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Our Olympus E-300 review and ESP exposure findings

Last month we reviewed the Pentax *ist Ds, the first SLR to use the pentaprism viewfinder. The Olympus E-300 is the first modern SLR to abandon this concept, and although it looks radically different from other digital SLRs, the E-300 is an excellent photographic tool with comfortable handling, nice controls and superb built quality. Have a look at our experiences in the Olympus E-300 review (or see our Dutch Olympus E-300 test) and read all about our Olympus E-300 metering findings...
Make sure to read our update: Our Olympus E-300 ESP exposure findings revisited

Our Olympus E-300 metering findings

Regarding the exposure problem mentioned in our review, we did some further testing and it appeared as if ESP or centre-weighted metering were not functioning correctly and only spot metering was applied - independent of the metering mode selected. This assumption was further fed by the fact that a slight shift in camera position resulted in completely different exposure values, which is correct when using spot metering as only the small circle in the centre of the viewfinder is used to determine correct exposure, thereby excluding all other image areas. We were not sure if this was a flaw of our test camera, but a second camera that was delivered to us the following week exhibited exactly the same problem.

Below you'll see the Olympus E-300 test shots, with a lens cap in the center of the image, in spot, center weighted and ESP mode. To view or download the original JPEG image (1.2 megabyte !), click the thumbnail image. For comparison, we've added similar test shots with the Olympus C-5060 and the Nikon D70. For a complete set of our test shots, showing a remarkable improvement when the lens cap is moved off-center, click here.

Olympus E-300 Spot metering

Olympus E-300 Center Weighted metering

Olympus E-300 ESP metering

Olympus C-5060 Spot metering

Olympus C-5060 Center Weighted metering

Olympus C-5060 ESP metering

Nikon D70 Spot metering

Nikon D70 Center Weighted metering

Nikon D70 Multi Pattern metering

In trying to get a better understanding of the Olympus Digital ESP metering concept, we checked the User Manual and the available resources on the Internet. However, rather than finding the answers, our level of confusion rose even more. Here's what the User Manual states:

There are 3 ways of measuring the subject brightness: Digital ESP metering, Center weighted averaging metering and spot metering. Select the most suitable mode depending on the shooting condition.

Digital ESP (Electro Selective Pattern) metering:
The camera meters and calculates the light levels or light level differences in the center and other areas of the image separately. Recommended for shooting under conditions where there is high contrast between the center of the screen and the area around it, such as when shooting backlit subjects or under excessively bright light.

Center weighted averaging metering:

This metering mode provides the average metering between the subject and the background lighting, placing more weight on the subject at the center. Use this mode when you do not want the light level of background to affect the exposure value.

Spot metering:

The camera meters a very small area around the center of the subject, defined by the spot metering area mark in the viewfinder. Use this mode for intensively backlit subjects, etc.

Our quest for information on the E-series Digital ESP metering system on the Internet revealed the following explanations:

From the Australian Olympus website:
Olympus 's Digital ESP light metering system uses a unique calculation to set the appropriate exposure

From the Olympus E-1 specifications:

Light Metering System: TTL full-aperture light metering by 3-zone multi-pattern sensing system, Light Metering Modes: ESP, Center-weighted average (6%), Spot (2%)

The most intriguing explanation we found in the European Olympus-Pro FAQs:

Q: What does the "ESP" mean in the "digital ESP light metering"?
A: It means Electro Selective Pattern, which is to say that a scene of dark and bright areas in the image is compared to a database of possible image patterns for selecting the best matching exposure.

We do not know whether this behavior is typical for the E-series (we did not notice this in our review of the Olympus E-1), but it seems a problem that needs closer examination. We expect that Olympus will look into this and that this is not a design characteristic of the E-300

Additional information: Click here to read our Olympus E-300 review
February 10, 2005
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