The E-300 has a very unusual appearance for a digital SLR with a TTL viewfinder. Its sideways swinging mirror means that the camera has a flat-top profile with no prism hump. The main body material is a high-impact ABS, beneath this the E-300 has a fairly strong metal substructure, overall it feels far more robust than the EOS 300D (Digital Rebel) and exhibits no creaks or rattles. On the left side (viewed from the front) the hand grip area of the camera is coated with soft rubber. Design wise apart from the lack of a traditional SLR prism hump the E-300 also wears a slightly unusual metal swathe from the flash down to the side of the lens mount, I'm left wondering what the E-300 could have looked like without this.
In your hand
In your hand the E-300 feels comfortable enough, the grip is slightly smaller than we see on other digital SLR's but just as usable. At the front and back are molded finger and thumb 'hooks' which help to stabilize your hold on the camera. I would however question the usefulness of a vertical rubber line which has been added to the front of the grip, this appears to add nothing and can feel slightly uncomfortable if the camera is held firmly.
Side by side, size and weight
If you were to flatten the top of the Canon EOS 300D (Digital Rebel) it would have approximately the same proportions as the E-300, although the 300D does have a deeper hand grip. Weight wise the E-300 is one of the lightest digital SLR's at only 19 g heavier than the diminutive Pentax *ist DS. That said the E-300 doesn't feel small, it's much wider than you expect and thicker.
|Left to right: Nikon D70, Olympus E-300, Canon EOS 300D (Digital Rebel)|
(W x H x D)
(inc. battery & card)
|Pentax *ist DS||125 x 93 x 66 mm (4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in)||605 g (1.3 lb)|
|Olympus E-300||147 x 85 x 64 mm (5.8 x 3.4 x 2.5 in)||624 g (1.4 lb)|
|Canon EOS 300D||142 x 99 x 72 mm (5.6 x 3.9 x 2.8 in)||649 g (1.4 lb)|
|Nikon D70||140 x 111 x 78 mm (5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in)||679 g (1.5 lb)|
|Olympus E-1||141 x 104 x 81 mm (5.6 x 4.1 x 3.2 in)||704 g (1.6 lb)|
|Canon EOS 20D||144 x 106 x 72 mm (5.6 x 4.2 x 2.8 in)||770 g (1.7 lb)|
|Left to right: Olympus E-1, Olympus E-300|
Lens size and weight compared
One of the big advantages touted by Olympus for the Four Thirds system was that the camera bodies and lenses would be smaller and lighter. Well we can see that although the E-300 has a flat-top it's not really that much smaller or lighter than other similar digital SLR's. So that brings us on to the lenses. Below you can see a selection of the newer 'Digital' lenses from Canon, Nikon and Olympus. Overall size, weight and price/performance appear to be quite similar.
|Lens||35 mm equiv. FOV||Weight||Price|
|Canon EF-S 18 - 55 mm F3.5 - F5.6||29 - 88 mm (3.0x)||183 g||$100|
|Olympus EZ 14 - 45 mm F3.5 - F5.6||28 - 90 mm (3.2x)||287 g||$249|
|Nikon AF-S 18 - 70 mm DX F3.5 - F4.5 G||27 - 105 mm (3.9x)||388 g||$339|
|Olympus ED 14 - 54 mm F2.8 - F3.5||28 - 108 mm (3.9x)||437 g||$429|
|Canon EF-S 17 - 85 mm F4.5 - F5.6 IS||27 - 136 mm (5.0x)||472 g||$599|
Despite the ordinary sounding specifications (1.8", 134,000 pixels) Olympus claim that the E-300's "HyperCrystal LCD" has three times the contrast of a standard LCD and a 160° viewing angle. While I couldn't substantiate the contrast claim I can confirm that the screen appears bright and sharp and has a much better viewing angle than most. The E-300 doesn't have a top-of-camera LCD panel so instead you can enable a similar display on the LCD monitor (as shown here).
The E-300's optical porro finder uses four mirrors (one sideways swinging) to bend the light up from the lens and to the viewfinder eyepiece. This design allows Olympus to keep the dimensions of the camera down but as discussed leaves it looking unconventional. The actual view is slightly darker than the E-1, it's also a little more 'tunnel like'. The viewfinder does feature a dioptre adjustment wheel on its left side.
Through the viewfinder you will see the center metering circle and three AF areas indicated. The center AF area is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail, the two outer areas to horizontal detail only. The selected / in-use AF area is indicated on a half-press of the shutter release by a red circle (LED-like). To the right of the focusing screen is an LCD status column with various items of information including metering mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation etc.