Having reviewed the entry-level Olympus E-500 digital SLR a couple of months ago, this week I’m taking a look at its more expensive stable mate, the mid-range E-330. Available for £799 body only, or £879 with the 14-45mm standard zoom lens included on my review sample, and featuring an 8MP CCD and a range of professionally-oriented features, the E-330 is going head-to-head with successful mid-range and semi-pro cameras from the other major SLR manufacturers, including the Nikon D200, the Fujifilm S3 Pro, and of course the Canon EOS 30D, which I looked at last week. It is a replacement for the E-300, which was launched nearly two years ago.
The E-330 is an unusual camera for several reasons. It is only the fourth camera to use the promising but still not widely accepted Four Thirds lens and sensor format. Although Kodak, Fujifilm, Sanyo, Panasonic, Leica and Sigma all officially support the system, so far only Olympus has actually produced any cameras or lenses that are compatible with it. This is puzzling, because it’s really a very good system for small mid-level digital SLR cameras.
The Four Thirds CCD is smaller than the APS format sensor used in many current digital SLRs, but quite a bit bigger than the 2/3 size used in many high-end zoom cameras, and as the E-1, E-300 and E-500 have all shown it is capable of producing excellent results. The specially developed lenses are designed to work with this smaller sensor, and are generally smaller and lighter than equivalent lenses designed for an APS or Full-frame sensor system.
The E-330 is also unusual because of its shape. Like the E-300 it has a reflex mirror that is angled sideways rather than upwards, so the viewfinder prism is actually mounted to the side of the lens mount, on the right as you are looking at the front of the camera. This does away with the large prism box that is a common feature on the tops of all conventional SLR cameras, both film and digital. The viewfinder is offset from the centreline of the camera, and looks out of the lens via a complex optical path of prisms and mirrors.
While this does save a bit of space and the shape makes the camera appear more compact than other DSLRs, the effect is somewhat illusory because it is by no means a small camera. While it is a little smaller and lighter than the Canon 30D and Nikon D200, it is significantly larger and heavier than the Pentax *ist DL2 and Canon EOS 350D.