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Quick Review

Olympus D-380 Digital Camera

 
Camera QuickLook
Review Date
06/20/02
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 2.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4 x 6 to 8 x 10 inches
Availability
April 2002
Suggested Retail Price
$199

 


Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Sample Pictures
Conclusion

Introduction
Olympus has long been a dominant player in the traditional imaging market, with a wide array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products that range from 35mm cameras, to microscopes and medical equipment, and even high-powered binoculars. Not surprisingly, Olympus has also made a strong showing in the digicam marketplace, building a diverse line of successful consumer and prosumer cameras, ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the very capable pro-level E-20 SLR. The Camedia D-380 is an entry level digicam, sporting a 2.0-megapixel CCD and a fixed focal length (slightly wide angle) lens. Designed primarily for the beginning photographer, the D-380 leaves nothing to chance. Its fully automatic exposure system requires very little user intervention, although it does permit some exposure and white balance adjustments at the user's option. Olympus has also incorporated their AutoConnect USB technology for fast connectivity to late-model computers, without the need for additional driver software. This automatic USB connection (quickly becoming a standard in the industry) means you can walk up to virtually any computer and immediately download and view your images.


Camera Overview
With a practically identical body design to the previous Camedia D-370, Olympus' new D-380 offers the same great point-and-shoot qualities only now with a larger, 2.0-megapixel CCD. The D-380 is compact and easy to use, with a streamlined body design characterized by Olympus' signature sliding lens cover. The all-plastic body is portable and light weight at just over eight ounces with the SmartMedia card and batteries installed. The sliding lens cover protects the camera's front elements, making it an ideal design for stashing in deep pockets or a small purse, and toting inconspicuously on vacation, to family outings, or to social events. The focus-free lens is made of high-quality glass with a wide-angle view great for small group snapshots, local scenery, landscapes, and indoor activities where space is at a premium. The larger CCD produces higher-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8x10 inches, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5x7- and 4x6-inch snapshots. In short, it's a great "memory maker" for active teens and adults!

The D-380 has a fixed focal length lens, equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. (That's a moderate wide-angle.) Focus is also fixed, covering a range of approximately two feet (0.6 meters) to infinity in normal shooting mode. Because it doesn't have to wait for the lens to focus, the D-380 responds to the shutter button more quickly than many more sophisticated cameras, making it great for catching fast-paced action. (Baby pictures, anyone?) The fixed, wide angle lens is somewhat limiting when shooting portraits though, since its wide-angle view distorts facial features in close-up shots. You also won't be able to zoom in on a distant subject, like individual sports players or nature shots of wild animals. (While the D-380 does have a 4x digital zoom, digital zooms really can't be compared to true lenses, since they just enlarge the center pixels of the camera's CCD, rather than magnifying the image the CCD sees. The result is loss of resolution as you zoom. See the Olympus D-520 Zoom for a higher-end model with zoom.) The D-380 does provide a Macro switch just below the lens though, which changes the focus for subjects as close as 10 inches.

As with the previous D-370, exposure control on the D-380 is very straightforward, since the camera operates under automatic exposure at all times. Opening the clamshell cover activates the camera and puts it in shooting mode, so it's very quick on the draw. As mentioned above, the focus-free lens also means there's very little delay from the time you press down on the Shutter button to the time the shutter actually fires, a common limitation among digicams. The majority of exposure options are controlled through the multi-page, on-screen menu system, but Olympus redesigned the menu system on the D-380 for faster navigation. The first menu screen actually features three shortcuts to the camera's Drive, Image Size, and Function options, as well as the link to the four-page Record menu (where the remaining exposure adjustments and camera settings are made). Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined, but the user can control the Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes. The D-380's built-in flash is effective to approximately eight feet (2.5 meters) from the camera and includes a Red-Eye setting that reduces the occurrence of red-eye in portraits. There's also a Slow Sync setting for flash shots that preserve background detail in "twilight" light levels. (Dim but not dark.)

Along with simplicity and portability, the D-380 also offers some interesting (and fun) creative options. For example, a Movie mode records QuickTime movies (without sound), a great way to remember special moments. A Self-Timer mode lets you mount the camera on a tripod, trip the Shutter button, and zip around front to take your place in a group photo. There's also a Continuous Shooting option that works much like a motor drive on professional 35mm cameras. You can capture three or more high-quality images in quick succession by holding down the Shutter button. (Assuming, of course, that you have room for them on your memory card.) When special Olympus SmartMedia storage cards are used, the D-380 can also record up to 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. After capture, images are downloaded to a computer and "stitched" together with the camera's bundled software. There's even an option for taking portraits of two or more people, which adjusts the metering and focus to balance the exposure for both subjects. New to the D-380 is the "2 in 1" mode, which captures two half-size images (vertically oriented), that are saved side-by-side as one image. The result is that you can take a portrait of one person (or any other object), then capture another, and save them together as a single photo. Finally, you can transform your full color images to sepia tone or black-and-white pictures through the camera's Playback menu.

The D-380 stores images either in its very limited internal memory, or on a 3.3v SmartMedia card. The internal memory is really only intended to permit in-store demos of the camera without an easily lost or stolen memory card. For normal picture taking, an 8MB card is included in the box with the camera. Cards as large as 128MB are available separately, and I suggest buying at least a 32MB SmartMedia card so you don't miss any important shots. The camera comes with a set of four single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as two CR-V3 lithium-ion battery packs (sold as an accessory). As always, I strongly recommend picking up good charger and a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. The optional AC adapter is useful for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, but high-capacity rechargeable batteries really reduce the need for it.


Basic Features

  • 2.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 2MB internal memory.
  • Optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD display.
  • All-glass, fixed-focal-length lens (equivalent to a 35mm lens).
  • 4x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Built-in flash.
  • SmartMedia Card Storage.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.

Special Features

  • QuickTime movies (without sound).
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images.
  • Dual-Subject Portrait mode.
  • Black-and-white and Sepia effects.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
  • Digital ESP (full frame) and Spot metering options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed)


Recommendation
The D-380 is a good-quality point-and-shoot digicam with just enough user options to handle most average shooting conditions. Its streamlined, compact design is clearly meant to go places, and image quality is high enough for making 8x10-inch photographic prints or sending e-mail attachments over the Internet. The D-380's limited external controls will keep the learning curve at a minimum, along with the simple-to-follow LCD menu system. The D-380 is an ideal starter digicam for families, teens, or young adults who want to get into digital photography without a major investment.


Design
The Olympus D-380 employs the familiar sliding lens cover design that has become a trademark of consumer-level Olympus digicams. The molded plastic body keeps the D-380's weight down to just 6.6 ounces (190 grams) without batteries. Likewise, its long, thin dimensions are less bulky than many models, measuring only 4.9 x 2.6 x 1.7 inches (124 x 65 x 44 mm). The D-380 is a little large for some shirt pockets, but it should slide easily into a coat pocket or purse, and the included wrist strap makes it easy to hold onto.

On the front of the camera, you'll find the 35mm equivalent, fixed-focal-length lens, an optical viewfinder window, built-in flash, and the tiny self-timer lamp that blinks to count down the 12-second delay before the shutter fires. Below the lens is a sliding Macro switch that sets the lens for close-up focusing. The sliding "clamshell" lens cover also serves as the power switch, activating the camera and putting it into Record (Shooting) mode when it's opened. When open, the cover provides a sculpted ridge near the right edge of the camera, which serves as a grip for your fingers as they wrap around the end of camera.

On the camera's right side is the SmartMedia compartment and the wrist strap attachment. The SmartMedia compartment door opens from the back of the camera and is hinged to the camera body so that it can open as wide as necessary to access the card. The central portion of the door hinge serves as the wrist strap eyelet.

On the opposite side of the camera are the DC In and USB jacks, covered by a long rubber strip that lifts up at either end to reveal the connectors. The center of the strip remains attached to the camera, so you can pull out the top or bottom ends as needed, without worrying about losing the protective cover.

The top of the D-380 is smooth and feature-free, with only the small, chrome Shutter button on the far right side.

The limited external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.5-inch, color LCD monitor. The D-380's viewfinder eyepiece has a rather low "eyepoint," meaning that your eyeball needs to be fairly close to the eyepiece in order to see the full viewfinder frame. (This could be an issue for eyeglass wearers, particularly if their lenses were very thick.) Adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece, on the right side, is a single LED lamp that reports camera status. Control buttons on the rear panel include the Four Way Arrow pad, a Display button, and a Menu / OK button. Along the far right side of the rear panel is a gently sculpted lip that accommodates your thumb as you hold the camera in your right hand.

The D-380 has a very flat bottom panel, holding the battery compartment door and plastic, threaded tripod mount. The tripod mount is right under the lens, too close to the battery compartment door to allow for quick battery changes while mounted on a tripod. The location directly beneath the lens is good though, for snapping sequences of images to stitch together into "panoramic" shots on the computer later. A sliding plastic door, hinged on the left side, protects the compartment.


Camera Operation
Because of the D-380's limited exposure control and relatively few external buttons, the camera's user interface is very straightforward. Simply opening the lens cover places it in Shooting mode. Entering Playback mode is a little less obvious, but just as simple, as you only have to press the Display button on the back panel when the lens cover is closed. (Pressing the button twice while in Shooting mode also activates Playback mode.) A four-way Arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions, including Digital Zoom control, navigating through on-screen menus, and scrolling through captured images. The Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections, while pressing the Display button once turns the monitor off in Shooting mode.

The majority of the D-380's exposure options are controlled through the LCD menu system, which features about five pages of options. For the D-380 and other recent models, Olympus redesigned the menu system to include a small screen of shortcuts, which also accesses the main Record menu. Though file size and Drive modes are now more easily accessed through the shortcuts, remaining options like Exposure Compensation and White Balance still require navigation through the multi-page menu system. Still, the D-380 is very uncomplicated and quick to learn. A novice user should need only about 30 minutes to an hour to become familiar with the camera's operation.

External Controls

Sliding Lens Cover: Protecting the lens on the front of the camera, this sliding cover also serves as the power switch. Sliding the cover open turns the camera on and places it into Shooting (Record) mode. Likewise, closing the cover turns the camera off.

Macro Switch: Located under the lens on the front of the camera, the Macro switch slides the close-up lens into place, changing the focus range from normal to macro shooting.


Shutter Button: The only control on the top panel, the Shutter button sets the camera's exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button triggers the shutter.


Four-Way Arrow Pad: Located in the center of the rear panel, four arrows point up, down, left, and right. In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.

In Record mode, the up and down arrows control the digital zoom. The right arrow button selects Flash modes, cycling through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction. The left arrow enables the Self-Timer mode.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. The up and down arrows control the Playback Zoom, enlarging captured images on screen. The down arrow also accesses the Index Display mode.


Display Button: Just below and to the left of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button controls the LCD monitor in Record mode, turning it on or off. If pressed twice quickly while in Record mode, this button accesses Playback mode.

When the lens cover is closed, pressing this button turns the camera on and places it in Playback mode. A second press of the button shuts off the camera (only while the lens cover is closed though - if the cover is open, pressing the Display button will return the camera to Record mode).


Menu / OK Button: Directly to the right of the Display button, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" to confirm menu selections.

Camera Modes and Menus


Record Mode: Activated by sliding the lens cover open, this mode sets up the camera to take pictures. The following exposure and camera options are available through the Record menu:

First Screen: The first screen shows a set of "shortcuts" to key functions. Three options take you quickly to one-page option menus. Making a selection on any of these returns you to record mode. (NOTE - all of these menu screens actually appear overlaid on top of the normal viewfinder display. I've shown them here against a black background so you can see the menu options more clearly.)

  • Drive: Activates One-Shot, Continuous Shooting, or Movie capture modes.
  • Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and JPEG compression level. Options are SHQ (1,600 x 1,200), HQ (1,600 x 1,200), SQ1 (1,024 x 768), and SQ2 (640 x 480).
  • Function: Activates one of the special function modes:
    • 2 in 1: A miniature version of the Panorama mode, this mode lets you capture two vertically-oriented "half" images which are fused together and saved as one file (images are placed side-by-side). Thus, you can capture two individual portraits and have them placed together in the same image, like a split-screen view.
    • Dual-Subject Portrait: Adjusts the camera for capturing a portrait of two or more people. Instead of basing the exposure and focus on a centrally placed subject, this mode sets up the camera to judge for two subjects in the center of the frame.
    • Panorama: Available only with Olympus special function cards, this mode captures as many as 10 consecutive shots to be stitched together on a computer into one panoramic image. Alignment guidelines appear on the screen to perfectly line up each shot.

Second Screen:

  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu system:
    • Camera:
      • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2.0 to +2.0 exposure values (EV) in one-half-step increments. One full EV unit is 2x (twice as much) or 1/2x (half as much) as the light that would normally be let into the camera.
      • Metering: Sets the camera's metering system to Spot or ESP (default). Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame, handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background have very different brightness. Digital ESP metering reads the entire image frame to determine exposure.
    • Picture:
      • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, based on the light source. Options include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, or Fluorescent.
    • Card:
      • Card Setup: Formats the SmartMedia card, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
    • Setup:
      • All Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
      • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
      • Record View: Turns the instant image preview on or off. When activated, instant image preview displays the most recently recorded image for several seconds after you trip the shutter.
      • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.


Playback Mode: Entered by pressing the Display button while the lens cover is closed, or by pressing the Display button twice in rapid succession when the lens cover is open, this mode lets you review captured images. The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu. (As before, the first screen has "shortcuts" to key functions the Mode Menu option takes you to a four-page menu of sub-options. On the Playback menus though, the secondary screens for the shortcuts aren't as conducive to screenshots, so I've just shown the main screen.)

  • Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the SmartMedia card. (One press of the Menu button cancels the playback.)
  • Info: Activates a more detailed information display of exposure settings for each captured image, which displays for a few seconds and then disappears.
  • Erase: Erases the currently-displayed image, with an option to cancel.


  • Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu:
    • Play:
      • Protect: Write-protects (or removes protection) from the currently displayed image. Write-protection locks the image file so you can't accidentally erase it or change it in any way (except by formatting the card).
      • Rotate: Rotates the currently displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
      • DPOF: Marks the currently displayed image, or all images on the card, for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer. You can also determine the number of prints, whether or not the date and time are printed over the image, or remove the print mark. Note that this setting is only available for images saved on the SmartMedia card.
    • Edit:
      • Black & White: Converts the currently displayed image to black-and-white and saves it as a new file.
      • Sepia: Converts the currently displayed image to sepia tone, giving it the appearance of an old-fashioned picture, and saves the converted image as a new file.
      • Resize: Allows you to resize the currently displayed image to a smaller resolution.
    • Card:
      • Card Setup: Erases all files on the SmartMedia card (except for write-protected ones), or formats the memory card entirely. Both options can be canceled.
      • Backup: On the previous D-370, this function made a backup copy of an image saved on the internal memory to the SmartMedia card. Note that the D-380 will only let you save low-resolution files to its internal memory, given the limitation of the 2MB size.
    • Setup:
      • All Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
      • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
      • Index Display: Determines whether 4, 9, or 16 images are displayed on the Index Display screen.
      • LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
      • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.


Sample Pictures
See my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

 

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Specifications

See camera specifications here.

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

Test Results

  • Color: The D-380 did a good job with color, producing surprisingly good results under a wide range of circumstances. Outdoors, color was bright and accurate, as was the case when using the camera's built in flash. The D-380 had a bit more trouble indoors under incandescent lighting, producing warm casts with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. Household incandescent lighting is a very tough light source for digicams to handle though, and the D-380 did a better than average job of it when shooting with the Incandescent white balance setting. Overall, surprisingly good color for an entry-level camera.

  • Exposure: The D-380's full automatic exposure control handled most of our test shots well, although the camera's high contrast left it prone to losing highlight detail. The harsh, direct sunlight in the Outdoor Portrait produced a very contrasty image with dark midtones. Despite its high contrast though, the D-380 did a pretty good job of holding onto both highlight and shadow detail. The D-380 picked up the subtle tonal variations of the Davebox well, however, which is a difficult area for many digicams.

  • Sharpness: The D-380's entry-level status is probably most evident in the resolution of its photos. - Details were fairly soft in most shots, with increased softness in the corners of the frame (most noticeable on the House poster). This is a not uncommon characteristic of cameras with fixed-focus lenses - They need to compromise in focusing between distant and nearby objects, with the result that neither is optimally sharp. The D-380's images are fine for snapshots, and can be printed at 8x10 size without looking pixelated, but enlargements will be soft-looking. The D-380's wide angle lens also shows some "barrel distortion," another common digicam ailment. (Barrel distortion refers to the tendency for straight lines parallel to the edges of the image to bow outward slightly.)

  • Closeups: The D-380's fixed focal length/fixed-focus lens limited its performance here, with the camera capturing a large minimum area of 9.7 x 7.3 inches (247 x 186 millimeters). Resolution was moderate, with a fair amount detail on the coins, brooch, and dollar bill (though all details were soft). The flash throttled down well for the macro area, though intensity fell off at the corners of the frame. Overall, not a first-choice camera if you're needing to shoot a lot of tiny objects.

  • Night Shots: The D-380's limited shutter speed range and full, automatic exposure control limited its low-light shooting performance. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), about as bright as standard city street lighting at night. Noise was moderately high, but color was pretty good.

  • Battery Life: The D-380 runs from a set of four AA batteries. As always, I strongly recommend buying a good charger and a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries for it, as normal alkaline cells will last only a short time. - You'll quickly recoup your investment in the batteries and charger, relative to the cost of buying endless sets of throwaway alkaline AAs. The D-380 has pretty good battery life, about 100 minutes from a fully-charged set of high-capacity NiMH cells in its worst-case power mode. (Capture mode with the LCD on.) With the LCD off, the camera will run for over 8 hours. Runtime in playback mode is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Pretty good battery life overall, but don't for a minute consider not buying some NiMH cells and a charger. Really. Not for a minute. ;-)


In the Box
As my evaluation model of the D-380 was only a prototype, it arrived with only the wrist strap, a small memory card, batteries, and a USB cable. I assume that full production units will also arrive with an instruction manual and interface software CD.

  • Wrist Strap.
  • Disposable alkaline AA batteries.
  • 8 MB SmartMedia memory card.
  • USB cable.
  • Software CD with Camedia Master v4.0 software.
    (Download, organize, tweak photos, print, make panoramas. Windows XP and Mac OSX compatible)
  • Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.



Recommended Accessories

  • Larger SmartMedia card (at least 32MB)
  • Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and charger. (Click here to read about my recommended charger.)
  • Small camera case for outdoor protection


Conclusion
The Olympus D-380 is the latest member of an already great point-and-shoot digicam line that started 'way back in digicam antiquity with the D-320. This latest incarnation offers a larger 2.0-megapixel CCD and some extra capture modes. Clearly intended for novice users, the D-380 does a good job of delivering good-quality, color-correct images with a minimum of hassle. It isn't the camera to use for low-light or macro shooting, but it really isn't intended to compete in those areas. It does a good job of meeting the needs of entry-level users, at a very affordable price. It also offers very good battery life, a feature I like to see in digicams, regardless of their price point.

 

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