(03/28/2001) – WHAT’S HOT: With its all-black body and through-the-lens viewing, Olympus America Inc.’s E-10 has the look and feel of a professional single-lens-reflex camera. The only difference: No film, and you can’t remove the zoom lens. A large right-hand grip and contoured back give you a solid grip on this camera, and the wide manual zoom control on the lens barrel makes framing your shots faster, more accurate, and easier on the battery than the motorized zooms you find on most digital cameras. Its aluminum frame gives it an especially durable feel. Add to that a big, bright optical viewfinder, and you have a camera that’s a pleasure to use.
This camera has a near excess of control dials and buttons for adjusting the camera’s many exposure settings. In addition to the common thumb pad for navigating through the camera’s menus, you can interchangeably use two dials (one near the trigger and the other on the camera’s back) for adjusting the shutter speeds, aperture, image resolution, and other basic camera operations. The camera’s LCD monitor is large and bright, and it swings up for waist-level viewing (it’s also useful for taking over-the-head shots in a crowd.) You also get a rare choice of media to use, as the E-10 supplies both SmartMedia and CompactFlash slots; you can use both at the same time or copy images from one to the other, inside the camera.
WHAT’S NOT: US$2999 is a hefty price tag by nearly anyone’s standards. You’re paying a heavy premium for the 4-megapixel resolution and through-the-lens viewing. It’s especially steep when you consider that the 4X zoom lens is fixed–though Olympus does offer wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses. After a couple hours of shooting, toting the E-10 (which weighs in at over 2.5 pounds) might start to feel as if you were carrying a brick. The maximum shutter speed, 1/640 of a second, also seems low for a camera this costly. (Many higher-end digital cameras go up to 1/1000 of a second.) Battery life is relatively short–in our battery rundown tests, the E-10 quit after 69 shots. You’ll want to consider rechargeables.
WHAT ELSE: Images produced by the E-10 looked less impressive than we would have expected from a $3000 camera. They were no better, overall, than the shots that came out of the two lower-priced Olympus cameras–the Camedia C-3040 and C-2040–that we reviewed along with the E-10. Our jury scored the E-10’s on-screen image quality a little below that of the other two Olympus models, and its sample-print quality a bit higher. Our E-10 test photos showed fine, sharp details and accurate exposures, but somewhat flat colors. Test-pattern shots produced fine, jaggy-free lines and almost no disruptive moire patterns. Close flash shots, on the other hand, ended up overexposed, due most likely to the camera’s relatively powerful flash. (One of the camera’s many options is a flash compensation control.) Our outdoor shots, taken on sunny days, suffered from a slight bluish cast but the exposure values were true, balancing bright sun and dark shade well.
For a digital camera, the E-10 makes few distracting noises and has refinements such as a flash shoe and a sync-cable socket, as well as a remote shutter control. For low-light conditions, a button lights the LED status display that’s on top of the camera, and lighted diodes in the optical viewfinder make reading your exposure setting easy. The many control switches and buttons seem haphazardly scattered over the camera’s body, but most are fairly large and easy to use. The camera’s mode switch has separate settings for shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full-manual operation, allowing you to switch quickly among them. For manual focus, the dial is conveniently located on the lens barrel; it’s not as precise-feeling as one on a standard 35mm camera is, and it doesn’t have any distance marks, but you do get a distance scale in the LCD monitor.
Other fine points include a quick white-balance calibration button and a quick-review mode that lets you scan through all of your shots and instantly delete those you no longer want.
In playback you can dial the LCD monitor from 4X magnification of a single shot down to 16 thumbnails. The software bundle is all business: Olympus’s Camedia Master software is a solid basic utility for viewing your images on screen, making minor adjustments, and printing. Photoshop 5.0 LE, with its vastly more complex image-editing controls, is a nice addition.
BEST USE: Consider the E-10 for professional photography, but only if you don’t need removable lenses. It will be more attractive to hard-core amateur photographers who have cash to burn and a desire to tweak camera settings often.
Olympus Camedia E-10
4.0 megapixels; 2240-by-1680 maximum resolution; 35-140mm focal range (35mm equivalent); f2-f11 aperture range; shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/640 second (plus bulb); optical and LCD viewfinders; USB and video connections; bundled 32MB SmartMedia card; two 3-volt disposable lithium batteries (can also use four AAs); 40.2 ounces with batteries; Camedia Master 2.5, Adobe Photoshop 5.0 Limited Edition software. 1-year parts warranty, 1-year labor warranty, toll-free support for 13 hours on weekdays.
Prices listed are in US currency.