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Press the exposure-compensation button, and you can dial in ±5 stops of compensation, in 0.3- or 0.5-stop increments. There’s also automatic exposure bracketing (three frames, in 0.3-, 0.5-, 0.7- or full-stop increments).

Action shots are easy with only the central AF sensor activated.

Flash
The built-in TTL auto flash unit (ISO 100 guide number 13/42, in meters/feet) covers the angle of view of the 14–54mm zoom lens that is sold with the EVOLT (equivalent to 28–90mm on a 35mm SLR), and moves forward as well as up when activated (by pressing the flash button), so the lens doesn’t obstruct the bottom portion of the beam. Flash modes include auto (automatically fires when needed), red-eye reduction (fires preflashes to “stop-down” subjects’ eyes and thus reduce red-eye), slow sync with first- or second-curtain sync, slow sync with red-eye reduction, fill-in (fires for every shot regardless of light level), fill-in with red-eye reduction, and fill-in with second-curtain sync. You can, via an LCD monitor menu, adjust flash intensity up to ±2 stops to get just the “look” you want in a flash shot.

Add a dedicated Olympus FL-50, FL-36 or FL-20 flash unit to the camera’s hot-shoe, and you get more power and other features. The FL-36 and FL-20 can be used with the built-in flash; the FL-50 and FL-36 provide Super FP flash, in which sync can be achieved at all shutter speeds (normal maximum flash-sync shutter speed is 1¼180).

More Features
The EVOLT is a sturdy camera, especially for its price class, with an aluminum top cover, die-cast aluminum chassis, and a strong shutter mechanism. Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1¼4000, plus Bulb for exposures of up to 8 minutes.

Olympus did away with the conventional SLR pentaprism hump atop the camera by doing away with the conventional pentaprism. The EVOLT has a TTL optical porro finder with side-swing mirror box, which results in a flat, more-compact design while retaining through-the-lens viewing. You can check depth of field in the finder by pressing the OK button on the camera back.

You have to nail the exposure to get good results at ISO 1600. Sepia mode was used here. Photo by Joe Guzman, Courtesy of Olympus

Digital Stuff
The EVOLT’s 8.88-megapixel Full Frame Transfer CCD image sensor delivers a maximum image resolution of 3264x2448 pixels (8.0 megapixels) in 12-bit RAW, 8-bit TIFF and JPEG formats. JPEGs can be recorded with 1/2.7, 1/4 or 1/8 compression at several resolutions: the aforementioned full 8 megapixels, 3200x2400 (7.7 megapixels), 2560x1920 pixels (5 megapixels), 1600x1200 pixels (1.9 megapixels), 1280x960 pixels (1.2 megapixels), 1024x768 pixels (0.8 megapixel), and 640x480 pixels (0.3 megapixel, ideal for website use and e-mailing). File sizes vary with image content, but here are some approximations: RAW, 13.5MB; TIFF, 23.3MB, SHQ (highest-quality JPEG), 6.1MB; 640x480 1/8 compression (lowest-quality JPEG), 0.1MB. This means a 1GB CF card will hold around 74 RAW images, 43 TIFFs, 164 highest-quality JPEGs, or up to 10,000 lowest-quality JPEGs (of course, you’re not likely to shoot at the lower resolutions—better to shoot higher-quality images and downsize the ones you want to use on the Web in your image-editing program, so you have high-quality originals, but those are the numbers). The RAW images carry an .ORF suffix (for Olympus RAW Format); like all RAW images, they must be processed with proprietary software that comes with the camera, but they offer potentially the best image quality. We do most of our digital shooting in highest-quality JPEG mode (SHQ, with Olympus cameras), but recommend using RAW or TIFF format when shooting in low light or at ISOs above 400.

One big drawback to digital SLRs is that dust can get on the image sensor whenever you switch lenses, and dust on the image sensor will show up in every shot (most obvious against plain light areas like the sky, but always there). And digital image sensors are more delicate than SLR mirrors, and tricky to clean yourself. Like the E-1, the EVOLT incorporates a Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) that uses high-speed ultrasonic vibrations (at a rate of 350,000 per second) to knock dust off the sensor, and it does it automatically every time you switch the camera on.

The EVOLT with this 14–45mm zoom sells for under $1000—quite a deal!

The EVOLT’s 1.8-inch, 134,000-pixel Hyper Crystal color LCD monitor can be read throughout a 160° arc. Press the info button, and the monitor displays a command screen that shows the current camera settings at a glance. You can change any of them by pressing the appropriate button and rotating the control dial until the desired result appears on the monitor. There’s also a series of menus you can access by pressing the menu button, which let you make additional camera settings. Press the playback button, and the last shot made appears on the monitor. Repeatedly pressing the info button then toggles through the image with date and time (handy when you’re afield and didn’t bring a watch), image with a histogram, and image with metadata (including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length, etc. used for the shot).

An Olympus TruePic TURBO image-processing engine speeds up image processing and camera start-up, reduces shutter-release lag time, and improves color and contrast. The Full Frame Transfer CCD provides a greater percentage of image-gathering area on each pixel than conventional Interline CCDs, for better resolution and dynamic range, and less noise.

In Use
The EVOLT is very easy to learn and use for a digital SLR. Many settings can be made merely by pressing the appropriate button and rotating the control dial until the desired icon appears on the LCD monitor, rather than having to scroll through LCD monitor menus using up/down and left/right arrow keys. While the buttons are on the smallish side, we were able to operate them all while wearing leather gloves during cold-morning outings at a local wildlife area.

AF performance was excellent in good light, but poor in dim light (the camera flat wouldn’t autofocus in pre-dawn light when other digital SLRs we tested recently did). With only the center AF area active, the AF system handled tricky birds-in-flight shots as well as any under-$2000 digital SLR we’ve used.

The Digital ESP metering was very accurate in good light, but tended to underexpose in dim light, and in scenes containing very small very bright areas.

Image quality at ISO 100–400 was excellent, and properly exposed images at ISO 800 were very good. Underexposed images tend to get noisy, and we found the camera’s top ISO of 1600 usable only if we nailed the exposure. Dynamic range was outstanding with properly exposed images. All digital cameras we’ve used have trouble with white bird subjects in bright sun, but the EVOLT handled them as well as any.

The Supersonic Wave Filter really did its job, as we never encountered evidence of dust on the image sensor despite many lens changes in the field.

Battery life was very good—no surprise since the same battery also provided lots of shots with the E-1. We made up to 437 exposures on a charge, many with flash, without seeing the low-battery warning—the BLM-1 Li-ion battery that comes with the camera, plus one backup (either used one after the other in the camera, or together in the optional HLD-3 Power Battery Holder) should wear down even the most enthusiastic shooter before the camera runs out of “juice.”

The new FL-36 flash unit was designed specifically for use with digital cameras.

Bottom Line
While not the best choice for low-light specialists, the EVOLT is excellent in all other respects, particularly good-light image quality and action-subject autofocusing. With its 8-megapixel resolution, rugged body, dust-removing Supersonic Wave Filter and lots more—all for under $1000 including 14–45mm zoom—the EVOLT certainly is a tremendous value.

Camera: Olympus EVOLT E-300
Category: AF digital SLR
AF Performance
* * * *
Metering Performance
* * * *
Feature Set
* * * *
Ease of Use
* * * *
Ergonomics
* * * * *
Value
* * * * *

Specifications
CAMERA: Olympus EVOLT E-300
TYPE: AF digital SLR
LENS MOUNT: Four Thirds system
FOCAL-LENGTH CONVERSION FACTOR: 2X
IMAGING ELEMENT: 8.9-megapixel 17.3x13.0mm CCD sensor; 8.0 image megapixels
IMAGE RESOLUTIONS: 3264x2448 pixels (RAW); 3264x2448 pixels (TIFF); 3264x2448, 3200x2400, 2560x1920, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 1024x768 and 640x480 pixels (JPEG)
IMAGE FILE TYPES: RAW, TIFF, JPEG, simultaneous RAW and JPEG capture
STORAGE: CompactFlash cards Type I & II, Microdrives
FOCUSING: TTL phase-detection AF with 3 AF points; AF range EV 0 to 19 (ISO 100); single-shot AF, predictive continuous AF, manual via focusing ring on lens
METERING: TTL multi-segment Digital ESP, center-weighted and 2% spot metering
EXPOSURE MODES: Shiftable program AE, shutter- and aperture-priority AE, scene-specific programs, metered manual
SHUTTER: Computerized focal-plane shutter with speeds from 30 sec. to 1¼4000 plus B (up to 8 minutes)
ISO SETTINGS: 100–1600
DRIVE MODES: Single-frame and continuous (2.5 fps for up to 3 shots in RAW or TIFF mode, more in JPEG)
FLASH: Built-in TTL auto flash plus hot-shoe for dedicated external flash units; built-in flash has ISO 100 GN of 13/42 (meters/feet), covers angle of view of 14mm lens (equivalent to 28mm lens on 35mm camera); first- and second-curtain sync; ±2EV of flash exposure compensation; maximum flash-sync shutter speed 1¼180 (1¼4000 in Super FP mode)
VIEWFINDER: Fixed eye-level reflex type with side-swing mirror box shows 94% of actual image area, 1.0X magnification with 50mm lens at infinity; 20mm eyepoint; built-in eyepiece correction from –3.0 to +1.0 diopters
VIEWFINDER INFORMATION: AF frames (active point glows red in single-shot AF mode), aperture, shutter speed, focus status, flash status, white balance, AE lock, number of shots remaining, exposure-compensation value, metering mode, battery check, exposure mode
LCD MONITOR: 1.8-inch TFT color LCD displays exposed images, shooting information, setting menus
SELF-TIMER: Electronic, 10- or 2-sec. delay (cancelable)
POWER SOURCE: One rechargeable 7.2V BLM-1 lithium-ion battery pack, AC via optional AC adapter AC-1
DIMENSIONS: 5.8x3.3x2.5 in.
WEIGHT: 20.5 oz.
STREET PRICE: $999.99 w/14–45mm f/3.5–5.6 zoom lens
DISTRIBUTOR: Olympus America Inc.; www.olympusamerica.com/evolt

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