The E-300's automatic white balance performed quite well, in daylight there was just a hint of a blue cast (although it wouldn't be noticeable). It performed best in fluorescent light and less so under incandescent, a slight pinkish cast.
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: -0.2%, Blue: -1.2%
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 4.7%, Blue: -3.3%
Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots
The E-300 allows for timed long exposures of up to 30 seconds, beyond this you would have to have a very steady hand to hold the shutter release button down in Bulb mode. Unfortunately the E-300 doesn't support a wired remote (unless you buy the optional vertical hand grip) and so holding exposures longer than 30 seconds isn't really an option.
The camera's optional noise reduction employs the typical 'dark frame' system we're used to, a second frame is taken with the mirror down and shutter closed, this is used to map 'hot pixels' which are then removed from the image. And on the E-300 it does seem pretty effective, as you can see from the image on the left hot pixel noise is sprinkled liberally all over the image without NR, switched on it's all gone and there are no black pit NR artifacts either.
|Noise reduction Off||Noise reduction On|
|30 sec, F10||30 sec, F10|
In some circumstances the E-300's flash appeared to work perfectly well (see color patches sample below), however we did find it to be perhaps affected by the same metering problem as normal non-flash exposures (see the bottom of this page). Below the color patches shot you can see sequence of fairly normal 'portrait' type shots. As you can see the very first shot, no flash exposure compensation is quite under-exposed, as we add a little flash exposure compensation things improve slightly but it's clear that the actual flash power should have been between 1.0 and 1.7 EV more than was metered.
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
With its eight megapixel sensor the E-300 becomes the highest resolution 'affordable' digital SLR, and our resolution tests show that it's certainly better than a six megapixel, perhaps not quite as detailed as the more expensive Canon EOS 20D. Color balance appears good, if sometimes a little over-saturated, it's up to the individual to tune his camera to his settings. We are a little confused with the Adobe RGB setup in this camera, it consistently delivered over-saturated images and looks to me as though there is something wrong with the color profile (I'd advise not using it for now).
Tonal balance is quite contrasty, shadows seem to drop away quite quickly with black blacks and noisy shadow detail at higher sensitivities (see below). At the other end of the scale the camera does seem to clip its highlights in a rather abrupt manner which could be an indication of limited dynamic range. This harsh clipping can leave certain images with a 'video like' appearance and not that creamy digital-SLR-like highlight extension we're used to seeing.
Lastly comes noise, one of the reasons most people use for justifying a digital SLR is the flexibility to use higher sensitivities without the risk of too much noise. When we first saw the E-300 and realized that ISO 800 and 1600 were 'extended ISO' it became apparent that they were likely to be noisy. And this has been born out in our tests, while ISO 800 is usable ISO 1600 really can't be advised except in real emergencies. And that's a pity because with competition like the EOS 300D the E-300 really should be able to perform at these high sensitivities.
On several occasions I experienced a situation where the camera's metering system caused images to be seriously under-exposed. This seemed to happen if there was a single bright light or a small area of brightness in a specific area of the image (recomposing just slightly often gave a better result), it's almost as though the metering system panics and reads a high light level. I didn't notice this problem with the pre-production E-300 I had (although this may be because I didn't shoot with it much) but it has occurred with the two production cameras I've now had.
|Program mode, ESP metering, ISO 100, 0.0 EV compen., 1/125 sec, F7.1|
|Aperture priority mode, ESP metering, ISO 200, 0.0 EV compen., 1/250 sec, F5.6|
|Program mode, ESP metering, ISO 100, 0.0 EV compen., 1/3200 sec, F3.5|
Below you can see the subtlety of recomposing the scene just slightly and getting a completely different exposure. This degree of difference just shouldn't exist in a modern metering system.
|Program mode, ESP metering, ISO 100, 0.0 EV compen., 1/250 sec, F10|
|Program mode, ESP metering, ISO 100, 0.0 EV compen., 1/125 sec, F6.3|
Noise in shadows
I didn't deliberately under-expose the shot below, that's how the camera metered it, however as it's shot at ISO 400 you may wish to recover the image by adjusting levels. When I did this I was quite surprised at the level of noise in shadows. After all this image was taken at just ISO 400. The 100% crops below have had the right half boosted in brightness by 200%.
|Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom Evolt E-3 Evolt E-300 Evolt E-330 C Batteries||$15.90|