capsule review

Olympus EVolt E-300

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Olympus EVOLT E-300 Digital SLR Camera

    TechHive Rating

Olympus EVolt E-300
Photograph: Rick Rizner

The Olympus EVolt E-300 digital SLR ($900 with lens, $800 otherwise) comes with a slew of creative features. Once you master them--particularly the exposure controls--you can take some truly dazzling photos. Digital photographers looking to move beyond a simple point-and-shoot model likely won't be disappointed by the EVolt E-300's strengths, though it does have some distinct weaknesses.

The EVolt's design is eye-catching. There's no hump on the top of the camera--the signature mark of all SLRs for the past 45 years. Olympus moved the viewfinder's optical path to the left side of the body, which makes the camera slightly shorter than most other digital SLRs. Though it isn't a significant savings in size, the flat-top design does seem to help the EVolt slide in and out of an overstuffed camera bag more easily. Our shipping Olympus has a polished look and feel. Its solid, bricklike body feels as if you could pound nails with it. The dials turn smoothly and easily, and the body fits firmly in two hands.

The E-300 will easily serve photographers of any skill level--convenient for those times when you have to hand your camera to someone who's comfortable with only point-and-shoot models. In addition to full automatic exposure mode, the E-300 has a selection of preset scene modes that quickly adjust your settings to specific situations. The E-300 provides a total of 15 scene modes in its menus; five of them also are located on its dial.

In the past we've praised Olympus cameras for their intuitive menus, but the E-300 takes a slight step backward. The submenus are not as well labeled as those of the Olympus C-8080 we tested previously, and working out the location of the camera's many settings takes some time. For example, the camera's white-balance controls are spread across three of the five menu sublevels. And you can't customize the menus as extensively as you can the Nikon D70's, for example, or even those of some earlier Olympus models.

On the plus side, the Olympus responds more quickly as you use it. Many of the key exposure controls change rapidly with the press of a dedicated button and a spin of the camera's selector dial. Also, I especially like the Olympus's status screen on its 1.8-inch LCD. It's easy to read, with blue letters on a black background, and it tied in nicely to the camera's controls.

For our formal image-quality tests, we took some shots in the camera's default fully automatic mode. It's a good test of a camera's ability to capture details and accurate color, before you add your exposure-correction preferences. The E-300's images looked similar to those from Canon's semiprofessional EOS 20D: a bit underexposed, with colors that were slightly less saturated than the hues of the original subject. (Some digital photographers prefer default settings that produce slightly underexposed images that allow them to make adjustments on a PC without losing details, as would happen in overexposed areas.) In tests with automatic mode, the E-300 earned very high image quality scores--significantly higher than those of the Nikon D70s--and scored well for color accuracy when we used a custom white balance and manually adjusted the exposure settings (though here the D70s earned similarly high scores).

The EVolt E-300 has an 8.2-megapixel CCD--higher than on a few other affordably priced SLRs, such as the Nikon D70s and the Pentax *ist DS, which have a 6.1-megapixel CCD. In our test photo, the Olympus reproduced better fine-line details than the Nikon D70s--in fact, its output was comparable to that of the much more expensive, semiprofessional 8.2-megapixel Canon EOS 20D. The Olympus's high-resolution CCD will come in handy if you often crop and enlarge pictures to the practical limits of the images.

One innovative feature of the E-300 is a dust filter that sits between the shutter and the sensor and that vibrates to release dust particles. Dust specks in images shot by digital SLRs are a common problem, partly because changing lenses on an SLR exposes the camera's interior to dust (see "The Dirt on Digital SLRs' Dust").

On the downside, in our new test that evaluates how much digital noise cameras introduce to images, the EVolt E-300 produced noisier images at ISO 1600 than the other SLRs we tested.

In burst mode, the Olympus proved almost indefatigable. Capturing images in its second-best JPEG setting, the Olympus consistently fired off at about 2.5 frames per second, stopping only when I ran out of space on my CompactFlash card. At the highest JPEG setting, the camera is rated to take 12 consecutive frames. By contrast, burst mode on the SD Card-based Pentax *ist DS was less consistent, with the frames-per-second speed revving up and down, but averaging roughly 1.5 fps.

Unfortunately, the E-300 requires specific lenses. Unlike the digital SLRs from Canon, Nikon, and Pentax, there is no massive base of existing 35mm film camera lenses to choose from. If you're starting from scratch, buying clean used lenses for these cameras could save you a significant amount of money, but you don't have this option with the E-300. And while Olympus's selection of Zuiko Digital lenses is pretty good, it's still a fairly new line and doesn't have nearly the breadth of the competition. The Zuiko lens we received has a focal ring that is connected by wire to an electronic motor. By comparison, the focal rings on the other tested SLR lenses move glass inside the lens mechanically. The E-300's method lacks the tactile feedback the other lenses provide when focusing manually, though we did find the E-300's mechanism helpful for fine-tuning the autofocus.

Though the lenses available are limited, the E-300 delivers high image quality, and its features are well suited to photographers of all skill levels.

Tracey Capen

This story, "Olympus EVolt E-300" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The E-300's lens selection is limited, but its features are well suited to photographers of all skill levels.

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