The "Best Entry Level DSLR" of 2009 hits the infoSync shores. Does it fill us with delight? Read the full Olympus E-620 review here.
Review summary of the Olympus E-620:
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Recently voted the #1 2009 Entry-Level DSLR by TIPA (Technical Image Press Association), the Olympus E-620 bears a lot of weight on its shoulders. It belongs to the Four Thirds revolution, initially created by Olympus and Kodak, so we knew we were dealing with a smaller sensor from the beginning. However, the E-620 exhibited a killer image performance in bright and low light that surpassed the Canon Eos 500D. The E-620 matched the Pentax K2000 in certain arenas, but we'd still stick with the trusty great white K2000 when it comes down to splitting hairs over image quality. The E-620 also ships with a single wide-angle kit lens while the K2000 includes two lenses in the box and retails for 100 bucks less. However, we loved the E-620's swivel LCD and bounty of buttons and controls. The interface was a bit antiquated, but its rapid functionality and excellent Playback mode made up for the Pac-Man graphics. Features were spewing from the E-620, and the level of advanced manual control was impressive. We also enjoyed shooting with a few of the Art filters. This was also one of the smallest DSLRs we've ever tested, thanks to the Four Thirds system. The Olympus E-620 is definitely a winner, and deserves its TIPA award. Release: May 2009. Price: $800.
Pros: Great overall image quality. Excellent features. Stellar design.
Cons: LCD resolution is weak. Consumer-oriented features are not as impressive.
Full Olympus E-620 Review:
Design – Very Good
The craftsmen and craftswomen of Olympus have truly succeeded in creating a user-friendly DSLR body chock full of intuitive architecture and a rugged construction with the creation of the Olympus E-620. There were very few "wait, where the hell's the…oh, here's the Self Timer button!" moments, and we were able to grasp the reins from the get go without even delving into the manual. Perhaps the most prominent element of the Olympus E-620's design was its compact size, rivaling a few fixed lens Super Zooms. We also dug the illuminated buttons during night shooting.
The Four Thirds system permits manufacturers to place camera bodies on diets, and the Olympus E-620 is one of the smallest DSLRs we've ever shot with. In fact, the E-620's little brother, the Olympus E-450, is slated as the "World's smallest DSLR", so we know what Olympus' objective is here. Though the E-620 does not occupy a significant amount of space, the camera body itself weighs in a just over a pound, so weight is tantamount to neighboring entry-level DSLRs that feature larger, cheaper bodies like the Canon Eos 500D.
If you're just breaking into photography, the Olympus E-620 is a great first set of training wheels due to its intuitive design. Buttons were plentiful and intelligently placed, and we loved the thumb dial located above the Function menu button. It took us no more than 10 minutes to acclimatize to the control layout of the E-620 and we were snapping away in no time. Handling took a minor hit due to the E-620's petit size, as the right hand grip lacked the surface area and prominent ledge to latch onto, a characteristic of larger cameras. However, the rubberized texture located in front and back allowed us to stay attached to the Olympus E-620 in 80 degree city heat, and that's a legit test. This place is a concrete jungle.
The highlights reel includes the E-620's 2.7-inch swivel LCD, hot shoe mounted on top for flashes and other accessories, and the included 14-42mm Olympus kit lens that allowed us to shoot right out of the box. We were impressed with the lens's Auto Focus performance, but the lens resided on the cheap side with its plastic mounting flange and lightweight design. It's still worth considering that the Pentax K2000 ships with two lenses and is $100 cheaper, but the E-620 can do things the K2000 is incapable of in certain respects, so read on. All in all, the Olympus E-620's design and construction transcends many other contenders within its class.
Interface – Very Good
We've always got a hankering for a juicy swivel LCD, and the Olympus E-620 satisfied our appetite with its 2.7-inch swivel display. The swivel LCD allowed us to capture angles we never knew were possible. We could lay the E-620 on the ground and tilt the screen upward for perspective shots, take self-portraits by simply flipping the screen 180 degrees, and hoist the camera in the air in order to document a massive crowd at a concert. The LCD also supported Live View, which made all of these peculiar angle shots possible. While the design portion of the E-620's LCD is top notch, its picture quality was not as impressive, due to the restricted 230,000-pixel resolution. The Canon Eos 500D's 3-inch LCD has a 920,000-pixel display, which offered a much crisper and detailed display. If Olympus tossed a little more love into the E-620's LCD resolution and maybe maxed the screen's size out to three inches, no one would be able to mess with its display.
Olympus is still stuck in the 80's when it comes to the E-620's menu system. In fact, we couldn't tell the difference between the E-620's menus and that of Olympus's point-and-shoot models, such as the Stylus Tough 8000 and Stylus 1040. Graphics are certainly not the E-620's forte, and we were treated to pixilated 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System-quality menu text and basic colors. This is a joke compared to the Eos 500D's swanky menu system, but the E-620's menus get the job done with minimal road bumps and that's all that matters. Out of Live View, the E-620's control screen was much like any other DSLR's in that it displayed selectable options like ISO, White Balance, Focus and much more. Playback mode was awesome. We could view images in several different orientations, including comprehensive RGB histograms, EXIF data and Shadow/Highlight meters.
We were surprised with the E-620's rapid response to every press of a button and shift of a switch. The four-way directional pad was stocked with highly useful quick functions like White Balance and ISO, and the control dial worked wonderfully in conjunction with the Exposure Compensation button. Focusing was smooth with the included kit lens, but it took an eternity to focus macro subjects. No matter what mode we happened to be shooting in, the Olympus E-620 provided plenty of intuitive roads to reach our destination, and we see no major pile-ups on the horizon for future E-620 owners.
Features - Very Good
For a beginner looking to bust into the enthralling world of photography, we can only think of a few other models that will provide all the tools one would need. The Olympus E-620 is not only a formidable Manual machine with its 1/4000 - 60-second shutter and f/3.5 – f/22 aperture range, but this camera offers multiple exposure shooting and several nifty Art filters to suit the Photoshop-deficient shooters out there. Since the Art filters stole most of the spotlight during the E-620's launch, we'll lay it out on the table right now. They're hit or miss, like any other consumer-oriented feature found on anything above an advanced point-and-shoot. We loved Pop Art, which saturated colors to a Warhol-esque bath of electric hues. Soft focus reminded us of the scene in Wayne's World where Garth meets his Swedish dream woman to the soundtrack of Dreamweaver. Grainy Film and Pin Hole were the only other filters worth shooting with, but again, all of these filters can be applied in Photoshop.
We know we're still in consumer country when we see an Auto and Scene option on the Mode dial. For that, we have to give the Olympus E-620 the versatility award, but Auto mode was simply no fun because the flash kept making an unwanted appearance anytime there was questionable lighting. Dipping into the Scene presets pool made us feel like we were hanging with one of Olympus's entry-level point-and-shoots, and we neglected to take advantage of the more standard options. The E-620 did have High Key and Low Key Scene modes, which succeeded in accentuating highlights or shadows, respectively. Most of our time was spent in Program AE mode unless we wanted to close down the aperture or shoot with a super low shutter at night in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes. The E-620 had a great White Balance spread, including a decent set of presets and the ability to manually adjust the Kelvin temperature via the Control dial. Our only hang-up with the Kelvin adjustment feature was that fact that the menu system remains on the screen, engulfing a majority of the screen's display. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 uses a scrolling Kelvin meter positioned along the side of the LCD, and we preferred that system.
Like their fixed lens Super Zoom models, Olympus carried over the Multiple Exposure and Overlay features, which allowed us to capture an image and blend it with another for a dramatic feel. We found this feature to work adequately most of the time, but it took a significant amount of practice in order to master the art of positioning a wolf upon a cliff under a full moon. We'd rather use Photoshop. But again, the Olympus E-620 provides plenty of tools for those who are software illiterate or wish to keep within the old-school spirit of photography. Colors modes were plentiful as well and we could choose between Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone and Custom. Saturation and Gradation were also individually adjustable and the E-620 had Face Detection that was capable of spotting up to eight visages. The Olympus E-620 unleashes plenty of firepower for the average advanced beginner.
Hardware – Very Good
The Olympus E-620 is part of the Four Thirds revolution, not to be confused with the Micro Four Thirds brigade, which includes the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1. Olympus revealed its plans for a Micro Four Thirds model at PMA this year, so we're waiting on more juicy gossip in that realm. Olympus and Kodak pioneered the Four Thirds party, which specializes in highly sensitive chips that are smaller than a typical APS-C sized sensor that is characteristic of models in this class of DSLRs. The idea is a smaller, lighter camera body with an image performance that matches a camera with a larger sensor. Four Thirds cameras also achieve a greater depth of field at any aperture, thanks to the smaller format.
The Olympus E-620 is equipped with a 12-megapixel 17.3 mm (H) x 13.0 mm (V) (4/3 type) high speed Live MOS sensor. Processing is brought to you by Olympus's TruePic III+ image engine, which is geared to reduce noise at high ISO levels. The E-620 can shoot in three different aspect ratios, consisting of 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9. Lastly, the E-620 features a killer dust reduction system that utilizes a Supersonic Wave Filter that silently vibrates at 30,000 times per second to fling dust particles into oblivion.
The Olympus E-620 ships with a 14-42mm Zuiko digital lens, offering a focal length of 0.25m/0.82ft.-infinity and a 58mm threaded lens diameter. We experienced rapid Auto Focus action with the lens, but honing in on super close subjects was a bit of a struggle. We had to rely on Manual focus for macro shots, but the lens operated so slowly that it took forever to achieve a crisp image. We relied on Auto Focus for the majority of our shoot, which performed exceptionally at medium to long range. Fortunately, the E-620's Image Stabilization is located within the camera body, which opens the compatibility floodgates with addition lenses.
The embedded pop-up flash provided a decent spread of light, but we recommend taking advantage of the Olympus E-620's hot shoe located on top. The E-620 records RAW and JPEG images to xD, CF and Microdrive cards, but not the highly popular SD/SDHC cards. Furthermore, the USB jack is proprietary, so if you forget your cable and attempt to borrow a friend's, you'll be up a creek. The E-620 runs on a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery that exhibited a fairly decent stamina, given the fact that we shot in Live View most of the time.
Image Quality – Very Good
We weren't braced for the sneak attack launched by the Olympus E-620. This little four-thirds champ succeeded to delight us in numerous ways when we reviewed our RAW images on our high-resolution monitor. Clarity, detail and lifelike renderings were the main themes as far as our Olympus E-620 review unit was concerned. We couldn't believe the level of raw intricacy that seemed to flourish in a majority of our test samples. The Olympus E-620 handled bright light with ease, exhibiting a great dynamic range right out of the gate. At close range, the E-620 produced a few magazine quality shots and the camera excelled when the sun sunk into the horizon, thanks to its enhanced sensitivity and awesome 60-second shutter speed. The swivel LCD really came in handy for shots that required a peculiar angle and some of the Art filters were actually worth using. Does the E-620 transcend the Canon Eos 500D pixel for pixel? Yes. However, the Pentax K2000 still holds a slight edge at the moment. All in all, we have barely anything negative to report about the E-620.
All samples were captured in RAW+ mode and converted into the highest quality JPEGS using the supplied Olympus Photo software.
Although the focus is not spot on in the first image, the Olympus E-620 does an admirable job with a scene that is so difficult for many cameras to handle. In Program AE mode, the aperture did not default to a very narrow scope, so we lost a bit of detail in the foreground. However, colors are natural and resist bleeding. We can also attain a fair amount of detail within the crowd and our only gripe is the blue fringing along the top of the billboard. Aside from beguilingly frightening, Mr. Fox is looking sharp in the second image, which is a prime example of what the E-620 is really capable of. Just a beautiful palette, crisp detail and impressive dynamic range. The backside of Big Green sails along in the same boat, and we see that the E-620 resists blowing out the entire sky, like most cameras in this class potentially would. This is an example where the Canon Eos 500D would create a highlight explosion in the background, and the Olympus E-620 stands it ground.
Big Green's New Seat
Steps and Lines
In bright light, our greatest successes emanated from close-up shots, as we can see in the first image of Claudia. Skin tone is nearly flawless and focus is excellent. We can discern fine strands of hair along Claudia's shoulders and even the cloth pattern of her sweater. The Olympus E-620 is kicking ass and taking names so far, and the legacy continues on in the next image. We used a wider aperture for the second image, so all of the detail has been migrated to the bottom of the image. However, the detail we are able to decipher is highly impressive, and we can jump into the minute crevices of the mortar and shake Mr. Lincoln's hand while retaining a stellar color palette and organic sharpness. Big Green's new seat is so intricately detailed that we can make out the pattern of the leather and the groovy texture of the frame support. The final image was an edge test and the Olympus E-620 holds our fairly well. We lose some steam due to the blown-out portion of the building's façade, but lines and edges are crisp and do not fringe to a great degree.
Mario and Vinnie
We weren't so concerned about indoor shooting since the Olympus E-620 performed so well outside. But when we analyzed our test images, we were even more impressed than we figured we'd be. Take the first image, for example. We shot with a wide aperture by accident, but we had to include this image due to its stellar clarity and top notch Auto White Balance. Kibbles, bits and kitty hairs are documented with stunning detail along the floor and the water jug looks as though we could reach out and grab it. We used Portrait mode on Vinnie and Mario and the E-620 set the ISO and utilized the flash. Though the image looks slightly unnatural due to the artificial lighting brought on by the flash, the E-620 does a fine job exposing these two Italian pranksters, and Mario's moustache never looked so finely groomed.
Betwixt Bridges: Revisited
We loved shooting at night with the Olympus E-620 because of the long shutter speed and excellent White Balance control. The first image is just a smashing representation of what the E-620 is capable of without the aid of the blazing sun. What stunning detail and sharpness we can detect all throughout the CAT! Exposure is beautiful, and it only took three attempts to attain this result. Even colors looked awesome in the dark, as we can see in the second image. Minimal loss of information, true hues and a vibrant palette make the second image one worth adding to the scrapbook. With a little more time we would have liked to close down the aperture and opt for a slower shutter speed, but we know the Olympus E-620 would have been ready and waiting.
The final image was the second of four attempts down at the base of Cadman Plaza. We wanted to pin it against the K2000, which kicked royal behind with its rendering of the Manhattan bridge, and the E-620 works wonders in its own particular ways. First off, we opted for a much cooler white balance, which gives the image a more realistic look. We did siphon more detail out of the K2000's imaging guts, and for the record we'd stick with the K2000 altogether. However, the E-620 was no slouch and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for a four-thirds model on the cheap.
Oddly enough, half of the Olympus E-620's Art filters were actually worth utilizing. Though we could only apply them to JPEG images, the results are highly impressive. Here's a little portfolio of the best shots taken with the E-620's Art modes.
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