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Olympus EVOLT E-300 Digital SLR Review

Olympus EVOLT E-300 Digital SLR Review - We take a look at how this camera shapes up. Having been designed from the ground up as a digital SLR, with no concessions to the old 35mm format, how different is it?

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Olympus EVOLT E-300
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Following on from their first four-thirds camera, the E1, Olympus have launched the first 4/3 format contender in the budget DSLR market. Pitched against the likes of the Canon 300 / 350D and Nikon’s D70, we take a look at how this camera shapes up. Having been designed from the ground up as a digital SLR, with no concessions to the old 35mm format, how different is it?

Features

  • 8 megapixel FFT-CCD
  • Exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter eliminates dust and debris from the CCD for clear results
  • Compatible with the full line of Zuiko Digital Specific Lenses
  • TruePic TURBO Image Processor for increased speed and smoother image results
  • Newly-designed "flat top" body for increased portability
  • Side swing mirror box
  • TTL Optical Porro Viewfinder
  • Slide Pop-up Built-in Flash
  • Innovative new HyperCrystal LCD for clear viewing of images up to a 160-degree angle, even in bright conditions
  • Aluminium chassis and top body cover for increased durability
  • Steel reinforced Lens Mount
  • 2.5 fps Burst Mode
  • 64MB internal RAM buffer
  • Quick Metering System
  • 14 easily selectable Scene Modes including Landscape, Night Scene, Fireworks, Sunset, Portrait, Macro, etc.
  • Aperture and Shutter Priority
  • PictBridge compatible so you can directly connect to any PictBridge-enabled printer and print on the spot...no computer necessary
  • Full Speed USB 2.0 (12Mb/s)
  • Olympus Master software for image editing capabilities, image storage and organization options, and more
  • Fast TTL Autofocus system
  • Three Metering systems
  • Simultaneous RAW and JPEG Image Data Recording
  • Contrast, Sharpness and Tone Curve Controls
  • A Choice of Two Colour Space Settings
  • Auto and Custom White Balance
  • Noise Reduction
  • High-Precision Flash Control
  • Histogram Information Display
  • Support for High-Capacity Memory Media
  • Self-timer and Remote Control

Out of the Box
On unpacking the camera (We had the kit version with the Zuiko 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens) the body comes similar in shape to a block of butter with no strange lumps. Also in the box are the lens, along with bayonet hood, a BLM-1 lithium Ion Battery, BCM-2 battery charger, eyepiece cover, strap, USB cable, video cable, Olympus Master CD-ROM, Basic Manual and warranty cards and documentation. The advanced manual is on CD-ROM.

Olympus E-300Handling
On unwrapping the camera you will see that there is a distinct lack of the normal viewfinder prism normally associated with an SLR, but with the exception of the fairly flattish top, all the other bits you would expect are there and it definitely looks like a camera. The front of the rubberised grip has a ridge down it that sits well in the joint of the fingers whilst carrying the camera, but feels a little pronounced when using it. Another rubberised patch sits at the back of the camera for your thumb to rest on and is well placed between the controls. A selection dial sits on the top of the camera, with the on/off switch on the right side in an easily accessible place. Below, behind and partly covered by the selection dial is the single adjustment wheel that again, feels right. Auto Exposure lock and focus point selector buttons sit just below this wheel.

Olympus E-300Below and alongside the thumb pad are located the display, menu, 4-way controller and the OK qualifier buttons. Across the other side of the ‘hyper-Crystal’ display are five further buttons. There is another button on the back of the camera, half way between the viewfinder and the adjustment wheel and this is the release for the novel pop-up flash.
The left side (as you hold the camera) has two rubber ‘doors’ protecting the AC inlet and the video/USB out sockets. Once opened, they seem a little plasticy but do look as though they will do the job. The front of the camera has just the one operating device, and that is the release catch for the lens mount, which is the new four thirds standard. Housed in the back part of the grip is the access door to the Compact Flash card slot with an excellent double push removal button.

Olympus E-300Overall, the controls are well laid out and the icons fairly intuitive. They are also well explained in the manuals, although, if you know a little about what the camera is likely to be able to do, a few minutes playing with the controls will soon have you finding your way around.

The camera is laden with user selectable features including up to 14 scene modes as well as the normal PASM and 23 file quality settings. The built in flash has a useful guide number of 13 and can be set to fill in stages of 1/3 ½ and 1 EV steps up to 2EV.

Picture quality
The 8 mega pixel CCD performs quite well in this camera, although, with a 2x crop factor (35mm equiv) it has a smaller sensor than all of it’s competitors. However, this does have an advantage in the corners of the image where there is less shadowing. This is claimed as one of the big advantages of the four thirds system. The sensor also has a 4:3 aspect ratio compared to the 3:2 of the competition.

Olympus E-300The Zuiko 14-45 f/3.5-5.6 lens supplied is an able performer at the longer end but is let down by the noticeable intrusion of barrel distortion and chromatic aberration at the wide end. Our tests showed that chromatic aberration did start to become noticeable around the peripheries of the frame at wider apertures, but fell close to acceptable limits once closed down a stop or so.

Olympus has incorporated a new, revolutionary dust-reduction technology into all of its E-System cameras that, they claim, virtually eliminates dust and debris from your images forever. We only had the one lens to use on this camera, so it didn’t get changed as often as it might although we did remove it regularly and change it for the body cap as well as leaving the lens off to photograph the novel mirror arrangement.

During the time we had the camera, no dust became visible on the sensor, so we can only report what we found, and that is that the technology seems to work. Only time with the camera will tell, but it certainly saves lots of time having to clone out specks on the picture files that we have found after a very short time with other cameras!

How does it work?
Located between the shutter and the image sensor, Olympus’ exclusive Supersonic Wave FilterTM – a sort of “digital duster” – uses a high-speed vibration that shakes dust and other particles that might settle on the image sensor, causing them to fall away.

Olympus E-300The vibration is unnoticeable to the user and occurs at a rate of 35,000 times per second. This vibration automatically takes place each time the camera is powered up, and can also be manually initiated through the camera’s menu. As these particles descend from the image sensor, they are conveniently caught by an adhesive material where they remain out of harm’s way. What happens when the adhesive strip is saturated, Olympus don’t say.

Verdict
We enjoyed using this rather novel camera once we got used to the offset viewfinder position. The dioptre adjustment was easy to use and the whole menu system was fairly straightforward. The ‘HyperCrystal LCD’ screen was as good as the manufacturers claim, in that it is easy to see from greater angles than normal and seems brighter without glaring. The pre-set modes choose sensible settings for the type of shot selected and the standard PASM settings were straight forward except for the lack of setting information unless you looked through the viewfinder or turned the main LCD on. The only other niggle on this side was the need to go into the menus to turn to manual focus. The triple point autofocus was accurate if slightly limited.
If you are new to digital photography and do not have a collection of lenses already, then this offering from Olympus is well worth considering. With other manufacturers lined up to support the system and Sigma already making lenses in the four-thirds mount, the present lack of lenses should soon be overcome.

Pros
Olympus E-300Stylish looks
Olympus E-300Good build quality/feel
Olympus E-300Good layout of controls
Olympus E-300Offset viewfinder (not breathing on LCD)
Olympus E-300Value for Money (in kit form)
Olympus E-300Dust removal system

Cons
Olympus E-300Lens quality at wide end.
Olympus E-300Lack of available lenses (temporary)
Olympus E-300Manual focus only available through menu

Olympus E-300
St Helens Church, Cliffe. 14mm @ f/8 ISO 100
 
Olympus E-300
Northward Hill, North Kent. 45mm@ f/10. ISO100
Olympus E-300
Sitka Stag 45mm @ f/8. (Shirley Andrews)

Sharpness test photos below are taken at both the extreme focal lengths of the 14-45mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom lens.
Click on each one to see the full size version (this may takeseveral minutes to download on modem connections)

Olympus E-300
Zoom set at 14mm and f/3.5 aperture

Olympus E-300
Zoom set at 45mm and f/5.6 aperture
Olympus E-300
Zoom set at 14mm and f/3.5 aperture
Olympus E-300
Zoom set at 45mm and f/5.6 aperture

Olympus MTF Chart for 14-85mm kit lens

Test by Ian Andrews



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