Olympus Evolt E-330 Review

Olympus Evolt E-330

Point-and-Shoot Girl Goes Digital SLR
My name is Lesa King and I’m a point-and-shoot addict. While I’m writing this, it’s been 42 minutes since my last shot (a beautifully plated Salmon omelet during Sunday brunch). I admit it, a cute little Canon PowerShot SD30 (5.1 megapixel) goes with me everywhere nestled snugly inside my purse, enabling me to capture culinary delights heretofore never before seen.

My PowerShot and I have been quite happy together—that is, until I was invited to teach at the conference. Seems all instructors were being invited to attend a private tour of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens to capture the elusive Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid in bloom. Yikes! A quick review of attendees yielded names like Shelly Katz, Jeff Schewe, and Thomas Knoll, among others. It took only nanoseconds to realize I’d need interchangeable lenses. Oh yes, this calls for a big gun: a digital SLR.

Being the point-and-shoot girl I am—I loathe framing shots through the optical viewfinder—I approached Olympus about their new Evolt E-330: the world’s first digital SLR with a live preview screen. Instead of pressing your face to the camera to frame a shot, the E-330 lets you preview the scene live on the 2.5" LCD screen in all its full-color glory. The screen can be pulled out and extended away from the camera body and swiveled up or down for hard to reach shots. The E-330 also dusts off its own sensor every time you power the camera on. Say goodbye to photo specks forever with this one!

The upside to the E-330’s articulating screen is that to the vertically challenged (myself included), it opens up an entirely new realm of over-the-head shot possibilities. Likewise, you need merely to bend slightly to capture beauties below the knee. Downsides include the loss of image stability from the physical act of pressing the camera body against your face and a bit-o-battery life.

Lenses: The Long and The Short of It
Olympus sent a variety of lenses, of which my favorite was the Macro. I’ve never taken such amazing close-ups before (see Heart of a Daylily shown here). I had an absolute ball with this lens, as evidenced by the plethora of macro shots sprinkled throughout this review.

The E-330 performed equally well on fast action shots using the 10x telephoto, as shown in these two images of track day at Barber Speedway. I found shutter speed pleasantly zippy and I enjoyed the ability to fire off three shots per second with zero shutter lag. If you forget your tripod, use this rapid-fire technique to increase your chances of getting a stable, non-blurry shot. The live-preview mode certainly does drink the battery juice, so action pros will want to toggle the live preview screen off.

One oddity did occur: Twice after swapping lenses the camera refused to focus. I just powered the camera off, removed the lens and put it back on, and everything worked fine. There is a firmware update that I’ve not installed so this may never happen to you.

Battery and Interface
The E-330’s lithium battery life was okay, and I went up to three days without recharging while carrying the camera with me, albeit only shooting intermittently. I also spent a fare amount of that time using playback mode to delete images from the 2-gigabyte Compact Flash Type I memory card (the E-330 also supports CF Type II, MicroDrives, and xD-Picture Cards). To preserve battery life, you’ll need to turn the live preview screen off. To recharge, you’ll have to remove the battery and place it in its own cradle, though I would have liked to recharge the battery by attaching a cable to the camera body instead.

The E-330 comes with 29 shooting modes, which is rare for a digital SLR. For the most part, I left it on Program, where it set the ISO, white balance, and metering automatically; though, veterans would be happier in manual mode, tweaking every setting to perfection. I found the entire menu system and button-set extremely intuitive, and though I read the manual for the purposes of this review, I really didn’t have to.

Files of Many Sizes
The E-330 supports the usual array of file formats including RAW, TIFF, and a variety of JPEG qualities. I liked the ability to shoot in RAW + SHQ mode, thereby capturing two images of every shot: one in RAW at 3136×2352 pixels, approx. 12.9 MB; and another "super high-quality" JPEG at 3136 x 2352 pixels, approx. 5.7 MB. Oh sure, that’ll bloat a memory card at warp speed but for one new to the digital SLR scene, it’s a great way to visually explore the benefits of shooting in one format versus the other.

Admittedly, the transfer rate of the included USB 2.0 cable on a full 2-gig CF card was painfully slow (upwards of 35 minutes), but a quick switch to the LaCie Media Reader ( yielded a more tolerable commitment of less than 10 minutes.

The Bottom Line
Overall, I’ve gotten some amazingly crystal-clear shots with the E-330. The only downside to the entire experience was bulkiness; however, this is an evil inherent to all digital SLRs. There’s just no way around carrying the equipment with you (save for hiring a camera caddy). Though the camera itself weighs only 1.21 pounds, the lenses and extra gear add up quickly. To get high-quality shots, you’ve got to pay the price in bulkiness and bag weight. Period.

For those jumping into the digital SLR realm, I highly recommend this camera. It’s a great way to transition from point-and-shoot land by having the ability to use the screen to compose shots. For pros, the articulating screen will enable you to capture hard-to-reach shots like never before. Now all I have to do is save up the money to buy one!

PRICE: $999.99 US
FROM: Olympus
PHONE: 1-888-553-4448