Olympus E-620 Review
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The Olympus E-620 is the latest addition to Olympus' now extensive range of Four Thirds system digital SLR cameras. Slotting into the range above the E-520 and E-450 models and below the E-30, the E620 borrows features from all three cameras. It's nearly as light and compact as the tiny E-450, but additionally offers an image stabilisation system that's built into the camera body, which means that any lens that you attach automatically benefits from up to 4 EV steps of stabilisation. The E-620 also has a free-angle 2.7 inch LCD screen, just like the E-30, making image composition via the LCD screen more versatile, and it inherits the same 6 Art filters, Multi Exposure mode and four different aspect ratios from the E-30 too. Other key features include a 12.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor, 7-point autofocus system, optical viewfinder with 95% field of view, Live View with high-speed contrast autofocus, 4fps continuous shooting and Supersonic Wave Filter dust protection. Retailing for $699.99 / £619.99 body-only (with 3 different lens kits also available), is the E-620 the best Olympus DSLR yet, and can it challenge the likes of other mid-range DSLRs like the Canon EOS 500D, Nikon D5000 and Sony A700? Carry on reading to find out...
Ease of Use
Outwardly the Olympus E-620 looks very similar to the smaller and cheaper E-450 model, with the notable additions of a right-hand grip and free-angle LCD screen. Where the E-450 has virtually no hand-grip, the E-620 does feature a more pronounced grip, although it's certainly not as deep as the one on the older E-520, making the camera a little awkward to hold and better suited to those with small hands. As with the E-450, the best method is to hold the camera's weight in the left hand, clutching the lens, and use your right hand for balance and operating the controls.
Just like its predecessors, the E-620 is better constructed than you'd expect given its relatively small size, light weight and low price. Thanks to the glass-fibre reinforced plastics used, the camera feels very solid, more so than most of its entry-level competitors. The controls are clearly labelled, and the buttons have a funky back-lighting that makes them easy to locate when shooting at night. The large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the camera at the sides, a more user-friendly location than the E-450's front-mounted eyelets.
Weighing in at just over 475 grams (not including a battery), the Olympus E-620 is one of the lightest DSLRs on the market, only weighing about 100 grams more than the E-450. One of the reasons is the use of the BLS-1 battery, which is considerably smaller and lighter than the BLM-1 that powers the E-520, the E-30 and the E-3, as well as a number of older models. When it comes to storing your photographs the Olympus E-620 allows you to use Compact Flash or xD-Picture cards, but although it's possible to have one of both inserted at the same time, you cannot simultaneously record an image on both, as only one of them can be selected at any given time as the active medium. You can, however, copy already recorded images from one card to the other, which is great if you want to make backups in the field.
The Olympus E-620 sports a traditional eye-level optical TTL finder, which offers 95% scene coverage, is fairly bright and free of any distortions or aberrations and thankfully bigger and brighter than on the E-450. It's fine for framing but still not so great for manual focusing, which is better done in Live View. The in-finder status LCD runs horizontally along the bottom, just like in the E-30 and the E-3, and it shows most of the camera's key settings.
The E620's 2.7", 230,000-dot rear LCD screen has a very wide viewing angle and remains visible outdoors in the sunshine too, but only if you increase its brightness level to the maximum setting. The colour temperature of the screen can be modified if you think it doesn't match that of your calibrated computer monitor, but the contrast and gamma cannot be altered. Gripping the E-620 with both hands with the main LCD facing out at you means that the glass of the screen inevitably soon becomes covered with thumbprints, though this is true of most DSLRs in its class.
Luckily you can flip and twist the screen so it's facing inwards and use the optical viewfinder instead if this gets too irritating, which is also a good way of protecting the LCD when the camera is stored in a bag. The ability to adjust the viewing angle of the screen when taking that awkward shot – a feature of some bridge cameras though still fairly unusual on a DSLR – seems to immediately make sense. It's the kind of feature you never knew you needed until you find yourself using it all the time, though admittedly the novelty aspect may initially play a large part. The E-620's 2.7 inch screen is also welcome, although it doesn't compare so well to other cameras in this class in terms of resolution, offering just 230,000 dots.
As the E-620 lacks a separate monochrome LCD, the rear screen doubles as a status display, which can be called up by pressing the INFO button in record mode. Moreover if you press OK instead of INFO, you can also change all important settings right on the screen, which Olympus calls the Super Control Panel. This ingenious solution spares you the pain of having to enter the menu, and makes most settings changes fairly simple. Also four of the most often-used functions - ISO sensitivity, focusing mode, metering or white balance - each have their own dedicated button mapped onto the four-way pad. In addition Exposure compensation, flash and drive mode selection have their own buttons, all situated on the top plate.
One of the most important functions of the LCD is providing on-demand Live View in record mode. As with all recent Olympus DSLRs, Live View on the E-620 is of the main-sensor variety and as such, serves primarily as a framing and manual focusing aid. The articulated screen of the E-620 makes it much more convenient to frame your photos when shooting from the hip or from above your head, owing to the wide viewing angle of the LCD, and manual focusing is greatly enhanced by the 'enlarged display' function. Once you have selected manual focus mode and entered Live View via its dedicated button, press INFO repeatedly until a green rectangle appears in the middle of the display. You can move this rectangle around using the four-way pad, and magnify into it by pressing OK. The default magnification is 7x, but you can raise this to 10x by turning the control wheel. This is real, non-interpolated magnification, very useful for accurate manual focusing – provided you find a way to steady the camera. A second press of the OK button will let you see the full frame again.
This is not the only screen available in Live View. You can specify how much shooting information you want to be overlaid, can call up a live histogram or a shooting grid (though sadly, not both at the same time), and can view what effect the different WB settings or different amounts of exposure compensation would have on the final image, in a multi-frame window. The Super Control Panel can be called up by pressing OK while any of these screens is displayed, except when the green rectangle is shown or when you are in enlarged view, as indicated above. When available, the Super Control Panel appears as a semi-transparent overlay, but can otherwise be used as usual. For low-light or infrared shooting, you can enable a feature called Live View Boost from the menu, but in this case, the live histogram may not function properly and the effect of exposure compensation adjustments will not be reflected on the monitor.
As noted above, Live View is primarily a framing and manual focusing aid, but this is not to say you can't use auto focus. In fact there are three different AF methods available in Live View, including Imager AF, Hybrid AF and AF Sensor. Imager AF, more widely known as contrast-detect AF, works with a handful of lenses only, including the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f4-5.6, ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6, ED 40-150mm f4-5.6, ED 70-300mm f4-5.6, the 25mm f2.8 “pancake” lens and the 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 II. With these lenses, Imager AF can also be used in conjunction with Face Detection. In Hybrid AF mode approximate focus is achieved via the same contrast-detection method, but the 'real' AF sensors still get engaged when you fully depress the shutter for taking the shot. With a FourThirds lens other than the those mentioned above mounted, the camera defaults to this mode in Live View even if Imager AF is selected. Finally the oldest method, AF Sensor, is also available, and might prove the fastest option with lenses that are not optimised for contrast detection.
While Live View can be a useful tool in certain specific shooting situations, most of the time you will likely use the optical viewfinder. When Live View is turned off, the auto focus is about as fast as you would expect from an SLR, utilising a 7-point system which features seven distance-measuring points, five of which are cross-points. The five cross-points work by using horizontal and vertical sensor lines to supply data that determines the ideal focal points of each shot. AF assistance is provided by the pop-up flash when raised. (note this doesn't mean the flash has to fire when actually taking the shot; these are two separate functions.)
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The E-620 offers a comprehensive set of exposure modes, including P, A, S and M for advanced users, a full auto mode for novices, plus a legion of scene modes. Olympus are also heavily promoting the E-620's artistic capabilities, with two features in particular, Art Filters and Multiple Exposure, differentiating the E-620 from its main competitors. The 6 different Art Filters are Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film and Pin Hole - you can see the results on the Image Quality page. Unlike most other cameras, these effects are applied before taking a shot, rather than afterwards, so you can preview the effect on the LCD screen before pressing the shutter button using the Live View mode.
The Multiple Exposure function allows up to three images to be superimposed onto each other, creating a composite, and you can either overlay a previous shot or, via Live View, the image that you are about to take. Multiple Exposure even works with RAW files as well as JPEGs, whilst the Art Filters are applied to a JPEG (with an unprocessed RAW file also saved). The Art Filters are a little over-the-top for my taste, and you can't change the default look, but the ability to be able to change the exposure, white balance and other key settings whilst previewing the effect is very welcome. While the Art Filters get their own setting on the Mode Dial, the Multiple Exposure is inexplicably buried away in the main menu system. The E-620 offers four different aspect ratios that enable individualised framing of scenes, including the default 4:3 ratio employed by the Four Thirds system. The available aspect ratios are: 4:3,3:2,16:9,6:6. They're quite a good way of personalizing your shots in-camera, with the ability to preview the effect in Live View mode being particularly useful.
The Olympus E-620 has built-in image stabilisation, with a dedicated 'IS' button located just below the four-way pad. This either turns stabilisation off or on (I.S. 1 mode), or turns off the horizontal image stabilizer but leaves on the vertical one – for when you want to pan with your subject and keep it sharp while the background blurs. The IS system offers up to 4 EV steps of stabilisation - in practice we found that 3 EV steps was more readily achievable. Also shared with most other Olympus SLRs is the impressively named Supersonic Wave Filter, whereby any dust particles that drift inside while changing lenses settle on a filter that protects the CCD, and are then shaken clear on the camera powering down.
The Olympus E-620 offers a number of features that you would not expect to see in an entry-level model. Among these are Pixel Mapping, user-configurable mirror lock-up (called Anti-Shock by Olympus) and spot metering, which comes in no less than three variations: midtone-based, shadow-based and highlight-based. The latter two make life easier for those who know what spot metering is but do not know how to use it in combination with exposure compensation. These options come on top of the usual centre-weighted and evaluative modes. The AEL button can be separately configured, so even if you have, for example, centre-weighted set as your working mode, the AEL button can be designated to use highlight-based spot metering.
In summary, the E-620 is a compact, lightweight and feature-laden mid-range DSLR with the main attractions being built-in image stabilisation and the versatile free-angle LCD.