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DCRP Review: Olympus EVOLT E-330  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 25, 2006
Last Updated: February 12, 2012

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Being the jaded camera reviewer that I am, the talk of yet another entry-level digital SLR didn't excite me. Then Olympus told me the secret of the EVOLT E-330 ($999 body only, $1099 with lens): it's the first digital SLR with a real "live view" on the LCD -- just like on the point-and-shoot digicam you may already own. This type of camera has been the subject of rumors for quite some time, with most people figuring that there would be an electronic viewfinder in place of the traditional optical viewfinder. That is not the case on the E-330: there's a regular optical viewfinder in addition to that live view 2.5" LCD.

So how did Olympus pull it off? The answer is two-fold.

Image courtesy of Olympus

For regular shooting, there's "Live Mode A". Near the viewfinder, Olympus has placed a second image sensor (the same one as on the Stylus 800, apparently), which captures the light coming through the lens (after bouncing off a few mirrors), and then sends it to the LCD for the live view. As far as I know, something like this has never been done before.

Image courtesy of Olympus

But wait, there's more. The E-330's main sensor -- called a Live MOS (similar to CMOS) -- can also be used for live viewing (called "Live Mode B" this time). Since the mirror is flipped out of the way, the autofocus system cannot function, so this mode is for manual focusing only. The quality of the live image produced by the 7.5 Megapixel Live MOS sensor is much better than the one with the secondary sensor, and as an added bonus you can digitally enlarge the view by as much as ten times -- and move around in the zoomed-in area -- perfect for ensuring proper (manual) focus.

Many of the other features on the E-330 are unchanged from the E-300 that it replaces. You still have Olympus' exclusive dust reduction system, full manual controls, a hot shoe, and support for all Zuiko Digital lenses. One thing not going for the E-330 is its price: it costs $200 more than Olympus' own E-500, $300 more than the Canon Rebel XT, and a whopping $450 more than the Nikon D50!

Is the E-330 worth the extra bucks? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

There are two E-330 kits available: one with just the body and accessories, and another with all that plus a 14 - 45 mm lens. Here's what's in each:

  • The 7.5 effective Megapixel Olympus E-330 camera body
  • 14 - 45 mm, F3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital lens [lens kit only]
  • BLM-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens hood [lens kit only]
  • Body cap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master software
  • Camera manual

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Olympus does not include a memory card with the E-330, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. The camera supports both xD and CompactFlash memory cards, though you'll get the most capacity out of CF cards (and they're usually cheaper too). I'd recommend a 512MB or 1GB card as good place to start. The camera takes advantage of high speed memory cards, so for best performance you might want to pick one up.

The lens kit includes the venerable F3.5-5.6, 14 - 45 mm lens. This is a good everyday lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28 - 90 mm. If you want to buy additional lenses, Olympus has plenty for you to choose from, ranging from fisheye to macro to super telephoto. There's a focal length conversion ratio of 2X on the camera, which is higher than on other D-SLRs.

If you have a collection of old Olympus OM lenses, you can now use them on the E-330. Just pick up the MF-1 OM adapter ($99) and you can use many of those old lenses, albeit in manual focus mode only. The same 2X focal length conversion applies to these lenses as well.

The E-330 uses the same BLM-1 battery as the E-300 and E-500. This battery has a hefty 10.8 Wh of energy, which is about as powerful as you'll find. Olympus says that the camera can take 400 photos using the optical viewfinder, 350 shots using live view mode A, and 200 shots in live mode B. With that in mind, you might want to use the live view feature sparingly -- or just pick up an extra battery.

When it's time to recharge, pop the battery into the included BCM-2 charger. It takes a sluggish five hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy "plug it right into the wall" style chargers -- you must use a power cable.

Olympus will not be offering a battery grip for the E-330.

Being a digital SLR, there are endless numbers of accessories available for the E-330. They included lenses (of course), external flashes of all types, remote controls, and camera cases. There's even a very cool (not to mention expensive) $1100 underwater case available.

Olympus includes version 1.41 of their excellent Master software with the EVOLT. When you first start it up you'll be presented with the screen above. Options here include transferring images from a camera or memory card or browsing, sharing, and printing photos that have already been transferred. A backup option will save your photos to your hard drive or CD/DVD disk.

Here's the main image browsing screen. In the left pane you can choose how images are viewed: by date or category. Powerful searching features let you find images in a number of ways. The thumbnails in the center of the screen load quickly and you can adjust their size in real time. On the right side you'll find shooting data as well as links to Olympus and their partners.

Items in the toolbar include rotation, editing, printing, e-mailing, and RAW development. There is also a handy panorama stitching tool that will combine several photos into one.

Here is the editing screen, where you'll find rotation and cropping, "instant fix", redeye reduction, and color balance options.

The software also has basic RAW editing features. You can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, contrast, sharpness, and saturation. If you want more control you'll either need to use Photoshop (which is quite a bit faster, might I add) or pony up $100 for Olympus Studio. The Studio software also lets you control the E-330 over the USB cable and for many that feature is worth the $100 right there.

What's the big deal about RAW? Imagine being able to take a photo and later edit things like color, exposure, and white balance, without compromising the quality of the image. That's exactly what the RAW format does, though the catch is that you must process the images on your computer before you can use the images in other programs.

Speaking of spending extra money, you can also upgrade the Master software itself to the "Plus version". This adds movie editing capabilities, HTML album creation, improved image e-mailing, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.

One really nice feature on all of Olympus' E-series cameras is the ability to update the firmware of the camera, lenses, and other accessories right in the Master software. Just plug in the camera via USB, click a few buttons, and your firmware will be updated.

Olympus does a fairly good job with the documentation for the E-330 (I wish I could say the same about their fixed-lens cameras!). You get a fold-out Quick Start guide plus a thick 195 page advanced manual in the box. The latter is fairly detailed, though Olympus leaves out some explanations of some important features. For example, the only thing they tell you about the ISO Boost + NF (noise filter) feature is that shot-to-shot times will be slower -- nothing about what the NF feature actually does.

Look and Feel

The E-330 and the E-300, side by side; Image courtesy of Olympus

I'll be frank here: the Olympus E-300 was probably the worst-looking digital SLR on the market. While some people liked its design, I thought it looked like a brick. Thankfully, Olympus designers have rounded off those straight edges, making the E-330 a lot more pleasing to the eye. The camera still has the same "flat top" design, optical porro finder, and side-swinging mirror as the E-300.

The E-330 is a well-built camera with a plastic shell over a metal frame. It's easy to hold, though I wish it had a larger grip for your right hand. The camera has more than its share of buttons, which can be a bit confusing to beginners.

Now let's see how the camera compares with other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight (body only, of course).

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon Digital Rebel XT 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 485 g
Canon EOS-20D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 in. 67.0 cu in. 685 g
Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 47.8 cu in. 590 g
Nikon D50 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in. 62.4 cu in. 540 g
Nikon D70s 5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in. 75.0 cu in. 600 g
Olympus EVOLT E-300 5.7 x 3.4 x 2.5 in. 48.5 cu in. 580 g
Olympus EVOLT E-330 5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in. 52.4 cu in. 550 g
Olympus EVOLT E-500 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 49.1 cu in. 437 g
Pentax *ist DL 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 470 g
Pentax *ist DS2 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g
Samsung Digimax GX-1S 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in. 505 g

As you can see, the E-330 is the largest camera in the EVOLT lineup, and it's also one of the bulkier cameras in the entry-level D-SLR field.

Let's start our tour of the camera now beginning, as always, with the front of the camera.

In this front view of the E-330 you can see the FourThirds lens mount, where you can attach any Zuiko Digital lens. Olympus has built up a pretty good collection of lenses in the last few years, which will fit just about anyone's needs. As I said before, there's a 2X crop factor on whatever lens you put on the camera, so a 15 mm lens has the field-of-view of a 30 mm lens.

Just in front of the Live MOS sensor is Olympus' exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF), which uses ultrasonic waves to literally "shake" dust off the sensor. Anyone who has used a D-SLR for a while knows how annoying dust on the sensor can be, and Olympus is still the only one to do anything about it. The only downside to this feature is that startup times are slower than on other D-SLRs.

Directly above the lens is the E-330's pop-up flash. As with the E-300, the flash is released manually. Olympus says that the guide number for the pop-up flash is 13. If you want more flash power then you'll have to attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a bit.

While there's no dedicated AF-assist lamp on the camera, if you pop up the built-in flash, the camera will use it as a focusing aid. Best of all you can set up the camera to not take a flash picture in that situation, unlike some other D-SLRs. If you're using an Olympus external flash, the camera will use the AF-assist lamp on that instead.

To the lower-right of the lens mount is the release for the lens. Over on the opposite side of the photo is the receiver for an optional remote control, which also contains the self-timer lamp.

What good's a live view if you don't have a large LCD to enjoy it on? Not only is the LCD on the E-330 big (it's 2.5"), but it can also flip back from the camera and tilt. It can point toward the ceiling (actually, a little past that) and and toward the ground at about 45 degrees.

Why is a tilting LCD useful, you ask? Well, you can use it to hold the camera above you, like when you're shooting over a crowd of people. It also comes in handy for ground-level photos of kids and pets, or when you're trying to be "less obvious" when shooting in public places.

The LCD itself is nice and sharp, with over 215,000 pixels. It has a nice 160 degree viewing angle as well.

E-330, Live View Mode A PowerShot S3 IS

The quality of the live view is decent, but could definitely use some improvement. In normal lighting the live image is a bit darker and grainier than what you'd find on a fixed-lens camera, but absolutely usable. The refresh rate of the screen is very good as well -- no choppiness to be found.

E-330, Live View Mode A, Boost Off E-330, Live View Mode A, Boost On
PowerShot S3 IS

Where the live view begins to disappoint is when light levels drop. I took the above scene in fairly dim light. As you can see, with Live View Boost turned off, you can't see a thing on the LCD (and the dark viewfinder doesn't help matters, either). Your standard fixed-lens camera (the Canon PowerShot S3 in this case) does a MUCH better job in these situations. Turning on ISO boost gives you a grainy, sometimes black and white view of the subject, which I guess is better than nothing (at least it doesn't flicker like on my pre-production E-330). If you're in a situation where you can use the Live View Mode B, that brightens things up a bit, but it's still not great.

Live Mode B (right) shows more of the frame than Live Mode A (left). And, while hard to see here, the image is sharper and brighter too.

Something else to note: the camera does not give a "preview" of the selected white balance setting on the screen. So if you change to something else, you won't know the results until the photo is taken. Also, in Live Mode A you'll see 92% of the frame, as opposed to 100% in Mode B -- something to keep in mind when you're composing your shots.

One thing that thankfully didn't disappear on the E-330 is its optical viewfinder, which shows 95% of the frame. To the right of the field-of-view is an info display showing current settings and shots remaining, but it is disabled while using the live view feature. A diopter correction knob on the left side of the viewfinder focuses what you're looking at, and there's a switch for closing the viewfinder as well.

Due to the design of the camera, the viewfinder is quite dark. That's because a lot of the light coming through the lens is going to the live view sensor as well as the viewfinder -- something that doesn't happen on regular viewfinders. The dark viewfinder did bug me a bit when lighting was less than ideal, so you should DEFINITELY try out the camera before you buy it. I can't stress this enough.

Switching between the two live view modes

The button to the right of the viewfinder is a big one. Well, the button's small, but it's of big importance. This switches between the two live view modes. Again, "A mode" is your everyday mode, and it shows 100% of the frame. Olympus recommends closing the viewfinder to keep errant light from hitting the sensor. The "B mode" is only for manual focusing and is best suited to macro shooting on a tripod. Since the mirror is flipped out of the way (so the Live MOS sensor can do its thing), the autofocus system is disabled. In this mode you can digitally enlarge the frame by ten times, which helps a lot when you're taking close-up shots.

What you'll see on the LCD when live view is off You can change any of the settings quickly by using the four-way controller

To the right of the A/B mode switch is the Display button, which turns the live view feature on and off. When it's off, the camera shows a handy info display on the screen instead (remember, there's no separate LCD info display on the E-330). By using the four-way controller you can quickly change any of the settings on the screen without touching the menu system. Above that button is the release for the pop-up flash.

The buttons to the left of the LCD include:

  • Playback
  • Delete Photo
  • Menu
  • Info - toggles info displayed on LCD

Now let's jump over to the other side of the screen. Here you'll find two more buttons plus the four-way controller. The buttons are for:

  • AE/AF Lock + Delete Photo
  • Drive (Single shot, continuous, 2 or 12 sec self timer, 0 or 2 sec remote control) + DPOF Print Marking

The Drive button is how you'll activate the E-330's continuous shooting feature. One important thing to know here is that using the live view feature slows down continuous shooting considerably. In RAW, TIFF, and SHQ modes I took four shots in a row at a snappy 3 frames/second with the live view turned off. Turning it on let me take two more JPEG shots (RAW and TIFF still stopped after four), but at a much slower 1.6 fps frame rate. If you switch to the lower resolution JPEG modes you can keep shooting until the memory card is full, as long as your card is fast enough.

The four-way controller, which has the same chrome surround as the LCD, is used for menu navigation as well as:

  • Up - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, white fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, one-touch, custom) - see below
  • Down - ISO (Auto, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600) - those last two options are only available when ISO boost is turned on
  • Left - Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot - shadow control, spot - highlight control)
  • Right - Autofocus (Single, continuous, manual, single + manual, continuous + manual) - see below

The E-330 has several custom white balance options. For the various preset WB settings you can fine-tune the color in the red/blue and green/magenta directions. The one-touch mode lets you use a white or gray card as a reference so you'll get accurate color under even unusual lighting. If that's still not enough you can set the color temperature yourself, with a range of 2000K - 14000K. As I said earlier, you can't actually see the results of your white balance selection in the live view -- you'll have to take the picture and review that instead.

Live Mode B, manual focus, before center-frame enlargement

Zoomed in

What about those focus options? Single AF is what you're probably used to already: the camera locks focus when you halfway press the shutter release button. The continuous mode will keep trying to focus, even while you're holding down the shutter release. In manual focus mode you'll use the zoom ring (which is electronically linked to the lens) to set the focus distance yourself. You can use the center-frame enlargement feature that I mentioned at the start of the review here as well, though remember, it only works in Live Mode B. My only wish is for some focus distance markings -- either on the lens or on the LCD. There are also two options which let you use the manual focus after the camera focuses automatically.

The first thing to see on the top of the E-330 is its hot shoe. This can take an Olympus (FL-20, FL-36, or FL-50) or third-party flash. Do note that if you use a third-party flash you'll have to manually choose its settings. The Olympus flashes integrated with the camera, and their AF-assist lamps can be used as well. If you use the FL-36 or FL-50 you can turn on a "Super FP flash" option which allows you to use faster shutter speeds than you normally could. The E-330 can sync at shutter speeds of 1/180 sec and slower.

Jumping to the right side, we find buttons, dials, and switches. The mode dial is the most notable thing here, and its surrounded by the command dial, the power switch, and a lamp that illuminates when the Supersonic Wave Filter is cleaning the CCD.

Here's a look at the items on the mode dial:

Option Function
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, landscape, landscape+portrait, night scene, night+portrait, children, sport, high key, low key, digital image stabilization, macro, nature macro, candle, sunset, fireworks, documents, panorama, beach & snow, underwater wide, underwater macro
Night scene Same ones as in the scene mode menu, but easier to access
Auto record mode Totally point-and-shoot; flash will pop-up as needed
Program mode Still automatic, but flash must be popped up manually; a program shift feature lets you choose from several aperture/shutter speed combinations
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed; this will vary depending on the lens you are using; on the 14-45 that comes with the camera it was F3.5 - F22
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a range of 60 - 1/4000 sec
Full Manual mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed, same values as above; a bulb mode lets you take exposures as long as 8 minutes

If you read the list of scene modes you may have noticed a couple new ones. The digital image stabilization feature seems to increase the ISO sensitivity, which boosts the shutter speed, thus reducing blur in your photos. The panorama feature is just like the one on Olympus' consumer cameras: it helps you line up your photos properly. An Olympus-branded xD card is required for this feature (groan).

Just north of the mode dial is the exposure compensation button, which lets you adjust that setting from -5.0EV to +5.0EV in 1/3EV increments. Just above that button is the shutter release.

On this side of the camera you'll find the USB + A/V out port, which is protected by a rubber cover. Like its predecessor, the camera only supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which is the "slow USB 2.0". The one we want (and which most of the competition offers) is USB 2.0 High Speed.

On the other side of the E-330 you'll find its dual memory card slots, which include xD and CompactFlash. The slots are protected by somewhat flimsy plastic door.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. This compartment is protected by a plastic door that felt a little fragile to me.

The included BLM-1 battery is shown at right.

Using the Olympus E-330

Record Mode

It takes about 1.6 seconds for the E-330 to do its dust removal thing and prepare for shooting. That's longer than on other D-SLRs, but they don't have dust reduction features either. As someone who has a EOS-20D with a dust problem, I'd gladly wait a little longer to have dust-free photos.

Although it's not quite as fast as some other D-SLRs, the E-330 still focuses very quickly for a digital camera. Typically, focusing takes between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds in good light, and longer if the camera has to "hunt" a bit. In low light you can pop up the flash and use it as an AF-assist lamp. When you do so the camera focuses quickly and accurately. You do not need to take a flash photo if you don't want to.

For shooting with the optical viewfinder or Live Mode A, shutter lag will not be a problem. If you use Live Mode B shutter lag will be a problem (due to the design of the camera), so you'll want to use a tripod when using that feature.

And, as you'd expect from a D-SLR, you can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot -- at least until the buffer fills up. When shooting at the SHQ, RAW, or TIFF setting, that happens after about four or five photos.

There is no way to delete a photo after it is taken -- you must first enter playback mode.

There are tons of image quality options available on the E-330. For several of the choices you can choose how much compression is applied to the image: the more compression, the smaller the file size and the worst the image quality. Here's the full list of options:

File Type Resolution Compression Approx. file size # images on
512MB card
RAW 3136 x 2352 N/A 12.9 MB 39
TIFF 3136 x 2352 N/A 21.6 MB 23
SHQ (JPEG) 3136 x 2352 1/2.7 5.7 MB 89
HQ (JPEG) 3136 x 2352 1/4 4.0 MB 128
1/8 1.8 MB 284
1/12 1.2 MB 426
SQ (JPEG) 2560 x 1920 1/2.7 4.0 MB 128
1/4 2.4 MB 213
1/8 1.2 MB 426
1/12 800 KB 640
1600 x 1200 1/2.7 1.4 MB 365
1/4 900 KB 568
1/8 500 KB 1024
1/12 300 KB 1706
1280 x 960 1/2.7 900 KB 568
1/4 600 KB 853
1/8 300 KB 1706
1/12 200 KB 2560
1024 x 768 1/2.7 600 KB 853
1/4 400 KB 1280
1/8 200 KB 2560
1/12 100 KB 5120
640 x 480 1/2.7 200 KB 2560
1/4 200 KB 2560
1/8 100 KB 5120
1/12 100 KB 5120

Please note that the number of images on a 512MB data are my only calculations based on Olympus' file size data -- they're not official.

Anyhow, the E-330 supports the JPEG, TIFF, and RAW formats. RAW files contain untouched image data from the Live MOS sensor, and in order to do anything with them you must first process them on your computer. While doing that you can adjust various properties (such as color and white balance) without affecting the quality of the image. The E-330 also supports in-camera RAW editing, as you'll see later in this article. You can take a RAW image by itself, or along with a JPEG at the same time.

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems out there. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

Let's discuss the menu system now!

The E-330 has the same menu system as the E-300. The menus are divided into five "tabs": shooting 1 & 2, playback, and custom 1 & 2. Here are the the complete menu options:

  • Shooting menu 1
    • Card setup (Format, all erase)
    • Custom reset setting (Reset, my reset 1/2) - you can choose your own default settings if you want
    • Picture effects (Vivid, natural, muted, monotone, sepia) - for each of these can you adjust:
      • Contrast (1 - 5)
      • Sharpness (1 - 5)
      • Saturation (1 - 5)
      • Black & white filter (Neutral, yellow, orange, red, green) - only available for monotone and sepia
      • Picture tone (Neutral, sepia, blue, purple, green) - only available for monotone and sepia
    • Gradation (High key, normal, low key) - a kind of dynamic range control
    • Image quality (RAW+SHQ, RAW+HQ, RAW+SQ, RAW, TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ) - see above chart for more on this
    • Exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in long exposures; doubles shooting time
    • White balance
      • WB setting (Auto, 5300K, 6000K, 7500K, 3000K, 4000K, 4500K, 6600K, One-touch, custom) - explained earlier
      • WB compensation (Red/Blue, Green/Magenta) - adjust either one from -7 to +7 in 1-step increments
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600) - those last few options require ISO boost to be turned on
    • Metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot - highlight, spot - shadow)

  • Shooting menu 2
    • Flash mode
      • Setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd curtain slow sync)
      • Flash power (Full, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64)
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer, remote control) - explained earlier
    • AF mode (Single AF, continuous AF, manual focus, single AF + manual focus, continuous AF + manual focus) - these too
    • Focus point (Auto, left, center, right)
    • AE bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure setting
    • White balance bracketing
      • Color (Red/blue, green/magenta)
      • Shots (Off, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/4 steps, 3 frames/6 steps)
    • Exposure bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - see below
    • Flash bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - see below
    • Manual focus bracketing (Off, 5 frames/1 step, 5 frames/2 steps, 7 frames/1 step, 7 frames/2 steps)
    • Anti-shock (Off, 1-30 sec) - keeps the mirror open so its movement doesn't blur your photos

  • Playback menu
    • Slide show (1, 4, 9, 16, 25) - start the slide show and choose number of pictures per screen
    • Image rotation
    • Edit - see playback section
      • RAW data
      • JPEG/TIFF (Black and white, sepia, redeye fix, saturation, resize)
    • DPOF print marking
    • Copy all - copy images from one memory card to another

  • Custom 1
    • ISO step (1/3EV, 1EV)
    • ISO boost (Off, on, on with noise filter) - lets you use the higher ISO sensitivities
    • ISO limiter (Off, 100, 200, 400, 800) - set the upper limit in Auto ISO mode
    • EV step (1/3EV, 1/2EV, 1EV)
    • All WB modes compensation (Clear, set) - lets you fine-tune all white balance settings at the same time
    • HQ (1/4, 1/8/ 1/12) - set the compression level for HQ setting
    • SQ
      • Pixel count (3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
      • Compression (1/2.7, 1/4, 1/7, 1/12)
    • Manual flash (on/off) - lets you manually select the flash power
    • Flash/exposure compensation (on/off) - links exposure compensation to flash power
    • Sync speed (1/60 - 1/180 sec) - for an external flash
    • Live view boost (on/off) - described earlier
    • Command dial - defines what this button does
      • Program mode (Program shift, exposure compensation)
      • Manual mode (Shutter speed, aperture)
    • AE/AF lock - define how exposure and focus are locked for each focus mode
      • S-AF (Mode 1-3)
      • C-AF (Mode 1-4)
      • Manual focus (Mode 1-3)
    • AE/AF lock memory (on/off) - makes this button an on/off switch (rather than having to hold it down)
    • AE lock metering (ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot shadow, spot highlight) - what metering mode is used with AE lock
    • Quick erase (on/off) - removes the confirmation for delete a photo; be careful!
    • RAW+JPEG erase (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG) - remove part or all of a RAW+JPEG image
    • Drive button (Drive + remote + self timer, test picture, My Mode, Preview, Preview B) - redefine the function of this button
    • My Mode Setup (Off, My Mode 1/2) - save your custom settings here for easy retrieval
    • Focus ring (Counter-clockwise, clockwise) - choose how the focus ring works
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • Reset lens
    • Release priority S (on/off) - whether the camera will take a picture without having focus lock [single AF version]
    • Release priority C (on/off) - whether the camera will take a picture without having focus lock [continuous AF version]
    • Frame Assist - a first on a D-SLR
      • A Mode (Off, passport)
      • B Mode (Off, golden section, grid, scale)

  • Custom 2
    • Date/time
    • Media select (CF, xD) - choose which memory card slot is used
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Edit file name - you can customize this if you like; you can have different file names for sRGB and AdobeRGB images, as well
    • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
    • Language (English, French, German, Spanish)
    • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Rec view (Off, 1-20 sec) - for post-shot review
    • Sleep (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 min)
    • 4 hour timer (Of, 4 hrs) - auto power off
    • Button hold times (3, 5, 8 sec, hold) - for those direct buttons; longer is better
    • Startup screen (on/off)
    • Control panel color (1, 2)
    • Priority set (yes/no) - choose whether "yes" is highlighted on those "are you sure?" menu options like deleting photos
    • USB mode (Auto, storage, control, easy print, custom print)
    • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
    • Shading compensation (on/off) - helps reduce vignetting
    • Pixel mapping - get rid of hot pixels
    • Cleaning mode - flips up the mirror so you can remove dust using a blower
    • Underwater scenes (on/off) - swaps the sport and night+portrait spots on the mode dial with underwater macro and underwater wide
    • Firmware - see below

That was exhausting! The only things that I want to explain in a little more detail are the bracketing features. The exposure bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. Flash bracketing works the same way, except the camera adjusts the flash strength instead. There's also focus bracketing, which takes up to seven frames in a row, each with a different focus distance.

Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now.

The E-330 did a nice job with our usual macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated, and the figurine has a nice smooth look to it, as you'd expect from a digital SLR. Using Live View Mode B made verifying focus a snap. I used the 14 - 45 mm kit lens for this shot.

The minimum focus distance to your subject will depend on your choice of lens. Olympus makes a two dedicated macro lenses, and I used the 50 mm version a few years ago and enjoyed using it.

The EVOLT did a pretty nice job with the night test shot as well. The camera took in plenty of light -- in fact, I should've probably closed down the aperture a bit more than I did. The buildings are a bit on the soft side, which is fairly normal for a digital SLR. Noise was not a problem, and purple fringing was minimal. I used the Olympus 18 - 180 mm lens for this test.

I have two ISO tests in this review: one in low light and another in normal light. The low light ISO test uses the night scene above. Have a look:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 w/noise filter

I actually like the ISO 200 shot better than the ISO 100 shot because it's a little sharper. Noise starts to become visible at ISO 400, and details start to disappear at ISO 800. Above that, detail loss is heavy, and the noise filter feature only helped a tiny bit. So, as far as low light shooting goes, you'll probably want to keep the ISO at 400 or less if possible, especially if you're making larger-sized prints.

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 45 mm kit lens. While I see a bit of vignetting on the test chart, I didn't find this to be a problem in my real world photos. Remember that barrel distortion will vary depending on what lens you're using.

I wouldn't expect to find redeye on a digital SLR, and the E-330 didn't disappoint in that regard.

Here's the other ISO test, this one taken in my studio under a pair of 600W quartz studio lamps. Since the camera gets to use faster shutter speeds in this test, noise levels will be lower than in the long exposure test. I've cropped out an area of the test scene for easy comparison, but you should look at the full-size images if you want to really see the differences.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 w/noise filter

The ISO 100 and 200 shots are nearly identical in terms of noise, and at ISO 400 things aren't much worse. You should easily be able to make 8 x 10 inch prints at those settings (and perhaps even larger). Things are still very good at ISO 800, and only once we approach the ISO 1600 maximum does noise and softness become a problem. At those sensitivities you'll probably want to keep your print sizes on the small side. Turning on the noise filter just made things softer, so I don't see the point of using that. It's also worth mentioning that there are many stops between the ISO settings I chose above -- I can't show them all here.

The E-330 holds its own against the Canon Digital Rebel XT and Nikon D50 in terms of noise. Both of those cameras produced sharper images in this test, but noise levels were comparable. The E-330 seemed to actually do a little better at high ISOs than the EVOLT E-500.

Overall, the EVOLT E-330's image quality was excellent. The camera took well-exposed photos with accurate colors, super-low noise levels (through ISO 400), and minimal purple fringing. As with all digital SLRs, images straight out of the camera may look a little soft to some people. If you want to sharpen things up then you should play around with the sharpness setting, which is buried deep in the Picture Mode submenu in Shooting Menu 1. Another option is to shoot in RAW mode, where you can adjust the sharpness as needed for each photo.

The only real complaint I have about the E-330's photo quality is the very occasional appearance of "jaggies". You can see them on the building on the far right here, and on the clock in this shot. While I didn't get a chance to try it myself, you may want to experiment with shooting in RAW mode to see if that reduces this problem.

Since I'm occasionally wrong, I invite you to take a look at our extensive E-330 photo gallery and see what this camera can do with your own eyes. I also encourage you to print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if this camera's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

No digital SLR has a movie mode.

Playback Mode

The E-330 has a playback mode typical of those on D-SLRs. The usual features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you blow up the image by up to a factor of fourteen, and then scroll around in the enlarged area. There's even a feature that lets you compare two photos side by side (zoomed in, of course) called Light Box mode.

You can rotate and resize photos, change them to black & white or sepia, or adjust the saturation by using the JPEG/TIFF edit function. There's also a redeye fix feature, should you need to use it.

The RAW edit feature lets you apply the current camera settings to a RAW image. Did you botch the white balance? Choose the settings you wanted to use, then use RAW data edit to fix your image (the original RAW image is saved). You can, of course, still edit the RAW properties on your Mac or PC.

By default the E-330 doesn't tell you much about the photos you have taken. But by pressing the Info button, you can cycle through various screens full of exposure data, shadow and highlight displays, and histograms.

The camera moves through photos instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus EVOLT E-330 is a breath of fresh air in the often stale world of consumer digital SLRs. While most new D-SLRs add things like more resolution and a larger LCD, Olympus has broken the mold and given us a camera with a live view LCD that everyone with a fixed-lens camera has been enjoying for ten years. Being a new technology, the live view feature is not without its problems, and the tradeoffs that come with it should be carefully thought over before you drop the thousand dollars (or more) On the E-330. If you can live with these tradeoffs you'll find a capable digital SLR that lets you shoot in ways that were impossible -- or at least back-breaking -- on other cameras in this class.

The EVOLT E-330 is a fairly large digital SLR. It's very well built for the most part, though the two protective doors on the camera could've been stronger. The camera feels solid in your hands, but I wish the right hand grip was larger. The controls are all well-placed and Olympus didn't go overboard with "button clutter" like some other D-SLRs. In fact, Olympus made it really easy to change the settings on the camera, with commonly accessed settings right on the four-way controller. You can also use this controller to navigate the "info screen" in record mode to change other settings. The E-330 uses the new 7.5 Megapixel Live MOS sensor and supports all of Olympus' Zuiko digital lenses. It has two memory card slots, supporting both CompactFlash (including Microdrives) and xD media.

The most notable feature on the E-330 is definitely its 2.5" live view LCD display. The screen is big, it's sharp, and it tilts so you can take overhead or ground level shots. There are two live view modes on the camera, though one is restricted to manual focus use only. In Mode A the E-330 acts just like your fixed-lens digicam (though it's not as sharp or bright), except when light levels get low. Once there you have a choice of not seeing anything or getting a grainy black & white view instead. If you're coming from a modern fixed-lens camera then you'll be a bit disappointed in that regard. In Live Mode B you must use manual focus, but you get the bonus feature of being able to digitally enlarge the frame by ten times, so you can make sure that your subject is in focus. Live Mode B is brighter and sharper than Mode A, as well.

Along with that nifty live view come quite a few tradeoffs, and I already mentioned the poor low light visibility. Due to the design of the camera, the optical viewfinder doesn't get as much light as on a normal D-SLR. Yes, the viewfinder is dark, and I really mean it when I say "try this one in person before you buy it!". Shutter lag is a big issue when using Live Mode B (since the mirror has to be flipped back down, then up again), it's not really suited for action photography. Speaking of action, you'll probably want to stick to the optical viewfinder when using the continuous shooting mode, as the frame rate is strangely halved when using the live view. The one last item that I want to mention here is that Live View A doesn't show 100% of the frame like on your fixed-lens camera: instead, it shows 92%. If you want to see 100% of the frame you'll need to use Mode B.

Okay, now let's talk about some of the E-330's other features. If you like scene modes, then this is your camera. I used the digital image stabilization scene for many of my photos and it worked well -- though remember that its just boosting the ISO sensitivity (and not moving a lens element or the CCD). If you're ready for manual controls the E-330 has those too, ranging from white balance to exposure to, of course, focus. Fans of long exposures will appreciate the ability to use shutter speeds as slow as 8 minutes in bulb mode. If you have the space on your memory card you have three bracketing features to choose from, including exposure, white balance, and focus. You can fine-tune color, contrast, sharpness, and white balance as well.

While not as fast as some other D-SLRs, the E-330 is a good performer overall. The camera's startup time is slow compared to the competition, but for good reason: the Supersonic Wave Filter is removing dust from the sensor, and I'm more than happy to wait for that. The camera focuses fairly quickly, though it has only three focus points (compared to five and seven on the Nikon D50 and Canon Rebel XT, respectively). If you pop up the flash the camera will use that as a low light focusing aid, and it does a good job at it. Shutter lag was only a problem is you use Live View Mode B, as I explained earlier. Shot-to-shot times were excellent, regardless of the file format used (JPEG, RAW, TIFF). The continuous shooting mode is pretty good, especially if you use the lower resolutions, but do yourself a favor and turn off the live view, as it lowers the frame rate from 3.0 to 1.6 frames/second.

Photo quality on the E-330 was excellent in my opinion. The camera took properly exposed photos with accurate colors, minimal purple fringing, with the trademark "smooth" (some would say soft) look of a digital SLR. Noise levels were quite low through ISO 400, and you can still get a 8 x 10 print at ISO 800. Above that you'll most likely be doing small prints. I was surprised at how well the E-330 kept up with the D50 and Rebel XT in the noise department, since Olympus' other D-SLRs have a reputation for being noisy at high ISOs. Redeye was not a problem, nor would I expect it to be. The one photo quality negative I found were occasional "jaggies" in some of my photos.

While I mentioned a bunch of negatives (most of them related to the live view feature) a few paragraphs up, I want to slip in a few more here. Battery life on the E-330 is comparable to other D-SLRs if you use the optical viewfinder, but if you use the live view it lasts for half as long. While the frame enlargement feature in manual focus mode is extra cool, it sure would be nice for some focus distances, either on the lens or on the LCD. And finally, I find it appalling that this $1000 camera does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol.

The biggest negative for the E-330 is its price. Is it worth paying almost $1100 for the E-330 kit, when you can get a Canon Rebel XT with a lens or the very capable Olympus E-500 dual lens kit for $700? Would I, Jeff Keller, pay four hundred dollars more for a live view feature? Probably not. But, since I'm not the one shopping for a camera here, you need to decide if its worth the extra money (not to mention the tradeoffs) for this often useful feature.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality; low noise levels through ISO 800; redeye not a problem
  • Live view feature lets you shoot in ways not possible with other D-SLRs (though see the numerous issues below)
  • Large, high resolution, tilting LCD display
  • Solid construction, no button clutter
  • Full manual controls, and then some
  • Center-frame enlargement for manual focusing
  • Very good performance
  • Flash-based AF-assist system performed well
  • Useful dust removal system
  • Settings can be changed easily using four-way controller
  • In-camera RAW editing feature
  • Dual memory card slots
  • All the expandability you'd expect from a D-SLR; fancy underwater case available too
  • Camera can be controlled from your computer via optional Olympus Studio software
  • Firmware upgrades for camera and accessories are super-easy

What I didn't care for:

  • Hefty price premium
  • Poor low light visibility when using live view; "boost" feature doesn't help much
  • Darker-than-average optical viewfinder
  • Live View Mode A doesn't show 100% of the frame like on most fixed-lens cameras
  • Continuous shooting burst rate drops dramatically when using live view
  • Some jaggies in photos
  • Battery life isn't great when using live view
  • Somewhat flimsy plastic doors over memory card / battery compartments
  • Larger right hand grip would've been nice
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • No battery grip available

Some other digital SLRs to consider include the Canon Digital Rebel XT and EOS-20D, Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D (I suppose), Nikon D50 and D70s, Olympus EVOLT E-500, Pentax *ist DL and DS2, and the Samsung Digimax GX-1S.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the E-330 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery.

Want another opinion?

You can find a very in-depth review of the E-330 at Digital Photography Review. Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource have previews available, as well.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.