Magazine Article


Olympus E-330: Reshuffling the Deck

Olympus E-330
Olympus E-330
Photo of a Cat Using an E-330
This is how a cat looks to a mouse, or to an E-330 placed on the floor with the Live View LCD unfolded to give the composition to the photograher lurking above. While we won’t say it’s impossible to get a shot like this any other way, it sure wouldn’t be easy.
Don Sutherland

Let Us Reason Together

The respective virtues of optical SLR and EVF systems made sense to different people, and was one of the main delineations between the DSLRs and the DZLRs. The latter are the high-performance compacts with permanently-installed lenses. A shopper considering either of them could easily be considering both—what’re the differences? The DSLR could use interchangeable lenses, but with the 10x to 12x zoom range of many DZLRs, do we need interchangeable lenses?

While we’re debating that, there was another class difference between the two types. The DSLRs have optical reflex viewfinders, and the DZLRs have live monitor feeds (in addition to eyelevel EVFs), many on hinged or articulated mountings. For a shopper who decided that a 10x or 12x zoom was enough—and it sure is plenty—the viewfinding system would be the next major realm of contention. And it was always either/or.

Maybe there were folks (besides us, of course) who yearned for the virtues of both viewing systems in one camera, but they were out of luck, said conventional wisdom. Big technical problem. The mirror sticking down in the optical path of the SLR viewfinder must flick out of the way for only the instant of exposure, but for a digital imager it would have to be out of the way all the time. This means no more SLR viewfinder.

Waist-level viewing and pivoting monitor screens are not innovations of digital still cameras, but they’re important adoptions from earlier times. The tenacity of their appeal to the picture-taking public proves the value of their presence today, and reassures of their adoption by an appreciative market.

The solution to the mirror-in-the-optical-path problem has historical precedents too. More than one camera had a small video camera inserted into its reflex viewfinder, to send the scene from the lens back to TV monitors. Most of these systems worked with large cameras on studio sets, for even a small vidicon TV camera was itself the size of a camera.

But using an imaging pick-up system scaled-down to today’s dimensions, the E-330 reinvents the time-honored principle. There’s a second imager inside the E-330, and it swipes a little light on its way to the eyepiece. That’s what feeds the Live View LCD.

Life With Double Vision

We were surprised, in just over a month, by how many pictures we took that benefitted from the unique capabilities of the hinged, large LCD monitor—which, in fact, could not have been made any other way (unless you were thinking of lying on the floor for an eyelevel portrait of your cat). We found some neat stuff—a business executive at his desk, for example, an imposing figure from the level of the desk itself. We were at arm’s-length distance off to the side, framing-up the portrait quite exactly on the screen. In the midst of an interview, the camera on the fringes made less of an intrusion than it would if raised to the eye. As the picture turned out, it’s nothing if not candid.

The E-330 is the only camera on the market that permits both styles of viewing, and interchangeable lenses to boot. But in the day of 10x+ zooms, are interchangeable lenses all that important anymore?

Flexibility Of View

The answer, until recently, has been sure, interchangeable lenses are important—if you can use them. And maybe you can. Most of those 10x and 12x built-in lenses can zoom-out to a wide-angle “equivalent” of about 35mm. That’s not bad, but it’s also not 28mm, or 17mm, or 14mm equivalent. Who needs such wide wide-angle lenses? We do from time to time, and we’re sure others must too.

So until recently, there was another firm distinction between interchangeable-lens cameras: the fixed-lens DZLRs gave you all the lens you’d need, unless you needed extra-wide angle.

Meantime, interchangeable lenses have been showing up with 10x ranges and higher. We’ve tried-out a few of ‘em, and the best aren’t bad.

Olympus themselves joined that parade just beforethe E-330 was introduced, with an 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 in Four Thirds mount. And it changes a few more balances in the traditional market scheme.

For now, for the first time, there’s a 10x camera with hinged EVF like others, which adds optical SLR viewing and wide-angle lenses to boot. The Olympus Four Thirds Zuikos include three or four interchangeable zooms that reach wide-angle ranges well beyond any permanently-attached lens.

Some of those built-in 10x zooms have one advantage, that of the f-stop—more than one can go to f/2.8 (although Olymus introduced yet another Zuiko zoom that opens-up to f/2, that one with a 3x range of 35-100mm). Still, when looking for E-330 apple to compate against the DZLR apples, the zoom-range derby is less absolute than before.