Olympus D-395 Review
Olympus has refreshed their D-series of point-n-shoot consumer digicams for 2004 with
four new models, the D-540
3-megapixel 3x optical zoom, D-575 3-megapixel 3x optical
zoom with sound, the D-580
4-megapixel 3x optical zoom with sound, and the D-395, the entry-level
3-megapixel subject of this review. All four cameras
favor simplicity and ease of use over advanced features, appealing
more to beginners interested in capturing family events and travel memories
than to enthusiasts.
The D-395's attractive exterior is constructed of a durable plastic, and is small enough to carry in a pocket or purse. Like most D-series cameras, the D-395 has a sliding lens barrier that serves as a power switch as well as a lens protector. The very minimal camera controls are well-placed on the body and the menu system is simple and logically-organized. The D-395 is powered by either two AA cell batteries or one CR-V3 lithium battery. We've always recommended the use of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries; they supply a lot more power than alkalines and they'll save you money. There's now a money-saving alternative to disposable CR-V3 batteries; check out our list of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries. Powered by a pair of 2100maH NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, the D-395 exhausted its battery capacity after capturing 116 images, including extensive use of the LCD viewfinder for testing the menu system and composing and reviewing shots.
The 35mm-equivalent 33mm fixed focal length lens produces sharp images with only a slight trace of barrel distortion. The digital zoom is stepped, not continuous, offering magnifications of 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.5x. Use of the digital zoom does degrade picture quality and I usually caution against using it, suggesting that you either zoom with your feet, or crop the image instead in a photo editor. The D-395 being an entry-level camera, it's less-likely that its users are familiar with imaging editors, so use the digital zoom if you must, just be prepared to accept less than perfect quality.
The D-395's shooting performance is about average for cameras in its class. It took about five seconds to capture the first image after sliding open the lens barrier. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured an impressive(for entry-level cameras) 2/10 second when pre-focused and 1.2 seconds including autofocus time. The D-395 has no sequential shooting mode; its shot-to-shot performance was mediocre, capturing images at 6 second intervals without flash, and 10 second intervals with flash. Its slow startup time will cause you to miss spontaneous unposed moments, but the D-395 is responsive enough to capture most other family shooting situations. These timings were based on the camera set to SHQ (2048 x 1536) image size, auto white balance, image review on, and flash off with a 256MB Olympus xD Picture card.
The D-395 employs the Olympus TTL digital iESP metering with spot option and an excellent white balance system; it consistently produces saturated, realistic, colors in a wide variety of normal lighting conditions. In addition to automatic exposure mode, the D-395 offers a choice of 4 scene modes with settings optimized for Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, and Self Portrait shots; beginners will appreciate the simplicity of getting good results. To prevent "hot pixels" from ruining your otherwise perfect shot, Olympus equipped the D-395 with a Pixel Mapping feature accessible from the Setup menu; it maps-out bad pixels if and when they appear. Only two manual controls are provided: Exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV in .5 EV steps), and White Balance (Sunlight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent). The ISO sensitivity is automatic and is varied between 50 and 150 to suit the lighting conditions.
I was pleased with the D-395's outdoor results. Images were in sharp focus, well exposed, and richly saturated. The 33mm (35mm equivalent) focal length of the lens offers enough field of view for composing landscape shots, but distant subjects will appear distant unless you zoom with your feet. The LCD monitor was effective in bright sunlight, easily used as a viewfinder and to access the camera's menu system. The ability to examine images magnified up to 4x is a useful feature for field review, giving you confidence that your images are well-focused before you return home. The optical viewfinder is small but usable; you'll appreciate it on the brightest of days or when conserving battery power.
The indoor results were also pleasing. The limited range of the built-in flash (about 10 feet) and the field of view at wide angle will limit your flash shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. You'll be able to include yourself in those group portraits thanks to the D-395's tripod socket and the use of its self-timer, or the self-portrait scene mode that you can use hand-held. Although the D-395 does not have a focus-assist lamp, its autofocus system works fairly well in average indoor lighting conditions. You'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder in dim lighting; the LCD does not automatically brighten in these conditions. The D-395 is very effective at squelching its flash at close range and, combined with its macro focusing capability, would be a good choice for capturing images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings.
As with most consumer digicams, the D-395 has a movie mode; it is capable of recording at resolutions of 320x240 and 160x120 at 15 fps; movie length is limited to 15 seconds in HQ (320x240) mode, and 60 seconds in SQ (160x120) mode. Movies are recorded without sound, and digital zoom can not be used. Movies can be played back in the camera continuously or frame by frame. The D-395 has a useful movie editing function, allowing you to trim frames from the clip in-camera.
At a street price of under $150 at the time of this review (May 2004), the Olympus D-395 offers a good value to families desiring a digicam combining good image quality with ease of use. Because it has no optical zoom lens, the D-395 will appeal most to users who take primarily indoor shots. Its uncomplicated automatic features produce proper exposures, its wide angle 33mm lens produces sharp images, and its 3-megapixel imager has enough resolution for 8x10-inch prints or cropped prints of smaller size. Make sure to get an xD memory card capable of holding a day's shooting; a 128MB card will hold approximately 48 shots. And don't overlook power; get a pair of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries to ensure that you don't miss that once in a lifetime photo op because of a dead battery. If you like the D-395's image quality and ease of use but prefer a camera with an optical zoom, consider the Olympus D-540 Zoom; it has a 3x optical zoom along with a 3-megapixel imager for only $50 more.
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