Review: Olympus E-20N
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, November 26, 2001
Thursday, November 29, 2001
the most part, I was a big fan of the Olympus E-10 (see
our review). In fact, I liked it so much, I bought it for my
own use. When you read the reviews on this site, more than likely
the E-10 is the camera that photographed that other camera. The
E-10 had it's issues, the most frustrating of which was the stuck/hot
pixel problems. For those of you who missed it, many E-10's had
bad pixels on the CCD, which ended up as colored dots in the photo.
I exchanged my E-10 for another one, and while it still had some
bad pixels, I found it acceptable.
new 5 Megapixel Olympus
E-20 ($1999) has a feature called Pixel Mapping which can remove
these bad pixels. I'll have more on this later in the review.
E-20 has two names: the E-20N in countries that use NTSC video (the
US being one of them), and the E-20P in countries using PAL.
the E-20 a worthy successor to the E-10? Can you do just as well
with cheaper camera? Find out in our review!
the E-10 and E-20 are so similar, this review is largely based on
the E-10 review.
in the Box?
Olympus E-20 has an average bundle, with almost everything you need
right in the box. It includes:
5.0 (effective) Mpixel Olympus E-20 camera
CR-V3 lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
featuring Olympus Camedia Master software
page manual (printed)
three big issues I have with the bundle are:
Olympus is no longer including rechargeable batteries with their
cameras. I remember when they used to throw in a NiMH charger and
4 batteries -- but those days have passed. Now, you get two CR-V3
"Long Life" lithium batteries. While they do last quite
a well, they end up in the trash after a few days. I suppose Olympus
wants you to buy their optional battery grip, but it costs over
$600. My advice: get yourself a few sets of NiMH batteries and a
The 32MB SmartMedia card would be very nice on a 2 or 3 Megapixel
camera. But on a 5 Megapixel camera, it's tiny. Olympus should include
at least a 64MB card. You'll want to buy a larger card, or maybe
even an IBM Microdrive.
Just like the E-10, the E-20 lacks a strap to keep the lens cap
safely tethered to the camera. Go pick one up at your local camera
store, because you're bound to lose it otherwise.
shown with remote control and lens hood.
nice bonuses include a lens hood, and the now familiar RM-1 remote
control. Please note that the remote cannot control the zoom on
covered Olympus' Camedia Master software before, so see the C-3030Z
review for more on that. I'd imagine, however, that most E-20
users will be relying on more sophisticated image editing software,
such as Photoshop.
TCON 300 Tele Extension lens gives you serious zoom power (shown
on E-10; Photo courtesy of David
sells a ton of accessories for the E-20, ranging from battery grips
to lenses to flashes. If the 4X optical zoom isn't good enough for
you, then try the TCON-300 3X extension lens. The lens is threaded
(62 mm) so you can use anything that size, as well.
E-20 manual is the best one I've seen from Olympus. Everything is
clearly labeled and instructions are easy to follow -- and best
of all, there aren't a lot of "notes" at the bottom of
each page. There's even a section on shooting techniques that is
sorely missed in most consumer digital cameras.
Olympus E-20's body is definitely "professional". It feels
as nice as the professional cameras I've used, and looks just like
an SLR film camera. It has a solid aluminum body that feels strong,
without being too heavy. All the components on the E-20 feel "well
made", from the notchy feel of the switches, to the "action"
of the shutter release button.
E-20 is a big camera, and won't be sliding into your pocket anytime
soon. Then again, how many SLR cameras do that? While I suppose
you could use it with one hand, you'll get better pictures if you
hold it with two hands. The dimensions of the E-20 are 5.0 x 4.1
x 7.0 (W x H x L), and it weighs 1050 grams (2.3 lbs) empty. That's
two or three times heavier than most cameras, but again, this isn't
"any" camera. Let's being our full 360 degree tour of
the E-20 now.
where better to being our tour than with the "star" of
the E-20, the lens. This F2.0 - 2.4 lens has a 4X zoom of 9 - 36
mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm on a 35 mm camera. According
to Olympus, this is the first lens 100% designed for a digital camera.
This lens is not removable -- you'll need a "real" pro
camera for that -- but for most uses, the 4X zoom is more than adequate.
important thing about the lens is that it's fully manual. There
is no "power" zoom like on most other digital cameras.
The motor is your hands. You can also focus manually with a electronic
focus ring, around the lens barrel.
pop-up flash is well away from the lens, which should help reduce
redeye. The flash has a working range of 0.6 - 6.3 m at full wide-angle
and 0.5 - 5.2 m at full telephoto. If you require a more powerful
flash, the E-20 has a hot shoe for that purpose. I'll have more
about external flash options in a bit.
items of note on the front of the camera include an infrared Auto
Focus transmitter, remote control receiver, and a button for manual
white balance (hidden behind the lens here). The shutter release
button is also visible towards the left.
an angled look at the back of the E-20. While the LCD can't flip
out and rotate like on some Canon and Nikon cameras, you can swivel
it up to get a better look at it. I find this handy when I'm shooting
the other cameras, for example.
is the camera from behind. The LCD, while average-sized (1.8"),
is of a surprisingly low quality for a camera with this price tag.
The refresh rate is slow, edges of objects appear jagged, and they
cutoff the bottom of the LCD with exposure information (you can
turn that off though). I'm not sure if the first two problems are
a result of the E-20's unique (for an SLR digital) ability to have
a live preview, but it really needs work. As for the third issue
-- this could easily be rectified by overlayed the information on
above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's nice and large, and
has diopter correction for those of you with glasses. The viewfinder
extends far enough from the body to prevent nose smudges on the
buttons below the LCD are for:
- toggles what is shown on the LCD
- protect an image in playback mode
the right of the LCD there are a number of other controls:
command dial - for changing manual settings, as well as zooming
in/out in playback mode
- toggles LCD on/off
switch - for menu navigation
- for menus
right of the OK button is the release for the memory card compartment.
At the top right of the photo is the AE Lock button, which locks
the exposure settings for as long as you hold it down.
here's a look at the top of the camera (that cork thing is only
to hold up the camera). The hot shoe allows you to use the Olympus
FL-40 external flash. You can use other flashes, if you meet the
requirements given by Olympus. With the FL-40, the flash and camera
communicate seamlessly. On other flashes (I tried a Nikon SB-28DX),
you'll have to set the flash up for each shot, to match the camera
buttons on the top include: SM/CF (chooses between the SmartMedia
and CompactFlash slot), flash, quality, and white balance settings,
and a very nice "light" feature.
is one feature that I wish every camera had -- the backlit LCD info
display. Now if they could only light up all the controls like this!
LCD shows information such as shutter speed, aperture, exposure
compensation, quality and flash settings, which memory card is being
used, and the shots remaining on that card.
touch on the image quality choices later in the review. But first,
white balance. The E-20 has a ton of choices available for white
balance -- more than most cameras. You can choose a setting by the
type of lighting (e.g. fluorescent) or by color temperature (e.g.
4500 °K). You can also use "One Touch" white balance
to shoot a piece of white or gray paper to use as white. The WB
°K - incandescent
- 3700 °K
- incandescent; "preserves the mood of the lighting"
°K - white fluorescent
°K - daylight w/ white fluorescent
°K - sunlight; good also for sunsets and fireworks
°K - cloudy
°K - shade
reference / manual WB
on top of the camera is the second command dial. At this point,
I should bring up an interesting note about changing settings on
the E-20. Unlike most cameras where you just hit, say, the flash
button repeatedly to change the setting, on the E-20, you must hold
down the button, and use one of the dials to move between settings.
This prevents accidental setting changes, and it's nice after you
get used to it. One thing I didn't like about this function dial
was that it's too close and too similar to the mode wheel. In the
dark, I found myself changing modes, instead of settings.
of the mode wheel, here are the various modes you can choose from:
the manual modes, you have the following choices:
Priority: 2 - 1/640 sec (up to 1/4000 or 1/18000 in PS mode --
more later on this)
Priority: f2.0 - f11, depending on zoom setting
Manual: Same aperture choices; Shutter choices of 60 - 1/640 sec
(up to 1/4000 or 1/18000 in PS mode); Bulb mode also available
(up to 8 minutes!)
not sure why Olympus won't let you do longer exposures in shutter
priority mode. If you can do 8 seconds in full manual, why not in
shutter priority mode?
you like buttons, there's even more on the left side of the camera.
Here we've got buttons for exposure compensation, macro, "drive",
and metering. There's also a button to pop up the flash, and a switch
to toggle between auto and manual focus. If you switch to manual
focus, you use the ring at the end of the lens to focus. Do note
that this is an electronic "fly-by-wire" focus ring --
it's not mechanical.
few details on some of these:
compensation: -3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV steps
switches between the following:
shooting - up to 4 photos in a row in IS mode and 7 in PS mode
@ 2.2 frames/sec
switches between the following:
the focus switch are ports for a flash sync cable and a remote shutter
release cable. Towards the lower right of the photo, there are various
I/O ports. Here's a close-up:
a power port to the lower left, and USB and video out in the center.
I've uncovered the remote shutter release (top) and flash sync (bottom)
ports as well.
a quick look at the other side -- not much to see here. What you
will find though is the memory card slots.
a plastic door, you'll find one of the E-20's nicest features: dual
memory card slots. You've got your SmartMedia slot, which is normal
for Olympus cameras, and you've also got a CompactFlash Type II
slot. The E-20 officially supports the IBM Microdrive now, but Olympus
says that you need the $650 Li-Po battery pack "due to power
requirements". I think that's a bit extreme... it's not that
you can't use it with regular AA batteries -- it's just that the
battery life won't be as good as with a regular memory card.
last but not least, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find
the battery "cage", a metal tripod mount, and a speaker
to produce a phony "shutter click" sound if you'd like.
cage with the two CR-V3 batteries installed
like with the E-10, I was very impressed with the layout, design,
and feel of the E-20. Now how well does it perform?
the Olympus E-20
E-20 starts up in about four seconds. The LCD is off by default,
which helps extend the battery life. When you depress the shutter
release halfway, the camera usually locks focus very quickly --
well under a second. The big "deprovement" on the E-20
is the shot-to-shot speeds.
LCD shows exposure info, or focus distance. (Note that the subject
is not in focus on the left which is why it appears blurry.)
when I bought the E-10, it was a leader in shot-to-shot speeds.
Unfortunately, that's not the case anymore. When you take one HQ
picture, it will take 10 seconds to write to the memory card. The
buffer only holds four pictures, which you can take pretty quickly
-- as fast as you can compose them. But be prepared for a painful
wait to empty the buffer where you can't change options, open the
menu, or view the LCD.
this was the only 5MP camera on the market, I'd say "well,
they're big files, that's life". But the $999 Sony DSC-F707
blows the E-20 away in terms of shot-to-shot speed. One nice thing
with the E-20 is that it won't lock up the camera after recording
a TIFF image -- you can go ahead and take another right away (until
the buffer fills up, of course).
you control the zoom with your hand, it's as smooth as you want
it to be. The amount of control you get with a true manual zoom
is wonderful, compared to the button mashing you must do on most
cameras. Then again, that's why this one's aimed towards professionals.
E-20 has a decent amount of resolution and quality settings, though
interestingly fewer than some of the cheaper Olympus cameras! The
chart below describes them (IS mode only):
on 32MB card
RAW mode saves raw, unprocessed CCD data to the memory card. In
order to view it, you must use the Olympus software. You can then
save it into more familiar graphic formats. The RAW format only
saves about 33% over TIFF on the E-20. On the Canon PowerShot G2,
it saves more like 70%.
time to address the IS and PS thing I've been alluding to so far
in this review. IS stands for interlaced scan, which is the old
fashioned, normal photo-taking system. Progressive Scan (PS) chops
the vertical resolution in half, shrinking the file size, and letting
the camera shoot more images continuously. It also increases the
maximum shutter speeds to 1/4000 or even 1/18000. Sound too good
to be true? Take a look at what it does to your images.
my cropping isn't the best, hopefully you can see the difference.
Check out the gallery for some full-size
samples where you'll get a better idea of what PS mode does to your
I will add that the jaggies in PS mode are reduced if you use a
lower resolution. Try 1792 x 1344 or 1280 x 960.
of the important settings on the E-20 are changed via buttons, rather
than menus. Here's what you'll find in the still sluggish menu system:
Setup (Erase All / Format)
(Auto, 80, 160, 320)
Bracket (On/off, with +- 1/3, 2/3, and 1EV increments)
exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV steps)
(Hard, Normal, Soft)
(High, Normal, Low)
edit - you determine what TIFF, HQ, SHQ's resolution and compression
- take a shot every 1 minute to daily
settings - menu beeping, phony shutter sound
View (Off, Auto, 5 sec) - show photo just taken on LCD
Mode (IS, PS, Noise Reduction)
you put the mode wheel into PC connect mode (why it's there is anybody's
guess), you can invoke another menu:
setting (normal, with conversion lenses)
naming (auto, reset)
adjustment method (Manual, Auto) - whether the LCD brightness
varies with shutter speed/aperture
(in playback mode)
(Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 min)
Pixel Mapping feature helps reduce bad pixels. Olympus recommends
doing this at least once a year.
more about photo quality!
to view with noise reduction OFF
night shot test looks very good, thanks to the excellent lens and
manual controls on the E-20. In this sample, the noise reduction
feature is on. There's still a bit of noise in the shot though.
E-20 did a fine job with the macro test as well. I had to boost
the exposure compensation a few stops, but otherwise the color is
fine and the subject is sharp. You can get as close as 20 cm from
the subject while at full telephoto. If you want to get closer,
Olympus sells the MCON-35 Macro Extension Lens ($140), which lets
you get as close as 12 cm.
E-20 doesn't record any sound or video. Which is not surprising,
considering the target audience here. Professional photographers
don't want/need gimmicks.
the photo quality on the E-20 was excellent. Some people have commented
on a lot of noise in the images, especially in the sky. Some have
said that a "professional" camera shouldn't have this
much noise. The noise doesn't seem much worse than the other 5MP
cameras, but then again, this one costs twice as much (see this
page on DP Review for more on the noise issue). I noticed chromatic
aberrations (purple fringing) in a few shots, but it's nothing major.
Check out the extensive photo gallery
and judge the quality for yourself.
E-20's playback mode, though on the slow side, is very complete.
The basics are here: slideshows, protection, DPOF print marking,
and thumbnail mode. There are a few other features worth mentioning
using the dial on the back of the camera, you can either zoom into
your photos, or zoom back out to thumbnail modes of various sizes.
The "zoom and scroll" function was painfully slow, and
I found myself rarely using it. I realize these images are large,
and perhaps I've been spoiled by the ultra-fast Canon PowerShot
cameras, but this feature is just too slow to use regularly.
E-20 is also a bit slow at moving between photos. It takes about
two seconds from one photo to the next.
able to get quite a bit of information about your photos in playback
mode. From exposure data to a histogram, it's all here (see above).
E-20 has the ability to copy photos between the two memory card
slots. I've never used this feature, but I suppose if you have a
CompactFlash card reader and have photos on the SmartMedia card,
you would need to copy the images over first.
Does it Compare?
the Olympus E-10 was announced, I ran out and bought one for my
own use. I don't feel the same way about the E-20, though. While
it's an excellent camera, the E-20 seems more like a downgrade than
an upgrade to me. The main problem is the incredibly slow write
times. Cameras like the Sony DSC-F707, also a 5 Megapixel camera,
blow the E-20's shot-to-shot speeds out of the water. If this is
a "professional" camera, it needs to act like one. That's
my main complaint -- otherwise, the photo quality is excellent,
the feature-set huge, and the lens very nice -- just like on the
E-10. If you're an E-10 owner who was thinking about upgrading to
the E-20... I probably would hold off for now. For folks looking
for a very nice 5 Megapixel camera, I'd consider the E-20... carefully.
sturdy, well designed body
the manual controls you'll ever need
and CompactFlash Type II slots
backlit LCD info display and swiveling LCD
to preview shots on LCD as well as viewfinder
Mapping removes bad pixels
I didn't care for:
write / shot-to-shot speeds
sluggish in menus and playback mode
other high-end cameras I would consider include the Canon
PowerShot G2, Casio
FinePix 6900Z, Minolta DiMAGE 5
Coolpix 5000, Olympus
C-4040Z, and the Sony DSC-F707
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the E-20 and it's competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a few more opinions?
sure to read the reviews from Steve's
Digicams and Digital
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.