Olympus E-620 Conclusion
By Mike Flacy
Olympus continues to improve their advanced amateur dSLR offering, with the latest E-620 for 2009. Replacing the E-520 from last year, the E-620 includes a host of improvements and changes over its predecessor. It also shares many features with its big brother, the E-30 we reviewed earlier in the year. These include the same 12-megapixel Live MOS image sensor, Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system, built-in Image Stabilizer system, TruePic III+ image processor, dual memory card slot (CF2/xD), USB 2.0 High-speed connectivity, sensitivity range from ISO 100-3200, sRGB and Adobe RGB color space choices, Li-ion battery pack (BLM-1), 49-point Digital ESP metering system, 2.7" swiveling Hypercrystal II LCD screen, and Live View capture. The E-620 also offers improved burst rates (4fps compared to 3.5fps on the E-520), adds 6 new Art Filter exposure modes, and a new 7-point TTL contrast/phase-difference AF system (11-point on the E-520).
Like past models, the E-620 offers a great deal of versatility, whether you are an amateur to professional photographer, or simply a novice. With 18 pre-programmed scene modes, 6 Art modes as well as full Auto, the most inexperienced user can pick this camera up and start capturing pleasing shots. Those with a little more experience with also appreciate Program AE mode, which is fully automatic (the camera selects the aperture and shutter values), however now they have access to controls like ISO, White Balance, AF mode, Metering, Color Space, etc. Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport and Night+Portrait can be accessed directly via the Mode dial, and offer advanced exposure options like those found in Program mode. These same exposure options are not available when you select the Scene or Art positions on the mode dial. The E-620 still retains all of the advanced controls that advanced photographers desire, such as Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority and full Manual exposure modes as well as a slew of custom functions.
The dimensions of the E-620 have only changed slightly from the previous model, measuring 5.1 in. x 3.7in. x 2.4 in. (130 mm x 94 mm x 61 mm) and weighing in at 16.6 oz. (472 g, body only). The overall body design is very similar to past and current E-system models. I found the E-620 was comfortable to hold, thanks in part to the nice "fat" hand-grip, and rubber accents. The camera also offers a nice well-built feel in your hands, adding to the scene of "professionalizm" that it presents. Once you attach all of your accessories (memory card, 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko lens, battery, flash unit, etc.), the weight does increase a bit. However, I still feel the camera has a good weight to it. The control layout is similar to E-520's, however because of the new swiveling LCD, all of the buttons that use to line the left hand side of the screen have been relocated. Overall, I found the control/button placement was done well, all arranged in a comfortable manner over the top and back of the camera. For those who have used or owned an E-series dSLR in the past, you will notice that the menu system hasn't changed much. All of the exposure/camera options are logically organized, allowing for easy menu navigation.
The "Super Control Panel" display is still a favored feature on Olympus' dSLR models. This option uses the LCD as a shooting information display, like that of almost any new dSLR. However, it is also a shortcut menu that offers access to various often used camera settings, depending on the exposure mode being used. These include: ISO, Image size/quality, White Balance, Saturation, Sharpness, Contrast, Metering, Drive mode, AF mode, AF area, Color space, memory card used, etc. Like the E-30, the E-620 offers a 270° swiveling 2.7-inch "Hypercrystal II" LCD screen. When you combine the ability to swivel the LCD screen with Live View mode, you now have the ability to frame and shoot accurately in situations that would normally be almost impossible with a fixed LCD. By angling the LCD down, you can then lift the camera over a crowd of people or tall objects, or rotate the screen forward for self-portraits or to give your subject a look. This screen also features brightness and color balance adjustments, allowing you to adjust the display to your personal preferences. Overall, I found the LCD was a pleasure to use both indoors and out. I did find a few angles which reflected the sun while using Live View to frame outside in the bright sunlight, however it never caused any problems for me to see my subject.
Like all of E-system dSLRs, the E-620 features Olympus' Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction/removal system. This high-tech function uses ultrasonic vibrations that vibrate at over 35,000 times per second to remove dust and other particles from the image sensor's filter surface. Any debris is then captured on a special adhesive membrane. This feature is activated every time you turn the camera On, indicated by a small "SSWF" LED mounted next to the shutter release. Not only will this help you capture the best possible photos, but it also saves precious time that might have been spent post-processing photos that showed signs of dust on the imager sensor.
Shooting performance is comparable to similar models in its class. From power-on till the first image was captured measured 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused, and 1/10 - 6/10 of a second including autofocus time, depending on the degree of focus change required by the kit lens. Rapid shooting in single shot mode allowed me capture images every 6/10 of a second without the flash and between 7/10 of a second to a full second with the flash. The E-620 offers two burst or continuous capture modes (High and Low). Using High mode, I was able to capture 24 JPEG Large/Fine frames in 6.8 seconds; approx 3.5fps, falling short of Olympus' claim of 4.0fps. However, the camera was able to capture the first 6 frames of that sequence in only 1.3 seconds (about 4.6fps), then there was a slight slow down and the camera chugged along to capture the rest of the sequence. This was with a SanDisk Extreme IV CF card. When using a slower Kingston Elite Pro (133x) CF card, the camera captured 24 frames in 13.5 seconds (only 1.8fps). Low speed mode was able to continuously capture images at about 3.3fps, with no buffer slowdown; I stopped at 58 frames. When switching to RAW mode, the burst rates were very similar, only the frame depth changed due to the larger file sizes. In High speed mode I captured the first 6 frames in seconds 1.3 (4.6fps), then the buffered filled slowing the camera down to about 1.2fps. In Low speed mode, the camera captured 6 frames in 1.6 seconds (3.75fps), then slowed to about 1.2fps once the buffer filled.
Olympus has improved the performance of their Live View function on the E-620 compared to past models. With Live View on, the shutter lag time slowed to only 2/10 of a second when pre-focused, but still over 2 seconds including autofocus (using the Imager AF option). While these times were better than past models, I still feel this function is too slow to capture a spontaneous moment; like a child making a silly face that lasts for just an instant. Our tests were done using both a Sandisk Extreme IV 2GB and Kingston Elite Pro (133x) 16GB CF memory cards, the kit ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko lens, Program AE mode, ISO Auto, Preview on, Large Fine JPEG image quality, flash off, and all other settings a default unless noted. Times may vary depending on camera settings, media, and lighting conditions.
Because the E-620 shares the same 12-megapixel sensor, Truepic III+ image processor and 49-point Digital ESP metering system found on the E-30, our image quality results were similar. Using this camera outdoors I was able to capture beautiful photos that display pleasing sharpness, exposure and color saturation. These were all captured using default settings in either Auto or Program mode. For those who want a specific look, you can choose from 5 preset "Picture" modes, or create your own. The E-620 handles images noise well when the sensitivity is at ISO 2000 and below. As you can see by reviewing our M&M man shots on the Samples page, noise starts making a slight appearance in shadow areas at ISO 200. From there on up to ISO 800, images look very good, and at 800 you will start to see a bit more speckling in darker shadow areas. As you raise the sensitivity, you start to see more speckling, however detail and color saturation stay intact. I personally feel that the E-620 can produce usable images for mid - large sized prints all the way up to about 1600, 2000 at the most. Anything above that is riddled with noise. Olympus provided us with the same kit ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko lens we used with past models. Overall, we have found this is a very nice "starter" lens. It offers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 28 - 84mm, and exhibits slight barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme, however I saw virtually no signs of purple fringing in our sample photos. Using this lens allowed us to capture sharp results throughout the zoom range, complementing the E-620's 12-megapixel sensor well.
Taking the E-620 indoors, I found that this camera excelled at portrait or people photography; even when using the built-in flash, and Auto exposure mode. Our couple portrait shows good flash coverage from the built-in unit as well as sharp facial detail and pleasing skin tones. The 7-point AF system performed decent in low lighting, when aided by the pop-up flash as an AF-assist lamp. While the built-in flash performed well, if you need to illuminate large open rooms you'll want to attach an external unit. We used both a FL-36 unit as well as the new compact FL-14 that was released with the E-P1 Digital PEN camera. The FL-36 features a powerful AF-assist lamp, which helped the E-620 focus even faster in dim conditions.
Like we mentioned earlier, the E-620's Live View function performed a bit faster than past models. With the addition of the swiveling LCD, Live View is a much more appealing feature now, then when compared to the E-520. I enjoyed using Live View when the camera was mounted on a tripod, but that's about it; this is just my personal preference. The Imager AF system is accurate, just a lot slower than the Phase-difference system when using the OVF (Optical ViewFinder). The Face detection system worked well, finding my subjects face within a second of entering the frame. One thing I noticed about the E-620, was the fact that it moves the mirror Very fast when pressing the shutter to capture an image. Unlike older Live View configurations, where it seemed like it took about a half a second or more for the camera to move the mirror out of the way to capture an image.
In-camera editing tools are becoming somewhat standard on dSLRs these days. These simple in-camera altering tools will allow you to spend more time shooting and enjoying your photos, and less time sitting in front of a PC processing. The E-620 provides an effective set of image editing functions that can operate on JPEG images. When working with JPEGs, the camera allows you to enable Shadow Adjustment, fix Red-eye in people photos, Crop, change the aspect ration, convert an image to Black and White, apply a Sepia tone, adjust Saturation, or Resize an image. All image adjustments are saved as a new file, insuring you do not overwrite the original. RAW processing is automatic, the camera chooses all of the settings for white balance, sharpness, etc. I see this function as something more for those who are shooting in RAW mode constantly, and want to quickly convert an image so they can print one off from a PictBridge compatible printer to share with a friend of family member. For out of camera editing the E-620 is supplied with a CD-ROM containing Olympus Master 2 (a simple image transfer, browsing, basic editing, simple RAW conversion, printing and sharing software) as well as a 30 day trial of Olympus' Studio 2 software (a more advanced image editing and RAW conversion application).
Battery life from the BLS-1 (7.2v, 1150mAh) battery pack was very good. Olympus claims you can capture to 500 still images when using the optical viewfinder to frame. I was able to capture 350+ images with mixed use of the LCD and OVF as well as complete all of our other tests before having to give the pack a fresh charge. I feel that the majority of users will be fine having a single pack, however I still recommend you pick up a second if you plan on using this camera in your business or are planning a vacation. Because the pack is charged out of camera, you can be charging one, while using the other.
Bottom line - Olympus continues to offer high-quality features and abilities in their E-series models. While the E-620 is what we consider an advanced amateur model, it sports an entry-level price tag of about US$699 or less for the body/14-14mm Zuiko lens outfit. With excellent image quality both indoors and out, pleasing High ISO capabilities, and loads of easy to use features, we have no problem giving the Olympus E-620 dSLR a high recommendation.
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