Olympus Evolt E-330 Digital SLR Camera

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Digital SLR cameras amaze me. True, they're so bulky you need a bag to carry all of their interchangeable lenses, but those lenses guarantee better pictures. Forget megapixels — the only way to improve a picture is by using a lens big enough to capture all the light in your scene. The current leaders in the consumer digital SLR field are Canon, Nikon and Olympus. All the models I've tried out have their virtues, but the new Olympus E-Volt E-330 has a revolutionary new feature: live view. Line up your shots through the LCD before you shoot.

You're saying, "So what? I can already do that with my $200 point-and-shoot camera." But one of the dirty little secrets of the digital SLR category is that, high-end or not, they physically couldn't do it until now. (The other secret is that they didn't do video — and they still don't.) The E-330's live view works because the camera has two image sensors. The sensors share the view from the lens using a network of mirrors, including a two-way mirror that both reflects light and passes it through. You don't notice a thing, except that it works.

Live view is very useful for all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary shooting. When I was testing it using an Olympus macro lens, I could manually focus the camera without craning my neck out of whack. In a crowd of people, I adjusted the articulating LCD to point downward, then held the camera aloft to take overhead shots.

There are, of course, limitations. For instance, as I stood on the sunlight-drenched pier at Huntington Beach, California, I couldn't see a whole lot on the LCD. I was forced to use the optical viewfinder. Also, in low lighting, you'll get a clearer picture through the eyepiece than you will on the LCD. Nevertheless, it's a great help for people who want an upgrade but enjoy the LCD convenience of current point-and-shoot cameras.

Last year, I raved about this camera's predecessor, the E-300. Its ultrasonic image sensor filter vibrates to remove dust that could appear in pictures. In the Fall, I enjoyed testing the smaller but similarly loaded E-500. The only downside to the E-330 is that it was built with the larger E-300 body style, but I suppose that's just an unfortunate price to pay for the added functionality of live view. Add that to a list of features — full manual control, ultrasonic dust protection, a 7.5-megapixel image sensor, access to all of Olympus' Zuiko Digital Specific lenses, and compatibility with high-capacity CompactFlash memory cards as well as the Olympus/Fujifilm proprietary xD card — and you can see why this camera has plenty to brag about.