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Olympus Launches E-3 SLR, Claims it has World's Fastest Autofocus

Olympus today launched its new flagship model, the E-3 digital SLR and follow-up to the E-1. The new Olympus SLR has finally been announced and claims to be the “world’s fastest auto focus” camera with a new 11-point biaxial cross type AF system.

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Oct. 16, 2007, New York, NY – After several years of rumors about a new Olympus flagship, Olympus today launched the 10.1-megapixel E-3 digital SLR, the follow-up to the E-1. When the E-3 is used with the supersonic wave drive lenses, also announced today, Olympus claims its new 11-point biaxial cross type autofocus system focuses faster than any other camera currently on the market. Other features include dust reduction, weatherproofing, mechanical image stabilization, a large magnification optical viewfinder, and a swiveling 2.5-inch Live View LCD screen. The Olympus E-3 body will retail for $1,699 when it is available next month.

The Olympus E-3’s autofocus system is its most touted feature. The twin cross type (fully biaxial) 11-point autofocus system is based on proprietary Olympus technology that uses a tooth-pattern phase detection sensor. Each of the 11 sensors has two data points, combining for a total of 22 data points to focus on both the horizontal and vertical axis. A second layer has 11 more cross focus points for an additional 22 data points, totaling 44 autofocus points readable by the sensor.

"One of these layers of autofocus points, out of all of these 44 data points, will be able to pick up and detect focus, do it quickly, and apply that focus," said Olympus Product Manager Sally Smith Clemens in an interview with DigitalCameraInfo.com.

The dual autofocus layers give users some flexibility when shooting sports and other action. If focus is missed on the first layer, the second layer will catch it, according to Clemens. Users can select the 11 focus points individually or in groups.

Olympus’s claim that the E-3 has the fastest autofocus of any camera on the market is based on the camera’s performance when used with the Zuiko Digital Specific SWD 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 SWD lens.

"In tests that Olympus Tokyo, to date, compared to existing products that [are] out on the market now, as of today, this camera is spec-ing out to perform much faster in autofocus than anything out there right now on the market," Clemens said. "Suffice it to say that does not include products that [are] not on the market, like the [Nikon] D3 or the [Canon] EOS 1Ds Mark III or the [Nikon] D300."

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In addition to the autofocus system, the new Olympus flagship has 5 frames per second (fps) sequential shooting speed and a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second.

The sophomore version of the E-1 has a 10.1-megapixel 17.3 x 13.0mm Live MOS sensor (engineered by Panasonic) versus the earlier model’s 5.5 MP 4/3 full frame CCD sensor. Internally, the camera uses In-Body Mechanical Image Stabilization that shifts the image sensor with its Supersonic Wave Drive gyro. SWD was first introduced to the Olympus line in March, with the release of the EVOLT E-510. The mechanical stabilization can compensate for up to 5 EV stops of movement, thereby freeing up consumers from having to purchase additional optically stabilized lenses, according to Olympus.

"Our feeling in this camera is that in-body-based image stabilization is an advantage to the user because every lens or every existing lens they have would be able to take advantage of image stabilization by having it built into the body," Clemens said.

Externally, the camera’s distinguishable features include an eye-level optical viewfinder, which in a press release Olympus called "one of the largest and most accurate viewfinders." The viewfinder has up to 1.15x magnification, up from the E-1’s 1.0x magnification and the EVOLT E-510’s 0.95x magnification. The viewfinder has a 100 percent field of view. The new viewfinder also works in concert with the autofocus system to decrease blackout time.

Like the E-510, the Olympus E-3 features a 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel resolution Live View LCD with HyperCrystal anti-glare coating, a vast improvement from the E-1’s 1.8-inch, 134,000-pixel LCD. The LCD swivels on a dual-axis and has 360-degree viewing capabilities for shooting high and low angles. The LCD screen has 100 percent field of view.

"While a couple of other manufacturers have introduced 3-inch LCDs recently, this is a 2.5-inch LCD. Their LCDs are static and permanently attached to the body. This [Olympus] one is maneuverable," Clemens said.

Other external body changes include a splash-proof casting. The magnesium alloy body is made of three pieces that reduce the number of seams and points of stress for durability and protection. The new design also includes seals to resist water and dust.

The E-3 has the same dust reduction system as the EVOLT series. Dust reduction discharges static electricity or shakes off dust from the sensor to prevent spots from appearing in images.

Other features include a 49-point ESP (matrix) metering system, 150,000-cycle shutter durability, Shadow Adjustment Technology, and the Olympus TruePic III processor that promises low noise at high ISO sensitivity settings.

The Olympus E-3 measures 5.59 x 4.56 x 2.93 inches. The body without memory card or battery weighs 28.2 ounces. The DSLR accepts CF, USMA, Microdrives, and xD media. 

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