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Olympus E-620 Digital SLR Review
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Date: Jun 29, 2009
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction

Olympus’ latest E-620 DSLR targets users who are interested in something better than a budget entry-level DSLRs, that don’t want to pay for an upper mid-range or semi-pro body. This new camera is packed with features from the higher-end E-30, but uses a body that’s closer in size to the compact E-420 DSLR. By combining high-end features in a compact body, Olympus addresses many of the complaints users had with the previous E-520 and E-420 models. In essence, The E-620 starts with the E-520’s popular built-in Image Stabilization and combines it with the higher resolution sensor of the E-30 as well as Art Filters and an articulating 2.7-inch screen.



The Olympus E-620 incorporates a Four Thirds lens mount and is compatible with a range of Four Thirds lenses from manufacturers such as Olympus, Sigma, and Panasonic / Leica. These lenses are designed for DSLR use and many offer superb quality. One of the best parts about the Four Thirds system is that it allows manufacturers to make smaller camera bodies. Indeed, the Olympus E-620 is one of the smallest DSLRs we’ve shot with. The camera’s size doesn’t result in a lighter weight, however—in reality, the E-620 weighs about the same as other entry-level DSLRs.

Keep in mind that since the E-620 uses the Four Thirds system, there’s a 2x digital crop factor. This means the equivalent 35mm spec is doubled. Put into numbers, this means the supplied 14-42mm kit lens is actually a 28-84mm lens, and so on. By comparison, Canon’s and Nikon’s APS-C DSLRs have 1.6x and 1.5x multipliers, respectively. Olympus’ 2x crop factor isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something wide-angle buffs will want to keep in mind.



At the time of this writing, the E-620 is the smallest body to offer built-in Image Stabilization. What’s great about in-body stabilization is that it works with any lens you attach—new, old, prime, or zoom—so you won’t be paying for this feature with future lens purchases as you would with manufacturers such as Canon or Nikon who build the feature into each lens. The downside with in-body stabilization is that you won’t get to see the stabilizing effect through the viewfinder.
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Bundle and Specifications

The Olympus E-620 comes with the following accessories included in its retail package:

  • Body
  • Li-ion battery BLS-1
  • Li-ion battery charger BCS-1
  • USB/Video Multi cable
  • Eye piece cover EPC-1
  • Shoulder strap
  • OLYMPUS Master CD-ROM
  • Instruction manual
  • Warranty card

We tested the E-620 as a bundled kit with the Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens and lens hood. Depending on which retail location you visit, other kit options are also available. Many retailers also offer a two-lens kit with a 40-150mm lens in addition to the 14-42mm lens we tested.

Two very welcomed accessories that are available for the E-620 include an optional battery grip and an optional underwater housing. The HLD-5 power battery holder not only increases the number of shots that can be taken, but it also adds an additional shutter release button for portrait controls. The unit holds two BLS-1 lithium ion batteries.

Although it’s expensive, the PT-E06 underwater case is also a welcomed accessory. It will protect the camera up to a water pressure equivalent to a depth of 40 meters. Not only does this case protect from water, but it also protects from knocks and bumps on land. While underwater, you can take full advantage of the camera’s Live View capabilities.

Specifications

Memory

CompactFlash Type I/II (UDMA), Microdrive, xD-Picture Card

Sensor size

17.3 mm (H) x 13.0 mm (V)

Lens mount

Four Thirds Mount

Effective Pixels number

12.3 million pixels

Sensor Type

High speed Live MOS Sensor

Aspect ratio

1.33 (4:3)

Dust reduction

Supersonic Wave Filter (dust reduction system for image sensor)

File format

RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG

Recording image size

[RAW] 4032 x 3024 pixels
[JPEG] 4032 x 3024 pixels - 640 x 480 pixels

File size

RAW: 4032 x 3024 (approx. 1/1.5 lossless compressed) Approx. 13.9MB
Large: 4032 x 3024 Super fine (1/2.7 compressed) Approx. 8.2MB
4032 x 3024 Fine (1/4 compressed) Approx. 5.7MB
4032 x 3024 Normal (1/8 compressed) Approx. 2.7MB

Viewfinder

Eye-level single-lens reflex viewfinder

Field of view

Approx. 95%

Viewfinder magnification

Approx. 0.96x (-1m-1, 50mm lens, infinity)

Live View

High speed Live MOS Sensor for still picture shooting, 100% field of view

AF

High speed imager AF, Phase-difference detection AF

Image Stabilizer

Built in (Imager shift image stabilizer)

Effective compensation range

Approx. 4EV steps (in maximum effect)

Shutter speed range

2 - 1/4000 sec.

LCD Display

2.7 inch HyperCrystal LCD (transmissive TFT color LCD) with approximately 230,000 dots

AF system

TTL phase-difference detection system, Contrast detection system (with certain lenses)

Focus mode

Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF)/
S-AF + MF / C-AF + MF * C-AF mode is not available with the contrast detection system

Focusing point

7 point AF sensor

Metering range

EV 1 - 20 (Digital ESP metering, Center weighted average metering, Spot metering)

Exposure mode

(1) Auto (2) P: Program AE (3) A: Aperture priority AE (4) S: Shutter priority AE (5) M: Manual (6) Scene program AE (7) Scene select AE

Scene program AE

Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport, Night + Portrait

Scene select AE

Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Panorama (only available when using Olympus xD-Picture Card media), Beach & Snow, Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro

ISO sensitivity

ISO 100 - 3200, 1/3 or 1 EV steps

Exposure compensation

±5 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1 EV steps selectable

Exposure bracketing

3 or 5 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1EV steps selectable

ISO bracketing

3 frames in 0.3, 0.7, 1EV steps selectable

White balance

8 pre-sets, Auto, Kelvin, Custom

White balance compensation

±7 steps in each A-B/G-M axis (in Auto WB / Preset WB mode / One touch WB)

White balance bracketing

3 frames in 2, 4, 6 steps selectable in each A-B/G-M axis

Color space

sRGB, Adobe RGB

Picture Mode

Vivid, Natural, Portrait, Muted, Monotone, Custom

Shutter speed

60 - 1/4000 seconds, bulb up to 30 minutes

1/3, 1/2, or 1EV steps selectable

Self-timer

Operation time: 12 sec., 2 sec. (cancel available)

Remote cable release

Available (with optional RM-UC1 Remote cable)

Anti shock mode

Available (1 to 30 sec. selectable)

Drive mode

Single-frame shooting, Sequential shooting H, Sequential shooting L, Self-timer, Remote control

Sequential shooting speed

Approx. 4 frames/sec. in sequential shooting H, 1 to 3 fps selectable in sequential shooting L

Max. recordable pictures on sequential shooting

RAW mode: Max. 5 frames.
JPEG mode: approximately up to card capacity with SanDisk Extreme IV 4GB

Built-in flash

Retractable flash, GN=17 at ISO200, (GN=12 at ISO 100.m)

Flash mode

Auto, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction slow sync., Slow sync at 1st curtain, Slow sync at 2nd curtain, Fill-in, Manual (1/4, 1/16, 1/64), Off.

Synchronization speed

1/180 sec. or less

Flash intensity control

Up to ±3 EV in 0.3, 0.5, 1 EV steps

Flash bracketing

3 frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1 EV steps selectable.

Art Filters

Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale&Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole

Multi Exposure

2 pictures

Aspect Ratios

4:3(Default)/3:2/16:9/6:6/3:4

Playback modes

Single-frame, Index (4/9/16/25/49/100 frames), Calendar, Close-up ( 2 - 14X), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Light box

Copy between media

Single frame, All frames, Selected frames

JPEG editing

Shadow adjustment, Red-eye fix, Cropping, Monotone, Sepia, Saturation (color depth), Resize (producing another file), Aspect Change

Merge function

2-4 pictures, merge gain step 0.1-2.0 0.1 step

PC interface

USB 2.0 High Speed for storage and camera control (MTP mode is available)

USB/Video connector

Dedicated multi-connector (Video: NTSC/PAL selectable, Optional Remote cable RM-UC1 is available)

Battery

BLS-1 Li-ion battery (included)

Number of recordable pictures

Approximately 500 shots (optical viewfinder)

Dimensions

5.11" (W) x 3.7" (H) x 2.36" (D) (excluding protrusions)

Weight

1.04 lbs (body only)

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Features and Technology

Olympus attempts to liberate users from a computer and editing software with its new Art Filters and Multiple Exposure mode. While it is possible to achieve similar effects using a computer and your favorite photo editor, we have to admit it’s a lot faster and easier to simply select a mode in-camera and shoot. To give you a better feel for the effect each filter provides, here are some sample shots:


Original image
 


Pop Art

 


Soft Focus

 


Pale & Light Color

 


Light Tone


Grainy Film


Pin Hole

Click for larger view

We all know dust and cameras don’t mix. To help combat dust, the Olympus E-620 also employs a Supersonic Wave Filter. This patented ultrasonic technology vibrates to remove dust and other particles from the camera’s image sensor. Any debris is captured on a special adhesive membrane each time the camera is turned on.

Since Olympus was one of the pioneers of Live View shooting, we expect its cameras to offer this feature. Indeed, the E-620 offers Live View that is made even better with the camera’s articulating display that enabled us to capture angles that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. We held the camera near the ground and tilted the screen upward, flipped the screen 180 degrees for portrait shots, and even held the camera above our heads with the screen tilted downward.

Because the E-620 uses the Four Thirds sensor, it generates 4:3 aspect ratio images which are narrower than the traditional 3:2 aspect ratio used by other DSLRs. You’re not limited to this ratio, however: The E-620 lets you shoot using one of four aspect ratios. When shooting in Live View Mode, the aspect ratios are masked on the preview. Aspect ratios for the camera include the 4:3 aspect ratio that is well-suited for an 8 x 10-inch enlargement; the 16:9 aspect ratio for display on a widescreen TV; the 3:2 aspect ratio used in other DSLRs; and a square 6:6 aspect ratio. Of course, you can always crop the picture on a computer to achieve a similar effect, but having the option in-camera is nice.



Like many cameras these days, the E-620 offers Face Detection that promises to distinguish between people’s faces and the background and adjust the focus and exposure accordingly. The E-620’s Face Detection feature can track up to eight faces within the image area, even if people are moving.

The E-620 offered a good variety of white balance settings, including 8 pre-sets, an automatic mode, Kelvin temperature selection, and a custom option. You can preview the effects of each of these white balance options as well as various exposure compensation adjustments when shooting in Live View mode.

When you’re attempting to capture a fast-action shot, the E-620’s continuous shooting modes will come in handy. The E-620 offers two continuous shooting modes: Continuous Low, which shoots 1 to 3 fps as set in the menu, and Continuous High, which captures at the camera’s top speed of 4fps. Olympus claims you can capture unlimited Large Normal JPEGs up to the capacity of your memory card when using a high-speed card or up to five RAW files.

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Body Design and Feel

One of the first things we noticed about the E-620 during normal use was that it seemed smaller in size than other DSLRs we’ve tested. The camera body itself measures 5.1 inches wide, 3.7 tall, and 2.4 deep. When you consider that Olympus crams an articulating display and in-body image stabilization into this package, it’s quite impressive. Not including a lens, battery, memory card, and other accessories, the E-620’s body weighs approximately 1.04 pounds. Overall, the build quality of the body feels solid and sturdy.

Another thing that stuck out to us within the first few minutes of holding the camera was the size of its grip. Like the camera’s body, the E-620’s grip is smaller than other models we're accustomed to using. Of course, the grip and feel of a camera is very much a personal preference. That said, while we liked the smaller body size of the E-620, we prefer a full-size grip on an SLR. Despite our preference for a larger grip, we will admit the camera was still comfortable and secure to hold, even single-handedly.

Looking at the camera from the front, you may notice the receiver for the optional wireless remote control on the camera’s grip as well as the self-timer lamp. At the very right top of the grip near the flash is an external white balance sensor. The lens release button is located on the opposite side of the lens from the grip.


The top of the E-620 has quite a few buttons, but anyone who is somewhat familiar with camera controls should be able to figure them out easily. On the left top side of the camera, you’ll find a button that opens the flash and provides easy access to various flash options. Below this button is a self-timer/shooting mode button that lets you select between single image and burst modes. Moving to the right, you’ll find the camera’s hot shoe with a classic mode dial next to it and a power switch at the base. The mode dial offers Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes as well as direct access to five popular scene presets and a dial position for ART / SCN, which offers access to the camera’s six Art Filters as well as 13 extra scene presets.

To the right of the mode dial, there’s a separate dial for navigating through menus as well as the shutter button and an exposure compensation button. Between the mode dial, shutter button, and navigational dial, you’ll find a light indicator for the Supersonic Wave Filter.


The rear of the camera has even more buttons and decals than the top. Due to limited space and quantity of buttons, these rear controls are somewhat small, but not so small that they’re difficult to use. On the left side of the optical viewfinder, you’ll find the camera’s Menu and Info buttons. Moving to the other side of the optical viewfinder and LCD, you’ll find a variety of controls, including AE lock, Play,  Live View, Erase, a dedicated button to turn image stabilization on and off, a Function button, AF target button, and four cross keys.

To use the four cross keys, press up for White Balance, right for AF options, down for ISO, and left for metering modes. You can also adjust many camera settings by pressing the OK button in the center of the cross keys to select the desired option on-screen. You can then press OK again to see a dedicated menu for that item, or simply turn the thumb wheel to adjust it directly. Below the cross keys, Erase, and IS buttons you’ll find a compartment for the camera’s multi-connector jack. This proprietary hookup lets you download images or display them on a TV using the supplied cables. The only thing missing is an HDMI port for high definition slideshows.


The camera’s articulating 2.7-inch LCD screen offers 230K pixels. Because Olympus positioned the hinge for the display on the left side of the screen rather than on the bottom like Nikon did with the D5000, you’ll have no problem swiveling the display in all available directions, even if the camera is on a tripod. The LCD can also twist back on itself for protection while in transport. The hinge mechanism for the screen feels solid.

While the design of the E-620’s LCD is certainly top notch, its picture quality isn’t as impressive as the high resolution displays we’ve seen on other DSLRs. For an articulating display, however, the E-620’s 230,000-pixel resolution is average. Certainly larger, high-resolution screens are nice to use, but there’s also plenty of good reasons to choose a slightly smaller screen that flips out instead.

One of the nicest things about many of the controls to the right of the display is the fact that they are backlit. The controls become illuminated when the camera powers up or when you press the shutter halfway. This can be especially handy when shooting at night.


Click for larger view

On the right side of the camera, you’ll find a compartment for CompactFlash and xD Picture cards. You can place both types of cards in the camera at the same time, but you can only record to one card when taking pictures. Using the camera’s shooting menu, you can easily switch between cards while shooting. The left side of the camera is free from any controls or ports, but it’s a good thing since this is where the LCD hinges.


The bottom of the camera offers a tripod mount and a battery compartment.

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Controls/Functionality, Response, and Menus

When looking through the E-620’s viewfinder, you’ll see seven AF-points. The technology behind this 7-point twin cross AF system works to provide fast and accurate focusing that is said to be comparable to that of the E-3’s. Thanks to a dedicated Phase Detection AF sensor in the camera body, focusing on moving subjects or subjects in low-light conditions is fast as well.


Like the E-520 before it, the E-620 offers three AF modes in Live View: AF Sensor, Imager AF, and Hybrid AF. The AF Sensor uses the traditional phase-change AF system, meaning when you press the AE/AF lock button to focus, the mirror drops temporarily and interrupts the live image while taking a reading. The entire process is generally pretty quick, but you will notice an interruption in the Live View. When you fully press the shutter, the camera will focus again, so you can skip the AE/AF lock button if you'd like.

The Imager AF mode uses contrast-based techniques like you’d find on a compact camera to autofocus without interrupting the Live View. This mode also supports a broader 11-area AF system as well as face detection. In Imager AF mode, you can press the shutter halfway to autofocus, just as you would when you’re not shooting in Live View mode. This mode feels very natural, particularly for users coming from a point and shoot model. Even though the Imager AF mode takes a bit longer to focus than the AF Sensor option (typically about two or three seconds), the fact that the Live View image doesn’t freeze or disappear will make it preferable to many. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Imager AF is only compatible with relatively modern lenses which support the feature.

As you may guess from its name, the Hybrid AF mode uses a combination of the other two modes. Hybrid AF will focus using the contrast method when you half-press the shutter, but unlike the Imager AF mode, when you fully press the button to take the picture it takes a reading from the traditional 7-point AF sensor to determine a final focus lock. You’ll notice that both the Imager AF and Hybrid AF modes result in several mirror flaps as you take a photo, but the Hybrid mode is slightly slower.


You can also focus manually while shooting in Live View mode. To help ensure you’ve focused correctly, the E-620 lets you enlarge part of the frame by pressing the Info button, moving the green square to a targeted area, and pressing the OK button. The image can be enlarged by five, seven, or ten times.


The Olympus E-620’s menu system serves its purpose, but it’s nothing to write home about. The camera’s primarily monochrome menu offers five main “tabs” with various settings in each one. You’ll use this menu system to change the camera’s aspect ratio, enable Multiple Exposure mode, format a memory card, and more.


When you're shooting using the viewfinder, the camera’s LCD displays a Super Control Panel. This panel is crammed with boxes displaying current settings, including some that are rarely used such as color space. The myriad of boxes and options may be a bit overwhelming at first, particularly to new DSLR users. We’d prefer to see Olympus move some of the lesser-used functions from this control screen to the camera’s menu system and utilize the space for larger controls for key items such as ISO, resolution, and white balance. 

To help you capture the motion of moving subjects without interference from camera shake, the E-620 offers two specialized image stabilization modes in addition to a traditional image stabilization mode. IS-2 is ideal for capturing a car traveling in horizontal motion. This mode helps to preserve the sense of motion while panning. IS-3 mode achieves the same effect when the camera is held vertically. Olympus claims up to four stops of compensation are possible with its in-body image stabilization.


Olympus has also incorporated Shadow Adjustment Technology into the E-620. Shadow Adjustment Technology adjusts for extreme lighting variations and attempts to maintain visible detail in both the shadow and highlight areas of the screen. This feature can also be applied to a shot after it has been taken using the Edit menu. Although results will vary from one shot to the next, we did notice an improvement in many shots to which this technology was applied.

After taking a picture, you can edit it in-camera using a handful of editing features. You can fix red eye, trim a picture, create a black and white or sepia toned image, adjust the color depth of the photo, and change the aspect ratio of images from the Edit menu.

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Sample Images

Overall, the Olympus E-620 captured some very respectable images during our tests. When using the camera’s Auto ISO mode, we noticed the camera tended to choose a higher ISO than we would have preferred. As a result, some of our test images were a bit noisy. This may not be a big deal for a casual shooter who’s taking snapshots on his vacation, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when attempting to capture the best quality images. We’ll touch on ISO more on the following page.





Click for larger view 

Our test shots were captured using the Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens and an Olympus xD memory card or a Lexar Professional 233x CompactFlash card. The fact that the camera can hold both types of cards while shooting is definitely handy, particularly if you fill up one card in the middle of an important event.

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Sample Images - ISO


The Olympus E-620 offers an ISO range from ISO 100 to 3200. You start to notice noise at ISO 200; it becomes even more apparent at ISO 500.
 

 
ISO 100
 

 
ISO 125

 

 
ISO 160

 

 
ISO 200

 

 
ISO 250
 

 
ISO 320

 

 
ISO 400

 

 
ISO 500
 

 
ISO 640
 

 
ISO 800

 

 
ISO 1000
 

 
ISO 1250

 

 
ISO 1600

 
ISO 2000

 
ISO 2500

 
ISO 3200


Click for larger view


Here’s a closer look at each of the camera's ISO settings. You'll notice that as the ISO setting increases, so too does the amount of noise visible in the image.

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Final Thoughts

Olympus’ E-520 was a hot seller last year. Since the E-620 offers many improvements over this older model, it is likely to tempt new buyers. Compared to the E-520, the E-620 offers two additional megapixels, a fully articulating screen, a 7-point AF system (versus 3-point), faster continuous shooting, Art Filters, double the maximum sensitivity, a slightly bigger optical viewfinder, multiple aspect ratios, and an official battery grip accessory. The E-620 is also smaller and lighter than the E-520.


 

As a whole, the E-620 strikes a nice balance between fun and sophisticated features. Olympus certainly makes a big deal about the E-620’s Art Filters. Even though similar results can be achieved using software, the point is that you don’t need a computer to do it. These filters will be handy to some users, especially those who like to print directly from the camera or memory card, but we’re sure there are also a few users who will prefer the additional controls you get when editing on a computer.


Really, it’s all about where your priorities lie. Although the E-620 doesn’t offer a movie mode like we’re beginning to see in other high-end cameras, it does offer an articulating screen and a small body that is tough for other manufacturers to beat. And while the Four Thirds system may be criticized for higher noise levels, it also boasts of some of the best lenses around, not to mention a well-respected anti-dust system. Finally, at prices ranging from about $599 to $799 depending on the number of lenses included, the E-620 offers an excellent price compared to its competition. At the time of this writing, the E-620 was available for quite a bit less than many of its competitors’ mid-level DSLR models. Or, for a little less than the competitors’ single-lens kit version, you can get the E-620 two lens kit, giving you a total equivalent coverage range of 28-300mm.

Ultimately, the E-620 is a good value and one we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. As always, you’ll want to think about your personal requirements and compare the features and quality of rivals. The E-620 is a great camera, but its rivals give the camera some stiff competition. If in-body image stabilization is one of your must-have features, and you want a body that’s compact, the E-620 is definitely an excellent DSLR to consider.

     
  • Compact, lightweight body
  • Built-in image stabilization
  • Price / feature balance
  • Fully-articulating screen
  • No movie mode
  • Menu & main screens seem dated
  • ISO performance not as good as rival DSLRs with bigger sensors
  • No HDMI port



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