Olympus Stylus Digital 300 Review
The new Stylus Digital line of digicams from Olympus has what today's active lifestyle
photographers want and need. These cameras are small but not too small, stylish,
sturdy and weatherproof -- something we haven't been able to say about many digicams
except for the Casio GV10 or the Fujifilm DS-260HD. There are a number of cameras out there
that can be used with affordable underwater housings but this is an added expense and it
also makes the camera a larger package. The Stylus Digital employs a metal exterior
and durable rubber materials on the inside to seal gaps and prevent moisture
from entering the body, they can survive a downpour or a gentle
sprinkle. If you're like me, your picture taking probably stops when the rain
starts falling. Nobody wants their fancy and expensive camera ruined by water damage
and with this camera it's no longer a problem.
The Stylus Digital is very compact, it's what I call "palm size," it fits easily in your pants pocket or purse. The most common reason for not getting a picture is because you didn't have your camera with you - doh! Cameras of this size are as easy to take with you as your cell phone. And if you're fashion conscious I'm sure that your friends will be impressed with the camera's good looks as well as its excellent pictures.
The Stylus Digital 300 is ready to take the first picture in under three seconds of sliding the lens barrier open. The shot to shot time in the highest SHQ quality is about four seconds in single frame mode even when using the flash. In Play mode the last captured image is brought up in about four seconds. I'm sure that for the vast majority of the users of this camera, its performance will never leave you waiting on the camera. It's simply amazing how fast these ultra-compact cameras are now considering that they're processing a fairly large three-megapixel image. My overall performance rating would be 4.5 on a scale of zero to five.
The Stylus Digital is powered by a small but powerful lithium rechargeable battery. Olympus does not specify the battery life but our testing revealed it to be quite good. If you're one of those digicam users that insists on using the color LCD as the viewfinder then you'll probably only get 50-65 shots per charge. There's a good optical viewfinder on this camera and if you use it instead of the LCD then you can expect considerably better battery life. Exactly how many pictures you can capture is going to vary depending on how many are taken with flash, how often the lens is zoomed in or out and how frequently you change settings or review pictures on the LCD. A good estimate would be around 125-135 pictures under normal use without the LCD. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend the purchase of a second battery. Lithium batteries hold their charge much longer than NiMH type batteries and can be "topped off" whenever desired without shortening the life span of the pack.
Images and movie clips are stored on the new xD-Picture Card media. Olympus includes a 16MB size xD Card and they are available up to 256MB size. If you intend to use the camera's built in panorama mode you must use Olympus brand cards. These cards are tiny, about the same size as a postage stamp, and easy to lose. Luckily when you buy your next xD Card it will come with this nifty little plastic xD Card organizer that holds up to six xD-Picture Cards. The camera features USB Auto-Connect technology so if you're running Windows Me, 2000 Pro or XP or the newer Macintosh OS all you need do is plug in the USB cable and transfer data with your normal file management programs. For Windows 98SE or older Macintosh systems you need to install the USB driver and then use the supplied Camedia Master program.
We've recommended many previous Olympus cameras for their highly accurate white balance and exposure systems and the Stylus Digital is no exception. This is pretty much a "point-n-shoot" camera but it does offer manual selection of the white balance presets, spot metering, variable exposure compensation and five Scene modes. We found it to work very well the way that Olympus intended it to be used -- just turn it on, point and shoot. I've said it before many times, three-megapixels of resolution is all that most users need and this camera has that. Whether you need web images, email attachments, 4x6", 8x10" or larger size prints, this camera has got an appropriate resolution size for you. We got consistently well exposed, true color and sharp images in a variety of shooting situations. The only weakness I could find was in low-light shots as the camera lacks noise reduction and shutter speeds slower than one second. Movie mode is adequate for short 16-second QVGA clips or 40-second 160x120 clips, it does not record sound.
The bottom line -- we're impressed with this camera. It's built like a tank, albeit a small tank, it takes great pictures, it's stylish, it's compact and maybe the most important thing, it's reasonably priced. You need to add two things to complete the purchase, a second battery and a larger xD-Picture Card. Other than that Olympus has put together a very nice package that even includes a wireless shutter release. This camera is very much recommended for beginners and experienced users alike and will make an excellent travelling companion. If you want the same feature set in a higher resolution camera then look at the four megapixel Stylus 400, they're both winners!
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