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Olympus E330 dSLR

world 1st dSLR with full time Live View and fast AF

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Executive summary:

  • what makes the E330 almost unique amongst dSLR's is its ability to do fast SLR phase contrast type AF while in live preview mode (in this case “live mode A” by using a second sensor in the viewfinder to relay images to the LCD screen.
  • unfortunately this made the camera a little more complex to use and perhaps uglier and as a result, it seems Olympus will not be pursuing this design.
  • I would have loved Olympus to at least give us one more upgrade to this camera - one with a 4EV image stabiliser as with the Olympus E-510 dSLR.
  • but alas it seems this camera is no more discontinued in 2007 after being introduced in 2006.
  • Sony has decided to venture into this niche market in 2008 with their a300 and a350 dSLR and they have gone one step further by incorporating a 2.5-3.5EV IS.

My first digital SLR:

  • OK, its June 2006, I have plunged in a bought my first digital SLR after watching the progress of technology on the sidelines
  • Why did I choose the Olympus E330?
    • I would have preferred the Canon 5D but at almost 4 times the price, I could not justify it … yet…
    • I would not waste my money spending more than this on a digital SLR that was not full frame. I managed to pick up the kit for under $A1500 new, given the lens costs $199 and the battery another $100 or so, $A1200 for the body is a price that the features make the decision so much easier to make. The cheapest I can get the Canon 5D for is about $A4500 and I could buy almost 4 of these for that price - sure the 5D has better image quality and I could use my OM lenses to their full advantage but I just can't justify spending that sort of money on a camera. I will bide my time until the full frames come down in price, and maybe one day they too will have live preview.
    • I have a range of manual focus wonderful Olympus OM lenses that I would like to play with:
      • precise manual focus is practically impossible on any current digital SLR camera apart from the E330 or maybe the full frame cameras (eg. the Canon 5D which are all out of my price range)
      • the viewfinders of the cropped digital SLRs (eg. Canon 350D, 20D, 30D and the Olympus E300/500) are just too small to give accurate manual focus.
      • manual focus lenses cannot focus to infinity on Nikon digital SLR's so they are out too.
    • there are many things I can fix up in Photoshop, but inaccurate focus is one thing that is impossible to correct satisfactorily and whilst the auto-focus on digital SLRs is so much better than the non-SLRs, there are situations where they just don't work and I wanted to have precise manual focus over-ride. Images where the focus is even slightly out will have a dramatically reduced contrast and impact, and worse if the wrong object is in sharp focus.
    • its revolutionary live preview on flip out LCD screen is what I have been used to with my Oly C8080 and saves me putting the eye on the camera which opens up many other photo opportunities not otherwise possible.
    • I can manually control the built-in flash output level.
    • it is arguably THE BEST digital camera for macrophotography - no other digital can manual focus so precisely.
    • it is arguably THE BEST digital SLR for street photography with its flip out live LCD preview although the shutter is not silent as is the case with the Oly 8080 (the Leica M8 rangefinder is quieter but can't shoot from waist level).
    • the ability to overlay a grid in Live Preview mode B makes it much easier to ensure your image is nicely aligned with horizons, etc
    • I am comfortable with coping with its complexities from its immature albeit revolutionary technologies
    • I can live with its 7.5mpixels as they can still produce a reasonable quality print to A2 size and if I want more than that, I can resort to my medium format film camera.
    • I can live with the fact that noise at high ISO is more than with other digital SLRs.
    • I don't want to find that my images have been marred by dust on the sensor as with many non-Oly digital SLRs.
    • exposure compensation is a generous +/- 5EV not just 2EV as with many cameras.
    • programmable mirror lock up to minimise camera vibrations during exposures eg. for astrophotography
    • IR remote control starts BULB mode and ends BULB mode for astrophotography
    • I already have accessories that fit the Oly E330 from my Oly C8080 - remote controls, batteries, battery chargers, compact flash cards, and 58mm filters.
    • quality lenses especially designed for it are likely to be smaller and cheaper than similar quality from Canon - I have my eyes on the forth-coming Leica 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 IS and a Digital Zuiko 11-22mm wide angle - see Olympus E digital system
  • out of interest, exactly 30 years earlier, I bought my 1st film SLR, the revolutionary, legendary Olympus OM-1 which I still use and it has NEVER failed me mechanically and runs perfectly well without batteries still - I somehow don't expect to get more that 5yrs out of my digital cameras, but that's the price of technology.

Why Live Preview is great:

  • you can get those artistic shots shooting from angles you wouldn't bother trying otherwise such as:
    • really low to the ground - If you have ever tried taking photos of kids or pets crawling on the floor then this function makes life SO MUCH easier.
    • or have you ever tried taking photos from the top of the Eiffel tower? 
      • you need to steady your camera outside the fence and then the ONLY way you can compose it and get all your horizons straight is with live preview.
  • infrared photos using the R72 filter - you can't see what you are taking a photo of if you don't have the live preview (now I know you can only see in bright sunlit scenes but that's better than nothing).
  • if you are taking astrophotos through a telescope, the last thing you want to do is knock your nose on the camera looking through the viewfinder and making it shake.
  • if you use manual focus lenses, the ONLY way to get accurate focus on a 2x crop camera like the Oly's is with its 10x live magnified preview (an alternative is buying and installing a split image focusing screen)
  • when you are taking portrait photos you should NOT have your eye glued to the viewfinder but you should have the subject looking at your eyes - it makes a big difference as eyes look much better when they are looking at someone and not blankly into a machine. Live preview allows this.
  • when the camera is on a tripod, live preview is MUCH MUCH more comfortable than bending down looking through the viewfinder.
  • when you are taking photos, you can use the grid pattern to ensure your horizons are exactly level.
  • using the 10x live preview magnification you can see EXACTLY the true amount of DOF you will be getting.
  • if you want to do candid street photography, the last thing you want to do is put the camera up to your eye…the live preview allows you to have the camera at your waist and look down on it.
  • in short, the LIVE PREVIEW ADDS to the imaging possibility in ways that cannot be easily be achieved otherwise.
  • BUT for normal photography without a tripod using an autofocus lens, most people will get the best pics using the viewfinder as you will get less camera shake.

First experiences with the Oly E330:

  • OK, I must admit, I was concerned that I might be buying a bit of a lemon here and being sucked in by the technologies I would like to see but not adequately implemented, especially after the rather ordinary review that gave it.
  • so far the good points far outweigh the bad points:
    • this is a very versatile camera that will grow with you and be suitable for most of your needs
    • you can set it to point and shoot mode with its many scene modes or you can go fully manual.
    • sure its noisy at ISO 800-1600 compared with Canon/Nikon digital SLR's, but I prefer to take 95% of my pics at ISO 100 anyway so this becomes a little irrelevant to me.
    • sure it only has 3 AF points compared with 9 or so on the others, but unless you are shooting action and not concentrating on what you want in focus, you only need the centre point - the others I would not use 95% of the time as I like to have my cameras in spot AF mode, half-press the shutter to lock focus and then recompose.
    • the autofocus performance far surpasses what I have been used to with the Oly 8080, even in relatively low light - and I now have my precise manual over-ride if I need it.
    • sure, the LCD screen does not do somersaults and flip around so I can take self-portraits - but this is probably a godsend to the world! I would like it to be usable when taking portrait position pics though. But at least its got one!
    • the image write time is acceptably fast with Sandisk Extreme III CF cards
      • even with a standard Sandisk 2Gb CF card it writes a RAW+SHQ in about 7-8secs which is almost twice as fast as the 8080. 
      • Unlike the 8080, while it is writing you get to see live images and you can start taking more images as the buffer empties.
      • put a Sandisk Extreme III CF card in it and write delay becomes almost a non-issue:
        • it takes 7 secs from start of shooting to finish writing sequential 5xRAW images, but you don't have to wait for it to finish writing, just take your finger off the shutter button after the 1st 5 images are taken and start another 5 images almost immediately while it is still writing.
        • it will take 8 SHQ jpegs sequentially and seems to take as many HQ jpegs sequentially as CF card has space for.
    • the startup time is acceptably fast even though it is not instantaneous - it has to clean the sensor.
    • the LCD screen is beautiful and big with nice image review features not available on the comparably priced SLRs - separate RGB histograms, 14x zoom to check focus accuracy and it is fast - almost instantaneous display of RAW files
      • I suspect that the 14x does not actually show any more image detail than the 10x as is the case with the E500.
    • spot metering - although not reliable when using legacy manual focus lenses.
    • images using the Zuiko OM manual focus lenses look great - but most lenses need to be stopped down 1-2 stops for best results and they are more cumbersome to use - but I expected that and can deal with it - see below.
    • manual focus precision in Live Mode B has to be seen to be believed - just incredible 
      • BUT as it uses a electronic 10x zoom and there is some persistence of the image on the LCD, the subject must be kept relatively still - so tripod or steady hand needed especially for telephoto lenses.
      • allows much more accurate assessment of depth of field
    • the kit lens, although not ideal and not as good optically as the lens on the Oly 8080, is easily better than the Canon kit lens and is useable until I get something better.
  • some gripes:
    • hopefully a firmware upgrade might change behaviour of Live Mode B when in Manual Exposure mode so that the mirror stays up which would eradicate the shutter delay in Live Mode B  and also allow constant mirror up continuous exposures such as for astrophotography.
    • grid overlay not available in Live Mode A, instead you only have the option of the portrait mask overlay which seems of dubious value.
    • the Live Preview does not give option for displaying WYSIWYG image as per WB and exposure setting.
    • easy to forget to close eyepiece shutter when using live preview modes and thus risk inaccurate exposures.
    • exposure metering a bit haphazard when using legacy manual focus lenses - aperture priority metering using centre-weight metering requires exposure compensation when using manual focus lenses which is different for each f-stop selected and for each lens.
    • why have Olympus still not made the USB connection full speed USB 2.0?
    • now where are my dedicated 4/3rds wide angle shift lenses and image stabilised fast short telephoto lenses at a reasonable price point?
  • Live Mode A vs Live Mode B:
    • Let's get this clear to start with, if you have a good quality AF lens then for speed of use and accuracy, you are best placed to use Live Mode A and auto-focus which is really good.
      • you may be wise to check that accurate focus was indeed obtained by using the 10-14x playback zoom as there are some situations which will trick nearly all AF systems on the market.
      • in those situations where the AF is not giving the desired results then you have several options:
        • re-try AF ensuring the AF marker lights up on the subject you have placed it on
        • revert to MF and either use the viewfinder, or more accurately switch to Live Mode B and 10x magnification.
      • the main problems with using Live Mode A are:
        • no manual focus assistance
        • DOF on the LCD is not accurate as the data is coming from a tiny secondary sensor not the actual sensor
        • field coverage is less than will actual appear in the photo.
        • cannot use grid lines to check vertical/horizontal levels
        • if you don't have your eye in the viewfinder, you need to have viewfinder shutter closed to avoid extraneous light affecting the exposure metering.
    • if you can't yet afford the nice AF lenses and have to resort to your MF lenses like me, or if you are doing astrophotography or macrophotography then you need to manually focus:
      • you could use Live Mode A but there is minimal focus assist to help you
      • better to use Live Mode B as then you can use the 10x magnification to get really accurate focus but you must keep the camera/subject fairly still, especially with long telephotos (see below).
      • the main problems with using Live Mode B are:
        • AF doesn't work - BUT firmware update 1.2 fixes this.
        • shutter release is delayed by about 1sec as mirror has to come down temporarily for camera to set exposure
        • cannot use viewfinder
        • remaining in live mode B for prolonged periods may heat the sensor up a little and increase noise especially at higher ISO, thus consider using low ISO or turning camera off for a while if this is a problem. This is one of my first pics with the Oly E330 at 1600 ISO, hand held at 1/30th sec f/3.5 with kit lens. No PS processing. over 10,000 turn up at Melbourne's Federation Square to watch Australia play Brazil in the World Cup soccer finals - what a great night it was too, even though it was 4am and 4 deg C when the game finished, and we lost, the crowd was great although a few lads had a bit too drink. Here is a manually focused one using a Zuiko OM 50mm f/1.4 lens at 800 ISO, f/1.4 and 1/30th sec hand held.  

Manual focusing:

  • using Live Mode B to give precise manual focus at 10x live magnification:
    • very precise focus is possible with camera on tripod and stationary subject down to low light levels of EV 2.5 at f/4, and by turning live boost on (not usually recommended for mode B) you can get this to about 1 stop less light - not bad at all!
    • if you have time and particularly if using a tripod and are obsessive compulsive, you may wish to use the following routine:
      • if using an AF lens, consider changing menu to AF mode = MF and setting the multi-purpose button to DOF preview
      • if low light levels consider leaving Live Boost set to ON - camera will usually turn it on then as needed.
      • switch to Live Mode B
      • compose the image and zoom to appropriate perspective (as you get full image in LCD)
      • turn the grid lines on (press INFO button) to ensure camera is level - nothing worse than sloping horizons, etc 
      • manually focus using the 10x magnification 
        • press INFO button until small central box displays which can be moved around the field with the arrow buttons and then press OK to see it at 10x then OK again to go back to normal
      • check DOF by:
        • if using an AF lens, pressing multipurpose button (this even works during the 10x magnification so you can get a really good idea of true amount of DOF)
        • if using a MF lens, stop down the aperture on the lens
      • optionally, revert back to Live Mode A to take the photo:
        • this gives you instantaneous shutter release and ability to use viewfinder
        • but remember:
          • if using an AF lens and your AF mode is SF+MF or CF+MF then half-pressing the shutter will reset your focus to the AF sensor.
          • if you don't have your eye in the viewfinder, you need to have viewfinder shutter closed to avoid extraneous light affecting the exposure metering.

Using manual focus lenses:

  • these click in simply using adapters (see Olympus Four Thirds dSLR system )
  • see some of my resolution tests here and E330 with OM lenses
  • as the 4/3rds body specs is thinner than film cameras, there is no problem getting focus to infinity (unlike the case with Nikon digital bodies), but this also means you cannot rely on the distance scale as lenses will actually focus past infinity.
  • the lenses automatically stop down as you change the aperture (you don't have to hold the DOF preview button down on the lens), but this means you viewfinder image becomes darker so you need to focus and compose at wide open first, then stop down.
  • for best performance, most lenses do best with the lens stopped down 1-3 stops.
  • E330 exposure must be set to centre-weighted metering and either:
    • manual exposure:
      • you only see the reading for estimated exposure (under or over exposure stops) in Live Mode A
      • you see the reading for the shutter speed in both modes
    • aperture priority exposure:
      • you only see the reading for the shutter speed when in Live Mode A but Live Mode B still works
      • you need to set exposure compensation depending on lens and selected aperture which requires a little experimentation
        • f/3.5-5.6 may need +0.5 to +1.3 exposure compensation
        • f/8-11 may need +2 exposure compensation
        • f/22 may need +2.7 exposure compensation
    • remember if you are using live preview, you should close the eyepiece shutter to prevent stray light affecting the exposure metering (you should also do this in auto-focus modes as well).
    • remember too that, particularly with lenses with wide rear elements, the exposure meter will tend to over-expose the wide open apertures as the meter reads the light reflected from the small mirror which acts like a diaphragm in not capturing all the light coming from the lens. When the mirror goes up during the exposure more light hits the sensor than was bouncing off the mirror. The end result is that your exposure compensation will need to be different for the different apertures as suggested above. Thus you would do well to record the exposure correction needed for each lens and at each aperture.
  • auto WB tends to be inaccurate with these lenses, especially at wide apertures, so use a manual setting where possible. This is a sepia toned image with contrast increased taken with a cheap Hanimex 350mm f/5.6 mirror lens hand held but steadied on an uneven post at 1/500th sec ISO 250. This is was taken on a very hazy early morning with low contrast which would have made it very difficult for an AF lens to focus even if it didn't have the foreground post nearby to confuse it. This is in effect a 700mm lens in 35mm terms.  Accurate focus on the cloud was critical in allowing it to be defined well - manual focus on the chimney was relatively easy with the 10x magnification in Live Mode B and the camera steadied on the post.

Infrared photography:

  • before I bought the E330, the reports on the internet were that the E330 was not good for IR as you could not compose using the live preview and as with the trend in cameras, the IR blocking filter is stronger than older digital cameras making exposures with the Hoya R72 IR filter approx. 30sec in sunlight.
  • well, I have had a brief play with it and I am pleased to report that IR composition and even 10x magnified manual focus is possible with Live Preview with some difficulty BUT you need:
    • bright sunlit conditions
    • Live Boost set to ON (makes the view noisy but at least it is usable)
    • lens aperture must be f/3.5 or brighter
    • tripod
  • the downsides:
    • the IR blocking filter is indeed strong - bright midday sunlit image requires 15sec at f/3.5 and 100ISO.
    • the exposure meter is grossly inaccurate (presumably is very sensitive to IR unlike the sensor) - some 9-10 stops in error - thus you must use trial and error in manual exposure mode - at least you get a RGB histogram to check.
  • now, if you could remove the IR blocking filter, this would make THE BEST DIGITAL SLR for IR photography - although of course, you could not use it for normal photography and you may lose the sensor cleaning function if you could modify the camera.


  • the E330 has some important advantages for astrophotography:
    • being a SLR with removable lenses, it can be mounted directly to a telescope for prime focus astrophotography, and as it has a narrow sensor to lens mount, it is more likely to attain infinity focus (it just reaches this with my 10“ Newtonian)
    • having a small sensor size, it can be used on telescopes with small image circles (eg. SCT's or Newtonian's)
    • its Live Preview mode B allows unprecedented manual focus precision:
      • for best results you should consider a remotely controlled micro-focuser on the telescope to limit movement during focusing.
      • works well for bright subjects (eg moon, jupiter) through a 10” telescope with live boost set to OFF, but for less bright objects such as the brighter stars (eg. Antares) you need to have live Boost set to ON.
      • all other cameras need to be tethered to a laptop and have 3rd party software to assist with focusing.
    • it can do automatic dark frame noise reduction with gives practically zero dark frame noise even at 5min exposures.
    • its RAW mode is true RAW mode unlike the Nikons which require you to use a clumsy mode 3
    • up to 8min BULB exposures which can be started and stopped using a IR remote control
    • you can program the mirror to go up a number of seconds prior to the exposure to minimise vibration.
    • if you have plenty of money, the Zuiko 150mm f/2.0 digital lens would be great for deep sky astrophotography.
    • there are adapters available to fit almost any 35mm lens.
  • the main disadvantages of the E330 compared to a Canon digital SLR are:
    • more noise at high ISO, especially a tendency to have horizontal banding in shadow areas at high ISO or even at 400ISO at long exposures.
    • more 3rd party software available for controlling a Canon.
    • the Canon IR blocking filter can be removed for improved nebulae photography - no-one has yet tried this with the Olympus cameras.

see my comet McNaught P1 photos.

Here's a couple of quick ones I took with the Olympus E330 on a 10“ Newtonian telescope (no PS except cropping): Jupiter - prime focus with 3rd party OM 2x teleconverter, 800 ISO, 1/160th second Moon at prime focus, 100 ISO, 1/50th sec.

Dark frame noise on long exposures: 1min exposure at 18degC, 100ISO crop of 100% image size without NR this noise is totally removed by noise reduction being set to ON (but this doubles the shot duration as would be expected). 5min exposure at 21degC, 100ISO crop of 100% image size without NR this noise is totally removed by noise reduction being set to ON. 5min exposure at 21degC, 800ISO crop of centre portion 100% image size without NR full frame image resized compare this with my tests with the Olympus C8080WZ here


photo/olympuse330.txt · Last modified: 2012/03/15 08:28 by gary1

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