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Monday, August 28, 2006

Whither the E-1?

Olympus's share of the digital SLR market has shrunk to a critical low—less than 3% in July, according to stats from Bloomberg (thanks to Michael Reichmann at L-L for the link).

As even casual observers know, Olympus has invested heavily in its from-the-ground-up 4/3rds system, having developed several new cameras and lots of excellent all-new lenses. However, there remain critical gaps in the lens line, and Olympus has most probably been affected by the gradual defection of its strategic partner, Kodak, from the high-end digital marketplace. Ironically, to this very day I consider the Olympus E-1 to be one of the best camera bodies of the digital age, an ergonomic and functional masterpiece. No DSLR has a sweeter shutter, for example.

Unfortunately, its sensor and buffer remain stuck in 2003. In an era when the market leaders are refreshing their models on schedules of two years or less, the 5-MP E-1 sensor is critically overdue for an upgrade—so overdue that, if an E-2 is not forthcoming at Photokina, it should probably be accepted as a sign that Olympus intends to abandon the DSLR field.

If that's true, it's ironic that The Luminous Landscape's Michael Reichmann, a consistent critic of the 4/3rds concept, has finally come around...sort of. Here's part of what he has to say about 4/3rds in his review of the Panasonic Lumix L1: "...I see chip size by itself as having become largely irrelevant in the consumer/prosumer marketplace. Most serious amateur photographers are happy with maximum sized prints in the 11x17" to 16x20" range, and the current 8–16 MP cameras handle this well. For those looking for even bigger prints, there's always medium format, just as in the past. So, it seems that for the most part, while the real-world advantages of the smaller 4/3 format seem a bit thin, its disadvantages have largely been overcome by improved sensor technology."

...That is, of course, if the improved sensor technology finds its way into the camera. Let's hope that the E-1 is not the end of the line for the top Olympus model—it's simply too good a camera design to lose.



Blogger juze said...

Amen to that, it's a lovely camera. I currently use a 1D Mk II N as 80% of my shots are at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, but the E-1 still has a certain magic to it. Not to mention that most mid-range Zuiko Digital lenses leave the Canon L series way behind in everything but focus speed, especially when it comes to wide angle.

It's highly unlikely that I'll ever go completely back to Olympus, as focus speed and low light performance are crucial to me, which seems to be Canon's domain, but I do wish for a worthy successor to the E-1 to appear.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Marco said...

well, olympus did it once, they might do it again.

remember their move to the "DSLR without removable lenses"? That p*ssed a lot of people off.

they could pull the same trick, but I don't think so. Their last e-club magazine spoke favourably of new manufacturers joining the four-thirds-league. I still think an E1 successor will be announced at PK, however, it may be until PMA07 before we'll see a live sample.
it may be (again) revolutionary..

5:59 AM  
Blogger Dwight Jones said...

I have a 14 x 18 enlargement hanging over my fireplace. The E-1 worked well for that shot, but I think its about as big as I would want to go with it. I never need to print any larger than that, so the E-1 is just fine.

The buffer will hold 12 RAW images. I'd never use half of that.

In today's market, a camera needs more megapixels in order to sell. That's sad.

I plan to keep using my E-1 for years to come. I won't change unless the E-2 has face recognition and an espresso maker.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Matthew Robertson said...

Can anyone honestly see a leica-badged 25mm f1.4 lens being released in 2007 if a sucessor to the E-1 wasn't in the works?

2:37 PM  
Blogger scotth said...

I hope they make it. There are so many little things they put thought into. For example, the 14-54 and 50-200 both have the same size filter thread. That was a nice surprise.

5:47 AM  
Blogger NedkoIvanov said...

olympus is a good player
it's not fair to disappear.. it's sad indeed

9:00 AM  
Blogger vbsoto said...

If the DSLR is growing, as everyone seems to agree that it is, it is convieveable that Olympus' market share could shrink even while net sales increase.

I've seen more Oly DSLRs in the streets over the past few months, than I've seen OMs in the last 20 years.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olympus are due to announce DSLR related news on the 14th of Sept. Apparently they are still working on an E-1 replacement but they are working to get it perfect before release, so a Photokina announcement may be possible but release will be later.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Morven said...

I'd say if we don't see a pro model at Photokina or at the very latest at PMA 2007, then Olympus has abandoned any hope of hitting the pro or serious amateur market. On the other hand, E-500s seem to sell pretty well; I'd imagine they'll continue to update at the budget end.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup, Canon and Nikon still don't understand that you can't pack electronics in a box without seals. And if you asked them, then they appologize that it is not in the specs and you can't claim if you gear is down due to moisture or dust. So no fancy pictures from wet or dusty environments. I quess that users of Nikon or Canon never go out there in the open...

6:49 AM  
Blogger - 0 - said...

Olympus certainly has tried to think outside the box with its 4/3 systems, and small-to-medium sized prints at low ISOs can be wonderful from these cameras.

However Olympus has had difficulties scaling up the megapizels and dealing with noise at high ISOs, and even the reports about the leaked E-400 on Olympus's European site don't seem to deal with these issues.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Noel said...

If Olympus can't be bothered to sort out one of the glaring shortcomings of the E-x00 series (the reliance on USB 1.1) in their forthcoming E-400, then you can be pretty sure that an E-1 replacement, if it is on the cards, will show just about as much forethought.

The E-1 is a fantastic camera, but it is showing its age and is currently being left in the dust by the likes of the Nikon D200 and Canon EOS-5D. It badly needs an update - a larger sensor delivering a higher megapixel count (forget trying to squeeze more pixels into the existing size) and much larger buffer to cater for those who do action photography.

As Olympus have just announced a new consumer SLR, the E-400, I doubt we will be seeing any replacement pro bodies at photokina this year. By the next PMA it will simply be too late, as many four-thirds users will have already jumped ship.

10:16 AM  

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