The Olympus E-620 is a close cousin to the company’s recently introduced E-30. Both models provide 12.3-megapixel resolution, six elaborate Art Filter special effects modes and in-camera multiple exposures. When it comes to price, though, the E-620 body runs just $699.99, while the E-30 sells for $1299.99. We had the opportunity to shoot with a pre-production version of the E-620 to prepare this First Impressions review. Since the camera was not final (it won’t ship until May), we couldn’t evaluate image quality or provide you with sample shots here. Based on the features provided and our first-hand experience shooting with the E-620, though, we’re impressed with the range of capabilities offered at a reasonable price. In addition to full auto mode, the E-620 offers Art Filters plus thirteen preset scene modes that let relative newcomers produce more dramatic photos with minimal effort. At the same time, more sophisticated shooters will find extensive customization options, including precise white balance control and Picture Modes with fine adjustments for contrast, sharpness and saturation.
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 grip is nicely textured, but shallow.|
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.
|Most camera features have a direct-access button.|
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 left side is decidedly clutter-free.|
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.
|Push the door back to gain access to dual memory card slots.|
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 E-620 has a single control dial on the right side:
the pricier E-30 has two, useful for manual control.
|A ribbed surface helps keep the camera
in place during tripod shooting.
The viewfinder is comfortably cushioned, with an effective diopter control dial. According to Olympus, it provides approximately 95% view with 0.96 magnification.
|The viewfinder is bright and clear, though eyeglass wearers may
have trouble seeing the bottom readout.
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 pivoting LCD bracket adds to your shooting flexibility|
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.
|There are six available Live View display options.|
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).
|Light from the pop-up flash seemed bright and
reasonably even in our test shooting.
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.
|The E-620 accepts Micro Four Thirds format lenses.|
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 USB port is used for both data and video connections|
The BLS-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides approximately 500 shots when using the optical viewfinder, according to Olympus.
|A sliding clip holds the rechargeable battery
in place when the door is open.
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.
|The E-620 will take both xD and CompactFlash
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.
|Our lovely hand model has fairly small mitts, yet the petite
E-620 is barely visible when viewed from the front.
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.
|The Super Control Panel offer instant access
to a wide array of settings
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 menu system is divided into give sections|
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.
|The E-620 provides a surprising depth of
customizability for a sub-$1000 SLR.
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.