The 12.3-megapixel E-620 is an extraordinarily petite SLR, along the lines of the company's existing E-420, weighing just over a pound (475g) and measuring 5.11 x 3.70 x 2.36 inches (130mm x 94mm x 60mm). It will sell for $699.99 for the body alone, or $799.99 bundled with the ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 kit lens, as shown here.
The right grip is shallow, without enough depth to fill your palm while holding the camera. On the grip is a combination self-timer lamp / remote control lamp/ remote control receiver. The small white circle below the mode dial is a white balance sensor. The lens release button sits to the right of the lens mount, looking from the front.
The most noteworthy feature on the camera back is a 2.7-inch LCD that pivots out horizontally from the camera and 270 degrees vertically. To the left of the optical viewfinder are the MENU and INFO buttons, to the right is the Autoexposure lock/Autofocus lock button. There's a diopter adjustment dial on the right of the viewfinder. The ON/OFF switch is a horizontal throw around the mode dial. Completing the suite of controls at the top of the camera back are the programmable FN (Function) button and the autofocus target button beside it.
There's a substantial curved, textured thumb rest above the four-way controller. To its left are the Playback and Live View buttons. The sections of the four-way controller, in addition to maneuvering through menus, are used for direct access to (clockwise from the top) white balance, autofocus mode, ISO settings and metering mode. The two buttons below include the red trash can for image erase and the IS button for controlling the image stabilization setting. A nice bonus feature here: the buttons illuminate when pressed, making navigating the camera in dark environments much more practical.
Finally, there's a small rubber door that opens to reveal a single USB port used for both data and video connections.
On a camera body bristling with buttons, the left side offers a bit of breathing space, with only a metal tab for connecting the neck strap.
The right side offers the other strap connection plus a door that slides back to reveal dual memory card slots, one for CompactFlash, one for xD card.
Our tour of the top begins at front left with the flash button, which is used to pop up the built-in flash and then bring up the flash intensity control. The multipurpose button behind it accesses drive mode and self-timer controls.
The pop-up flash in the middle is hinged in front of a hot shoe for connecting an external flash unit. To its right is the mode dial, with positions for full auto and PASM (program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual) exposure control plus Art Filters/Scene Modes and direct access to five frequently used scene modes: night portrait, sports, macro, landscape and portrait.
The lamp labeled SSWF lights when the automatic dust removal system is working. In front of that is the shiny silver shutter button and beside that, the exposure compensation control. Behind these is a single control dial that spins 360 degrees. When shooting in manual exposure mode, pressing the exposure compensation button toggles the control dial function between shutter and aperture adjustment.
The battery compartment door, with a sliding lock mechanism, is on the left, and the metal tripod socket is centered behind the lens, with a textured surface to provide extra grip.
The viewfinder is comfortably cushioned, with an effective diopter control dial. According to Olympus, it provides approximately 95% view with 0.96 magnification.
There's a lot to like about this LCD. First, the pivoting mount provides extraordinary flexibility when composing shots with the camera held overhead, down low or off to the side. It's also nice to be able to flip the LCD around 180 degrees, so the screen itself faces the camera and only the solid back is exposed to the elements. We've seen this kind of screen mount before, of course, but it's unusual on an SLR.
The other impressive quality of the 2.7-inch screen, with an ordinary 230,000-dot resolution, is its extraordinary performance in bright sunlight. Olympus uses a type of LCD it calls 'HyperCrystal' that lets some of the background lighting pass through the screen and reflect back, creating brighter illumination. The E-620 uses the latest HyperCrystal III version of the technology, and we found it worked very well: even standing outdoors in the glaring sunlight we could easily read the menus, compose a shot and review the results.
This indoor-outdoor screen is particularly useful when shooting in Live View mode. Live View can be accessed with a single button press. The on-screen image keeps up nicely as you move the camera, without the smearing and blurring we've seen on some cameras. Of course, the more troubling speed question with any camera when shooting with Live View is autofocus performance. So far we've only shot with one camera, the Micro Four Thirds-format Panasonic Lumix G1, that had a Live View autofocus system fast enough to keep up with active subjects. The Olympus E-620 can't match that performance, but it is pretty quick: good enough for shooting in a party situation, for example, though we'd still hestiate to try capturing a soccer game using Live View.
The Live View display toggles through six modes, beginning with a completely clean screen. Pressing the Info button brings up a helpful overlay grid: we used the X-Y axis displayed here, but you can choose from two ruled grids if you prefer via the custom settings menu. Another press provides all the basic shooting info, and another brings up a luminance histogram. Next up is the magnification screen: move the on-screen green box to the position of your choosing and press the OK button to see a 5x magnified view (turning the control knob zooms in to 7x and 10x view, all very handy for manual focusing). A final press reveals another interesting feature: four live thumbnail displays which show the effect of different exposure compensation and white balance adjustment possibilities.
****The pop-up flash has a guide number of 12 at ISO 100. There is an extensive array of flash settings, including auto, red-eye reduction, red-eye reduction slow sync, slow sync at 1st curtain, slow syn at 2nd curtain, fill flash (i.e, mandatory firing), manual at 1/4/ 1/16 and 1/64 intensity and flash off. Flash intensity can be adjusted ±3 stops in 1 EV steps, and 3-frame flash bracketing is also provided. In addition, the E-620 provides wireless control of compatible external flash units (the FL-50Rand FL-36R).****
The E-620 is a Four Thirds format camera, which means the effective magnification of a given lens is double what it would be when mounted on a 35mm camera. The 14-42mm kit lens we used, for example, is the equivalent of a 28-84mm lens in 35mm photography. that's good news for those looking for compact telephoto capability, less so for shooting wide-angle and landscapes. Lens selection in the Four Thirds format is reasonable, with all the basics well covered, but it isn't as extensive as you'll find with a Canon or Nikon mount.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
Both the computer connection and video out are handled through a single proprietary port located on the back of the camera, under a protective door. The two required cables are provided.
The BLS-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides approximately 500 shots when using the optical viewfinder, according to Olympus.
The E-620 accepts Olympus' proprietary, increasingly antiquated xD card format (maximum capacity of 2 gigabytes and none too fast at moving data), but there's good news to be found in the memory compartment as well: a standard CompactFlash slot. Both slots can be filled at the same time and it's simple to toggle between the two storage locations.
**Dust Reduction. **The Supersonic Wave Filter feature automatically vibrates a filter over the image sensor when the camera is powered on to shake off errant dust particles.
Design & Appearance
The design is boilerplate digital SLR, short on pizzazz but with nicely rounded surfaces on the right side of the back and on the front grip.
Size & Handling
The small-handed of either gender will be most comfortable shooting with the E-620. For this large-pawed reviewer the camera body is just a bit too wee to hold effectively, requiring quite a bit of maneuvering to keep my index finger over the shutter button and my hand in a proper grip position. On the flip side, smaller size means increased portability: the camera body measures just 5.11 x 3.70 x 2.36 inches (130mm x 94mm x 60mm) and weighs 16.76 ounces (475g) for the body alone, without lens or battery.
The key to controlling the E-620 effectively is the Super Control Panel, the display that fills the LCD screen when not in Live View mode (and can be brought up as an overlay in Live View as well). As shown here, this screen includes information on nearly every current camera setting. By pressing the OK button, the screen become live and each of these settings can be chosen (by moving a highlight cursor using the four-way controller) and changed. When an item is highlighted, turning the top control dial cycles through all available options. If you prefer to see all the options laid out on a separate screen, a second press of the OK button brings up the full menu page for the highlighted item. And pressing MENU returns you to the non-interactive information display.
Most of the key picture-taking settings, including white balance, ISO settings, metering mode, autofocus settings, image stabilization settings, flash settings and drive mode/self-timer have dedicated buttons somewhere on the camera body. Between the Super Control Panel and this bevy of button-based shortcuts, navigating the standard Menu system is required infrequently. When you do visit, by way of the MENU button, you'll find five tabs, as seen below.
The setup menu indicated by the gears icon is particularly interesting. As shown below, it offers enough customization settings to please most demanding photographers, from the basics of turning the autofocus illuminator on or off to more esoteric behaviors, like adjusting which way the lens moves when you turn the focus ring in a given direction.
Ease of Use
One of the striking features of the E-620 is the way Olympus has straddled the line between consumer-oriented simplicity and the fine controls and customization more sophisticated photographers desire. In addition to full auto for point-and-shoot control, there are 13 scene modes plus six Art Filters (discussed below) to tailor the camera to the shooting conditions at hand with minimal effort. The number of buttons, controls and options may look intimidating to an SLR newbie, but they can be safely ignored for point-and-shot photography. And for those who want to take greater control over their photographic efforts, the Super Control Panel and well-labeled buttons makes accessing sophisticated features fast and simple.
There is a single full auto mode, plus program mode with program shift (turning the control dial adjusts shutter speed and aperture in tandem to retain the metered exposure level).
Olympus hasn't jumped on the SLR movie bandwagon just yet.
The claimed continuous shot burst mode speed is a snappy 5 frames per second — since we were working with a pre-production camera, we didn't lab test this performance, but the camera seemed quite fast. Two self-timer levels are also offered (12 seconds and 2 seconds), along with two timer settings (instant or 2-second delay) when using the optional remote control.
During playback, the image can be magnified up to 10x by turning the control dial. Turning it in the other direction provides six different thumbnail views (4, 9, 16, 25, 49 and 100 images at a time) followed by a calendar display. An unusual view, which Olympus calls Light Box display, is available during playback by hitting the autofocus point selection button. This places two images side by side, allowing direct comparison between them.
Pressing the INFO button during playback brings up five different information displays, starting with a clean screen. A single press overlays all the basic shooting information, a second combines shooting information with a four-part histogram and a quarter-screen view of the image with highlight and shadow areas displayed. Next comes a large luminance histogram overlay, followed by a full-screen image with overexposed and underexposed areas highlighted.
A slideshow is available during playback, with the option to show several images on-screen at once (choose from 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 49 or 100).
As for in-camera editing, options include shadow adjustment (to brighten a backlit subject), redeye fix, cropping and changing aspect ratio, applying a black-and-white or sepia effect, and color saturation adjustment.
Custom Image Presets
One of the headline features of the E-620 is a collection of six Art Filter effects. There are six of them:
Pop Art - creates highly saturated colors
Soft Focus - as the name implies
Pale & Light Color - shifts colors to pastel hues
Light tone - softens shade and highlight areas
Grainy Film - create black-and-white grainy effect
Pin Hole - lowers peripheral illumination to create tunnel effect
The idea here is to provide impressive special effects photography options for users who aren't Photoshop aficionados. The two that really caught our eye here are the Pop Art and Grainy Film effects, both of which add drama to what might otherwise be a fairly ordinary-looking picture. Of course, as purists, we were also concerned about taking a photo with special effects pre-applied, without having a copy of the unretouched picture. Turns out there's a way to have it both ways, by shooting JPEG+RAW. The JPEG will have the Art Filter effect, the RAW will be a clean copy of the image. Problem solved. One expected feature that is missing, though, is a way to set the intensity of the effect in question. The Art Filters are all-or-nothing choices.
In addition, there are thirteen preset scene modes, including two to be used with the optional underwater housing.
The E-620 offers extensive manual control, including shutter-priority, aperture-priority and full manual exposure.
By default the Fn button on the top right of the camera back controls face detection, but it is programmable with a total of nine functions. The most practical use of this button, in our opinion, is for depth of field preview, which is strangely lacking its own control on a body otherwise festooned with buttons.
The standard autofocus system uses a 7-point sensor. There are three focus modes. Single autofocus locks the focus setting when the shutter button is pressed halfway. Continuous autofocus attempts to maintain focus on a moving subject while the shutter is held halfway down, and finally there's manual focus.
Olympus provides three flavors of autofocus in Live View mode. There's Imager Autofocus, which analyzes the contrast on the actual image sensor to focus the lens — it seemed to work accurately on our preproduction model, but took up to a few seconds before shooting. AF Sensor employs the same quick focus sensor used when shooting with the viewfinder, but the camera has to flip the mirror down to achieve focus, then flip it back out of the way before taking the photo, temporarily blanking out the Live View image. Finally there's Hybrid Autofocus, which uses the imager system to get an approximate focus but then fine-tunes the result using the autofocus sensor when you press the shutter button down fully. In our experimentation, we didn't see a lot of advantage in using the hybrid focus system over simply relying on the autofocus sensor alone, but this could change when we shoot with a final production model of the camera..
The ISO settings range from 100-3200 at full resolution. Three-frame ISO bracketing is available while shooting.
In addition to automatic white balance, custom setting by shooting a neutral card and manual entry of color temperature in degrees Kelvin, there are eight white balance presets: daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, three fluorescent settings and flash. White balance can also be fine-tuned in 14 steps along the amber-blue and green-magenta axes. Three-frame white balance braceketing is available while shooting along these same axes. Persnickety photographers will be pleased with this exemplary level of fine control, ordinarily found in much more expensive models.
Three metering patterns are available. Digital ESP uses the entire screen and attempts to achieve a balanced exposure, center-weighted metering balances the exposure to concentrate on the center of the frame, while spot metering concentrates on just the middle 2% of the screen.
Shutter speeds range from 2 seconds to an action-stopping 1/4000 second.
The available apertures vary depending on the lens being used, of course. In the case of the 14-42mm kit lens, the largest aperture at the widest setting is f/3.5 and f/5.6 at maximum zoom. Minimum aperture is f/22. The E-620 lacks a dedicated depth of field preview button, but the Fn button (which controls Face Detect mode by default) can be assigned to DOF preview instead, stopping down the lens to show the actual area in focus before shooting.
Unlike Nikon and Canon, Olympus builds its image stabilization system right into the camera body, meaning it's available for any lens you attach. There are three flavors of image stabilization. I.S. 1 is the standard setting, while I.S. 2 turns off the horizontal stabilizer to create a blurred background when panning side to side, and I.S. 3 turns off the vertical stabilizer for panning up and down.
Picture Quality & Size Options
The E-620 allows you to shoot in four different aspect ratios: 4:3 (maximum resolution 4032x3024), 3:2 (maximum 4032x3024), 16x9 (maximum 4032x3024) and 6x6 (4032x3024). Each aspect ratio offers a large, middle and small setting, and can also be shot as RAW or RAW+JPEG.
There are five picture modes available — vivid, natural, portrait, muted and monotone — in addition to a custom for a user-defined selection. The parameters that change from setting to setting include contrast, sharpness, saturation level and gradation, which is Olympus' term for dynamic range optimization setting.
It's also easy to create in-camera multiple exposures with the E-620. The basic multiple exposure capability allows you to shoot two images, controlling the size and opacity of each. It's also possible to store a photo as a RAW file on your memory card and use it as a third layer in the -exposure sandwich you create.
Meet the tester
Steve Morgenstern is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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