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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


Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • EVOLT E-300 dSLR
  • 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Lens w/lens shade
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Li-Ion Battery, Charger & Power Cord
  • Interface Cables: A/V; USB
  • Instruction Manuals: Advanced Manual; Quick Start Guide, System Chart
  • Software CDs: Olympus Master 1.1

In addition, I also receive in this review package:

  • 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 Zuiko Digital Lens w/lens shade
  • Electronic Flash FL-36

Unpack the Olympus EVOLT E-300, and you wonder if you are looking at a digital SLR since the pentaprism hump is missing. Pick it up and peer thru the optical viewfinder and you immediately realize you are in pro territory.

Even though the Olympus EVOLT E-300 is quite large and heavy by prosumer digital camera standards, it handles very comfortably. The index finger naturally rests on the shutter release button and there is no fumbling for the controls. Press a control button and rotate the Control Dial with your thumb for fast settings change.

In my review kit, besides the camera, I also receive the 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Lens, the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 Zuiko Digital Lens, and the Electronic Flash FL-36. Due to the 2x crop factor, the lenses provide a combined 35mm equivalent focal length of 28-300mm 10x optical zoom. The FL-36 electronic flash is fully integrated with the exposure and zoom system of the camera, and its rotating head allows bounced lighting for natural light effects.

Image quality is excellent with good detail and very low noise at ISO 100 and ISO 200. I am a bit disappointed with the presence of noise at ISO 400 (as very faint colour speckles), and the very noisy ISO 800 and ISO 1600. Certainly, one of the major reason for moving from a prosumer model to a dSLR is to take advantage of the low noise characteristics of the large image sensors in the dSLRs. There is certainly room for improvement on the 4/3 System image sensor.

One major problem with using interchangeable lenses is that taking them on and off allows dust to enter the camera body and deposit on the image sensor. These specks of dust result in black dots on your images. Cleaning the image sensor periodically of this dust is a chore akin to picking lint from your belly button -- i.e. not something a photographer looks forward to doing IF he or she knows how to do it properly without damaging the image sensor in the first place. Well, not to worry, the Olympus EVOLT E-300 has an Ultrasonic Dust Reduction System that shakes the image sensor free of dust everytime you power on the camera. The dust specks accumulate on a sticky film at the bottom. No mention is made in the manual of how to replace that sticky film; I guess you may need to send the camera in from time to time. Kudos to Olympus for innovating with this dust reduction technology.

The Olympus EVOLT E-300 uses a Compact Flash (CF) memory card. With images averaging between 5-6MB in size, I recommend you purchase a 1GB CF card (1GB holds approx. 159 SHQ images).

With Windows XP, you don't need to install any software to transfer images from camera to PC. Just plug the USB cable into your camera and PC USB socket, switch on the camera, and press OK to select "PC". The camera is recognized as a drive, and you just use the supplied Olympus Master 1.1 software to transfer images to your PC (if you want to use it to index your images by date). If you don't care with indexing your images, you can simply use Windows Explorer to drag and drop the images from the camera to anywhere on your hard drive. Before unplugging the USB cable, you need to click the "Unplug or Eject Hardware" icon on the taskbar first.

What do you know, but Olympus has included a printed Advanced Manual in the box! (At least in my review kit for Canada. For those who don't know, the Advanced Manual is usually only available on CD.) And it's one of the best manual we've ever read. It's well-organized, with every item of interest indexed and quickly found. Note that the chart depicting the camera and its parts (easily the most consulted page, especially at first) is buried at the back of the manual.

The EVOLT E-300 has superb handling
32mm (64mm), Program, ESP, 1/4 sec., F4.7, and ISO 100

If you are used only to consumer digital cameras, you will miss a few things when you upgrade to a dSLR. For example, there is no live view on the LCD monitor -- it's strictly for Playback. For macro work, there is no swiveling LCD monitor, so you have to crouch down to your subject level peering thru the viewfinder. But what you gain is tremendous: you have a relatively large and clear optical viewfinder with no refresh rate problem; the AF is instant, and there is no practical shutter/AF lag; zooming is smooth, responsive and precise, and as fast as you want to turn that zoom ring; interchangeable lenses come in many focal length ranges, and though they do tend to be pricey, Olympus has provided two which are affordable and together cover a 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) range that will satisfy most of us; the possibility to use an external flash that is tightly integrated to the exposure and zoom system of the camera means that you can now take properly exposed images outdoors and indoors. The Olympus EVOLT E-300 also accepts many of the same accessories created for the higher-end professional Olympus E-1.

Olympus Electronic Flash FL-36

A camera's onboard flash is generally good enough to light one subject at portrait's distance. But to light up a whole group of your friends or to reach a bit further into the telephoto end of your lens, you need something a bit more powerful. And that is where a powerful external flash comes in handy.

The FL-36 is relatively compact, being smaller in real life than pictures usually depict it. It is lightweight and comes with a pouch where you can safely store it in when it is not in use mounted on top of the camera.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it accepts only 2 AA batteries and still provides excellent charging and flashing performance. Approximate recharge times supplied by Olympus are:

Approximate Recharge Times
Battery Type
Seconds to Recharge
# Flashes
AA Alkaline
AA Ni-Cd
AA Ni-Mh
AA Oxyride
AA Lithium
CR-V3 Lithium

If you have been frustrated using an external flash before, you're in for a pleasant surprise. It's really easy to use the FL-36 with the EVOLT E-300. Slip it into the hot shoe of the camera, tighten the lock ring and you're good to go -- literally. Turn on the camera, turn on the flash, and it starts to charge up. Turn off the camera, and the flash goes into sleep mode, ready to awake as soon as you turn on the camera (no need to turn on the flash again).

The camera communicates exposure and focal length information to the flash. Tap the shutter release button slightly to start this communication. Change any exposure setting, including ISO speed, shutter speed and aperture, and the flash knows and adjusts its light output accordingly.

The flash head can be zoomed (it's all internal) from the equivalent of a 24-85mm, and there is a built-in wide-angle diffuser panel that you pull out and over the flash head to provide even illumination with wide angle lenses less than 24mm focal length. The zooming is all automatic: as you zoom the lens, the flash head also zooms in tandem.

You can also override any of the flash settings by switching the flash to Manual mode. Light intensity can be adjusted from -3EV to +3EV in 1/8th EV steps. This is important because the flash output can be really intense. I tested the flash at night in my office, and my son (two bedrooms down and talking himself to sleep) wondered if it was lightning that just flashed light across his darkened room.

One of the major reason you want to use an external flash is to be able to bounce the light (say from the ceiling) to create different light effects, for example to simulate natural daylight and to avoid harsh shadows. For this to be possible, you need a flash head that can be rotated up and down. The head of the FL-36 can be rotated to point straight up to the ceiling and all the way 90° down to point straight at your subject, plus a further 7° down for close-ups (recommended flash range for close-up is 0.5 to 1.0 m). It can also rotate 90° clockwise and 180° anticlockwise. This effectively allows you incredible flexibility in how you wish to bounce the light to create the type of lighting you want.

Another advantage of using the flash in low-light is that it has an AF Illuminator that throws a red beam at your subject to help achieve focus lock. This is much better than blinding your subject with the strobe of the onboard pop-up flash.

As the above picture of the camera with the FL-36 flash mounted shows, the Olympus EVOLT E-300's onboard pop-up flash can be used simultaneously with the FL-36, thus allowing advanced lighting setups. For example, while the pop-up flash illuminates your subject straight on, the FL-36 can counter the effect of harsh shadows by bouncing its light from the ceiling. As far as White Balance is concerned, set it to AUTO for best results using any flash.

The Olympus FL-36 costs about US $200 and if you take lots of indoors pictures in low-light, I recommend that you add this flash to your accessories (though the onboard pop-up flash is very good, too).

I find that the Olympus EVOLT E-300 is well-designed and works naturally in my hands. No frustration or long learning curve here, with everything working pretty intuitively. If you are coming from the prosumer world and thinking of moving up to a dSLR, the Olympus EVOLT E-300 with its 2 digital lenses and Electronic Flash FL-36 provides a complete system at a very reasonable price. I've taken the most pictures to-date with a review camera (500+) and thouroughly enjoyed using it. Image quality is excellent, the only caveat being that the low-noise characteristics of the image sensor is not as great as I expected. Keep that in mind as you select your dSLR, and if you rarely intend to push past ISO 400, then you definitely need to get your hands on an Olympus EVOLT E-300 to try it out. You might find it hard to put it down once you pick it up.

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