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Olympus E-3 Exposure
Five metering systems are available on the Olympus E-3: Digital ESP, Center-weighted, Spot (approx. 2% of viewfinder screen), Spot HI (highlights), and Spot SH (shadows). All are accessed through the Metering button on the camera's top panel. Depressing it and rotating the front dial selects the current Metering mode. It can also be changed from the Super Control Panel menu. Under the default Digital ESP setting, the camera takes an exposure reading from 49 zones or segments and chooses the best exposure based on brightness and contrast across the entire scene, though there is an option (ESP + AF) that takes the active AF point into account. Center-weighted metering reads from the center of the frame, but from a fairly large area. Spot metering simply reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed. (Spot metering is very handy when you have a subject that's backlit, or that has a very different brightness, either lighter or darker, than the background.) The two additional Spot options provide highlight and shadow control, whenever shooting in very bright or very dark conditions. Metering range is from 1 to 20 EV, at room temperature with a 50mm f/2 lens at ISO1 100.
An AE/AF Lock button locks the current exposure settings whenever pressed, so you can independently lock exposure and focus. (AE Lock is useful when you want to base your exposure on an off-center subject. Point the camera at the subject, lock the exposure, then recompose your shot however you like. Your subject will be correctly exposed, regardless of what might be in the center of the frame when you finally snap the shutter.) Through a Custom menu, you can designate the function of the AE/AF lock button, and how it works in conjunction with the Shutter button. This button will also lock the flash exposure.
In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press the Exposure Compensation button and turn either Control dial (in all exposure modes except Manual and Bulb) and the EV value will display on the LCDs and viewfinder. You can increase or decrease the exposure in either 0.3, 0.5, or 1.0 EV increments (selected via a menu option), up to a maximum of +/- 5 EV. Or, you can use the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function to automatically bracket three or five frames at 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0 EV steps each. The auto bracketing will center its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure compensation adjustments you've made. AEB is handy for those times when you want to make sure you get just the right exposure for a critical subject.
White balance options include Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, One-Touch (up to four can be registered), and Custom, to accommodate a variety of lighting situations. Pressing the White Balance button and turning either Control dial adjusts the setting, and the Kelvin temperature is displayed in the LCD monitor. The Olympus E-3 offers a Custom setting, which lets you choose from a range of Kelvin temperature settings, from 2,000K to 14,000K. The One-Touch options are useful for basing the white balance on a white card. You can also adjust the white balance, controlling the amount of amber-blue and green-magenta bias in the color balance, in any of the selected modes. This ability to "tweak" the white balance, called White Balance Compensation, is very helpful when dealing with difficult light sources. The E-3 also features a white balance bracketing. If activated, the camera will take three successive images, either biasing between amber and blue or green and magenta. You can set the images to vary by two, four, or six arbitrary adjustment steps.
The Olympus E-3 lets you adjust its light sensitivity, in either 1 or 1/3 EV steps, with options of 100 to 3,200 ISO equivalents, or to an Auto mode in which the camera selects an ISO appropriate to the subject's brightness. You can set a maximum ISO point for the Auto mode which won't risk noise in bright situations, from 100 to 3,200, as well as the default (minimum) ISO. The higher ISO settings are helpful when you want faster shutter speeds under normal lighting, to help freeze fast action. There is also a unique ISO bracketing feature, where the camera takes three images, varying the ISO but keeping the shutter speed and aperture fixed. Of course, as with all digicams, the higher ISO settings produce photos with more image noise, in much the same way that higher-ISO films show more film grain. To combat this problem, the E-3 offers a Noise Reduction option through the Record menu, which reduces the amount of image noise from long exposures, particularly at the higher ISO settings, as well as variable high ISO noise reduction Olympus calls Noise Filter. Noise Filter options consist of Off, Low, Standard, and High.
There are also options on the Record menu to set the color mode, which offers Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, and Monotone, as well as custom options. Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation levels may be adjusted in five steps for Vivid, Natural, Muted, and Portrait; while Contrast and Sharpness levels can be adjusted in five steps for Monotone. Yellow, Orange, Red, or Green filter effects are available for Monotone, as well as Sepia, Blue, Purple, or Green picture tones. In addition, the Olympus E-3 has a Gradation setting to control the brightness of the entire image. You can choose between the Auto, Normal, Low, and High Key settings. A color space option under the Record menu lets you choose between sRGB (for Windows machines) and Adobe RGB (for Adobe Photoshop) color options.
The Olympus E-3 also offers two Self-Timer modes for self-portraits or those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake on a long exposure by pressing the Shutter button to trip the shutter. You can choose between a 2 or 12 second countdown. The 2 second countdown is useful for times when you're taking a long exposure with the camera on a tripod. The E-3 also offers an Anti-Shock feature which lets you set the delay (from 1 to 30 seconds) between the mirror raising and the shutter actuation, for when you want to minimize any camera shake from mirror slap. The Drive setting also accesses the Remote Control modes, for use with an optional remote. You can specify immediate release, or two-second delay with a remote.
Sequential Shooting Mode
The Olympus E-3 offers two Sequential modes that mimics the motor drive on a film camera. Sequential High captures images at 5 frames-per-second (we managed about 5.2 frames-per-second in our testing), while the frame rate for Sequential Low is programmable to 1, 2, 3 or 4 frames-per-second in a Custom menu. As is usually the case, the number of frames you can capture continuously is limited by the camera's buffer memory capacity, the speed of your memory card, and the image file size and quality.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot 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 digital camera 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...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus E-3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.