7. Specific Design Notes
Of course the never-ending comparisons between an OM and an E-series camera continue. And the E-30 is judged no differently to the E-3 in this respect. It is clear that the E-System as a whole still has some way to go before it can be remotely comparable to the OM System. Up till now the key comparison factors between the film-based OM System and the digital-specific E-System are in the following areas:
7.1 Camera models of serious intent
Even since becoming a reality, the Four-Thirds format has received mainly derisive comments. Apart from sensor size, Four-Thirds was considered too little and too late for Olympus to re-enter the interchangeable-lens camera segment. That is at least one part reason why the E-1 had a challenging time establishing itself in the market.
Things didn’t go much better until the E-500 began to sell in larger numbers. It was only then that Olympus had shown some positive signs of recovery. And in the seven years since, there have been eleven models from the E-series and most consider only the E-1 and E-3 to be cameras of some degree of seriousness. It remains to be seen if the E-30 will be given the brush-off.
Comparatively speaking, there were at least ten models from the OM System that could qualifiably be termed ‘serious’ and amongst these, there are longstanding technical achievements that have yet to be emulated or adopted by the E-series. Chief amongst these – and a major pet peeve amongst current users – is the Multi-Spot Metering as well as true TTL-OTF (Off-The-Film) flash metering systems.
Olympus’ technical accomplishments with Four-Thirds and the E-System pale in significance to those attained during the halcyon film days. Comparing to Multi-Spot, TTL-OTF, Full-Synchro (now called FP) or Auto-S* or especially the OM-40’s groundbreaking ESP metering, the company’s stellar efforts with the E-series are limited to dust-reduction (SSWF), LiveView and fast autofocusing (SWD). With the exception of SSWF, the other two aren’t exactly breathtaking milestone achievements.
Needless to say, the 35mm film-based OM cameras enjoy a viewfinder experience that is unlike anything an E-series DSLR camera could offer. Even the E-3 is considered merely ‘close’ but not close enough yet.
* This was what Red-Eye Reduction flash mode was originally called
7.2 Unique camera designs
Famous for its pioneering streak, Olympus’ is not in the same position as they were during the OM System days to march to a different drumbeat. Back then, they were significantly more inventive and through its technological leadership, the company was strident enough create a series of SLR cameras that looked sufficiently different to others. As it is the silhouettes of the OM-1 or OM-2 remain unique and instantly recognisable even today. And you can say the same for the OM-3 and OM-4.
While the E-1, E-300 and E-330 were certainly different enough, Olympus was no longer impacting the market from a dominant position, weakened by the fact that they had left this segment for close to a decade. Despite its OM reputation, the market of the new Millennium comprises users and customers born in a different era who are less likely to be familiar with Olympus’ past prowess and reputation.
Humbled by the failure of the market to accept its originality, Olympus returned to the classic configuration signalled by the second-generation E-series range of cameras beginning with the E-400 sold exclusively in Europe. Today, every single E-series model takes on the familiar T-configuration form factor that is far more conservative than the E-1. And as for the Pen-F inspired designs of the E-300/330, it remains to be seen whether or not Olympus will one day revive its position as the world’s most original camera designer. The E-30 is a design step in strict concordance with the copybook DSLR design concept.
7.3 Accessory systemisation
In the era of the OM System, Yoshihisa Maitani’s vision was to see to it that economics and rationalisation go hand in hand in designing accessories that could be shared as far and wide as possible amongst as many camera models as possible. To that end, his achievement has been nothing short of remarkable. From motordrives and auto winders to filmbacks and quartzdata backs to focusing screens, interchangeable hotshoes and countless others, everything fitted like a glove. In other words the same motordrive that couples to the OM-1 would operate like clockwork with the OM-4 released twelve years later. The T32 flash released in 1976 is just as functional on the OM-2S Program launched a decade thereafter.
Other than the lenses and flash units, the only redeeming sign of some form of system rationalisation today is the sharing of the same BLM-1 lithium battery and the HLD-4 battery grip but even then, it’s tenuous. After all the 400-series DSLRs use the slimmer BLS-1 and the HLD-4 is only compatible with the E-3 and E-30. And when the next-generation DSLR models arrive the chances of the HLD-4 surviving are scant at best.
The prospects for commonalising accessories to fit across the whole E-series camera range will have to wait a little longer and until then, there is nothing in the horizon. The E-30 carries with it the burden of not being a camera in the true spirit of what Olympus has long been to those who know and endear themselves to. And so aficionados of all things Olympus are made to wait longer again.
7.4 Breadth of accessory support
“From the micro to the cosmos,” that’s what Maitani used to say very often when describing the breadth and depth of the OM System accessories that support the film cameras then. In other words, you can truly modularise an OM camera to do what you want it to. In a world so far removed from today’s, the OM System represented the market’s most far-reaching and visionary because it had everything to cover anything be it astrophotography, micrography, microphotography, macrophotography, reprography and dental photography and beyond.
With close to a thousand different accessories on tap, the OM System far eclipses anything that the E-System has to currently offer and even in the next ten years, it’s not likely to draw much closer. Today’s E-System just cannot compare. Other than the enviable range of high-quality lenses and formidable flash units, the E-System essentially revolves around minor accessories like batteries and battery chargers, cords and cables, remote controllers, camera cases and bags, carrying straps and underwater accessories. The ominous difference between it and the OM System is simply too gaping to fulfil even for the most imaginative and optimistic.
1972 to 1992
OM-2..OM-2n..OM2S Program (2SP)
2002 to 2009
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