Olympus E-620 DSLR camera review

4.5 out of 5
£609.99

For

Great image quality, good handling, Super Control Panel, comprehensive and creative feature set, customisability, good dust reduction system

Against

Small viewfinder is slightly blurry, many complex features means complexity of set up (AF adjustment for example)

The E-620 is the latest addition to Olympus’ E-series of DSLRs and sits above the (bulkier) E-520 and below the recent E-30, with which it shares many features, including the 12.3MP Live-MOS sensor.

In fact it’s hard to put your finger on exactly which market this camera caters to, since Olympus claim the E-520 (and the smaller E-420) will remain on sale alongside the new model. Not for long though I’d imagine. The specification is similar to the previously tested E-30, yet build and styling are more akin to the 520, which all means what we have here is a sort of an entry level enthusiasts DSLR.

For a start, you get almost all the same features of the E-30, including the fun-to-use Art Filter system, a fully customisable (but darn complex to use) AF system, that can be tailored to specific lenses and the way they behave; although the AF set-up is reduced from the 11-points in the E-30 to seven here however and the central five are cross-type sensors, so are sensitive in both the vertical and horizontal planes, greatly improving AF accuracy.

Shutter speeds on offer provide a maximum or 1/4000 sec (the E-30’s top speed is 1/8000 sec) and a slightly reduced top flash sync speed of 1/180 sec (again, the E-30 has a top flash sync of 1/250 sec) although the built-in level gauge found on the E-30 and E-3 has gone.

In terms of controls the camera has one control dial but like the rest of the controls, is well placed (for the right thumb) although the camera’s overall control layout can look a little complicated at first. This apparent complexity is mitigated somewhat by the Olympus Super Control Panel where the new, 2.7-inch HyperCrystal III (Live View enabled) rear LCD can be used as a direct control point for all the major camera settings.

This excellent system allows just a couple of button pushes for almost any adjustment from white balance and ISO to metering modes and image size and quality. Almost everything that would normally require time spent delving into other complex menus.

The rest of the external buttons provide comprehensive one push access to focus point selection and tuning, image stabilisation (IS), in four modes: off, IS 1, IS 2 and IS 3, the last three providing horizontal, vertical and both horizontal and vertical stabilisation, respectively. You can also fine tune the IS system to a specific lens focal length (in each IS mode) with a quick press of the exposure compensation button that sits close to the shutter release. You get around a four-stop exposure advantage using IS, slightly less than the (claimed) five stops of the E-3, for example, but still not to be sniffed at.

The Supersonic Wave Drive IS system used by Olympus is of the in-body sensor shift type, meaning all FourThirds standard lenses used on the body will be automatically stabilised and this also provides what is still recognised as the best dust reduction system available to a DSLR as well.

Some of the other new kit, particularly over the E-520 includes the new TruePix III image processor, this helps get good colour and detail, provides fast processing for up to 4fps (for five RAW shots) at top speed, so not bad at this level. TruePix III also deals very well with a lot of noise issues that have been an issue for earlier E-series models, particularly at higher ISO settings, where detail is well conserved providing a more natural film grain "look" to the shots.

The aforementioned screen is an articulated, multi-angle device that can flip around out and forward as well as be "closed" for protection, the Live View system is very usable and the multi-angle LCD means hard to compose scenes, such as a tripod mounted shot, low to the floor become much easier to do as a result.

One worry on the E-30 was a slightly blurred viewfinder, no matter what I did with the dioptre control, and although improved over the E-520, the E-620 finder has a similar slightly soft "look". However, it’s a brighter, larger screen and the head up display runs across the bottom of the view as opposed to up the right side as in earlier E-series models. You get a 95% field of view (100% in Live View, of course) and a better magnification factor of 0.96x; the E-520 had a 0.92x magnification.

Wireless flash control is possible on the E-620 with compatible flash units such as the Olympus FL-36R in up to three groups, so flash creativity and flexibility is very good indeed and like the E-30 before it, the 620 has Olympus’ creative Art Filters built-in. here you get specific image settings for Grainy Film, Light Tone, Pin Hole Camera and Pop Art to name a few.

While these modes produce images that are processed JPEG files, because you can shoot JPEG and RAW simultaneously, even in Art Filter mode, you can still get an unprocessed version of the image as well, in case the effect is not to your liking.

Although apparently complex, the E-620’s controls are consistent with other models in the range and handling is actually rather good with Live View and playback activated from buttons above the jog controls, that also back up the Super Control Panel with direct access buttons for metering, ISO, AF and white balance.

A neat "Fn" (function) button, sat just below the control dial, can be assigned a set of controls such as depth of field preview, Live Preview, One Touch white balance, activate Face AF (yes that’s in there too) and you can hold the Fn button to use any recorded My Mode settings. The latter provide a way to set and save specific camera set ups to enable fast switching to optimum (or your preferred) settings for a specific subject types, such as portraits, for example.

A large top plate mode dial is the entry point for all the main shooting modes, the P, A, S and M manual modes as well as scene modes that include macro and landscape settings. The Art Filters and Auto modes are here too of course, it’s just a shame the dial does not continuously rotate as I often turned the dial the wrong way to get to, say, the Art Filters, however it is a minor frustration.

The camera’s build is also very good, the use of glass fibre reinforced plastic means the camera is rigid, strong and solid in the hand though it lacks the environmental seals that feature on the pro end models such as the E-3.

Some of the features that I really like in the E-620 (and to an extent, borrowed from the E-30) include the 49-zone metering system, which includes the shadow and highlight optimised spot meter settings. I also love the variety of aspect ratios you can shoot at. The top resolution 4032 x 3024-pixels is available in the 4:3 aspect but you get 6:6, 16:9 and 3:2 to tinker with. JPEG images are cropped accordingly but RAWs remain untouched, as you’d expect.

Disappointingly, the changes to aspect ratio are only visible in Live View mode: the viewfinder is not cropped as well, however, although this is a well-specified camera, you cannot have everything I suppose.

And so, with all those clever toys and neat features, what sort of images does the E-620 produce? Well, the first thing to say is the focusing and metering are very good indeed and the level of controllability on both fronts allows you to quickly get to grips with most scenes. If I have a grumble, I found the evaluative metering tended to be a bit conservative, underexposing slightly around half a stop. Switch to centre-weighted and it seemed to provide a better balance for most subjects except for general scenic shots, where metering fairs well.

The focusing can be coupled to a manual focus override so you can manually focus and use AF at the same time, that added to the control over each focus zone you have within set up all means its fast and accurate.

White balance control is good, especially under mixed lighting and because there’s a one-touch manual control (via the Fn button) that makes fine tuning WB easy and quick and you have WB bracketing to back it up as well. Sensitivity settings range from 100 to 3200 with an auto mode and while noise is well controlled overall, the bias seemingly on detail rather than total noise reduction, noise does get bad above ISO 1250, but is very well controlled up to that point.

In fact the noise control at default level is excellent and while ISO 3200 does offer up challenges in terms of noise, because the noise is film grain-alike, it’s less intrusive than on some cameras. Detail, at the default sharpness settings is good and although images can be very slightly soft, there’s nothing to complain about and, of course, sharpness and contrast and saturation are all adjustable too.

Overall then, the E-620 is an accomplished and very advanced piece of kit that will sit well either in the hand of a novice snapper or more enthusiast user. The svelte lines make it a great choice for those not wanting a bulky body to lug around on their travels but with the knowledge that same smallness does not mean a compromise in terms of the feature set.

Verdict

The E-620 is a little like the Tardis; on the outside you see a relatively small, entry level DSLR, while on the inside, you find the specification and features of much bigger enthusiast or semi-pro model. Picture quality is great too and it’s nice to see noise control so very accomplished.

A cracking little camera that combines the majority of the high-end kit of the E-30 with the compactness of the E-420 and E-520 rolled into an easy to use body that will not break the bank.