It wasn't easy.
I had a chance to try out an Olympus E-3 DSLR for a while last month. Among other things, the magnesium E-3 body and Olympus Zukio lenses are known for their ruggedness. The whole system is billed as "splashproof and dustproof". The 10MP camera has been out for awhile, but it has a ton of other attractive features: in-camera image stabilization, automatic sensor dust cleaning, a built-in flash, live view, and the speed and responsiveness you would expect from a modern DSLR.
It was perfect timing because I had some climbing shoots lined up at some new areas near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the conditions were perfect for this camera: rain for a solid week.
The thing about climbing in the south is that much of the walls are steep enough to allow climbing in even a downpour. If you are willing to hike out in the conditions, chances are you can climb dry rock once you get there. Still, tromping around and rigging ropes in the rain is usually hard enough on cameras to call off a day - or week - of climbing photography.
I was hoping the E-3 would live up to its reputation, and I could salvage an otherwise unproductive week of shooting.
The Zukio lenses are all fantastic. The build and optical quality is at least as good if not better than any DSLR system out there. I tested out four pro-quality lenses: The 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, 35-100mm f/2.0, 50mm f/2.0, and 300mm f/2.8.
Olympus has committed to the Four-Thirds sensor on all its DSLRs. This is a smaller sensor than the "cropped" APS sensor of Nikon and Canon, and has an aspect ratio that is closer to square than rectangular. The Olympus sensor and processor has a reputation for great color and image quality, and it's definitely not hype. I shot some portraits and kids in the neighborhood before heading up to Chattanooga, and the color and skin tones were remarkable, right out of the box, on auto white balance. I was looking forward to seeing what I could do to this camera in harsher conditions.
The climbing areas we explored over the next few days - which shall remain nameless - were deep, and rugged, and beautiful. In classic southern style, access involved 4WD roads, river crossings and long hikes in the rain. In these conditions I would normally keep my camera in a housing, or just leave it in the bag, but with the E-3, I could shoot and even change lenses with impunity. I spent a good part of one afternoon 80 feet in the air on a rope, under a small waterfall and light rain. Nothing seemed to give the camera pause. Not only that, but yielded great shots the whole time.
By the end of our trip I was getting ... reckless. We explored a river under one cliff
and the fun began.
That last shot was probably the camera's last shot, ever*. The E-3 is obviously not an underwater camera, and it's not meant to withstand immersion, but before it died I DID get a good number of "underwater" shots. Not many cameras would have inspired me to go for a shot like that... I think gear that can encourage you to take your craft one step further - thats money!
Olympus just released a new mini four-thirds camera, the E-P1, and its gotten a lot of attention, but with the excellent Zukio lens lineup, and the features the E-3 already has, I'm excited to see what Olympus has on deck for its next flagship DSLR.
I'd love to break it in!
* Note: I've learned that the camera actually survived and is happily taking pictures somewhere in Aruba. Guess it really isn't that easy.
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