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Olympus D-340L Camera

What a difference a year makes. Last year, I was able to take a look at the Olympus D-500L camera and found it to be an excellent digital camera for those like full featured cameras that rival that of an SLR, Single Lens Reflex camera. This year, I had the opportunity to take a close up look at the Olympus D-340L which while being more along the lines of a point and shoot camera, actually gives me a higher resolution picture than did the 500L.

Like many new cameras, you want to just shove the film in and start taking pictures and this camera lets you do that. By film, it uses a SmartMedia memory card and once the 4 AA batteries are installed, you are ready to go. The camera is easy to hold and get a grip on when taking the picture. It has340.jpg (17014 bytes) great rounded edges that feel good when you hold it. I did have to work at it and even when I saw other people taking pictures with it, you have to watch out that your fingers are not covering the lens. As it uses the rangefinder approach for the viewfinder, as opposed to seeing through the lens like many SLR cameras do, you can accidentally put your finger over the lens without knowing it. Though once I got settled with how I hold the camera, there were no problems at all. One other thing I noticed immediately is that the two inch LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen on the back of the camera is far less prone to smudges than prior LCD screens I have used. That helps when you want to view the pictures as you take them. You can even use the LCD screen to preview the picture before you take it. Everything on the camera is very well labeled though on some of the legends, the printing could have been a little bolder.

In using the camera, there is enough weight on it to help you keep more conscious of keeping it steady unlike some of the feather weight point and shoot cameras where you have a problem keeping it steady because it is so light. The view finder seems quite good and there is a little green light to let you know that the picture is ok. With nearly all the settings, you simply make the choice before lining up the picture and just press away. This camera makes it very easy to take pictures and with all the features, you do get quite a few choices in how the picture is taken if you need to.

Feature wise, there is a lot to the camera. The lens is an Olympus F2.8 mid range 5 element lens that is equivalent to a 35mm cameras 36mm lens. More like most point and shoot cameras, it is basically a wide angle lens. The automatic focusing range on the lens is down to four inches in macro mode. Like any good camera, if you are having depth of field problems, you can lock the focus onto a single object before taking the picture. The shutter speed is automatically set between second and 1/500 of a second. The good news is that there is a lot of range, the bad news is that if you are taking pictures without flash in low light settings, you really should use a tripod on the screw mount on the base of the camera. One other picture taking option you have is that you can manually adjust the exposure one stop in either direction. It is a bit cumbersome to do this while taking the picture but there are times you need to make the adjustment. Memory is from the 3.3 volt SmartMedia memory cards that are currently 2mb, 4mb, and 8mb in storage. The camera comes with the standard 4mb card. Power is supplied by 4 AA batteries and they recommend the Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable or Alkaline batteries. If you are conservative in using the LCD screen, you can get quite a lot of shooting out of the batteries. One reason you should is that the LCD is a 2 inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen made out of the same stuff that the active matrix laptop screens are made of. It is very bright. What is important and exciting about this camera is the 1.3 million pixel solid state CCD (Charged Coupled Device) imaging pickup unit. What this really means is that you can take pictures at a stunning 1280 by 960 pixels. You have three modes of picture size available to you. SHQ (Super High Quality) uses a lower compression to store the images, HQ is at the same resolution but uses a high compression algorithm, and SQ (Standard Quality) captures 640 by 480 pixels on the image. In a 4mb SmartMedia card, you can get 9 SHQ pictures, 18 in HQ mode, and 60 in SQ mode. As you take the pictures, the LCD control panel at the top of the camera tells you how many pictures are left to take. You can even selectively delete pictures to free up more memory.

The built in flash also gives you quite a bit of choices. You can use the automated flash mode, turn the flash off, use a fill in mode, or finally, use the red eye setting to automatically remove red eye from pictures. What the red eye mode does is to pre fire the flash unit to contract your pupils (because of the blinding white light) and then to take a normal flash picture. This unit gives the camera a working flash range of just under 10 feet. You can easily see what flash mode you are in on the control panel at the top of the camera. That control panel does a great job of letting you know what settings you are using. If nothing is displayed, it is in normal mode. You can see the changed settings for the flash, frame number, whether self timer has been set, or whether you are in macro mode, sequential mode, or working with the memory card. The LCD monitor panel on the back of the camera will even show you the date and time.

One problem area to watch for when setting up the camera is the cable connection to your desktop or laptop computer. I would think that serial ports are pretty straight forward sometimes but you just never know. The first go around, I tried it with two desktop and one laptop computer with no success. On the desktop computers, I would double check the serial ports and test them with mice and sure enough, they were there but plug in the camera and the built in Olympus software would keep telling me that there was not camera to be found. With the laptop, I found a problem in the laptop with the serial ports. While the port looked like Com1 to control panel and to a mouse I attached, left to it’s own devices, the laptop wants to use the internal infra red port as Com1. When I finally told the laptop that it could have Com1 for the infra red port, the 9 pin serial connector became Com2 and the camera finally found it. Course it darn near took me half the night in the hotel at PC Expo to figure this out but I did. As to the desktop systems, hard telling. I double-checked and triple checked the serial ports and again it refused to work. Shut down the computer, turn it back on, double check the ports and now it works. It is a bit frustrating but now that it does work, all the programs that can acquire images like Paint Shop Pro go after the camera just fine. I leave the cable permanently mounted to the computer.

Two other cable connections are in the camera as well and one is for the optional AC Adapter and the second is an NTSC video output connection to allow you to see your images on a television or capture them to a video camera.

The software that comes with the camera is very good. It is both IBM and Mac compatible and in fact, it comes with camera connection cables for both a PC Serial port and a Macintosh. The basic Olympus software installs a twain driver on your computer to allow you to use other software to get your images. Two other programs on the CD include In Media, a slide and sound mixing program, and one of my favorites, Enroute’s QuickStitch program. QuickStitch allows you to take panorama type pictures and it will magically blend them together into a single picture. A great fun program. The other CD bundled with the camera is Adobe’s PhotoDeluxe version 2.0. This is also a great program for image editing to create everything from cards to posters. I also have a scanner on my computer and the PhotoDeluxe now gives me the choice of bringing in pictures from either the scanner or the camera. Very convenient. Another program that you might want to take a look at in editing and working with your images is Jasc Paint Shop Pro. It also allowed me to select images from either the scanner or camera at will. As all of the pictures are stored in a standard JPG format, you can use nearly any software package that you want. As to file sizes, the SQ mode will be about 60k in size while the HQ mode generates pictures that are around 196K in size. The highest quality mode takes 385k per picture.

Features available on the camera that I did not use allow you to reformat a SmartMedia memory card. This can be convenient if the card had been formatted for another application or if you selectively protected a lot of images and want to completely erase the card. Another lets you set the date and time on the display which can be printed with the picture if you use the Olympus digital printer. Another allows you to change the sound level of the beeps. While the camera has a single fixed lens, there is a digitally controlled way to turn it into a 2X lens. There is also a panorama mode available but since I was using the Enroute software, I did not need to use it. Another feature I did not use was the various display modes to show you pictures on the LCD screen. I was always worried about battery life and so only used the screen to double check a couple of the pictures and to make sure I had captured what I intended. I decided to wait until I downloaded the pictures before spending time looking them over.

Several modes are available in taking pictures to give you some interesting control. A sequence mode is available for the quick frame sequences such as at a horse race. It will take from 6 to 10 pictures at a rate of 2 frames per second. There are several issues with this though to keep in mind. One is that there is no flash available, the second is that the shutter speed is fixed at 1/30 of a second, and third, pictures are taken in the SQ mode. You should use a tripod.

While the camera itself is great to use, the manual takes some getting used to. Every page of the manual is split into four segments. Along with a picture or graphic to show you what is going on, there are translations into English, French, and Spanish. It makes it a bit cumbersome to realize you have to go through 175 pages plus of manual to get all the information they have. To compound it further, the table of contents starts on page 34 and there is no index. The first 29 pages are for cautions and warnings, and the box contents and features occupy the next four pages. Once past the start, the manual is quite straight forward and logically oriented. It takes you from the basics of loading film, the smart media cards, to a run through on what you need to take the picture. As I mentioned, each page usually has a graphic showing the controls or LCD layouts and how you need to proceed.

As to options, I wish that they had bundled them all in as they will be used quite a bit. Not included in the package are an AC adapter which would save considerable battery life when downloading pictures to the computer. And speaking of batteries, one thing I do like is the fact that you use 4 compared to two in the much bigger D-500L. It will give you much longer life out of the camera. The camera is also smart enough to know that you haven’t used it in 3 minutes time and will shut itself down as well. Another option that should be required is a FlashPath 3.5 floppy disk type holder for the SmartMedia memory cards (and oh by the way, it works great, your computer thinks it has a 4mb floppy drive), rechargeable batteries and charger (because when you need batteries, you need batteries), and a case. Another option that I used quite a bit with the other camera was a PCMCIA adapter for the memory cards. That works great as you simply pop the card in, insert it to the laptop and you immediately have all the pictures. Finally, the other option is to get more memory cards as when you are taking pictures, it is difficult to have to stop and download them to the camera.

Pricing for the Olympus D340L camera, available since May this year, is currently $699 and for a camera so functional and easy to use, you can’t beat it. If it is high quality images you are looking for, then 1280 x 960 is a great place to be and you can’t beat the usefulness of this camera. Whether you are capturing images for web pages, newsletters, or a business where you need pictures for records, and want the convenience of a point and shoot type of camera, buy the Olympus D340L.

Robert Sanborn   

Last Update: 8/6/2001

 

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