What came after the dinosaurs?

Somehow the “Digital Mammal” doesn’t sound as interesting or retro as the “Digital Dinosaur” and perhaps, just a little bit, that pretty much sums up my initial feeling of the Olympus E-3 compared to the E-1.

The E-3 is so much more capable in almost every way and yet loses a  bit of individuality and appeal along the way.  Still, the outlay for a reasonably low mileage example in decent condition, including a grip and couple of original Olympus BLM1s (yay – can use them in the E-1!) was low – the market for Four Thirds dSLRs seems to have pretty much tanked so you can find them at a fraction of their original purchase cost.


Lots of shadow detail was rescued from this one – without a heavy price in noise

I’ve bought it in part because I’m going on a photo-tuition landscape trip to Scotland in November; the tutor would prefer us to have cameras with live view (and let’s face it, even without live view the pathetically small rear LCD of the E-1 is essentially useless for anything other than confirming overall framing) and I wanted a weather-sealed body that could allow me to continue to use my lovely Zuiko lenses (especially the 11-22) and get decent AF speeds.  So the E-3 was the obvious option which gave me everything I was looking for at a sensible price and also threw in benefits like a better viewfinder, image stabilisation and general speediness of operation compared to its antediluvian predecessor.


Nice to use the lowly 18-180 with image stabilisation at last!  This is the view of Dulwich College from Sydenham Hill Woods

The biggest immediate disappointment was the volume of the shutter!  After years of getting used to the E-1 (and Pentax K-5/7 owners will be in a similar position) it was startlingly loud at first – not a stealth-cam then (it doesn’t look like a stealth-cam either).  The control layout will take a bit of learning too – a few things like changing PASM mode and setting a custom white balance are just a bit more complicated than the E-1, but it still feels like a camera where almost no menu-diving will be required once it’s been properly set-up (thanks goodness).


The 18-180 is quite a handy lens for close-ups

All of these first images were made yesterday in Aperture priority mode with the Zuiko 18-180 – I’ve never had an image stabilised body to use it on before so that was quite a treat!  And they’re all JPEGs too – even though I normally only use raw; I’m rather impressed by the JPEGs and wonder whether I could do much better.  I turned the rear LCD in with no chimping allowed (bit like shooting with film or with the E-1 really – in the case of the latter the image on the screen is only an approximation of what you really took!) because I wanted to see what the camera would do and also test myself to see how close I would get to proper exposures without checking the screen.  I dialled in similar levels of exposure compensation to those I would expect with the E-1 and mostly got pretty much what I would have expected – so any problems there are probably going to be user error rather than anything to do with the camera 😦


Stall-holder at our local farmer’s market in Herne Hill (as is the image at the top of this post)

It’s too early to compare image quality with the E-1.  I’m not sure that the E-3 has quite the same distinctive signature but the colours are still great as one would expect from Olympus, and the noise performance is a generation ahead of the earlier camera – so all in all I think there’s going to be plenty to like here.  I need to try a few more portraits – something the E-1 excelled at – but so far I’m a very happy camper.


Decaying stuff = photographer’s paradise!


I slightly shook this one but I think the E-3 looks like it’ll be good for black and white


….and colour

I’m looking forward to using the E-3 more (I need to learn it inside out before I get to Scotland) and I’ll post some more images here I’m sure.  But I think I’ll admire and depend upon it in the way one does a well-made German car – the E-1, on the other hand, gets the heart racing like an Alfa (thank goodness it is less temperamental and better-made though!).



By Jon Schick

Hertfordshire-based, I work for the National Health Service but try and fit in some photography on a regular basis. Not so much during the recent lockdown era, but here's hoping things can only get better in 2021....

One reply on “What came after the dinosaurs?”

As an E3 owner and user for 5 years, I think you will enjoy it. I also have an E1 which I bought only a year ago to add to my E series collection (E300, E510). All great cameras, but E3 is best overall I find. Enjoy!


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