This photography review of the Olympus Evolt E-300 was written more than a decade ago, but still gets quite a bit of traffic. So, I have kept it alive for those still interested in this information.
I have dropped out of the new camera race, and no longer rush to be the first in line when a new DSLR is released. Typically, I shoot ISO 200 or less, use a tripod, and do not do much action photography. I don’t need the latest ISO 12,000 miracle DSLR camera! Also, with careful post-processing, most of us (including savvy photographers) cannot tell if an image was shot with a 6 megapixel Nikon D40 or an 18 megapixel Canon 7D at sizes below 12×19 or so. Finally, I don’t make money taking pictures. I love this hobby, yet, it is only that, a hobby. I’d rather spend my hard-earned dollars seeing great places to photograph… and eating. So if you’re like me, you may find this review of one of my favorite DSLR’s of interest.
I call the Olympus E-300 my digital Kodachrome. Like vintage Kodachrome slide film (the favorite film of National Geographic), it has a unique color palette, with vivid, punchy colors and bold contrast. That is not surprising given that the fact that the Olympus E-300 sensor was designed and manufactured by Kodak. The images it produces has that Kodak look. This is a camera for sunny days (the sunnier, the better) and bright, sparkling colors. However, the images become grainy once the light starts to fade.
The Olympus Evolt E-300 has one the lowest resale values of used DSLR cameras. With a bit of careful shopping, you can find a used Olympus E-300 2 lens kit (14-45mm F3.5-5, and the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5) for under $200.00 in excellent condition at reputable used camera dealers online. Is it worth buying? Yes, and here’s why:
I came to admire the Olympus E-300 after more than a year of heavy use. Although it received lukewarm reviews in the media, friends who used this camera loved it. I saw one on sale in a local camera shop that was too good to pass up. It was a demo model with less than 800 shutter actuations and in mint condition. It came with an electronic remote, battery grip, extra battery, and all manuals in the original box for $200. I next purchased the two kit lenses sold with this camera locally on Craigslist, the 14-45mm F3.5-5.6, and the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 lenses in like new condition for $80.00 for the pair. With a bit of careful shopping, you can probably find an even better deal on a gently used E-300 with kit lenses online.
All images on this page were shot with this camera and the kit lens at 100 ISO. This is a full featured camera body with a set of controls that can rival high-end DSLR cameras. Because of its age, the rear LCD is much smaller than what is available in more modern DSLR’s. However, that is something I quickly adjusted to. Truthfully, this is one ugly camera body. Yet, when you add the battery grip, it is transformed into a very professional looking combo that earned many admiring glances and comments as I used this camera throughout the year. If at all possible, get the Olympus battery grip, it really transforms the look of the camera from “a toad into a handsome prince.” Also, it makes the camera much more comfortable to grip during long shooting sessions.
The camera construction is rock solid and holds up well under heavy use. I typically shoot 200-400 shots per week with this camera during the year in dusty desert environments. I never had a problem with sensor dust (thanks to the Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system feature in the camera body).
The Olympus Evolt E-300 became my camera of choice for shooting in the sun-drenched Sonoran Desert environs of Phoenix, Arizona. In fact, I preferred it over the Canon Rebel XT that was until that point my main camera. Why? The E-300 loves the sun. The Kodak 8 megapixel sensor that powers this model was used in only two Olympus models, the E-300 and E-500. It is really special! Kodak knows a thing or two about color, and it shows in the results this tiny 8-megapixel sensor produces in bright outdoor light.The sample photos shown in this article were all captured in Arizona with this DSLR. It records strong sunlight images without being overwhelmed. The colors are vivid and punchy, and remind me of the look of Kodachrome slide film. Like slide film, the images have a default personality or look that is very pleasing, but not neutral. Given the sensor’s Kodak heritage, that is not surprising. If you plan to shoot in harshly lit outdoor environments, this is the ideal camera for it. It loved the relentless Arizona sun and captured some of my favorite images taken in sun-drenched settings.
The Olympus Evolt E-300 kit lens, (14-45mm F3.5-5.6) is in my opinion, the finest kit lens made today. It is the perfect match for the E-300 sensor. I have not, in the thousands of photos captured with this camera, seen a single case of bad chromatic aberrations (the nasty purple and pink fringes seen on dark edges with bright backgrounds) in any of my photos, even those shot in harsh sunlight. That is evidence of the excellent design inherent in this kit lens, and, of its being perfectly matched with this camera and sensor. The lens is sharp edge to edge and is an excellent performer, well above the standards of a typical kit lens. I can also highly recommend the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 zoom telephoto included with the E-300 2 lens kit. Because of the “four-thirds” sized sensor, the 40-150mm provides the equivalent of an 80-300mm lens on a 35mm camera (the 14-45mm lens is a 28-90mm 35mm equivalent. You will be quite happy with the results from both lenses.
This is not the best camera for low light photography. The same sensor that handles harsh sunlight so well tends to become grainy and lose color saturation in low light. Low light images tend to look a bit flat and dull even at the lowest ISO, and usually need a bit of noise reduction (especially in shadow areas) in post-processing. I would not recommend using this camera for low light photography at all. The photos are more reminiscent of high-speed film and not in the same league with base-model 6 megapixel DSLR models from Nikon and Canon.
If you plan to shoot in raw mode (as you should if you want full control over the image creation process), it is critical to match this camera with the best possible raw converter. Olympus Master 2, the raw editing software bundled with this camera is a poor product. Frankly, the jpeg’s produced by the camera look much better than anything you can produce from the raw file using Olympus Master. If you choose not to shoot in raw mode, you will love this camera. It produces very high-quality default .jpeg files straight from the camera. I find the open source raw photo editor Raw Therapee to be an excellent program for converting and processing E-300 raw files. All of the photos on this page were shot in raw mode and post-processed with Raw Therapee.
Overall, this is a camera to buy because you want the unique, punchy slide film-like colors produced by this sensor. It is a great second camera to use exclusively in bright sun. When the light starts to fade, switch to a more modern Olympus DSLR or one from Canon or Nikon.