Olympus E-300

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Olympus E-300

Pros

  • 8 megapixel sensor, great image detail within its optimal shooting range.

Cons

  • Unacceptable noise levels when shooting at ISO 800 or higher, continuous shot mode superceded by competitors.

Bottom Line

The E-300 offers great quality and functionality when used under optimal conditions. However, its performance for action or low-light photography is completely substandard.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 1 store)

In order to keep the cost of the camera low, the E-300 trims fat in areas the average photographer won't notice. Even so, it manages to look and feel like a more expensive camera. Its solid body has an aluminium chassis covered in Olympus's trademark sturdy plastic.

Where most digital SLRs feature both a colour LCD for using the menus and image playback, and a monochrome LCD for displaying camera settings, the E-300 dispenses with the monochrome LCD altogether. Instead the colour LCD does double duty, using the larger screen real estate to show settings.

The E-300 is an 8 megapixel camera, using a Kodak sensor. We testing it using an f3.5 to f5.6, EZ 14 to 45mm zoom lens (28 to 90mm 35mm equivalent). Olympus has also introduced the EZ 40 to 150mm zoom lens (80 to 300mm 35mm equivalent), and in addition there's the range of Olympus 4/3 lenses which, while not as extensive as the offerings from Canon or Nikon, is growing.

The E-300 has an unusual profile for an SLR, with a flat top and the viewfinder offset to the side. This is the result of its unique mirror arrangement, which uses a sideways rather than upwards winging mirror to direct the light to the viewfinder.

A disadvantage of this is that the E-300's pop-up flash doesn't stand as high as the flash on some competing models. Potentially this will impact flash performance since it increases the likelihood of the lens casting shadows.

In terms of image quality, the E-300 does well within its optimal shooting range. The 8 megapixel sensor produced great images at ISO 100 and 200--lots of detail and with little evident noise. But at higher ISO ratings it could not produce the same kind of low-noise images seen from Canon and Nikon digital SLRs. Image noise at ISO 400 was evident but within tolerable limits, but once we hit ISO 800 the noise became unacceptable. If I had to choose between a 6 megapixel Canon 300D or the 8 megapixel E-300 when shooting at ISO 800 or 1600, I'm afraid I'd be leaving the Olympus in the bag.

The Olympus's other failing is its continuous shot speed. The camera will only shoot at 2.5 frames per second for up to four frames. By comparison, the Canon 350D has a continuous shot speed of 3fps up to 14 frames, while Nikon's D70 will shoot 3fps for up to 12 frames.

Essentially, the Olympus E-300 is a camera that will take great photos, but in a much narrower range of circumstances than price-competitive models. To stay in the game, Olympus needs to match these key performance advantages that Canon and Nikon enjoy.

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