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Olympus E-620 Digital SLR

Advanced entry-level 12.3-megapixel dSLR with swivel LCD and a wealth of fun features
(by Conrad Blickenstorfer)

The Olympus Stylus E-620 was introduced in February of 2009. It is representative of the digital imaging industry's effort to make digital SLR cameras smaller, lighter and more advanced while at the same time adding the kinds of entertaining and useful features and functions that up to now have primarily been available in consumer point-and-shoot cameras.

The pitch

Having spent hundreds of hours with the Olympus Evolt E-330 and taken thouands of pictures both above and underwater with that remarkable camera, we're always thrilled to see a new Olympus dSLR. The 12.3 megapixel E-620 that bridges the gap between the E-520 and the recent E-30 looks like a great addition.

Perhaps as a sign of the times where more and more former point & shoot photographers are getting their first dSLR, Olympus concentrates on art filters and other onboard features in its press release intro as opposed to the cool new technology that attracted my attention.

Explaining the thought process behind adding a variety of fun things to the E-620, Olympus points out how children are encouraged to express their imaginations and how we proudly display their finger-painted artistic creations on refrigerators. As people grow older, Olympus says, they are taught to color inside the lines, so to speak, and we spend less time on art and eventually may lose touch with the satisfaction that comes from creating something unique. With the new E-620, Olympus wants to bring back the ability to experiment and enjoy the wondrous feeling of being inspired by our own art.

To that extent, the camera has a number of easy-to-use artistic filters and multiple exposures features built right into the camera. That can be fun for experts and beginners alike, and it also allows the creation of innovative images without using a computer and editing software.

The 12.3 megapixel E-620's other claim to fame is its compact size and light body that weighs only a pound. According to Olympus, the E-620 is also the world's smallest DSLR with in-body Image stabilization that works with any lens. There's also Live View shooting, first introduced with the Evolt-330, with a nicely sized swivel 2.7-inch LCD that that lets you shoot subjects from a range of angles.

Art filters

Applying playful filters has not traditionally been high on the list of digital SLR photographers, but with electronics making a huge range of new features and processing inside the camera possible, a bit of exploration is a good thing. To that extent, Olympus added a number of "art filters" to the camera with the goal of providing individual artistic control over an image. The filters are:
  • Pop Art to enhances colors, making them more saturated and vivid, creating high-impact pictures that express the joyful, lighthearted feeling of the Pop Art style of the 1960s
  • Soft Focus to create an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere that renders subjects in a heavenly light without obscuring details
  • Pale & Light Color to enclose the foreground of an image in flat gentle light and pastel colors reminiscent of a flashback scene in a movie
  • Light Tone to render shade and highlight areas softly to lend an elegant air to the subject
  • Grainy Film to evoke the feeling of documentary footage shot in monochrome with grainy, high-contrast film, and
  • Pin Hole to reduce the peripheral brightness of an image as though it were shot through a pin hole, connecting the viewer intimately with the subject at the center of the picture.
Needless to say, all of this can also be done in imaging software, but there's nothing wrong with exploring new boundaries and ways of manipulating images right in our increasingly more powerful cameras.

Multiple exposure shooting

The E-620 has a Multiple Exposure function that can be used to tell a visual story in a portrait, a landscape or a combination of both. The image capture options lets you either shoot in sequence or capture separate images and combine them in the camera later.

In-Body image stabilization

The E-620 has in-body Image Stabilization that can virtually eliminate blur with any lens attached. There are three image stabilization modes to cover any situation where blur might happen. The IS-1 mode adjusts the sensor on both the horizontal and vertical planes to compensate for movement by the photographer so images stay sharp in low light even at slow shutter speeds. This works for most general shooting situations. The IS-2 mode is for capturing subjects traveling by horizontally and preserves the sense of motion while panning. The IS-3 mode produces the same effect when the camera is held vertically.

Image quality

The camera's 12.3-megapixel Live MOS image sensor was designed to deliver excellent dynamic range, accurate color fidelity, and a state-of-the-art amplifier circuit to reduce noise and capture fine image details in both highlight and shadow areas. It is complemented by Olympus' TruePic III+ Image Processor, which produces clear and colorful photos using all the pixel information for each image to provide the best digital images possible. TruePic III+ was tweaked for accurate natural color, true-to-life flesh tones, brilliant blue skies, and precise tonal expression; it also lowers image noise in photos shot at higher ISO settings, enabling great results in low-light situations.

Swivel Live View LCD

Most camers have fixed LCDs that are not always accurate. Olympus uses a 270-degree swivel LCD that is also 100-percent accurate, allowing you to either use the optical viewfinder or the live view LCD. And since the LCD can be rotated freely photographers can compose at any angle, including overhead and down low. This comes in handy when you want to take pictures without attracting much attention as you can literally shoot from the hip.

When using the LCD in Live View mode you can instantly see the impact of settings like white balance and exposure. The LCD itself displays 230k pixels for a crisp, vivid color picture. The Olympus HyperCrystal technology is known to offers much better contrast than conventional LCDs for better preview and playback. The LCD also has a virtually perfect viewing angle of 176 degrees, meaning that you can see it from any angle.

Dual autofocus systems

Just like the E-620 offers two different ways to viewing (LCD and optical viewfinder), it also has two autofocus options. Fast Imager Autofocus in Live View lets you to compose, focus, and capture a shot without ever taking your eye off the LCD, just like with a point & shooter. Phase Detection AF is used with the optical viewfinder and the technology behind the new 7-point twin cross AF system provides super-fast and accurate focusing based on the speed of the advanced Olympus E-3. Extremely sensitive Twin and Twin Cross AF target points can measure focus both vertically and horizontally, so regardless of the subject, focusing is fast and simple, even when shooting moving subjects.

Shooting with different aspect ratios

These days we're used to a variety of different aspect ratios in movies, HDTV, video and pictures. The E-620 lets you shoot in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio that is perfectly suited for 8 x 10-inch enlargements; the 16:9 aspect ratio that's perfect on a widescreen television; and other popular aspect ratios such as 3:2 and 6:6. Select the desired aspect ratio before shooting so you can view it on the LCD throughout the shoot for optimal framing.

Face detection

Increasingly sophisticated face detection has become a standard feature in almost all consumer cameras, and is now becoming popular in dSLRs as well. The E-620 tracks up to eight faces within the image area, even if people are moving, and automatically focuses and optimizes exposure for sharp and optimally exposed portrait pictures. This is basic by compact standards, but still welcome.

Shadow adjustment technology

Shooting scenes with both highlights and shadows can be tricky because of the extreme contrast between dark and bright. The E-620 uses Shadow Adjustment Technology that adjusts for extreme light variations and maintains visible detail in both the shadow and highlight areas of the scene. You can actually see and preview the gradation on the Live View LCD before capturing an image. This feature is also accessible in the Edit menu after the shot has been taken.

Alternate picture effect preview

Perfect Shot Preview lets you preview and select from a variety of thumbnail previews of the photographic effects of white balance and exposure compensation adjustments live on the LCD before actually taking the picture. This is helpful when first learning about the effects of different techniques without having to scroll through a long menu.

Wireless flash capability

There are many situations that require multiple flashes, and this is often best achieved with wireless flashes. The E-620 is compatible with the Olympus FL-36R and FL-50R wireless electronic flashes designed exclusively for digital photography. The E-620 can control up to three wireless flash groups independently, with multiple flash units in each group for dramatic flash effects.

Dust reduction system

Dust has always been the enemy of SLR photographers as specs can ruin pictures and make complex cleaning necessary. The Olympus Dust Reduction System, included in the E-620, uses the company's exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter, a patented ultrasonic technology that vibrates to remove dust and other particles from the front of the image sensor and captures it on a special adhesive membrane every time the camera is turned on. This may save hours of fixing and cleaning pictures later.

Optional underwater housing

Olympus has a proud history of underwater photography and will offer the PT-E06 optional underwater housing for the E-620. The PT-E06 can handle depths of 130 feet underwater. See our review of the Olympus E-330 with the PT-E02 underwater housing.

Bottom line

With a suggested price of US$699 for the body alone and US$799 for a system with a 14-42mm lens, the 12.3 megapixel Olympus E-620 costs quite a bit more than the E-420 and E-520, but significantly less than the E-30. Consider it an advanced entry-level digital SLR with more than adquate resolution and some very nice features, among them the swivel LCD, the 7-point autofocus and the multiple aspect ratio shooting.

We like:

  • Competent and compact 12.3-megapixel digital SLR smaller than most in its class
  • Suitable for underwater use with special PT-E06 housing
  • "Live View" via bright, swiveling 2.7-inch wide viewing angle LCD
  • Fully automatic settings for beginners yield very good pictures
  • Large number of scene modes make for easy picture taking
  • Dual card slots (CF and xD)
  • Art filters, face recognition, multiple exposure and other onboard tricks
  • Shooting in different aspect ratios helps framing properly
  • Dust removal technology
  • Flexible image stabilization
Not so much:
  • No movie mode
  • Numerous buttons and menus require learning curve

Specs Olympus E-620 SW
Status Added 02/2009
Camera Type Digital SLR
Size 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 (exclusing protrusions)
Weight (oz.) 16.5 (camera body only)
Effective Pixels 12.3 mp
CCD Type 1/1.33 high-speed live MOS sensor with primary RGB color filter
Max pixel size 4032 x 3024
File formats RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG
Compression Super Fine, Fine, Normal, Basic
Movie recording (best) NA
Max movie pixels NA
Voice recording/sound annotation unknown
Lens Uses Four Thirds Mount
Focal length Standard package comes with 14-42mm
Zoom (optical/digital) Depends on installed lens
Aperture Depends on installed lens
Focus modes Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF)/ S-AF + MF / C-AF + MF
Focus minimum/macro Depends on lens
Image stabilization Built in shift image stabilizer with 3 modes (2D activation, 1D activation in landscape frame to vertical direction moving, 1D activation in portrait frame to horizontal direction moving); manual input focal length 8-1000; effective compensatin range approx. 4EV steps, shutter speed range 2-1/4000.
Shutter speed P(Ps)/S/A/M mode: 60 - 1/4000 sec.; bulb: up to 30 min.
Sensitivity (ISO) auto ISO 200-3200 (customizable, Default 200-800); manual ISO 100-3200, 1/3 or 1 EV steps
Autofocus system 7 points AF sensor TTL phase-difference detection system (7-area multiple AF contrast detection system with a variety of lenses)
Metering TTL open-aperture metering system (digital ESP 49-points multi pattern; center weighted average metering; spot)
White-balance modes Hybrid detection system with high-speed live MOS sensor and dedicated external sensor; 8 settings from 3000-7500K (Lamp, Fluorescent 1/2/3, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade) auto, presets (daylight, overcast, tungsten, and 3 fluorescents)
Shooting modes Auto, Program AE, A/S/M, Scene program AE (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport, Night + Portrait), Scene select AE (Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Panorama, Beach & Snow, Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro)
Exposure compensation +/-5 EV in 1/3, 1/2, 1 EV steps selectable
Viewfinder Type Eye-level SLR viewfinder with 95% coverage
LCD size 2.7" HyperCrystal II LCD (230k) with 15 levels of brightness control
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction swivel
Flash type built-in
Flash range depends on lens
Flash modes Auto, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction slow sync., Slow sync at 1st curtain, Slow sync at 2nd curtain, Fill-in, Manual (1/4, 1/16, 1/64), Off
Camera internal memory none
Storage Medium Compact Flash Type I/II, xD-Picture Card
I/O USB 2.0 High Speed for storage and camera control (MTP mode is available); Dedicated multi-connector (Video: NTSC/PAL selectable, Optional Remote cable RM-UC1 is available)
Battery type BLS-1 Li-ion
CIPA Battery life Approx. 500 shots (optical viewfinder)
List Price Body only: US$699; US$799.99 with ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom
Contact www.olympususa.com
Inside the E-620
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