When going up against Canon and Nikon in dSLRs, you've got to offer something pretty compelling--awesome speed, fabulous photo quality, one-of-a-kind features, a great design, or a bargain price for the whole package--to draw attention to yourself. Unfortunately, the Olympus E-620, while a solid example of an inexpensive dSLR, doesn't really distinguish itself from the crowd, much less from its two biggest competitors.
In addition to the 2.7-inch flip-out-and-twist LCD, standard on most Olympus models, the E-620 has some nice touches, including a built-in wireless flash controller--lacking in competitors like the Canon EOS Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000--and in-body image stabilization. However, though it offers competitive photo quality, it lacks the (admittedly primitive) video capture capability that Canon and Nikon have brought down to this price segment, and it can't match their performance or comparatively streamlined interfaces.
Olympus offers three configurations of the E-620: body only, a kit with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens, and a two-lens kit with that plus the 40-150mm f4-5.6 lens. Given the Four Thirds standard's 2x focal-length multiplier, those lenses cover the equivalent angle of view as 35mm-based 28-84mm and 80-300mm lenses.
At almost 1 pound, 3 ounces, with dimensions of 5.1 inches wide by 3.7 inches high by 2.4 inches deep, the E-620 is about the same size and weight as the T1i--though it looks smaller, they differ by only 0.1 inch in two dimensions--but is lighter and more compact than the D5000 and Sony Alpha DSLR-A380. It has Olympus' trademark grip, shallower than its competitors' grips, which I find less comfortable; definitely a reason for you to hold the camera and give it a feel before you buy. Though made of plastic, it nevertheless feels well built and solid.
Unlike a lot of the newer, simpler designs for entry-level models, the E-620 retains a lot of button-based direct-access controls; in fact, it has the same controls as the higher-end E-30, albeit laid out differently, because of the different body size. This may make the camera look intimidating for first-time dSLR buyers, though ultimately the controls operate in a pretty straightforward manner.
The mode dial sits to the left of the viewfinder, containing the usual array of modes: program, aperture/shutter-priority, and manual (PASM); the most frequently used scene program modes; full auto; and art/scene, in which you can select from the handful of Olympus Art Filters or an additional set of scene program modes. To the right of that is a dial for navigating menus and options, which operates in conjunction with the four-way navigation and OK buttons on the back. Those buttons bring up options for ISO sensitivity (100 through 3,200), white balance (presets, manual, and Kelvin), autofocus (single, continuous, and manual, plus AF and single with manual override), and metering (Digital ESP/evaluative, center-weighted, and shadow, highlight, and standard spot). A drive-mode button to the left of the viewfinder offers up single shot, high (4fps) and low (1-3fps) speed burst, 2- or 12-second self-timers, and remote/delayed remote operation. In a nice touch, the labels on the back buttons illuminate.
Pressing the OK button brings up the Super Control Panel on the LCD. You can access almost every setting through the display. Some not previously mentioned include face detection (in Live View Mode); image size and quality; sharpness, saturation, contrast, and gradation (normal, low key, and high key), plus the Picture Mode presets (and custom settings) that encompass those; white balance with preview, which includes manual tweaking along amber/blue and green/magenta sliders; and flash compensation and intensity.
At the bottom, beneath the nav buttons, sits the IS button, which controls the sensor-shift stabilizer mode. Like the E-30, in addition to a mode for horizontal panning, the E-620 also has a mode for vertical panning. As with most interfaces for IS, it's very annoying that you have to go to the manual to figure out whether you want IS Mode 1, 2, or 3; usually, you don't have it with you when you're trying to remember what Mode 2 is. The AF Target button and programmable Fn button lie beneath your right thumb. You can select one or all of the seven AF points. Options for Fn include face detect, live preview, set manual white balance, return AF point to its default position, enable manual focus, raw+JPEG override, and Olympus' MyMode custom settings.
The camera supports exposure, flash and ISO bracketing of three frames in 1/3, 2/3, and full stop increments, as well as 3 frame bracketing of white balance in two, four, or six "steps." Bracketing isn't very convenient with the E-620, since you've got to delve into the menu system to enable it. And speaking of the menu system: oddly, Olympus hides its custom menu tab. You've got to enable it first in the menu system to make the tab appear. Hiding the custom menu doesn't save space or make the camera itself less intimidating; in fact, since you've got to read the manual to find it so you can program the Fn button and set up MyMode, it will probably cause more confusion than it saves. However, there's plenty to customize here, such as default and high-ISO sensitivity for Auto ISO, dial function when used in conjunction with the PASM exposure modes (you can swap traditional settings for exposure compensation), and disabling the blinking focus lights in the viewfinder. You can also choose the focus method to use in Live View: the dSLR's AF sensor (phase difference), image AF (contrast AF) or "Hybrid," a combination of the two. The latter uses the contrast AF to approximate focus, then invokes the phase difference AF to lock when shooting.
Because Olympus (along with co-developer Fujifilm) is wedded to its slow, proprietary xD-Picture card investments, there's an xD card slot in the E-620; like Sony, with its similarly proprietary Memory Stick Duo, Olympus rectifies that by adding a second slot. However, Olympus includes a CompactFlash slot where Sony and the rest of the manufacturers include SD/HC. SD/HC makes more sense for people in this market than CompactFlash, since they're moving up from point-and-shoots and probably already have a few of the cards. (For best burst-shooting results, the company recommends a SanDisk Extreme IV.)
Though not the fleetest shooter in the pack, the E-620 is generally fast enough that you won't notice any lags except for fast action. It powers on and shoots in 1.4 seconds, which does rank on the slow side for its class. However, it focuses and shoots in a respectable 0.4 second in good light and 0.8 second in dim--better than the old Nikon D90, though slower than this year's competitors. It typically takes about 0.5 second to shoot two consecutive photos, which rises just a bit to 0.8 second with flash. And its 3.1fps for full quality and resolution JPEGs is OK, but can't keep up with the D5000's 4fps. (Olympus' 4fps continuous-shooting rating is for Normal quality, not Fine.) In practice, the AF system feels fast enough to keep up with kids and pets.
The E-620's photo quality is probably its strongest suit. Incorporating the same 12-megapixel Live MOS sensor and TruePic III+ image processor as the E-30, photo quality does look fairly similar. It delivers consistent, accurate, and pleasing colors, although outdoor auto white balance is a tad cool. Photos show relatively dependable metering, solid exposures, and a dynamic range that rarely clips shadows or blows out highlights. However, there doesn't seem to be any completely noise-free ISO sensitivity--even at ISO 100 you can see stippling in some shadows--and while there's little sharpness dropoff by ISO 400, a bit of contouring begins to appear in dark areas and the color noise becomes more pronounced. Still, for its class, photos remain generally acceptable through ISO 800 and usable through ISO 3,200 depending upon scene content.
Though it's a solid, serviceable dSLR, if you're looking for an easy-to-learn, entry-level camera, I'd steer clear of the Olympus E-620. It's got a lot of semiadvanced features that most beginning dSLR users don't need or want, and a more complex design and user interface than necessary. Factor in the lack of video capture, and good, but not best-in-class, performance and it just can't measure up to models like the D5000 and T1i. But for the more advanced user simply looking for an inexpensive, compact Four Thirds body, it delivers high-quality photos in a budget-friendly package.
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|