A new DSLR takes on Old San Juan and other Puerto Rican classics.
GET NEW PERSPECTIVE
Another example of how the E-3 can help with new perspectives came in Ponce at the Castillon Serralles. This 1930s Spanish-revival-style mansion was the home to the distillers behind Don Q rum, and today is a museum with beautifully maintained gardens. I wanted a low shot of a fountain and pool on the grounds. With a conventional DSLR, it would have meant getting down on my stomach and looking through the viewfinder. Even with one of the new breed of live-view DSLRs, it wouldn't have been easy.
But the E-3 has, in addition to live view, a swiveling and rotating LCD screen (much like the one on Panasonic's new Lumix L10). Though it doesn't swivel around continuously as the pull-out screens on many camcorders do, this 2.5-inch LCD goes 360 degrees and can be positioned any way you want, so that getting low-down shots doesn't require gymnastics. I simply put the camera down at pool level, knelt next to it, and tilted the LCD for an optimum view. (Pressing the live view button on the back of the camera pulls up an on-screen reminder to throw the little lever that prevents light from entering the viewfinder eyepiece.)
The live view on the E-3 lets you see the scene along with the effects of adjustments of everything from focus to white balance before you take the shot. You can even zoom in 10x during live view.
While 3 inches is the new benchmark in fixed LCDs, the E-3's 2.5-incher doesn't give up much in the way of function. It's 230,000-dot/77,000-pixel resolution is mid- pack (the new Sony Alpha 700 has almost twice the resolution), and it can rotate images as you rotate the camera, and also show you photos side-by-side for comparing settings and composition. Want to see the I.S. in action? You can do that, too, in live view.
As good as the live view is, for the most part, I stuck to the optical viewfinder. If the old E-1 gave photographers the impression that a tunnel-vision viewfinder was the price of a Four Thirds System DSLR, the E-3 completely dispels that notion. Twenty percent larger than the E-1's, the E-3's finder is big, bright, and backed by a pentaprism that serves up a high eyepoint and 100 percent accuracy.
If you're used to a mode dial that lets you get lazy and turn to the little running man for a sports shot, or the mountain for a landscape, well, forget it. The E-3 is more serious than that. But if you want virtually total control, this is your camera.
The body is festooned with more than 20 buttons and dials, along with an encyclopedia of menus. Sound daunting? It can be if you're not willing to put in some time. But it doesn't take long to see that there are three big advantages:
You can adjust almost anything -- from AF with manual or without manual override to an underwater macro setting.You can find a way that is most comfortable for you -- since there are several ways to make most common adjustments.With practice, you'll get really fast at getting the settings you want.
Exposure compensation? That's a typical button-press and dial turn. But you also can use the spotmeter's highlight control and shadow control to add or subtract exposure. Say, for instance, you're shooting a bright background and want to add some exposure to keep the whites from turning gray. Switch to highlight control, put the spotmeter on a white target, and shoot. The gray is gone. Vice versa for shadow control.
Color settings from muted to vivid (which I used for the pastels of Old Juan) are easily reached, as are gradations that give you a high-key (brightly lit) or low-key (heavily shadowed) look.
FLASH OF BRILLIANCE
Perhaps the most fascinating controls are those that let you take charge of the new FL-50R. With this wireless flash, Olympus moves into the big leagues, as it lets you control the flash output from the camera on any or all of four channels. I used it for side light in portraits, and to brighten a Volkswagen Beetle that was parked in the shadows of an otherwise bright setting. While the system can control a couple hundred flashes, I can see how three or four could give you enough pop to light just about every small- to mid-sized scene.
This flash shows how serious Olympus is about building out its DSLR system. And it is indeed a system, with an ever-expanding line of lenses. I spent at least half my time in Puerto Rico with the 8mm f/3.5 Zuiko fisheye on the E-3. The 35mm equivalent of a 16mm thanks to the 2x lens factor of the Four Thirds System, this gorgeous piece of glass serves up sharpness along with all the bowed distortion that makes a fisheye such a great creative tool.
After all, I didn't go all the way to Puerto Rico just to come home with the same pictures as everyone else.