2.17.2012

A nostalgic look back at one of the great, early, digital cameras. The Olympus e-10.


I was at Precision Camera several times this week doing the kind of things that drive more level headed photographers and IT professionals slightly crazy.  I was buying more micro four thirds stuff, getting rid of the little Nikon V1 System and trimming down some of the Canon inventory.  What shall we tackle first?  How about the m4/3rds?  It's no secret that I really like EVFs and I really like small and light cameras.  I'm waiting impatiently for the OM-D but in the interim I stumbled into the Panasonic G3, liked what I saw and read (I blame Michael Reichman's review from last Summer the most) and decided to pick one up.  A fun camera for less than $600 bucks and maybe the current champion for lower noise ISO among the m4:3rds camp.  I've enjoyed the way the Panasonic GH2 works and I've used it now on six paying jobs this year, to my delight and to the satisfaction of my clients.

The G3 plays well with the Panasonic/Leica 25 Summilux and the 45mm 1.8 Olympus lens but, albeit, without IS.  The files are crisp and detailed and the noise, up to 1600 ISO is very normal.  And very workable.

The Nikon is a glorious little system and I'm sure I'll regret consigning it the minute it sells.  Which will probably be the day before Nikon comes out with a gold-banded, 18mm f1.4 (50mm equiv.) prime lens. But I got tired of waiting for faster glass and more and more captivated by the fast lenses that Olympus and Panasonic already had on tap.  Waiting for me.  Taunting me.

Something had to go.  And the Nikon got the nod.  It failed the "eternal" test.  That's the test that gauges how much you carry around your system, over time.  More and more I left it at home and took faster glass.  I'm a creature of some habits even if I'm not brand loyal.  In the grand number scheme of the "eternal" test the current winner is the EP-3 which I've carried most days since purchase.  More than the Canons and more than the V1.  Even more than the GH2 (which is currently in second place for fun shooting and in first place for commercial shooting, just slightly ahead of the Canon 1DS mk2.

Before people melt down let me quickly say that I really like the Nikon system and it has its unique attributes but I finally just ran out of bandwidth.  

I had too many Canon 1D bodies so one of them got donated to an up and coming young artist who will remain anonymous.  We've winnowed it down now, in the Canon camp, from six cameras at the start of the year to three.  And we may get even tighter on the "dinosaur" camera inventory as the m4:3 becomes more compelling.  But I need to at least keep the two remaining, full frame bodies around for those moments when only the slightest sliver of Zeiss focus will sate my imperious "bokeh lust."

But, I started this whole article off intending to talk about an Olympus camera that I consider to be their Sputnik of digital cameras.  Their moon launch.  The incredibly nice piece of alloy and glass that put them on the digital map in 1999.  Yes.  I'm talking about the supernaturally incredible e-10.  


It solved so many problems.  Let me set the stage:  Digital was in it's infancy.  The only affordable, professional digital camera on the market was the Nikon D1 and just between you and me it was an unqualified piece of shit.  The files were all over the map and it made a joke out of the idea of controlled flash.  Not to mention that it had a buy-in price of over $5,000 and a noisy file that came flying off a strange 2.7 megapixel sensor.  Banding, noise and wild flash exposure inaccuracies were included at no charge.

Later in the year Olympus announced, and shortly thereafter delivered, the e10.  A four megapixel camera that featured a permanently attached 28-140 zoom lens filled with ED and Aspherical glass.  The files were beautiful and, at ISO 80, 100 and 200, stomped all over the big Nikon.  You could get a battery grip with a mondo battery that would last for hundreds and hundreds of frames.  True all day shooting.  The Nikon?  Better have been prepared with one battery for every 100 frames.

At any rate I have the fondest memories of the e10 and carted it to Europe and Miami and Hawaii on corporate shoots, most times in tandem with a Hasselblad film system.  That was the nature of the non-linear digital adaptation.  I had forgotten about the camera until I came upon an old CD with these images of Christa.  We shot them for a tony furniture store back in 2000.  Shoot with monolight flashes and careful metering.  The images were used in magazine and newspaper ads and on the web.  


While I"m happy with the color and sharpness the 4 megapixel files do show their limitations when I splash em big across the monitor and ramp it all up to 100 %.  It's not that the quality is bad by any stretch of the imagination, the files just run out of information.  But the Olympus people figured out color and good optics way back then.  


Now my little Panasonic cameras will do 16 megapixels and the new Olympus should match them.  We can shoot at higher ISOs but I would hardly need to in a shoot like this.  Remember, we're creating the light not just ramping up  random photons.  The e10 had its problems.  Biggest of which was a tiny buffer.  But this job and scores like it made this camera the most profitable digital camera I've probably owned.  In fact, we did all the executive headshots for one of the world's largest computer makers for two years solid with this camera and it never let us down.  I sold it to buy a Fuji S2.  But that's a whole other story...


So, where am I going with all these m4:3 cameras and lenses?  I'm on a journey.  I'm heading back to the fun zone of photography.  It's in a different part of the geography of photography from the earnest pixel measuring maniacs.  Far, far from the perfection seeking "professional," DXO approved tools of the serious and ponderous.  I'm hedging a bit with the Canons but the momentum.......is somewhere else.







29 comments:

Unknown said...

Yes, I miss the E10. The flash was stellar too. And those 8 mb flash cards.

Dave Jenkins said...

That is the loveliest young lovely I've seen on your blog so far.

stefano60 said...

funny, i was just thinking about the e10 the other day; it was for me the camera that made me switch to digital; i had been dabbling up to that moment with a few (cannot even remember now, there was another camedia that was not too bad before the e10 came out, but it was never good enough to justify the switching from film).
i used my e10 a lot, and it gave me great images. ended up selling it to finance the next one (cannot even remember now what it was), but
i always have fond memories of it.

coincidentally, i also sold my V1 a few weeks ago; i did it very reluctantly, i knew/know it is a superb camera, but i was feeling the need for fast primes too and did not have the patience to wait.
too bad.
maybe next year they will have some viable options and i will be able to pick up a used body for little money.
for now, i bought a sigma DP2 as my travel/pocket camera. i used to have a DP1, and kept going back to those foveon sensor images ... with all its quirks and limitations, the image quality is simply unique.

Michael Ferron said...

You talk about cameras while showing us that beautiful model??

I too ditched my V1 and picked up a Sony NEX 5n. Stunning image quality. I can use some of my old but superb Nikon MF glass on it and have the new 50 1.8 (75mm equiv)on pre-order. Life is good.

kirk tuck said...

Yes. I talked about the model. It was an Olympus e-10. Obviously, you weren't paying attention.

Michael Ferron said...

got 10 bucks her name isn't Olympus. :0

kirk tuck said...

Sorry MIchael. I've been watching too many episodes of the "The Big Bang Theory." It's affecting my already interesting sense of humor.

Matt said...

You should have shot this in medium format. It naturally makes things so much better...

;)

alohadave said...

Kirk, can you see a difference in the files from the different cameras that you like to use?

Not talking about DMF vs M4/3, and etc, but in cameras in the same class.

Do the pictures have different meaning for you based on the feelings you have for each camera? Are you able to separate the pictures from the cameras, or is it not something that you worry about?

Rick said...

Surprised to hear that the V1 has departed, but certainly understand your reasoning.

It only took about 10 months of carrying a 5D2/7D + 4 lenses, etc, 3-4 days a week to convince me that a smaller system was almost certainly a good idea. Based on your write-ups, I investigated the E-P3/E-PL3, but couldn't convince myself to jump. The E-M5 did the trick - a GH2 now backs up the 5D2, and the E-M5 will replace the Canon in my normal rotation when it arrives. I will keep the 5D2 and a couple lenses for special applications, but the 'daily drivers' will be an E-M5 and GH2 for backup/primary video when needed, with a nice selection of those tiny, fast little Panasonic and Olympus lenses.

Fun times!

Sparky G said...

I can easily understand your having "forgotten" the E-10.

But Christa? How could you have forgotten Christa?

Philip Storry said...

Ah, the Olympus E-10.

For me, it solved the cost issue of buying a decent digital camera. It wasn't cheap, but it was much cheaper than the competition, especially when you factored in lens costs.

It was also slow, heavy, and very poor in low light.

But then, so was everything else...

I had the wide, macro and tele adapters for that magnificent fixed lens, which were fun to play with. And I wanted an E-20 when it came out, partly due to the unusual trick of higher frame rates via lower resolution - something nobody else was doing at that time. (You could argue that with video, everyone is doing that now!)

Fixed lenses, low-res high-speed modes - even back at the dawn of digital, Olympus were unafraid to experiment with odd features that were practical in nature!

The E-10 saved me, for several years, from the near bankruptcy of lens lust. It did its job, and did it well. And I bet if I took it out of the cupboard and put some batteries and a CF card in it, it would do it again without complaint.

Because it was reliable, predictable, built like a tank, and almost as fast...

Ah, nostalgia.

I'm leaving the camera in the cupboard, though. If I did use it, then I might find that the reality doesn't live up to the myth of memory.

I seems far better to remember the E-10 as a great unsung camera, and perhaps go back and review some of the photos it helped me take...

Thanks for jogging my memory, Kirk.

John F. Opie said...

I've seriously considered an E10 or E20 as a dedicated timelapse photography camera, shooting at full HD (1920*1280), where the 4MP sensor doesn't really play a role. Haven't found one, though, that was at my "oooooh! buy it now!" price point...may have to reconsider that. :-)

Alan Fairley said...

I still have my E-10, out on display with my other old loves (Retina 1a, Nikon F, OM-2n). I remember how meditative it made photographing . . . because if you weren't in a meditative state, waiting the the RAW files to flush out of the damned micro buffer would drive you crazy. :)

diforbes said...

Your posts about using small cameras have been challenging, inspiring and most of all, are making me think more deeply about what I want versus what I need in my next cameras. I may not always agree with you but I respect and admire your willingness to try new things and go in different directions with your work.

Ernest Theisen said...

An interesting post about cameras but really liked the part where she slipped the strap off her shoulder. E

scotth said...

I had an E-20; it was my first 'serious' camera. It had some serious limitations, and was pretty behind the curve when I bought it. But, for me it was pretty capable for most of what I wanted to do, and that lens was amazing.

I learned a lot from that camera.

gonjaman said...

Hi Kirk,

Still using the E10, today in fact to get a cracking shot of my daughter in conjunction with a hotshoe mounted manual flash. Still love the solidity, that lens and the textures it produces. Can't afford a M4/3 camera right now, so the E10 is still doing sterling service alongside a pair of C5050's. Meanwhile my D50 Nikon, whilst nice, just doesn't have the 'feel' to make me want to use it.
BTW - nice model!
Enjoy reading the blog - keep at it.

John Mason - Lafayette Indiana said...

E10 was my first through the lens digital as well. Sold off a bunch of film stuff to get it at the time.

Sold the E10 last year finally (wasn't using it)

Without the E10 who knows if I would have gone down the Olympus road (E1, E30, E5, EP1)

I'm also very entrenched in Canon as well and have been dual system for years. D30, D60, 1ds 1ds2 1ds3 5d2.

Very interesting blog as I'm in the same boat, finding I don't use the canon equipment very much except for the 50 1.2 and the super gorgeous 85 1.2. But the SHG zooms on the E5 just spoil me for using Canon zooms.

Got the Em5 on order and will probably get the 25 pana and 48 olympus to start.

These are interesting times for sure!

I would actually run into problems with the E10 buffer since I do a lot of panoramic work with panoramic head. That means work quick or the clouds will move to much to be believable in the final stitched picture. It was this delay that ushered me into the Canon world with the D30. (well, and the d30 also opened up 30 sec 24l night panos which the E10 didn't do very well)

I love the blog since I discovered it via DPreview a week ago. I check it often.

Sean Johnson said...

Thanks so much for this timely post. Last night I tried to explain (unsuccessfully) to my wife why I was putting my V1 up for sale and why UPS delivered a GH2 yesterday. Today, I just had her read your post. Welcome to the doghouse.

Cathal Gantly said...

Great blog! I never used an E10, but I was at a lighting demonstration hosted by the late, and very great, Bob Carlos Clarke, who used one for the demonstration. High praise...

I tried a D1 way back then, and despite having a bag full of Nikon, thought it sucked, but recognised it was going to get good. My first dSLR was a D100, and that gave me six years of good service.

Keep it coming Kirk!

John Kupersmith said...

Thanks for bringing back memories of the E-10. Wish I hadn't sold mine. It was a bit of a brick, but what a beautiful piece of industrial design. Good photos too. Hmmm ... gotta run, I'm off to eBay ...

BTW, I think it was only 35 at the wide end.

Caleb Courteau said...

Terrific post, but frankly I was distracted by the pictures. What a beauty!

Anonymous said...

Just the other day I was interviewed by a reporter still shooting with an E-10 after 11 years.
Who'd have thunk a pro would be shooting with a lowly Oly ? ;-)

kirk tuck said...

It was a seminal camera in the wide acceptance of digital imaging. I loved mine.

I can't tell whether people liked the written paean to the e-10 here or the images of Christa...... The comments are mixed.

ADMW said...

A friend had the E-10, my wife really liked it and as the E-20 had just come out bought that instead. It has been giving her perfect service ever since (9 years?). She would still be using it if it had not been for a wave breaking over the sea wall and totally drenching her and the carera. She dried it off and continued shooting for a few more hours but by the evening some salty water must have gotten into the guts and the camera died. I really thought she would replace it with an E-P3 but she liked the V1 just as much and especially the built in viewfinder. She is very pleased with the V1, specifically the speed of operation and lightness compared with the E-20.

Bo Lorentzen said...

Ahhh. I loved my E10 and later the E20... one piece, no sensor dust and rock solid little cameras.

Corwin said...

E-10 sounds (and seems judging those photos) as pretty good camera for 99 (and couple more years later).

Sony is supposedly creating something like successor to R-1 (another great "all-in-one" camera), so maybe even today we might see something similar to E-10.

Tho with new mirrorless systems, Im not sure it will be successful. I agree that m4/3s are great fun (and work) system. One does appreciate that a lot after few days of lugging regular FF dSLR with not-so-light tripod (those lightweight 2kg are pretty heavy after one day carrying it around..). Maybe m4/3s are not top notch high ISO quality, and cant replace dSLRs, but they can provide very good IQ for fraction of weight and size. Which is priceless.

Stephen Strangways said...

One of my favourite things about the E-10 and E-20 was the in-lens leaf shutter and lack of a mirror meant it was utterly silent when it fired, assuming you turned the beeper off. I used it on film shoots where other film and digital SLRs required the use of big, heavy, and awkward "blimps" to absorb the shutter and mirror sound.