Guided Tour #5: Olympus Evolt E-300

Take the tour and master the camera!

Welcome to the fourth in the Guided Tour series, an Adorama exclusive, where we take you on in-depth looks at today's most popular cameras. We explain all of the buttons, modes, and special functions of specific cameras in detail, and offer hints and tips--and over 65 photos--to help you really get to know this camera.

You can read Guided Tours...
...before you buy. The more you know about the abilities of a camera, the better equipped you are to make a buying decision. Our Guided Tours offer extensive information.
...after you buy. You've invested in the camera; now you want to learn everything there is to know about it so you can take advantage of all of its capabilities.

How to read a Guided Tour:
If you just want to turn on the camera and start shooting, go to the "Basic features" section.If want to explore other features in depth, read the "Advanced Operations" section. And to unlock your camera's deepest levels of control, scroll to "Pushing The Envelope."

Now, on with the tour!

Olympus Evolt E-300 at a glance

Front: Olympus Evolt E-300 with flash up and Olympus 14-45mm "kit" lens attached.

Camera back with 1/8-inch LCD monitor

Top: Hot shoe for flash positioned off-center, creative and basic modes on dial; wheel controls many functions.

Key features

  • 8 megapixel sensor
  • 4/3 type sensor
  • 14 Scene modes
  • Customizable functions

User profile

  • Hobbyist moving from film to digital
  • Stuido photographer who needs live image preview
  • Pro who owns a high-end Olympus DSLR and needs a back-up body


  • Easy user interface
  • Lots of features for advanced photographers
  • Low price for an 8MP DSLR


  • Bulky form factor, not good for small hands
  • Small LCD monitor
  • No PC flash connection

Basic Features
Outside controls: The Top

The E-300's controls are logically clustered around the grip, all within easy reach of the thumb and forefinger.

The control dial is divided into more advanced options (M, S, A) and modes geared towards less experienced users. Let's look at each, starting counterclockwise with M.

M: Manual exposure. For those of us weaned on manual SLRs, this function should feel familiar. It lets you control aperture and shutter speed by turning the thumbwheel. First, press the Info button (bottom left button on camera's back) to activate the LCD's camera setting info screen. To adjust the shutter speed, simply turn the thumbwheel. To adjust aperture, press the +/- (EV control) button, which is at the top of the circular array of buttons on the back. The active setting is highlighted in green at the top of the LCD screen.

Note: You can also view exposure settings by looking through viewfinder. The information will appear on the right side.

S: Shutter Priority Auto exposure. Change the shutter speed by twirling the thumb dial. Shutter speed is highlighted in orange on LCD screen. Over- or underexposure is indicated by blinking aperture setting.

Tip: Use S mode when capturing action or showing a sense of motion is more important than controlling focus depth.

A: Aperture Priority Auto exposure. Change the aperture by twirling the thumb dial. The camera will automatically set shutter speeds to get accurate exposure. Aperture setting is highlighted in orange on the LCD screen. Over- or underexposure is indicated by a blinking shutter speed.

Tip: Use this when you want to control depth of field. Choose your aperture, focus, and then check depth by pressing the depth-of-field preview button.

P: Program Auto exposure: This is the point-and-shoot setting. Choose this setting and the camera will deliver perfectly acceptable images in most cases. If you're a beginner, you can choose this mode first, and start shooting. (Come back soon and learn about the more advanced features that give you creative control so you can grow. For now, just go out and have fun with your new camera!)

Continuing counterclockwise, there are icons for portraits, landscapes, close-ups, sports, and portraits at night or in dark rooms. The camera will choose ideal exposures (in most cases) when shooting the indicated subject.

PS: Program Shift: While in the P mode, turn the thumbwheel once. In the finder and on the LCD monitor the "P" will change to "PS." In Program Shift, the camera still picks the optimum exposure, but you can change the combination of aperture and shutter speed by turning the thumbwheel. It's a conveniennce, and regular Program won't let you do this.

Tip: In Ps mode, Choose a higher aperture to get deeper focus, and a faster shutter speed for capturing action.

The E-300's 14 Scene settings enable point-and-shooters to take better pictures in specific, challenging light. More experienced photographers may also enjoy the convenience of the settings.

The scene modes are: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Macro,Sunset,Fireworks, Documents,Museum, High Key, Beach & Snow,Sport

Each scene mode is accompanied by an on-screen guide. Here they are...

Partially blocked by the mode dial is a thumbwheel control dial which is used to scroll through many of the E-300's selected menus and operations. (Some operations are selected using the up/down buttons to the right of the LCD screen. Knowing which controls to use when takes some getting used to.)

Now, let's look at the camera's back, first the top, starting from the right and moving left.

+/- Exposure control button. Press it down with your thumb, then use your thumb to move the small dial behind the Control Dial to adjust exposure compensation. This is your only exposure control option when you're in P mode.

AEL (Autoexposure lock) switch lets you lock in expsoure, then recompose. This is especially helpful when used with the camera's spot metering option.

A narrow button with a lightning bolt and "Up" pops up the built-in flash; the dedicated hot shoe offers TTL flash operation for external flash units, such as the Olympus FL-20, which is designed specifically for the EVOLT series. This is not to be confused with the round lightning bolt button, which is all the way,to the left. That button controls flash operating modes.

Now let's look at the controls just right of the LCD monitor.

The Image Preview button lets you look at images stored on your CF card. Use the Info button access six different preview options. You can view the image with no data; with basic info (quality, image number); basic info plus pixel size and compression; picture with histogram superimposed; Just the quality setting, and all Meta data with small image. Use the thumbwheel to enlarge the image.

The Olympus Evolt C-300 offers six image preview viewing options. Here's what they look like...

Tip: Use the feedback from these screens to fine-tune your lighting and exposure settings.

The Menu button accesses the E-300's many camera operation settings, which we'll look at in great detail under "Advanced features."

A cluster of four buttons in a circle surrounding an OK button control key settings. They are (clockwise from top): EV compensation AF (autofocus), ISO, and Metering.

As with many other buttons, the functions controlled by these buttons can also be accessed by navigating through menus, as you'll see later. But navigating menus with this camera requires scrolling through menus and in some cases, submenus--extra button presses. I think the fewer button presses, the better.

To use the on-camera buttons, simply press the button, then use the thumbwheel to scroll through the options. Hit the center "OK" button to activate. Quick and painless.

EV compensation lets you lighten or darken the image by adjusting the exposure setting. You can adjust exposure up to 5 stops in either direction--a wider range than average. Choose a "+" setting to overexpose (lighten) the image, or "-" to underexpose. A stop or two in either direction will be sufficient for most situations.

Note: Don't rely on what you see in the image preview display for exposure accuracy. Instead, choose the "Histogram view" mode in image preview. If the bell-shaped curve is centered, exposure's accurate. If it's mostly to the left or the right, it's either over or underexposed.

Among the four autofocus options (S-AF, C-AF, MF, S+AF+MF) the latter that lets you shoot AF but manually override it.

The ISO setting, by default, is limited in range to ISO 100-400, but it can go as high as 1600 (albeit with minor performance slowdowns). How do you unlock the higher settings? Choose Tools 1 > ISO Boost > On.

The Metering mode button gives you three choices: Digital ESP Metering (ESP), Center-weighted averaging metering, or spot metering. ESP calculates light levels, including light level differences in specific areas of the images, and

When using the metering control, there are three "Spot" options, Spot, S-HI, and SH. S-HI is for metering subjects surrounded by lots of light (high-key). It shifts the camera into overexposure to compensate for the exccess light. SH is for metering subjects in subdued light (low key) and controls shadows by underexposing the scene.

On the left side of the viewfinder is a small diopter adjustment wheel. The first time you use the camera, set your lens on autofocus and focus on a contrasty nearby subject. Then turn the wheel until the subject is sharpest. Change it only if you are an eyeglass wearer and change your perscription.

Now let's look at the left side of the camera back.

The five control buttons on the left of the LCD screen are, from the top: Flash, which controls flash settings (on, off, slow first curtain, slow second curtain, redeye reduction); WB sets the image's white balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy/twilight/sunset, tungsten, three fluorescent options (white, neutral white, daylight), flash, custom); record mode chooses image file format; Trash lets you delete images or empty the entire card; and Info (view of LCD screen in this mode shown here), which lets you choose from seven different ways of looking at images stored on the memory card, and details about current camera settings when in shooting mode.

The flash button lets you choose the camera's flash mode. The choices--Auto, red-eye reduction, Slow 1, Slow 2, off--are fairly standard.

Tip: If you've never used slow flash, this simply lets you combine flash with a slow shutter speed. For portraits in dark envirnoments, this lightens the background details. The default is for the flash to go off at the beginning of the exposure. But in Slow 2, the flash goes off at the end of the exposure. When photographing moving objects, this captures the motion more logically, with the frozen, flashlit part of the picture coming at the end of the motion, so it looks like your subject is moving forward. It's fun to experiment with slow sync flash!

The WB button lets choose the white balance setting. Watch the box on the left side of the LCD screen and you'll see the different WB choices--Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy/twilight/sunset, tungsten, three fluorescent options (white, neutral white, daylight), flash, custom (all indicated by icons) and one-touch white balance mode. For the last mode, simply point the camera at a piece of white paper and hit the "Drive" button.

The Record mode button lets you choose if you want to shoot in JPEG (HQ--high quality, or SQ--standard quality), RAW, RAW+JPEG, or TIFF mode, and gives you limited control over image size. When the control panel is off, simply press the button and a simple screen pops up. Turn on the control panel LCD monitor and the Record info will appear on the bottom left of the screen.

Turn the camera and you'll see a two rubber doors on the left side. The higher door opens up to reveal a USB socket so you can connect your camera to your computer, and a Video Out for playback on a TV. Behind the second door is a DC adaptor connector.

Tip: Downloading images directly from camera to computer may be convenient, but it's not especially fast. Consider buying a FireWire CompactFlash card reader--they are not very expensive, but can download a gigabyte's worth of image files in less than a minute. USB takes longer.

The compact flash cards go in a slot behind the door in the camera's handle; the battery compartment is located beneath the handle.

Advanced Operation

Modes and menus

The camera's menus are divided into five sections: Camera 1 and 2, Preview, and Tools 1 and 2.

Camera 1EV Compensation lets you adjust exposure up to five stops in either direction, in 1/3-stop increments. You can also access this feature simply by pressing the EV compensation button on the camera.

Recording mode is identical to the recording mode button on the left side of the camera.

Flash Mode is identical to the flash button on the left side of the camera.

The AF Mode is identical to the AF button on the right side of the LCD monitor. AF mode controls the camera's many focus modes. S-AF is a single-shooting mode, appropriate for still subjects; C-AF allows for continuous shooting, better for action shots; manual focus lets you control focus by turning the focus ring on the lens. You can combine either of the AF modes with manual focus--let the camera focus initially, then fine-tune focus by turning the focus ring. You can also access this function via the AEL/AFL button on the camera.

White Balance (WB) can be adjusted and fine-tuned manually, or set to automatic, via this control or by using the WB button on the camera--another redundancy.

Tip: If there are no white subjects in an image, it's better to choose a specific white balance setting than to leave it on auto WB.

ISO Out of the box, the camera lets you choose between ISO 100-400, which is limiting. Turn on ISO Boost (Tools 1 > ISO Boost > On) so you have the option of ISOs 400-1600 as well. No reason not to activate this right away. This function can be more easily accessed via the ISO button on the camera.

Metering: This mode is identical to the Metering button to the right of the LCD screen.

AF Frame Selection (indicated by three squares in a line) lets you choose to focus on whatever's closest and is identical to the AF Frame Selection on the upper right area behind the camera.

Camera 2

Card Setup, which really should be under "Tools," lets you erase all images on a memory card, or reformat it. Doing this will erase all the card's contents, so do this only if you have already backed up all of your images.

Tip: Do not erase images from your card by deleting them on your computer; instead, erase them in camera by reformatting your card.

Drive/remote/delay controls single- or multi-frame bursts (up to 4 frames at 2.5 frames per second in SHQ, HQ or SQ modes), auto bracketing (BKT), which shoots multiple frames at different exposures. To adjust the exposure spread (1/3, 1/7, and 1-stop differences) just choose Drive > BKT. The self timer can be set to 2 or 12 seconds. Use the Remote control setting with the RM-1 remote control (sold separately) to shoot self-portraits or nature photography where camera vibration must be minimized.

Flash output adjustment lets you fine-tune flash exposure as it relates to your subject and the ambient light in a scene. While Night Portrait does this too, Flash output adjustment lets you adjust the flash output up to 2 stops in either direction, in 1/3-stop increments. Use this in concert with exposure compensation and you can have full control over the ratio of flash illumination to ambient light.

One-Touch WB lets you quickly establish white balance in a scene. Simply press the One-Touch WB mode, point your camera at a white sheet of paper, rfilling the screen with it. Set the exposure properly, then hit "OK."

Tip: This is a useful feature if you're shooting a lot of shots under mixed light sources.

Monotone is Olympus's way of saying Black-and-White. You can shoot neutral-toned or sepia-toned black and white images.

Gradation may come in handy for studio photographers who do low-key/hi-key photography. Hi Key (H) is designed to give proper exposure for portraits shot against light backgrounds, compensating for the fact that the background could mislead the meter. Low Key (L) does the same for photos that are meant to have large areas in deep shadow.

Saturation lets you adjust the intensity of color in your photos in five steps.

Tip: Choose more saturation to emphasize fall foliage, for example.

Contrast lets you adjust contrast in your photos, also in five steps.

Tip: Choose lower contrast when shooting contrasty subjects where you want to get details in both extremes. For instance, lower contrast gives you a better chance of capturing the details of a bride's gown next to the groom in his black suit.

Sharpness increases or decreases overall image sharpness.

Tip: Decreasing sharpness can give you more flattering portraits.

WB BKT (White Balance Braketing) lets you take three pictures, varying the white balance in each shot, either along the red-blue axis, or the green-magenta axis. You are allowed to choose which direction. This is a useful tool if there's mixed lighting and you're not sure which WB choice will work best.

HQsets the compression rate of full-resolution images. The default is 1/4, which is the least compression, or 1/8 and 1/12, which is the highest compression.

Tip: Remember that the more compression, the smaller the image file but the more chances for digital artifacts, which adversely affect image quality.

SQ lets you set lower resolution.

Noise Reduction reduces the digital artifacts (noise) that are especially visible in dark areas of images that need long exposures. The camera uses internal software to process the image, resulting in a cleaner look.

Note: Noise reduction is applied after the picture is taken, so apparent write speed is slowed down significantly. Wait until the "busy" icon goes off in the viewfinder before taking more pictures.


Slideshow lets you play back images, changing images every five seconds. You can see one, four, nine, 16, or 25 images at a time.

Tip: Multiple-image slideshows work best when the camera is tethered to a TV set, via the video cable that is included with the camera.

Rotate turns your vertical images so you don't need to flip the camera to view it. To rotate manually, simply press the exposure compensation button while in preview mode.

Edit lets you make changes to images you've already taken and store them as new images. In-camera fixes are: convert image to black-and-white; create a sepia-toned image; reduce redeye; change color saturation; reduce image size (in pixels). The options will vary depending on which format image you are working with.

Tip: JPEG and TIFF files can be edited and printed with no modifications, but RAW files must be converted into JPEG files in order to be printed from the camera.

Print Order works with DPOF compatible printers (Digital Print Order Format) and labs so you can select images that you want printed and tag them with quantity and print size information that is automatically transferred to the lab. If you are interested in this feature, see page 142 and beyond in the manual.

Tools 1

EV Step lets you change EV setting increments. The default is 1/3 steps, but you can choose 1/2 steps or full steps as alternatives.

ISO Boost overrides the default ISO range (100-400) so you can shoot at ISOs up to 1600. The downside to using this setting is that shooting times are slightly longer.

Manual Flash is another redundant setting. You can get to this faster by going to Camera 2 > Flash Mode.

WB +/- is identical to the WB button to the left of the LCD monitor.

Custom WB lets you assign a specific color temperature setting to the white balance, going in 100K increments from 2000K to 10,000 K. There are four custom WB settings.

AF Illuminator activates the built-in flash, having it illuminate a low-light scene so the focusing mechanism can find its target.

AEL Metering lets you choose the metering pattern using the AEL (autoexposure lock) button.

Custom OK lets you customize the OK button to give you quick access to items that would otherwise be buried in the menus. Scroll through the options and hit "OK" to register the one you want--and you can only choose one. Choose "Shortcut" and the OK button could be used to access Monotone, Graduation, Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness, or WB Bracketing. Choose "Preview" and when you press OK a preview of the image you're shooting appears with depth of field info. Choose "AF/MF" and you can use the OK button to toggle between autofocus and manual focus modes. If you use any one of the above modes often, this can be a useful feature.

Tools 2

Date/Day setting controls the meta data field that travels with your image and indicates the time and date it was taken. Set this when you get your camera--then forget about it (unless you change time zones).

Reset restores the factory default settings, which may have been changed over time. It's easy to lose track if you've made many changes. This is a quick way to start again at zero.

File Name assigns each image its own number. These are sequential, but can be reset to 0 if you want. Continuous is the best setting for most users because as the images are loaded onto a computer, there would be no overlap of image numbers which might lead to older images being overwritten by newer ones if the camera's on auto reset.

Record View lets you check the image right after shooting. You can set it to appear on screen for 1 to 20 seconds.

Audio turns audible camera warnings on or off.

Monitor brightness has five levels to help you avoid eyestrain when looking at images in different light. Pump it up to full brightness if you're in direct sunlight, but if you're viewing in darkened rooms you may want to dim the finder.

Sleep turns the camera off after a period of inactivity. You can change it from 1 minute to 3, 5, or 10 minutes, although we're not sure how this differs from the 4H Timer feature.

PC Mode is used to help you connect the camera directly to a printer or computer via the included USB cable so you can transfer your photos.

Language lets you change the default language (English) to either French, Spanish, or Portugese (at least in the U.S. version).

Video Out: The default here is the US standard NTSC; PAL is available for other countries.

Pixel Mapping is a diagnostic tool that lets the camera check and adjust the CCD's image recording and processing functions. Olympus recomends using this only once a year, and to do this function with a lens cap on the lens.

Cleaning Mode is used to clear dust particles off the sensor. If you're seeing light grey circles on your images, you've got dust, and it's time to clean your sensor. Make sure your battery is fully charged before you do this (the camera won't let you start if there's insufficient juice).

Reset Lens lets you change the lens so it focuses to infinity each time the camera's power is turned off.

Erase Setting is a relatively obscure option that controls the cursor's position when you access the All Erase, Erase, or Format screen.

The Color Space setting is mainly for commercial printing purposes. Leave it alone unless you anticipate that your photos will be published in a book or magazine.

Focus Ring changes the focusing ring's focus direction from clockwise to counterclockwise.

Firmware: Sometimes, the manufacturer will provide a firmware update that addresses a camera malfunction or adds new functions or improves performance. Check the Adorama News Desk archives Firmware Updates category to see if there have been recent updates for this camera.

That's it for our guided tour. If you've gotten this far and carefully followed along with your camera, you have mastered your Olympus Evolt E-300's controls. Now, go out and take lots of great pictures!


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