Olympus’ E-300 EVOLT
The Second In The Olympus Digital SLR Line-Up

During Olympus' sneak preview for their E-1 at photokina 2002 emphasis was placed on the digital SLR's Four Thirds imaging system. At the high-fashion product roll out in New York's Bryant Park, so much importance was made of the company's medical imaging accomplishments I expected the ghost of Albert Schweitzer to start playing the organ in the background. Because of all this, I didn't take a hard enough look at the camera and give it the perspective it deserved. Overlooked in all the hoopla was what the E-1 really is: the digital successor to the OM-1. It's a small, precision SLR that makes wonderful photographs.

If the E-1 is an Olympus OM-1, what does that make the new E-300 EVOLT? It's a digital Pen F. If you don't know what that is, the Pen F was a small, precision, half-frame SLR that, much like the new E-300, uses a side swing mirror to lower its profile and a porrofinder, instead of a prism (see sidebar). Students looking for extra credit can visit Skip Williams' homage site on Olympus Pen cameras (www.skipwilliams.com/olympus/pen-lit.htm) to read and download PDF files of authentic Olympus documentation about the Pen F.

Concurrently with the introduction of the E-300 EVOLT will be two new lenses. The 14-45mm (28-80mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens is expected initially to be bundled with the E-300 EVOLT as a kit, while the 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/3.5-4.5 zoom is one that portrait and fashion photographers are gonna love.

I was the first journalist to see the E-300 EVOLT prototype and when I opened the box, my first impression was that it was small; bigger than a Pen F but smaller than an E-1. The prototype's design and build quality showed that this is a camera that any pro already using the E-1 system will want to carry. Its top shell and inner body are die-cast aluminum, the lens mount is made of steel, and ergonomics are superb.

It's the perfect stealth camera. A quick glance makes it look like a point-and-shoot camera, but the ability to use the E-system's lenses gives it versatility no point-and-shoot--no matter the resolution--can match. Oh yeah, the E-300 EVOLT is an 8-megapixel camera, and while nobody at Olympus would verify that this chip might appear in a future E-1 or similar pro camera, a spokesperson said it was a "harbinger." (Look it up, kids.)

The E-300 EVOLT can crank out 2.5 frames per second at all camera settings and capture images in TIFF, JPEG, raw, and even raw + JPEG file formats. It has an optional HLD-3 Battery Holder that holds two individual li ion rechargeable batteries that look a lot like the ones inside Canon's EOS 10D. When attached to the body like a motor drive might, it's almost as tall as an E-1 save the low-slung pentamirror keeps it a bit shorter. The finder, by the way, provides 94 percent of the captured image area and it's centered. Some SLRs may show 92-96 percent but the area is not centered and can be off to the side somewhere.

The camera's 1.8" LCD preview screen is a new type called Enhanced HyperCrystal and has a 160Þ viewing angle so you don't have to stack people on top of each other like they're auditioning for a re-make of The Monkees to see pictures you just made. Controls will be familiar to E-1 users and really anybody who has ever used any Olympus digital cameras. What is new are 17 scene-specific modes that will help users make photos of Fireworks, Night Scenes, as well as old standbys such as Action. Newcomers will get up to speed fast--it's intuitive, not cryptic.

With the optional HLD-3 Battery Holder attached the E-300 EVOLT grows in size and power and can hold two BLM-1 li ion battery packs..