Camera Museum: Olympus D-320L

Olympus D-320L

Back in 1996, Olympus released their first digital cameras, the 0.3MP D-200L and the 0.78MP D300L. I own the D-200L, which I featured in my inaugural Camera Museum post. This post is about the D-320L, which was released less than a year later.

The D-320L is very similar to the D-300L with probably the same 0.78MP sensor and lens. It is noticeably smaller, however, with more gratuitous curves and a shiny gold-ish color. I prefer the simple lines on the original but the smaller size is nice. Both cameras, however, are unremarkable with their sturdy but unexciting plastic build. They look like film point and shoots that were converted into digital cameras.

It may be vaguely understandable why I bought the D-200L, even though its specs are laughably primitive. After all, this was the first digital camera from Olympus. There’s some historic merit to owning the first. But why bother with the D-320L? Its specs are about the same as the previous model and there’s nothing special about being second.

Olympus D-320L

There is however, one major improvement. It’s the first Olympus camera to feature removable storage — the long dead SmartMedia format that was originally developed by Toshiba. You see, with the original D-200L, I had no way to download the photos. The long expired serial ports, the lack of software and corresponding computer made the camera just a working curiosity. With the removable media, I could actually transfer the D-320L’s photos to the computer.

The 1/3 inch sensor, at 1024 x 768 pixels from 1997 is not going to inspire confidence. But the camera does work and is surprisingly usable. At this stage, at the dawn of consumer digital cameras, shooting film would have produced better pictures, by any measure. The only advantage, of course, is being able to see the photos immediately, on your camera, and then on the computer. This was before social media so there’s no place to post the photos, though you could have emailed them.

I didn’t own a digital camera back in 1997 and I wonder what people used them for. Sure, the gadget loving early adopters probably liked them, but was there any practical uses? Perhaps, insurance claim adjusters and similar business would find these useful. Maybe to optimize the speed of business — it’s faster than waiting the hour or so for film development.

Olympus D-320L
Olympus D-320L

The D-320L, pretty much works like the D-200L. You slide the cover to turn on the camera. There is a decent optical viewfinder and you can only view your pictures when the lens cover is closed. It still uses 4 AA batteries and has a slightly larger 2 inch LCD display, which still draws slowly as you scroll through your images. But there are unexpected refinements. Olympus did make a lot of progress in less than a year.

The camera is smaller in every dimension and noticeably lighter. The rear LCD, which defaults to off, stays on now when the green button is pressed. I suspect Olympus must have improved the battery life, enough to not require the display button to be held down, unlike the first model. The smaller body also means that they were able to shrink the electronics significantly, and while adding a SmartMedia card slot.

Like the previous model, there is no on-screen menu. All controls are set via dedicated buttons which are the same as before. There is a new and noticeable red lamp in the bottom right corner, for the self-timer mode.

The battery door is improved and the 4 AA batteries are compactly arranged in the bulging grip. In short, there is a level of refinement, not present in the original model.

Olympus D-320L Sample Photos

Here are some photos with the D-320L, in the highest 1024 x 768 pixel mode, shot around the University of Texas campus. I don’t have the exposure details since the software didn’t display them. I’m guessing that the camera didn’t create EXIF data, like in modern cameras. You can click on the images to see the full quality, which un-surprisingly, is not very good. The camera works though, and it’s a nice throwback to the early days of digital, some 20 years ago.

University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
University of Texas - Austin, Texas (Olympus D-320L sample)
Olympus D-320L Summary
Announced July 28, 1997
Original Price $699
Equivalent Price $1,051 in 2016 dollars
Purchased September 2016, from eBay
Purchase Price $14 including shipping
Sensor 1/3″ CCD
Resolution 0.78MP, 1024 x 768 pixels
Lens fixed 5mm (36mm equivalent) f2.8
ISO 100
Shutter Speed 1/4 – 1/500 sec
Aperture f2.8, f5.6 or f11
Display 2″ TFT LCD, 114,000 pixels
Storage 3.3V SmartMedia 2MB, 4MB or 8MB
Power 4 AA Batteries
Dimensions 128(W) x 65(H) x 45(D)mm, (5 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches)
Weight 265g (9.4oz) without batteries and card
Olympus D-320L
Olympus D-320L
Olympus D-320L
Olympus D-320L

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9 thoughts on “Camera Museum: Olympus D-320L

    1. Thanks, Mike. Awful technical quality of course. But fun to play with ancient technology. These cameras are slow and the pacing of using them is like a film point and shoot. Probably even slower.

      1. I don’t think they look awful. For web use, you typically size your photos down to about 1024 on the long side anyway don’t you? At that size, I’m not sure I could see much difference between this ancient technology and a current camera. It’s interesting to see what you come up with those early digital cameras. I’m fond of older film cameras but can’t say I share any particular connection or nostalgic sentiments to the digital antiques.

      2. Yup, but at 1024 at 100% resolution, the details are soft. Take a look at the original by clicking on the image. Also, there tons of chroma noise, even at, probably, ISO 100.

        No problem, because I wasn’t expecting much. That’s 20 year old technology for you.

        You know I collect old film cameras too, which I will eventually showcase on the Camera Museum.

  1. I had one of these and loved it! I could go nuts taking pictures on reusable data cards where I might be more cautious with a limited supply of film. This was a revelation back in 1997. It had some EXIF support, but it got clobbered if you used Windows XP’s image viewer to rotate a picture. Olympus’ Camedia software for the PC could read and display the D-320L’s pictures’ EXIF data block if XP hasn’t had its filthy way with them. There was an upgrade to let it use 16MB SmartMedia cards but by then I had moved up to the C2020Z. If you need more sample pics let me know.

      1. Sure! The slightly greenish 1024×768 resolution wasn’t great, but the “secret” HQ2 mode accessible through the Camedia software after connecting the camera to a serial port helped some at the cost of needing 8MB cards to hold the resulting larger image files and the watch battery-powered floppy adapter to transfer them in a reasonable amount of time until USB 2.0 and fast USB SmartMedia readers became more widely available.

      2. Thanks again Joe. I love that you added the details that might be lost to history. I’m sure not many of these are around and even more rare are people who have actually used them when they came out.

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