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Olympus iS-3000 (Pic: Bill Watts)
The is-3000, one of Olympus’s pioneering bridge camera designs (All pics: Bill Watts)

By Bill Watts

Part of a range of nine different models produced starting in 1990 with the iS-1000, this camera was introduced in 1992. The last cameras in the iS range were produced in 1999. Like the OM series of cameras they were supplied in amateur and prosumer versions, those with a two or three digit number (iS 10, 100, 100S, 200, 300) were aimed at the amateur market whilst the 4-digit models (iS-1000, 2000, 3000 and 5000) were more advanced.

These were “bridging” cameras introduced as the OM series of cameras were being phased out of production, and before digital cameras became a viable consumer-level product. The iS-3000 was superseded by an iS-5000, but the iS-3000 probably represents the most sophisticated model of the whole range.

At the time a number of the camera majors tried their hand at making bridge cameras but only Olympus had any real success.

They were marketed in the US as iS-1, 2 and 3 DLX and in Japan as L1, L2 and L3 and there were “Quartz Date” versions signified by a final QD in the product number.

A reasonable range of accessories was available, although the lens accessories were specific to this model as it does not share the same sized front lens thread with its siblings.

This camera retailed for around $470 to $540 in 1993/4 (data taken from Popular Photography magazine Dec 94) The Olympus OM-4Ti was retailing at the same time for around $650. In today’s money that would be around $1040 and $1228 respectively (£770 to £908). This places the camera in the market above the point-and-shoot models and below the professional cameras, and at a price point, allowing for inflation, close to similarly specified cameras today.

From the Popular Photography magazine I was able to assemble the retail prices for the camera and accessories, set out below.

Item Cost in

1993 $

Equivalent in

2021 in $

Equivalent in

2021 in euro

Olympus iS-3000 $549.95 $1,039.41 € 883.00
IS/L Lens B-28 H.Q. Converter 0.8x $89.95 $170.01 € 144.42
IS/L Lens B-300 H.Q. Converter 1.7x $89.95 $170.01 € 144.42
IS/L Lens B-Macro H.Q. Converter $69.95 $132.21 € 112.31
Circular polariser $29.95 $56.61 € 48.09
G-40 dedicated flash $209.99 $396.88 € 337.16
IS/L multi synchro adapter $184.95 $349.56 € 296.96
IS/L Panorama adapter $24.95 $47.16 € 40.06
RC 100 remote release $19.95 $37.71 € 32.03
IS/L Grip strap B $34.95 $66.06 € 56.12
IS/L Adjustable dioptre eyepiece $24.50 $46.31 € 39.34
IS-3000 Action case B $39.95 $75.51 € 64.14

 

There is very little data available regarding these cameras. They seem to be the “withered arm” of Olympus optical products. Produced for a short time, only there are no support groups for these cameras and they seem to have been largely forgotten.

I heard about this range of cameras and did a little digging. Of the little information available all the reviews both by professional and amateur reviewers said much the same thing: “very good performance and built solidly.” So I tracked one down on eBay.

I paid €82 for the camera, a soft case, a G40 dedicated flash, the B-28 wide angle converter and the B-300 teleconverter attachments. That represents about all the major accessories available for the camera! Other accessories included a remote infrared release, RC-100, a close up macro lens converter, B-Macro enabling 1:1 reproduction,  grip strap B, variable dioptre eyepieces and a panorama mask.

As an example an Olympus Mju-I usually sells, second hand today, for about €150-170, and the, some would say, more desirable Mju-II for around the €200 mark. Both are excellent point-and -hoot cameras with a fixed lens, auto focus, auto loading, auto winding and programmed auto exposure. I have a Mju-I I bought, brand new, in 1991 and it just works brilliantly!

But when it came to the iS-3000, what did I get for my money?

A 35mm bridge camera with auto loading, auto wind, auto focus, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual, night time, portrait and landscape exposure modes. Macro mode. Spot, centre-weighted and ESP metering, in a plastic body (more of that in a moment) capable of single shot or up to 2.5 frames per second continuous shooting. Pretty good so far.

The lens is not interchangeable but zooms from 35mm to 180mm and, with the converters, it can reach from 28mm to 300mm. The maximum aperture is not too hot, only f4.5, but the ergonomics of the body allow hand-held pictures to be taken at 1/30second at 180mm if you are careful.

The lens is quite special. Olympus designed the camera around the lens. It has 16 elements, one of which is an Enhanced Dispersion element and the lens is tack-sharp and contrasty. It gives my Zuiko primes a run for their money at any focal length between 35mm and 180mm, and even with the converters attached it is still more than acceptable.

The body is plastic, but very nicely moulded in polycarbonate with glass fibre reinforcement, and the controls have been placed where your fingers naturally fall. A lot of attention went into the ergonomics. The plastic body belies its weight. It clocks about 1.1kg when loaded with film and batteries. It is comfortable to hold and carry at that weight and nicely balanced. It feels the business, unlike the plastic EOS cameras around at the time.

There is a huge digital display on the rear of the camera. It shows the current frame number, winder status, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, flash and camera mode. It is used in conjunction with the buttons on the back to make adjustments to the camera functions. Some people have wrongly assumed that this was a digital camera on seeing the data display.

Olympus G40 flash (Pic: Bill Watts)
The camera’s dedicated G40 flashgun

The G40 flash deserves a mention. It is the only flash which will work with the iS series cameras (and only ton hose fitted with a hotshoe) as the shoe is of a proprietary design with no centre pin and multi-functional connections. The flash has automatic and manual modes, with exposure being controlled in the automatic mode by the camera similar to the OM series cameras. Additionally it has tele and wide-angle modes which alter the distribution of light from the flash head by moving the reflector nearer to or further from the tube, this is controlled automatically by the camera depending on the focal length the lens is set to. The camera can operate the flash in first or second curtain mode, and a switch provides a setting for use with the telephoto or wide-angle converters. With a guide number of 40 it is a fairly powerful unit.

The supplied storage pouch has a neat feature that I have not seen anywhere else, even on Olympus’ current offerings, a small, fitted pocket in which to keep the plastic hotshoe cover when the flash is on the camera to prevent its loss.

Olympus iS-3000 case
The case includes a special holder for the hotshoe cap

Both the on-camera flash and the G40 flash are fitted with focus-assist lights which considerably improve focusing speed in low-light conditions.

The camera was not fitted with a PC connector for an external flash, however an adaptor was produced that fitted in the hotshoe and had a normal PC socket on the top instead of a flash, allowing a non-dedicated flash to be used with the camera. It was called the iS/L Multi Flash Synchro Module and did not appear in any documentation as it was added to the range only late in its production run. The adapter allowed the selection of first and second-curtain operation, as for the G40 flash, but had no other functionality. It would, however allow the camera to be used to trigger studio flashes or other non-dedicated auto or manual flash units.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a big Olympus fan, I still have my first new camera, an OM-1, which was my 18th-birthday present from my dad, and all the others I bought in between right up to a pair of OM-4Tis. In terms of ease of use, output quality and, in almost all cases, ability this is just as good as any of the OM cameras. The OM cameras have the edge on versatility, however.

There are some irritations, of course, but they are minor:

  • ISO setting is by DX code on the cassette and cannot be entered manually, however there is a + and – 4 stop compensation adjustment in 1/3 stop steps. DX-coded labels are available to recode film cassettes if you need them.
  • There is no readout of the actual focal length in use apart from numbers on the lens barrel.
  • In auto focus, the shutter will not operate unless the camera has confirmed the lens is in focus, even in continuous shooting mode.
  • The hot shoe is of proprietary design, having no centre pin and a foot with different dimensions to a standard flash bracket. ONLY the dedicated G40 flash will work with this camera.
  • The digital displays in the viewfinder are hard to see in anything but dull conditions.
  • The remote release is infrared and has to be in line with the receiver on the camera for reliable operation. Not too bad when in front of the camera, but the reception on the rear of the camera is hampered by the shape of the body and relative position to the camera is particularly critical.

The photos below were taken on Ilford FP4 Plus film (gotta love FP4) exposed at box speed, ISO 125, and processed in Kodak HC110 dilution B. These are all unretouched, direct scans from the negs originally in 4800dpi TIFF format.

On the day of the test shoot, the weather conditions were bright and sunny with a cloudless blue sky.

The camera didn’t miss a shot, the negs all had a good tonal range and density except for one or two slightly under par when a lot of sky was in the picture with the camera in program mode. I shot using both aperture priority and program modes and both worked flawlessly.

All the photos are unretouched, and were scanned on a flatbed Epson V600 scanner at 4800dpi in 48-bit colour TIFF format. They were then converted to JPEG in Affinity Photo.

The camera has, in my opinion, dealt with the exposure conditions well. I used a mixture of program and aperture priority taking the black and white photos. The negative density was excellent after processing.

Now some photographs taken on Fujichrome Provia 100F – more demanding of exposure accuracy than black-and-white film. These were self-processed in the Tetenal E-6 3 bath kit.

Another day with clear blues skies:

These photos on Fujichrome Provia show that the exposure system is working pretty much spot on. Slide film has less latitude than negative films. These seem to be just about perfectly exposed – the proprietary Olympus ESP metering was used in all the exposures of all the films. The colours seem true with little, if any, drift and required no correction

Here are some taken on Kodak Ektar 100:

Although not as saturated as the Provia photos these show good colour rendition and exposure control. Colour could be a little punchier. Ektar 100 is extremely fine grain, almost as good as transparency film and certainly better than the FP4 – which, it has to be said, is still pretty good. This was processed in a Fuji Frontier.

Now for some shot on Fujicolor C200:

Good colour rendition and fine grain structure in the photos shot on Fujicolor C200. The grain is not as fine as the Ektar but still unobtrusive, bearing in mind this film is a faster 200-ISO film. Again, this was processed in a Fuji Frontier.

All of the photos show very little chromatic aberration and are evenly exposed across the whole frame. Edge-to-edge sharpness is also very good at any focal length. The only time I could get any vignetting to occur was if I zoomed all the way out to the 180mm focal length with the wide-angle adapter attached, and even then it was only minimal.

The wide and tele adapters were specially made for this camera, they were carefully constructed to work with the lens of the camera, something they do well. There is only a slight, hardly noticeable, drop in sharpness and no discernible chromatic aberration when they are attached and used as instructed. They have no effect on aperture unlike converters which are fitted behind the lens. The B 300 teleconverter has the same magnification as the Olympus TCON 17, they look identical apart from the markings but may have different optics.

The Olympus iS/L Lens B-Macro converter has a focal length of 40mm, a magnification of 2.5 dioptres and was made especially for the iS-3000. Consisting of three achromatic elements it gives a much better image rendition than the previous close-up lens produced by Olympus for the OM Zuiko lenses. It comes supplied with a clip-on diffuser to prevent shadowing of the image when using the built-in flash of the camera in macro shots. The external flash cannot be used for macro work as it is “off axis” with respect to the lens.

So far I have managed to acquire the camera and all the accessories except for:

  • IS/L multi synchro adapter
  • IS/L Panorama adapter
  • IS/L Grip strap B

These are proving difficult to find. The total cost so far €120!

Judge for yourself, but in my opinion, these are very underrated cameras and consequently very good value for money.

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David Usher
18 days ago

Looking for a sub £5 camera on eBay I acquired an IS-500. I subsequently bought an IS-500 for under £10. Really I should say they are crap so they remain out there at those prices. I will be honest. They are great cameras within their limitations. I have had a mu-II from new and the lens quality of the IS-500 is much the same, except it is a 28-120 zoom. Check my website for an unscientific personal comparison. They seem to be sleepers that no one, currently, wants and this will change. In fully automatic mode it is the same… Read more »

Stephen Dowling
18 days ago
Reply to  David Usher

I had an Olympus IS when I moved from NZ to the UK in 1994. It took fantastic pictures. I think my mate I sold it to is still using it!

William Watts
William Watts
18 days ago

To a degree I think it is a case of horses for courses. the 2 and 3 digit versions were not as good as the 4 digit models and the 3000 was probably the most versatile of the lot. and is capable of full manual operation. The lens, certainly on mine is excellent as can be seen from the images in the piece. The photos were mainly shot in aperture priority mode – similar to using an OM-2, admittedly it is more of a chore to set the aperture than on an OM camera but it works on exactly thee… Read more »

Paul Bines
Paul Bines
18 days ago

I have an is-3000 and love it! It’s my go-to camera if I want to use fast film (1600+) as it handles low light well and focuses brilliantly. It is a little bulkier than most cameras, and for street photography, I tend to use either the Trip, LT-1, or the XA/XA2 (are you detecting a pattern here?) but if you don’t mind being obvious about taking a picture, this is the bunny for you. Alas, I don’t have any of the accessories (apart from the sports bag), but I do look out for them from time to time. I got… Read more »