Conclusion - Pros
- Good resolution at lower sensitivities (no real difference to eight megapixels)
- Good vivid color response, more 'consumer appeal' type (selectable Picture Modes)
- Low noise up to ISO 400, gets softer at ISO 800, too soft at ISO 1600 (JPEG)
- New metering sensor a vast improvement over the E-300
- Unique live view feature (although in my opinion poorly implemented)
- Good range of image parameter adjustment (color, tone, sharpness)
- Kelvin white balance option, all white balance presets fine tunable
- Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB)
- Effective long exposure noise reduction & timed exposures up to 60 seconds
- Unlimited continuous shooting on fast card at HQ 1/8 quality (although others can do this)
- Supersonic Wave Filter ensures no dust on sensor
- Excellent Compact Flash write performance, up to 10 MB/sec with a fast card
- Wide ranging and flexible level of customization
- Mirror lock-up with custom delay
- Range of flash options including manual output power control
- In-camera RAW development feature
- In-camera lens shading compensation
- Black and white mode with selectable filters
- Indication of setting adjustments on viewfinder display (ISO etc.)
- Large, bright and detailed 2.5" LCD monitor, tilts up and down (although hinge misplaced?)
- Excellent play display modes including highlight and shadow indication
- Unique jump zoom and side-by-side compare features in play mode
- Olympus Studio very good with nice range of features but should be included with camera
- Easy, automatic firmware upgrades
- Powerful, lightweight Lithium-Ion battery
- Orientation sensor
Conclusion - Cons
- Very small viewfinder and darker (difficult to see fine detail, difficult to check focus)
- Recommended sensitivity ISO 100 - 400, images at ISO 800 usable, ISO 1600 not really
- Poor noise reduction algorithm, blurs the image too heavily at ISO 1600, always on
- Noise tends have the appearance of color mottle not 'film like' grain (needs chroma NR)
- Live view 'A mode' is noisy in medium/low light, smaller frame coverage, inaccurate DOF
- No metering in live view 'B mode'
- No representation of selected white balance in either live view mode
- Not instant startup (1.6 sec) even longer in its out-of-the-box configuration
- Edge jagged diagonals (demosaicing issues?)
- No record review delete / cancel
- Lack of status LCD can mean shorter battery life (LCD monitor takes more power)
- Auto focus provides just three focus points, although AF performance good
- No focus distance indicator on kit lens
- Flash must be raised for AF assist
- Color space selection buried in the setup menu (although can accessed from control panel)
- Potential to lose images if CF door is opened during write
- Picture Mode not understood or selectable from Olympus Master or Studio
- Only USB 1.1 (still no USB 2.0 Hi-Speed?)
The introduction of the E-330 confused us, it was difficult to see where this new camera fitted into the current digital SLR market. It's more expensive than the more traditional (but in my opinion better) E-500 yet offers very little more other than live view. Olympus has tried to address one complaint we (and others) had about the E-300, and that's the design and styling. To me at least it's only a partial achievement, the E-330 does look and handle better than the E-300 but honestly it's still not as nice a camera to use as the E-500.
So we come to the E-330's unique selling point, its live view feature. Olympus are proud that they have been the first manufacturer to implement a continuous live LCD view on a removable lens digital SLR. It's fair to say for some buyers this will be reason enough to go for the E-330, but for me I found it to be (a) a solution looking for a problem and (b) poorly implemented.
Firstly I don't honestly see that many digital SLR owners asking for this feature, it's a neat option, it's good for upgraders coming from consumer cameras who may be used to seeing the live view on the LCD screen and it may well have one or two useful scenarios (macro shooting, live portraits shown on a TV screen) however for me I simply found myself moving back to the viewfinder more times than not. Secondly I wasn't particularly impressed with the implementation, it's confusing to have two modes, neither of which was perfect. A mode suffers from a noisy /grainy view in medium/low light, doesn't provide full frame coverage and doesn't represent white balance or depth of field correctly. B mode utilizing the main sensor means the mirror is up, no auto focus and no metering (during live view), and again no representation of white balance.
Image quality is a mixed bag, you can get some excellent results by shooting RAW and converting, unfortunately the camera's internal processor appears to be the same as the E-300 / E-500 (with a little tweaking) which means a more 'consumer like' appearance to JPEG images and pretty unsophisticated noise reduction, ISO 1600 is so soft as to render many of those 7.4 megapixels unused. Color was good, tonal response was good and dynamic range just where we expected it to be. We just expected more.
Lastly let's discuss the price, this camera has a real price problem. At $1099 for the kit it's some $320 more than the Canon EOS 350D kit and worse still $300 more than the E-500 kit (a camera which in my opinion is a much better choice). Even if you really need live view then consider the Sony DSC-R1, yes it has a non-removable lens but what a lens, five times optical zoom starting at 24 mm and a fast F2.8 - F4.8 maximum aperture, even if you spend an extra $500 on the excellent Olympus 14 - 54 mm and you're still coming up short.
Finally there is no doubt that this camera can produce excellent results (at lower sensitivities) and that the live view may be the deal maker for some people. I struggled for a long time rating this camera, and if we had a half-way it would get an 'Above Average and a Half' however it's just good enough to scrape a Recommended (lets hope we see a price drop), but come on Olympus you can (and will have to) do better than this!