Olympus is one of the most widely-known names in photography, producing 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-20 SLR. The company’s “D” series of digital cameras is aimed more at novices than advanced users, with sleek, compact styling, good ease of use, but a healthy share of features nonetheless.
The latest at the entry-level end of this series is the D-390, a very basic digicam designed for novices. The D-390 offers a 2.0-megapixel CCD for good resolution and image quality, along with Olympus standards such as a Panorama mode (with Olympus brand memory cards) and “2-in-1” shooting mode. Exposure control is automatic, although four preset Scene modes can handle tricky situations. The D-390 features a fixed-focal-length lens, and 2.5x digital zoom. With a suggested retail price at introduction of $179 and an average street price of $149, the D-390 is intended to be a “starter”digicam. In my testing though, I found that the D-390 fell a little short of the image and color quality I’ve come to associate with the Olympus name. It’s hard to beat the price, and I’d certainly take the D-390 over a lot of the similarly-priced bargain-basement imports now creeping into the US market from Taiwan and Korea, but I think most users would be better served by saving their pennies for a slightly higher-end model.
Thin and compact, Olympus’ D-390 digicam is a basic, no-frills, entry-level digicam. Featuring Olympus’ popular clamshell sliding lens cover, the pocket-sized D-390 should easily slip into a small purse, too. Its fixed-focal-length lens and 2.0-megapixel CCD capture images with enough detail to support printing them as large as 5×7 inches, perfect for snapshots. A lower resolution setting is good for sending images as email attachments.
The D-390 has a fixed, 5mm lens (equivalent to a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera), with a maximum aperture setting of f/2.8. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity, with a macro setting focusing as close as 8.0 inches (20 centimeters). The protective lens cover also acts as the power switch, and puts the camera into Record mode when it’s slid open. Although the D-390 doesn’t offer a true optical zoom, it does have as much as 2.5x Digital Zoom available. Keep in mind though that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, which usually results in lower image quality and softer details. The D-390 features an optical viewfinder as well as a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for composing images.
Exposure control on the D-390 is straightforward. You simply point the camera and shoot most of the time. A multi-page LCD menu system accesses the available settings, although you can adjust flash mode and digital zoom externally. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, which accesses the camera’s Movie, Image Size, and Mode Reset options instantly, or you can enter the main Record menu by toggling the left arrow key from the shortcut screen. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined at all times, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second. By default, the camera uses a Center-Weighted Average metering mode, which analyzes a large area in the center of the frame to determine the exposure. A Spot metering option is available for high contrast or off-center subjects through the Record menu. The camera’s Exposure Compensation adjustment lets you increase or decrease the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments. There’s also a White Balance setting, for adjusting overall color balance. Options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, and Fluorescent modes. The D-390’s built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed modes.
Program Auto is the main exposure mode for most normal shooting situations, although the D-390 also offers Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, and Self Portrait modes for more specific shooting conditions. Portrait mode captures the subject in front of a slightly blurred background, while Landscape gets both the foreground and the background in sharp focus, great for wide vistas of scenery. Night Scene mode accesses longer shutter times (not reported by the camera), and automatically times the flash with the slower exposure. (You can cancel the flash.) Self Portrait mode lets you point the camera at yourself (in-hand) and automatically fixes focus on you. The lens remains locked at the wide-angle setting so that you get a sharply-focused portrait of yourself in front of an interesting background.