Olympus Stylus 300 Digital Camera
NOTE: The Olympus Stylus Digital 300 is virtually identical to the Stylus Digital 400, except it has a 3.2 megapixel sensor, vs the 4.0 megapixel one on the Stylus 400. (The Stylus 400 also does a bit better at color and tonal quality than the 300 model.) If you’ve already read my review of the , you pretty well know what the 400 can do: Skip down to the sections below to read about the particulars of the 400’s performance. (On the other hand, if you’re looking for the Stylus 400’s capabilities in a less expensive package with slightly lower resolution, check out my
Featuring a 3.2-megapixel CCD, 3x lens, “all-weather” body design, and compact size, the much-anticipated Stylus 300 Digital was one camera I was eager to get my hands on. The fully automatic system requires very little user intervention with only a handful of creative options, but has the benefits of five preset Scene modes and a QuickTime Movie mode (without sound). The all-weather body can withstand water spray from any direction, but isn’t meant to be fully submerged in water. Still, rubber seals and a separate plastic chassis inside the metal body provide excellent protection against water splashes and rain. As long as you keep it from getting completely submerged, you needn’t worry about taking this camera to the beach, on ski trips, sailing trips, etc. The real question is, “Where should we go next?”Olympus is one of the most widely-known names in photography, with a varied array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products ranging from 35mm cameras to film scanners to microscopes and even high-powered binoculars. Not surprisingly, Olympus has also made a strong showing in the digicam marketplace, building a diverse line of successful consumer and prosumer cameras, ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the excellent pro-level E-10 SLR. Long a favorite among consumers, Olympus’ Stylus series of film cameras have dominated the bestseller list in the film world for some time. Now, Olympus brings the coveted Stylus brand name into the digital arena with the Stylus 300 Digital.
Olympus fans are no doubt familiar with that company’s very popular Stylus series of film cameras. After much anticipation, Olympus has finally introduced the film Stylus’ digital counterpart, the Stylus 300 Digital camera. (A Stylus 400 model has also been introduced, which I’ll review separately.) The camera itself is no bigger than a tiny cellphone, and features a sleek, curvy design that’s comfortable to hold and easy on the eyes. The camera’s trim, compact dimensions are perfectly suited for shirt pockets and small purses, and the all-weather body means you can take it just about anywhere. Although the camera cannot be submerged in water, it can withstand light rain and water spray without damage. A sliding lens cover also acts as a power switch, and keeps the front panel smooth enough to quickly slip in and out of pockets. The included wrist strap is handy when shooting over a boat rail or while riding on a ski lift, but I’d recommend picking up a soft case to protect the camera’s attractive body panels from scratches. The Stylus 300 Digital’s metal body is one key to its all-weather rating, equivalent to IEC standard publication 529 IPX4 (which essentially means it can withstand water splashed from any direction). Inside the metal body a plastic chassis provides the first level of protection against the elements. Rubber seals around compartment doors and even the lens mechanism also help prevent any leakage. Because the camera is so tightly sealed, Olympus designed an airflow control system to prevent the camera from overheating or building up air pressure from the zooming lens. Overall, the Stylus 300 Digital’s all-weather design is an impressive feature on a digicam, making it rugged enough to withstand much abuse — from the weather or even a mischievous kid with a squirt gun. Water is anathema to most digicams, leaving me worried whenever I’m out shooting in even a slight drizzle. While the Stylus 300 isn’t by any means an “industrial grade” digicam, it’s very comforting to know that random splashes of water and puffs of dust won’t send it to an early grave.
The Stylus 300 Digital features a 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera). Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.1 to f/5.2, depending on the zoom setting. The Stylus 300 Digital employs an efficient contrast-detection autofocus system, with focus ranging from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. A Macro setting focuses as close as 0.7 feet (20 centimeters), and works across the camera’s entire zoom range, which is often not the case. Opening the lens cover triggers the lens to extend from the camera body about 5/8-inch, automatically placing the camera into Record mode. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Stylus 300 Digital also offers 4x Digital Zoom. Keep in mind though, that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 3.2-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for prints up to 8×10 inches with good detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5×7- and 4×6-inch prints. For composing images, the Stylus 300 Digital features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor. The LCD monitor provides a limited exposure-information display (shutter speed and aperture aren’t reported), and is controlled by a small Display button adjacent to it. In Playback mode, the LCD monitor provides image enlargement and an index display.
Exposure control on the Stylus 300 Digital is uncomplicated and straightforward, like most of Olympus’ consumer-oriented digicams. The camera operates under automatic exposure control at all times, but offers a selection of preset Scene modes for specific shooting situations. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, which is fairly simple to navigate. An initial short-cut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, offering quick-access options for the camera’s White Balance, Image Size, and Exposure Compensation, or you can choose to just enter the main Record menu itself. The camera automatically determines aperture and shutter speed (from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second), but Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes are all user-adjustable. The Stylus 300 Digital’s built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and Off modes.