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Olympus E-330 Digital SLR Review

Olympus E-330 Digital SLR Review - Olympus E-330 Digital SLR Review

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Olympus E-330
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Olympus have proved they are not scared of striding out on their own, with the conception of their FourThirds digital camera system. The Olympus E-330 sports another SLR first, real-time live-view on the LCD screen. Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at whether this is a truly valuable addition, or just a throw-away gimmick.

SpecificationsOlympus E-330
  • World’s first live-view digital SLR
  • 7.5 million pixels Live MOS sensor.
  • Multi-angle 6.4cm/2.5” HyperCrystal LCD (215,250 pixels).
  • Supersonic Wave Filter for dust protection.
  • TTL Optical Porro Finder design.
  • Single AF, continuous AF and manual focusing, plus S-AF+MF and C-AF+MF
  • 49 area AE sensor.
  • ESP, centre-weighted average and spot exposure metering, plus high light basis and shadow light basis spot metering.
  • Shutter speed range of  1/4000 to 60 seconds
Build and handling
The Olympus E-330 certainly isn't the smallest digital SLR available. For me it's just right, big enough for my hand to fit comfortably around the soft rubberised grip, yet small and light enough to be carried around all day without breaking your shoulder. Despite being lightweight, it feels solidly put together, the liberal use of soft rubber grips on the body add to this solid feeling.

Display screens and viewfinder
Olympus E-330 On the rear of the camera is the large 2.5inch live-view screen. A gentle pull releases the screen from the back of the camera allowing it to be angled through roughly 120º. This makes it useful as a waist-level finder or for any other scenario where using the built in optical view finder is difficult. The live-view system has two modes:
  • A - Uses a separate CCD dedicated to providing a live-view image. In this mode the camera behaves much like a prosumer compact digital camera except for the fact you can change lenses. Full autofocus capability is retained, the AF markers from the optical viewfinder are replicated on the screen.
  • B- Uses the imaging CCD to provide a live image. This mode locks the shutter open to expose the CCD in the camera, and as a result, all autofocus function is lost.
The live-view image is clearer in mode B than in mode A, but not by much. When taking pictures I rarely used mode B. One final point I must make about the screen is about how shiny it is, so shiny, in fact, that on sunny days all I could see in the screen was my face! Some kind of anti-reflective screen type would have been welcome here, at least with this camera there is always a high quality through-the-lens optical viewfinder too.
Located to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece is a lever to close the built-in viewfinder blind, a feature normally only included on high-end professional SLRs. Olympus have had to include this to prevent light entering through the viewfinder, affecting metering and display performance, when using the live-view screen.

The optical finder on the Olympus E-330 is small, as it is on many entry-level SLRs, the squarer FourThirds format adds to the illusion of a small viewfinder. The viewfinder is bright and clear enough to easily confirm focus.

Menu and controls
Olympus E-330 Exposure modes are selected with the dial on top of the camera, where you have a choice of automatic scene modes such as, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport, Night Portrait and the Scene Menu. In the Scene Menu you can choose from up to 20 different pre-set scene modes covering virtually every eventuality. All these automatic features make this camera ideal for a beginner who may just be getting to grips with photography. If, on the other hand, you wish to take full control of exposure, focusing modes, and white balance then the usual manual modes are available including shutter-priority and aperture-priority.

The menu system is separated into two sections for photographic settings, one section for playback and two sections for camera settings. The two photographic menus contain options such as the picture mode setting, which allows you to influence colour saturation and tone, exposure compensation, noise reduction, white balance, ISO sensitivity, and metering modes. Many of these functions can be quickly accessed by pressing the directional buttons on the back of the camera whilst shooting, saving you from having to dip into the menu each time you wish to change one of these settings. In the two camera settings sections of the menu you can access controls over many advanced functions such as flash exposure compensation, ISO Boost and whether exposure is controlled in half or third exposure-value steps.

Located just above the large flip-out LCD screen is the display control. This gives you control over whether you wish to use live mode A or B or if you wish live-view to be on at all. When live-view is disabled the screen on the back is used to display exposure information. My primary concern with this is the amount of battery power this must use when compared to a standard monochrome LCD display.

Battery life
Even with the large LCD screen on the back, the Olympus E-330's BLM-1 lithium-ion battery seems to keep on going. I never once had the battery run out on me during my time with the camera. I took over 400 shots with the camera, mostly with the live-view screen enabled, and without flash.
As a last resort, three CR123A batteries can be used to provide power when using the optional LBH-1 adapter.
Olympus E-330

Lens system

The Olympus E-330 uses FourThirds mount lenses which are currently available from Olympus and Sigma. The FourThirds system was established as a common standard for interchangeable lens digital SLR cameras, by Olympus and Kodak in September 2002. Since then only Olympus have produced a FourThirds camera but, the system is supported by other manufacturers who may release products of their own. By changing their lens system, the old OM-series lenses that fit Olympus film SLRs cannot be used with this camera.

The FourThirds sensor has a crop factor of 2x, to calculate the equivalent angle-of-view of a lens on a 35mm camera, you simply double the focal length. For example, a 50mm lens on a FourThirds camera, gives the equivalent angle-of-view of a 100mm lens, on a 35mm camera.
Olympus E-330

Flash system

A small pop-up flash is built into the Olympus E-330 which, is useful for fill-in in daylight or as a last resort when lighting levels drop. Flash exposure compensation can be accessed through the menu, and a range of +/- two stops can be selected. This is good for a camera of this level.
Olympus currently offer three compatible flashguns that are compatible with all their E-series cameras. These range from the diminutive FL-20 flashgun, (RRP £253.50) a compact flashgun with a guide number of 20 to the larger FL-50 (RRP 297.86). These flashguns simply attach to the camera's hot-shoe
connection and will provide fully automatic TTL operation.
The camera doesn't have a PC sych socket for use with studio flash. Adaptors are available that attach to the camera's hot-shoe.
Olympus E-330
A white wall shot using the on-board flash at 14mm, adjusted in levels to illustrate flash coverage. As you can see there is quite a lot of falloff in the bottom corners.

Memory card
Both Compact Flash and xD cards are supported by the Olympus E-330. This is quite a handy feature if you happen to have a compact camera that also takes xD cards.

Shooting
Shooting with the Olympus E-330 is certainly a unique experience. Using the screen on the back can be handy for shots where you couldn't normally see through the optical viewfinder, for example, low-angle shots. I also found it useful for getting shots in places where I couldn't physically get my eye to the viewfinder. Care does have to be taken to ensure a sharp shot, especially when not using a camera support.

The E-330 has only three manually selectable autofocus points, centre, left and right. Most cameras of this price now have five or more which allows for greater creative composition. What baffled me the most was that you have to enter the menu to select one of these focusing points, it can take up to 10 button presses to select your desired point of focus. Autofocus area selection can also be set to automatic, leaving you to concentrate on composing your shot.
Olympus E-330
A low-angle shot taken a couple of inches from the water's surface. Taking a shot like this with a conventional camera would either involve guesswork, or a very wet photographer!

A comprehensive set of metering modes are selectable via the quick access button on the back of the camera. ESP multi-pattern metering, centre-weighted and spot can be chosen within a couple of button presses. The ESP multi-pattern metering performed well, tending to error on the side of over exposure with difficult subjects. Although this can lead to lost detail in the image highlights, it will provide a better image for printing straight from the camera. Strongly backlit subjects are also well exposed in this mode.

Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
Using the ESP metering mode led to a slightly overexposed image with clipped highlights. Reducing the exposure by two-thirds of a stop using exposure compensation gave a more balanced exposure on this occasion.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted within a range of +/- five stops, this is a much larger range than is provided by competing cameras.

Image Quality
All images for this review were taken at maximum resolution using the SHQ JPEG compression setting, and using the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-45mm lens which is bundled as standard. There are several different compression levels and resolution settings including RAW to choose from allowing you to select the setting most appropriate for your needs.

Images display excellent edge-to-edge sharpness which can be attributed in part to the quality of the kit lens included with the camera.

Colour reproduction is accurate when using default settings, there is a vivid colour option which provides a bit of extra punch, especially with red and greens.

Olympus E-330
The combination of the bundled lens with the E-330 produce detailed images that are sharp right to the edges.
Olympus E-330
Reds and greens are emphasized when the camera is set to the vivid colour mode.

The auto white-balance performs well outdoors in natural light, but when used indoors under incandescent or fluorescent lighting, images retain a strong orange cast often needing extra correction in Photoshop afterwards.

Digital noise
The following series of images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting and how it affects image detail.
Each square is cropped from the full image to the right. The left column of images are cropped from the area marked with the blue square on the image. The column to the right contains images cropped from the area marked by the red square on the picture, these illustrate how each ISO setting affects the detail and sharpness of the image.
Olympus E-330

ISO100 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO200 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO400 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO800 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO1600 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
The crops show that Olympus have been quite conservative in their use of noise reduction at higher ISO settings. Both ISO100 and ISO200 produce very clean looking images, then there's a steady increase in noise levels up until ISO1600 where there is a dramatic increase in the amount of noise present.

Compared to the Canon EOS 350D
Using 100% crops from images taken of the same scene with both cameras, this series provides a point of comparison between noise levels apparent in images produced by these similarly priced cameras.

  Olympus E-330 Canon EOS 350D
ISO100 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO200 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO400 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO800 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
ISO1600 Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
     
Images from the Canon EOS 350D display much less noise at higher ISO settings than the Olympus E-330. This could be attributed to two factors. The Canon appears to use more aggressive noise reduction than the Olympus, resulting in a loss of edge definition. Also the smaller sensor employed in the Olympus E-330 means that there is less of a light sensitive area, which creates a lower signal that needs more amplification for a given ISO sensitivity.

Detail comparison
Again comparing the Olympus E-330 to the Canon EOS 350D, both shots were taken of the same scene using a tripod and self-timer to release the shutter. Both images are crops from the centre of a full resolution image, displayed at 100%.

Olympus E-330 Olympus E-330
Olympus E-330 set at ISO100 using the Zuiko 14-45mm lens set at 14mm and f/16 Canon EOS 350D set at ISO100 using the 18-55mm EF-S lens set at 18mm and f/16

Looking at the images side-by-side like this, perfectly illustrates the quality of the kit lens bundled with the Olympus. The Canon image can be redeemed with extra sharpening in Photoshop, but this still does not retrieve all of the detail lost by the EF-S kit lens.

Verdict
It isn't simple trying to decide exactly how I feel about the Olympus E-330. It is a well built camera, capable of delivering very high quality images in good light. The live-view display is a useful addition but, with concentrating on this new technology it seems Olympus have neglected to update other features of the camera, like the autofocus system. It just seems archaic when compared to the multipoint AF arrays in cameras like the Canon EOS 350D and the Nikon D50.

Negative points aside, the quality of the images produced at the lower ISO settings is very good, contrasty and sharp right to the edges and this alone makes the Olympus E-330 worthy of consideration for photographers looking to buy a camera suitable for most general photography tasks.

In summary the positive points of the Olympus E-330 are:
Olympus E-330Excellent image quality at up to ISO400
Olympus E-330Innovative live-view screen
Olympus E-330Quality of the bundled kit lens
Olympus E-330Build quality and design

The negative points:
Olympus E-330Archaic three-point autofocus system. Having to open the menu each time you want to manually select a focus point is a real chore
Olympus E-330Images at ISO1600 are noisier than images from competing cameras
Olympus E-330Reflective screen cover can make it difficult to see in bright light

Click here to see photos taken with this camer by ePHOTOzine members

The Olympus E-330 is available to buy from the ePHOTOzine shop

Discuss this review and other digital SLRs here.

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