First Look
Olympus Unveils E-1 Digital SLR

In a long-awaited unveiling Olympus America has announced that their E-1 Digital SLR will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. The new E-1 is said to be a completely digital solution that is the first to be built without relying on what the company terms "a film/digital hybrid system." The E-1 is said to create a common standard for image sensor size and lens configurations. Based on the Four Thirds open standard, the E-1 offers a Kodak Full Frame Transfer CCD that promises improved dynamic range; "digital specific" Zuiko lenses; and a 5-megapixel top resolution.

The E-1 also has Olympus' TruePic technology built-in, said to achieve "the highest image quality and most realistic digital photographs." Also included is a newly developed Noise Filter for cleaning up images made at high ISO settings and long exposure times as well as a Supersonic Wave Filter for reducing the chance of dust settling on the CCD. The body will sell for $2199 suggested retail price and is aimed at the professional market.

Along with the E-1 the company announced four new lenses and a set of accessories. Because of the chip and lens size the 35mm equivalent is 2x the focal length (thus a 14mm equals a 28mm in 35mm format angle of view). The lenses include the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 ($599), the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ($1199), the 500mm f/2.8 Macro ($599), and the 300mm f/2.8 ($7999). Accessories include the TC14 1.4x Teleconverter ($549), an FL-50 flash ($499), and a Power Battery Set ($549). All prices are manufacturers suggested retail price. Future items are said to be an 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5 zoom, a Ring Flash, and a Twin Flash. The company is also said to be working on what they dub a "consumer" digital SLR to be unveiled next year.

The E-1 is built with a magnesium alloy metal body that is splash proof. The large buffer and parallel processing is said to speed image transfer rates to deliver 3 frames per second for a burst rate of 12 frames in all image quality modes. Direct transfer of images to a computer with a further boost in shooting speed is promised. In addition, the E-1 uses an external white balance detector to establish white balance; this is said to enable faster image processing as well.

The E-1 enables use of the company's raw image file format plus a JPEG plus raw option in one exposure. For fast downloading the camera uses both FireWire and USB 2.0 for those who have the ability to use these patches directly from the camera. It also offers sRGB and Adobe RGB color space so that photographers can optimize the image for particular reproduction venues.

Part of the announcement was some revelation about what a "digital specific lens" might be. In the Olympus system the so-called Smart Lenses include what the company calls "shading compensation information" that is said to overcome the deficiencies of wide angle and high-range zooms that might result from light not transmitting equally from the edge to the center of the optics. Olympus has chosen to incorporate this in the image processing itself as part of the metadata that travels with the image and which is fixed in the Olympus Viewer software. There's also what the company calls "distortion compensation information" as well, designed to eliminate barrel and pincushion effects from zoom and wide angle optics. The lenses are also said to use specifically formulated high-resolution ED glass elements to remove aberrations and deliver "edge to edge" focus.

Camera test samples were not available as we went to press, although we did get to handle one briefly at the Olympus press event. We will be doing a full report on the E-1 and various lenses as soon as production models are made available. Watch for this report in a future issue of Shutterbug.