Pros: Digital SLR with compact body, clever viewfinder, Four Thirds lens and flashgun compatibility, for a keen price. Sophisticated auto and manual controls produce excellent images.
Cons: Slightly fiddly menu-based controls instead of dedicated dials or buttons for manual exposure and manual focusing, but you can easily get used to these. E-1 not too much more expensive.
With the E-300, Olympus has lowered the entry price into the digital SLR market even further, creating a hi-tech, high resolution and very compact camera with a list price that undercuts many of the less well-specified compact cameras. It offers an eight-megapixel resolution and a 14-45 mm lens for £595, but we can expect lower street prices. It’s the highest resolution available from a digital SLR that costs less than £3,000.
The E-300 is built to the Four Thirds specification, originally intended as a multi-vendor standard for digital SLRs, with an optimized relationship between lens and sensor. It provides standards for lens mount, autofocus, and flash interfaces, so different manufacturers’ products will be interchangeable. So far, only Olympus has built Four Thirds cameras, first with the professional-quality, five-megapixel E-1 in 2003 and now with the ‘prosumer’ E-300. Both use Kodak-sourced CCD sensors.
Because the sensor’s physical size (but not resolution) is defined by the specification, the field of view for a given lens is the same on any Four Thirds camera. Olympus introduced six high-quality but relatively pricey ‘E-Series’ Four Thirds lenses for the E-1, but with the E-300 it has also introduced two lower cost lenses.
The E-1 originally shipped as standard with a 14-45mm f/2.8 lens with ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass for greater contrast, but the E-300 includes a 14-45 mm f/3.5 lens that costs about half as much but doesn’t have ED glass. This lens is now an option with the E-1, dropping its price by about £200 to £899 on the street (or you can buy the body on its own for £799). There’s a new lower-cost 40-150mm telephoto zoom, too. Sigma is the only other manufacturer to support Four Thirds so far, and has introduced three zoom lenses at competitive prices.