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Olympus E-3 Q and A: Product Managers Sally Smith Clemens, Richard Pelkowski, and Toshiyuki Terada

Olympus representative sat down and talked with DCI about the new camera. Toshiyuki Terada of Digital SLR, Olympus Tokyo, Sally Smith Clemens, and Richard S. Pelkowski of Olympus Imaging America Inc.

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Oct. 16, 2007, New York, NY* - Olympus today unveiled its new flagship SLR. As the successor model to the professional E-1, the E-3 shows vast upgrades from the earlier edition. Four years in the making, the E-3 features what the manufacturer calls "the world’s fastest autofocus" on the current market, live view, a dust reduction system, a 1.15x magnification optical viewfinder, and rotating LCD screen. Olympus representative sat down and talked with DCI about their new flagship. Toshiyuki Terada of Digital SLR, Olympus Tokyo, Sally Smith Clemens, and Richard S. Pelkowski of Olympus Imaging America Inc.

DigitalCameraInfo: Tests to claim the "world’s fastest autofocus" were conducted by Olympus with the E-3 body and the new 12-60mm lens. Is there a reason why the 12-60mm was picked for the auto focus tests?

Richard Pelkowski: The lens technology, the motor technology in the lens, is key for us being able to make this claim of "world’s fastest." We know that that there are many other lenses in our line up that can exist already and also go really fast.

This [12-60mm] lens, we are highlighting with the introduction with this body, we think that a lot of E-3 buyers are going to gravitate towards this lens.

DCI: I noticed that the body doesn’t come with a kit lens. Is there a reason why you chose not to include a kit lens?

Pelkowski: We may do bundles where they come with the lens. We just feel the customer in this part of the market, their lens choices are going to be varied. We make some really low cost lenses that are very high performance.

DCI: You mentioned that this [12-60mm] lens is weatherproof.

Pelkowski: Yes, it is dust and weatherproof, splash proof, to the same level as the body itself. I don’t have an industry standard that I can give you like JCIA or anything like that, but I’m going to endeavor to get a little more information so we can see a quality of some sort of splash-proof-ness. The lenses, in fact, are.

Just to give you a real-world analogy to understand the weatherproof-ness, splash-proof-ness, you could put the camera on a tripod or table out in a very heavy downpour. In a thunderstorm, you’re not going to have any problem.

Toshiyuki Terada: Many photographers have experienced using the previous model E-1 in rain…The splash proof [ability] is even in the flash and LCD.

DCI: Could you talk more about the Four-Third’s standard? What is the threshold outside the 10-megapixel sensor? What is the maximum megapixel count possible with the Four-Thirds sensor?

Terada: That’s a really difficult question. I cannot say which number. When decided on the Four-Thirds standard, more than 10 megapixels were considered at that time. I think in the next five years, I see no problem at all.

DCI: With the slew of SLRs announced in recent months, what contribution does the Olympus E-3 make to the industry?

Clemens: It’s the overall package. It’s the quality of the lenses. These are dedicated digital-specific lenses, designed to capture light onto a light sensor specifically; they weren’t made to capture light onto film. Then it’s the imaging processing engine. Ours is our own propriety design, and that’s TruePic version III. It is the image stabilization system that’s built into the body…

DCI: The Olympus E-3 utilizes 11 biaxial cross-type points. What do you have to say to customers who are impressed by the 51-autofocus points of competitors?

Terada: It’s not just number; it’s location.

DCI: Is it more difficult to design the cross type?

Terada: Yes, and cost-wise.

Pelkowski: I think when you get to the point when you have all 50, and they are all operating randomly…there are really few types of situations where that benefits.

Clemens: We have 11 of fully crossed, and we have two layers of them. Eleven times 2 is 22, but the second layer, that’s 44. We actually have 44 different planes, if you will, of vertical axis and horizontal axis that the E-3 can detect auto focus.

DCI: What is the aperture sweet spot for accurate autofocus on the E-3?

Clemens: We’re saying it’s f/5.6 on our lenses, compared to Canon’s f/2.8.

Terada: It’s a precise-ness, not a brightness. If we have a f/2.8 sensor, that’s much more precise than f/5.6. If we consider the total of our lens lineup, our system is enough for f/5.6 sensor…Our f/5.6 sensor reads hounds-tooth AF. That’s really enough for preciseness. We don’t need to have an f/2.8.

DCI*: With the Dust Reduction in the E-3, have there been any changes?

Clemens: It’s the exact same system.

There is a change in the IS system…That’s one new thing, the level of sensitivity that it can detect. The second thing, these are differences compared the to the [EVOLT E-]510, is the ability to respond quickly. Whereas the 510 might have picked up vibration in the mirror going up and down and physical other components of the camera moving, this has been isolated to the degree that it’s not going to be influenced by any other component movement in the camera, like the mirror movement. That’s not going to affect the IS in this. It’s only going to detect body movement – outside the camera. So it’s much more sensitive and isolated.

DCI: Olympus press materials claim the new optical viewfinder with 1.15x magnification is the largest and the most accurate. Is that counting the recently SLRs by competitors?

Pelkowski: The 1.15x magnification is the highest that anyone has out there. What that does is gets us to a viewfinder area that’s on par with APS-chip cameras.

DCI: What is the target audience you are looking at, especially with concentrated efforts both on the rotating LCD associated with consumers and the high magnification viewfinder used by professionals? What about E-1 owners?

Clemens: Actually, both. It could be a second body for someone who’s already got a 510…It is our flagship model, and it is targeted towards the enthusiastic, or emerging pro, or pro already in that profession.

Pelkowski: I feel that our E-1 owners, you know, they waited a long time for this since 2003, and I think a lot of them have gone to the 510 in the interim because it’s a really capable product at a really low price point.

DCI: With that four-year window, some E-1 users may have gone to Canon or Nikon or Sony SLRs in the meantime. Is the E-3, at that $1699 price point, enough to win them back?

Pelkowski: I think so. The camera is very competitively priced. It really doesn’t give up anything to the competition, in features, performance, build quality.