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In pursuit of the Olympus E-10  
Monday, November 13, 2000 | by
Whatever I think I know about location lighting I learned from three people: Dean Collins, Jim Sugar, and the author of this article, Jon Falk. His book Adventures in Location Lighting remains one of the best sources of information on using strobes in the field, as are his seminars on the same topic. Recently, Falk, a picture editor at the Philadelphia Daily News and maker of the Underdog flash battery system, has been on a quest for a digital camera for non-photojournalistic endeavors that offers SLR quality at an affordable price. A number of cameras have been considered and rejected in the past; recently, he has turned his attention to the Olympus E-10. Parts I and II, posted below, are a diary of his thoughts as he pursues an opportunity to try out the camera. Part III, coming soon to robgalbraith.com, will describe how the camera fared once Falk put the E-10 through its paces. - Rob Galbraith

Part I: October 21, 2000 - From deep inside the exhibitor's hall . . .

I played all day Saturday with the Olympus E-10 and accessories at the first stop of the NPPA FSC. When I wasn't doing UnderDog stuff I made repeated forays to the Olympus display. Here's my report.


Olympus E-10

This is a 4.1 megapixel chip (real resolution, not interpolated). It shoots at 4.0 megapixels. The TIFF file is almost 12 MB. I think the camera has a buffer, because it can shoot 3 fps up to 4 in a burst. I have come to love a similar buffered feature on my C-3030 Zoom digi-cam.

This camera is aimed at the pro (not necessarily newspaper pros working the mean streets but certainly newspaper pros and freelance pros and commercial pros and wedding pros looking for everyday street gear and an affordable way into studio digital conversion from film). The E-10 will produce high quality images suitable for gobs of publication and commercial needs. Brilliantly positioned product by Olympus, I think.

E-10 is a perfect fit in the hand. It weighs a tad more than two pounds. It has a funky 'pro looking' removable lens hood on the fixed mount lens. It is half again larger than the C-3030 Zoom. Then add the 'prism' and the side grip.

Bright viewfinder. Easy manual focus on the lens barrel. Two types of autofocus . . . dual whatchamacallit IR and Passive TTL. Manual focus is on the viewfinder screen. Smooth manual zoom on the lens barrel. Again, manual focus and manual zoom rings are integrated into the lens barrel (a hint of future interchangeable lens SLR from Olympus?).

Controls are familiar and seem to be located on the camera body in places that make sense. There is a histogram function which I was able to get displayed on the LCD. 'Live' LCD during shooting is a little choppy, not smooth and easy like the C-3030 Zoom. The three position flip up and tilting down and flat choices for the LCD screen is a real cool feature on this camera. Back are the glory days of those low angle twin lens reflex and those reach for the stars shots.


Pivoting rear LCD

The 35-140mm (film equivalent) fixed mount lens w/ 62mm threaded lens front and f/2-2.4 to 11 aperture range, is now made in the ED glass way. This is good, because some of the distortion associated with consumer grade lenses now may be improved on or gone altogether. Time will tell. The large 62mm screw in front lens thread is also handy because I have a 62mm screw in circular polarizing filter from the film camera cabinet.

This is a significant upgrade in glass and has also helped raise the price of this camera to $1999 street price. I think the 28mm and 200mm fast auxiliary lenses will add more than $400 street price to the camera package. I don't know what the accessory grip costs. I know the FL-40 flash is expensive, which might explain why I do not own it right now. This is why I keep using a $70 Vivitar 283 on my $1000 C-3030 Zoom. Perversity has it's rewards, although the rewards will not be in TTL, just auto. The hard to find CB-04 Olympus TTL to PC adapter cable allows me to use my camera with my Dyna-Lites and my Vivitars and even my SB's. This cable is not required with the E-10, a relief for all serious flashers, because the E-10 has an external PC plug and a hot shoe flash mount.

The 28mm and 200mm add-on lenses are large and beautifully made. The man from Mt. Olympus said it was razor sharp. No need to doubt him because their accessory 1.45 tele lens for the my 3030 is razor sharp. The 200mm is only used with the prime lens zoomed out to 140mm, at which point it becomes a 200mm. Both versions are very bright viewfinder images. There is a 420mm f:2.4 or f:2.8 (one or the other) capability here by using Olympus' own long lens on the metal platform provided with the lens. I did not view through this lens. But 420/f:2.anything should be enough to make waves. I think this long lens is priced around $700. A macro add-on lens rounds out the selection. It shoots to about a business card size field.


Accessory lens attachments

An ALL metal tripod socket located dead center in alignment with the lens. BTW, this camera fits perfectly on mine and Bob Laramie's custom made (Newton Camera Brackets in Jacksonville, FL) Olympus Rotating Flash Bracket. It just may be a tad heavy for the rotation/flip mechanism (could get floppy, I think). A call to Robert Newton today revealed his opinion was the bracket rotator could handle this camera, because it works with heavier film cameras. When I get my pro loaner E-10 I'll be able to determine whether or not the bracket rules.

An accessory hand grip/booster battery pack with shutter button for vertical shooting is very nice accessory, although a tad cozy for someone with large hands. Putting this on and the camera starts ratcheting up the 'pro look and feel'. The accessory grip replaces whatever internal camera battery config is being used with beefier, longer lasting power from the in grip. Vertical grip's shutter release button wants to line up under the middle finger of the right hand more than it does under the index finger. Average size and small hands E-10 users will not notice. Ham fisted shooters will get use to it.

There is indeed an external PC flash sync socket, an external wired remote control socket and a hot shoe (for their TTL F-40 TTL shoe mount flash, and other flashes like a Vivitar 283 or 285HV. I don't know if the remote cable is part of the package, or will if be another one of those invisible Olympus cable accessories we've come to know and 'love'.

This camera, with it's wired remote connector is a perfect companion to my Pocket Wizard remote triggers in all the usual ways . . . provided there are no mysterious shortages of the cable required to connect the PW to the camera.

ISO 80 / 160 / 320 are the final production choices for sensitivity.

Top shutter speed is 1/640th (a tad low for some). This is a mechanical shutter camera, and oh, by the way, the lens diaphragm is seven blades. We're talking a beam splitter light path, not a prism. No moving mirror. No camera sound when in use, unless you turn on the motor drive sound effect. See below.

The user chooser option of turning on a 'motor drive' sound from the camera is very cool. Your subject knows when the photo has been made.

You know when the photo has been made. The law enforcement guy can know when you sniped a frame or two. Your super model knows when to change the pose. This camera sounded like a motor drive Olympus OM2 to me, and it has a volume adjustment to impress the listener or not. I wonder if Olympus engineers were intentional with this motor sound (specific to OM or is it my imagination)? Two flash memory cards; SmartMedia and CF type 1 & 2. Olympus does not recommend using the IBM Microdrive. Cards can write between one another in the camera (convenient back-up?), or you can load one or the other and shoot accordingly, or you can load both and shoot one then the other by flipping a simple switch. Fun for everyone. I think you can do a lot more card gymnastics here, but I'm confused enough right now.

The addition of a CF card slot to Olympus' mostly traditional alignment with Smartmedia cards is another clue that they may be serious about attracting more pros (who seem to prefer CF) to the E-10.

The E-10 is a USB CAMERA DEVICE and as such will directly mount onto compatible computer's desktop via a USB cable without the need to operate through the annoying Camedia software. The Olympus rep repeated and confirmed this during our chats (not that their software was annoying, but that the USB thing was true). Desktop mounting is Mac compatible with OS 9 or up, and with Windows 98/maybe only 2000. Don't care about Windows.

If you owned the shoe-mount FL-40 TTL flash, it also works in harmony with the flip-up on-camera built-in flash. The built-in flash can be powered back and serves as a front fill-flash when using the more powerful tilting/rotating shoe mount TTL flash. Wow. I was excited about this kind of flash feature back when Metz first offered it on a couple of handle mount potato masher style flash guns. BTW, the shoe mount flash is very solid when attached to the camera because the camera body is metal and solid on its own.

The E-10 has all the standard white balance and menu options and file compression options and has the ability to SAVE menu settings, like my C-3030 Zoom.

The dreaded shutter delay is noted in the literature at less than 100 ms. It is actually only 55 ms, according to the Olympus talker. This is as close to 'almost gone are these almost decisive moments' photo treasures, when compared to the digital delay some cameras produce.

The only thing missing is an Olympus version of a coiled remote TTL sensor/trigger cable, like Nikon's for the SB or Canon's for the EZ/EX. Pros will want to be able to operate this camera with the FL40 TTL flash in an off-camera hand-held way. Unless the Nikon/Canon multi-pin cable connector is the same as what Olympus has designed (what a great coincidence that would be), this is not possible at this time.

Sounds like a new e-mail campaign to Mark Gumz, President of Olympus (Mark.Gumz@olympus.com). He fixed my recent CB-04 cable problem, so he might be the go-to guy for a flash extension cable). I think this remote cable may have been discussed when the C2500L camera came out over a year ago, but in true cable hell fashion it has not materialized.

A pal at Olympus has promised me an E-10 pro loaner asap.

Part II: October, 28, 2000 - Olympus School of Digital of Photography at the W Hotel on 49th & Lexington Ave., New York, NY . . .

The good news is the E-10 felt just as good and looked just as good in NYC as it did a week earlier in Richmond, VA. It was a bit of a battle to get up front at the hardware display tables, because there was a large crowd attending the event but only a handful of Olympus reps available.

With only one E-10 to play with, things got 'cozy'. My pal Bob Laramie and I attended this event. Bob is a photo staff guy (currently assigned to the features department) at the Philadelphia Daily News, aka Tab From Hell, where I am a picture editor. He want's the E-10 for studio work and for more than his fair share of features photography outside the building. This hands-on event is where is E-10 adventure begins.

Not all of the E-10 accessory lenses and camera add-ons were on display. Seems some parts were still on the NPPA FSC tour, which was ending in San Diego the same day we were in NYC. This turned out to be good. I had seen and played with all of them in Richmond. What I didn't notice in VA was a lighting accessory that appears to be part of the accessory (front screw-in) macro lens for the E-10. It's a light diffuser which lines up perfectly with the popped up built-in camera flash. Bursts of 'hard' direct flash in macro are diffused and 'softened' by this diffuser. The idea is to improve and enhance macro photography when using the built-in flash. No way this kind of lighting enhancement can fail, because the diffuser is about 3 or 4 inches square, just above the front of the lens, directly in line with the popped up flash. You lighting wizards who know that anytime the size of the source light (in this case a tiny built-in flash) is enlarged (say, in an umbrella or out of a softbox or through a diffusion panel) the better the results. Well, that's what is going to happen with light passing through this macro diffuser. And since the subject to flash distance is very short in macro use, the power of the camera's otherwise tiny built-in flash is going to be more than adequate for close-up work.

Another bonus will be a considerably softened shadow when flashing through the macro diffusion panel. Of course, none of this will happen if this is not an approved or intended accessory offered by Olympus. Camera reps on site were not sure if it was, or wasn't, so we'll have to wait and see.

One complaint about Olympus' presentation deals with product literature, or lack of it. I picked up all the primary pieces of literature in Richmond at the FSC a week prior. In NYC there was none, or if there had been it got gobbled up, so there wasn't enough. This is a captive audience staring at new products and they leave the session with no tangible camera products hand-outs. I don't get it, from a marketing standpoint. I get it from a bad management standpoint.

Since their f:2/28mm equivalent wide angle, the f:2.4/200mm equivalent telephoto, or the f:2.4/420mm equivalent lenses and the accessory grip were not on display (Olympus' bad judgment, I think), I had a lot of time to examine the actual F-40 TTL shoe mount flash. More on that later.

Re the actual prime zoom lens on the E-10 and it's ability to accept 62mm sized screw-in accessories . . . I asked if this camera needed a linear or circular polarizing filter to operate correctly? Tech rep's response was 'circular', in which case another Nikon film camera accessory of mine (62mm circular polarizing filter) becomes a digital camera accessory.

Since I am a lighting guru and The DogFather, I need to know everything about the E-10's ability to integrate with third party external flash equipment, i.e., my Dyna-Lites, then my shoe/bracket mounted Vivitars (auto thyristor and manual) and my adapted Nikon SB24 (auto and manual). Most all of these mysteries had been solved prior to the NY event. The E-10 has a hot shoe above the prism for their FL-40 TTL, and the hot shoe will trigger a variety of third party flashes but not as TTL devices. The built-into-the-body PC flash terminal is the other professional requirement for hard wiring various flash devices as well as for connecting my LPA Design Pocket Wizard wireless trigger. So far so good.

What's missing from this flash formula? A remote TTL 'long' sensor cable to remove their FL-40 TTL flash from the camera's hot shoe, that's what. Most amateurs will be satisfied with using the TTL flash on-camera. After all, it shoots direct, bounces up, rotates for side bounce left or right and can even rotate backwards for those rare but lovely occasions when bouncing out of ceiling/wall corner behind the photographer but in front of the subject is oh so sweet. But, most lighting pros know that OFF-CAMERA indirect or bounce TTL flash is the final frontier to separating them from the bad lighters who will only do it the same on-camera way all the time, therefore never achieve a different look, when appropriate. So, Olympus needs to offer a remote sensor TTL cable for the E-10 as a flash accessory.

In a perfect world they would be offering this cord in both long and short lengths - - - because pros using rotating camera brackets (me and Bob and our custom made Newton bracket for the C-3030 Zoom and the Vivitar 283) for perfect vertical and horizontal placement flash - - - will want to mount the TTL flash on the remote sensor shoe, mount that shoe to the bracket and slip the hot shoe end of the short TTL cable into the camera's hot shoe. But hey, this isn't a perfect world, so I'll settle for the standard long, coiled, arm's length remote TTL cable for the FL-40. I understand some folks at Olympus have been hoping for this cable since the C2500L camera came out.

A word of caution re third party flash with the E-10 - DON'T use old Vivitars for sure. In the not so distant past Vivitars had a flash sync voltage well above 200 volts. While this is enough to jump start a locomotive, it's a tad too much for delicate 'chips for brains' cameras.

No sense blowing up your camera's sync circuit with an old, mystery flash. If you intend to use Vivitar 283 instead of Olympus' $300+ FL-40 flash, just buy a new 283 for about $70 and start from there. Anything marked Vivitar 285HV is a low voltage trigger unit and is OK. Previous 285's are not. The actual sync voltage of a new 283 is 8.3 volts. You can measure this voltage by turning on the flash unit and then placing your (DC mode) voltmeter probes on the flash's center hot shoe contact (red / +) and the side hot shoe flange (black / -).

Because I make UnderDog flash batteries, I was curious about the Olympus FL-40 TTL flash and would it be friendly to UnderDogs using available low voltage power cable's from Quantum, or custom cables from the DogFather? Initial examination of the FL-40's four AA battery chamber seems to suggest there would be a way to get a module made and then to fit in there (how to keep it there is another story) and then be connected to an UnderDog at the bottom of the camera. I should probably check the Quantum site to see if this flash is listed yet. Of course lots of pros would have to own this camera and FL-40 flash in order to develop and sell any sort of custom cable.

Hhhmmm! If UnderDog can't be made to integrate with this flash, and if alkalines are slow and short lived, then a 'hotter' AA is suddenly part of the picture, be they rechargeable NiMH or disposable lithiums. So, the conclusion at this time appears to include AA 1.5v NiMH or lithium batteries as an option for pros, until or if an UnderDog solution develops. Hey, quit complaining. This is photography made difficult, which is what being a pro is all about!

I checked out further the idea that an E-10 SLR is a camera that will fit my custom Newton rotating flash bracket. I determined in Richmond that the camera and bracket work together. In NYC I took it a step further and applied the rotating bracket and E-10 concept to using a remote sensor cable and my Vivitar 283. BTW, I brought a 'short' straight custom sensor cord to NY. Mounting the camera onto the plate that then attaches to the bracket was the first step. Attaching the camera to the bracket went as expected. Removing the auto-thyristor sensor from the 283 and placing it into the remote sensor cable's hot shoe adapter was a breeze. So far, so good. The 283 was then mounted to the shoe adapter on the rotating bracket's top horizontal bar, where it belongs. Plugging the other end of the cable into the empty flash sensor socket was equally straightforward. The flash was now on the bracket above the lens in perfect alignment for vertical or horizontal bounce or direct or outdoor fill. The remote cable connected the flash to the E-10's hot shoe. The sensor eye of the 283 was plugged into the hot shoe cable socket. All that remained was to see if the camera would clear all parts of the rotating bracket while being flipped from vertical or horizontal or visa versa. Well, it just so happens that the camera sits far enough back on the bracket mounting plate so as to clear all obstacles while in motion. Very cool.

Add a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce light modifier to a 283, an SB or even the FL-40 in this rotating camera bracket and you have achieved superior lighting in ways only goofy lighting photographers like me appreciate. But hey, that doesn't make it wrong or misguided. In fact, lighting WILL return as a necessary part of creative digital photography. Right now all the attention is being paid to the pro camera technologies and the mysteries of why these cameras do certain bad things to images and why so much time is wasted in Photoshop trying to 'fix' things.

One final note about rotating camera brackets. In my opinion, Newton makes the most professional, elegant and solid camera brackets I use now or have used in my other life. They also cost more, because they do more and they do it 'more right'. Robert Newton has told me that he thinks the bracket I used with a Nikon SLR to achieve controlled and creative lighting is the correct choice for the Olympus E-10 SLR, even though my rotating bracket for the C-3030 Zoom seems to also be correct. I'll have to check into this when time permits. That bracket is called an N7200 Flash Rotator. Newton Camera Brackets is located in Jacksonville, FL. Robert's phone number is 904-725-0248. Ask for his detailed color product brochure. He has lots of experience with designing and making 'grown-up' rotating brackets suitable for pro digital cameras, and he is the dude who brought my dream design for a rotator suitable for my and Bob Laramie's Olympus C-3030 Zoom cameras (don't laugh all you 'pros' - it shoots a 9.5 meg TIFF and will run circles around your stuff in a studio shooting products from macro to razor sharp people portraits with a 1.45X accessory telephoto). Imagine what a 4 megapixel E-10 SLR with ED glass and more accessory lenses plopping almost 12 meg TIFFS via direct USB desktop connection onto your hard drives can do (the E-10 acts like another hard drive when you connect it via USB to your computer) . . .for less than $2,000.00? Why, pretty soon the advertising and circulation people will be able to carry digital cameras and shoot for the paper!

If there is ever going to be a Part III to my Galbraith E-10 report, it needs to based on actually making pictures with this thing. Now there's a concept! I have been promised by at least one important (to me - aka Deep Throat) Olympus person that Bob and I are on the list to receive a pro loaner for evaluation. At this time we would be making pictures and putting together some sort of cohesive first hand report. This can only happen if I get the pro loaner before I get my own unit. Otherwise, part III will have to wait until the E-10 system I buy is actually in hand after surviving a twisted path through the retail route. Stay tuned.

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