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
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
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.