Since the announcement of Olympus's last pro camera, the E-1, the iPod has taken over the world, Saddam Hussein has been caught, tried and hung, Newcastle have changed managers four times and Led Zeppelin reformed.

This long gap has lead some to question the company's commitment to top-flight photography. Others have argued that they just wanted to get the follow-up exactly right – after all, the E-1 was universally acknowledged as a great camera at the time, even if the specs look paltry now: 4.9 megapixels, 1.8in LCD and 3fps shooting.

Lens with extra bite

There's no question that the ante has been upped with the E-3. For a start there's a 10.1mp sensor. It's still in the 4/3 format, which means that the focal length is doubled compared to a 35mm film camera (most DSLRs use the APS-C format, which is more like 1.6x). So a 200mm lens on the E-3 is equivalent to 400mm, giving it a real advantage for sports and wildlife photography, where you need to zoom in as close as possible.

Other improvements include a 2.5in LCD that flips round to protect it when not needed, continuous shooting is up to a more pro-standard 5fps, while the autofocus – Olympus's main selling point for the E-3 – is lightning quick.

Build quality is generally incredibly high. The controls are all close to hand, with simple shortcuts to alter ISO, shooting modes, EV and everything else you'd expect from a top-drawer camera. In fact, the ergonomics are almost perfect.

Superb shots

Image quality is mostly excellent. Shots right up to ISO 800 are superb, well exposed – the meter wasn't fooled by some difficult lighting conditions – and colourful.

However, there are some downsides. The E-3's competitors are now rocking out at 12mp, and the range of lenses offered doesn't include many fast prime (non-zoom) lenses.

There is also some grainy noise at higher ISOs, probably due to the small sensor size. It isn't terrible, but is a little worse than competitors at this price-point.

Overall though, these faults are small potatoes. If you want a pro-standard SLR at a reasonable price, with some of the ease of use of entry-level cameras, the E-3's a winner.


Stuff says... 

Olympus E-3 review

Worth the wait. The E-3 matches pro SLR capabilities with the ease of use of an entry-level cam