With an innovative 'live' external LCD, the Olympus EVOLT E-330 shows why it
deserves to be the Camera of the Year in this entry-level category.
The once-exclusive price of digital SLRs has descended to a level at which it's no longer a leap for compact-weaned photographers to leave the point-and-shoot nest. That trend will continue, given this year's big D-SLR news: the foray of CE giants Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony into the field. Yet our choice for entry-level D-SLR of the year is one of the most expensive of this affordable lot. Let us explain.
Until the arrival of this first-of-its-kind model, digital photographers graduating from a point-and-shoot to a D-SLR had to give up a comfortable habit: Composing their pictures with the big LCD screen on the camera back. Instead, they were obliged to use the D-SLR's old-fashioned optical viewfinder, because the LCD screen was only for reviewing pictures already taken.
With the Olympus EVOLT E-330, those photographers don't have to change their ways. In addition to displaying what you've shot, this entry-level D-SLR's big, beautiful LCD gives you a "live" image with which to view and compose your subject. That's no mean feat, because until the instant of exposure, a digital SLR's reflex mirror intercepts light heading for the image sensor-bouncing it into the eye-level viewfinder, where it affords much brighter, sharper focusing and framing than you can get from an electronic viewfinder. How does the E-330 let you have it both ways? A mirror in its sideways, hump-flattening viewfinder diverts light to a smaller, second sensor, which in turn sends its image to the 2.5-inch external LCD screen. The eyepiece view remains entirely optical.
The E-330's hinged LCD screen can tilt up or down, a feature found on some bigger point-and-shoots. This makes the camera a great tool for accurate low- or high-angle composition. The needed hardware adds some thickness to the camera, but we found this a small price to pay for the kind of unobtrusive, waist-level shooting we've been doing all along with digital compact cameras having articulated screens.
Olympus EVOLT E-330
Of course, image quality from the E-330 is far better than what you get from a point-and-shoot, equal in our experience to that of its slightly older eight-megapixel sibling, the E-500. It's enhanced by optional noise reduction for both long exposures and speed settings from ISO 400 to 1600, as well as by the top-notch optics of Olympus's growing Four-Thirds-mount lens range.
Though the Olympus EVOLT E-330 costs several hundred dollars more than its least-expensive entry-level competitors, its live LCD makes it a great beginner's D-SLR-only with more flexibility than any compact, including the creative possibilities of interchangeable lenses. Just remember that when you mount that big tele you've saved up for, you'll have a hard time holding the E-330 steady if you're composing at arm's length on its LCD. Then it will be high time to bring the camera to your eye.