DCRP

Olympus E-620 Review

Using the Olympus E-620

Record Mode

The Olympus E-620 performs its dust reduction "shake off" and is ready to start taking pictures in about one second. Since you can't seem to interrupt the dust reduction cycle, that startup time ends up being a little slow by D-SLR standards.

Autofocus speeds depend on two factors: which lens you're using, and whether you're using the viewfinder or live view. Using the 14 - 42 mm kit lens with the optical viewfinder produced generally snappy focus times, ranging from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, to 0.5 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing is good with the flash popped up (where it used as an AF-assist lamp), and just fair with it down.

If you're using live view to compose your shots, expect slower focus times -- sometimes, a lot slower. With imager (contrast detect) AF, focus delays can be one, two, or even three seconds long. In low light, you'll be at the slower end of that range, and sometimes the camera will just give up entirely. You'll get better results using the AF sensor mode, which offers speeds closer to those you'd get by using the viewfinder.

Shutter lag isn't an issue if you're shooting with the viewfinder, and it's barely noticeable with contrast detect live view. However, if you're using either hybrid or AF sensor live view, you can expect to wait about a second between the time you fully press the shutter release and when the photo is actually taken.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, regardless of the image quality setting or whether the flash was used.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode first.

There are a ton of image quality options available on the E-620, and I've compiled them into this handy chart for you:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
RAW
4032 x 3024
RAW 13.9 MB 144
Large
4032 x 3024
Super fine 8.2 MB 242
Fine 5.7 MB 350
Normal 2.7 MB 752
Basic 1.8 MB 1122
Middle
3200 x 2400
Super fine 5.4 MB 374
Fine 3.4 MB 600
Normal 1.7 MB 1184
Basic 1.2 MB 1752
Middle
2560 x 1920
Super fine 3.2 MB 632
Fine 2.2 MB 932
Normal 1.1 MB 1826
Basic 800 KB 2722
Middle
1600 x 1200
Super fine 1.3 MB 1578
Fine 900 KB 2324
Normal 500 KB 4410
Basic 400 KB 6396
Small
1280 x 960
Super fine 900 KB 2460
Fine 600 KB 3552
Normal 300 KB 6732
Basic 300 KB 9138
Small
1024 x 768
Super fine 600 KB 3762
Fine 400 KB 5330
Normal 300 KB 9840
Basic 200 KB 12792
Small
640 x 480
Super fine 300 KB 8528
Fine 200 KB 11630
Normal 100 KB 18276
Basic 100 KB 25586

A few quick notes before we go on. First, you can take a RAW image alone, or with the JPEG at the size of your choosing. I didn't include the RAW+JPEG combinations in the chart, since it would end up being even longer than it already is. The super fine JPEG option is something you have to turn on manually, using the custom settings menu. By default, only fine, normal, and basic are available. You can also select what resolution you want to use for the middle and small settings in the custom menu.

RAW files contain unprocessed information direct from the camera's sensor. This allows you to edit various image parameters without degrading the quality of the image. So, if you botched the white balance, you can select the correct setting later on -- it's like getting a second chance to take the picture. The downsides to RAW include the need to post-process each image on your computer (or on the camera, in a limited fashion), increased file size, and slower camera performance. Still, you'll get both the best image quality and the most flexibility by using this format.

The E-620's menu system has changed just a bit since the E-420 and E-520, mostly in the way you access custom settings. It's not the most attractive or easiest-to-use menu system out there, but it gets the job done. Some commonly used items (such as white balance) are buried deep, but the direct buttons on the camera mean that you won't need to make that trip very often. The menu is divided into five tabs, covering shooting, playback, custom, and setup options. Here's what you'll find in each of those tabs:

Shooting Menu 1
  • Card setup (All erase, format)
  • Custom reset setting (Reset, reset 1, reset 2) - reset to defaults or to the settings of your choice
  • Picture mode (Vivid, natural, muted, portrait, monotone, custom) - more below
  • Gradation (Auto, normal, high key, low key) - see below
  • Image quality (RAW, Large/Fine, Large/Normal, Medium/Normal, Small/Normal, RAW+L/F, RAW+L/N, RAW+M/N, RAW + S/N) - you can customize what JPEG sizes/qualities are on this list
  • Image aspect (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6) - new to the E-620
Shooting menu 2
  • Flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash RC mode (on/off) - for wireless flash control
  • Bracketing
    • AE bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV) - see below for these next four
    • WB bracketing (Off, 3 frames/2 steps, 3 frames/4 steps, 3 frames/6 steps)
    • Flash bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV)
    • ISO bracketing (Off, 3 frames/0.3EV, 3 frames/0.7EV, 3 frames/1.0EV)
  • Multiple exposure - see below
    • Frame (Off, 2 frames)
    • Auto gain (on/off)
    • Overlay (on/off)
  • Beep (on/off)
Playback Menu
  • Slideshow (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 49, 100 frames) - how many images are on the screen at once in the slideshow
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - rotates images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Edit - I'll discuss these later
    • RAW/JPEG
      • RAW data edit
      • JPEG edit (Shadow adjustment, redeye fix, crop, black & white, sepia, saturation, resize, aspect)
    • Image overlay (2 image merge, 3 image merge)
  • DPOF print marking (One, all)
  • Copy all - from one memory card to another
  • Reset protect (on/off)
Custom Menu
  • AF/MF
    • Live view AF mode (AF sensor, hybrid AF, imager AF) - described these earlier
    • AF illuminator (on/off)
    • AF mode (S-AF, C-AF, MF, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF) - see below
    • C-AF lock (on/off) - when on, prevents the focus from suddenly changing
    • AF area (7-point, 1-point)
    • AF area pointer (on/off) - whether the focus point illuminates in the viewfinder
    • AF sensitivity (Normal, small) - select the size of the focus point for 1-point AF
    • Reset lens (on/off) - sets focus to infinity when camera is turned off
    • Bulb focusing (on/off) - whether you can adjust the focus during a bulb exposure
    • Focus ring (Clockwise, counterclockwise) - since the focus ring is electronic, you can pull this off
  • Button/Dial
    • Dial - select what the command dial controls
      • Program mode (Program shift, exposure compensation)
      • Aperture priority mode (Aperture, exposure compensation)
      • Shutter priority mode (Shutter speed, exposure compensation)
      • Manual mode (Shutter speed, aperture)
    • Dial direction (Dial 1, 2) - I guess this is for letting you select the effect of turning the dial in a certain direction
    • AE/AF lock - how this button works; I'll save the details for the camera manual
      • S-AF (Mode 1, 2, 3)
      • C-AF (Mode 1, 2, 3, 4)
      • MF (Mode 1, 2, 3)
    • AE/AF lock memory (on/off) - whether the lock "sticks" when you let go of the button
    • Function button (Face detection, preview, live preview, one-touch WB, home focus point, manual focus, RAW quality, test picture, program mode, My Mode, off) - define what this button does
    • My Mode setup (My Mode 1, 2) - save your favorite camera settings here
    • Button timer (Off, 3, 5, 8 sec, hold) - how long the "direct buttons" are active
    • AE/AF lock <--> Function swap (on/off) - swap the functions of these two buttons
    • Arrow pad lock (on/off) - keeps you from accidentally changing settings with the four-way controller
    • Drive button (Drive, AF area, AF mode, white balance, metering, ISO) - this button can also be customized
  • Release/Continuous
    • Release priority S (on/off) - whether focus lock is required for shutter release
    • Release priority C (on/off) - same as above, but for continuous AF mode
    • Continuous low fps (1-3 frames/sec)
  • Display/PC
    • Video (NTSC, PAL)
    • Sleep (Off, 1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
    • Backlit LCD (8 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, hold)
    • 4 hour timer (Off, 4 hr) - turns off camera after 4 hours
    • USB mode (Auto, storage, MTP, control, easy PictBridge, custom PictBridge)
    • Live view boost (on/off) - boosts low light visibility in live view
    • Face detection (on/off) - for live view mode only, of course
    • Info setting
      • Playback info
        • Image only (on/off)
        • Overall (on/off)
        • Histogram (on/off)
        • Highlight & shadow (on/off)
      • Live view info
        • Histogram (on/off)
        • Zoom (on/off)
        • Multi view (on/off)
        • Image only (on/off)
        • Complex gridlines (on/off)
        • Rule of thirds gridlines (on/off)
        • Axis gridlines (on/off)
  • Exposure/Metering/ISO
    • EV step (1/3, 1/2, 1 EV)
    • Metering (Digital ESP, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
    • AE Lock metering (Auto, center-weighted, spot, spot w/highlight control, spot w/shadow control)
    • ISO (100 - 3200)
    • ISO step (1/3, 1 EV)
    • ISO Auto set
      • High limit (200 - 3200)
      • Default (200 - 3200)
    • ISO Auto (P/A/S, all modes) - when auto ISO is available
    • Bulb timer (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 20, 25, 30 mins) - preset a time for bulb mode
    • Anti-shock (Off, 2 sec) - helps reduce the risk of blurry photos caused by mirror movement
  • Flash custom
    • X-sync (1/60 - 1/180 sec)
    • Slow limit (1/30 - 1/180 sec)
    • Flash exp comp + exp comp (on/off) - links flash exposure compensation with exposure compensation
    • Auto pop-up (on/off) - whether the flash pops up as needed in auto or scene mode
  • Quality/Aspect/Color/WB
    • Noise reduction (Off, on, auto) - for long exposures
    • Noise filter (Off, low, standard, high) - overall noise reduction
    • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
    • All white balance compensation
      • All set (-7 to +7) - in either the amber or green directions
      • All reset
    • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
    • Shading compensation (on/off) - supposed to help reduce vignetting
    • Image quality set (Large/Medium/Small, Superfine/fine/normal/basic) - select the size and quality of the four image quality slots
    • Pixel count - select the resolution for these two sizes
      • Middle (3200 x 2400, 2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200)
      • Small (1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
    • Aspect shooting (LV, all) - whether you can use other aspect ratios with the viewfinder
  • Record/Erase
    • Quick erase (on/off) - whether camera prompts you to delete a photo
    • RAW+JPEG erase (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG) - what's removed when you delete a RAW+JPEG photo
    • File name (Auto, reset)
    • Priority set (No, yes) - initial position of the cursor when All Erase or Card Format is selected
    • dpi setting (Auto, custom) - the latter lets you select the dpi of your choosing
    • Memory card (CF, xD)
    • Edit filename
  • Utility
    • Pixel mapping - reduces "hot pixels" on the sensor
    • Cleaning mode - flips the mirror up, for manual sensor cleaning
    • External WB detect (on/off) - whether the external white balance sensor is used
    • AF focus data - allows you to fine-tune the focus for all lenses, or up to twenty individual lenses
    • Exposure shift (ESP, center-weighted, spot) - lets you fine-tune the exposure metering from -1EV to +1EV, in 1/6EV increments
    • Battery warning level (-2 to +2) - how quickly the low battery warning comes on
    • Scene mode swap (Sport/Night Portrait, underwater wide/macro) - swap these spots on the mode dial



Setup Menu
  • Date/time (set)
  • Language
  • LCD brightness (Auto, manual)
    • Brightness (-7 to +7)
    • Color balance (-7 to +7)
  • Rec View (Off, auto play, 1 - 20 secs) - post-shot review; the auto play option enters playback mode after a photo is taken
  • Custom menu display (on/off) - whether to even show it
  • Firmware - displays the firmware version of the body and attached lens

Picture Mode menu Editing the custom picture mode

There's plenty to talk about here, and I'll start with the E-620's Picture Modes. The presets are fairly obvious: vivid, natural, or muted colors, plus portrait for smooth skin tones. For each of those, you can tweak the contrast, sharpness, and saturation. For black and white shooting, there's a monotone mode, where you can apply virtual color filters, or add a color tint to the image. Finally, a custom option lets you select a Picture Mode as a starting point, and you can then adjust the settings I just mentioned, plus the gradation, which I'll cover below.

The gradation feature takes advantage of Olympus' Shadow Adjustment Technology. The normal option is your standard automatic contrast feature. Auto gradation breaks the image down into smaller segments, and adjusts the contrast for each of those areas, which should result in better detail in shadow and highlight areas. The high key option emphasizes the highlights (big time, in the example below), while low key does just the opposite. Here you can see all four of the gradation options in action:

Normal gradation
View Full Size Image
Auto gradation
View Full Size Image
High key
View Full Size Image
Low key
View Full Size Image

As you can see, this wasn't the best scene to use to illustrate the high and low key options! While the auto gradation photo seems darker than the "normal" one, if you look closely at the trees you'll see that there's more detail retained in the branches (since there's less highlight clipping).


Fine-tuning white balance

There are numerous white balance options available on the E-620. First, you've got the usual presets, and each of those can be tweaked in the amber/blue or green/magenta directions. The custom WB option lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual and mixed lighting. Do note that you must define the Function button to control One-touch white balance first, though. You can also set the color temperature, with an available range of 2000K - 14000K. If that's still not enough, deep inside the custom settings menu is an option to fine-tune all the white balance settings at once.

What are those AF modes all about? Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release button. Continuous AF keeps focusing, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. Manual focus does just as it sounds. The Single AF+MF and Continuous AF+MF modes let you manually focus after the camera has finished focusing automatically.

There are a whopping four types of bracketing on the E-620. You can bracket for exposure, flash exposure, white balance, and even ISO sensitivity. For each of those, the camera produces three photos, each with a different exposure/WB setting/ISO. White balance can be bracketing in both the amber/blue and green/magenta directions.

One of the new features on the E-620 is its ability to take multiple exposures. This allows you to take two exposures, and combine them into a single photo. You can also overlay new images onto an existing one. You can leave the brightness of each image untouched, or you can turn on the "auto gain" feature to make things blend in better. In playback mode, you can use the image overlay feature to combine up to three RAW photos that you've already taken into one, in much the same way.

While not as elaborate as on the E-30, you still have a decent choice of aspect ratios on the E-620. They include standard 4:3, plus 16:9, 3:2, and 6:6. Do note that there aren't framing guidelines in the viewfinder for anything but 4:3, so you'll need to use live view to properly compose your photos at the other aspect ratios.

The last items I want to mention are found deep within the custom settings menu. The E-620 lets you fine-tune the focus on up to twenty Four Thirds lenses. You can make one sweeping adjustment that covers all lenses, or adjust things on a lens-by-lens basis. Finally, the camera allows you to fine-tune metering -- a feature I can't say that I've ever seen before -- well, except on the E-30.

Alright, enough talk about menus, let's get into the photo tests now. With the exception of the night shot, all of the test photos below were taken with the 14- 42 mm kit lens.

The E-620 did a really nice job with our macro test subject. The colors are nice and vibrant, and the subject has the "smooth" look that one comes to expect from a digital SLR. I don't see any noise or noise reduction artifacting here.

The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you have attached to the camera. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, it's 25 cm. If you're a close-up enthusiast, you might want to consider picking up one of the dedicated macro lenses offered by Olympus.

Whenever I have a Four Thirds camera and need to take the night shot, I always reach for my "vintage" 2004 40 - 150 mm lens. This lens always outshines the kit lenses, and shows what a camera can do with a quality piece of glass attached. The lens delivered big time here, producing a tack sharp photo from corner to corner. There is a bit of a reddish cast to the image, though I imagine this would be easy to fix if you fooled around with the white balance enough. The E-620 does clip some highlights here and there, perhaps a little more than one would like to see on a D-SLR. While there is some noise present here (most notably in the sky), it's not enough to concern me. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the E-620 performs at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Noise becomes noticeable as soon as you hit ISO 200, though this shouldn't keep you from making a large print. You start to lose details at ISO 400 (such as the corners of the buildings), which is about a stop quicker than I'd like to see on a D-SLR. Details continue to be smudged away at ISO 800, and I wouldn't go any higher than this in low light -- at least if you're shooting JPEGs. The image gets quite "staticky" at ISO 1600, and there's virtually nothing left at the top sensitivity of ISO 3200. If you flip over to our Nikon D5000 review, you can see that Olympus has some work to do in the low light / high ISO department.

Want a way to get more out of the E-620 at high sensitivities? If you don't mind a little extra work, try shooting using the RAW format. Here are the ISO 800 and 1600 photos, as JPEGs and RAW conversions:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

One of the first things I noticed was that the RAW conversions (performed with Photoshop) had a bit more highlight detail. While the conversions have more noise than the JPEG, they clean up quite well using noise reduction software and a little Unsharp Mask. You definitely get nicer looking photos, so I'd say that it's worth the effort. If you don't want to bother with RAW, you might try adjusting the noise filter setting in the custom settings menu, which reduces the amount of noise reduction being applied.

We'll see if the E-620 performed better in normal lighting in a bit.

There's just a tiny bit of redeye in our flash photo test. Should you see anything worse, you can use a tool in playback mode to get rid of it.

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 42 mm kit lens' zoom range. While the distortion chart shows a bit of corner blurriness (which is hard to see when it's downsized this much), I didn't find it to be a problem in the real world. Something else that wasn't an issue: vignetting, or dark corners. If you do encounter any vignetting, you might want to turn on the "shading compensation" option in the menu, which is supposed to reduce it.

Here's our "normal light" ISO test. Since it's taken in our studio (under consistent lighting), it can be compared with other cameras I've reviewed through the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. And with that, here we go:


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Everything is very clean through ISO 400. There's a bit of visible noise at ISO 800, but not enough to prevent you from making a large print. Noise reduction starts to rear its ugly head at ISO 1600, reducing your output sizes a bit. Despite a fair amount of detail loss, the ISO 3200 setting is still usable for smaller prints, and if you shoot RAW, you can do even better, as shown in these examples:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Once again, shooting RAW and doing a little post-processing can lead to much nicer-looking photos. As I said in the night shot discussion, it's also worth playing around with the noise filter setting on the camera, though you'll probably want to run it through noise reduction software anyway.

If you just can't get enough of this test scene, then you may want to have a look at the three-way comparison I did with the E-620, Canon EOS Rebel T1i, and the Nikon D5000. While photo quality is comparable through ISO 800, you can start to see the E-620 fall behind the other two cameras once you hit ISO 1600 and 3200.

Overall, the E-620 is capable of producing some very good quality photos, though you may have to tweak a setting or two to get the best results. My main complaints are with regard to exposure. Like some other Olympus D-SLRs that I've tested, the E-620 tends to underexpose by 1/3-stop. That's easy enough to fix: just bump up the exposure compensation that much, or bracket your shots. The camera also clips highlights more than one would expect from a D-SLR, and I think that's a product of the relatively small Four Thirds sensor. Aside from those issues, the news is good. The E-620 takes photos with accurate colors, though they're not terribly saturated. Objects have the "smooth" look that one expects from a D-SLR, and if you think that things are a little soft, you can use the Picture Mode feature to increase the in-camera sharpening. As my tests above showed, the E-620 products images with low noise until ISO 1600 in good lighting, and you can clean things up considerably by shooting RAW. While purple fringing has a lot to do with what lens is attached to the camera, I did not find it to be an issue with the E-620 and its 14 - 42 mm kit lens.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. Browse through the photos, and maybe print a few if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the E-620's photo quality meets your needs!

Movie Mode

While more and more digital SLRs are gaining the ability to record videos, the E-620 is not one of those cameras. If that's a requirement, some other cameras in the E-620's class that can record movies are the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000, and the much more expensive Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1.

Playback Mode

The E-620 has a pretty nice playback for a digital SLR. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, image rotation, image protection, and zoom & scroll are all here. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo by as much as 14X, and then scroll around to make sure that everyone's smiling.

Tons 'o thumbnails Calendar view

Photos can be viewing one-at-a-time or as thumbnails of varying sizes (some of which are tiny). You can also navigate to photos that were taken on a certain date by using the calendar view (pictured).

The camera offers two edit modes -- one for JPEGs, another for RAW images. The JPEG editing feature lets you downsize an image, apply shadow adjustment technology (described back in the menu section), remove redeye, crop a photo, or convert it to black and white or sepia. The RAW data edit feature is handy, but not as easy to use as it could be. Instead of just adjusting the RAW properties right there in playback mode, you first need to set the desired settings in the record menu, and then return to playback mode to use the RAW edit function. The resulting image is saved as a JPEG.


Side-by-side image viewer

Another nice feature is a side-by-side image viewer. Press the focus point selection button to split the screen, select the image you want for the right half, and then you can compare them easily. When you scroll one image, the other one scrolls with it. It's a little hard to use, but very handy!

Since the E-620 has two memory card slots, it's not surprising that it lets you copy photos back and forth between an xD and CompactFlash card.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the info button a few times and you'll get a lot more, including histograms and a display of over and underexposed areas.

The E-620 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

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