Olympus D-380 Digital Camera
Olympus has long been a dominant player in the traditional imaging market, with a wide array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products that range from 35mm cameras, to microscopes and medical equipment, 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 very capable pro-level E-20 SLR. The Camedia D-380 is an entry level digicam, sporting a 2.0-megapixel CCD and a fixed focal length (slightly wide angle) lens. Designed primarily for the beginning photographer, the D-380 leaves nothing to chance. Its fully automatic exposure system requires very little user intervention, although it does permit some exposure and white balance adjustments at the user’s option. Olympus has also incorporated their AutoConnect USB technology for fast connectivity to late-model computers, without the need for additional driver software. This automatic USB connection (quickly becoming a standard in the industry) means you can walk up to virtually any computer and immediately download and view your images.
With a practically identical body design to the previous Camedia D-370, Olympus’ new D-380 offers the same great point-and-shoot qualities only now with a larger, 2.0-megapixel CCD. The D-380 is compact and easy to use, with a streamlined body design characterized by Olympus’ signature sliding lens cover. The all-plastic body is portable and light weight at just over eight ounces with the SmartMedia card and batteries installed. The sliding lens cover protects the camera’s front elements, making it an ideal design for stashing in deep pockets or a small purse, and toting inconspicuously on vacation, to family outings, or to social events. The focus-free lens is made of high-quality glass with a wide-angle view great for small group snapshots, local scenery, landscapes, and indoor activities where space is at a premium. The larger CCD produces higher-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8×10 inches, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5×7- and 4×6-inch snapshots. In short, it’s a great “memory maker” for active teens and adults!
The D-380 has a fixed focal length lens, equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. (That’s a moderate wide-angle.) Focus is also fixed, covering a range of approximately two feet (0.6 meters) to infinity in normal shooting mode. Because it doesn’t have to wait for the lens to focus, the D-380 responds to the shutter button more quickly than many more sophisticated cameras, making it great for catching fast-paced action. (Baby pictures, anyone?) The fixed, wide angle lens is somewhat limiting when shooting portraits though, since its wide-angle view distorts facial features in close-up shots. You also won’t be able to zoom in on a distant subject, like individual sports players or nature shots of wild animals. (While the D-380 does have a 4x digital zoom, digital zooms really can’t be compared to true lenses, since they just enlarge the center pixels of the camera’s CCD, rather than magnifying the image the CCD sees. The result is loss of resolution as you zoom. See the Olympus D-520 Zoom for a higher-end model with zoom.) The D-380 does provide a Macro switch just below the lens though, which changes the focus for subjects as close as 10 inches.
As with the previous D-370, exposure control on the D-380 is very straightforward, since the camera operates under automatic exposure at all times. Opening the clamshell cover activates the camera and puts it in shooting mode, so it’s very quick on the draw. As mentioned above, the focus-free lens also means there’s very little delay from the time you press down on the Shutter button to the time the shutter actually fires, a common limitation among digicams. The majority of exposure options are controlled through the multi-page, on-screen menu system, but Olympus redesigned the menu system on the D-380 for faster navigation. The first menu screen actually features three shortcuts to the camera’s Drive, Image Size, and Function options, as well as the link to the four-page Record menu (where the remaining exposure adjustments and camera settings are made). Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but the user can control the 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. The D-380’s built-in flash is effective to approximately eight feet (2.5 meters) from the camera and includes a Red-Eye setting that reduces the occurrence of red-eye in portraits. There’s also a Slow Sync setting for flash shots that preserve background detail in “twilight” light levels. (Dim but not dark.)
Along with simplicity and portability, the D-380 also offers some interesting (and fun) creative options. For example, a Movie mode records QuickTime movies (without sound), a great way to remember special moments. A Self-Timer mode lets you mount the camera on a tripod, trip the Shutter button, and zip around front to take your place in a group photo. There’s also a Continuous Shooting option that works much like a motor drive on professional 35mm cameras. You can capture three or more high-quality images in quick succession by holding down the Shutter button. (Assuming, of course, that you have room for them on your memory card.) When special Olympus SmartMedia storage cards are used, the D-380 can also record up to 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. After capture, images are downloaded to a computer and “stitched” together with the camera’s bundled software. There’s even an option for taking portraits of two or more people, which adjusts the metering and focus to balance the exposure for both subjects. New to the D-380 is the “2 in 1” mode, which captures two half-size images (vertically oriented), that are saved side-by-side as one image. The result is that you can take a portrait of one person (or any other object), then capture another, and save them together as a single photo. Finally, you can transform your full color images to sepia tone or black-and-white pictures through the camera’s Playback menu.
The D-380 stores images either in its very limited internal memory, or on a 3.3v SmartMedia card. The internal memory is really only intended to permit in-store demos of the camera without an easily lost or stolen memory card. For normal picture taking, an 8MB card is included in the box with the camera. Cards as large as 128MB are available separately, and I suggest buying at least a 32MB SmartMedia card so you don’t miss any important shots. The camera comes with a set of four single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as two CR-V3 lithium-ion battery packs (sold as an accessory). As always, I strongly recommend picking up good charger and a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. The optional AC adapter is useful for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, but high-capacity rechargeable batteries really reduce the need for it.