Olympus E-330

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Olympus E-330
  • Olympus E-330
  • Olympus E-330
  • Olympus E-330

Pros

  • Live Review, Dust Reduction

Cons

  • Costly for what you get, Images a little disappointing, Problems with live review mode

Bottom Line

While the E330 is a fairy good camera in its own right you are essentially paying $500 for live review, which isn't all that great, and lower image quality.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 76 stores)

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The Olympus E-330 is a decent digital SLR. The camera scored well in our image tests, includes dust reduction technology and has live image review through an LCD screen, a feature common on compact cameras but not seen on SLRs. Nevertheless it doesn't live up to the reputation that was forged by Olympus with the E-500 - a camera that combines good image quality with new technology and above average features into an affordable package.

Image Quality

SLRs are the top end of the digital camera spectrum; when you move up from a compact to an expensive, fully manual camera, you expect a big jump in image quality. The E-330 is certainly pretty solid in this regard, but not at the level we expect for a camera in this price point.

It performed strongest in our image noise tests, where Imatest gave it a score of .31%, which indicates superior performance and clean, smooth pictures. Our test shots corroborated this, with no speckling or graininess to be seen. Furthermore, even at the highest ISO levels all the way up to ISO 1600 it performed just as well, netting a maximum score of .75%. Considering some compact models reach this level on their lowest ISO levels, this is a great achievement and is indicative of the quality of the E-330's sensor.

Colour representation was slightly weaker, with an Imatest rating of 8.36. This is definitely not a bad score, as our results page indicates, but with some compact models like Canon's PowerShot A700 scoring 682, we really expected the E-330 to perform better here. Still, our test shots were pleasingly colourful and to the naked eye the difference between the two cameras is virtually unnoticeable. We felt most of the colours were well balanced, with blues being the least accurate. Reds were slightly oversaturated but not enough to really be damaging.

Continuing the trend of solid but not exceptional performance, Imatest gave the E-330 a score of 1524 for sharpness. This is quite a bit higher than your average compact, although one of Olympus' other models, the MJU 700 did score over 1400. However, SLRs tend to score upwards of 1700 in this test and so we were a little disappointed with the E-330's results. As we expected, our shots were sharp and defined, but the clarity wasn't quite as good as we'd hoped for.

The E-330 also exhibited small signs of chromatic aberration, with Imatest awarding it a result of .059% in this area. At this level it won't have an impact on smaller printouts, but if you enjoy creating posters of your work or larger, A3 sized enlargements, it may become more noticeable. We saw evidence of it in some of our outdoors shots, but it wasn't really bad enough to be a concern.

Features and Performance

As pioneers of dust reduction on their previous SLR release, Olympus has again paved the way with a new technology on this camera; live review. Live review simply means you can use the LCD to frame your shots. Previously, SLR's were restricted to using the viewfinder to frame the shot, as a result of the mirror system housed within the camera. However Olympus, in conjunction with Panasonic, has developed a dual sensor system that allows live review on the LCD in addition to the viewfinder, bringing SLRs more in line with compact models in this regard.

The benefits of this are twofold. First, it allows you to take more artistic or tricky shots than you could before. Low angle snaps from the ground upwards for example are now easy, as is shooting in confined spaces or from up high. Underwater photographers will also benefit from not having to fiddle with a viewfinder through their layers of gear. Secondly, it brings in a whole new generation of photographers who have grown up on digital compacts with live review LCDs. Our experience indicates many teenagers and young adults are out of their comfort zones without an active LCD these days and so the E-330 will offer a great gateway into advanced photography for those turned off by previously inaccessible SLR designs.

However, there is one problem with the implementation of this technology. The E330 has two modes; mode A gives you roughly 90% field of view while alllowing you to use autofocus, whereas mode B offers a proper indication of the full picture, but limits you to manual focus and adds a small amount of shutter lag. Neither option is idea. Perhaps we're being greedy by wanting the best of both worlds but in our opinion there are still a few bugs to iron out before live review becomes a truly useful SLR feature.

In addition to the new review technology Olympus has incorporated the dust reduction from the E-500, and again it is a big selling point. It uses ultrasonic vibrations to shake free dust from the sensor each time the camera is powered on and is a powerful tool for advanced photographers. Over the course of a few months of changing lenses regularly, you build up dust on your camera's sensor which needs to be professionally cleaned and can eventually lead to permanent damage. Olympus' technology however automatically cleans the sensor every time the camera is switched on, meaning no more trips to the photography store. Our tests found it to work perfectly, leaving shots spotless even after sprinkling dust directly onto the sensor.

New technology aside, the E-330 is slightly disappointing in the features department. It does have shutter speeds extending from 4000 to bulb mode, but ISO sensitivity is capped at 1600. The continuous shot mode wasn't as robust as we'd like, snapping a relatively poor two frames per second. Considering SLRs are often used in high speed situations and that some products from some rival companies can shoot in excess of five frames per second, the E-330 fares quite poorly in this regard.

Design

Olympus' original budget SLR model, the E-300, was widely criticised for its ugly design. The E-500 remedied this to some degree, but they appear to have gone backwards on this latest unit. With a jutting right hand grip, bulky chassis and overly accentuated viewfinder, this camera definitely falls on the more unattractive side of the scale. This partly stems from the limitations of a dual chip design. The viewfinder has to be placed this way to accommodate the second sensor. If Olympus could find a way to change the design it would make for a better product.

It is however a reasonably sturdy design. Whilenot up to the rugged standards of some of its more expensive competitors, like most SLRs it will survive more than a few bumps and knocks. The rubberised black exterior sits comfortably in the hands and feels well balanced. We did feel that the flash might be a weak point. It pops up from the middle of the camera's roof but isn't as well mounted as it could be, so be careful sliding it in and out of place.

All the controls were well laid out and the menu was natural and intuitive. Most SLRs offer the ability to manipulate camera settings on the LCD by default since it has no other purpose during picture taking. Obviously the screen on the E-330 is occupied most of the time with live review, however there is the option to use it like a normal SLR screen and simply display your current settings.

Overall we feel this is a solid camera, but it is outdone by the fantastic E-500. You pay $500 more for the E-330 and you exchange image quality and design for live review. If the pictures were of a similar standard, and live review was implemented fully, then the cost could maybe be justified, but unless you desperately want to take snaps with your LCD, then you'll probably be better served with the E-500.

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