Olympus E3 Review

 
Camera Reviews > Olympus Cameras i Initial Test

Olympus E-3 Performance


Timing and Performance

Average to above average speed for a moderately-priced pro SLR these days.

Startup/Shutdown
Power on
to first shot
1.2 second
Time it takes for camera to turn on. (A bit on the slow side for an SLR.)
Shutdown
0.5 second
How long it takes to turn off.
(Timings with CF Card)
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine JPEG
8 seconds
(after 20 LF JPEGs)
CF card
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared. (*See note about memory card speeds at bottom of cycle time table below.)
Buffer clearing time
Small Basic JPEG
0.5 second
(after 20 SN JPEGs)
CF card
Buffer clearing time
RAW
10 seconds
(after 16 RAW frames)
CF card
(Timings with xD Card)
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine JPEG
24 seconds
(after 20 LF JPEGs)
xD Type H card
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared. Even high-speed Type H xD cards are considerably slower than a fast CF card. (*See note about memory card speeds at bottom of cycle time table below.)
Buffer clearing time
Small Basic JPEG
1 second
(after 20 SN JPEGs)
xD Type H card
Buffer clearing time
RAW
37 seconds
(after 14 RAW frames)
xD Type H card

Startup time is below average for an SLR, no doubt due in part to the ultrasonic SSWF dust reduction that occurs each time the E-3 is turned on. Buffer clearing time depends on the image size and quality, burst length and the type and speed of memory card used.

 

Mode switching
Play to Record,
first shot
0.2 second
Time until first shot is captured.
Record to play
1.2 second
Time to display a large/fine file immediately after capture.
Display
recorded image
0.2 second
Time to display a large/fine file already on the memory card.

Play to Record mode is quite fast, but Record to Play is a bit on the slow side for an SLR.

 

Shutter response (Lag Time)
Full Autofocus
Wide angle
0.135 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder with 12-60mm SWD lens zoomed to full wide angle.
Full Autofocus
Telephoto
0.140 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder with 12-60mm lens zoomed to full telephoto.
Full Autofocus
Live View
0.563 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, using Live View Mode.
Prefocused
0.076 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button.
Prefocused
Live View
n/a
There is no "prefocused" option when the E-3 is operating in Live View mode, the only option is fully pressing the shutter button to take a picture. (Which somewhat makes sense, since it's going to have to drop the mirror to focus, regardless.)
Continuous AF
0.114 second
Faster than the normal single-shot AF mode, but slower than when "prefocused", because the AF system is still active just before the moment of exposure.
Manual focus
(Finger touching shutter button before the shot)
0.127 second
Oddly, just slightly slower than the Continuous AF case. We normally expect to see MF shutter lag times close to those for the prefocused case. After repeated tests though, the slightly longer delay in MF mode held constant.
Manual focus
(Finger not touching shutter button before the shot)
0.29 second
As noted below, the E-3 appears to detect the presence of your finger on the shutter button, uses that to "prime" itself for the shot. This slower time corresponds to just jabbing the shutter button quickly, without having touched it first.

Unusual Shutter Release Behavior
We encountered some very odd behavior with the E-3, that initially caused us to rate its shutter release delay quite a bit worse than it would perform in normal usage. Our numbers were very accurate, and quite consistent from test to test, but didn't take into account a very unusual behavior of the Olympus E-3: It appears that the E-3 somehow detects the presence of your finger on the shutter button (a capacitive sensor?), and uses that information to "prime" itself for the exposure. Whatever it's doing internally, when you press the shutter button after having first touched it, the shutter fires much more quickly than if you just jab the shutter button without having touched it (however lightly) first. (Note that we're not talking about prefocusing by half-pressing the shutter button here: All that's required to see the improved AF speed is that you lightly touch the shuttter button.) It's just a guess, but our theory is that this is a power-saving feature, perhaps leaving some part of the AF system quiescent until it's about to be needed. Our normal lag-testing procedure involves triggering the shutter by pressing the release button with a switch that starts the lag timer running. The problem was that the timer switch apparently didn't trigger the "finger detector", so the lag times we measured were considerably longer than the camera is capabable of.

We've now re-measured all the numbers in the table above with a finger in contact with the shutter button prior to actually pressing it, producing timing numbers more appropriate to a fast pro-level DSLR. The "finger detector" seems to be a reasonable engineering solution (to whatever it was that was being solved), in that most camera users will have their finger on the shutter button any time they're about to take a shot. The one question we do have though, is what will happen if you're wearing gloves? Billed as a professional body, the E-3 is certainly going to find use in a lot of inclement weather, so gloves are likely to be a factor at some point. We'll try to dig out our winter gear, find a set of gloves, and report back with the results.

Olympus claims the worlds-fastest AF for the E-3, and that may be true in terms of how quickly it can slew the lens to a new focus setting. We don't have any way to measure that part of AF performance reliably. In terms of the E-3's ability to determine that it's properly focused when shooting the same target multiple times, it does seem pretty fast, if not quite the fastest we've tested. Prefocused shutter lag was quite good, at 76 milliseconds.

The E-3's Live View mode, which uses the same "mirror-down" phase difference AF method employed when using the optical viewfinder adds quite a bit of delay, more than doubling shutter lag to 0.563 seconds. Still, it's quite useful for tricky over-the-head or ground-level shots that you just can't get otherwise, or for focus checking on scenes with relatively static subjects. The 10x zoom option for Live View turned out to be very useful for setting critical focus on a tough-to-focus subject (Marti's hair in the Indoor Portrait test).

 

Cycle time (shot to shot)
Single Shot mode
Large Fine JPEG
0.51 second CF
0.53 second xD
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Single Shot mode
Small Normal JPEG
0.46 second CF
0.47 second xD
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Single Shot mode
RAW
0.65 second CF
0.55 second xD
Time per shot, averaged over 17 shots.
Early shutter
penalty?
No
Some cameras refuse to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer.
Continuous mode
Large Fine JPEG
CF: 0.19 second
(5.19 frames/sec);
20+ frames total;
15 seconds to clear
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots, or buffer depth, whichever came first.

A fast CF card clears quite a bit faster than a fast xD card.

xD: 0.19 second
(5.17 frames/sec);
20+ frames total;
8 seconds to clear
Continuous mode
Small Normal JPEG
CF: 0.19 second
(5.22 frames/sec);
20+ frames total;
0.5 seconds to clear
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots, or buffer depth, whichever came first.
xD: 0.20 second
(5.12 frames/sec);
20+ frames total;
1 second to clear
Continuous mode
RAW
CF: 0.19 second
(5.19 frames/sec);
16 frames total;
10 seconds to clear
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots, or buffer depth, whichever came first.

A fast CF card gives you a couple more frames of buffer capacity, clears almost 4x as fast.

xD: 0.19 second
(5.19 frames/sec);
14 frames total;
37 seconds to clear
Flash recycling
4.4 seconds
Flash at maximum output.
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with an Olympus Type H x-D Picture Card and a Kingston 266x Ultimate Compact Flash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode.

Cycle time performance is on the slow side of average for an affordable pro SLR model, at about half a second between shots. Continuous mode is quite fast though, at almost 5.2 frames per second with more than 20 frames of buffer capacity when shooting JPEGs (even at the highest quality level). RAW mode is just as fast, but with a 16 frame buffer depth before slowing when shooting with CF cards, or 14 frames with a fast xD card. (And note the at we're using a "Type H" xD card here, the faster variety.) Flash recycling after a full power shot is also quite fast at 4.4 seconds, which is quite good, considering how powerful the flash is.

 

Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
3,461 KBytes/sec
Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-770=USB 2.0 Low;
More than 770=USB 2.0 High

Download speeds were very fast, fast enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery

Slightly above average battery life for an SLR lithium-ion design.

Test Conditions
Number of Shots
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
(CIPA standard)
610
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
Live View
n/a

The Olympus E-3 uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and comes with both a single battery and charger. The rated 610 shots per charge using the optical viewfinder is only a bit above average for an SLR, but the optional HLD-4 battery pack/vertical grip should roughly double shooting capacity. Unfortunately, Olympus does not seem to publish battery life results for when Live View mode is used, but it's a safe bet that it's considerably shorter: When we were working with the camera, we noticed that a battery that was showing adequate (but low) remaining capacity when using the optical viewfinder would often immediately begin showing the low-power warning when we switched to Live View mode.

The table above shows the number of shots the camera is capable of on fully-charged battery, based on CIPA battery-life and/or manufacturer standard test conditions.

(Interested readers can find an English translation of the CIPA DC-002 standards document here. (180K PDF document))

Storage

The Olympus E-3 stores its photos on CompactFlash or xD memory cards, and no card is included with the camera. The chart below shows how many images can be stored on a 1GB card at each size/quality setting.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
1GB Memory Card
Super Fine Fine Normal
Basic
RAW
3,648 x 2,736
Images
(Avg size)
132
7.8 MB
190
5.4 MB
415
2.5 MB
615
1.7 MB
60
17.1 MB
Approx.
Compression
4:1 6:1 12:1 18:1 0.9:1
3,200 x 2,400
Images
(Avg size)
168
6.1 MB
240
4.3 MB
537
1.9 MB
799
1.3 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 5:1 12:1 18:1 -
2,560 x 1,920
Images
(Avg size)
251
4.1 MB
420
2.4 MB
830
1.2 MB
1,230
833 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 6:1 12:1 18:1 -
1,600 x 1,200
Images
(Avg size)
718
1.4 MB
1,048
977 KB
2,063
496 KB
2,907
352 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 6:1 12:1 16:1 -
1,280 x 960
Images
(Avg size)
1,102
929 KB
1,640
624 KB
3,046
336 KB
4,569
224 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 6:1 11:1 16:1 -
1,024 x 768
Images
(Avg size)
1,683
608 KB
2,460
416 KB
4,569
224 KB
6,396
160 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 6:1 11:1 15:1 -
640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
3,998
256 KB
5,815
176 KB
9,138
112 KB
12,782
80 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
4:1 5:1 8:1 12:1 -

We strongly recommend buying a large capacity CompactFlash or xD memory card. You should probably consider at least a 2GB card, if not a 4GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings, especially if you plan on doing a lot of RAW shooting. (Check the shopping link above, cards are really cheap these days, so there's no reason to skimp.)

 

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