulb exposure mode is a nice benefit though. (Even at the maximum programmed exposure time of 8 seconds, the E-10 is an incredible low-light performer.) In all four exposure modes, you maintain control over the remaining exposure features, with the exception of Manual mode, where the exposure compensation, metering mode, and AE Lock functions are not available because all exposure settings are being controlled manually.

The exposure compensation adjustment offers a wider range than most current digicams, with adjustments from -3 to +3 EV in 1/3 EV increments. The camera's metering system can be set to ESP (a matrix/multi-segment metering system), Spot, or Center, depending on the type of subject and the desired exposure effect. ISO is also manually adjustable, with options of Auto, 80, 160, or 320 sensitivity equivalents. An AE Lock button on the back panel allows you to lock the exposure reading for a specific part of the subject independently of the shutter release, providing even more flexibility with the exposure.

We were very pleased with the E-10's white balance capability, which offers three modes: Auto, Quick Reference (manual), or Preset. We've always wished that Olympus would offer a manual white balance option (seen once on the earlier C-2500L, but not again since), and the Quick Reference setting answers that need, allowing you to manually set the white balance by placing a white card in front of the lens. The Preset white balance mode lets you choose from a listing of Kelvin temperature settings, from 3,000 to 7,500 degrees, with each setting corresponding to a particular light source (the manual has a table of temperatures and values). Other image adjustments include sharpness and contrast, each allowing you to increase or decrease the effect. The E-10 features a built-in, pop-up flash that works in Auto, Slow Synchro, Red-Eye Reduction, Redeye Reduction with Slow Synchro, and Fill-in operating modes. You can adjust the intensity level of the flash from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV increments. There are two ways to connect an external flash to the E-10, either with the hot shoe on top of the camera or the PC sync terminal on the side panel. Both the internal and external flash can operate at the same time, and the intensity setting applies to the external flash as well.

A Sequence shooting mode captures up to four full-resolution frames (even uncompressed TIFFs) at approximately three frames per second, and an auto bracketing feature takes three images at three different exposure values to help you get the right exposure. A Time-lapse Photography mode takes an infinite number of images (or as many as the memory card will allow), at set intervals from 30 seconds to 24 hours for as long as the batteries hold out. The E-10 also works with an infrared or a wired remote control (the wired remote allows you to halfway press the shutter button to set focus and exposure, a function that the infrared remote doesn't support).

For image storage, the E-10 can accommodate both SmartMedia and CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with dual slots on the side of the camera (a 32 megabyte SmartMedia card is included with the camera). Five resolution sizes are available from 2240 x 1680 pixels on down, and images can be saved in JPEG, uncompressed TIFF, or RAW data formats. An Olympus RAW File Import Plug-in for Adobe PhotoShop accompanies the camera, allowing you to process and color correct RAW files on a computer. A USB cable also comes with the camera, for speedy connection to a computer, and the Camedia Master 2.5 software package provides image downloading, organization, and minor correction capabilities (compatible with Macintosh and Windows operating systems). US and Japanese models come with an NTSC cable for viewing and composing images with a television set, and we assume that European models are equipped for PAL timing.

The E-10 can utilize several different power sources, with a sliding tray from the battery compartment holding either four AA alkaline, NiCd, or NiMH batteries, or two CR-V3 lithium ion battery packs. As an accessory, a vertical hand grip and battery pack accommodates the more powerful lithium polymer battery. An AC adapter is also available as an accessory, and highly recommended for tasks such as image downloading and playback.

We suspect some prospective professional users may turn away from the E-10 because it lacks interchangeable lenses, or the high shutter speeds and long "motor-drive" run lengths of high-end professional digital SLRs. Given its other sterling qualities though, as well as its low price (less than half the cost of the average pro digital SLR body alone), we think Olympus will sell every E-10 they can make. It has enough exposure control and features for professional applications, while providing enough automatic operation for less sophisticated users. The innovative SLR design, coupled with the four megapixel CCD puts the E-10 on the leading edge of the current digicam market.

Design
The Olympus E-10 is a much anticipated arrival into the SLR digicam arena. With enough features and sophistication to lure professional photographers and novices alike, the E-10 offers full exposure control and the first true four megapixel CCD sensor in an affordable camera, all in a familiar 35mm camera design. Its durable cast aluminum body (along with its rather substantial lens) make the E-10 a hefty 37 ounces (1048 grams) without batteries or media, but compact portability isn't exactly what the E-10's designers were after. An accompanying neck strap should make things a little easier, although the camera lacks the exceptional balance we so admired in Olympus' C-2100 Ultra Zoom model. Dimensionally, the E-10 measures 5.0 x 4.1 x 7.0 inches (128 x 105 x 178mm).



The cast aluminum body design of the E-10 (shown above) is actually important for several reasons. Not only does it provide a very rigid, rugged housing for the optics and electronics of the camera, but it also serves as a heat sink for the E-10's 4 megapixel CCD. We view this last as a significant feature, and it's very likely a major contributor to the E-10's superb low-light performance. Noise currents in CCDs are very strong functions of temperature, doubling about every 6-8 degrees C. Thus, if you're interested in minimizing noise in a digital camera, controlling the CCD temperature becomes quite important. Due to their compact size, many consumer-level digicams run quite hot internally, particularly after being used in capture mode with the LCD running for an extended period. In the E-10, Olympus has done two things to dramatically reduce the normal operating temperature of the CCD. The first thing we noticed was the LCD panel, which is packaged as a separate unit that can tilt out from the back of the camera. Just having it external to the main camera body cavity will reduce its contribution to the camera's heat load, and when swung out from the body, it's impact is even further reduced.



The most important factor in reducing thermal noise in the E-10 though, is the way Olympus has designed the entire body to be a heat sink for the imager. The illustration above (courtesy Olympus) shows a cross-section of the camera, with the metal body parts highlighted. The dark vertical rectangle at the center is the CCD imager, which you can see is directly in contact with a metal insert that in turn connects to the aluminum body casting. This arrangement conducts heat away from the imager much more efficiently than in any consumer-level cameras we've seen in the past, and could easily result in CCD operating temperatures 20 degrees C lower than in competing models. Using the "2x noise per 6 degrees C" rule of thumb mentioned above, a 20 degree C reduction in operating temperature could mean as much as a factor of eight difference in image noise. While we don't have any specifications from Olympus as to the actual temperature reduction due this design, we can vouch for the fact that the E-10's low light performance not only exceptionally good, but seemed to degrade much less if the camera was operated for a long time. Overall, a very intelligent, innovative design that seems to have a real impact in daily use.

The E-10's SLR design features a "beam splitter" rather than the traditional mirror, which directs the visual image to the optical viewfinder and the CCD simultaneously. What this means is that the optical viewfinder is usable at all times, without the blackout that would normally occur when the shutter is triggered and the mirror folds up. Our test unit arrived with several accessory components, including lens attachments with grips, the lithium polymer battery and grip, and a wired remote. Because the E-10's lens is not interchangeable, Olympus offers a range of accessory lenses that attach to the camera's main lens via the 62mm filter threads. This stacking of lenses can get rather long and heavy, but Olympus provides supports and grips to help balance out the camera's weight and make it a little easier to hold with the longest telephoto lens attached. We noticed that with the E-10, Olympus has made some of its traditionally LCD menu-dependent functions accessible through external exposure controls. This not only simplifies camera operation, but also requires less reliance on the LCD menu, which in turn, equates to lower power consumption.



The front of the E-10 features the lens, autofocus sensor, shutter release button, infrared remote control sensor, and the Quick Reference white balance button. As noted earlier, the E-10 doesn't allow for interchangeable lenses, but there are significant advantages to this approach, as well as the obvious disadvantage of less flexibility in your choice of optics. The shutter button rests at an angle on the hefty hand grip, which features a textured-rubber that grips the fingers well.



The hand grip side of the camera features little other than a neck strap attachment eyelet and the memory card compartment, accessible from the camera's back panel via a sliding lever. The compartment holds both SmartMedia and CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards thanks to dual slots, and is protected by a hinged, plastic door.



The opposite side of the camera displays a wealth of controls, including the popup flash release button, PC sync terminal for an external flash, sync terminal for the wired remote control, auto/manual focus selector switch, I/O connector compartment, DC power socket, and a handful of exposure controls. The flash and wired remote control sync terminals are both protected by small, black, threaded, plastic caps that screw into place. While these small caps provide good protection, we found them a little difficult to unscrew and very easy to lose. The DC power socket is covered by a flexible, rubber flap that remains attached to the camera and simply folds out of the way when the camera is plugged into its AC adapter. The I/O connector compartment is located under the neck strap attachment eyelet, and accessed by opening the hinged plastic door. Inside the compartment are the Video Out and USB jacks. Exposure controls on this side of the camera include the Macro, Metering, Exposure Compensation, and Drive buttons, as well as the focus selector switch and the release mechanism for the LCD monitor, which we'll detail a little further on.



On top of the camera are more exposure controls and dials, as well as the hot shoe for mounting an external flash unit, the popup flash, a small status display panel, and the power switch. The external flash hot shoe features a sliding plastic cap that protects the contacts from accidental scratching, dirt, or other harm. A command dial is present for changing camera settings, as is a mode dial for changing the exposure mode. Other exposure controls include the White Balance, Flash Mode, Image Quality, memory card selector, and status display panel backlight buttons. We always like to see status display panels like this, as they help avoid use of the camera's LCD menu system, saving power and making control setting much faster. The status display panel's backlight feature illuminates the panel with a yellow, fluorescent light, so you can check camera settings in the dark.



The remaining exposure controls, LCD monitor, and optical viewfinder are all on the camera's back panel. The SLR optical viewfinder features a notched dioptric adjustment dial around the outside of the eyepiece, to accommodate eyeglass wearers. The small lever just left and below the eyepiece controls a shutter that can be used to block the viewfinder to prevent ambient light from affecting the exposure when using the camera on a tripod. Camera controls on the rear panel include a subcommand dial, the display and menu buttons, a set of arrow keys, and the OK, Info, Protect, and Erase buttons. We loved the design of the LCD monitor, which actually pops off of the back panel and rotates upwards as much as 90 degrees for better viewing when shooting from low angles. Because it lifts off of the back panel slightly, the LCD monitor can also face downwards at about 20 degrees for high-angle shooting.


The bottom panel of the E-10 is slightly uneven, holding the battery compartment, speaker, and metal tripod mount. While the camera bottom isn't perfectly flat overall, there's a very broad tripod mounting flange for good stability, and the tripod mount also incorporates sockets to receive the anti-rotation pins some tripod heads have on them. (Overall, a very rugged-looking tripod mount, in our opinion.) We are also glad to report that the tripod mount and battery compartment are far enough away from each other to allow for quick battery changes while mounted. The battery compartment features a small, silver lock that turns to unlock the compartment, releasing a sliding tray that holds either two CR-V3 lithium batteries or four AA alkaline, Ni-MH, or Ni-Cd batteries. The tray slides in and out of the compartment, which is also nice when working with a tripod.

To head off the emails before they arrive, we'll note here that the speaker on the camera bottom has nothing to do with multimedia capabilities, but rather exists for the sole purpose of giving the camera the familiar "click-whir" sound of a film-based SLR. In fact, Olympus was so dedicated to verisimilitude in this respect that the E-10 offers your choice of two camera sounds, corresponding to the digitized sounds of their OM-1 and OM-2 film cameras! We're not sure we see the value in this, but can report that camera sounds are very handy when shooting portraits and other people-pictures, as it gives the subject(s) some idea of when the picture was actually shot, so they can relax and avoid "posing fatigue".



The optional lithium polymer battery and grip kit provides not only a more powerful, longer lasting power source, but also a thick grip and secondary shutter release for holding the camera vertically.



We found the shape of the hand grip a little uncomfortable for our hands, as the placement of the shutter button pushed our hand down a bit on the grip. Combined with the rather diminutive dimensions of the camera overall (when compared to large professional film SLRs), the result was that the bottom of the hand grip rested in the center of our palm, rather than against the heel of our hand. This meant we had less leverage on the camera, and contributed to an unbalanced feeling when using the grip vertically, single-handed. We assume that Olympus placed the secondary shutter button below the top corner of the grip to prevent any accidental triggering, but we would rather see it higher on the grip, with a lock feature like that of the Nikon D1.

Viewfinder
For composing images, the E-10 features an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder's SLR design utilizes a "beam splitter" method rather than the traditional mirror design. Oddly, although the image is carried to the CCD and viewfinder simultaneously, there's still a brief "blackout" each time the shutter trips. We're not sure why this is, since the optical path looks as though it should support light going to the viewfinder and CCD at the same time. One benefit though, is that the beam splitter design should reduce vibration significantly for shooting under dim lighting conditions with long telephoto lenses, since there's no mirror slamming up as the exposure begins. Another benefit is that, with no mirror to flip up, the maximum cycle time can be very fast. (Some very high-end film-based SLRs have what are called "pellicle" mirrors, which are partially transmissive, and remain in place as the shutter opens. This approach is usually adopted in order to achieve very high frame rates of 10 frames per second or so though, quite a bit beyond the 3 frame per second capability of the E-10.) The illustration below shows the optical path through the camera: The beam-splitter is the squarish unit at the rear of the camera, where one light path branches off vertically to go to the eyepiece, and the other proceeds straight through to the CCD.



While the beam-splitter approach does have the advantages described above, there is a tradeoff in light sensitivity associated with it: Since some portion of the light must be sent through the viewfinder, there will be that much less reaching the CCD. If the light were split evenly between the two, this would be a 1 f-stop loss in ISO. That said, we were particularly impressed with the E-10's low light performance, among the very best we've seen in any camera at any price range. (Kodak's high-end SLR the DC-620x would very likely do better, due to it's optimization for high ISO sensitivity, but the E-10 is a fifth the DC-620x's cost, and has twice its pixel count.)

Inside the optical viewfinder are central autofocus target marks and an LED display that reports shutter speed, aperture, flash, metering system, exposure compensation, and whether or not the image is in focus (indicated by a full circle that lights solid when focus is set). A soft, rubber bezel around the outside of the eyepiece comfortably cushions the eye, and a notched, dioptric adjustment dial (also around the outside of the eyepiece) adjusts the focus in the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers. The notched dioptric dial is a little difficult to turn while looking through the viewfinder. We found it easier to pull the camera away from the face, move the dial a notch, and then look back through the viewfinder to check the view. This is only slightly annoying, as we'd ideally like to be able to look through the viewfinder as we adjust the dioptric dial. We did appreciate that the dioptric adjustment had very definite click-stops in its rotation though, so it isn't likely to get jostled out of adjustment inadvertently. It also seemed to offer a wider range of adjustment than we're accustomed to seeing, but we don't have any quantitative measure to support that conclusion. As with most SLRs, light entering the rear viewfinder element can affect exposure, so the E-10 incorporates a lever-actuated shutter to block off the eyepiece when you're using the camera on a tripod. (That is, whenever your eyeball isn't blocking light from entering the viewfinder eyepiece.)

Olympus estimates the optical viewfinder to be 95% accurate, which agreed well with our own measurements of 93-95% accuracy as we zoomed the lens from wide angle to telephoto settings. The LCD monitor produced almost exactly the same accuracy figures, an unusually close agreement with the optical finder. We usually like to see LCD accuracy as close to 100% as possible, so would have liked to see a little more of the frame in the LCD. The close agreement between LCD and optical is good too though, in that it avoids the need to compensate mentally as you switch between the two. In our experience, most film-based SLRs have roughly 95% viewfinders.



The 1.8 inch, color, TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) LCD monitor features 114,000 pixels and a tilting design. A small release lever on the left side of the monitor pops the top of the LCD monitor outwards from its compartment, allowing you to tilt the display down by about 20 degrees, useful for times when the camera is slightly overhead. By lifting it off of the back panel slightly, the LCD monitor can also face upwards at a 90 degree angle, handy for low-angle shots. The Display button next to the LCD monitor turns the image display on or off, and the Menu button just below it calls up the LCD menu system for whatever mode the camera is currently in.

Just like the optical viewfinder, the LCD monitor features an information readout at the bottom of the screen, reporting the exposure settings, focus lock, and flash mode. Pressing the Info button repeatedly cycles between two information screens and no information at all. The first information display reports the shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. The second screen displays a focus range indicator in both meters and feet, reporting the approximate distance between the camera and the subject. The focus indicator is great, both in autofocus mode, when it provides a rangefinder capability, or in manual focus mode, where it would be useful for situations in which you know the distance to the subject. For more detailed information on battery power, the number of available images, and more extensive exposure information, the small status display panel on top of the camera features a more complete information readout. Olympus estimates that the LCD monitor represents about 100 percent frame accuracy, but as noted above, we found it closely matched the optical finder on our test unit.

The E-10 offers a fair bit of exposure information during playback, optionally available by pressing the Info button on the rear panel while rotating the subcommand dial. Three levels of information are available, as shown at right. We liked the control over the amount of information displayed, but would liked to have been able to simply switch the information overlay on or off just by pressing the Info button. (That is, without having to resort to the subcommand dial.)

The E-10 also offers a histogram function displaying the distribution of brightness throughout the image, although you may have to read the manual (as we did) to find it: To access the histogram function, you have to first put the camera into the PC Connection mode (?!) on the mode dial and then activate the histogram through the settings menu there. (This settings menu also controls other camera functions, such as the function of the Macro button, date and time setting, file naming scheme, and RAW file format enabling.) Once activated, you can toggle between the normal exposure-information display and the histogram by pressing the Info button. We liked the E-10's histogram display because it was fairly large, and seemed to show good detail in terms of the number of pixels at various brightness levels. It seemed to do a bit better job than other histogram displays we've seen of telling us when a relatively small percentage of the image was blown out, but we also really like camera displays that show blown-out regions as black or blinking, to help see just where you're losing highlights in an image. (Note to Olympus: Any chance of seeing this feature as a firmware upgrade for the E-10?)

The histogram display isn't "live" in capture mode, but rather you must first capture a frame, then switch to the "quick review" mode by pressing the display button twice in rapid succession. This actually puts you in playback mode, in that you have all the normal playback functions available to you. The advantage is that you can switch back to capture mode instantly, just by touching the shutter button. (The camera will also revert to capture mode automatically if you don't touch any of the controls for 60 seconds or so.) Early comments by the Olympus US staff had led us to believe that the E-10's histogram display would be "live" on the LCD viewfinder, but this turned out not to be the case. Still, the ability to quickly switch from capture mode to "quick review" and back again makes the histogram function quite usable.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers a playback zoom function, which enlarges captured images for closer inspection of fine details. It appears to offer magnifications up to about 4x, a very useful level, but we've seen higher magnifications on some recent competing models, and would There's also an index display mode, which displays up to nine thumbnail images on the screen at one time, perfect for selecting images to protect, delete, or print.


Optics
The E-10's lens system is a large part of the "story" about the E-10: It's a departure from other professional SLR digicams, in that it doesn't accept interchangeable lenses. For some photographers, this will undoubtedly be seen as a limitation. On the other hand, Olympus offers a pretty wide range of front-element auxiliary lenses, the 4x zoom range is probably sufficient for the bulk of normal studio and location shooting, and there are advantages to the fixed-lens design that we'll delve into shortly. Aside from the fixed-mount design, the E-10's optics are unique in their incorporation of several elements normally found only in very high-end lenses in the 35mm world.



The diagram above shows the E-10's lens optical system in cross-section, with several key parts of it called out. The first noteworthy feature is that there are two aspheric elements, and no fewer than three low-dispersion or extra-low-dispersion elements, both of which are costly to manufacture, and a hallmark of high-end optics. The second design element is the "Gauss Type Lens Group" appearing in the middle of the diagram. Gauss groups are normally found only in high-end wide-aperture telephoto lenses, and help significantly reduce chromatic aberration and other optical defects in such designs. Another consequence of the arrangement of elements in the E-10's lens is that the light arriving at the CCD will be pretty highly collimated, with all the light rays hitting the CCD surface more or less at right angles. Olympus feels that this is important for digital imaging systems, due to the strong three-dimensional structure of the CCD surface. (We didn't have this confirmed by Olympus, but we strongly suspect that the "purple fringe" problem found on many consumer-level digicams is due to a too-high angle of incidence light on the CCD surface.)

Another aspect of the E-10's lens system that Olympus calls particular attention to is that it is designed to have a "circle of confusion" of only 4 microns, matching the dimensions of the CCD pixels. This is a little bit of a technical area, but lens systems are generally designed to be able to deliver a particular maximum resolving power, measured by how tightly they can focus a hypothetical point source of light. Most film-camera lenses are designed with the resolution limits of film in mind (no surprise), which apparently results in "circles of confusion" (sounds like a planning meeting at The Imaging Resource ;) or "blur spot" size of 6 microns or more. The problem with applying such lenses to digital imaging is that the lens ends up being the limiting element in the overall optical path. Olympus' contention is that lenses need to be designed to match the requirements of the new medium. We don't have any way of verifying the impact of all this optical technology, but can say that the lens on our E-10 evaluation sample looked exceptionally sharp. (For a really technical discussion of lenses for digital imaging, check the Schneider Optics site.)

Turning to the more mundane aspects of the E-10's lens, it's 4x, professional ED (Extra Dispersion), glass, 9 to 36mm lens (equivalent to a 35 to 140mm lens on a 35mm camera) design. With a very fast minimum aperture of f/2.0 ~ f/2.4 (depending on zoom setting), the lens features 14 elements in 11 groups. As noted above, these groups can be broken down into one extra dispersion glass element, two aspherical glass elements, two aspherical elements, and two high index low dispersion elements. Aperture can be manually or automatically adjusted, with a range from f/2.0 to f/11.0, depending on the zoom setting, in 1/3 EV steps. Focus ranges from 1.97 feet (0.6m) to infinity in normal mode and from 8.0 to 30.0 inches (0.2 to 0.8m) in macro mode. Macro mode is accessed by pressing the Macro button and turning the command dial until the traditional macro flower symbol appears in the status display panel. Zoom is controlled by turning a textured-rubber bezel around the lens, rather than by pressing zoom control buttons. We like this method, as it gives you the same feeling as zooming a traditional 35mm lens, and provides more precise and positive-acting zoom control.

Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an AF/MF switch on the side of the camera to designate the mode. The E-10's autofocus system uses a Dual AF-Active (IR and Passive TTL) contrast detection method to determine focus, basing focus on the center of the subject. What this means is that the camera uses two methods to measure focus. First, the Active Triangulation Reflective AF bounces an infrared beam off of the subject to judge the distance between the subject and the lens. The subject is then roughly focused by moving the lens, followed by a more precise focus based on what the CCD is seeing. Once the subject is in focus, a green circle in the optical viewfinder lights solid. When shooting with manual focus, the focus is adjusted by turning the focus ring on the outside of the lens. The draft manual we received with the first prototype we tested indicated that the LCD viewfinder would switch to a 2x magnified view when manual focus was being used, but this proved not to be the case. We still found it surprisingly easy to focus with the 1x LCD view though, as in most cases, we could observe moire patterns on the subject when focus was sharpest. When using manual focus, the camera-to-subject distance is also optionally reported in the bottom of the viewfinder screen, in both feet and meters. Like most other digicams with manual focus options that we've tested, the E-10's manual focus is a "fly by wire" system, in which the focus ring isn't coupled to the lens elements directly, but rather simply commands the camera's stepper motors to adjust the focus. It still does a pretty decent job of giving you the feel of actually adjusting the lens, because the direction and distance the ring is turned translates pretty directly into focus adjustment. The one downside of this system we see though, is that the maximum focus-adjust rate ("slew rate") is limited by the camera electronics, rather than by how fast you can crank the control ring. If you're used to the fairly loose focus adjustments on modern autofocus 35mm film camera lenses, you may be frustrated by the focusing speed of the E-10. On the other hand, it is one of the better-feeling manual focus adjustments we've encountered on a digicam.

As first mentioned in the "design section, although the E-10 does not accommodate interchangeable lenses, its built-in lens does feature 62mm filter threads for attaching accessory lenses. Available lenses are a 28mm f/2.0 wide angle lens, 200mm f/2.4 and 420mm f/2.8 telephoto lenses, and a f=35 macro lens. Accessory grip and support kits are also available, and necessary, since the added lenses increase the weight and the length of the lens unit.


The optional 420mm-equivalent, f/2.8 lens makes the camera quite long and heavy, requiring a lengthy support bar to hold the camera and lens together. When combined with the vertical hand grip attachment (as shown in the photo above), the E-10's lens extension evolves the camera into a rather large, somewhat awkward device. Still, we applaud the availability of such a long, fast accessory lens, and found the resulting images to be very sharp. (Take a look at a 400mm f/2.8 lens on a 35mm film camera though: If your wallet can get past the several thousand dollar sticker price, you'll find the resulting lens probably weighs more than the E-10 and it's long telephoto combined.) The 420mm accessory lens can only be used with the camera's own lens set at maximum telephoto: Any excursion toward wide-angle focal lengths will result in vignetting. As we "went to press" with this review, firm pricing for the 420mm extension lens wasn't set yet, but Olympus representatives told us it would probably cost about $600. - If true, that's pretty cheap by 35mm standards for a lens of that length and aperture.



A 200mm, f/2.4 extension lens can also be attached to the camera. Though no support device is required, the longer lens definitely requires a second hand to hold the camera steady. As with the 420mm lens, the 200mm unit can only be used with the main lens set to telephoto focal lengths.



A 28mm wide angle lens attachment is also available, with a minimum aperture setting of f/2.0. This shorter lens doesn't require any additional support, and does not vignette at any focal length setting of the primary lens.



As we mentioned, the E-10 accommodates both an infrared and wired remote control. What we really appreciated with the wired device is the ability to halfway press the shutter release to set exposure and focus. Most external remotes don't provide this capability. The wired remote is also necessary to take full advantage of the bulb exposure capability: Pressing on the shutter during a 30 second exposure is likely to introduce camera shake, even with a sturdy tripod. The infrared remote control is the same unit that Olympus includes with many of its other digicams, allowing you to trip the shutter and access several playback functions.

Exposure
The E-10 offers excellent exposure control, with a range of manual and automatic exposure modes available. Through the mode dial on top of the camera, you can set the exposure mode to Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual. In Program exposure mode, the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed settings, while you can adjust the exposure compensation, metering mode, ISO, flash, and white balance. Aperture Priority mode allows you to set the lens aperture (from f/2.0-2.4 to f/11.0, depending on the zoom setting) while the camera selects the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority modes works in the exact opposite, allowing you to set the shutter speed (from two to 1/640 seconds) while the camera selects the appropriate lens aperture. In both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, you have control over the same exposure variables as in Program mode. Shooting in Manual exposure mode gives you control over both the shutter speed and aperture setting, increasing the shutter speed range to eight to 1/640 seconds, with a Bulb setting for exposure times all the way out to 30 seconds. Manual exposure mode also allows you to change all other exposure variables, with the exception of exposure compensation and metering mode. In both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the designated variable is changed by simply turning the command dial on top of the camera. In Manual mode, aperture is set by turning the small sub-dial on the back panel, and shutter speed is changed by turning the main command dial on the top panel. The camera doesn't offer a range of preset shooting modes, for shooting in special situations such as night scenes or sunsets. However, the camera's instruction manual provides detailed information and tips for shooting portraits, backlit subjects, action subjects, etc.

We have to admit being a little disappointed that the fastest shutter speed is only 1/640 of a second, when we're accustomed to speeds as high as 1/1,000 or 1/2,000 of a second. This limits your exposure in bright, daylight shooting situations, in that you're practically forced to use a smaller aperture setting. (Or pack along a neutral-density filter or two.) Still, the availability of a Bulb setting is a nice bonus for low light shooting, and the E-10's low light capability is nothing short of phenomenal.

Three metering modes are available on the E-10, in all exposure modes other than Manual. ESP Metering reads multiple locations across the the entire image area to determine the correct exposure value. Center Metering reads light in a relatively large area at the center of the subject to determine exposure (the metering area takes up about 11 percent of the total frame area). The third mode, Spot Metering, takes a light reading from the very center of the subject (about 1.6 percent of the viewfinder image). The metering mode is selected by holding down the Metering button and turning the command dial (or sub-dial) until the desired icon is displayed in the viewfinder. Like metering, exposure compensation is adjustable in all exposure modes except Manual. By pressing the Exposure Compensation button and turning the command dial (or sub-dial), the exposure can be adjusted from -3 to +3 EV in 1/3 EV increments.

An exposure lock function is controlled by the AE Lock button on the back panel of the camera. To use AE Lock, simply point the center of the viewfinder at the part of the subject you want the exposure based on, press and hold the AE Lock button, reframe the subject, and trigger the shutter. The separate AE Lock button is a nice feature, because it lets you completely recompose your shot (including zoom and focus adjustments) without losing the desired exposure setting.

We at first thought there was no focus-lock feature per se on the E-10, but a reader note on our discussion forums set us to rights. (Thanks to George Pence for the correction!) As it turns out, you can use the AEL and shutter buttons to effect a focus-lock function. Here's how: Start by half-pressing the shutter button to lock both exposure and focus. Then center on your exposure target, and press the AEL button. This *re-locks* the exposure, while not affecting the focus. Finally, while still holding down the AEL button (and still half-pressing the shutter button), reframe your picture and fully press the shutter button. Not the most straightforward implementation we've seen, but the function is nonetheless there and usable.

White balance on the E-10 offers three operating modes, Auto, Quick Reference, and Preset. The Auto setting selects the whitest portion of the subject and adjusts the color balance to achieve the best white value. The Quick Reference setting is equivalent to a manual white balance mode, in that it allows you to set the white balance by placing a white card in front of the subject to balance the color. You then press the Quick Reference white balance button on the front of the camera to save the setting as a preset value. This saved white value will automatically be used the next time the white balance is set to Quick Reference, unless the value is changed again through the same method. We were very pleased to see the addition of a manually adjustable white balance setting, since most Olympus digicams only offer a range of preset values. In our testing, the manual white balance setting worked very well to remove color casts under difficult lighting conditions. Under the Preset white balance mode, the camera offers a selection of Kelvin temperatures, from 3,000 to 7,500 degrees, to match a variety of light sources. The instruction manual provides a detailed chart reporting the temperature setting and the lighting situation it's intended for.

Image sharpness can be adjusted to Hard, Soft, or Normal on the E-10, through the record menu. The Hard setting sharpens the borders and outlines in the subject, probably by increasing the contrast, and also clarifies the noise pattern (making it more prevalent). On the other end of the spectrum, the Soft setting blurs borders and decreases contrast slightly. Image contrast can also be adjusted through the record menu, with options for High, Normal, and Low. The High setting creates a stark contrast, which may wash out highlight areas and turn shadows to black. Alternatively, the Low setting subtly blends the highlight and shadow areas, making them less pronounced.

We mentioned earlier that the E-10 offers a histogram function that allows you to check the exposure before capturing the image. We couldn't actually get the histogram to appear on the LCD monitor in Capture mode (our beta evaluation model still had a few quirks), although we did successfully utilize the the feature in Playback mode. According to Olympus, you will be able display the histogram over the bottom of your subject and adjust the exposure compensation or exposure variables (shutter speed or aperture) to tweak the exposure without leaving capture mode.

Flash
The E-10 features a built-in, pop-up flash with five operating modes, including Automatic, Slow Synchro, Redeye Reduction, Redeye Reduction with Slow Synchro, and Fill-In. Flash mode is controlled by pressing the Flash button and turning either the main command dial or the sub-dial. The Automatic flash mode places the camera in charge of when to fire the flash, based on the existing light level and exposure. The Slow Synchro setting selects a slower shutter speed to allow more ambient light into a dark image, such as a night scene. The Slow Synchro flash can be timed to fire at the beginning or end of the exposure, depending on the desired effect. In Redeye Reduction mode, the flash fires a rapid burst of 10 short flashes to contract the pupils of the subject's eyes before the main flash fires. The Redeye Reduction with Slow Synchro mode simply combines the two flash modes, for night portraits. The Fill-in flash mode fires the flash with every exposure, regardless of the light level. Finally, the flash can be completely disabled by returning it to its compartment. The built-in flash intensity level can be adjusted through the record menu, from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments.

Olympus estimates the built-in flash as effective from 0.6 to 18.3 feet (0.2 to 5.6m), at the normal intensity and ISO 100 settings. This seemed consistent with our own test results, with two caveats: First, the flash seemed rather dim at all test distances in our studio tests, although it appeared to work fine under less staged conditions. (The +/- 2 EV flash exposure adjustment could easily adjust for the underexposure we encountered, but we wanted to present the unadjusted results for the sake of consistency.) Secondly, our studio only lets us test flash range to about 14 feet, so we couldn't adequately test the performance at the maximum rated distance.

A hot shoe on top of the camera accommodates an external flash, as does the PC sync terminal on the side of the camera. You can use the internal flash and an external flash together, as the camera automatically sets the internal flash to Automatic if popped up when the external flash is connected. Flash intensity level can also be controlled through the camera for a dedicated external flash, via the same method as for the internal unit. Olympus offers the FL-40 external flash as an accessory, and the instruction manual contains detailed instructions for connecting the flash and setting it up. (Note that the flash exposure adjustment option likely will not be available with third-party accessory flash units, as it requires extra connections on the flash shoe to implement this function.)

Auto Bracketing
In all exposure modes except for Manual, an auto bracketing feature takes three exposures of the same image at different exposure values (one at the set exposure value, one overexposed, and one underexposed). Through the record settings menu, you can set the EV increment you want each image to differ by, with options of 1/3, 2/3 or one EV step in either direction. The camera's internal flash must be closed for auto bracketing to work, and the self-timer is unavailable when this feature is enabled.

Sequence Mode
The Drive button on the side of the camera accesses the Sequence shooting mode, which allows you to capture up to four successive shots at roughly three frames per second with one press of the shutter button. Very rare among digicams we've tested, the E-10's sequence-mode operation can capture even uncompressed TIFF images at the full three frames per second. (!)

Self-Timer and Remote Control Photography
Also through the Drive button, the E-10 offers the Self-Timer and Remote Control shooting modes. The Self-Timer features a 12 second countdown before the shutter is fired, allowing you to get into the image after pressing the shutter button. As with normal exposures, the camera sets focus with the half-press of the shutter button, meaning that you shouldn't stand in front of the camera to start the countdown and press the shutter button.

The E-10 works with an included infrared remote control as well as an accessory wired remote control unit. The Remote Control shooting mode, accessed through the Drive button, sets the camera to receive signals from the infrared remote control unit, which works as far as 16.6 feet (5m) from the camera's front. We like Olympus' RM-1 remote trigger a lot, and use it extensively in our studio for product photography with our (now aging) C-2020 Zoom. On the E-10, the manual nature of its controls reduce the functionality of the remote somewhat: Since the zoom is actuated by a lens collar, with no electronic actuation possible, the zoom controls on the RM-1 aren't effective when used with the E-10. Likewise, the dual-control (button plus thumbwheel) operation of the exposure compensation function on the E-10 prevents the remote from controlling that function as well. The RM-1 is thus reduced to only operating as a shutter release, but we find it very useful nonetheless.

The wired remote control unit can be used in any capture mode and doesn't require you to set the Drive setting to Remote Control mode. Instead, when the remote control wire is connected to the camera via the side terminal, the remote functions are instantly available. With the wired remote, you can halfway press the shutter button to set focus, a function that the infrared remote doesn't allow. The wired remote is perfect for shooting with the Bulb shutter setting or any slow shutter speed, to reduce any camera movement caused by pressing the shutter button.

Time-lapse Photography
Through the record menu, the E-10 offers a Time-lapse Photography mode. You can set the shutter intervals from 30 seconds up to 24 hours, and the camera will continue to take pictures at the set interval until the batteries die, the memory card fills up, or the camera is turned off.

Low Light Photography
We don't normally have a separate section in our reviews on a camera's low light capability, but the E-10 was so exceptional in this respect that we thought it warranted separate coverage.

Earlier in this review, we described the design of the E-10s body and CCD mount, and the way the combination acted to conduct heat away from the CCD imager chip. The net result should be lower operating temperatures for the CCD, and thus lower image noise levels as well. Given a foreknowledge of this design detail, we expected pretty good low-light performance from the E-10, but also expected the smaller pixel dimensions needed to cram 4 million pixels onto the sensor chip to counteract this somewhat. We therefore began our testing thinking that the E-10 would have fairly typical low light capabilities overall. What a surprise! In our studio tests, the E-10 produced beautiful exposures down to the lower limits that we normally test at (1/16 of a foot-candle, about 0.7 lux). Then we "discovered" the bulb-exposure mode. (Manuals are for wimps...) Messing about in the studio that night, we happened to take a 30 second exposure with the camera pointing out a window to the moonlit ground outside. - There was detail there! A quick trip to the backyard (the front was too "bright" due to the streetlights) with our heaviest tripod and a steady hand (we didn't get to keep the wired remote for our testing) was called for, to see just what the E-10 could see.


Digicams by MOONlight!
~Full Moon over Georgia, October 14, 2000, a bit after midnight.
All exposures 30 second bulb exposures, click on any photo to see full-size image.
NOTE though, images average 2.5 MB each!
ISO 80
30 seconds
F/2.2
ISO 160
30 seconds
F/2.2
ISO 320
30 seconds
F/2.2
ISO 80
Photoshop Levels adjustment, then "Dust & Scratches" Filter, threshold 20, radius 1



The shots shown above are all the result of 30 second exposures, with the lens wide open. (About f/2.2 at the focal length we were shooting with.) We shot the scene at ISO 80, 160, and 320: The fourth image above is one that was processed with Photoshop, from the ISO 80 image. We did a fairly extensive tone balance using the "Levels" function, then hit it with the "Dust & Scratches" filter, radius 1, threshold 20. The results were literally astonishing, particularly the incredibly clean image processed from the ISO 80 shot. We normally recommend Mike Chaney's excellent Qimage Pro program for processing digicam images with high ISO noise, but in the case of the E-10, the Photoshop Dust and Scratches filter seemed to do a better job when used with a relatively high threshold setting. The only light in the backyard was from a full moon (October, Atlanta area): The totally washed-out side of the house and small trailer are where light from a streetlight a half-block away was hitting. - Is that amazing, or what? It was moderately cold outside when we shot these (probably about 50 degrees F), but we didn't wait for the camera to cool down to ambient temperature, wanting to see results more typical of ordinary shooting conditions. Bottom line, we have to say that the E-10 has the best low light performance of any digicam we've tested to date! (October, 2000. And yes, the Kodak DC620x would almost certainly surpass the E-10, but that digicam costs roughly 5 times as much, and has half the pixel resolution of the E-10.) An absolutely outstanding performance!

 

Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using a special electronic test setup.

Olympus E-10 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
6.9
A bit slow, surprising, since no need for a telescoping lens to extend.
Shutdown (Min res/TIFF)
1.73/33.5
Since the lens doesn't need to retract, "shutdown" time is effectively zero. The times shown are how long it takes to finish saving a just-captured image, at minimum resolution, and max resolution TIFF format.
Play to Record, first shot
2.15/0.89
Fairly fast to very fast. First number is time to first shot after switching mode dial. Second number is time from "quick review" mode to first shot after pressing shutter button. (That's *blazingly* fast!)
Record to play (max/min res)
11.27/5.09
A bit slow. "Quick Review" mode decreases times substantially, to about 5.3 seconds for a high-resolution image.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.542
Quite fast.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.19
Also faster than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.12
Quite a bit faster than average.
Cycle Time, autofocus (max/min res)
4.2/1.0
Record view (brief playback on LCD) slows to 4.2 seconds. With record view turned off, shot to shot is very fast at 1.0 seconds.
Cycle Time, manual focus (max/min res)
2.95 frames/sec
Very fast in continuous mode (even at high res, 5 shots!)

While a little slow starting up and shutting down, the E-10 showed itself to be an impressively fast performer in almost all other respects. Shutter lag was very good, much better than the typical high-end "prosumer" cameras we see so many of. (Of course, the E-10 sells at a much higher price than typical "prosumer" models too.) Cycle time was also very good, provided we left the "Record View" option disabled. And continuous mode was very impressive, particularly in that it could capture even maximum-resolution uncompressed TIFF images at the full 2.95 frames/second speed. (!) Overall, a very fast camera at its price point.

Operation and User Interface
We found the user interface on the E-10 very straightforward, though the large number of external camera controls may seem a bit complicated at first glance. We always appreciate being able to change camera settings without resorting to the LCD menu, as it helps conserve battery power and makes for much quicker navigation of the camera's functions. The majority of the E-10's exposure settings are changed by pressing a control button while turning either the main command dial or sub-dial, and the status of these settings is reported on the small status display panel on the top of the camera. While this works rather well, it does mean you have to use two hands to change the camera setting. This can be a little hard to do when you're trying to make changes while maintaining your shooting position. When we did use the LCD menu to change settings, we found it to be reasonably uncomplicated and navigable, as the arrow buttons allow you to scroll up and down through options and screens. The tilting LCD monitor was also helpful, as it kept the viewfinder visible when shooting in awkward positions, and we enjoyed the ability to manually control the optical zoom and focus with the lens collar. Overall, the E-10 has the look and feel of a traditional 35mm SLR, which made for a very comfortable user experience.



The picture above shows the contents of the small status display panel on the top of the camera. The E-10 provides an large amount of information there, making settings changes very fast.


Control Enumeration


Quick Reference White Balance Button: Located on the very front of the camera, just beneath the infrared autofocus sensor, and right under your middle finger as you grasp the hand grip, this button adjusts the camera's white balance based on a white card held in front of the lens. (A very handy position for this button.)


Shutter Button: Resting at an angle on the large hand grip, this button sets both focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed. When shooting in Self-Timer mode, this button triggers the 12 second countdown before the shutter is fired.


AE Lock Button: Positioned in the top right corner of the back panel, this button locks the exposure when pressed and held.


Main Command Dial: Just above the shutter button, this notched dial sets a variety of camera settings when rotated while a control button is pressed. In Aperture and Shutter Priority exposure modes, this dial used by itself sets either the aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode. In Manual mode, turning the dial without a control button pressed sets the shutter speed.


White Balance Button: Situated on the outside edge of the command dial, this button controls the camera's white balance mode. Holding down this button while turning either command dial cycles through the Auto, Preset, and Quick Reference white balance modes.


Record Mode Button (Image Quality): Positioned on the top of the camera, just inboard of the main command dial, this button lets you cycle through the available image quality settings by pressing it and rotating either command dial. Available modes are TIFF, SHQ (Super High Quality), HQ (High Quality), and SQ (Standard Quality). The specific resolution/compression settings for SHQ, HQ, and SQ are configured via the LCD menu system. - This struck us as a neat feature, in that you can set up the E-10's three "standard" image quality choices to match your exact needs. When pressed in conjunction with the Flash button just beside it, all of the camera's exposure and control settings are reset to their factory defaults.


Flash Button: Directly to the left of the Record Mode button, this button controls the camera's flash mode. Pressing it and rotating either command dial (while the flash is in its operating position) cycles through the Automatic, Slow Synchro, Redeye Reduction, Redeye Reduction with Slow Synchro, and Fill-in flash modes. When pressed in conjunction with the Record Mode button, all of the camera's exposure settings are reset to their factory defaults.


Mode Dial: Located on the far right edge of the camera's top panel, this notched dial rests on top of the power switch. Turning the mode dial controls the camera's operating mode, with the following choices:


Power Switch: The power switch is located underneath the mode dial, in the form of a rotating collar with a projecting tab. A flip of the thumb turns the camera on or off.


Light Button: Situated just beneath the small status display panel, this button turns on a gentle backlight for viewing the panel in the dark. The backlight stays on for eight seconds after the button is pressed.


SM / CF Button: Just to left and back of the Light button, this button selects either the SmartMedia or CompactFlash memory card slot for saving or retrieving images. (The camera can carry both types of cards simultaneously, which could be handy for squeezing out a few extra megabytes of storage space on and extended sortie.


Subcommand Dial: On the camera's back, just left of the AE Lock button, this dial duplicates the function of the main Command dial for many functions. (A convenience factor.) In Manual exposure mode, turning this dial adjusts the lens aperture setting. In Playback mode, turning the dial to the left activates the index display mode, while turning the dial to the right activates the playback zoom feature. (Five zoom steps ranging from 1.5x to 4.0x are provided.)


Display Button: Just below the subcommand dial, this button enables and disables the LCD monitor display in any mode. Also in any capture mode, pressing this button twice in quick succession puts you into "quick image review mode", displaying the most recently captured image. This quick review mode is actually offers all the standard Playback functions, but is instantly canceled when you touch the shutter button again.


Menu Button: Just below the Display button on the E-10's back panel, the Menu button calls up the settings menu in all camera modes. It also cancels the menu display.


Arrow Keys: Located to the right of the LCD monitor, these four arrow buttons each point in one of the four cardinal directions (up, down, left, and right). While in any settings menu, these buttons navigate through menu options and selections. In Playback mode, the left and right buttons scroll through captured images. When playback zoom is enabled, the four arrows let you scroll around within the enlarged image to check on the details.


Memory Card Slot Release Lever: On the far right side of the camera's back panel, next to the memory card slot, this lever releases the spring-loaded card slot door.


OK Button: Centered between the arrow key pad and the Memory Card Slot Release lever, this button confirms menu selections in all settings menus.


Erase Button: Situated beneath the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button lets you delete the currently displayed image, with an option to cancel.


Protect Button: To the left of the Erase button, this button write-protects the currently displayed image while in Playback mode. Once protected, a key symbol appears in the LCD monitor. This button also removes write-protection.


Info Button: Beneath the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the information display in all capture modes, as well as in Playback mode. In any capture mode, pressing this button repeatedly cycles between the exposure information display and the distance display on the LCD monitor. The exposure display reports the current exposure settings, and the distance display reports the approximate distance between the subject and the camera. In Playback mode, pressing this button and rotating either command dial selects one of three levels of exposure information overlaid on the images. Pressed by itself, it toggles between the histogram (when enabled) and the image information display.


Viewfinder Switch: Located to the left of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this lever flips an internal shutter into the optical viewfinder's light path, preventing light entering the viewfinder eyepiece from affecting the exposure.


Dioptric Adjustment Dial: Surrounding optical viewfinder eyepiece, this rotating collar adjusts the focus of the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Metering Button: The topmost button of the camera's lens side, using this button with either command dial cycles through the three metering modes: ESP, Center, and Spot. Metering mode selections are available in all exposure modes except for Manual.


Drive Button: Just below the Metering button, this button cycles through the camera's shooting modes when pressed while turning the either command dial. Available drive modes are Sequence, Self-Timer, and Remote Control.


LCD Release Switch: Situated next to the LCD monitor (but on the lens side of the camera), this latch releases the LCD monitor allowing it it to swivel upward by 90 degrees, or downward by 20 degrees.


Popup Flash Release Button: Located on the side of the popup flash compartment, this button releases the popup flash into its operating position.


Macro Button: Directly below the Popup Flash Release button, pressing this button and rotating either command dial puts the camera into macro mode or returns it to normal shooting mode again. The Macro button is only active in Autofocus mode: In manual focus mode, you can focus the lens across its entire range without switching modes.


Exposure Compensation Button: To the left of the Macro button, this button controls the amount of exposure compensation in all capture modes except for Manual. Pressing the button while turning the command dial adjusts the exposure from -3 to +3 EV in 1/3 EV increments.


AF / MF Switch: Centrally located on the lens side of the camera, this switch selects Auto or Manual focus mode.


Battery Compartment Lock Switch: Located on the bottom of the camera, in the center of the battery compartment door, this switch locks and unlocks the battery compartment. When unlocked, the battery tray slides out from the compartment for changing batteries (holds either four AA alkaline, NiCd, or NiMH batteries, or two CR-V3 lithium ion batteries).

Camera Modes and Menus

(Because the capture modes all share the same menu options, we'll discuss each capture mode individually and then list the record menu selections.)

Manual Exposure Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the "M" position, this mode allows you to control the shutter speed (from eight to 1/640 seconds, with a Bulb setting) and lens aperture (from f/2.0 to f/11.0, depending on the zoom setting). You also have control over all other exposure variables, except for metering mode, exposure compensation, and AE Lock.

Shutter Priority Exposure Mode: Marked on the mode dial with an "S," this mode puts you in control of the shutter speed while the camera controls the lens aperture. The lens aperture range remains the same, but the shutter speed range changes to two to 1/640 seconds. All exposure variables are available, including flash mode, ISO, metering, exposure compensation, AE Lock, sharpness, contrast, and white balance.

Aperture Priority Exposure Mode: This mode is noted on the mode dial with an "A," and allows you to set the lens aperture while the camera selects the best corresponding shutter speed. Aperture and shutter speed values remain the same as with Shutter Priority mode, as does the amount of exposure control available with other features.

Program Exposure Mode: Denoted on the mode dial with a "P," this mode puts the camera in charge of both aperture and shutter speed, basing the exposure values on the available light. Aperture and shutter speed ranges remain the same as with Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, and all exposure features are available.

Record Menu: Available in all four capture modes, this menu is accessed by pressing the Menu button. The following options are available:


Playback Mode: This mode is marked on the mode dial with the traditional green playback symbol. In Playback mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, protect them, or copy them. You can also view an index display of nine thumbnails on a page, or digitally enlarge the captured image and check fine details. Pressing the menu button displays the following selections:


Print Mode: Marked on the mode dial with a green printer symbol, this mode allows you to mark images for printing on a DPOF compatible device, and set the number of prints. You can also create index print files. Pressing the Menu button calls up the following Preprint menu:


PC Connection Mode: This mode, marked on the mode dial with a crooked arrow, sets up the camera for connection to a computer. It also accesses the main camera settings menu, once the Menu button is pressed. Options are:

Image Storage and Interface
The E-10 can store images on either a SmartMedia (3.3V) or CompactFlash Type I or II memory card, with slots for both cards available on the side of the camera. The SM / CF button on top of the camera selects whether the camera accesses the SmartMedia or CompactFlash card slot. The E-10 also features a built-in 32 megabyte, SDRAM buffer memory, for capturing burst sequences. A 32 megabyte SmartMedia card comes with the camera, with an upgrade to 64 megabytes available, and 128 megabyte cards available by the end of the year. Although the card slot supports the Type II form factor, Olympus doesn't currently recommend using the IBM MicroDrive with the E-10, as they're apparently still working out compatibility issues. We used a 340 MB MicroDrive in our prototype unit, and it worked fine for the most part, but we did have a problem starting the camera up once or twice with the MicroDrive inserted. (It produced a "Card Error" error message.) We never experienced a problem with the production model we tested, but given Olympus' lack of endorsement of the MicroDrive, would have to caution against its use in critical picture-taking situations. (You wouldn't want to miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot because the MicroDrive was balky starting up!) Type II CompactFlash cards currently provide storage capacities into the hundreds of megabytes (albeit at a price), so the lack of MicroDrive support doesn't impose too drastic a restriction on image storage.

SmartMedia cards can be write-protected by placing a small sticker in the designated area. Stickers must be clean to be effective and can only be used once. CompactFlash cards cannot be entirely write-protected, but the E-10 allows you to write-protect individual images by pressing the Protect button on the back panel. Write-protecting an image doesn't save it from being erased through card reformatting, however.

The E-10's image resolution/quality selection scheme is a little different than we've encountered on other cameras, but having seen it, we wonder why it isn't the rule, rather than the exception. Rather than a family of preset size/quality settings, the E-10 has four "standard" settings of TIFF (uncompressed) SHQ (super high quality), HQ (high quality) and SQ (standard quality). Historically in Olympus cameras, the SHQ, HQ, and SQ designations have been associated with image quality levels corresponding to the names given them. In the E-10 though, you're free to program them to be whatever you'd like. Each of the three standard settings can be programmed to correspond to any of the five image sizes supported by the E-10, namely 2240 x 1680, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480 pixels. Likewise you can assign any of the three compression levels supported by the E-10 (1:2.7, 1:4, or 1/8) to any setting. The beauty of this approach is that you can preprogram three image size/quality combinations into the camera and switch rapidly between them without having to resort to the menu system. You're not tied to what some camera designer thought you ought to have available, but can tailor the camera's image settings to your own needs. Very nice. (Oddly though, the uncompressed TIFF format is restricted to the 2240 x 1680 size only.) There is one restriction to this freedom though: According to the manual, the resolution selected for SQ can't be higher than that chosen for HQ, nor HQ higher than SHQ.

The smaller image sizes are an area in which Olympus claims special technology: Their "TruePic" image technology supposedly incorporates a more intelligent sub-sampling algorithm than commonly used in digicams, meaning that images at resolutions lower than that of the full CCD pixel count should be of higher quality than with other cameras. We didn't do any close study of this, but the smaller image sizes we saw shot with the E-10 were indeed very smooth, with no jaggies or other artifacts evident in them.

There's also a RAW image mode, which records images as 10 bit/channel data files directly from the CCD. RAW files feature the .ORF filename extension. An Olympus RAW File Import Plug-in comes with the camera, so that you can process images later with Adobe PhotoShop. The plug-in allows you to perform RGB color adjustments without affecting the white balance or any other color adjustment, or automatically process the image to adjust the white balance, color, sharpness, and contrast.

Following are the approximate number of storable images and compression ratios for a 32 megabyte SmartMedia card.

Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity
RAW Data
Uncompressed TIFF
SHQ
HQ
SQ
2240 x 1680
Images
7
2
11
16
32
Approx. Compression
1:1
1:1
2.7:1
4:1
8:1
1600 x 1200
Images
N/A
N/A
22
32
64
Approx. Compression
N/A
N/A
2.7:1
4:1
8:1
1280 x 960
Images
N/A
N/A
32
51
103
Approx. Compression
N/A
N/A
2.7:1
4:1
8:1
1024 x 768
Images
N/A
N/A
53
80
160
Approx. Compression
N/A
N/A
2.7:1
4:1
8:1
640 x
480
Images
N/A
N/A
139
200
400
Approx. Compression
N/A
N/A
2.7:1
4:1
8:1

Interface software and a USB cable also accompany the camera, for high speed connection to a computer.The E-10 is apparently a "storage class" USB device, as opposed to a "device class" one. This means that, unlike most USB-equipped digicams, the E-10 is about as fast as a USB card reader, as opposed to 1/3 to 1/2 the speed. - A welcome feature, given the very large file sizes the E-10 can generate. Our testing upheld this contention, as we clocked the E-10's transfer rate at a very respectable 554 KBytes/second.

One of the first things any new digicam owner will need is a larger memory card for their camera: The cards shipped with the units by the manufacturers should really be considered only "starter" cards, you'll definitely want a higher capacity card immediately. - Probably at least a 32 megabyte card for a 1.3 or 2 megapixel camera, 64 megabytes or more for a 3, 4, or 5 megapixel one. (The nice thing about memory cards is you'll be able to use whatever you buy now with your next camera too, whenever you upgrade.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the E-10, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" button above to go to the Olympus memory finder, select your camera model , and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor & order away! (Pretty cool, huh?)

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Video Out

The E-10 has a video-out port which supports the NTSC timing format on US and Japanese models (we assume that the PAL standard is supported on European models). The video output can be used for reviewing previously shot images or running slide shows from the camera, but also shows all the LCD menu screens as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. Combined with the flexible infrared remote control we mentioned earlier, the availability of a live viewfinder display via the video signal opens interesting possibilities for portrait photography, using a video monitor as a remote viewfinder.


Power

The E-10 can use a variety of power sources. The battery compartment features a sliding tray design, in which a tray pops out from the compartment for easier battery loading. The camera's internal battery compartment can accommodate either four AA alkaline, NiCd, or NiMH batteries, or two CR-V3 lithium battery packs. An AC adapter is available as an accessory, and plugs into the DC-in port in the connection compartment. Also available as an accessory is a lithium polymer battery pack, which provides twice the power capacity of even the highest-capacity NiMH cells (15.4 vs 7.7 watt-hours) and requires an external battery holder. This external battery compartment doubles as a vertical grip for the camera, complete with a secondary shutter button. Olympus estimates that two CR-V3 batteries should provide approximately 300 minutes of operating time, and four AA NiMH batteries should provide about 150 minutes. This is consistent with our own test results on the E-10, and in fact may be somewhat conservative. Current battery status is reported on the status display panel with a small battery icon. When the icon appears full, the batteries should be fully charged. If the icon blinks, the batteries are getting low, and if it lights for a short time and then disappears, the batteries are dead.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
580/270 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
380/190 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
580 mA
Half-pressed, no LCD
380 mA
Memory Write (transient)
560 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1630 mA
Image Playback
360 mA

For a camera with its resolution and capabilities, the E-10 is surprisingly frugal in its power consumption. Capture mode power is lower than average, and drops even further after a few seconds of inactivity. Playback power consumption is also noticeably lower than average. Overall, the E-10 should display very good battery life, although our standard recommendation that users purchase at least two sets of high-capacity NiMH cells and a good charger still stands. (As noted above, we feel that Olympus' claim of 150 minutes of operating time on a set of batteries is actually fairly conservative.)

While the E-10's inherent battery life is quite good, its pro-oriented design means many owners will need the ability to shoot all day with the camera. The Olympus battery-equipped hand grip is certainly a good option for that, although it adds a fair bit of bulk, not to mention expense. Many photographers rely on belt-clipped battery packs to power their digicams for extended periods, but most of these are NiMH-based, with output voltages of less than 6 volts. The E-10 requires a substantially higher voltage at it's external-power jack, which means that the popular NiMH external packs won't work. Fortunately, a LiIon "PowerBank" is available from Maha that has a high enough voltage to power the E-10. Running about $60, this unit provides about 1400 mAh of power at a terminal voltage (under moderate load) of a bit over 8 volts. Given the E-10's frugal power consumption, the LiIon PowerBank should keep the camera running for a good 4+ hours of continous use in capture mode. One note - Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the E-10. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) You can order these online from Thomas-Distributing. Highly recommended!



Included Software

The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check out his site, the results are pretty amazing!
Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.

Although we didn't receive them with our prototype unit, two software CDs and a USB cable will come with the E-10, for connecting the camera to a PC or Macintosh and downloading images. One of the software packages is the Olympus RAW File Import Plug-in, which provides a utility for processing RAW data images later with Adobe PhotoShop. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by an updated version of Olympus' own Camedia software package which allows you to download and save images to your hard drive, and perform rudimentary organization and correction functions.

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Olympus E-10 SLR's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Olympus E-10 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

First, we should note that the E-10 evaluation unit we worked with was a prototype, so we won't over-examine the camera's color performance. Olympus told us that they figured there'd be about two rounds of further tweaking on the color between the unit we worked with and the final production models. Despite the early status of the unit we tested though, we felt the E-10 actually showed pretty good color.

Overall, the E-10 did an excellent job, handling some of our most difficult light sources very well. We shot with the manual and Kelvin white balance options during most of our testing, which did a very nice job of interpreting the light source and producing an accurate white value. Despite the camera's prototype status, the E10 reproduced the large color blocks in the Davebox test target reasonably well, and tonal handling looked very good, as the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target were visible up to the "B" range, and shadow detail was excellent as well. The tonal gradations of the gray scales on our test target were clearly visible quite far into the extreme shadow end, the E-10 barely managing to discriminate between the two darkest steps in the large Kodak gray scale. (This is fairly unusual, most digicams stop a step or two short of the very bottom of that scale.)

As you'd expect, given its 4 megapixel sensor, the E-10 did very well on our resolution test. For now, we took just a single shot in wide-angle mode (generally the best focal length for a zoom lens, we'll fill in with a full resolution series once we get our hands on the production model). The results were very impressive: In the horizontal direction, the E-10 resolved a good 850 lines per picture height before showing any trace of aliasing, and detail was clearly visible well beyond 1000 lines. Vertically the numbers were a bit lower, but still very good, with the first indication of aliasing appearing at about 770 lines per picture height, and good detail visible out to around 950.

The E-10 offers a full range of exposure control, with Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes available. The user also has control over flash mode, metering, exposure compensation, ISO, AE Lock, sharpness, contrast, and white balance. The E-10's low-light performance was outstanding, as we obtained bright, useable images as low as 1/16 of a foot candle (0.67 lux). Noise levels stayed very low at all three ISO settings, although the 320 ISO setting did produce a slightly higher noise level (but it's very fine-grained and surprisingly minimal). (We direct readers to Mike Chaney's excellent Qimage Pro program, for a tool with an amazing ability to remove image noise without significantly affecting detail.) We also noticed that the 160 and 320 ISO settings produced slightly warm images, but the 80 ISO setting resulted in a more true color balance. To put the E-10's low light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot candle. Out of curiosity, we also shot with the camera's Bulb setting, using a 30 second shutter speed under the light of a full moon: We were absolutely amazed with the results, which looked like the image was shot in daylight, although noise was rather high in the 30 second ISO 320 exposure.

We found the E-10's SLR optical viewfinder to be just a little tight, with the frame accuracy varying slightly with image size. At the 2240 x 1680 resolution size, the optical viewfinder showed about 92.9 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 94.7 percent at telephoto. At the smaller 1280 x 960 resolution size, the optical viewfinder showed about 93.7 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 95.5 percent at telephoto. We found similar results with the LCD monitor, which also varied in accuracy with the resolution size. The 2240 x 1680 size resulted in approximately 92.9 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 94.5 percent at telephoto. The 1280 x 960 image size resulted in about 93.6 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 95.4 percent at telephoto. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the E-10 does a pretty good job, and overall performs about as well as most 35mm film-based SLRs.

The E-10 did an excellent job in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 2.88 x 2.16 inches (73.03 x 54.77mm). Detail and resolution both look great, though the printing detail on the dollar bill is just a little soft, which we think was because we got a little too close to the subject for the lens to focus. The E-10's built-in flash does a good job of throttling down for the macro area, though it's tricked by the shiny coin just a little.

Overall, we were very impressed with the performance of our prototype model of the Olympus E-10 SLR. Color balance was surprisingly good for a model this early in its development cycle, and the camera's white balance system does a good job with most light sources. The manual white balance option in particular was very effective at dealing with tough lighting conditions. The camera's low-light performance is very commendable, especially with the very low noise levels the camera achieves for very long exposures. Add to this the E-10's great macro performance and extensive exposure controls, and you have a very worthy pro-level digicam.


Conclusion
With its true 4.0 megapixel CCD, extensive exposure control, SLR format, and advanced lens design, the Olympus E-10 carves out new territory on the boundary between the professional and advanced-amateur digicam markets. With a selling price thousands less than all of its competitors in the professional SLR world, it also offers higher resolution than anything within five times its cost. As an added bonus, Olympus' use of metal castings and other metal components to heat-sink the CCD appears to have paid real dividends in the form of reduced CCD noise on long exposures. Our review of the production model confirmed our early experience with a prototype: The E-10 has all the earmarks of a world-beater. Very highly recommended!

<<E10 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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