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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Olympus EVOLT E-330 DSLR


   

Olympus EVOLT E-330 Review

Review Date: Oct 16, 2006

Category: Advanced Amateur - Prosumer

Olympus EVOLT E-330

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2006

HANDLING & FEEL

[Editor: The Olympus E-330 is basically the same as the E-300 so readers might want to re-read the Olympus E-300 review for all the details. In this review, I will concentrate on the features that are the most important on the E-330, the improvements over the E-300 and also draw some comparisons with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1. You mau also want to read our review of the Panasonic L1 together with this review.]

The Olympus EVOLT E-330 follows right on the path of the EVOLT E-300 and uses a series of mirrors (including a sideways swinging mirror) to reflect the light coming thru the lens to the side, then up and finally back thru the eyepiece. It's a clever arrangement and the result is a flat top unlike any DSLR out there.

Was it worth switching the pentaprism for the porro mirrors just so a flat top design could be achieved?

Those of you coming from the DSLR side will find the viewfinder of the E-330 smaller and darker compared to the large and bright viewfinder of a typical DSLR that uses a traditional pentaprism.

But if you come from the consumer digital camera side and are upgrading to a DSLR, you will welcome the optical viewfinder on the E-330: it is much better than the tunnel vision viewfinders or EVFs on the non-DSLR cameras.

This flat top design (using porro mirrors) is also repeated in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 and Leica Digilux 3 DSLR -- all versions of the same digital SLR.

Note that the flat-top design did not result in a smaller and lighter DSLR. It just allowed a "Leica rangefinder" look on the Digilux 3.

Part of the reason why this camera is so comfortable to hold is because it is also quite large. It's not that Olympus cannot make a small Four Thirds DSLR: quite the contrary since it recently introduced the dimunitive E-400 -- currently the world's smallest and lightest DSLR. That's quite a feat and portends good things to come from the Four Thirds Standard if only more camera manufacturers would adopt the standard.

I really liked the exceptional handling of the Olympus E-330: your hand wraps around the handgrip comfortably, the right index finger rests naturally on the angled shutter button, and the right thumb is positioned precisely on the Control Dial.

There are a couple of differences here between the Olympus E-330 and the Panasonic L1/Leica Digilux 3: The L1 has a Shutter Speed Dial where the Mode Dial is on the E-330, and in the middle of the Shutter Speed Dial is the shutter button. I loved the L1's Shutter Speed Dial and did not mind one bit that the shutter button was not angled. If you like the more natural angled shutter button position, then consider the Olympus E-330.

Another difference is the Aperture Ring on the Leica lens that comes standard with the Panasonic L1. The combination of the Shutter Speed Dial and Aperture Ring makes for an incredibly tactile, intuitive and enjoyable experience on the L1. The Olympus E-330 relies on the Control Dial and Exposure Compensation Button to electronically set both shutter speed and aperture, as almost all DSLRs do today, and therefore allows for fractions of shutter speed and aperture that is just not possible with the L1's manual dial and ring.

Here's how the top DSLRs measure up against one another, without lens attached and without battery and card:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Nikon D200 147 113 74 830
Panasonic L1 145.8 86.9 80 530
Canon 30D 144 105.5 73.5 700
Olympus E-330 140 87 72 550
Nikon D50 133 102 76 540
Sony A-100 133 95 71 545
Pentax K100D 129.5 92.5 70 560
Olympus E-500 129.5 94.5 66 435
Canon 350D 126.5 94.2 64 485

At 140W x 87H x 72D mm (5.5W x 3.4H x 2.8D in.), the Olympus E-330 is wider than most of the other dSLRs.

The Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens adds in a further 285g (10.1 oz).

STYLE
- Colours: black body with white letterings
- Looks: "Flat top look"
   
FEEL
- Comfortable to hold and operate
- Controls & menu are intuitive to use
- Requires two hands (thumbs) to select settings
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- About the same dimensions [minus the height of the pentaprism] as other digital SLRs
- Dimensions: 140W x 87H x 72D mm / 5.5W x 3.4H x 2.8D in.
- Weight: 550 g / 19.4 oz (add 285g / 10.1 oz for lens)
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery PS-BLM1 7.2V 1500mAh
   

SPEED OF OPERATION

(using SHQ)

- Startup and LCD turning on in about 1.5 sec. (screen animation disabled) - Dust Reduction explains the relatively long startup
- Shot to shot time about < 2 sec.
- Burst: 5 frames in about 2 sec. (viewfinder, Live View Mode B); 5 frames in approx. 3 sec. with Live View Mode A.
- No practical shutter lag when using viewfinder; 1-2 sec. with Live View LCD
- Overall, performance could be better compared with other DSLRs.
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery that can take a remarkable 400 shots using the viewfinder, 250 shots in Live View Mode A and 200 shots in Live View Mode B (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery Charger BCM-2 (with power cord) that will recharge a new battery in a long 5 hrs.

Responding to complaints that it was too easy for the battery to fall off in the E-300, the E-330 now has a latch to prevent the battery from falling when the door of the battery compartment is opened.

The USB is still using slow 2.0 Full Speed (i.e. USB 1.1) instead of the fast 2.0 High Speed. The USB/Video Out 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. It would have been nice if that flap swivelled out of the way.

The built-in flash needs to be manually raised to work [the way we prefer it] and there's a button just behind the flash to do that. Press the button and the flash loudly "thunks" open. Whatever happened to the need to be discreete?

The Panasonic L1 has a a "pantograph-type" flash that allows bounce lighting. The way this is accomplished is pretty neat. Press the flash button once and the flash pops up and points at an angle upward toward the ceiling -- and is therefore at the perfect bounce flash position.

A second press will raise the flash out completely to point directly at your subject.

No movies recording on a dSLR, you knew that already, right?

The Olympus E-330 has 2 memory card compartments: one for an xD-Picture Card and a second one for a CompactFlash (CF) card or Microdrive. A 1GB CF card can hold about 173 SHQ images, 62 RAW images or 45 RAW+SHQ images. The following table gives an approximation of the number of 7.5MP images you can save on a 1GB CF card in the different image quality/compression setting:

Record Mode
# Images
SQ
3021
HQ
551
SHQ
173
TIFF
45
RAW
62
RAW+SQ
60
RAW+HQ
55
RAW+SHQ
45

As the above chart shows, at SHQ image quality, only 173 images can be saved in a 1GB CF card. We recomend that you purchase either a 2GB or 4GB CF card, depending on the number of images you normally shoot in one session.

Dust Reduction AnimationOlympus was the first to introduce a Dust Reduction System, now being copied by similar technology in the Sony Alpha A100 and Canon Digital Rebel XTi. This goes to show how innovative Olympus is in coming out with great practical ideas.

On powering on the Olympus E-330, the Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) is activated to keep the CCD image sensor dust-free. Olympus recommends that you 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.

Olympus E-330 with tilting LCD

An improvement you will immediately notice over the E-300 is the larger 2.5-in. LCD monitor with a high 215,250 pixels resolution.

The LCD monitor can be pulled out and tilted for easy above-the-head shooting, waist-level shooting, and other close-to-the-ground shooting positions that might prove arkward without a tilting LCD. The image above shows the three most popular positions: angled facing down (for overhead shooting), angled facing up (for shooting at a low angle), and pointing straight up for waist-level shooting. This tilting LCD comes in very handy especially when you have to crouch down low for macro photography or to get a low angle shot.

And did we mention that the Olympus E-330 is also the first DSLR to feature Live View on its LCD monitor (thanks to the Panasonic designed Live MOS sensor)? On other DSLRs (except, of course, for the Panasonic L1 and Leica Digilux 3), the LCD serves only as a Control Panel and for Playback of images. There would be no point for a tilting LCD monitor if the view on it was not live. The Olympus E-330 (and Panasonic L1/Leica Digilux 3) is the only DSLR that allows for live image composition on its LCD before taking the picture.

There are two (2) Live View modes and it is important to understand when, and how, to use each. Live View Mode A allows you to peek through the viewfinder as well as see the live image on the LCD monitor. It uses a second smaller image sensor placed in the viewfinder housing where the AF system also resides. This means that we are able to use AF in Live View Mode A. Frame coverage is approx. 92%. To obtain accurate exposure metering, you have to ensure that stray light coming into the viewfinder eyepiece does not skew the meter reading, so you close the eyepiece shutter to block light from entering this way.

Inexplicably, the Panasonic L1 does not have an integrated Eyepiece Shutter but you have to attach a removable Eyepiece Cap.

Live View Mode B swings the mirror out of the way, opens the shutter and let light fall directly on the main image sensor that will also be used for image capture. This means the LCD image is brighter with 100% frame coverage and depth-of-field preview is possible.

When the E-330 was first introduced, only Manual Focus was possible in Live View Mode B (since the AF sensor was in the viewfinder housing and the mirror was "up" blocking light from going that route). This was not much of a problem since you could enlarged the image on the LCD screen 10x and use the manual [fly-by-wire] ring to focus. However, a later firmware [1.2] allowed AF (by pressing the AEL/AFL button) but only by bringing the mirror "down" for that purpose then swinging it "up" again. Alas, all this mirror flipping introduces a lag of about 1-2 sec.

The Panasonic L1 only provides Live View Mode B with AF.

Which Live View Mode should you use? Live View Mode A is the general photography option. It allows AF and there is no practical shutter lag.

Live View Mode B provides 100% frame coverage and accurate depth-of-field preview. Focusing can be manual or Auto, and there is approx. 1-2 sec. lag.

So, I guess it boils down to the type of photography you do. For landscape and scenes where the subject remains still, Live View Mode B allows precise composition.

But if your subject is on motion, you would want to use Live View Mode A instead. Just do not forget to block the eyepiece to obtain accurate exposure measurements.

Live View Boost

The LCD monitor image will gain up in low light but only if "Live View Boost" is set to ON in the Custom Menu. Why is this not defaulted? Because, in Live View Mode A, the image is grainy and flickers irritatingly; in Live View Mode B, the image is still grainy but does not flicker. So, the "gain up" does not come free, especially in Live View Mode A.

Control Panel
Control Panel

You can still use the LCD monitor as a Control Panel in Shooting mode. The operation is somewhat changed from the E-300: now you press OK and use the Arrow Pad to highlight an item. Then, rotate the Control Dial to make a selection within that function.

Of course, you can also press a control button and access the selections directly, though I personally find the zig-zag "staircase" layouts unnecessarily distracting.

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. It covers approx. 94% of the frame. 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. Remember that the camera will not focus when you peer thru the viewfinder unless you first 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 a solid 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. A solid green dot in your viewfinder indicates 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-330 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.

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.

As you would expect, there are tons of customizable settings to choose from, more than we can reproduce here (unless we reproduce the whole manual). Please consult the Olympus EVOLT E-330 Advanced Manual for full details.

There are a total of 20 Scene Modes available on the E330, even more than on some of their P&S models:

SCENE MODE 1 of 20

- Portrait

SCENE MODE 2 of 20

- Landscape

SCENE MODE 3 of 20

- Landscape + Portrait

SCENE MODE 4 of 20

- Night Scene

SCENE MODE 5 of 20

- Night + Portrait

SCENE MODE 6 of 20

- Children

SCENE MODE 7 of 20

- Sport

SCENE MODE 8 of 20

- High Key

SCENE MODE 9 of 20

- Low Key

SCENE MODE 10 of 20

- Digital Image Stabilization

SCENE MODE 11 of 20

- Macro

SCENE MODE 12 of 20

- Nature Macro

SCENE MODE 13 of 20

- Candle

SCENE MODE 14 of 20

- Sunset

SCENE MODE 15 of 20

- Fireworks

SCENE MODE 16 of 20

- Documents

SCENE MODE 17 of 20

- Panorama

SCENE MODE 18 of 20

- Beach & Snow

SCENE MODE 19 of 20

- Underwater Wide

SCENE MODE 20 of 20

- Underwater Macro

The Olympus EVOLT E-330 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 is one of high quality and smooth operation.

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