The Imaging Resource
Olympus D-390 Digital Camera
Olympus is one of the most widely-known names in photography, producing a varied array of consumer, scientific, and industrial products ranging from 35mm cameras to film scanners to microscopes 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 excellent pro-level E-20 SLR. The company's "D" series of digital cameras is aimed more at novices than advanced users, with sleek, compact styling, good ease of use, but a healthy share of features nonetheless.
The latest at the entry-level end of this series is the D-390, a very basic digicam designed for novices. The D-390 offers a 2.0-megapixel CCD for good resolution and image quality, along with Olympus standards such as a Panorama mode (with Olympus brand memory cards) and "2-in-1" shooting mode. Exposure control is automatic, although four preset Scene modes can handle tricky situations. The D-390 features a fixed-focal-length lens, and 2.5x digital zoom. With a suggested retail price at introduction of $179 and an average street price of $149, the D-390 is intended to be a "starter"digicam. In my testing though, I found that the D-390 fell a little short of the image and color quality I've come to associate with the Olympus name. It's hard to beat the price, and I'd certainly take the D-390 over a lot of the similarly-priced bargain-basement imports now creeping into the US market from Taiwan and Korea, but I think most users would be better served by saving their pennies for a slightly higher-end model.
Thin and compact, Olympus' D-390 digicam is a basic, no-frills, entry-level digicam. Featuring Olympus' popular clamshell sliding lens cover, the pocket-sized D-390 should easily slip into a small purse, too. Its fixed-focal-length lens and 2.0-megapixel CCD capture images with enough detail to support printing them as large as 5x7 inches, perfect for snapshots. A lower resolution setting is good for sending images as email attachments.
The D-390 has a fixed, 5mm lens (equivalent to a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera), with a maximum aperture setting of f/2.8. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity, with a macro setting focusing as close as 8.0 inches (20 centimeters). The protective lens cover also acts as the power switch, and puts the camera into Record mode when it's slid open. Although the D-390 doesn't offer a true optical zoom, it does have as much as 2.5x Digital Zoom available. Keep in mind though that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, which usually results in lower image quality and softer details. The D-390 features an optical viewfinder as well as a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for composing images.
Exposure control on the D-390 is straightforward. You simply point the camera and shoot most of the time. A multi-page LCD menu system accesses the available settings, although you can adjust flash mode and digital zoom externally. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, which accesses the camera's Movie, Image Size, and Mode Reset options instantly, or you can enter the main Record menu by toggling the left arrow key from the shortcut screen. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined at all times, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/1,000 to 1/2 second. By default, the camera uses a Center-Weighted Average metering mode, which analyzes a large area in the center of the frame to determine the exposure. A Spot metering option is available for high contrast or off-center subjects through the Record menu. The camera's Exposure Compensation adjustment lets you increase or decrease the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments. There's also a White Balance setting, for adjusting overall color balance. Options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, and Fluorescent modes. The D-390's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed modes.
Program Auto is the main exposure mode for most normal shooting situations, although the D-390 also offers Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, and Self Portrait modes for more specific shooting conditions. Portrait mode captures the subject in front of a slightly blurred background, while Landscape gets both the foreground and the background in sharp focus, great for wide vistas of scenery. Night Scene mode accesses longer shutter times (not reported by the camera), and automatically times the flash with the slower exposure. (You can cancel the flash.) Self Portrait mode lets you point the camera at yourself (in-hand) and automatically fixes focus on you. The lens remains locked at the wide-angle setting so that you get a sharply-focused portrait of yourself in front of an interesting background.
Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which counts down from 12 seconds once the Shutter button is pressed before capturing the image. The "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one image, giving a split-screen effect. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using special Olympus xD-Picture Cards, which records as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. For more creative effects, you can transform your full color images to sepia tone or black-and-white pictures through the camera's Playback menu. Finally, the D-390 has a Movie mode that records moving images (without sound) for as long as the memory card has available space, at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels.
The D-390 stores images on xD-Picture Cards, and comes with a 16MB card. I suggest buying at least a 64MB card (or larger) so you don't miss any important shots. A CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.1 accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, as well as utilities for organizing images. The camera comes with a set of two single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use NiMH, lithium, or NiCd batteries, as well as a single CR-V3 lithium-ion battery pack (all sold as accessories). As always, I recommend picking up an extra set of rechargeable batteries, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter might be useful for time-consuming tasks like downloading images to a computer, but frankly, a couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable AA cells and a good charger largely eliminate the need for it. Also included with the D-390 is a video cable for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.
- 2.0-megapixel CCD.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 1.8-inch color LCD display.
- Fixed, 5mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- 2.5x Digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control, with four preset Scene modes.
- Built-in flash with four operating modes.
- xD-Picture Card storage.
- Power supplied by two AA batteries or optional AC adapter.
- Olympus Camedia Master software for both Mac and Windows.
- QuickTime movies (without sound).
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Panorama mode for stitching together multiple images.
- "2 in 1" multi-exposure mode.
- Black-and-White and Sepia effects.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
- Center-Weighted Average and Spot metering options.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB AutoConnect (no driver software needed) and USB cable.
- Video cable for connection to a television set.
Small and lightweight, the D-390 is an entry-level digicam geared toward novice photographers. The camera offers a bare-bones feature set and a fixed-focal-length lens, but includes Scene modes and creative Panorama and "2-in-1" shooting modes. Image quality is high enough for making 5x7-inch photographic prints or sending lower-resolution email attachments over the Internet. Its low price makes the D-390 a good option for teenagers and family members less experienced behind the lens -- a good "starter" digicam for anyone interesting in picking up digital photography while keeping to a strict budget.
The D-390 employs Olympus' popular sliding lens cover, which serves not only to protect the lens but also as a power switch. Small and compact, the D-390 should fit most coat pockets and purses with no problem, although it's a little large for the average shirt pocket. Measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 inches (112 x 62 x 40 millimeters), the D-390's plastic body is lightweight as well at 7.9 ounces (223 grams) with batteries and memory card inserted. With the included wrist strap attached, the D-390 is easy to hold onto and fits into the hand well.
Beneath the sliding lens cover on the D-390's front panel is the fixed focal length lens, an optical viewfinder window, flash, and a self-timer lamp. The sliding lens cover also controls the power, activating the camera and placing it into Record (Shooting) mode when it's slid open. When opened, 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 camera.
The camera's right side holds the xD-Picture Card compartment and USB jack. The memory compartment door opens from the front panel, and the center of the hinge serves as the eyelet for the wrist strap. Just on the left of the compartment door is the USB jack, protected by a flexible, rubbery flap.
On the opposite side of the camera are the DC In and Video Out jacks, covered by a rubbery flap that lifts out of the way to reveal the connectors.
The Shutter button is the sole feature on the D-390's top panel.
The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.8-inch, color LCD monitor. Adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece, on the right side, are two LED lamps that report camera status. (For example, the top lamp flashes orange when the flash is charging, and the bottom green lamp indicates when focus is set.) Control buttons on the rear panel include the Four-Way Arrow pad (with multi-functional keys), a Display button, and a Menu / OK button. Along the far right side of the rear panel is a gently sculpted bump that accommodates your thumb as you hold the camera in your right hand.
The D-560 Zoom has a flat bottom panel, which features the battery compartment and plastic threaded tripod mount. The battery compartment door slides toward the back before opening, and locks back into place securely with a pressure plate.
Limited exposure options keep the D-390's user interface simple, as the camera makes its own decisions about exposure automatically. Simply opening the lens cover places it in Shooting mode. Entering Playback mode is a little less obvious, but just as simple. When the cover is closed, pressing the Display button on the back panel turns the camera on and displays the last image captured. Pressing the button twice while in Shooting mode also activates Playback mode. - Pressing it a third time or half-pressing the shutter button returns you to Shooting mode. A Four-Way Arrow pad on the back panel serves several functions (including accessing digital zoom, self-timer, and flash modes), and navigates through on-screen menus. It also scrolls through captured images in Playback mode. The Menu / OK button activates menus and confirms menu selections, while pressing the Display button once turns the monitor off in Shooting mode. The LCD menu system accesses the majority of the D-390's exposure options, and features four pages of options (although each page has only a few settings on it), set up as subject tabs along the left side of the screen. The shortcut screen quickly takes you to often-changed settings, which makes operation even easier. Anyone already familiar with Olympus LCD menu systems should have no trouble, and even novices should get the gist of it pretty quickly.
In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a minor amount of overlaid information, indicating macro, flash, and white balance modes, any scene mode selected, and the current size/quality setting. There is no option to display the subject without the info overlay, but the LCD can be turned off if desired, to conserve battery power. (The D-390 consumes quite a bit less power when the LCD is left off.)
In playback mode, pressing the down-arrow ("W") button lever takes you to a thumbnail index display of images on the memory card, making it easier to scroll through them quickly. (The thumbnail display can be set to show 4, 9, or 16 images at a time, through an option in the setup menu.) Pressing the up-arrow ("T") button takes you back to a full-frame display, and continuing to press it zooms you in on the image, up to a maximum of 4x. When zoomed, pressing the "OK" button lets you use the multi-controller to scroll around the expanded image. In the normal full-frame view, an information overlay briefly appears on the screen as you scroll to each image. The amount of information that is overlaid can be toggled via the "Info" option on the playback-mode shortcut menu. The full information overlay displays the image size/quality setting, exposure compensation amount, white balance settings, date/time of capture, and file number of the image on the memory card. The reduced information overlays shows only the image quality setting, number of the image, and the date/time it was shot. The screenshot above right shows all the available display options in playback mode.
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.
Shutter Button: The only control on the top panel, the Shutter button sets the camera's focus and exposure when halfway depressed. Fully depressing the button triggers the shutter to open.
Four-Way Arrow Pad: Adjacent to the right side of the LCD monitor on the rear panel, each of the four arrows points in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In any mode, the arrow keys navigate through menu options.
In Record mode, the up arrow enables digital zoom, while the down arrow returns to the normal zoom position. The right arrow button selects Flash modes (cycling through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Off), while the left arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.
In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images. The up and down arrows control digital enlargement of captured images, and the "W" setting also accesses the index display mode. Once an image has been enlarged, pressing the "OK" button lets you use all four arrows to scroll around within the view.
Menu / OK Button: Below the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It also serves as the "OK" to confirm menu selections.
Display Button: To the left of the Menu / OK button, 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. It also wakes the camera from sleep in Record mode.
When the lens cover is closed, pressing this button powers on the camera and places it in Playback mode. A second press of the button shuts off the camera (only while the lens cover is closed).
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Activated by sliding the lens cover open, this mode sets up the camera to take pictures. The first screen is a "short cut" menu, from which you can select several frequently-accessed options, or dive into the main mode menu itself. The following exposure and camera options are available through the Record menu (some options may change depending on the Scene mode selected):
- Movie / Photo: Toggles the camera between Movie and Photo Record mode. Moving images are recorded without sound with duration depending on the available memory space and the set resolution.
- Image Size/Quality: Sets the image resolution and JPEG compression level. Available resolutions are 1,600 x 1,200 (SHQ); 1,600 x 1,200 (HQ); 1,024 x 768 (SQ1); and 640 x 480 (SQ2) pixels for still images. Movie resolutions are 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels.
- Mode Reset: Resets the camera settings to their defaults.
- Mode Menu: Displays the following four-page menu system:
- Scene Select: Selects the camera's exposure mode. Choices are Program Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, and Self-Portrait.
- Macro: Turns macro mode on or off.
- Metering: Enables or disables the Spot metering mode.
- Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases 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. One step of shutter speed or lens aperture equals one EV unit.
- 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.
- 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.
- White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image,
based on the light source. Options include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy,
Incandescent, or Fluorescent.
- White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, based on the light source. Options include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, or Fluorescent.
- Card Setup: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all files
(even write-protected ones).
- Card Setup: Formats the xD-Picture Card, erasing all files (even write-protected ones).
- All Reset: Resets all of the camera settings to their defaults.
- Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, German, or Spanish.
- 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.
- File Name: Resets file number with a new memory card.
- Pixel Mapping: Checks the CCD and image processing system for any errors.
- LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
- Video Out: Specifies PAL or NTSC as the video signal.
Playback Mode: Entered by pressing the Display button while the lens cover is closed, or by pressing the Display button twice quickly when the lens cover is open, this mode allows you to review captured images. As with the record-mode menu, the first screen of the playback mode menu is a "short cut" screen, offering immediate access to the most-frequently used settings. One selection on the short cut menu takes you into the main playback mode menu itself. The following playback options are available through the Playback settings menu:
- Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the memory card. (One press of the Menu button cancels the playback.) If a movie file is displayed, this option plays back the movie.
- 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:
- 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 the file in any way (except by formatting the card).
- Rotate: Rotates the displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
- DPOF: Marks the displayed image, or all images on the card,
for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer.
You can also establish 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 memory
- Black & White: Converts the displayed image to black-and-white and saves it as a new file.
- Sepia: Converts the 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 displayed image to a smaller resolution (320 x 240 or 640 x 480 pixels).
- Index: Creates an index image of a movie file, with nine
- Card Setup: Erases all files on the memory card (except for
write-protected ones), or formats the memory card entirely. Both options
can be canceled.
- Card Setup: Erases all files on the memory card (except for write-protected ones), or formats the memory card entirely. Both options can be canceled.
- All Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
- Language: Sets the menu language to English, French, German, or Spanish.
- Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
- LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness level of the LCD monitor display.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
- Video Out: Specifies PAL or NTSC as the video signal.
- Index Display: Determines whether 4, 9, or 16 images are displayed on the Index Display screen.
In the Box
The D-390 ships with the following items in the box:
- D-390 digital camera.
- Wrist strap.
- 16MB xD-Picture Card.
- Video cable.
- USB cable.
- Two AA alkaline batteries (or one CR-V3 lithium battery).
- CD-ROM loaded with Camedia Master 4.1 software and drivers.
- Instruction manual and registration kit.
- Larger capacity xD-Picture Card (at least 64MB).
- AC Adapter.
- Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and charger. (Click here to read about the recommended charger.)
- Small camera case for outdoor protection.
Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
See the full set of 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.
See camera specifications here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the D-390's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the D-390's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
- Color: The D-390 had some difficulty with color, particularly with strong reds and blues. Even in shots where reds weren't terribly strong, the camera tended to oversaturate them dramatically. This problem seemed to be aggravated when the camera was operating in Auto white balance mode. The Daylight white balance produced good color in the House poster, and the Auto setting did a good job with the Macro shot. Both white balances had trouble with the incandescent lighting of the indoor portrait, however. Skin tones were splotchy with strong yellow and red highlights regardless of the light source, and the blue flowers of the outdoor and indoor portraits were dark and purplish (although this is a common problem among digicams). Overall, the D-390's color handling was a disappointment, not up to the high standard of other Olympus digicams I've tested.
- Exposure: The D-390's exposure system typically underexposed shots just a little, even under the studio lighting. Shadow detail was moderate, but midtones were slightly dark in the high-key outdoor portrait, which the camera also rendered with high contrast, in response to the deliberately harsh lighting there. On my "Davebox" test, the D-390 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target, although it was possibly helped in that task by the slight underexposure in those shots. The indoor portraits required about average positive exposure compensation, as did the outdoor portrait. Although the D-390's tonal balance was a little contrasty, its exposure system was acceptably accurate. (The slight underexposures I've mentioned aren't sufficiently severe to mark the camera down for them.
- Resolution/Sharpness: The D-390 performed about as expected on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 400 lines per picture height horizontally, though you could argue for 600 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 800 lines in both directions. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 950 lines. Consistent with my other tests, the D390's lens seems to be sharper at closer shooting distances (as with the resolution target) than it is with subjects at infinity (as with the Far-Field test). Distant subjects were noticeably softer than closer ones.
- Closeups: The D-390 captured a fairly large macro area, measuring 7.18 x 5.38 inches (182 x 137 millimeters). Resolution was moderate, with a fair amount of fine detail visible in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were soft overall, but definition was still pretty good. Color and exposure were very nice. The D-390's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and created an uneven exposure. - Overall, the D-390 wouldn't be your first choice if you needed to photograph small objects.
- Night Shots: Olympus reports the D-390's maximum exposure time as 1/2 second, though a Night Scene mode is supposed to access longer shutter times (not reported by the camera, and longest exposure time recorded in the files' EXIF headers was 1/2 second). I shot this test in the Night Scene exposure mode, which produced better results than in straight Auto mode. Even in Night Scene mode, the camera captured usable images only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), about the equivalent of city street lighting at night. Color balance was warm with the Auto white balance, and red tones were again highly oversaturated. Image noise is moderate.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: The D-390's optical viewfinder is only a little tight, showing approximately 93 percent frame accuracy, much more accurate than most optical viewfinders I test. The LCD monitor fared just a little better, showing approximately 96 percent frame accuracy. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the D-390's LCD monitor has just a little room for improvement, but I really like seeing the relatively accurate optical finder.
- Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the D-390 is lower than average, as I measured approximately 0.5 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is nonexistent, though I did notice some odd pink streaks at the top of the frame on the resolution target. (Chromatic aberration is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)
- Battery Life:The D-390's battery life is fairly good for a camera powered by only two AA cells. Its worst-case capture-mode run time with a set of 1600 mAh (true, not advertised) NiMH AA cells is just over 100 minutes, not bad given the limited power source. (Note too, that modern NiMH batteries are available with true capacities as high as 2000 mAh, so you'll get better battery life that that described here. - I use the 1600 mAh (true) cell capacity as a benchmark, to maintain a constant standard of reference with older reviews on this site.) The good news is that its power drain decreases markedly when the LCD is turned off, with run time stretching to over four hours in capture mode when using only the optical viewfinder. (Which, happily, is accurate enough that it really is a viable option for framing your pictures.) You'll definitely want to get a couple of sets of good, high-capacity NiMH cells though, and a good charger to accompany them. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite.
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