DCRP

Olympus E-620 Review

Look and Feel

As I said at the start of this review, the E-620 is the smallest digital SLR with built-in image stabilization (yes, that's a bit qualified). While it's not going to fit into your jeans pocket, you can carry it around on your shoulder or in a small bag without throwing out your back. The E-620's grip is a refined version of what was offered on the E-4xx series, making it a bit easier to hold than prior models. I personally prefer a full-sized grip on my SLRs, so I'll let you be the one to decide how comfortable the E-620 is to hold.

While its outer shell is made almost entirely of plastic, the E-620 still feels very solid (the inner chassis is a mix of plastic and metal). The only exception is the flimsy door over the battery compartment. Like the E-420, the E-620 suffers from what I call "button clutter". Buttons are scattered all of the place, which makes finding the right one a challenge at time.

Backlit buttons on the Olympus E-620

One very cool thing about the buttons on the camera: they're backlit. Not all of them, but most. Pretty handy!


E-420 vs. E-620. Images courtesy of Olympus

The E-620 is essentially a chunkier version of the E-420. The biggest change is undoubtedly the rotating 2.7" LCD that you'll see in a moment. The only other really noticeable change is the addition of a dedicated white balance sensor on the front of the camera.

Now, let's see how the E-620 compares to other cameras in its class, in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 480 g
Nikon D5000 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 63.6 cu in. 560 g
Olympus E-620 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 in. 45.3 cu in. 475 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in. 29.1 cu in. 385 g
Pentax K2000 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 46.7 cu in. 524 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.8 in. 53.2 cu in. 491 g

First things first: obviously, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 is going to be the smallest in the group, but it's technically not a D-SLR. If you stick with "real" D-SLRs, the E-620 is the smallest and lightest camera in its class.

Enough about numbers -- let's begin our tour of the camera now!

Front of the Olympus E-620

Here's the front of the E-620 with the lens removed. The camera has the same Four Thirds lens mount as the other E-System cameras, and there are plenty of lenses to choose from. As I mentioned earlier, there's a 2X focal length conversion ratio on Four Thirds D-SLRs, so a 35 mm lens has the field-of-view of 70 mm. You can release the lens by pressing the button located to the right of the mount.

Like the E-520 and E-30, the E-620 has a built-in sensor-shift image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands (sometimes known as "camera shake") that can blur your photos. This can especially be a problem in low light, or when using a telephoto lens. The camera shifts its Live MOS sensor to compensate for this motion, which increases the probability of a sharp photo. Olympus says that the E-620 gives you approximately 4 extra stops of usable shutter speeds. Want to see the IS system in action? Have a look at these:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/6 of a second. If you look closely at the buttons on the calculator and the text of the document underneath, you can see that the photo taken with IS is noticeably sharper. Image stabilization won't work miracles -- it can't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for handheld multi-second exposures -- but it's way better than nothing at all.

Like all of Olympus' E-Series cameras, the E-620 has the "SuperSonic Wave Filter" dust removal system. This system literally shakes dust off the sensor with ultrasonic pulses, greatly reducing the amount of dust that can litter your photos. The dust reduction cycle is run when when camera is powered on.

Above the lens mount is the E-620's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number (GN) of 12 meters at ISO 100 -- the same as on the E-420 -- which is about average for a D-SLR. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment, or you can go wireless. The E-620 can control up to three sets of wireless flashes, right out of the box.

If the flash is popped up, the camera may use it as an AF-assist lamp. These flash-based systems allow for much faster low light focusing than traditional AF-assist lamps, with the downsides being that A) you must pop up the flash each and B) the strobe can be rather irritating to your subject. I should also mention that the AF-assist cannot be used if you're using Imager (contrast detect) AF in live view mode. You aren't forced to take a flash photo, by the way -- just disable the flash in the menu.

Over on the grip, you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote control, plus the self-timer lamp. At the very top-right of the grip is an external white balance sensor, which wasn't on the E-420.

Rotating LCD on the Olympus E-620

One of the most significant features on the E-620 is its flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display, which uses Olympus' HyperCrystal III technology. The screen has 230,000 pixels, so everything's pretty sharp (though I admit that a higher resolution display would've been nice). The LCD can rotate a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject, all the way around to looking at the group. Rotating LCDs are great for shooting on a tripod, over the heads of people in front of you, or for ground-level photos of kids and pets. The screen can also rotate into the "traditional" position (shown below), or closed entirely.

Back of the Olympus E-620

And here you can see the LCD in the traditional position. I found the screen easy to see in bright outdoor light, and the viewing angle is fairly wide.

Continuing with a tradition started way back on the E-330, you can compose your photos on the LCD, in addition to with the optical viewfinder. Here are the details about the E-620's "live view" feature:

In live view mode, you get to see 100% of the frame, there's 11-point contrast detect autofocus, and exposure and white balance appear as they will in the actual photo. There's also a live histogram available. In general, the live view isn't as sharp or fluid as it is on a good compact camera. As I said, outdoor visibility was pretty good, though I've seen better. Low light visibility is good, especially if you use the "live view boost" feature, which brightens things up, though everything will be black & white.

The contrast detect AF feature, first introduced on the E-420, brings the camera closer to the point-and-shoot experience, though it's on the slow side, and only compatible with certain lenses. The chart below compares the three distinctly different AF modes on the camera, and their restrictions:

Live View AF mode Half-press of shutter release Full-press of shutter release Restrictions
Imager AF
Contrast detect
Focuses using the sensor Photo taken Select lenses only
AF sensor
Phase difference
- Focuses using the sensor, then photo taken None
Hybrid AF
Combination
Focuses using the sensor Focuses using the AF sensor, then shooting None

"Imager AF" is a fancy term for contrast detect AF. The camera can autofocus without having to flip the mirror down first, and you get eleven focus points and face detection, too. The problem with contrast detect AF is that it's VERY slow. You'll typically wait for 2-3 seconds for the camera to lock focus, and you can't use the AF-assist lamp, which doesn't help matters. Do note that Imager AF is only compatible with the following lenses (when this review was written):

  • F4.0-5.6, 9 - 18 mm Zuiko Digital ED
  • F2.8, 14 - 42 mm Zuiko Digital ED
  • F2.8-3.5, 14 - 54 mm II Zuiko Digital
  • F2.8, 25 mm Zuiko Digital
  • F4.0-5.6, 40 - 150 mm Zuiko Digital ED
  • F4.0-5.6, 70 - 300 mm Zuiko Digital ED

There are a couple of Panasonic/Leica lenses that will work with Imager AF. Some lenses may require a firmware upgrade in order to take advantage of this feature, as well.

The "AF sensor" option is how digital SLRs focused before contrast detect AF came about. Press the AE/AF lock button and the camera flips the mirror down, locks focus using the main AF sensor, flips the mirror back up, and returns to live view. When you fully press the shutter release, the camera will focus again, so you can skip the AE/AF lock button if you'd like. While not as slow as contrast detection, there's still some lag before the photo is taken.

As its name implies, the "Hybrid" option mixes the two previous AF modes. Press the shutter release halfway and the camera uses the contrast AF system for (relatively) quick focusing. Then, when you press the shutter release all the way down, the more reliable AF sensor is used for final focus lock, and then the photo is taken.


Frame enlargement in manual focus mode

When you're using manual focus in live view mode you can enlarge a part of the frame to verify proper focus. Just press the Info button, move the green square to the area you want enlarged, and press the OK button. The image can be enlarged by five, seven or ten times. This feature is especially handy when you've got the camera on a tripod.

Perfect Shot preview for exposure compensation.... ... and white balance

Another neat trick you can do in live view is called Perfect Shot Preview. This shows you the effect of different exposure compensation or white balance settings on your subject. The images are on the small side, though they're still pretty helpful.

Info display on LCD when using viewfinder Changing settings on the "Super Control Panel"

When you're shooting using the viewfinder, the LCD displays a myriad of information about current camera settings (it's called the Super Control Panel). It's a bit cluttered, but it covers nearly every camera setting you'd ever want to change. If you want to change any of the settings displayed, you can press the OK button (in the four-way controller), navigate to the option you wish to adjust, and change away (see example). After a few seconds, the info display turns off the backlight (it kind of looks like a digital watch at this point), though outdoors you can still see it fairly easily.

Okay, enough about live view for now -- let's get back to the tour. Right above the LCD is the E-620's optical viewfinder, which covers 95% of the frame. The viewfinder is larger than the one on the E-420, with a magnification of 0.96X. Despite this increase, the E-620's viewfinder remains one of the smallest on the market (due to the 2X crop factor). Inside the viewfinder, under the field-of-view, is a row of shooting data, which tells you things such as focus status, shots remaining, aperture, shutter speed, and shooting mode. You can use a diopter correction knob on the right side of the viewfinder to focus what you're looking at.

To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the menu system, and toggling the information shown on the LCD. Over on the right side, we find the AE/AF lock button, the customizable Function button, and the focus point selection button. By default, the Function button turns on face detection, auto shadow adjustment, and a few other settings, which I found to not always be desirable, so I turned that off right away. The focus point selection button is how you'll select from 7 focus points when shooting with the viewfinder, or eleven when using live view.

Moving downward, we find buttons for entering playback mode, and turning live view on and off. To lower-right of those is the four-way controller, which you'll use for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - White balance
  • Down - ISO
  • Left - Metering
  • Right - AF mode
  • Center - OK + Super Control Panel

I'll describe all of those features in more detail in the menu section of the review.

Below the four-way controller are two final buttons. The one with the red trash can is pretty obvious -- it deletes a photo. The IS button lets you select from the various image stabilization modes on the E-620. The mode include standard, vertical panning, and horizontal panning. You can also turn image stabilization off entirely, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.

The final item of note on the back of the camera is the single I/O port, located under a rubber cover. This port is for both USB and A/V output and, as you'd expect, the E-620 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol.

Top of the Olympus E-620

The first two items to see on the top of the E-620 are the two silver buttons on the left side of the photo. The top one pops up the flash, and lets you adjust its settings, with a lengthy list of options: auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow sync w/redeye reduction, slow sync, 2nd-curtain slow sync, full power, 1/4 power, 1/16 power, and 1/64 power.

The second button (drive) lets you select from single-shot or continuous shooting, 2 or 12 second self-timer, and 0 or 2 second remote control. You can redefine the function of this button to handle other tasks, as well (details in the menu section). How did the E-620 perform when it comes to continuous shooting? Have a look:

Quality setting Low speed * High speed
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 5 shots @ 2.9 fps
then unlimited @ 0.6 fps
4 shots @ 4.1 fps
then unlimited @ 0.6 fps
RAW 6 shots @ 2.9 fps
then unlimited @ 1.0 fps
5 shots @ 4.1 fps
then unlimited @ 1.0 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 2.9 fps 6 shots @ 4.0 fps
then unlimited @ 3.1 fps

* At default 3 fps setting
Tests performed with a 266X CompactFlash card

While the E-620 is capable of a fast 4.1 fps burst rate, it seems to be hampered by its small amount of buffer memory, which is why it slows down so quickly. For short bursts, the E-620 is fine, but if you were hoping to just keep firing away at full speed (for JPEGs, of course), then you may be disappointed. If you're in continuous mode with live view activated, the LCD will go dark after shooting begins.

Moving to the center of the photo, we find the E-620's hot shoe. The hot shoe works best with the Olympus FL-20, FL-36R, and FL-50R flashes, which synchronize with the camera's metering system. Third party flashes will work too, though you may need to manually select the flash settings. The fastest shutter speed you can use is 1/180 sec, unless you're using the FL-36R or FL-50R, in which case you can use the Super FP mode, which lets you use any shutter speed. As I mentioned before, you can also cut the cord entirely and use the two "R" flashes wirelessly -- up to three sets worth.

Continuing to the right, we find the camera's mode dial, which has the power switch underneath it. A blue lamp that indicates when the dust reduction system is running is also close by. Here's what you'll find on the E-620's mode dial:

Option Function
Art Filters / Scene Modes

Art filters include: pop art, soft focus, pale & light color, light tone, grainy film, and pin hole.

Scene modes include children, high key, low key, digital image stabilization, nature macro, candle, sunset, documents, panorama, fireworks, beach & snow, underwater wide, underwater macro

Night+portrait The most common scene modes, easy to access
Sport
Macro
Landscape
Portrait
Auto mode Point and shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, it's F3.5 - F22.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 60 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). A bulb mode is also available for super-long exposures: the shutter will remain open for as long as the shutter release is pressed (up to 30 minutes).

The first thing I want to talk about are the art filters, which debuted on the E-30. These are very much like scene modes, in that you pretty much "set it and forget it". There are six different art filters, and you can compare them using the tool below (shots are from the E-30):

Off Pop art Soft focus Pale & light color Light tone
Grainy film
Pin hole

You'll find some other art filter examples in the E-620 photo gallery. Some of you may be thinking (and I know I did when I found out about these): can't you just do this in Photoshop? Yes, you certainly can. The difference here is that the camera selects the proper exposure settings for each art filter, for best results. After using this feature for a while, I've found my favorites to be the grainy film and pin hole filters. Do note that Art Filters cannot be used with the RAW format, though you can take a RAW+JPEG and the filter will be applied to the JPEG. The shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted by using the Program Shift feature.

Art Filter menu Scene menu

The scene mode list has been trimmed down quite a bit, compared to the E-420 and E-520. The only modes I wanted to mention are low key (for dark subjects), high key (for bright subjects), and panorama mode. The panorama mode, which requires the use of an Olympus-branded xD card (groan), helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single image using Olympus Master.

In addition to the auto, scene, and art filter modes, the E-620 also features a full set of manual exposure modes, including a bulb mode that allows for exposures as long as 30 minutes.

To the right of the mode dial is the command dial, used for adjusting the exposure settings. Above that you'll find the the exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV) and shutter release buttons.

Side of the Olympus E-620

There's nothing to see on this side of the camera.

Side of the Olympus E-620

On the other side of the camera you'll find its dual memory card slots, which are protected by a plastic door of average quality. The slots here include xD (left) and CompactFlash Type I/II (right).

Bottom of the Olympus E-620

On the bottom of the E-620 you'll find a metal tripod mount (in line with the lens, of course) and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment comes off easily, but it reattaches in a snap (literally).

The included BLS-1 lithium-ion battery is shown at right.

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