16 March 2009

Olympus E-620 Preview, Lars Rehm and Richard Butler

Olympus has established a tradition of offering very well specified cameras in the entry-level, and was one of the first to offer two cameras in this bracket - the little E-410 and its image-stabilized big brother, the E-510 (later upgraded to the 420 and 520 respectively). Now it has introduced the E-620, a model that will 'sell alongside' the E-420 and E-520 (in the sense that we suspect it will eventually replace the E-520) as the company's attempt at a '450D-killer'.

And, even by Olympus's standards of entry-level generosity, it's not short on toys - including an articulated screen to make full use of its live view system, which itself is one of the better implementations of this feature (from the company that got there first). It's also got 'Art' modes and the ability to shoot in four different aspect ratios - adapted from the features of the recently announced E-30. There's also in-body Image Stabilization and a level of configurability that is unparalleled in this class. In fact it's astonishing how much Olympus has crammed into its small dimensions - it's nearer to the size of the E-4X0 than the E-5X0 series (due in part to use of the small BLS-1 battery), and the E-420 was famously the smallest DSLR in the world.

More importantly, perhaps, the E-620 seems to address some of the main shortcomings of the E-520 - the viewfinder is slightly larger and has been reworked so that the information panel appears below the view screen, rather than tucked-away off to the right. It also moves on from the old three-point AF system with the introduction of a seven-point version, which includes five cross-type sensors. In fact, the specification of the E-620 is so high that it makes as much sense for us to compare it to Olympus's recently introduced semi-pro body, the E-30, as to the company's existing entry-level models.
Compared to E-30 - key differences

When the E-30 was launched, we commented that it sailed remarkably close to E-3 territory, but with a smaller viewfinder and less grand claims made about environmental sealing and image stabilization. The E-620 comes close to pulling the same trick on the E-30; again the size of the viewfinder is smaller, but the cameras share the same 12 megapixel sensor, Truepix III+ processing and a great many other features. The differences between the two cameras are easier to list than the similarities:

* E-620 is smaller (by around 1cm in each dimension) and around 180g lighter (body only)
* Slightly smaller viewfinder with reduced frame coverage (0.96x, 95%, vs. 1.02x, 98%)
* 7-point AF (5 cross-type) vs. 11-point (all cross-type)
* Improved LCD (Hypercrystal III, vs. E-30s' version II unit)
* Only one control dial (vs. E-30's two)
* Slower continuous shooting rate (4fps for 5 RAW frames, vs. 5fps for 12)
* Fewer aspect ratio crops (3 vs. 8)
* No built-in digital level gauge
* Only allows two exposures to be overlaid in multi-exposure mode (vs. 4)
* No PC flash sync or DC-in sockets
* Slower x-sync (1/180 sec vs. 1/250 sec) and max shutter speed (1/4000 sec vs. 1/8000 sec)
* Lower capacity BLS-1 battery (7.2V 1150 mAh) vs. BLM-1 (7.2V 1500 mAh)

Key feature comparison (vs E-30 and E-520)
Although Olympus says that the E-620 is supposed to sell alongside the E-520, that would give the company three entry-level offerings, with the E-620 clearly out-gunning both its siblings by a fair margin but without distinguishing itself quite enough to sensibly co-exist. There will be wide-spread hat consumption in the dpreview.com offices if the Olympus lineup retains the E-420, E-520 and E-620 for long.

The E-620 is overall smaller than the E-520 that sits below it in the E-system hierarchy, while offering a slightly larger viewfinder plus a selection of the features we were just getting to grips with in the considerably more expensive E-30. The chart below shows the key spec differences between the three cameras that now span the middle of the Olympus DSLR range.

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