Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Olympus E-series DSLR Wishlist

There's been tremendous chatter in the various photo forums about when and what type of new and future camera(s) Olympus will introduce for their DSLR users. As a fan of Olympus I've always been pleased to own and use what they've sold to date. It isn't perfect (what camera system is), but it's all been Good Enough for me, and until I somehow achieve absolute perfection, it'll continue to work just fine in my hands.

Having said that, I do have a short wishlist, based on my personal experiences, as to what I'd like to see in the next generation DSLR from Olympus. And it's not that long a list.
  1. Better ISO and Image Quality - I'm tying ISO performance to image quality because the noise at high ISO on Olympus systems corrupts detail. At lower ISO (800 and lower on the E-3, 1600 and lower on the E-P2) image quality is, practically speaking, indistinguishable from each other and their respective base ISOs. Meaning it's all good. And printing makes the images look better than staring at images on a computer screen anyway.

    The E-P2 already goes to ISO 6400. That means, with my Sigma 30 mm f/1.4 mounted with the MMF-1 adapter, that I can hand-hold and take exposures wide open at 1/2 second under a full moon. And that's obviously with IS enabled. Ignoring for the moment the question of why I would want to shoot strictly by moonlight, the photo that would be produced would be covered with an awful lot of noise (grain).

    I'd love to have an advanced Olympus DSLR with image quality at ISO 6400 equal to what you can currently get at ISO 1600 (or if possible, ISO 800) with the E-P2. And all of this out-of-the-camera without post processing. While high ISO is now considered the new megapixel race, ISO's greater than 6400 are about as useful as megapixel densities greater than 12. If 12 Mpixel is still good enough for Nikon's D3s, then it's certainly still good enough for me.

  2. Better Autofocus - The problem isn't speed. Autofocus with most lenses on the E-3 is more than fast enough. No, the problem is consistent accuracy. There are times with both the E-3 and the E-P2 where the system will not lock on what is obviously the observable target. You can increase the percentage proper focus hits by narrowing the number of focusing sensors you use (I choose center-weighted cross on the E-3, for example). Which begs the question of why most would ask for more focus sensors.

    My autofocus request is in two parts; fix the number of sensors you do have, then fix the algorithm you use to focus the lens. Don't give me a massive focus sensor increase without addressing consistent focus lock, especially in low light (after all, why have flawless ISO 6400 when autofocus is useless at the light levels I'd want to use it?). And by consistent, I mean 99.99% of the time. No more long zooms out and in while attempting to regain lock.

    And while we're talking about autofocus, give me the ability to adjust for front- or back-focus problems with a given lens. That ability already exists on the E-30, and I was really hoping it would show up on the E-3 as a firmware update (it hasn't). I was more surprised when it wasn't on the E-P1 or P2 (and I have discovered that my copy of the HG 12-60mm front focuses at 60mm). So when you get ready to release a new DSLR, please remember to add that feature. It's important.

  3. Built-in Advanced EVF - The EVF first introduced in the E-P2 is beautiful. It has a very high resolution (far higher than the LCD on the back). An EVF of equal or better quality should be built into the new DSLR. And I would like to see one additional feature in the DSLR EVF: eye-control. Some cameras, such as pre-digital versions of Canon's EOS series, had eye-controled focusing. While that would be quite intriguing in an Olympus pro body, I want eye-control for a more mundane reason; to turn the EVF off when the eye is not over the sensor. Olympus EVF eye-control needs to be sophisticated enough not to turn the EVF on when it's down against your body, and to identify eye-glass wearers eyeballs as well.

    This feature would help in two areas. The first is lower battery consumption. There is no need to have the EVF on and burning up battery charge all the time. The second is switching between live view on the LCD and the EVF. It can get annoying switching between live view and OVF on the E-3, especially when fast action is happening around you. On the E-3 you have to close the OVF shutter, then press the live view button (and suffer the 5 second admonishment to close the OVF shutter displayed on the LCD). The body should be sophisticated enough to switch back and forth seamlessly.

  4. Higher Resolution LCD - You had to see this one coming. If I can have a 1.4 Mpixel EVF as found in the E-P2, then I can surely have an equivalent resolution LCD on the back. The problem with this is, again, power consumption. The more pixels you want to drive, the more power it takes, shortening the number of photographs you can take with a given battery charge. It also takes a higher frequency to drive in real time, especially if used in live view. Again, power tradeoffs.

    What I'm not looking for is a larger LCD. My E-3's is 2.7" diagonal, while my E-P2 is 3". While 3" is nice, a big LCD takes up more space and cramps what's left for buttons and controls. And I'm not so sure that 3" is truly superior to 2.7". Perhaps on gear sites, where checking boxes is the only way they can 'review' and 'compare', but in general practice (out in the field) it's not that big a deal.
As for overall handling and capabilities, you could use the E-3 as your template and I would be more than satisfied. Yes, I love the E-P2, but I'm ready for the next (perhaps last?) pro DSLR with weather sealing and all the other features I take for granted in the E-3. Just because I've spent so much time recently on the E-P2 doesn't mean I've abandoned the E-3. You'll also note I haven't clamored for video. I have video on the E-P2, and it's more than adequate for my needs. Let others who feel the need (or the one-upmanship pressure with their peers) clamor for video.

Well, it's now a matter of patience. It will come when it comes. In the mean time I'll continue to use what I have with great effect.

7 comments:

  1. Higher ISO ability is always welcome, but I think people tend to put a little too much importance on it. Still, this will get better with technology.

    I almost never activate all the focus points. I'm not sure I ever have actually. CAF is where I'd like to see some improvements. I don't think it's possible to update the E-3 to fix focus problems. The reason it's not on the E-P1/2 is that CDAF doesn't suffer from back focus/front focusing issues. I think the focus box is a little too large, but that's a different problem. I'd recommend reading up on CDAF and learning how it works.

    I don't think we'll be seeing and EVF on a 4/3s DSLR anytime soon. They still aren't as nice as the OVF on the E3 and it doesn't bring any size reduction like m4/3s. I'm sure we'll see a built in EVF on a m4/3s in the future. I'm not sure about the battery life thing. You normally either have the LCD or the EVF on, both drain power. Otherwise just turn it off.

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  2. > Higher ISO ability is always welcome

    Not just for environment shooting, but for long lenses with slow apertures (say, the 50-200mm with the EC-20) where you want to use maximum focal length at high shutter speed, hand-held.

    > CAF is where I'd like to see some improvements.

    Agreed.

    > The reason it's not on the E-P1/2 is that CDAF doesn't suffer from back focus/front focusing issues.

    I have at least one example where it does, which I document in the post.

    > I'd recommend reading up on CDAF and learning how it works.

    Thanks, but I do know how it works.

    > They still aren't as nice as the OVF on the E3...

    Right now they don't, but remember that the E-P2 EVF was designed with parts that were probably made available to Olympus near the end of 2008 (assuming standard lead times). Who knows what's available now, let alone what would be released this year? Part of the EVF's issue is how low-light situations are rendered, not because of EVF issues, but how the image comes from the sensor.

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  3. Good wish list! They just need to finally release this camera.

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  4. Thanks. Keep in mind that it took Leitz Camera 4 1/2 years to release the S2. Of course, selling price starts at $22,000 body only. Let's hope the new Olympus E-3 replacement is more in line with real people's budgets.

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  5. Bill

    as you say you would like built in better EVF, why not look at the Panasonic cameras? The G1 has an EVF which after a year is still unequalled by Olympus

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  6. Good list. Especially agree with your comments regarding autofocus. I don't know what it is with Olympus... they spent so much time and effort developing a new super-fast AF system and SWD lenses, and they essentially left it in the version 1.0 stage.

    They never quite perfected it even with the E-30, and I fear they're giving up on PDAF and moving onto CDAF, which they are also struggling with...

    Enough with the art filters, Olympus. Focus on getting the basics right first.

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  7. Yeah, if there is ONE thing that drives me absolutely crazy, that has to be the AF accuracy!

    Even on my E30 with all calibration controls, it is still unreliable. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it does not, no matter how I calibrate the lens(es). I simply cannot trust the AF. Sharp image in OVF does not guarantee that I'll get a focused plane where I wanted. It's that tiny little detail that makes the focus sharp or soft.

    And that is a shame really. E30 is a wonderful camera that fits perfectly in hand and produces wonderful images. However, the AF has to be improved.

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