23 May 2009

Olympus E-620 Review

What happens when entry-level is no longer entry-level? We've been pondering this quasi-philosophical question for awhile - ever since the major players in the DSLR world went from building one camera under $1000 to rounding out a lineup with two or three models in this segment. By what standards do you judge a camera that sits squarely between the once-clear consumer and enthusiast categories? For that matter, what do you even call these new "higher than entry-level but not quite prosumer" cameras?

With two DSLRs already positioned squarely in the entry-level category, as well as a recently released prosumer model, we were a bit surprised to learn that Olympus would be the latest manufacturer to add a mid-level camera to their rapidly expanding DSLR stable. On the one hand, with all the buzz around video capture making its way down to this category, the recently announced Olympus E-620 may not strike a chord with gadget geeks looking for the latest thing. At the same time, the inclusion of a slew of new technology developed for Olympus's high-end E-30 suggests that this camera might just have a few noteworthy tricks of its own up its sleeve.

The technologies inside the E-620 will be most familiar to those who know Olympus's prosumer model, the E-30. Size-wise, though, the E-620's closest sibling in Olympus's lineup is the tiny E-420, coming in just slightly larger all around than Olympus's smallest entry-level model. In this way, Olympus's new model does what a lot of upper entry-level DSLRs do, taking key technologies from an advanced model and grafting them into smaller, lighter bodies. But with a footprint almost identical to the nearly pocket-size E-420, the E-620 takes smaller and lighter a step beyond most of its rivals - making it a good match against Panasonic's well-rounded Micro Four Thirds model, the G1, in more than one respect.

Ergonomics and Controls
With its striking similarity to the E-420 - as with basically all current Olympus models, the control layout follows a single system-wide basic formula - navigating the E-620's ins and outs will be simple enough for transitional Olympus shooters. In trying to get up to speed on the control layout, those unschooled in Olympus's user interfaces expressed concerns we've heard before about buttons that are too small and too numerous. Those with big hands may also find the overall ergonomic experience here unrewarding: in spite of the fact that it's both light and provides a much more ample grip area than older "flat front" Olympus DSLRs, the fact remains that there's simply not much unoccupied surface area for your fingers to rest on with this camera.

Even finding the camera's small size and even smaller buttons hard to come to terms with, I was able to quickly re-adapt to Olympus's way of doing business. As we've said over and over, serious shooters tend to come to appreciate what may seem at first blush like "button clutter" to the uninitiated: in the case of the E-620, button position is generally logical and accessible (though I will note that I don't like the fact that the flash settings button, which sits on the top deck to the left of the flash and prism, can't be actuated with your right hand), and having direct access to commonly changed exposure and performance settings is an asset rather than a liability.

Menus and Modes
Continuing a theme from the previous section, Olympus menus can be a bit of an "acquired taste." The E-620's page menus can be a bit difficult to deal with in spots: things aren't always where you might expect to find them when it comes to the gray area between what's a shooting option versus a master or "setup" option, for instance. But while Olympus hasn't fundamentally reworked its UI structure, they did improve things by allowing you to turn off the advanced settings menu - significantly de-cluttering the menu structure when it's disengaged - as well as replacing the visually ambiguous wrench icons for setup menus with a more universally understood gear pictograph for setup options. And we can always hope that some small refreshers this time around on an interface that his been essentially unchanged for years signal a significant overhaul in the offing.

What continues to work well, though, is the E-620's shooting status display, which uses the LCD to provide a wealth of information about the camera's settings. As best we can tell, pretty much every conceivable option - from ISO to image size to noise reduction aggressiveness - is represented on this display, and you can use the d-pad to move around within this interface and change settings as desired. The sheer quantity of information in the E-620's snapshot view can be a little overwhelming, but this kind of quick access to major and minor functions tweaks alike sure beats digging into the menus.

Like most consumer DSLRs, the E-620's modes are a mix of novice-friendly auto exposure options and deep-level control for enthusiasts - with the added twist of Olympus's Art Filters technology. Olympus's latest in-camera processing and emulation system, Art Filters serve up six photo effects, including filters mirroring the look of shooting with a pinhole camera, a soft-focus filter, or on high-speed monochrome film. A complete list of the camera's shooting options is as follows:

* Auto: Camera selects all exposure values
* Program: Auto exposure mode with user control for flash settings, metering mode, etc.
* Shutter Priority: User selects shutter speed, and camera calculates aperture for correct exposure
* Aperture Priority: User selects aperture, and camera calculates shutter speed for correct exposure
* Manual: User selects both aperture and shutter speed
* Scene: Five scene presets - landscape, portrait, macro, action, and night portrait - each have their own position on the mode dial
* ART/SCN: Eleven additional scene presets, as well as the aforementioned art filters, are accessed via a menu from this position

Like most DSLRs, if you're looking for fun things to do with your photos in playback, you won't find those options on the E-620. Overall, while the camera's overall shooting experience clearly targets both enthusiasts and general consumers, the E-620's complex heads-up displays, many custom setup functions, and button-rich control layout will find more appeal with (and, at times, engender less frustration among) a slightly more serious and savvy set of photographers. At the E-620's price point, this camera serves up a whole lot of advanced tech, and while this is certainly a boon for serious shooters (especially those with a preexisting investment in Olympus gear), it also presents a steeper learning curve at the outset for shooters coming over from other systems or moving up from a point-and-shoot.

Comparing the E-30's 2.7 inch, 230,000 dot LCD to the simply fantastic screens on competitors like the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 50D, we felt a little like Olympus had brought the proverbial knife to a gunfight. If the E-30's HyperCrystal II LCD was a little overmatched in the prosumer class, it's much easier to find praise for this same display on the E-620, compared to other entry- and mid-level consumer models. Specs are in keeping with current expectations in this group, and as before, the screen remains fluid in live view mode, and contrasty and vibrant everywhere else.

On the surface, the E-620 appears to take one of our favorite approaches to the problem of designing a consumer DSLR: offer a compact but feature loaded camera at a price that's low enough to keep the model squarely out of serious enthusiast territory - which is to say, well under $1000. Users may have more choice than ever in the "step up" entry-level realm these days, but with so much technology carried over directly from the E-30, we approached the E-620 with the assumption that it would be a powerful camera fit for serious shooters, in spite of its size.

Shooting Performance
With performance numbers roughly equivalent to what we saw from the E-30 in most respects, the E-620 didn't top the list in terms of speed. No doubt the slower focusing 14-42mm kit lens played a role in the differential between the E-30 and the E-620 in our "straight from the box" AF tests. At the same time, there's a lot of solid performance to work with here.

When we reviewed the E-30, we liked just about everything about the camera - except the price. When the E-620 came along, it seemed like exactly the answer we - and, we're betting, a lot of other shooters - are looking for: the E-30's creative advantages for casual shooters and those who don't relish the thought of hours of post-processing, in a camera that's more in line with what your typical student or advanced family photographer is willing to shell out. Likewise, shooters with an investment in Olympus who want to see what the bulk of Olympus's new creative technologies are all about without making the major investment that the E-30 represents now have a low-cost alternative to consider.

It's in no way a sleight on the E-620 to say that this camera could fairly be marketed as "E-30 Lite." Even in an industry where we're used to derivative models and trickle-down technology, the E-620 impressed with just how closely its performance - from shooting speed to image quality - aligned with what we saw from the much more expensive parent model. The E-620 may not have an edge on its strongest competition in measures of raw performance, but with quick continuous shooting, a boatload of processing controls, a full complement of Olympus's latest creative features, and the ability to get plugged in with Olympus's legendary lenses, the E-620 also has some advantages that no competitor can match.

No, there's no video capture, and novice shooters may balk at the camera's many features and modes. But if you're a current Olympus system user, this might just be the backup body you've been waiting for.


* E-30 technology for under $1000
* Very nice kit lens
* Creative features are fun, useful
* Wireless flash control is excellent


* AF performance is hit or miss
* Live view experience still not perfect
* Noisier at high ISOs than competition

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3 komentar:

madz said...

Cameras are really in bloom today.

Christine said...

Wow! Great post! Have you seen this video where they throw an Olympus E-620 DSLR and a stylus point-and-shoot into a blender? It seems like they're trying to combine DSLR image quality with a point-and-shoot body, which is what Olympus is promising with their Micro Four Thirds camera.

Check it out: http://tr.im/Blendtec/

Anonymous said...

Sorry brother, after I read the posts here are fine. The contents were weighed. But unfortunately not in the state where the source of this paper originated. Do not use the writing of others without mention of where the origin / source is copyright infringement?? Or plagiarism. Because I see a lot of writing here in the adoption of other web sources but not included. Just input only brother, for a better future. Thank you. Best Regard, Keith Abraham.

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