When going up against Canon and Nikon digital SLRs, manufacturers have 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 themselves. The E-620 is a solid example of an inexpensive dSLR (it costs around £550 for the body only), but it doesn't really distinguish itself from the crowd, much less from the offerings of Olympus' two biggest competitors.
In addition to the 69mm (2.7-inch) flip-out-and-twist LCD display, standard on most Olympus models, the E-620 has some good touches, including a built-in wireless flash controller -- lacking in competitors like the Canon EOS 500D and Nikon D5000 -- and in-body image stabilisation. But, although 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 (about £600), and a two-lens kit with that lens plus the 40-150mm f4-5.6 lens (around £710). 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 around 540g, with dimensions of 130 by 94 by 61mm, the E-620 is about the same size and weight as the 500D, but is lighter and more compact than the D5000 and Sony Alpha DSLR-A380. It has Olympus' trademark grip, which is shallower and less comfortable than its competitors' grips. That's definitely a good reason for you to hold the camera and give it a feel before you buy. Although made of plastic, it nevertheless feels solid and well built.
Unlike many of the newer, simpler designs for entry-level models, the E-620 retains plenty 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, although 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 to 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, centre-weighted, and shadow, highlight and standard spot). A drive-mode button to the left of the viewfinder offers up single shot, high (4 frames per second) and low (1-3fps) speed burst, 2- or 12-second self-timers, and remote/delayed operation. In a pleasing 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 stabiliser 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 one, two or three -- usually, you don't have it with you when you're trying to remember what mode two 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' 'my mode' 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 three-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.
Speaking of the menu system, Olympus rather oddly 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 'my mode', it will probably cause more confusion than it saves.
But there's plenty to customise 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 Pro Duo, Olympus rectifies that by adding a second slot. However, Olympus includes a CompactFlash slot where Sony and the rest of the manufacturers include SDHC. SDHC makes more sense for users in this market than CompactFlash, since they're moving up from point-and-shoots and probably already have a few of the cards.
Although not the fleetest shooter in the pack, the E-620 is generally fast enough so that you won't notice any lags except in the case of fast action. It powers on and shoots in 1.4 seconds, which ranks on the slow side for its class. But it focuses and shoots in a respectable 0.4 seconds in good light and 0.8 seconds in dim -- better than the old Nikon D90, although slower than this year's competitors. It typically takes about 0.5 seconds to shoot two consecutive photos, which rises slightly, to 0.8 seconds, with flash.
Its 3.1 frames per second for full quality and resolution JPEGs is okay, 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 forte. Incorporating the same 12-megapixel Live MOS sensor and TruePic III+ image processor as the E-30, photo quality looks fairly similar. It delivers consistent, accurate and pleasing colours, although outdoor auto white balance is slightly cool. Photos show relatively dependable metering, solid exposures and a dynamic range that rarely clips shadows or blows out highlights.
There doesn't, however, 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 drop-off by ISO 400, some contouring begins to appear in dark areas and the colour noise becomes more pronounced. Still, for its class, photos remain generally acceptable up to ISO 800 and usable up to ISO 3,200, depending upon scene content.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Although it's a solid, serviceable dSLR, if you're looking for an easy-to-learn, entry-level camera, we'd steer clear of the Olympus E-620. It's got numerous semi-advanced features that most beginner 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 500D. 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.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet