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Olympus EVOLT E-330 Hands On Preview - DSLR with a Triple Twist

by Alan and Mario

Olympus EVOLT E-330: DSLR with a Triple Twist

Yes all the rumours scurrying throughout the web were true. The next DSLR from Olympus is indeed named the EVOLT E-330 and the primary new feature is an “electronic viewfinder” although not quite in the form many discussed. This, the world’s first Live View DSLR, establishes a new category of DSLR using two sensors in one body. When we got our hands on the pre-production model, there was definitely some jaw dropping when we saw Live View in action. There are a few twists with this feature but before we get into that, let’s outline some of the basics shall we…

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Taking a quick glance at the EVOLT E-330 and you’ll think it’s a re-badge of the E-300. Take a closer look and you’ll find it’s not as wide as the E-300 by approximately 1cm, it’s the same height but it’s approximately 1cm deeper (whose reason will be discussed later in the review). However on the inside you’ll find the E-330 contains a new 7.5 MP (effective) MOS sensor and the much improved 49 zone multi-pattern metering mechanism found in the EVOLT E-500. The menu system is also one that matches the menus found on the E-500.

Before you expect to find the name of the sensor manufacturer in this review, know that this information will be withheld for the next little while. That said; we’ll be very curious to get our hands on a production version of the E-330 to find out whether the MOS sensor delivers better noise levels than its 8MP predecessor. We hope it’ll also deliver the same colour and quality out-of-camera results we’ve come to expect from Olympus.

The viewfinder itself provides a 95% view of the final image and is larger than the viewfinder found on the E-500. At the same time, it can obviously be paired up with the Olympus eyecup magnifier for those who prefer the larger view. Let’s also not forget the unique flash setup on this E-3xx series body. It allows photographers to take photos with both the pop-up flash and an external flash (i.e. pointed at the ceiling) at the same time allowing for sophisticated lighting techniques to be applied in an all-in-one package.

Supersonic Wave Filter (35,000 vibrations per second)? No doubt! Now let’s get on to the main course…

Twist #1: Simultaneous Optical and Live View Photography (A mode)

Engineers at Olympus knew what they were doing two years ago and the compact porro mirror design in the E-300 was no accident. It is this system which has allowed engineers to apply a second 8MP CCD (the one used in the Olympus Stylus 800) for use as a full-time live view sensor. The final mirror which redirects light into the optical viewfinder actually allows 20% of light from the image into the Live View CCD. This does indeed mean you can view both the optical viewfinder and electronic viewfinder at the same time (well, you know what we mean). The reason Olympus selected this particular 8MP CCD is because of the bright capture technology built in. It allows for the image generated on the LCD to be of the high caliber possible considering the limited light available through the final mirror.

Although this was not the final production version of the camera, we found the Live View feature very good in a variety of lighting situations. Should you happen to find yourself shooting in very low light conditions, there is a “Live View Boost” mode that can be enabled via the on screen menu, which increases the voltage to the CCD. This mode, called “A mode”, can be turned on and off via the “Live View” button located to the right of the viewfinder. This will toggle the LCD between the main information screen and Live View mode.

Twist #2: Macro Live View (B mode)

What was that sound? Could that be what I thought it was? Pressing the “A/B” button, selecting “B mode” and pressing “OK” suddenly made the camera click. That click sound was the sound of the mirror getting out of the way of the lens and the sensor. That’s right; “B mode” enables Live View viewing via the main MOS sensor. Focusing can only be performed manually in this mode though but macro photographers are particularly going to like this.

Press the info button and a small green square shows up on the LCD which is showing you what you are about to take a picture of. Using the arrows to move the green square around, you can select what you wish to focus on and press “OK”. This will zoom in that object at 10x allowing you to accurately focus in on the focal point at hand. Olympus has stated that this should be done with a tripod but we had no problem doing this hand held. This is a very cool feature for lack of better words.

DOF preview? Yes.

The macro photographers dream come true? Quite possibly. There is a time lag with this mode enabled. After you depress the shutter release, the mirror moves back into place for metering purposes and away again to take the final photo. We didn’t measure this time with a stop watch but it’s in the realm of ˝ second – an understandable side effect of such a feature.

This is actually quite an impressive feat of engineering if you think about it and read the specs. Not only is this MOS sensor capable of performing in Live View mode, it is capable of doing so for 1.5 hours at ISO 100 without over heating or producing extra noise in the final image. This time is reduced to 8 minutes at ISO 1600 which is also an impressive specification.

Twist #3: Massive Multi-Angle LCD

Indeed, as the teasers suggested, this EVOLT E-330 comes with a 215,000 pixel 2.5” multi-angle/articulated LCD. It is the first of its kind. You can pull it out, tilt it upwards directly towards the sky or point it downwards at a 45 degree angle. It feels very sturdy and it moves into each position with confidence. Street photography will never be the same again!

More Live View Information and Comments

There are two questions which first come to mind when discussing the world’s first Live View DSLR. The first is about battery life. We have been told that on a full charge, the E-330 will take 400 shots in normal mode of operation, 250 shots in “A mode” and 200 shots in “B mode”. We cannot verify these numbers but these specs are reasonably impressive when you compare them against each other. What we are most certainly disappointed with is the availability of a live histogram when operating in Live View mode. We can only hope that a firmware upgrade would bring this capability to the forefront with the potential to then make Live View DSLRs the norm. It only makes sense for any camera capable of capturing live image information from the lens to the LCD to include a live histogram to maximize photographer control over the final image.

Will Olympus have a hit on their hands? Ask yourself how much it’s going to make a difference for those who’ve never handled a DSLR, held yours for the first time at arms length and wondered out loud “where is the image”? At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll find enthusiasts into street photography and macro photography loving the Live View feature giving this DSLR an edge over everything else in the market. At an estimated street price of $999.99 USD for the body and $1099.99 for the kit including the 14-45mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom lens, the other guys will certainly be scrambling to be able to show off the same feature at your local camera store.

Alan and Mario’s Conclusions

There's only so much we can comment on given this is a pre-production model of the EVOLT E-330. We have no qualms with the 7.5MP count as this is really a non-issue for 99% of those interested in photography. The build quality is done in typical Olympus fashion feeling solid in your hand and more certainly above average at this DSLR price point. While the body is overly thick to accomodate the articulated LCD, it's ergonomics are improved over the E-300 giving it more of the feel of the E-1. Many could not complain about that!

The viewfinder could always be bigger and a little brighter - ideally we'd expect something more like the E-1. And lastly, we come to the Live View feature. It's obviously not for everyone's style of shooting - personally one of us would choose a Live View camera over one that didn't have that feature while the other wouldn't use anything but a good 100% optical viewfinder. Fortunately there will be a lot of individuals entering the DSLR market who will love this feature and come March 2006, the only company capable of tooting their own horn over yet another market first will be Olympus.

*Click here to discuss the new EVOLT E-330 in the MFT Forums.

*Click here to read the official press release.

*Click here to view the E-330 System Chart.

*Click here to view the E-330 Reference Guide.

Aside: The Inside Scoop on the Next Generation Pro DSLR

Many of us were expecting a professional level DSLR replacing the E-1 to be released at this same time frame. We brought this up during our conversation with the DSLR Product Manager for Olympus America and were told that their initial release for this product had been planned to occur at an earlier date. Unfortunately the sensor did not match up with their goals so production was postponed. Since then the competition has moved forward. We can only hope to hear more information about this new professional level DSLR later this year.

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