Olympus’ new PT-E03 for the E-410 camera
A low cost quality housing
On March 5th, 2007 Olympus announced an upgraded and improved version of the E-400 digital SLR which had been unveiled at Photokina in 2006. Three months later Olympus released the smallest and lightest ten megapixel camera to date. A new Zuiko digital 14-42 mm F3.5-5.6 was also released with the camera to replace the 14 to 45 mm “kit” lens that had been released with the E-300, E-500, E-330 and E-400.
The camera provides a new full time live-view which is an improvement over the E-330 live-view, a new TruePic III processor which delivers, faster, better image quality and better noise reduction. The camera is designed to compete with the Canon 400D (Rebel XTi) and the Nikon 40D and has matched those cameras in overall quality. The 14-42mm zoom surpasses both the Nikon and Canon 18-55 mm F3.5-5.6 lenses in subjective image quality. Since this lens can focus to 10 inches throughout the entire range it is well suited for underwater work. A full review of the camera can be found DPReview, and a review of the lens can be found here.
The PT-E03 is the third Digital SLR housing from Olympus. The first two, PT-E01 and PT-E02 (designed for the E-330 & E-330 cameras) are rated to a 60 meter maximum depth. The PT-E03 it designed more like the long line of Digicam housings Olympus has released for many years in the past. The housing is rated for 40 meters, the maximum depth for advanced sport diving rather than to the deeper rating of the previous DSLR housings. It is clear that Olympus target market for this camera/housing is the entry level and advanced sport diver of all photo skill levels. Like the Digicam housings the PT-E03 is high grade polycarbonate and hinged on one side with two locking points on the other. The rear cover and main housing body both have O-rings, adding to the water tight integrity of the housing.
All of the controls on the rear and top of the camera have individual controls except for the pop-up flash and frame rate which are controlled through the main menu. Live-view is activated by a single control and can be used in auto focus or manual. The LCD gives a 100% view of the area being captured in both AF and manual when using live-view. Because the LCD image comes from the main sensor the optical view finder in the E-410 is noticeable brighter than the E-330 which has the second sensor in the view finder. The housing also has a high quality pickup finder which allows a full view of both the image being recorded and the information provided in the view finder. I prefer to display the information on the LCD screen because it is larger and more information is provided.
PT-E03 hinged rear cover
The PT-E03 retains the same threaded metal port mounting ring as the two previous DSLR housings. All of the original ports can be used with the new housing and a fifth port, PPO-E05 has been added to accommodate the new 14-42 mm zoom or the old 14-45 zoom. The port includes a 58 mm shading ring which attaches to the front of the lens and reduces unwanted light reflections off the glass port. All of the Olympus ports are threaded metal ports with coated optical glass elements. Once the ports are threaded into place on the front of the housing nothing is going to dislodge them as has been the case with some other port arrangements. The bottom of the housing has a metal plate held in place by ten screws, five standard threaded holes allow a verity of trays and other accessories to be mounted.
The top of the housing has a standard shoe mouth which also allows the mounting of focusing lights, strobes and other items. The housing is designed so that the cameras pop-up flash can be raised inside the housing. This allows the use of fiber optic cable to fire one or more underwater strobes mounted to the housing. At this time the Inon Z-240, D-2000, Sea & Sea YS-110 and the Olympus UFL-1 will all work in TTL with the PT-E03 and fiber optics. Other strobes can also be fired in manual using fiber optics. The housing also has the Olympus bulkhead which can be used with the Olympus housed land flash in TTL or with a TTL synchro converter and the Nikonos type five pin wired cable. The Athena synchro converter costs around $375.00 and will allow TTL with the Inon z-240 & Z-220 strobes and the Sea & Sea YS-110, Ys-30, 30II, YS-90 auto and YS-120 strobes.
50mm macro 1.4X teleconverter, F-18 at 1/125th
For the traveling photographer you will find this housing to be one of the smallest for a DSLR and very light weight. Camera body and housing are a mere 1605 grams, ( 3.53 Lbs.) without ports or lenses.
In addition to the strobe options there are now thirteen ports from fisheye and super domes to super macro being introduced by four different manufacturers to cover the wide range of lenses suited for Underwater photography with the Olympus DSRL housings. Trays, grips, mounting rings, strobe arms and a ring flash are also available.
I have owned the prior PT-E01 & PT-E02 housings and have found that the cost to performance ratio was very high. This new housing is no exception. The housing and PPO-E05 port are selling in the U.S. in a range between $1050.00 to $1150.00 with the E-410 and 14-42 kit zoom selling in the $700.00 range. This is a complete entry level housing system and camera for under $2000.00. Even adding a strobe and arm system the price would be less than many housings for similar types of cameras. Adding wide zooms, fisheye and macro lenses plus ports can of course cause a significant rise in cost. With that in mind I have attached several images taken with the 14-42 mm “kit” lens to give new buyers a chance to see what kind of results they might expect with an entry level Olympus housing kit.
14-42 mm zoom at 14 mm, f-8 at 1/50th
I found the system to be very light in and out of the water. With the Athena macro port and extension ring, Athena ring flash, 50 mm macro lens, 1.4X tele converter and a Fisheye fix light HG20DX with no arms or tray the system was only about 85 grams ( 3 oz.) negative in saltwater. With the 14-42 mm zoom, Olympus port, four six inch ULCS arms sections and two Inon Z-220 strobes I was able to control the system all day with one hand and a great amount of balance.
14-42 mm zoom at 14 mm, f6.3 at 1/60th
I would liked to have seen larger latches on the housing, they are the same as on digicam housings that are half as large. However they seem to work fine and after thousands of Olympus digicam housings produced and tens of thousands of dives made they seem to hold up. I would also like to see a firmware upgrade which would add “dial” to the menu. This function allows you to switch between shutter speed and Aperture on the main function wheel and is included on the E-330 and E-510. Now you can move shutter speed with the main wheel but to move aperture you must depress the exposure compensation button and turn the main wheel. I found this very easy to do while diving at home in ward water but I am not so sure it will be as easy in my dry suit gloves. The “dial” setting in the menu allows you to reverse these functions so that the aperture can be moved with just the main wheel. Since I change F-stop a lot more than shutter speed this would be a welcome upgrade.
14-42 mm zoom at 42 mm, F/5.6 at 1/60th
In the water I found auto focus had improved noticeable over past models in low light both in horizontal and vertical with the simple three focus point system. With the 50 mm and 1.4X tele converter I was able to lock on to moving subjects more quickly than with past models even with the F3.5-5.6 lens.
14-42 mm zoom at 42 mm, F-22 at 1/180th
Regarding live-view I think it is a great tool for stationary or slow moving subjects. However I still prefer the optical view finder for critical focus, even though it is smaller than some other DSLRs it is very bright and due to the 4/3 format of the camera it is easy to see all four corners of the image at all times.
14-42 mm zoom at 42 mm, F-22 at 1/180th
If you are looking for a system that can provide high quality images at a bargin price the PT-E03 & E-410 may be just what you are looking for.