Our staff shooter test drives several Olympus 4/3 system digital Zuiko lenses
at the US Open but finds them limited for sports by the E-330 DSLR.
Down in the photo pits of Arthur Ashe stadium, it took me a few minutes to get comfortable with the E-330, especially considering that there was no vertical shutter release. I had to adjust my shooting style, since there is no back-button focusing option on the E-330, hence the AF-Stop setting I chose for the on-lens buttons. There are times in sports, particularly tennis, when pre-focusing is crucial to making the shot. Stopping the AF from searching for focus is crucial in capturing a tight image of a player serving a point. As the day progressed, I got more comfortable with the feel of the camera.
The E-330 shoots at a maximum of 3 frames per second (fps), and I found the camera buffering a lot if I shot in burst mode. Time for another adjustment in shooting style. So I went back to single-shot mode, and challenged myself to make every shot count, rather than relying on catching a moment in a burst, or even worse, missing a moment after a burst while the camera buffered.
Autofocus was fast -- not exceptionally fast -- but generally quick enough to get most action in focus with the 90-250mm f/2.8 and the 300mm f/2.8. The 150mm f/2.0 felt a tiny bit more sluggish than its bigger stablemates, and a number of photos that appeared sharp on the E-330's LCD were just shy of being sharp when pulled up on-screen.
The 7.1 Megapixel E-330 was the weakest part of the equation. Professional-level photography at world-class sporting events requires a burst rate of at least 5 fps and fast in-camera processing to improve your odds of getting a winning shot, and making sure you don't miss anything while the camera is chugging away at images in the buffer. The E-330 has a lot going for it in some respects: Live MOS technology, very good image quality, and a distinctive, ergonomic design -- but a pro sports camera it's not.
In fact, no camera in the current Olympus lineup shoots faster than 3 fps, and none has a sustained burst rate of more than 12 images. In 2006, these numbers don't begin to measure up to the industry leaders.
Olympus needs to get into the game with a camera that can compete with the Canon 30D and Nikon D200, and fast. Olympus needs to make a camera that is at least 7 megapixels, at least 5 frames per second with a 25 shot burst mode, an optional or integrated vertical grip -- and since none of this long, fast glass has lens-based shake reduction technology, a sensor-based mechanical vibration minimizing solution.
Olympus has a great thing going with these world-class, professional-quality lenses. Now they need to finish the equation and make a professional-grade camera that can keep up with the action of world-class sports. Then they might have a winning formula to make a serious dent in the sports photography marketplace.