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Thursday, February 02, 2006

E is for Enigmas

Happened to be browsing the DSLR section of the B&H website last night, and I noticed that the price of the Olympus E-1 camera body had dropped to $679.95, with the body plus standard 14-54 zoom correspondingly discounted to $1079.95.

That Olympus has managed to grab a foothold at all in the technologically demanding and brutally competitive DSLR market is pretty remarkable, especially considering that, having missed the autofocus revolution, they essentially sat out the last 15 years of the film SLR market. The E-1 has earned a reputation as a camera best appreciated by the sort of hard-core photographer who can see beyond the megapixel "arms race" and appreciate more subtle virtues—in camera handling and construction quality, and above all in image character—while being willing to work within some obvious and occasionally annoying limitations. It's not clear whether Olympus has what it takes to defend that niche, though; so far they've been unable to muster the resources to bring out a pro-grade body with an updated sensor, or even to fill in just a few critical missing pieces to the E-system, notably a fast prime lens or two in the wide-to-normal range.

At this point, even those buyers who appreciate what's special about the E-1 worry about buying into a system that may not be viable. But at current pricing for the E-1, there's a different way to look at it. Forget that it's a system. Assume that the E-1 will retain zero resale value; that's true of everything else in this market, and it hasn't stopped chintzy, disposable, plastic low-end DSLRs from other vendors from flying off the shelves at the same price. Just think of the E-1 with 14-54 as the most refined, most usable, best built all-in-one camera there is for the serious photographer who wants a lean, capable machine for high quality, general purpose, out-and-about digital snapshooting but who doesn't feel compelled to make poster-sized prints.

Are there any more of you out there, beyond those who've already bought their E-1's? The answer may determine whether Olympus is long for the DSLR world.

Also in the E department today: a new book is on the way from William Eggleston. I didn't know that thirty years ago he'd spent some time making slice-of-life snaps with a 5x7 camera, rather than the more familiar 35mm or 2 1/4. Will they share the slightly-out-of-kilter, discombobulating charm that's characteristic of his work in the smaller formats? Stay tuned...

Posted by: OREN GRAD

4 Comments:

Blogger Nic said...

I'd buy an E-1 or any other Olympus before any plastic dslr.


Now i just need the money...

5:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

A DMD? (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/DMD.shtml) - Yes, an E-1? - NO. More choice and innovative forces in the marketplace is always welcomed, but there are too many stronger and deeper choices.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

The finest camera ever built! oh, and it does great poster prints too... :-)

3:38 AM  
Blogger Qwerty Uiop said...

Don't confuse the superior dimensional stability of fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate with "plastic."

The E-1 is a nice handling camera for people who'll never print larger than 8x10, or shoot above ISO 200-400, or shoot a lot of low-light photos.

10:48 AM  

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