DCRP Review: Olympus Stylus 300 Digital
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 3, 2003
Last Updated: March 3, 2003

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The Olympus Stylus 300 ($399) is part of a new line of digital cameras, based on Olympus' nearly legendary line of film cameras. The Stylus digital line consists of the 3 Megapixel Stylus 300 (reviewed here) and the 4 Megapixel Stylus 400. Both are point-and-shoot cameras in a small and weatherproof metal body.

There are a ton of small 3 Megapixel cameras out there, but the weatherproof aspect of the Stylus digital line makes them stand out.

How does the Stylus 300 do against the competition? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The Olympus Stylus 300 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Mpixel Stylus 300 camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • LI-10B rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • RM-2 remote control
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed), fold-out Quick Start guide, plus full manual on CD-ROM

You'll find a 16MB xD Picture Card in the box. It's enough to start with, but you'll probably want some larger memory cards right away. xD cards are available in capacities as large as 256MB at the time this was written.

The Stylus cameras are a rare bird for Olympus: they use a proprietary battery. They use the same LI-10B Li-ion battery as the C-50Z. I'm not a huge fan of such batteries (they are $70 a pop), but they are unavoidable with cameras this small. The LI-10B has 4.0 Watt/hours of power. Olympus does not publish how long the batteries will last.

When it's time to recharge, just pop the battery in the included charger, and plug it into the wall. This isn't one of those chargers with a built-in plug, by the way. Charging the LI-10B takes about two hours.

Look at this -- a new Olympus remote control! The RM-2 model doesn't do much, as you can see by its one button. You can only use it for taking pictures.

A built-in lens cover is part of the design of the Stylus 300. The cover also doubles as the power switch. To enter playback mode, you can hit the button on the back of the camera instead of opening the lens cover.

There aren't too many accessories available for the Stylus cameras. The most interesting one is the PT-016 underwater case ($199), which lets you take your camera up to 130 feet underwater. Other accessories include a soft case and AC adapter.

Like all of Olympus' recent models, the Stylus is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.

The Stylus 300 includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.1 software. If you've used older versions (pre 4.0) of this software, you'll be pleasantly surprised with the changes in this one.

The editing tools included with Camedia Master are impressive. You can change all kinds of things like brightness, contrast, and color balance. There are also red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options.

The software is much more responsive than the previous versions. My only complaint is that the interface is non-standard (doesn't follow human interface guidelines) on both Macs and PCs.

For $20 more (groan), Olympus will upgrade you to the "Pro" version of the software. This adds contact sheet printing, image e-mailing, HTML albums, panorama stitching, and slide shows.

Keeping with recent tradition, you'll only find a printed basic manual in the box. If you want the full scoop on using your Stylus 300, you'll need to view the full manual, which is on the CD.

Look and Feel

The Stylus Digital line are probably the most elegant cameras produced by Olympus. They are small, metal, and weatherproof. Note that weatherproof does NOT equal waterproof. It can handle a spray of water, but you cannot go swimming with it!

The Stylus 300 is easy to hold with one hand, and fits in any pocket with ease.

The official dimensions of the camera are 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.3 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 165 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot S400 Digital ELPHs numbers are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 and 185 grams, respectively.

Let's begin our tour of the Stylus 300 now:

The Stylus 300 has an F3.1 - F5.2, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range is 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. As with most ultra-compact cameras, the lens is not threaded.

Right at the top-center of the camera is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is approx. 0.5 - 3.6 m at wide-angle, and 0.2 - 2.0 m at telephoto.

Just below the flash is the self-timer lamp. At the bottom is the remote control receiver. Unfortunately, there's no AF illuminator to be found.

First, I want to apologize for this picture. This is what happens when two metal cameras rub together in a camera bag! With that out of the way...

The Stylus 300 has a 1.5" LCD display, which is average-sized for an ultra-compact camera. The resolution is good and images on it are bright and fluid. You can adjust the brightness via the menu system as well.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is also average-sized for a small camera. It does lack a diopter correction knob, but then again, the competition doesn't have it either.

To the right of the LCD is the four-way switch, used for menus and more. The "more" includes turning on macro mode and self-timer/remote control, adjusting the flash setting (auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash off), and activating the virtual mode wheel.

The virtual mode wheel is how you switch between modes on the Stylus 300. The available modes are:

  • Program Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape + Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night Scene
  • Self Portrait
  • Movie Mode

Since the Stylus lacks any real manual controls, I would've liked to have an "action" choice on that list. The night scene mode is the only way you're going to be able to do long exposures. 4 seconds is the slowest it will go in that mode.

Below that are buttons for Display/QuickView and Menu/OK. Pressing the Display button once will toggle the LCD on and off. Double-pressing it will enter playback mode.

At the top right of the photo are the zoom controls. The controller quietly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just over 1.5 seconds.

Here is the top of the Stylus 300. Up here, you'll find the large shutter release button.

On this side of the camera, under a rubber cover, is the DC-in port. If you buy the optional AC adapter, here's where you'll plug it in.

The photo gives you a good illustration of what makes the Stylus 300 weatherproof -- there are rubber gaskets around anything that opens.

This side of the camera contains the xD card slot, video out port, and USB port. The door that covers this slot can be hard to open as it seals tightly.

The included 16MB xD card is also shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Down here is the battery compartment as well as the metal (I think) tripod mount. The LI-10B battery is shown at right.

One annoyance that I discovered was that the battery compartment door liked to pop open, especially when I was taking it off a tripod. It needs a lock!

Using the Olympus Stylus 300

Record Mode

The camera takes just over 3 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures -- pretty fast. Auto focus speeds are generally good. Expect under a second delay in good lighting, and longer if the AF system has to hunt a bit. Despite not having an AF illuminator, the Stylus 300 did fairly well in low light situations.

Shutter lag was minor most of the time, except when a slow shutter speed was being used. You should probably be using a tripod anyway.

Shot-to-shot speed is good -- you'll wait just under two seconds between shots in SHQ mode.

There is no option to pause and delete photos as they are being written to the memory card. You can, of course, go to playback mode and do it there.

Olympus has kept the image size/quality options simple on the Stylus 300, which is a good thing. Here they are:

Quality Resolution # photos on 16MB card (included)
SHQ 2048 x 1536 6
HQ 2048 x 1536 20
SQ1 1600 x 1200 24
SQ2 1280 x 960 38
1024 x 768 58
640 x 480 99

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. 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.

The Stylus 300 uses Olympus' newer menu system, but it's not customizable like on their higher end models. When you first press the menu button, you are presented with four choices: exposure compensation (±2EV in 0.3EV increments), mode menu, white balance (auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent), and quality.

The mode menu is more traditional. Here's what you'll find there:

  • Camera Setup
    • Metering (ESP, spot)
    • Drive (Single-frame, sequential) - the latter about 4 shots at 1 frame/sec
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3X digital zoom will reduce the quality of your images
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded memory card
    • 2 in 1 - two shots in succession combined into one

  • Card Setup (Format)

  • Setup (the interesting ones, at least)
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Language (Japanese, English, French, German)
    • Rec View (on/off) - shows image after it's taken on LCD
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Pixel mapping - helps eliminate "bad pixels"
    • Monitor brightness
    • Video output (NTSC, PAL)

As you can see, there are no manual controls on the Stylus 300. It is strictly a point-and-shoot camera.

Are you tired of menus as I am? Then here are the photo tests:

The Stylus 300 did a fine job with our macro test. The colors look good, and the subject is sharp. The focal range in macro mode is 20 - 50 cm.

The only way you're going to pull off a night shot like this is in night scene mode, as program mode won't do a shutter speed this slow. The results are pretty good for a point-and-shoot camera. The photo above isn't going to win any awards but I think most people will be pleased with the Stylus 300's night shot abilities. Just remember your tripod!

There's a bit of redeye in my test shot, but not as much as I was expecting, given how close the flash is to the lens. Note that I enlarged this a bit so you can see the details.

The shot above is a new test I've been trying out. This board is shot at the wide-angle setting under natural light from about 2 feet away (give or take). The purpose of this test is to a) illustrate barrel distortion and b) show any vignetting (darkened corners) that may occur.

There isn't much vignetting to speak of here, and the barrel distortion doesn't seem too bad. It also looks like I need a larger board!

Though images were a little on the grainy side, overall the Stylus 300's photo quality was very good. Color and exposure was also well done. Since the camera automatically controls the ISO sensitivity, images can get noisy in lower light. Even at the lowest ISO setting (80), there's a fair amount of noise in images (even outdoors), due in part to the camera's aggressive sharpening algorithm. This also produces "jaggies" at sharp edges.

Lots of grain/noise in shadows

Jagged edges

View original image

Of course, most of this is meaningless when you're printing at 4 x 6 inches, but its worth mentioning.

Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and judge the photo quality for yourself!

Movie Mode

The Stylus 300's movie mode is very basic -- which is disappointing when compared to the competition. Clips are limited to just 16 seconds at 320 x 240, or 70 seconds at 160 x 120. Sound is not recorded either.

Not only can you not use the zoom during filming, but the lens is also locked at the wide-angle position.

Here's a sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (3.0MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Stylus 300 has a very good playback mode. Slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all available.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allowing you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo, and then move around in it.

Two other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240) and rotation.

Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. Turn on "info" in the menus and you'll get more. Unfortunately, you won't get a histogram.

The camera moves through images at an average pace, with a 2 second delay between high-res photos.

How Does it Compare?

If you want a small and stylish point-and-shoot camera, the Olympus Stylus 300 is worth a look. Photo quality is generally very good, though its marred a bit by occasional noise and jaggies. The Stylus is a pure point-and-shoot camera -- there are no manual controls. That means that it's super easy to use, but folks who want more advanced controls will probably want to look elsewhere. Other quibbles include a poor movie mode, battery door that pops open easily, and the lack of a full, printed manual.

What I liked:

  • Small, well-designed metal body -- weatherproof too!
  • Good photo quality for a small camera
  • Includes remote control
  • Good playback, scene modes
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF illuminator
  • No manual controls
  • Would've liked an "action" scene mode
  • Poor movie mode
  • Some "jaggies" and noise in images
  • Battery door needs a lock
  • Manual is on CD

Other small 3 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot A70 and S230, Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji FinePix A303, Konica KD-310Z, Kyocera Finecam S3L, Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3100, 3500, and SQ, Pentax Optio 33L and S, Sony DSC-P72 and -P8, and the Toshiba PDR-3310.

Crowded field, no? As always, I recommend a trip to a camera store to try the Stylus 300 in person before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our photo gallery to see how the Stylus 300's photos turned out!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Read a review of the Stylus 300 over at Steve's Digicams!


Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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