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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 


The Olympus EVOLT E-300 is a digital camera targeted to advanced amateur photographers desiring the image quality and flexibility provided by a digital SLR. It has 8.0 megapixel resolution on a 4/3 in. (18 x 13.5 mm) CCD image sensor, and can be purchased body only or with the 14-45mm (28-90mm, 35 mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Lens kit.

3x Optical Zoom
14-45mm f/3.5-5.6
Wide-angle 14mm
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 45mm
(90mm, 35mm equivalent)

A second 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 Zuiko Digital Lens is also available. We received both lenses for review. Together, the two lenses provide a wide-angle to telephoto focal lengths of 28-300mm (35mm, equivalent) 10x optical zoom coverage.

4x Optical Zoom
40-150mm f/3.5-4.5
Wide-angle 40mm
(80mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 150mm
(300mm, 35mm equivalent)

The four pictures above were taken at the same position to demonstrate the 10x optical zoom reach of the two lenses combined. One of the advantage of a dSLR is the ability to use interchangeable lenses suited for specific jobs and the E-System has lenses ranging from a super wide-angle 14mm to a whopping 600mm telephoto (all expressed in 35mm equivalent focal lengths).

Carrying an extra lens in my backpack and stopping and changing lens midway during a shoot is an altogether different experience from simply zooming in using one of the ultra zoom digital camera, such as the 10x optial zoom (38-380mm, 35mm equivalent) Olympus Camedia C-770. In the following images, as well as the sample images in the photo gallery, I have used both lenses and identified them where appropriate.

150mm (300mm), Program, ESP, 1/400 sec., F7.1, ISO 100
Saturation +1, Sharpness +1

There is a Macro Scene Mode on the Olympus EVOLT E-300, and it sets the ISO to AUTO, WB to AUTO, metering mode to ESP, AF to S-AF+MF. Of course, the actual macro capability is a function of the lens you use, and you don't need to use the Macro scene mode. In the picture above, I simply used Programmed Auto since I wanted to set the ISO. I find that I obtain my best macro results using the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 lens set at maximum telephoto. If you are into macro photography, check out the 50mm f/2.0 Macro Zuiko Digital Lens which allows you to move in as close as 24 cm (9.45 in.) with a 35mm equivalent of 100mm and a large F2.0 aperture.

White Balance Indoors
AWB Incandescent 3600K Manual WB

As the above three pictures show, the auto white balance (AWB) indoors under tungsten artificial light tends toward the yellow. Preset Incandescent (3600 Kelvin colour temperature) seems to come closest, but is still incorrect. Fortunately, there is One-Touch Manual WB that is easy to set and provides excellent results. As expected, AWB works well in natural light.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 has 3 ISO settings going from ISO 100 to ISO 400, plus the ability to "boost" the ISO up to ISO 800 and ISO 1600. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds of 100, 200 and 400, plus the two boosted ISOs of 800 and 1600. The images above have been taken indoors at night under two regular household incandescent bulbs. At ISO 100 and 200, noise is under control. At ISO 400, noise is surprisingly visible, and the presence of noise is evident by very faint colour speckles. Noise is visibly present at boosted ISO 800 and ISO 1600.

Chromatic Aberrations

I have not been able to find much CA in everyday high-contrast shots, and where it is present it is minimal. The corner delimited by the red square at top left, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows some purple fringing.

Long Shutter Speed
45mm (90mm), Manual, ESP, 30 sec., F11, ISO 100
Manual WB, Self-timer 2 sec., Tripod Used
Noise Reduction ON
using the 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 lens

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 30 sec. in Manual and Shutter-Priority modes (plus up to 8 minutes Bulb in Manual mode), therefore allowing night photography. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. When you set Noise Reduction to ON in the menu [Menu - Camera 2 - Noise Reduction - ON], the EVOLT E-300 has special noise reduction algorithm that automatically kicks in at shutter speeds at 30 sec. and longer and you'll notice a longer processing time (approx. twice as long) before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we decided to take a low-light indoors shot. To obtain a long exposure, I place Bamm-Bamm under my desk where it's dark.

I experiment a bit to obtain the optimum exposure, eventually settling on 30 sec. at F11. Even at this long shutter speed, the EVOLT E-300's noise reduction seems to be working great, producing a nice smooth blurring effect of the background.

By the way, here's what happens if you do NOT use noise reduction on such a long exposure (notice the coloured pixels, click for original image):

Long Shutter Speed
45mm (90mm), Manual, ESP, 30 sec., F11, ISO 100
Manual WB, Self-timer 2 sec., Tripod Used
Noise Reduction OFF
using the 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 lens

We find that the AF is very responsive and images snap quickly into focus. The pop-up flash is used as an AF Illuminator to aid in focusing, so pop it up when it's dark and hard to obtain focus. The strobed light from the flash is pretty strong, so be careful not to blind your live subject(s). Of course, if you do not intend to use flash, set it to No Flash in the menu, and then you can pop it up to simply function as an AF Illuminator.

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 allows you to save an image in the RAW file format. It takes about 4 sec. to write a RAW image to memory card (I used a regular SanDisk 1GB CF card) and if you select to save your image in both RAW and SHQ JPEG, it takes about 6 sec. to save both to memory card. You can specify the JPEG image quality you wish to save together with your RAW image. Note that these times do not include the extra write times you'll experience if Noise Reduction kicks in.

At SHQ, a 8MP image is compressed down to anywhere between 5MB and 6MB. A RAW image takes about 14MB.

Since the LCD monitor does not receive a live image feed from the image sensor (the mirror is in the way), the Olympus EVOLT E-300 (and every other dSLR for that matter) does not incorporate a live histogram. In Playback mode, press the Info button repeatedly to view the histogram or highlights using the "Direct Histogram."

We find the overall image quality of the Olympus EVOLT E-300 to be excellent with good details in the shadows and highlights. There is a special quality to the pictures that is hard to put into words. Colours come out with a depth of tonality that sets the images apart from "candy" colours. See especially the pictures of the painter and the tulip in the Photo Gallery to see exactly what I mean.

The pictures in the Olympus EVOLT E-300 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the camera is capable of. I have provided unprocessed samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3264x2448 pixels original size (click on the image for the original version). Any of the 800x600 image that is adjusted for levels and/or sharpened in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name. Original images are never adjusted.

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod.

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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