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The Olympus E-620 comes in three configuration. The body alone sells for $699.99; a kit priced at $799.99 includes a single 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens; a third kit (shown here), priced at $899.99, adds a 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6. The following components are included:

  • Camera body with body cap attached
  • 2 lenses with rear covers attached
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion BLS-1 battery
  • BCS-1 battery charger
  • Camera strap
  • USB cable CB-USB6
  • Video cable CB-VC2
  • Eyepiece cover
  • Olympus Master 2 CD
  • 3 Instruction Manuals (English, Spanish, French)

Shown below are three images taken with the kit 18-42mm lens at its widest and longest settings, plus one in-between the two.

The Olympus E-620 uses a Four Thirds format Live MOS sensor, with approximately 13,060,000 total pixels and 12,300,000 effective pixels. The Four Thirds format was intentionally designed to be smaller than the APS-C format sensors found on most digital SLRs, to allow for more compact camera bodies, a concept proven out in the exceptionally portable E-620. There are trade-offs involved when you squeeze 12 million pixels into a smaller sensor, though, including the image noise problems we found in our lab testing. It also changes the apparent lens magnification factor. Ordinarily, when you mount a standard 35mm-style lens on an APS-C camera, it behaves like a lens with 1.5x or 1.6x the specified focal length -- a 14-42mm lens would shoot roughly the way a 21-63mm lens would on a 35mm camera. On a Four Thirds format camera, the multiplier is 2x, so that same 14-42mm lens acts like a 28-84mm. You gain on the telephoto side, but lose out on the wide angle. At the same time, you're not using the outer edges of the lens at all, which keeps distortion to a minimum.

The Super Sonic Wave Filter system vibrates briefly every time the camera is turned on to knock off dust and dirt.

The optical viewfinder provides a 95% field of view with 0.96x magnification. The diopter can be adjusted in the 03.0 - +1.0m-1 range. The eyecup is reasonably comfortable (there are interchangeable alternatives available if you disagree), though we did find that we had to move the camera around vertically to see both the full image area and the information display strip at the bottom.

One point to keep in mind when shooting with the viewfinder is that it always shows the full 4:3 aspect ratio, even if you've chosen to shoot in 16:9, 3:2 or 6:6 modes. The choice of aspect ratio is reflected on screen if you are shooting in Live View mode. In fact, there's a custom setting that determines whether the aspect ratio setting applies to both viewfinder and Live View modes, or if it only controls Live View shooting and gets ignored when using the viewfinder.

The size and resolution of the LCD are nothing special, at 2.7 inches and 230,000 dots, but the E-5620 screen has two major points in its favor. First, it uses the Olympus HyperCrystal III LCD technology, which lets some of the light hitting the surface of the screen pass through and bounce back to provide extra backlit illumination. It's a winning approach to the problem of shooting in bright outdoor light, particularly if you're a Live View fan. We still experienced some issues with glare on the screen when shooting in the sunshine, but the image was bright and the colors well saturated even under these challenging conditions.

And there's a solution to the glare problem too, thanks to the second LCD highlight feature, an articulated screen. The screen attaches to the camera body on the left, with a bracket that lets the LCD swing out horizontally by 180 degrees and pivot vertically 270 degrees. This provides great positioning flexibility when shooting in Live View mode, with the camera held overhead, down low or off to the side. And while the screen can be placed flat against the back of the camera to use in the traditional position, it can also be flipped 180 degrees so the plastic back of the screen faces the cold, cruel world and the smudge-and-scratch-prone working side is facing inward, nicely protected.

LCD brightness and color temperature can each be adjusted in 15 steps. The last photo taken is displayed while making this adjustment, a much better practice than the flying-blind preview-less setting often found on digital cameras.

Secondary Display

As with most lower-cost digital SLRs, the E-620 doesn't have the auxiliary top-mounted monochrome LCD found on higher-end cameras. The rear LCD information display basically makes up for this, though.

The built-in pop-up flash sits about 3 inches above the center of the lens, a good elevation for avoiding red-eye and shadowing from most lenses. Olympus gives the guide number as 17 at ISO 200. Maximum flash sync speed is 1/180 of a second.

By default, the camera can raise the flash automatically based on its assessment of exposure conditions when shooting in auto, portrait, macro, night portrait, children, nature macro and beach & snow modes.This can be defeated by changing a setting in the custom menu.

The selection of available flash modes is unusually generous, including red-eye reduction, slow sync, and even a second curtain mode, where the flash fires just before the shutter closes, creating a trailing light effect when shooting moving objects.

Flash intensity can be managed two ways. The light level can be set manually to 1/4, 1/16 or 1/64 of full output. Alternatively, flash compensation is available, in a ±3 EV range, in 1/3 EV increments. You can also shoot an automatic three-shot flash bracketing sequence, with 0.3, 0.7 or 1 EV increments.

The hot shoe on top of the camera will accept a variety of compatible flashes from Olympus and third parties. The camera can also control Olympus wireless RC flash system devices, using the built-in flash.

Flash Photo

The flash will pop up automatically in automated shooting modes.

There's a single port for both USB and video output, oddly located on the back of the camera below the four-way controller. We don't see a practical disadvantage in positioning the port here, though we would be happier if Olympus had used standard cables instead of proprietary connectors, which make it difficult to locate replacements or spares.

The E-620 uses a PS-BLS1 rechargeable Lithium ion battery with a nominal voltage of 7.2V and a nominal capacity of 1150mAh. Olympus says you should get approximately 500 shots per charge when shooting with the optical viewfinder, which sounds about right given our experience with the camera. Of course, extensive Live View use is going to knock this figure down radically.

Charging time for an entirely tapped-out battery is approximately 3 hours 30 minutes.

Battery Photo

The small rectangular battery is keyed so you can't insert it upside down.

Olympus still exhibits a fondness for its proprietary xD Picture Card memory format, even though the rest of us scoff at its limited capacity (2GB max), slow speed and high price-per-megabyte compared to SD and CompactFlash. The good news here is that the E-620 accepts both xD and CompactFlash, with a simple menu selection toggling between the two. The latest ultra-fast UDMA cards are supported and, if you happen to have an old Microdrive lying around, the camera will accept that too.

The one oddity with the memory system involves the panorama-shooting function, which will only work when shooting to an xD card, and an Olympus-branded xD card at that. Obviously it's not a make-or-break feature for 99.9999 percent of potential buyers, but it is an annoying boondoggle nonetheless.

Memory Photo

Both xD and CompactFlash cards can be loaded simultaneously.

The highest sharpness results were found at the 29mm focal length when shooting at f/5.0, where the lens could resolve 1712 lw/ph horizontally and 1700 lw/ph vertically at the center. More on how we test sharpness.

The Olympus supports three different modes of in-camera image stabilization. I.S. 1 is the basic setting for shooting with stabilization turned on. I.S. 2 is used for shooting when panning horizontally: horizontal stabilization is turned off, vertical stabilization is active. I.S. 3 is for panning vertically, with horizontal stabilization active and vertical turned off. As you would imagine, we tested using the I.S. 1 mode. And the results prove the system is useful, but doesn't offer the dramatic sharpness gain we found when shooting with the Olympus E-30.

To test the effectiveness of a camera's image stabilization system, we mount it in a custom-designed computer-controlled rig that recreates a consistent series of horizontal and vertical movements, designed to mimic the pattern of a person's shaking hands at low and high levels. We shoot a brightly lit chart repeatedly and measure the image resolution of each shot using Imatest. These results are then statistically sampled to reveal the underlying pattern.

The Olympus E-620 demonstrated impressive color accuracy, producing lower color error figures than any of the other cameras in our comparison lineup. Orange, yellow and green reproduction are spot-on, and flesh tones are also handled notably well. Saturation was just over 98%, also a particularly strong result.

What we're testing here is how accurately a camera can recreate real-world colors, not making a value judgment on whether the captured colors are especially attractive. Yes, you can always tweak the colors in your photo with image editing software after the fact, but there's value in having colors right out of the camera match as closely as possible the scene as you actually saw it when taking the picture. To measure this, we shoot an X-Rite ColorChecker chart under tightly controlled 3000 lux illumination, then analyze the resulting images using Imatest software to determine color error. First step is to shoot with each of the available color modes, to determine which is the most accurate -- in the case of the Olympus E-620, that's the Muted setting. All of our remaining tests are shot using this setting. More on how we test color.

In the table below we show same-size crops of each color patch in the X-Rite chart, for the Olympus E-620 and four comparison cameras, each taken in the camera's most accurate color mode. The leftmost column shows the ideal color values from the original chart. The color names come from X-Rite.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The E-620 provides the choice of five Picture Modes, settings which adjust color reproduction along with sharpness, contrast and gradation (dynamic range). The system is explained in more depth in the Picture Effects section below. Here, we show the effect of each color setting by reproducing actual-size crops from ColorChecker photos taken in each mode (leaving out the black-and-white Monotone option).

Like most digital SLRs sold today, the Olympus E-620 supports the default sRGB color space, which is the best choice for most shooters, and the Adobe RGB color space used primarily for commercial printing applications.

The Olympus E-620 ran into difficulties in our combined automatic mode / custom mode white balance testing, with notable difficulties under two out of three illumination sources in our auto WB testing and results after setting a custom white balance that still weren't as accurate as other SLRs we've tested.

We shoot a standard ColorChecker chart inside a Judge II light box, produced by X-Rite, that provides carefully controlled illumination at a variety of color temperatures. We test under incandescent, compact white fluorescent and daylight illumination. The test photos are analyzed using Imatest to determine how far the results vary from the chart ideal values.

Automatic White Balance ()

The results shooting in daylight using the automatic white balance mode were quite good, but fluorescent lighting produced significant color error. As for incandescent illumination, that poses a consistent stumbling block for auto white balance systems, and the Olympus E-620 followed the weak performance trend we've come to expect, with images that are far too warm and orange, though still not the worst we've seen. Taken together, the camera scored a middling 6.93 in automatic white balance mode.

The color error in daylight produced by the Olympus E-620 is certainly greater than the comparison cameras, though the shift toward overly warm tones is not so dramatic that it will jump out at you when looking at actual photos.

The auto WB system produces overly warm images under incandescent lighting, but that's not uncommon. This is an area where manual control, whether taking a custom reading or using the included preset, is worth the effort.

Photos taken under fluorescent illumination were subtly but significantly too warm, an apparent attempt by the WB system to overcompensate for the inherently cool tones of fluorescent bulbs.

Custom White Balance ()

Taking a few extra moments for a custom white balance reading cuts the incandescent lighting problem down to size, producing only minor shifts toward the cooler side under all three illumination sources. The scoring in this test is stringent, though, and the Olympus was not as accurate here as competitive models.

The Olympus E-620 underperformed all the cameras in our comparison group, including its brand-mate E-30, when it comes to overall white balance performance.

The Olympus E-620 offers eight white balance presets in addition to auto WB, manual white balance setting and direct white balance entry in degrees Kelvin. The three settings for fluorescent bulbs is a useful addition, given the different color temperatures available with different bulb types.

The procedure for taking a manual white balance reading requires that the programmable Fn button has to be set to One-touch WB mode, which requires a trip deep into the bowels of the menu system. If you're the type of photographer who cares enough to take manual readings, you'll probably just set the Fn button and leave it as a white balance control, which pretty much defeats the purpose of having a programmable button in the first place. Unfortunately, there's no other way to set a manual white balance.

Once the button is properly programmed, taking a reading still requires some manual dexterity: you hold Fn down, point at a white surface and hit the shutter button. If you've already said you want Fn to be the white balance control, wouldn't pressing just that one button make more sense than requiring a combo move? There is one bright point to this procedure, though: you don't have to set the camera to manual white balance mode and then take a reading separately. The act of taking the reading sets the camera to manual WB mode.

The white balance setting can be manually fine-tuned along the Amber-Blue and Green-Magenta axes. each in 15 increments. Unlike some cameras we've used, there is no interactive way to see the effect of these fine white balance changes while shooting. You can press the AE/AF lock button and take a temporary preview shot at the current setting, allowing you to see the effect without leaving the fine tuning screen, but each change has to be previewed separately.

Three-step white balance bracketing is also available, a handy way to hedge your bets. A single image is taken, and saved in three different flavors. Adjustments can be made in either or both of the Amber-Blue and Green-Magenta axes, in 2-step, 4-step or 6-step increments.

Our long exposure test is a two-stage process, measuring both color error and image noise over a range of shutter speeds (1, 5, 10, 15 and 30 seconds). The Olympus E-620 outperformed the more expensive Olympus E-30 substantially in the color error testing, but both had mediocre results for long exposure image noise (as we'll see in the Noise testing section below, image noise remains the Achilles heel of Olympus SLRs overall). As a result, the combined long exposure score for the E-620 is superior to the E-30, but far surpassed by the Canon Rebel XS and Nikon D90.

Our long exposure testing procedure calls for illuminating the X-Rite ColorChecker chart evenly at a low illumination level and shooting it at five shutter speeds, with and without long exposure noise reduction. Ordinarily we turn off any dynamic range optimization system for this test, since it can affect results. The Olympus doesn't allow an 'off' setting, though. After some experimentation we went with the Normal setting for all of our test procedures. More on how we test long exposure.

As seen here, the Olympus E-620 maintained a strong, steady color accuracy performance across the range of shooting times, with only minor variation between photos shot with noise reduction on and off.

Image noise, shooting here at ISO 400, was also consistent, but on the high side (a shorter bar indicates lower noise levels). We did find it necessary to lower the illumination level somewhat to keep the 30-second exposure from blowing out and skewing the test results.

Based on previous testing experience, it doesn't surprise us to note that, despite promises to the contrary, turning on long exposure noise reduction actually produced slightly inferior results. The concept of long-exposure noise reduction is that the camera takes a second shot, with the shutter closed, after the actual photo is taken, then digitally corrects the image based on the noise present in that second exposure. The problem is, image noise is inherently random, leading to corrections where none is required and missed opportunities for fixes in other areas.

Neither Olympus model excelled in our long exposure testing, though the E-620 does show improvement over the previous model.

Turning off noise reduction entirely to maximize image sharpness produced easily visible image noise by the time we reached ISO 400, and the problem accelerates rapidly from that point. The low noise reduction setting offers a major improvement at high ISO levels, but not enough to solve the problem. And while the two highest settings maintain sub-2% image noise across the board, the loss of image sharpness is readily apparent.

The E-620 noise curves are all tightly clustered for red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray) noise, with no single component color spiking (which can be highly visible). More on how we test noise.

Available ISO values range from 100 to 3200. The ISO step value can be changed from the default 1 EV to 1/3 EV if you prefer finer increments.

In Auto ISO mode, both the default value to be used and the maximum allowable ISO can be set, from 200 to 3200 in 1/3 EV increments. ISO bracketing, a relatively unusual feature, is also available, providing a three-shot sequence with 0.3, 0.7 or 1 EV increments.

The curse of high-noise images rears its head here again, affecting the ability of our analysis software to detect clearly delineated steps of dynamic range in the standard Kodak chart we shoot. The Olympus E-620 did not fare quite as poorly as the Olympus E-30 on this test, but it still ranks well below the competition.

The advantage of a wide dynamic range is the ability to maintain detail in both very bright and very dark areas, which comes in handy when shooting contrasty scenes (a light-colored building with dark shadows cast by slanted sunlight, for example) and, of course, zebras. We test dynamic range by lighting the 20-patch Kodak Gray Scale chart at an even 3000 lux, shooting it at each available ISO and a range of aperture settings. These individual images are evaluated using Imatest software, which then analyzes the results at multiple apertures to calculate an overall dynamic range performance evaluation at each ISO. More on how we test dynamic range.

Even at basic ISO 100 and ISO 200 settings, the dynamic range demonstrated by the Olympus E-620 is poor, with a top result of only four and a half stops, compared to over seven stops at ISO 100 for the $599 Pentax K2000. No matter what ISO you shoot at, you're going to lack flexibility and fine detail in high-contrast scenes when shooting with the Olympus.

This is the second Olympus camera we've shot recently that produced poor results on this test, indicating an unfortunate consistency undoubtedly linked to the high-megapixel, small-sensor challenge.

Turning off noise reduction entirely to maximize image sharpness produced easily visible image noise by the time we reached ISO 400, and the problem accelerates rapidly from that point. The low noise reduction setting offers a major improvement at high ISO levels, but not enough to solve the problem. And while the two highest settings maintain sub-2% image noise across the board, the loss of image sharpness is readily apparent.

The E-620 noise curves are all tightly clustered for red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray) noise, with no single component color spiking (which can be highly visible). More on how we test noise.

Available ISO values range from 100 to 3200. The ISO step value can be changed from the default 1 EV to 1/3 EV if you prefer finer increments.

In Auto ISO mode, both the default value to be used and the maximum allowable ISO can be set, from 200 to 3200 in 1/3 EV increments. ISO bracketing, a relatively unusual feature, is also available, providing a three-shot sequence with 0.3, 0.7 or 1 EV increments.

The Olympus E-620 uses a seven-point autofocus system, with . There are two available modes. All-target autofocus lets the camera choose among the seven available points, while single target AF uses one focus point selected by the shooter. The focus point can be chosen by pressing the AF target button behind and to the right of the shutter, then adjusting using the control dial (pretty easy) or the four-way controller (pretty tricky if you have the viewfinder up to your face).

For an extra level of fine control, there are two settings for single-point autofocus. The default Normal setting uses an area slightly larger than the target indicated, while Small focuses only on that single tiny point.

Five focus modes are available when shooting with the viewfinder: Single, Continuous, Manual, Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where the camera autofocuses, then you adjust manually), and Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where you first set the focus manually, then the camera attempts to maintain that focus as the subject moves). Live View autofocus is described in the separate Live View section above.

There is no dedicated autofocus assist lamp on the Olympus E-620. Instead, the pop-up flash emits a series of quick bright pulses, effective over a greater distance than an autofocus assist light, but a bit less subtle if taking indoor candids or baby pictures were what you had in mind.

We found autofocus speed rather slow with the kit lens, especially in spot focus mode. Relatively dim indoor room lighting resulted in a notable lag in focus and, while popping up the flash did solve the problem, other SLRs do a better job dealing with similar lighting conditions. Once focus is achieved, though, the continuous autofocus system did a good job tracking all but the fastest-moving subjects.

Our long exposure test is a two-stage process, measuring both color error and image noise over a range of shutter speeds (1, 5, 10, 15 and 30 seconds). The Olympus E-620 outperformed the more expensive Olympus E-30 substantially in the color error testing, but both had mediocre results for long exposure image noise (as we'll see in the Noise testing section below, image noise remains the Achilles heel of Olympus SLRs overall). As a result, the combined long exposure score for the E-620 is superior to the E-30, but far surpassed by the Canon Rebel XS and Nikon D90.

Our long exposure testing procedure calls for illuminating the X-Rite ColorChecker chart evenly at a low illumination level and shooting it at five shutter speeds, with and without long exposure noise reduction. Ordinarily we turn off any dynamic range optimization system for this test, since it can affect results. The Olympus doesn't allow an 'off' setting, though. After some experimentation we went with the Normal setting for all of our test procedures. More on how we test long exposure.

As seen here, the Olympus E-620 maintained a strong, steady color accuracy performance across the range of shooting times, with only minor variation between photos shot with noise reduction on and off.

Image noise, shooting here at ISO 400, was also consistent, but on the high side (a shorter bar indicates lower noise levels). We did find it necessary to lower the illumination level somewhat to keep the 30-second exposure from blowing out and skewing the test results.

Based on previous testing experience, it doesn't surprise us to note that, despite promises to the contrary, turning on long exposure noise reduction actually produced slightly inferior results. The concept of long-exposure noise reduction is that the camera takes a second shot, with the shutter closed, after the actual photo is taken, then digitally corrects the image based on the noise present in that second exposure. The problem is, image noise is inherently random, leading to corrections where none is required and missed opportunities for fixes in other areas.

Neither Olympus model excelled in our long exposure testing, though the E-620 does show improvement over the previous model.

The only significant trouble spot where chromatic aberration is concerned shows up at the widest 14mm focal length, which is not surprising. Otherwise, we found very little visible fringing in the test images.

At the 14mm setting we encountered significant horizontal chromatic aberration from the midpoint out to the edges. Sharpness was very good from corner to corner, especially when shooting at f/3.5 and f/13.0, and even at f/22 remained acceptable.

Sharpness at 29mm remains high, with only the fully stopped down f/22 shots showing any significant softness. Chromatic aberration becomes less of an issue, as expected, though there are still some notable horizontal flaws at those troublesome midway points.

Shooting with the lens at full zoom we found chromatic aberration controlled well for an inexpensive lens, and sharpness very good across the board, particularly with the lens wide open.

Shooting at 42mm we found barely a trace of barrel distortion, and at 29mm it only reached 0.24%. This figure climbed to 2.46% at the 14mm focal length, which is to be expected given the extreme angles involved.

Olympus brought one idea to the E-620 design that we heartily endorse: backlit buttons for the controls found on the right panel (playback, Live View, the four-way controller, etc.). We did find ourselves stumbling a bit when shooting in the dark and trying to locate the small Menu button on the left, though; it isn't illuminated and it's barely raised from the camera body.

The best part of the Olympus E-620 menu system is clearly the Super Control Panel -- even the name is enjoyable. By pressing the OK button, the LCD information display becomes interactive. Move the cursor to the setting you'd like to change using the four-way controller, then turn the control dial to browse through the available settings. If you prefer, pressing OK again will bring up a full-screen menu for the setting you've chosen. The Super Control Panel is very comprehensive, easy to read and navigate, and a very effective way to avoid working your way down through the formal menu system, or even figuring out which button to press for the setting you're after.

The Olympus menu system is a drab-looking construction, but the black-on-gray type is easy to read and navigation is straightforward using the four-way controller and, if you want to speed through a list of entries, the control dial. Oddly, moving down through a menu screen using the four-way controller wraps you back to the top of the current screen when you reach the bottom, while turning the control dial takes you continuously and consecutively through the different menu sections.

The instruction manual supplied with the E-620 isn't bad, but it leaves out some important information.

The single 156-page book incorporates both a quick-start Basic Guide (up to page 24) and a more detailed manual, with the Table of Contents for the whole shebang inexplicably appearing after the end of the quick start part. If there were an Intimidation Olympics, the opening Basic Guide would certainly be a medal contender, leading off with illustrations festooned with enough callouts for a nuclear power plant diagram and tables that list settings without actually explaining what they do (particularly the Art Filters and Scene Modes). The initial shooting instructions fail to mention that the camera should be in Auto mode, the diagram here is confusing, the initial Live View discussion tells how to get into Live View mode but not how to get back out, and so on. This is a camera with eighteen scene modes and six Art Filters, but there is no actual explanation of what any of them do inside the entire 156-page manual -- you're left to dope it out by reading the on-screen displays, and not even told how to access those (you need to navigate to a particular scene mode and wait until the text magically appears).

Newbies may not feel the love, but if you're an experienced shooter you'll get along OK here, though the skimpy index finally had us resorting to a downloaded PDF of the document so we could use the search function. The writing is dry but comprehensible, there are enough diagrams and tables in most cases (though it all gets a bit dense in the camera customization section), and the reference material in the back of the book is comprehensive and well presented. As for learning about the included Olympus Master software, there is a cursory five-page drive-by and then you're stuck learning using the program's hard-to-navigate disc-based help system.

Incidentally, it doesn't appear that it's received a lot of loving attention from Olympus lately (there's a contest here with an August 20, 2008 drawing date), but there are some useful free photographic lessons available online at olympusdigitalschool.com. Neither the E-620 nor the E-30 are listed under the Digital SLR Cameras tab yet, but the Photo Lessons section has several useful tutorials explaining controls and techniques to improve your results in particular shooting situations, including shooting sunsets, macros, portraits and product shots.

The E-620 is a compact piece of gear, measuring 5.11 x 3.70 x 2.36 inches (130mm x 94mm x 60mm) and weighing in at 16.76 ounces (475g) for the body alone, without lens or battery. That makes it just a skinch larger in all dimensions than the company's E-420, the smallest digital SLR on the market, at 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 inches, 129mm x 91mm x 53mm and 13.4 oz, (380g), This is great news for those who prize portability, and folks with smallish hands. For large-handed individuals like this reviewer, it poses some challenges. When I cradle the camera in my left hand and wrap my fingers around the lens, they bump into my right hand clutching the camera grip. I found a compromise position that works reasonably well, folding my index and pinky fingers down and letting the camera rest on top of them, but it isn't the most natural shooting position.

The situation on the right-hand side is a little better. The grip has an effective texturized rubber covering on the front, and the same material on a curved thumb rest on the back. With the thumb rest balancing much of the weight, the camera is easier to shoot one-handed than most we've tried.

Handling Photo 1

Our model here is a man with fairly large hands, but not the Paul Bunyanesque character the size relationship might suggest.

Handling Photo 2

Olympus brought one idea to the E-620 design that we heartily endorse: backlit buttons for the controls found on the right panel (playback, Live View, the four-way controller, etc.). We did find ourselves stumbling a bit when shooting in the dark and trying to locate the small Menu button on the left, though; it isn't illuminated and it's barely raised from the camera body.

Buttons Photo 1

If you're not using it for another purpose (taking manual exposure readings, for example), the Fn button can be assigned to instantly change to a predetermined settings configuration while shooting. Two groups of settings can be saved as My Mode 1 and My Mode 2. To use them, you hold down the Fn button while pressing the shutter button. We would have preferred to toggle entirely to the My Mode setups rather than this awkward double-button-press system, but even then it's a useful feature.

Another settings-storage strategy involves the Reset process, which addresses our concern above. In addition to the ability to reset the camera to its default settings, there is a Custom Reset option that sets the camera to one of two prepared settings combinations you've stored. This is a powerful feature for finicky photographers who want to maintain a group of settings for different shooting occasions. Unfortunately, Olympus has pretty much buried these options away deep in the menu system instead of presenting them as Custom User Modes or somesuch terminology and making them directly accessible via the mode dial.

The drive mode button is also programmable. In addition to the default, it can be set to access AF area selection, AF mode, WB, metering or ISO setting. It's a bit unclear, of course, why you'd want to set this button to a function that already has a dedicated button on the back of the camera, but perhaps this is meant to appeal to left-handed index finger virtuosos.

Buttons Photo 2

The size and resolution of the LCD are nothing special, at 2.7 inches and 230,000 dots, but the E-5620 screen has two major points in its favor. First, it uses the Olympus HyperCrystal III LCD technology, which lets some of the light hitting the surface of the screen pass through and bounce back to provide extra backlit illumination. It's a winning approach to the problem of shooting in bright outdoor light, particularly if you're a Live View fan. We still experienced some issues with glare on the screen when shooting in the sunshine, but the image was bright and the colors well saturated even under these challenging conditions.

And there's a solution to the glare problem too, thanks to the second LCD highlight feature, an articulated screen. The screen attaches to the camera body on the left, with a bracket that lets the LCD swing out horizontally by 180 degrees and pivot vertically 270 degrees. This provides great positioning flexibility when shooting in Live View mode, with the camera held overhead, down low or off to the side. And while the screen can be placed flat against the back of the camera to use in the traditional position, it can also be flipped 180 degrees so the plastic back of the screen faces the cold, cruel world and the smudge-and-scratch-prone working side is facing inward, nicely protected.

LCD brightness and color temperature can each be adjusted in 15 steps. The last photo taken is displayed while making this adjustment, a much better practice than the flying-blind preview-less setting often found on digital cameras.

Secondary Display

As with most lower-cost digital SLRs, the E-620 doesn't have the auxiliary top-mounted monochrome LCD found on higher-end cameras. The rear LCD information display basically makes up for this, though.

The optical viewfinder provides a 95% field of view with 0.96x magnification. The diopter can be adjusted in the 03.0 - +1.0m-1 range. The eyecup is reasonably comfortable (there are interchangeable alternatives available if you disagree), though we did find that we had to move the camera around vertically to see both the full image area and the information display strip at the bottom.

One point to keep in mind when shooting with the viewfinder is that it always shows the full 4:3 aspect ratio, even if you've chosen to shoot in 16:9, 3:2 or 6:6 modes. The choice of aspect ratio is reflected on screen if you are shooting in Live View mode. In fact, there's a custom setting that determines whether the aspect ratio setting applies to both viewfinder and Live View modes, or if it only controls Live View shooting and gets ignored when using the viewfinder.

The Olympus supports three different modes of in-camera image stabilization. I.S. 1 is the basic setting for shooting with stabilization turned on. I.S. 2 is used for shooting when panning horizontally: horizontal stabilization is turned off, vertical stabilization is active. I.S. 3 is for panning vertically, with horizontal stabilization active and vertical turned off. As you would imagine, we tested using the I.S. 1 mode. And the results prove the system is useful, but doesn't offer the dramatic sharpness gain we found when shooting with the Olympus E-30.

To test the effectiveness of a camera's image stabilization system, we mount it in a custom-designed computer-controlled rig that recreates a consistent series of horizontal and vertical movements, designed to mimic the pattern of a person's shaking hands at low and high levels. We shoot a brightly lit chart repeatedly and measure the image resolution of each shot using Imatest. These results are then statistically sampled to reveal the underlying pattern.

The shooting modes are as expected, though the version of Auto incorporated here is a bit unusual, setting key controls to default but allowing users to change whatever they like. This contrasts to the more grandma-friendly auto modes found on many other cameras, which emphasize idiot-proofing over flexibility. The point to keep in mind here is that the changes you make are lost if you turn off the camera or change to another mode and return.

There are also six scene modes accessible via the mode dial, plus a spot for the larger scene mode / Art Filter collection. These are covered below.

The Olympus E-620 uses a seven-point autofocus system, with . There are two available modes. All-target autofocus lets the camera choose among the seven available points, while single target AF uses one focus point selected by the shooter. The focus point can be chosen by pressing the AF target button behind and to the right of the shutter, then adjusting using the control dial (pretty easy) or the four-way controller (pretty tricky if you have the viewfinder up to your face).

For an extra level of fine control, there are two settings for single-point autofocus. The default Normal setting uses an area slightly larger than the target indicated, while Small focuses only on that single tiny point.

Five focus modes are available when shooting with the viewfinder: Single, Continuous, Manual, Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where the camera autofocuses, then you adjust manually), and Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where you first set the focus manually, then the camera attempts to maintain that focus as the subject moves). Live View autofocus is described in the separate Live View section above.

There is no dedicated autofocus assist lamp on the Olympus E-620. Instead, the pop-up flash emits a series of quick bright pulses, effective over a greater distance than an autofocus assist light, but a bit less subtle if taking indoor candids or baby pictures were what you had in mind.

We found autofocus speed rather slow with the kit lens, especially in spot focus mode. Relatively dim indoor room lighting resulted in a notable lag in focus and, while popping up the flash did solve the problem, other SLRs do a better job dealing with similar lighting conditions. Once focus is achieved, though, the continuous autofocus system did a good job tracking all but the fastest-moving subjects.

As for manual focus, it's available using a menu selection rather than a physical switch. As a focusing assist, the viewfinder focus indicator stops blinking when the image appears sharp. This is an area where Live View is a useful alternative, since you can magnify the on-screen image while focusing for easy-to-see instant feedback.

The E-620 offers seven image size options, but they're not all available at once, which seems unnecessarily complicated. Three settings are offered at any given time: Large, Middle and Small. There is only one option for Large, but Middle has three possible settings, and so does Small. The size that currently corresponds to Middle and Small settings is determined via section G of the custom settings menu. It feels like it would be far simpler and more flexible just to present a dozen settings on a single menu, and let the user scroll quickly to the desired choice using the control dial.

There are four compression options for JPEGs: Super Fine (1/2.7 compression), Fine (1/4), Normal (1/8) and Basic (1/12).

RAW shooting is available in the Olympus .ORF file format, either as a standalone file or with an attached JPEG image. The JPEG is saved in Large format with Fine compression.

The Olympus E-620 supports two continuous shooting modes. High shoots at 4 frames per second as long as you hold down the shutter. The Low burst mode speed can be set to 3, 2 or 1 frame per second in the custom menu. The number of sequential shots that can be taken without slowdown at current image settings is shown in the viewfinder display.

Olympus claims a burst rate of 4 frames per second when shooting in the default Large Normal mode, and our testing confirmed their claim on the nose (actually, a hair better at an average 4.004 fps). What's more, shooting to a fast 8-gigabyte UDMA CompactFlash card, there was no hesitation as we kept our finger on the shutter and just kept firing. Upping the quality setting to Large Fine did cause a slowdown after just seven or eight or six images, though, and shooting to the xD card caused a slowdown even in Large Normal mode after 10 shots.

The E620 isn't a speed demon, certainly, but the true 4-shot performance puts it in line with comparable cameras.

There are two self-timer modes when shooting with the shutter button (12 second and 2 second), plus two modes supporting the optional RM-1 wireless remote control ($40) or the RM-UC1 remote cable release ($57). The remotes can also be used for bulb shooting.

In addition to the self-timer options available through the drive mode menu, there is an Anti-shock option in the Custom settings menu that lets you set the delay from the moment the mirror is raised until the shutter is released from 1 to 30 seconds. This can be useful for mission-critical applications where any tiny shake at all could affect results, such as astronomical photography.

This section of the review was updated with revised results and scores on July 13, 2009. These changes did not affect the relative ratings of the reviewed cameras.

The Olympus E-620 uses a seven-point autofocus system, with . There are two available modes. All-target autofocus lets the camera choose among the seven available points, while single target AF uses one focus point selected by the shooter. The focus point can be chosen by pressing the AF target button behind and to the right of the shutter, then adjusting using the control dial (pretty easy) or the four-way controller (pretty tricky if you have the viewfinder up to your face).

For an extra level of fine control, there are two settings for single-point autofocus. The default Normal setting uses an area slightly larger than the target indicated, while Small focuses only on that single tiny point.

Five focus modes are available when shooting with the viewfinder: Single, Continuous, Manual, Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where the camera autofocuses, then you adjust manually), and Simultaneous Single Autofocus and Manual Autofocus (where you first set the focus manually, then the camera attempts to maintain that focus as the subject moves). Live View autofocus is described in the separate Live View section above.

There is no dedicated autofocus assist lamp on the Olympus E-620. Instead, the pop-up flash emits a series of quick bright pulses, effective over a greater distance than an autofocus assist light, but a bit less subtle if taking indoor candids or baby pictures were what you had in mind.

We found autofocus speed rather slow with the kit lens, especially in spot focus mode. Relatively dim indoor room lighting resulted in a notable lag in focus and, while popping up the flash did solve the problem, other SLRs do a better job dealing with similar lighting conditions. Once focus is achieved, though, the continuous autofocus system did a good job tracking all but the fastest-moving subjects.

As for manual focus, it's available using a menu selection rather than a physical switch. As a focusing assist, the viewfinder focus indicator stops blinking when the image appears sharp. This is an area where Live View is a useful alternative, since you can magnify the on-screen image while focusing for easy-to-see instant feedback.

Box Photo

The Olympus E-620 comes in three configuration. The body alone sells for $699.99; a kit priced at $799.99 includes a single 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens; a third kit (shown here), priced at $899.99, adds a 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6. The following components are included:

  • Camera body with body cap attached
  • 2 lenses with rear covers attached
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion BLS-1 battery
  • BCS-1 battery charger
  • Camera strap
  • USB cable CB-USB6
  • Video cable CB-VC2
  • Eyepiece cover
  • Olympus Master 2 CD
  • 3 Instruction Manuals (English, Spanish, French)

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Steve Morgenstern

Steve Morgenstern

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