• Johnny Wilson

Olympus Brio D-230 - resurrecting an almost 20 year old Digital Camera

A few months ago, back in July, whilst enjoying being allowed to be outside and go shopping again, I found this chunky Olympus digital camera for a single pound in a second hand shop. Knowing literally nothing about it and not even knowing whether or not it even worked, but liking it because it's design was reminiscent of the Olympus mju (or Stylus) line of cameras, and because I just like Olympus stuff in general, I bought it.

It transpired when I got it home and checked it over that it needed a memory card they don't even make any more, and a USB port I didn't have a cable for...!

The Brio D-230 is just under roughly 19 years old, released in circa late 2001, and it transpires is the American model of the Olympus C-2 which I didn't know until literally right now. Owing to it's age it uses Smartmedia cards which were mostly utilized by Olympus and Fuji until they migrated to SD and XD and have long since been discontinued. Also it was fitted with a legacy USB 1.1 port, likely because this was before Mini-USB became the acceptable blanket standard, and probably also because it used a bespoke cable. So in short; I had a 2 megapixel digital camera that I couldn't use, and no way to get the images from it! A quick scout around on that popular online auction website and I sourced a 16 mb Smartmedia card and the wrong type of USB cable. Because I am an idiot. A few short days later though and I actually managed to find the right USB cable, so we were finally in business!

I had literally never heard of Smartmedia cards before buying this, and they are huge by memory card standards. Although probably cheaper than their retail price at the time, this one actually set me back just a penny short of £10. For 16 megabytes of storage. When nowadays you can get x2,000 that amount of bytes for less than a tenner. But hey, supply and demand I guess?

So with the correct memory card in place, and the correct USB cable in my possession I could finally see how this camera that was practically on the verge of adulthood, and had started off as a bargain and quickly became not-so-much a bargain would actually perform.

These were all shot at the Brio's highest possible resolution of 1600 x 1200 (HQ in the camera settings) and for a nigh on 20 year old camera, actually look pretty good. The technology was still in it's early days of development really and I fully expected these to be full of 'smoothing' and JPEG artifacts but in reality they turned out alright. There are some issues going on with the white balance I think in some areas, and there is definitely a slight degree of error with the automatic exposure; I'm seeing some overexposure and underexposure, but in balance; yeah these are pretty good quality photos. Regrettably being loaded with only a 16mb card really limits your storage capacity, and you can only get 31 HQ resolution photos on a 16mb card. You can notch the photo resolution down to SQ1 (1024 x 768) or SQ2 (640 x 480) to dramatically get more economy of storage (SQ1: 58 photos, SQ2: 90 photos) but at the compromise of photo resolution. I managed to max out my 16mb with 19 photos @ HQ resolution & 28 seconds of video @ HQ quality.

Unfortunately it's in the operation and menu system that this camera really gives away it's age. The standard play button on the back of the camera to review photos isn't a thing yet, instead relying on a button with a monitor on it that looks a bit like this: | [] | which also doubles as a button to enable and disable the LCD. I was forever not pressing it twice fast enough to go into the review menu and instead turning off the LCD that it got a bit annoying. And the menu system itself is also a little bit confusing. The option to switch to burst mode, or video recording is under 'DRIVE' in the Camera menu, and the option to switch to 2 in 1 (more on that later) and panorama mode is under a sub-heading called 'FUNCTION'. Under Picture menu there are two letters in circles at the bottom: (S) and (C) which are actually options to adjust the sharpness and contrast but without checking out the manual first it wouldn't be immediately obvious what these options actually do. There is also considerable lag whilst cycling through photos in the playback function, and you have to perform some kind of cheat code with the d-pad buttons to play back movies in camera...

I didn't play around with all the different sharpness and contrast settings, and my Smartmedia card didn't support the panorama function, but I did give the BURST mode a go, and despite the lag between each frame; 1 frame per second and a max of 8 frames, it actually works ok and all photos are at the max best possible resolution of 1600 x 1200. Click the little arrows to scroll through the photos below:

So aside from the niggles with the menu system and the navigation, the Brio is pretty feature packed. There are also several different flash options including "off" (my favourite), "red eye reduction" and "night scene" as well as options to adjust the white balance (again not obvious, but symbolised with a [WB] logo), adjust exposure compensation and switch to spot metering. I played around with the camera after dark and again, the images turned out pretty decent.

On the LCD the preview showed these photos to have a really funky white balance going on, but in reality it's far more muted. Must be down to the age of the LCD I guess? The white balance actually worked out pretty well here and better than some more newer cameras I've used actually, but the shutter speed lag made it easy to slightly blur photos even when flash was enabled.

Also, because I'm quite into video at the moment I gave the video recording function a test. You get 2 options here 320x240 resolution or 160x120 resolution both at 15 fps in .mov format. There's no built in microphone and therefore no audio, but that's probably for the best to be honest as they are always awful... I stuck with the 320x240 res for my example clips, and put together the below test montage:

Despite being postage stamp sized resolution, and accounting for any Youtube compression, and upscaling, this actually looks pretty decent! Far better than recent efforts with the Quickpix or the Traveler DC-6900 which is a newer camera. You can really see how the camera is struggling with the white balance and auto lighting optimisation (if there is any!) here and the exposure levels are all over the place, but generally it's not bad, especially for it's age. You can also create a 3 x 3 grid photo montage from a video clip in camera through the 'INDEX' sub menu option in the video menu, which gives you a kind of index print of a video clip:

I'm not sure what practical use you would actually get out of doing that... but it's a thing! And on the subject of impractical features, you can also switch the camera to "2 in 1" mode where you can shoot 2 photos, one after the other, and they are automatically stitched together in camera. Using this you can play around and get arsty, and with practice you might even be able to shoot mini panoramas, although I was terrible at it...

Again, I'm not sure what practical use it actually has! But it was quite cool. I'd like to mess around with that some more actually. So it might be awkward and dated by today's standard, and some accepted standards hadn't yet been implemented, but I was surprised by how good this camera actually was. I fully expected it to be slow, laggy and crap quality knowing that it was pretty old when I bought it, but in reality it turned out to be quite a feature packed, semi-powerful digital camera once I managed to source the right memory card. It just goes to show that if you aren't bothered about having brand new stuff, you can easily source a decent and competent digital camera from a second hand shop that will give you more than reasonable photos to play around with.