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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, almost as good as the best five megapixel we've seen
  • Good metering, good tonal balance, more 'flat' than most prosumer digital cameras
  • Neutral colour balance which won't "blow out" but may need a push to give it some zing
  • Very fast and sharp, 4x lens (F2.0 - F2.4) - though some chromatic aberrations
  • Fast auto focus and almost nonexistent shutter release lag
  • Good shot-to-shot times (but only four frames)
  • Soft touch shutter release button (better 'squeeze')
  • Excellent selection of manual controls, lots of well thought out features (but no 'fluff')
  • Combined LCD 'live view' as well as TTL viewfinder (still not as good as a D-SLR viewfinder)
  • Superb build quality, excellent "all metal" case, tactile feel to controls
  • Mechanically linked zoom control
  • Focus-by-wire manual focus ring works better than most
  • Flexible and re-programmable JPEG size / quality settings
  • Good low light performance (thanks to new noise reduction feature)
  • Tilt-out LCD
  • Flash hot-shoe and synch terminal for studio work
  • One-touch white balance
  • Optional battery pack & portrait grip
  • RAW file format
  • Control over some internal processing algorithms (contrast, sharpening) - although not enough
  • Most camera controls / settings on exterior case of camera
  • USB connectivity
  • Well positioned tripod mount


Conclusion - Cons

  • Slow startup time
  • Slow image flush times (very poor, for a five megapixel "professional" digital camera)
  • Inability to change certain settings until buffer has been fully written
  • LCD live view does not return until buffer has been fully written
  • Very limiting four image buffer, no matter what image size / quality
  • Slow image display and magnification
  • Chromatic aberrations
  • Barrel distortion at full wide angle
  • Poor LCD 'live view' frame coverage
  • No flexible program AE
  • No depth of field preview
  • Shadow noise / noise visible at ISO 80
  • Limited range of ISO sensitivities (nothing above ISO 320)
  • Still limited to maximum shutter speed of 1/640 sec for high quality images
  • Unreliable low light focus
  • Bayer pattern artifacts
  • Histogram not available in record review (though can be seen in quick view)
  • No control over image saturation, no colourspace selection option
  • Not enough steps in sharpening or contrast control (compared to lower-end Olympus digital cameras)
  • Setup menu is in an obscure place
  • Flash colour cast


Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Olympus E-20: (5 megapixel prosumer)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 9
Features 8.5
Image quality 8.5
Lens / CCD combination 8.5
Ease of use 8
Value for money 7.5

Overall the E-20 is a camera of hot and cold. From an image quality point of view it's very balanced, with good resolution and a neutral approach to tonal and colour balance (which would better suit a professional or semiprofessional photographer). There's the superbly built and designed body, studio flash capability (which works well) a mechanically linked zoom control and a vast array of manual controls.

However, on the other side there are just too many things which I found frustrating about the E-10 which simply haven't been addressed. Many of them I consider to be fairly straightforward fixes or changes which, for a camera aimed at professional photographers, are essential.

Take for instance one of the most frustrating issues when using the E-20; storage write times. The E-20's write speeds (SmartMedia or Compact Flash) are no better (and in some cases worse than) the Nikon Coolpix 995. The difference? The Coolpix 995 is a a sub-$900 prosumer camera which only needs to write 1 MB or sub-1 MB images, the E-20 is aimed at professionals with JPEG images (SHQ) which range between 3.5 and 2.5 MB.

Waiting 9, 11 or 15 seconds for these five megapixel images to be written to the storage card is no joke. Especially when you consider that the E-20 only has a 4 image buffer; that it does not allow you to change certain settings, enter the menu system, display an image or return the LCD to live view mode until it has finished writing the buffer contents. It's not clear if this problem is down to the speed of the E-20's "dual format" storage interface or the speed at which it's generating the final image as it's written out.

Obviously if you shoot with the viewfinder you'll only face the 4 image limit combined with write speed, if you were to shoot four SHQ 1/4 images in the space of 12 seconds you'll be waiting at least 40 seconds (after the last shot) before you can shoot another batch of four. Olympus really needed to give the E-20 a larger buffer and higher performance storage interface.

The E-20 is the kind of camera which some will love and some would not be able to live with. If you're comfortable with the limitations in the cons list above and feel the that at $1900 it is good value for money (or you're an E-10 user looking for more resolution) then the E-20 could be for you.

Unfortunately I feel that it's a pity Olympus haven't addressed some of the E-10's limitations or developed the camera beyond the E-10's capabilities (their sub $800 digital cameras have more control over internal processing algorithms!). They also appear to have ignored competition at both ends of the market; the five megapixel Sony DSC-F707 is almost half the price ($900 - $1000) of the E-20 ($1800 - $1900) and Canon's EOS-D30 can readily be found for just $500 more ($2400 - $2800) - albeit without a lens.

It all makes you wonder what Olympus are really working on and what's just around the corner... I really wanted to give the E-20 a higher rating, especially considering I was relatively impressed by the E-10, but the market has changed so much since then. My rating must reflect the current state of the market and the ability of competitive cameras.

Recommended
(but expensive at the list price)

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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