DCRP

Olympus E-620 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus E-620 is a compact digital SLR that takes very good quality photos, offers a rotating LCD display, full manual controls, and creative features like Art Filters and multiple exposures, all without breaking the bank. Other nice things on the E-620 include backlit buttons, a dust reduction system, a useful Perfect Shot Preview feature, and dual memory card slots. It's not a perfect camera, though: it tends to underexposed photos a bit (easy to fix), clip highlights (not so easy to fix), and images are a bit noisier than the competition at high sensitivities. It also has very slow autofocus in live view mode (though other options are available), a small optical viewfinder, and (apparently) a small amount of buffer memory. Despite its flaws, the E-620 is a good camera for those who want a capable D-SLR that won't cost an arm and a leg (you can get the body plus two lenses for under $800), which is why it earns my recommendation.

The E-620 is a compact camera, by digital SLR standards. It's not the smallest interchangeable lens camera anymore (thanks to Micro Four Thirds), but it's still a lot less bulky than many of its competitors. Despite being a mostly plastic camera, the E-620 still feels pretty solid, with the one exception being the door over the battery compartment. The camera has a fairly small grip, so those of you with big hands (like me) may want to try before you buy. The camera supports all Four Thirds lenses with 2X focal length conversion ratio, and you can use old OM lenses via an optional adapter, as well. Since the camera has image stabilization built right into its body, every lens you attach will have shake reduction. On the back of the E-620 is a flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD with 230,000 pixels. Like nearly all D-SLRs these days, you can use the LCD to compose your photos. This live view feature is fairly well done on the E-620, with three focus modes, good LCD visibility indoors and out, a live histogram, and frame enlargement. The camera supports contrast detect AF and face detection, though it's very slow, and not compatible with all Four Thirds lenses. The E-620 also has an optical viewfinder, though it's quite small compared to other cameras in its class. Two last things to mention about the camera's design: many of the buttons are backlit, which is a feature I wished more cameras had. Also, the E-620 supports wireless flashes straight out of the box, a most uncommon feature.

The E-620 has features for both beginners and enthusiasts. For the point-and-shoot crowd, there's a regular auto mode, plus numerous scene modes. The camera offers face detection in live view, but since it requires the contrast detect AF, it's too slow to really be usable. A more usable live view feature is Perfect Shot Preview, which lets you see the effects of changing the exposure compensation or white balance setting without having to actually take a photo. Manual control fans certainly won't be disappointed with the E-620. Besides the usual exposure controls, you can fine-tune white balance, metering, and even focusing (for up to 20 lenses). Naturally, the E-620 supports the RAW image format (alone or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing), and Olympus includes a decent RAW editor with the camera. If that's not enough, you can also bracket for exposure, flash exposure, white balance, and ISO. Regardless of your skill level, you'll probably have fun with the camera's Art Filter and Multiple Exposure features. While more and more D-SLRs are gaining the ability to record video, the E-620 isn't one of those cameras.

Performance on the E-620 was generally good, though there's some room for improvement. Since the camera runs its dust reduction cycle at startup, you'll wait about a second before you can take your first photo. If you're using the optical viewfinder, focus times were pretty good. In low light you'll really want to pop up the flash (which is used as an AF-assist lamp), otherwise the camera will struggle to lock focus. If you're using live view and Imager (contrast detect) AF, expect lengthy focus times of 1 - 3 seconds. Since the AF-assist lamp in unavailable in this mode, low light focusing tends to be poor. For better focusing performance, I'd recommend using the AF sensor mode in live view mode instead -- there's an LCD blackout and no face detection, but it's much more responsive. Shutter lag isn't an issue in most situations, though you will notice some if you're using hybrid or AF sensor focus in live view mode. Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, regardless of the image quality setting or whether you're using the flash. While the E-620 has a relatively fast burst rate of 4 frames/second, it doesn't have much in the line of buffer memory, so it can only shoot at that speed for 4 - 6 shots before slowing down. Battery life on the E-620 is above average for its class. Should you want to shoot for even longer, you can pick up the optional battery grip, for double the battery life.

Photo quality was very good, though the E-620 has a few issues worth noting. Those issues are the tendency to slightly underexpose (by about 1/3-stop), and it seems to clip highlights a little more than one would expect on a D-SLR. Colors were pleasing, and photos have the smooth look that you come to expect from a D-SLR. In terms of noise, the E-620 performs very well in good light, and not quite as well in low light. You can shoot at ISO 800 in good light and ISO 200 in low light without worrying about noise. Above that, you may want to use the RAW format, which allows you to extract more detail from your photos. The E-620's photos are noisier than the competition at the highest sensitivities, though you can get around some of that by shooting RAW. Purple fringing levels were low, and redeye was minimal.

I've got two last things to mention, and both deal with power. First, the E-620 does not support an AC adapter -- you'll have to pony up for the E-30 if you want to use one of those. I should also point out that the included battery charger is on the slow side.

Overall, the E-620 is a camera that I enjoyed using. I found that I did have to tweak some settings to get the most out of it -- such as switching to AF sensor focusing in live view, and bumping up the exposure compensation by 1/3 stop -- but once that was done, I was pretty happy with how it performed. Some of the design-related concerns I raised cannot be changed, so it's definitely worth trying out the E-620 in person before you buy one, in case any of those things bother you as well. Overall though, it's a nice D-SLR at a great price point, and is worth taking a close look at.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see below)
  • Good value for the money
  • Compact body (by D-SLR standards)
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • 2.7" LCD display can flip to the side and rotate
  • Live view with face detection, three AF modes, Perfect Shot Preview, and frame enlargement features
  • Dust reduction system
  • Full manual controls, and then some; RAW format supported -- good editor included
  • Four types of bracketing, plus white balance, metering, and focus fine-tuning
  • Unique art filter and multiple exposure options
  • Backlit buttons
  • Built-in wireless flash support
  • Lots of photo editing tools in playback mode
  • Dual memory card slots
  • Above average battery life; battery grip available

What I didn't care for:

  • Tendency to slightly underexpose; clips highlights more than I'd like
  • Images a bit noisier than competition at highest ISO settings (though shooting RAW helps)
  • Contrast detect AF in live view is very slow, doesn't support AF-assist lamp, and only works with select lenses
  • Small amount of buffer memory limits number of shots at full speed in burst mode
  • Optical viewfinder on the small side
  • Flimsy door over battery compartment
  • No AC adapter available; slow battery charger included

Some other midrange digital SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, Pentax K2000, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A330.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Olympus E-620 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the E-620's photo quality in our photo gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.