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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Olympus EVOLT E-300


Olympus EVOLT E-300 Review

Review Date: May 26, 2005

Category: Advanced Amateur - Prosumer

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2005 Award


Hmmm, Ice Cream
150mm (300mm), Program, ESP, 1/200 sec., F4.5 and ISO 100

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 has a prosumer look to it, lacking the tell tale prism at the top that usually indicates a digital SLR. Instead of using the traditional pentaprism, the Olympus EVOLT E-300 uses a series of mirrors (including a sideways swinging mirror, see picture above) to reflect the light coming thru the lens to the side, then up and finally back thru the eyepiece. The result is a flat top unlike any dSLR out there. This unusual and original shape is only the external indication that you are looking at more than meets the eye. At 146.5W x 85H x 64D mm (5.77W x 3.35H x 2.52D in.), the Olympus EVOLT E-300 is slightly larger than a Minolta DiMAGE A2 or the Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xt, but smaller than the Canon 20D or the Nikon D70.

Even though the Olympus EVOLT E-300 is a relatively big camera (especially when compared to consumer and even prosumer models), it handles superbly, thanks to a large part to an ergonomic design and good placement of controls. Its handgrip is not as deep as it first appears, and a thin vertical piece of hard rubber projects out of the handgrip to enable the fingers to grip it securely. The index finger of the right hand falls naturally on the shutter release button, and the thumb rests into a molded receptacle at the back.

The Power Switch is neither a button that you press down nor a collar around the shutter release button. Instead, it is a switch around the Mode Dial. You turn on the camera with a forward flick of the switch using your thumb or index finger. Turning it off is as easy, with a backward flick of the switch with your index finger.

Note that everytime the camera is turned on, the Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) is activated to keep the CCD image sensor dust-free. However, for this to work properly, you must hold the camera upright when you turn it on; you want the dust to fall onto the special adhesive material, not be shaken loose all over the inside of the camera. Not sure, how you replace the adhesive once it's full of dust (guess you might need to send it in for that purpose).

The shutter release button is on the soft side, and sometimes I find myself taking a picture inadvertently when I only meant a half-press. One feature of the camera I found a bit baffling is that it will at times prevent you from taking a picture; that might be a good thing if it alerts you to something that is amiss, perhaps focus lock has not been achieved or the flash has not recharged yet. But at other times, it might be an impediment when you just want to take the picture and are not worried about the exposure.

Back when I was reviewing the Olympus C-7070, I did not pay too much attention to the Control Panel that could be displayed on its LCD monitor simply because the LCD monitor of the C-7070 afforded a live view of the image, so I rarely used the Control Panel.

But on a dSLR, there is no live view, and so it makes sense to use the LCD monitor as a Control Panel in Shooting mode. With the Control Panel displayed, all the buttons suddenly acquire a wonderful "press once and rotate the Control Dial to set" functionality. The control buttons are well positioned, and you press once and release to highlight the function on the Control Panel. The button you press stays active for about 3 sec., giving you enough time to rotate the Control Dial to make a selection within that function.

In the Control Panel screen above, I am shooting in Manual mode, with a shutter speed of 1 sec., aperture of F7.1, resulting in overexposure of +2.0EV. I can rotate the Control Dial to change the aperture (selected function lights up in green); or, I can press the [+/-] button (Up Arrow) to switch between shutter speed and aperture, and again rotate the Control Dial to select another shutter speed until the exposure differential indicates 0.0EV. Other info you can see at a glance are: ISO 100, Manual WB, Single AF with all 3 AF zones active [|||], Single Shot mode, SHQ image quality/compression, sRGB colour space, and enough space left for approx. 158 SHQ images.

The 4.6 cm (1.8 in.) HyperCrystal TFT Color LCD monitor is very clear at 134,000 pixels resolution. The Control Panel and images are crisp and can be viewed at an angle. Remember, the LCD monitor is used for the Control Panel and for Playback only. For shooting, you use the optical viewfinder. And it is when I crouch down and move in close for a macro shot that I miss my live image swivelling LCD monitor the most.

The viewfinder is, of course, optical with the expected diopter adjustment dial on the left (i.e., "correct") side of the viewfinder. The viewfinder is not as large as in a 35mm SLR but definitely better that the tunnel-like optical viewfinder of consumer digital cameras. Because it is a TTL (Thru-The-Lens) viewfinder, you are looking at the image coming thru the lens and reflected back to the viewfinder via mirrors. So, remember that if you set the autofocus to Single AF, the camera will not focus when you peer thru the viewfinder. You must turn on the camera and depress the shutter release slightly to engage the autofocus. To set the diopter, obtain focus first (the camera indicates focus lock is successfully achieved when there is no blinking green dot), then rotate the diopter adjustment dial with your left index finger until the image is crystal clear in the viewfinder.

The autofocus uses TTL Phase Difference Detection System, is extremely precise and very fast, even at full 150mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) telephoto or in low-light. A blinking green dot in your viewfinder indicates no focus lock, so pay attention to that green dot; a bleep indicates focus lock is achieved and a red dot flashes at one of three AF points to indicate where the AF locked.

The only time where the EVOLT E-300 may have some difficulty focusing is in extreme low-light. In that case you need to manually raise the pop-up flash (make sure it is disabled in the menu if you do not want it to fire) and a brief strobe of white light functions as an AF Illuminator. No live view on the LCD monitor also means no auto-gain in extreme low-light; you'll only catch a glimpse of your subject as the flash strobes to obtain focus.

One of the very first thing I usually do with a new camera is to disable all sounds. Unless the shutter release is a subtle and pleasant click that can only be heard by me, I prefer to disable all sounds. Ah, not so with a dSLR. There is a myriad of sounds: there is a mirror that goes kaplunk, a shutter that goes kachunk, and an annoying bleep to indicate successful focus lock. The lens also makes a whirring noise as it auto focuses. There's no way to turn off those sounds, except for the bleep. It's not a complaint -- just to let you know what you are getting into as you move into the world of the dSLR. In fact, I pretty much like the satisfying whizz, kaplunk and kachunk of each picture recorded. It's just that it gets you stares everytime.

Unlike the C-7070, which uses the same battery as the EVOLT E-300, there is no latch to prevent the battery from falling when the door of the battery compartment is opened. I have, however, not encountered any close call, for I usually turn the camera over to remove the battery.

The USB is 2.0 Full Speed (i.e. USB 1.1). The USB connector is protected by a rubber flap that can be opened up wide, but it does not stay in place so you have to kind of fight it as you try to plug the USB cable in. Since I transfer images often to my PC, it would have been nice if that flap swivelled out of the way.

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 accepts CompactFlash (CF) cards. A 1GB CF card can hold about 159 SHQ images or 72 RAW images. The following table gives an approximation of the number of 8MP images you can save on a 1GB CF card in the different image quality/compression setting:

Record Mode
# Images

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 is built solidly and handles superbly. It feels natural in my hands and there is no fumbling for the shutter release button or other controls. The overall feeling of using the camera and the two lenses is one of high quality and smooth operation.

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