Olympus, D-340L Digital Camera
Affordable "megapixel" resolution
||Affordable 1280x960, w/flash, macro modes|
||"Top of class" resolution|
||LCD and optical viewfinder|
||Removable storage (4 MB std, 8 MB available)|
||Panorama mode & video out|
Olympus has been one of the more successful traditional, film-based camera manufacturers making the transition to digital photography. Their first efforts (the D-200L and D-300L digital cameras) enjoyed much critical acclaim and commercial success, and were leaders in image quality and ease-of-use. More recently their D-500L and D-600L SLR (Single Lens Reflex) models generated tremendous excitement and attention. Now, with the D-340L, they bring the 1.4 Megapixel resolution of the D-600L into the basic point & shoot arena, at a very affordable price.
The Olympus D-340L is a compact digital point & shoot camera that fits comfortably in your hand, and provides excellent picture quality and ease of use. A 1/3", 1,310,000-pixel CCD captures 1280x960 pixel images and stores them in three different "quality" (image compression) modes. It provides both an optical viewfinder and back-panel LCD screen for framing, and includes a high-quality (glass) autofocus lens, built-in multi-mode flash, and useful software. Other than the larger sensor, the D-340L has much the same features as the lower-resolution D-320L. Two marked exceptions are the "digital wide/tele" mode and the significantly improved low-light performance of the D-340L.
Blasting past the magical "megapixel" resolution level, pictures from the D-340L can be printed at surprisingly large sizes without undue artifacts or loss of sharpness. Prints of 4x6 inches from a true continuous-tone printer look sharper than those from many point & shoot film cameras (!), and even full-page 8x10 inch printouts are surprisingly sharp.
Overall, if you've seen the D-320L, you'll know exactly what the D-340L looks like: The only difference is a slightly gold-toned body, and shiny gold buttons, rather than the chrome ones of the earlier units. Shaped very much like a traditional film-based point and shoot camera, the D-340L fits the hand well. At 5 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches (127 x 66 x 46 mm) and 9.4 ounces (266 gm), it is compact enough to fit into an average coat pocket, yet still conveys a solid "feel" during use. The unit has a built-in protective lens cover that also functions as a power switch: Sliding the cover open turns on the camera power, closing it turns the camera off. (As a nice touch, the cover also blocks the viewfinder when in the closed position, so there's no chance of missing a picture because the camera happens to be turned off when you click the button.)
The D-340L addresses the "optical vs. LCD" viewfinder controversy by providing both. A bright optical viewfinder provides framing marks for both the "normal" and "macro" modes of the camera, and the back-panel LCD screen can be used either as a viewfinder, or to review images already captured. You can turn the LCD viewfinder on or off at any time by pressing the green button on the back of the camera when in "capture" mode. Like all such panels, the LCD on the D-340L is fairly power-hungry, so you'll want to be judicious in its use to conserve battery life. Fortunately, the D-340L's optical viewfinder is more than adequate for most picture-taking, and about the only time we really felt a need for the LCD viewer was when doing macro photography.
We did notice one quirk with the D-340L's LCD viewfinder: When operating "live," it doesn't quite show the entire field of view of the image sensor. If you frame a subject exactly using the LCD viewfinder, you'll discover that the final image includes about another 5-10% of the total image area on the top and bottom of the frame. This took a little getting used to when shooting some of our more analytical subjects (such as the resolution target), which required very precise framing. Most casual shooters should find this no limitation however.
Olympus has always distinguished itself with excellent optics on its consumer film cameras, and their digital cameras are no exception. The D-340L is equipped with a high-quality glass, "aspheric" lens design that undoubtedly contributes to the excellent overall image quality. With a focal length equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm camera, the fast f2.8 lens captures a slightly wider than "normal" field of view. (Moderate wide-angle lenses of this type are the norm for most point and shoot cameras, whether film or digital. In most point and shoot applications, the ability to fit more of the subject into the frame is a decided plus.)
The lens system operates at one of three fixed apertures: f2.8, f5.6, or f11. These are automatically selected by the autoexposure system, but the actual aperture in use is not reported to the user.
The lens autofocuses from 27.6 inches (70cm) to infinity in "normal" mode, and from 4.0 to 27.6 inches (10 to 70 cm) in "macro" mode. The macro mode provides for close-ups of small objects, covering an area of roughly 4.15 x 3.11 inches (10.5 x 7.9 cm) at closest approach. (For reference, the small brooch in the "macro" test shot is about 1.05 inches (27 mm) wide.) This macro coverage provides almost twice the magnification of the previous D-320L, a welcome increase in basic camera capability.
Digital Tele/Wide Mode
The D-340L incorporates an unusual "digital zoom" function unlike any we've seen before on other cameras. Some manufacturers are touting "digital zoom" capabilities, in which the camera electronics interpolates data from the central portion of the sensor array to produce a full-size image. The result is a zoomed-in but softer image, at the expense of slightly longer in-camera processing time.
Olympus' approach is to simply crop-down to the central 640x480 pixel area of the sensor array, and save it as a "SQ" quality (640x480) image. In this mode, the rear-panel LCD automatically illuminates to provide a "live" viewfinder, rather than having the user rely on a set of markings in the optical viewfinder, which would likely be less accurate. The view in the LCD while in "tele" mode is noticeably more pixelated than normal, but not objectionably so, and the screen refresh rate remains high. (Some "digital zoom" cameras have very slow LCD refresh when operating in telephoto mode.)
This is an interesting approach to a digital zoom: In common with other digital (as opposed to true optical) zooms, no additional information is being added to the image beyond that contained in the central 640x480 area. Overall, the end result is exactly the same as if you'd simply cropped-into the full high-resolution image, to select a smaller area to display full-frame. Most of the differences occur at the point of image capture: First, you can see exactly how the image is being cropped and composed at the moment of capture (via the back-panel LCD screen). Second, you're not using up storage capacity with a high-resolution image when all you care about is the central portion. Finally, when it comes time to print or otherwise use the image, you don't need to perform the cropping as a separate step. If you're interested in maximum efficiency, this last is a significant advantage.
Bottom line, we don't yet have a clear opinion on the D-340L's "digital tele/wide" mode: We didn't have the camera long enough to make use of this mode in a "typical" shooting environment (as opposed to simple feature/function testing), and also haven't as yet had the opportunity to test other cameras that advertise "digital zoom" capability. Probably the best guideline for you as an individual user would be to examine your picture usage patterns: If you frequently find the need to crop into an image for a detail enlargement, this will clearly be a useful feature.
The D-340L is rated at an equivalent ISO speed of 60-120 (the internal electronics adjust their sensitivity, depending on the amount of light available), and has a shutter-speed range of 1/2 to 1/1,000 seconds. This, combined with the aforementioned f-stop range of f2.8 to f11 means it can capture non-flash images over a usable lighting range of EV9 to EV23. In actual use though, we found we could capture entirely usable images at light levels as low as EV6! (This would correspond to an equivalent film speed of more than ISO 400.) - This is an exceptional low-light capability, particularly given the high resolution of the device, and we're frankly surprised that Olympus rated it so conservatively. While we didn't have enough time with the unit to perform any rigorous tests, when compared with other digital point & shoots, the D-340L seems to have a clear edge for low-light shooting. (See our note below about using a tripod though!)
The autoexposure system works through the lens (TTL), and so is less likely to be affected by stray light than otherwise. When setting exposure, the camera first selects one of the three available f-stop openings on the lens, and then picks the exact shutter speed needed to produce the required exposure. A 12-second self-timer gives the photographer time to get into the picture him/herself.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The 1/2 second lower limit on shutter speed can be a great help in getting shots that would otherwise be too dark. This is a long exposure though, well beyond most people's ability to hold the camera steady enough to render a sharp image. Use a tripod when it's that dark! In our view, Olympus has unfairly taken some knocks for "poor autofocus" in dim lighting, when the fault in many cases may lie with the photographer for not stabilizing the camera sufficiently. A few pros may venture to hand-hold a 1/2 second exposure, but it's just about guaranteed that most amateurs will have a hard time below 1/30 or even 1/60. 'Nuff said...
Like any autoexposure system, that of the D-340L is subject to being "fooled" by unusual subjects, whether a light object against a dark background, a backlit subject, or one that's unusually uniform in overall brightness (such as a snow scene). To accommodate these situations, Olympus includes an exposure adjustment control with a range of +/- 1 f-stop to accommodate these situations. Thus, if you think the situation calls for it, you can easily request one f-stop lower or higher exposure, simply by pressing the "+" or "-" buttons on the camera's back while taking the picture. This is a very useful feature, and the D-340L's implementation via the back-panel buttons makes it relatively easy to access "on the fly." (A side note though - While the exposure compensation was readily accessible, we like to see a system that doesn't require you to hold the "+" or "-" button down during the actual exposure: In practice, we found it a little awkward getting our finger on the button while simultaneously looking through the viewfinder. The ability to "lock" the focus prior to the exposure (see below) helps somewhat with this, but we'd prefer a mode that lets you set the exposure compensation pre-exposure, then frame the picture and trip the shutter as you pleased.)
We liked the focus/exposure lock function of the D-340L, that allows you to pre-set the exposure prior to the shot itself: Pressing the shutter button halfway actuates the autofocus and autoexposure systems, without firing the shutter. Once the exposure and focus is set in this fashion, they will stay "locked" at the selected settings as long as you continue to hold down the shutter button. With this feature, you can easily accommodate off-center subjects by turning to center them, locking the focus and exposure, then turning back to frame the shot to your liking before firing the shutter.
The built-in automatic flash has a working range of 4 inches to 9.8 feet (10 cm to 3 meters), and provides a rich assortment of operating modes, including "red-eye" reduction, force fill, auto low-light, and auto back-light modes, and of course "off" for those situations in which you want the camera to just do its best with the light available. As with the D-220L and D-320L, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the D-340L's flash worked at close distances, for "macro" shots. Many digital point and shoots have a hard time throttling-down their flash for macro shooting, but the D-340L did quite well in this regard. The extreme close-focusing of the D-340L's macro mode does make for slightly uneven illumination with the flash when you're right on top of the subject though: While the resulting pictures were very usable, in extreme close-ups, the right-hand side of the image is somewhat lighter than the left, as that's the side that the flash tube is on.
The D-340L showed fairly good white-balance compensation, although it wasn't quite up to the standards of the D-220L or D-320L: Shooting under incandescent light, the camera discriminates colors well, but leaves an overall pinkish tone. The underlying color information is very solid though, as evidenced by this image(228k), in which we've simply applied a Photoshop "Auto Levels" function. (Pretty dramatic, isn't it?)
The D-340L incorporates several improvements in the area of rapid camera cycling between pictures. Many digital cameras require an appreciable amount of time to process and store one image before they can capture the next one. (The D-340L's predecessor, the D-320L was fairly typical with a minimum picture-to-picture "cycle time" of about 7 seconds. Units from some manufacturers can take as much as 20-30 seconds.) In the D-340L, Olympus has addressed this issue by adding a "write-through RAM cache." Without going into the technical details of this, the bottom line is that the D-340L can take a picture every two seconds, for as long as you have space available on your SmartMedia card. This is very welcome, not only in situations requiring rapid shooting due to subject movement, but even when you simply want to take two or more shots of a group, in case someone blinked. A wait of 2 seconds is no big deal, but our experience has been that people can get pretty impatient if they have to wait 20 seconds or so for the camera to get its act together.
Besides the much faster normal cycling, the D-340L has a "burst" mode, in which it can take a "standard resolution" (640x480 pixel) picture every half-second, up to a maximum of between 6 and 10 successive images (depending on subject content, achievable compression ratios, etc.). Of course, when operating in "burst" mode, you'll be dependent on available light, since the flash can't cycle anywhere near that fast.
Operation and User Interface
Overall, operation of the D-340L is very similar to that of its lesser brethren the D-220L and D-320L. Operation is straightforward, controlled by 5 buttons plus the shutter release along the top of the camera, and three buttons on the back, next to the LCD screen. A small LCD readout on the camera's top displays status information, such as operating mode, shots remaining, and battery condition.
Functions are assigned to the top-of-camera buttons depending on the mode you're currently in: Capture or Viewing. The camera is in capture mode whenever the front is slid open to reveal the lens and viewfinder. Viewing mode is accessed by closing the camera front, and pressing the green button on the camera back to activate the LCD screen.
In capture mode, the top buttons let you select flash operating mode, enable the self timer, choose "HQ" or "SQ" image quality, and select from several camera operating modes, including standard, macro, multi-exposure, digital tele/wide, or panorama mode. Macro mode adjusts the camera lens to shift its focus range from the normal working distance of 27.6 inches (70 cm) to infinity to the macro range of from 4.0 to 27.6 inches (10 to 70 cm), and is indicated by a small icon of a flower in the top-panel readout. Multi-exposure mode was mentioned earlier, in which the camera captures 640x480 images at half-second intervals.
The camera is activated in viewing mode by pressing the green button next to the LCD on the camera back while the front cover is closed. This turns on the LCD, which displays the last picture taken. You can scroll forward or back through the images by pressing the gray "+" or "-" buttons respectively. Pressing the top-panel button labeled with a grid brings up an index of 9 thumbnails at a time, helpful for quickly finding the image you're interested in. On the D340-L, the index mode is especially helpful, as its larger images take longer to display on the screen. In viewing mode, you can also erase either the individual image currently being viewed, or the entire memory card at once. (Erasing the entire card requires holding down two buttons simultaneously, reducing the chance you'll do so by accident.)
One of the most unusual features is the D-340L's panorama mode: With this mode selected, the back-panel LCD lights up to serve as a viewfinder, to help align successive shots. You can then take a series of shots, panning the camera between shots, and leaving a little overlap between each frame. Sequences of shots taken in panorama mode can later be stitched together automatically by the Olympus Camedia software included with the camera. The panorama mode on the D-340L matches the operation of the D-320L, in that you can take panoramas in any orientation or direction, by pressing the back-panel "+" or "-" buttons. In panorama mode, the D-340L displays light blue framing lines on the sides of the screen, and arrows indicating the direction to pan the camera between shots. These framing lines and direction arrows change when you press the back-panel buttons, allowing you to pan either right or left, or even to turn the camera sideways to take in a taller view. This last feature provides a useful way to increase the camera's already excellent resolution even more, for stationary subjects: Turn the camera sideways, to produce images 1280 pixels high by however wide you want! Images shot in this mode can easily fill an 8.5x11 (~A4) sized page with a very sharp photo.
Note that the panorama mode is enabled by "firmware" contained on the special Olympus-brand SmartMedia memory cards: Third-party cards don't contain the necessary software to let the camera take panoramic pictures. (While they haven't told us what they might be, Olympus has hinted that there may be other functions available via special memory cards in the future. This is an interesting concept, in that fairly sophisticated camera capabilities can potentially be added after the fact, simply by plugging in a different memory card!)
A couple of practical tips for shooting panoramas: First and foremost, keep the camera straight and level for all shots. (We recommend a tripod.) Secondly, the camera sets the exposure based on the first shot taken, so you should choose your starting point to have reasonably representative lighting for the rest of the shots.
Besides normal free-ranging operation, the Camedia software also allows you to control the D-340L directly from your computer, while it is attached to the serial cable. This is also the only way you can put the camera into its "HQ2" (also called "SHQ") mode, in which image compression is minimized to produce the highest quality images possible. (In practice, we found the differences between HQ1 and HQ2 modes to be strictly minimal. For all but the most critical applications, the default HQ1 mode will be the best tradeoff between resolution and memory capacity.)
Image Storage and Interface
The D-340L stores images on removable SSFDC "SmartMedia" cards. (Solid State Floppy Disc Cards - see the article on storage media for more information.) These cards are exceptionally compact, not much bigger than a largish postage stamp. The camera ships with a 4MB card as standard equipment, and can also accept the new 8MB cards. Additional cards can be purchased from Olympus, or on the open market. (If you are considering using third-party SSFDC cards in your D-340L, be sure to get 3.3-volt ones, as the 5-volt models won't work.) Note though, that the panorama-capture function will only work with "panorama" cards from Olympus.
The maximum number of images that can be stored on each card varies considerably, depending on the image quality level selected. The D-340L can save images at three different, user-selectable quality levels. High Quality Mode 1 saves 1280x960 pixel images with nominal JPEG compression, while High Quality Mode 2 (also called "Super High Quality") uses less compression to achieve the highest possible image quality, at the cost of much less efficient use of memory space. Finally, "Standard" resolution mode saves images at half-resolution (640x480 pixels). A top-panel button lets you select between SQ and the current HQ mode: HQ1 or HQ2 can be set as the default through the driver software. (In other words, the camera's HQ mode will default to either HQ1 or HQ2, depending on how you configured it when it was last connected to the computer.) A 4MB SSFDC card can hold 9 images in HQ mode 2, 18 in HQ mode 1, and 60 in Standard mode.
Images are stored on the SSFDC cards in standard JPEG format, and can be read directly into image-editing applications if you have one of the optional interface adapters for the SSFDC media. (See below.) In this respect, the D-340L is a "finished file" camera.
Data can be downloaded from the camera via a standard serial interface, at a maximum speed of 115 Kbaud. Download of a typical HQ1-mode image took about 18 seconds on our standard 133MHz, non-MMX Pentium PC. (Standard-quality images take about half as long to download.) Olympus provides several pieces of software for downloading images from the camera: For Mac users, there's a Photoshop plug-in "acquire module," a format supported by a number of Mac-based image-editing programs. Windows users will find a TWAIN-compliant acquire filter, a format supported by virtually all Windows-based imaging software. Finally, the D-340L is supported by Olympus' dedicated Camedia program, for direct control of various camera features, as well as up/download of images. (At the time of our testing, Olympus had not yet completed modifications to Camedia to support the D-340L, so all our testing was done using the TWAIN driver.)
A side-note on using the Olympus driver software: Options within the program allow you to specify File Type, Color Depth, and Size for the downloaded files. If any of these are checked, the software will force the images into the specified format. More significantly, it appears to do this by first uncompressing the files, and then re-compressing them (if required), with the new settings. NOTE that the Camedia software can't put any detail into the files that isn't already there! Consequently, if you select the "JPEG High Quality" option in Camedia, you may end up with larger files than were in the camera to begin with, but no additional detail. For best results, we recommend leaving all the options un-checked, which will produce exact copies of the original camera files on your hard disk. This is the most efficient import method, and the one used for all the test images appearing elsewhere on this site.
We mentioned adapters for the SSFDC cards above: Some vendors offer PC-card adapters for the SSFDC cards, allowing them to be plugged into standard PC card slots on most laptops. Unfortunately, most desktop computers don't have PC card slots, making that solution unavailable for many users. For these users, Olympus offers the "FlashPath" floppy-disk adapter. That's right: A floppy-disk adapter. This amazing unit accepts a SSFDC card, and then just plugs into a standard PC floppy-disk drive (provided you've loaded the required driver software). As far as the computer is concerned, you've just inserted a floppy disk having a capacity determined by the size of the SSFDC card involved (2, 4, or 8 MB)! This unit had just become available as we were writing this review, so we hadn't had the opportunity to test it, but we expect it will be very popular at a projected price of about $100. (Initially, this device will only work with Windows machines: Mac driver software is projected to be available in late summer 1998.)
In addition to the serial computer interface, the D-340L also has a connector for outputting standard NTSC video. This is a capability we've found to be more useful than we first expected: Connected to a TV with a video input jack, the D-340L becomes a portable presentation machine! Since you can upload images back into the camera, you can select the best/most appropriate shots, put titles on them with the included PhotoDeluxe software, load them back into the camera, and then play them back for a presentation. As frequent business travelers, we've also found digital cameras a great way for the family back home to feel more connected with our business activities: A "slide show" of sights and people from a business trip is great for sharing the events of the trip with the kids. (And with the spouse left behind!)
A unique feature of the Olympus digital camera line is their ability to attach directly to the Olympus P-300 photo printer. This printer outputs continuous-tone images on glossy photo paper, providing a convincing simulation of a "real" photograph. Operation is straightforward, with the printer plugging into the camera's serial port connection. Once connected, the printer is controlled from the camera, and you can select one or multiple images for output. Prints from the P-300 are on standard 4x6 inch stock, although the actual image area is only 3.1 x 4.1 inches (79x105 mm), leaving a fairly wide white border. With the high resolution of the D-340L, prints from the P-300 would be easy to mistake for snapshots from a film-based point & shoot!
We found the direct printer connection a very appealing feature, especially for events involving kids: There's nothing like seeing the picture moments after you took it! The ease-of-use also beats fiddling around for minutes to hours on your PC just to get a set of snapshots output. There's been some debate in the industry lately as to whether digital cameras should be full-function units with their own "smarts" on board, or rely on the host computer for all their intelligence. The D-340L coupled to the P-300 printer makes a convincing argument in favor of "smart" cameras.
The D-340L is powered by 4 standard 1.5v alkaline, lithium, NiCd, or NiMH batteries, or from an optional AC adapter. The high-resolution sensor and LCD panel combine to make the D-340L rather power-hungry. You can dramatically increase battery life by only using the LCD when absolutely necessary, but if you are inclined to use the LCD more often than not, we strongly recommend rechargeable batteries of one sort or another. We had good luck with the Rayovac "Renewal" rechargeable-alkalines, standard NiCds, and the new high-capacity NiMH batteries. (Note though, that at least one reader has reported problems (see the comment section below) with the Renewals: You're probably better off with NiMH batteries.) While rather expensive, the exceptional capacity of the NiMH batteries have led us to recommend them to most digital point and shoot users. (Once exotic, NiMH AA batteries are now becoming common, with units available on the open market from Sanyo and Radio Shack, among others.) Olympus sells a set of 4 NiMH batteries with a charger as their part number 200517, for a suggested retail of $49.95 and an AC adapter as part number 200513, also at a suggested price of $49.95. Although more expensive than some of the third-party batteries, they have a power capacity of 1300 maH, as compared to the 1100 maH of most others on the market. (See our separate discussion on batteries for more information on the various types available.) Also (and probably more importantly), the Olympus charger is "smart," in that it can properly handle batteries with a range of charge levels, charging them only until they reach full charge: Some inexpensive charger simply charge the batteries for a fixed length of time, regardless of how much charging they actually need. This can damage batteries, or reduce their lifetime considerably.
The D-340L comes with an excellent complement of software. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' own Camedia software package. We discussed most of Camedia's functions earlier, in the section labeled "operation," so won't go into further detail here. Overall, we like the Camedia application a lot: It is convenient and easy to use, and quite fast at downloading images. As we mentioned, at this writing, we had not seen the version of Camedia intended for the D-340L (although camera interface and control functions in the TWAIN driver are essentially identical to those in Camedia).
In addition to the Camedia package, Olympus provides acquire plug-ins for both Mac and Windows platforms. As described earlier, the Mac acquire module is a Photoshop plugin, supported by many Mac image-editing applications. On the Windows side, a TWAIN driver will provide near-universal access, given the wide range of applications that support the TWAIN standard.
Besides the acquisition software, two commercial imaging packages are included: Adobe's PhotoDeluxe, for image editing, and InMedia's excellent Slides and Sound, for assembling your own multimedia slide shows. Both programs provide excellent functionality in their respective areas.
Finally, with the D-340L, Olympus has abandoned their own panorama-stitching technology in favor of a powerful third-party solution, QuickStitch, from Enroute Technology. With versions included for both Mac and Windows, QuickStitch goes quite a bit beyond any other "panorama" software that we're aware of: It not only stitches conventional panoramas, but can assemble images two-dimensionally (both horizontally and vertically) to create huge, high-resolution images from multiple smaller ones. (Up to 6x6 images can be assembled into a single enormous one.) The D-340L we tested didn't yet include the Enroute software, but we'd played with a Windows-only beta copy previously, and found the results almost magical: The software has a remarkable ability to compensate for barrel or pincushion distortion between images, successfully stitching together photos that would be hopeless with lesser software.
Overall, the software bundle provided with the D-340L provides a very complete suite of capabilities for capturing and manipulating your photos, and subsequently turning them into multimedia presentations. Even better, all packages provided are fully functional on both Mac and PC.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the links at the bottom of this page, to see how well the D-340L performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
The D-340L takes consistently high quality images, with exceptional resolution for its price point. In our testing, we found the viewfinder slightly inaccurate: The area shown in the viewfinder was a bit smaller than that captured by the sensor, and was offset down and to the left relative to the final image. We characterize this discrepancy as "very slight," as it is less evident than that of most other digital point & shoots we've tested. Once we were accustomed to the slight offset, it was quite easy to compensate for in normal shooting.
A little more puzzling was the previously-mentioned cropping of images in the LCD when it was operating in viewfinder mode. We suspect this is caused by limitations in signal timing between the CCD image sensor and LCD display, actually a fairly common problem with LCD display screens. (When we first encountered this in the D-320L, we expressed some surprise, since the assumption is that the LCD is showing you exactly what the sensor is seeing. Since then though, we've observed the effect with a number of other cameras with LCD viewfinders.) Again, while a mild annoyance for our testing, this should have almost no impact on typical usage.
Using the "WG-18" ISO test standard, the D-340L's limiting resolution measured an exceptional 700-725 line pairs/picture height both vertically and horizontally. (See the separate discussion on image resolution for an explanation of this new international standard for resolution measurement.) The D-340L's resolution is only very slightly less than that of the D-600L, and in some ways is actually superior: The D-340L resolution target shots are almost entirely free of color artifacts. This means that fine, high-contrast detail in your subjects won't produce annoying glints of color around their edges. This is a very impressive performance for a camera at the D-340L's price point.
In real picture-taking situations, the camera revealed great detail in all situations, and provided good color rendition under a wide variety of lighting conditions. (Look at the colors of the flowers in the outdoor portrait shot, and the natural skin tones in the "musicians" image to see this.) You can get a good idea of the camera's detail-rendering capability in a real application by looking at the standard house image. Very fine detail is evident, and JPEG compression artifacts are minimal. Overall, the D-340L's color rendition had a very slight reddish tinge evident under all lighting conditions, but produced well-saturated and natural colors. (We felt its color rendition was a noticeable improvement over that of the D-320L.) While we found the D-340L's color pleasing overall, an added bonus was how easily we were able to remove the pink cast in Photoshop: Check out this shot of the indoor/no-flash portrait to see how easily a simple "levels" operation in Photoshop cleaned up the cast from the incandescent lighting.
We were also very impressed by the tonal range of the D-340L, and its ability to capture subtle gradations in both highlights and shadows. On the "Davebox" test image, notice how all but the two darkest steps on the large grayscale are distinctly rendered. Also notice how well the D-340L preserved the delicate pastel tones of row "B" of the Q60 color target at the bottom of the picture.
The camera's macro function is also very good: While not capable of the "microscopic" macro shots some cameras on the market now offer, it gets closer than the vast majority of digital point & shoots. As mentioned earlier, at closest approach, the macro mode captures an area of roughly 4.15 x 3.11 inches (10.5 x 7.9 cm). (The small brooch in the "macro" test shot is about 1.05 inches (27 mm) wide.)
The D-340L is an exceptional digital camera, providing higher image quality than has previously been available at its price point. Its image quality is the equal of the (much) more expensive D-600L SLR model from Olympus, and it actually offers significantly better low-light capability. Overall, this would be an excellent choice for anyone wanting a reasonably-priced, fixed focal-length digital camera to produce high-quality printed output.
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a D-340L camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at email@example.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Olympus D-340L, or add comments of your own!