Two cameras in one
In addition to the standard interlace-scan shooting mode offered by all 5-megapixel cameras, the E-20N provides a progressive-scan mode. Though it limits your images to a maximum of 2.5 megapixels, it allows you to obtain shutter speeds up to 1/18,000 of a second--faster than what's available on any 4-plus-megapixel consumer camera. This greatly increases the variety of scenes that you can capture. Unfortunately, the E-20N limits you to a macro focus distance no closer than eight inches.
The rest of the camera's features match those of the E-10 and other high-end consumer digital cameras. They include four shooting modes, exposure bracketing, one-touch white balance, raw and TIFF file output, and a static histogram view during playback. Since the camera appears as a hard drive when it's hooked up to your computer via USB, you need only use the Camedia Master software for image management, viewing extended file properties, or working with the proprietary raw ORF files that the E-20N produces. Otherwise, you needn't even install it and can stick with the bundled copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Like its 5-megapixel competitors, the E-20N has a noise-reduction mode, which kicks in at shutter speeds of 1/2 second and slower. Though useful if you shoot long exposures, it doesn't address the more common problem of noisy shadow areas in daylight scenes. Overall, however, we were satisfied with the camera's image quality. Although the E-20N lacks the color clarity of the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-F707, it delivers relatively accurate colors, flesh tones, and exposures, as well as sharp pictures. Images display less noise than we've seen with some other 5-megapixel cameras and less frequent color fringing than we'd anticipated. But we still think that Olympus's flash is too harsh and that the standard multipattern metering (Digital ESP) tends to underexpose backlit images more than other manufacturers' methods.
As long as you're shooting compressed images, the camera's buffer can handle between three and five shots before you have to stop and wait for the image to finish writing. This gives the E-20N's operation a smooth, fast feel. In addition to the ubiquitous flashing "busy" light, there's a gas meter that shows you how much buffer is available. Shooting uncompressed images, however, requires a pause of almost 40 seconds between shots for disk writes, which is unfortunately not extraordinarily long for this camera's class.