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First Impressions
by Terrence V Smith

1 pm (+8 GMT)

Update: New Olympus E-510 in action at the Japan GT

I went to the Olympus office yesterday to (reluctantly) return a couple of loan lenses and was given an unexpected treat instead. I was allowed to view and handle the much anticipated, top secret E-330 before public unveiling! After weeks of cryptic teaser ads and wild speculation on the net, this midrange Four Third member is finally announced worldwide, moments ago. I mounted a 14-54mm lens on it, slipped in a Sandisk Extreme 3 card and fired away.

Off-the-shelf white balance was pretty accurate, considering the room was lit by a mixture of fluorescent lighting and daylight seeping through vertical blinds. I did not adjust any of the settings or parameters and assumed it was all left at manufacturer's default. Even the clock was not set and the version 0.9 firmware is evidently premature. From what I understand, the firmware is being fine tuned on a daily basis. The original large SHQ and RAW files here will be made available through a third party site a little while later, as my web server is running near capacity.

The camera is fairly light and fits in my hands quite comfortably. With the 14-54 mounted, it felt a bit front heavy though. At 3 frames per seconds, it will shoot continuously until the CF is full (provided a fast memory card is inserted). The optical viewfinder seemed rather small and dim, (relative to E-1) with the readout displayed on the right of screen. It is however compensated by a bright and large 2.5 inch rear LCD with revolutionary live preview mode. The first on a camera with interchangeable lens. There are plenty of other firsts, of course, in this ground breaking dSLR.

The main CCD is a new NMOS (CMOS CCD hybrid technology) type. Cleverly monikered LIVE MOS by Olympus, the manufacturer information is withheld. In normal A mode it functions like a digicam with a TTL optical VF. In the B mode, the mirror is locked up and the image fed directly to the rear LCD. Since AF is disabled with mirror lock up, one need to focus manually. To assist manual focussing (especially with macro), the user can navigate a small green frame around the screen, lock in on the target and magnify
the area by 10 times. A smaller second CCD sensor located within the mirror path in the porro prism relays the image during A mode live preview.

At the time of writing, I have no official documentation, so the above is based on direct observations and part recall of the explanation by the Olympus honcho attending to me.

The LCD swings (tilts) vertically but will not swivel or flip sideways, similar to the C8080. This I suspect, may be due to a patent held by a rival manufacturer, just like Olympus's patented SSWF sensor dust buster incorporated within. Conveniently, it shares the same battery (BLM-1) with its other Four Third siblings, namely the E-1, E-300, E-500 and first cousin cum pensioner C8080.

As a consummate E-1 user, I was fumbling initially, as most of the hard buttons are now menu driven. ISO, AF and WB adjustments, are thankfully accessible via buttons doubling up as the navigation compass. The other things I miss are the firewire connection (although USB 2 is available), and PC flash sync. The internal flash surprisingly recharged as fast as the camera could fire. AF appeared neither faster nor slower than the E-1 but I was again reminded that the firmware is still being tweaked. There is one very obvious speed increase, that is the time it takes to get the recorded image displayed on screen, when compared to the lethargic E-1 playback.

While there is no weather sealing like the aging but excellent E-1, the magnesium alloy body of the E-330 feels tough and reassuringly solid. Like the E-300, the unconventional flat top design may again make it an object of love or hate. Surprisingly, the folks at Olympus insisted that the E-300 sold well. They ought to know better, I guess. The camera is expected to sell with a 14-45 mm
kit lens for about RM 4000 (USD 1067) and will appear in stores here only in March. For the uninitiated, there is no duty or tax on photographic equipment in Malaysia.

The new 7.38 MP Live MOS sensor looks promising and given that the camera I handled is a pre-production model with still evolving firmware, Olympus appears to have another winner in hand. The mythical top dog E-3 may appear only next year after an announcement in Photokina 06. I predict another upper mid range model (E-550?) launching this year to fill the grudging gap. I hope to do a more in-depth review and take the E-330 through real world photographic duties soon. Stay tuned.

Link: Olympus Malaysia


Update: New Olympus E-510 in action at the Japan GT


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