The first DSLR to provide a continuouslive view of subjects in full colour plusan adjustable LCD monitor.FIRST LOOK: Olympus is renowned for product innovation so it should be no surprise to hear that it’s the first company to produce a digital SLR camera that provides a full-time, live view of the subject you’re shooting on its LCD screen, making a DSLR just as straightforward to use for shot composition as a compact digicam. To date, the only DSLRs that provided any kind of live view were the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro and a special version of the Canon EOS 20D that was designed for astronomical photography. However, in both cases the “live” view was in monochrome and the display only lasted a second or two. In the E-330, the full-colour display is continuous. . . [more]
Olympus is renowned for product innovation so it should be no surprise that it’s the first company to produce a digital SLR camera that provides a full-time, live view of the subject you’re shooting on its LCD screen, making a DSLR just as straightforward to use for shot composition as a compact digicam. To date, the only DSLRs that provided any kind of live view were the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro and a special version of the Canon EOS 20D that was designed for astronomical photography. However, in both cases the “live” view was in monochrome and the display only lasted a second or two. In the E-330, the full-colour display is continuous.
But that’s not all; the LCD is adjustable through 135 degrees. You simply grip it midway along the sides of the panel and pull it out from the camera body. It can then be tilted up through 90 degrees for viewing from above (for low-angle shots) or down through 45 degrees for over-the-head shooting. Not as good as vari-angle – but more versatile than a fixed screen.
The E-330 has not one, but two image sensors. The “Live MOS” sensor, which is the main imaging element, is actually an n-channel MOSFET (or N-MOS) chip, which has similar low power consumption to a CMOS chip but a larger active area and wider dynamic range. Olympus says the sensor photodiodes are embedded deeper in the silicon to isolate them from noise-creating elements on the chip’s surface. No details are available on the sensor’s manufacturer thus far.
This imager is mounted behind the shutter and Olympus uses a similar porro mirror system to that in its E-300 model (which was a kind of “test bed” for the E-330) to reflect the light that enters the lens sideways and upwards from the main reflex mirror (which reflects to the viewfinder) to a system of mirrors that direct it to the second CCD, which provides the full-time live view. The set-up is shown in the diagram below.
The first two of these mirrors are fully reflective, while the final mirrors are a pair of pellicle mirrors that split the light between the optical viewfinder and the Live View sensor, delivering roughly 80% to the former and using the latter for the Mode A live view. Along the way, some of the light is deflected to the 49-zone multi-pattern exposure sensor. The end result is that the imager, the viewfinder, the LCD and the exposure meter all “see” pretty much the same view of the subject.
The above diagram shows the path of the imaging light through the E-330’s optical system.
Two live preview modes are accessible via a button above the LCD, to the right of the viewfinder. Unfortunately, neither gives a ‘perfect’ view. Mode A provides a full-time live preview from the CCD but only covers 92% of the lens’s field of view. This mode supports full auto-focusing and you can frame the shot either through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. Pressing the shutter release allows the Live MOS sensor to record the image. The camera reminds photographers close off the viewfinder eyepiece when using this mode to prevent stray light from reaching the imager and exposure meter. A built-in eyepiece shutter is provided for this purpose.
Mode B (“Macro Mode”) disables the autofocus and swings the mirror to the side, preventing light from reaching the viewfinder. This directs all the light to the Live MOS sensor, which sends an image to the LCD. The displayed image covers the same field of view as the lens and sensor and is used to frame and focus the shot. Because the exposure metering system is located in the viewfinder housing, light values are only calculated when the shutter is released so it’s advisable to use this setting with one of the AE modes.
Mode B is ideal for close-up photography because the centre of the image displayed on the LCD can be magnified up to 10x to make manual focusing easier. You also see the true depth of field in the subject before taking the picture. This mode works best with the camera tripod-mounted as it takes roughly one second for the mirror to flip up then back into place before the shot can be taken. Olympus puts time limits on how long you can use Mode B, because it generates heat. These range from 8 minutes at ISO 1600 to approximately 90 minutes at ISO 100.
Two “Passport” Frame Assist templates are provided in Mode A, while Mode B has three options: “Golden Section”, “Grid” and “Scale”, the latter for estimating reproduction ratios. The templates in Mode A are displayed when you press the “Info” button, while in Mode B the selected template is shown. In both live view modes, pressing the OK button overlays a translucent version of the standard LCD menu display on the subject view. You can select individual settings and access the options each contains, just as you can with the normal menu display. The design of the display is similar to that of the E-500 and E-300 models.
It’s easy to see the body of the E-330 is an evolution of the “flat top” design of the E-300 but Olympus has rounded off the square corners that many reviewers found unattractive on the earlier model and given the E-330 a deeper, more comfortable grip. The new model is also roughly 40 grams lighter and its control layout is more functional. Left of the LCD are four buttons covering playback, delete, menu and info. Direct access to the white balance, ISO, metering modes and AF settings is provided by the arrow buttons on the four-way controller, while the AF/AE lock and drive buttons sit just above, with the display mode selector beside the live view button.
The HyperCrystal LCD is much bigger and brighter and has higher resolution than the E-300’s. It’s also adjustable, as outlined above. In use, this adjustability complements the live view system perfectly and is an excellent feature for photographers at all levels. We found the HyperCrystal display to be slightly more usable in sunlight than regular LCDs for shot composition and reading on-screen menus and icon displays.
The camera body itself has been made slightly wider on the left hand side to provide better support for photographers who want to compose shots in live view mode and the viewfinder now has a clip-on rubber eyecup. The memory card compartment is typical of many entry-to-mid-level DSLRs in lacking a lock. However, the door clips into place reasonably securely, making it less likely to be opened accidentally than some other models. Fully opening the door engages a spring lock to make card insertion and removal easier and slots are provided for CF and xD cards. In contrast, the battery compartment locks securely.
A single connection port on the left side of the body provides both USB 2.0 (Full Speed, not High speed) and Video Out connectivity, depending on which cable is connected. The pop-up flash and tripod mount are similar to those on the E-300 model. The former rises roughly 4 cm above the top of the lens mount and is slightly displaced to the right side of the lens. It can double as an AF assist light in low-light situations.
Next to the flash is a hot shoe that accepts both E-system and third-party flash units but will only provide full TTL-auto flash with the former. Finally, positioned in front of the E-330’s sensor is the Olympus SSWF dust-removal filter. This vibrates ultrasonically each time the camera is switched on, causing any dust that may have accumulated to fall into a sticky trap below it. (The system works well, except with dust that adheres in very humid conditions.)
Controls and Functions
The E-330 has the same suite of shooting modes as the E-300 and E-500 models but adds five new Scene Select settings. These include a “Blur Reduction” mode that raises ISO sensitivity and shutter speed to minimise the risk of camera shake, a Nature Macro mode that increases contrast, sharpness and saturation for more vibrant close-ups and an xD Panorama mode that lets users capture and stitch panoramas of up to 10 frames with Olympus-branded xD cards.
Two Underwater modes are provided, covering close-ups and wide-angle. These are handy as the E-330 is a great camera for underwater photography, thanks to its live view modes. An optional underwater case (PT-E02) will be available from June 2006.
Most other functions are similar to those in the E-500 model, although the shutter speed limits are slightly different. In the E-330, the slowest shutter speed available in the P, Ps and A modes is 2 seconds (down from 4), while the Scene mode extends out to 4 seconds from 2 in the E-300. Flash synch is at 1/180 sec (Super FP up to 1/4000 sec). The E-330’s playback mode is fairly standard, supporting slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The zoom and scroll feature lets you blow up the image by a factor of up to 14 and then scroll around. Image rotation and resizing is supported and you can change shots to B&W, sepia, green, blue or purple or simulate orange filter or IR effects with B&W shots. You can also fix red eyes in flash shots, adjust image saturation by using the JPEG/TIFF edit function or use RAW edit to apply the current camera settings to a RAW image.
Some of the colour and display modes offered by the E-330.
The E-330 also supports the Light Box playback function introduced with the E-500, which lets users compare two enlarged images side-by-side on the LCD, making it easier to select the best shot. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
In normal playback mode, the camera’s information display is pretty basic but pressing the Info button gives you access to screens full of exposure data, shadow and highlight displays, and RGB and white light histograms. Captured images are played back almost instantly in playback mode.
The battery takes roughly five hours to charge – which is pretty slow. However the camera can capture approximately 400 shots when the optical viewfinder is used for framing, around 350 shots with live view Mode A and about 200 shots with live view Mode B, which is some compensation. No battery grip is available.
In use, the E-330 felt solid and was comfortable to handle and the controls were, in the main, easy to operate.The quality of the on-screen live view varies with the mode you set. In Mode A, it’s similar to using a compact digicam (good in bright light but noisy in dimmer lighting). Unfortunately, the poor subject coverage in Mode A makes accurate framing difficult. However, the exposure meter’s sensor is enabled, allowing accurate exposure measurement.
Switch to Mode B and you get 100% of the sensor’s field of view but light to the metering sensor is blocked so measurements can only be made when the shutter is pressed. The view is slightly brighter and sharper, provided the subject is well-lit. Set-up menu 1 contains a Live View Boost setting that increases the brightness slightly.
We found the boost setting to be useful for shooting close-ups on an overcast day because, without it, the screen wasn’t quite bright enough to show when the image was sharp. You really need to use the 10x zoom view to ensure the subject is pin-sharp when shooting in this mode. Mounting the camera on a tripod gives you a distinct advantage.
Images from the test camera were sharp and detailed, with little evidence of noise up to ISO 400 but increasing image softening thereafter, right up to ISO 1600. Noise reduction was moderately effective over ISO 400. Barrel distortion was noticeable at the wide-angle setting but images were otherwise relatively artefact-free. Imatest showed image resolution to be high (although not outstandingly so) and chromatic aberration was low enough to be negligible. Imatest showed image resolution to be high (although not outstandingly so) and chromatic aberration was low enough to be negligible. Sample test graphs are shown below.
Camera response times were similar to those of the E-500, except when you use Mode B, when the camera’s lag time is about half a second. This delay occurs after the mirror has been raised, which happens before you start composing the shot and is followed by another delay of about half a second while the on-screen view brightens. Image processing times were relatively fast, with less than a second’s delay before shots were displayed on-screen. Image processing times were relatively fast, with less than a second’s delay before shots were displayed on-screen and file writing speeds reached almost 9.5 MB/sec. with a fast CF card.
While some DSLR manufacturers strive to out-do each other by offering cameras with ever higher megapixel counts, Olympus stands out for its focus upon product innovation. And the E-330 is the most innovative DSLR we’ve seen thus far, both in styling and functionality. Purchasers can expect some interested glances whenever it’s taken out and used.
Positioned between the entry-level E-500 and the “Professional” E-1 models, the new E-330 will replace the E-300 and offer features and functionality to suit a wide range of users at a reasonably competitive (but not rock bottom) price. An excellent choice for anyone who prefers to frame shots on a large LCD screen rather than using a viewfinder, it will be ideal for fixed-lens enthusiast camera users who want to upgrade to a DSLR but are worried about its complexity. It will also suit photographers who are moving from a film SLR to digital capture and will provide hitherto unparalleled ease of use for underwater photographers who want a high-performance camera that is easy to use in a waterproof housing. 
The illustrations used with this review were provided by Olympus Australia.
Image sensor: 4/3 type (17.3 x 13.0 mm) Live MOS solid-state image sensor with 7.94 million photosites (7.5-megapixels effective)
Lens mount: Zuiko Digital Four Thirds mount.
Lens multiplier factor: 2x
Image formats: RAW (12-bit), TIFF (8-bit), JPEG
Shutter speed range: 60-1/4000 plus bulb (up to 8 min.)
ISO range: ISO 100 to 400. (Expandable to 1600 in manual mode in 1/3 EV steps).
Dimensions (wxhxd): 140 x 87 x 72 mm (body only)
Weight: Approx. 540g (without battery and CF card).
Distributor: Olympus Imaging Australia, ph. 1300 659 678; www.olympus.com.au.
Focus system/modes: TTL phase difference detection AF/ Single AF, Continuous AF (tracking available), Manual focus, Single AF + MF, and Continuous AF + MF. 3 AF points auto/manual selection.
Exposure metering/control: TTL open aperture light metering with 49-zone multi-pattern sensing system; Digital ESP, Centre-weighted and Spot modes. Program AE with program shift, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual; 6 scene programs plus 15 additional Scene Select modes. (Total 31 shooting modes.)
White balance: Lamp 1 (3000K), Fluorescent 1 (4000K), Fluorescent 2 (4500K), Fluorescent 3 (6600K), Daylight (5300K), Cloudy (6000K), Shade (7500K) plus 1-touch, Kelvin settings (2000-14000K) and WB compensation of R-B / G-M, up to +/-7 steps (2 mired/step) for both auto and preset settings. WB bracketing of 3 frames with +/- 5/10/15 mired steps.
Colour Space Settings: sRGB, Adobe RGB
Flash GN (m at ISO 100): Approx. 13.
Sequence shooting: 3fps for 4 RAW/TIFF frames or up to 15 JPEG frames
Storage Media: Dual slots for CompactFlash (Type I and II)/Microdrive and xD Picture Card. No cards supplied.
Viewfinder: Eye-level TTL Optical Porro mirror type finder (~95% coverage)
LCD monitor: 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD panel with 215.250 pixels.
PC interface: USB 2.0 Full Speed
Power supply: BLM-1 lithium ion battery
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