Olympus Camedia D-380

WHAT'S HOT: US$199 ($354) is a great price for 2-megapixel camera. Because the camera isn't loaded with features, it's extremely easy to use. Shortcut buttons let you set the self-timer, flash, and other core functions with a minimum of fuss. Video recording (without sound) is a rare find in such an inexpensive camera, and the D-380's battery life is phenomenal: Using the two disposable 3-volt lithium batteries included with the camera, we took over 500 shots. (You can also use four AAs.)WHAT'S NOT: We had some difficulty with focus in close-up shots. Some pictures looked relatively sharp, while others were severely out of focus.

WHAT ELSE: The D-380 has no optical zoom, but Olympus Optical Co. Ltd. includes a 2.5X/5X digital zoom (5X at 640 by 580, 2.5X at all other resolutions). When taking close-ups, however, we noticed that images snapped at full digital zoom are far less sharp than images taken without digital zoom. Manual settings are scarce: There is no manual override of exposure values other than the standard EV control found in almost all cameras' EV setting (which lets you set the light sensitivity but automatically sets the shutter and aperture); and the camera lacks such scene modes as nighttime, distance, or portrait. The D-380 does offer a panorama mode and an unusual two-in-one option: With it, you take two shots--each half the width of a standard image--and the camera automatically stitches them together into one full-size shot. We can't think of too many practical uses for this, but it's a novelty.

Aside from the focus problems mentioned above, we were fairly pleased with the results of our photo tests. Overall, exposures and color looked accurate, and the camera produced fine contrast and shadow detail in our outdoor city shots. The 4-by-6-inch prints made from our indoor mannequin shots were relatively sharp. But 8-by-10-inch prints showed the limitations of the camera's 2-megapixel resolution. The images were far less sharp than what we've seen from cameras with higher pixel counts. The digital zoom left much to be desired, too, as image sharpness fell off dramatically.

UPSHOT: The D-380 is a great starter camera for folks testing the digital camera waters. It's also suitable for casual snap-shooters who want their cameras uncomplicated and basic.

Buying Information

Olympus Camedia D-380

2 megapixels, 1600 by 1208 maximum resolution, 35mm focal length (35mm equivalent), f4 and f8 apertures, shutter speeds from 1/2 to 1/2000 second, optical and LCD viewfinders, Auto-Connect USB connection, 8MB SmartMedia card, four AA batteries (two disposable 3-volt lithium batteries optional), 9.5 ounces with batteries; Camedia Master 4.0 software. One-year parts and labor warrany.www.olympus.com.

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