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Industry First: Olympus Unveils Dual-Sensor EVOLT E-330, Digital SLR With Live View

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January 26, 2006 – With much pomp and circumstance, Olympus announced the world’s first full live view DLSR today. The Olympus E-330 has a 2.5-inch LCD screen that folds out from the back of the camera and provides users with a live view. Compact digital cameras offer this as a standard feature, but the E-330 is the first digital SLR to incorporate the technology. The 7.5 megapixel camera has a four-thirds mount that uses interchangeable Zuiko lenses, which are specifically designed for digital sensors. The E-330’s body has the same flat-top design of the earlier E-300; this design is reflective of the live view technology that fits in the DSLR form. The Olympus E-330 will be available in March for $999 by itself or for $1099 with the kit lens.

The Olympus E-330 uses a compact porro mirror design with two sensors, which allows the model to have an effective live view on the LCD while also showing a 95 percent frame coverage in the optical viewfinder. Up until now, DSLRs have not included a live view on the LCD because a mirror reflects the light from the lens upward to the optical viewfinder and that mirror blocks the image sensor. Compact cameras don’t have that mirror, so the sensor can be used to produce a live view on the LCD screen. The Olympus E-330 uses its mirror design to reflect the light from the lens to the viewfinder, while another mirror bounces light to a secondary image sensor.

The secondary image sensor is the same 8 megapixel CCD that was included on the compact Olympus Stylus 800. That CCD sends the image to the 2.5-inch LCD monitor with 215,000 pixels, mounted on a folding frame. The E-330’s main sensor is a Live-MOS 7.5 megapixel sensor with high dynamic range. Previous E-series models have incorporated Kodak CCDs, but Olympus didn’t use this type of sensor because it doesn’t lend itself to high-quality live views worked on reduced light. The interlace CCDs make the image look jagged when the camera is panned.

The Olympus E-330’s LCD monitor folds outward so users can take pictures overhead or at the hip while utilizing the live view. The 2.5-inch HyperCrystal TFT LCD has a wide 160-degree viewing angle and two modes of viewing. Mode A is the default live view that most photographers will use to compose pictures. Mode B lets users select tiny areas on the screen with the jog dial so the area can be magnified up to 10x and users can manually focus. The LCD screen has 100 percent coverage of the frame and also features a +/- 7 brightness control. Using the screen has some impact on the battery life, as Mode A gets about 250 shots and Mode B has a life of about 200 shots. Photographers can choose to use the live view on the LCD or to use the optical viewfinder. Richard Pelkowski, product manager of Olympus’ DSLR products, said the DSLR-quality optical viewfinder and the live view LCD are a unique combination that will shake up the industry.

"You can easily get a live view camera with an interchangeable lens without having a reflex mirror, but what we’ve done on this product [the E-330] is different," he said. "We still retained the mirror box, the reflex mirror and the optical viewfinder path and still have enabled a true live view camera. So you still retain the SLR type phase detection autofocus system, which is very fast and very accurate. You still have an optical viewfinder. And you have a true live view. And when I say true live view, I mean true; the camera can be in that mode, not for just a couple of minutes or 30 seconds and not just in monochrome--but it’s a true live view as you’d have with an ultra zoom camera with a EVF viewfinder, but you still have all the benefits of the optical viewfinder."

The live view feature is slated to attract photographers who are growing out of their compact models but still want a functional live view. While the live view has mass appeal, it has other applications for photographers who shoot from the hip or otherwise need a large live view without planting a face in an eyecup – such as for underwater photography, for instance. It is easier to see a live view LCD rather than a tiny optical viewfinder with full diving gear on. With this in mind, Olympus is also releasing a matching underwater housing so the E-330 can reach depths of 196 ft. The PT-E02 housing will be available in the spring for $1,219.

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The Olympus E-330 has elements from both the compact and DSLR worlds. It has 20 scene modes ranging from the basic Portrait and Landscape to the more unique Document and Candle modes. It also has color modes and some in-camera editing features like saturation, contrast, resize, and red-eye reduction adjustments. The E-330 can play slide shows and display pictures in calendar format too. These are all seemingly elementary features, but the E-330 doesn’t forget that it’s a DSLR. It has a built-in flash with an intensity control as well as a hot shoe for accessories. It contains 7 white balance presets with +/- 7 adjustments and a custom mode. The Olympus E-330 has a wide shutter speed range from 60-1/4000th of a second with an additional bulb option. It has ISO options from 100-1600 and a burst mode that shoots 1.5 frames per second. The camera has dual slots for both CompactFlash and xD-Picture cards.

The body is very similar to the older E-300 with the flat-top design, but the new E-330 is shorter lengthwise at 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.3 inches. When the E-300 was announced, Olympus alluded to future innovations that would be possible with the flat top. Indeed, the LCD’s live view was what they had in mind. The technology for the E-330 has been in the works for about two years now, Pelkowski said. He also said it’s possible that the live view will be seen on future Olympus E-series DSLRs. The E-330 does include the dust reduction system that has become a standard on other E-series models. The camera has a supersonic wave filter that vibrates 35,000 times a second to keep dust off the sensor. This is particularly necessary when changing lenses.

Olympus E-series cameras are compatible with Zuiko glass, the largest fleet of digital-specific lenses. These lenses match the four-thirds Live-MOS sensor perfectly, permitting completely accurate images. There are 15 Zuiko lenses currently on the market that range from an equivalent 14-600 mm. When purchased with the kit lens, the E-330 comes with a 14-45 mm, f/3.5-5.6 lens. The 3.2x zoom lens weighs 10 ounces and can focus as close as 15 inches from the front element. Olympus is excited about its live view technology and hopes it will provide a breakthrough for its E-series line of products.

"We’re not afraid to really put ourselves out there and really push the envelope in new technologies," said Sally Smith Clemens, product manager of Olympus’ consumer products group. "And the good thing about that, regardless of how the product is ultimately received in terms of sales and units… is that in general it has a positive impact on the entire industry. It forces all of us: it forces the manufacturers, the retailers, and it forces you and I, the end user, photographers, whoever we are, to rethink technology."

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