Color reproduction is a new addition to our in-depth reviews and provides a quick overview of the general look of images from the camera as well as an ability to compare this to other cameras. Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.
As you can see the E-420's color reproduction isn't significantly different to the competitors'. The only difference comes from slightly different tone curves and saturation parameters, all of which can be modified by the user anyway.
Artificial light White Balance
The E-420's automatic white balance in artificial light is somehow unimpressive. As you can see there's a rather strong clear red/orange color cast in incandescent light. Fluorescent light results were slightly better plus the E-420 offers three different fluorescent presets so you're more likely to find one which works. When white balance is crucial though you should revert to custom white balance. The custom menu allows you to assign the 'one-touch white balance' function to the left arrow key which is useful in those instances. Alternatively all the white balance presets are fine-tunable as well.
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.9%, Blue: -12.9%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 4.7%, Blue: -6.8%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 8.4%, Blue: -14.8%, Poor
Fluorescent - Fluorescent Day
Red: 7.1%, Blue: 11.2%, Average
When using the internal flash the E-420 tends to meter quite conservatively and images could do with a little positive flash exposure adjustment.
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
The first thing you'll notice when examining an E-420 image at pixel level is an intrinsic softness. Whether you took the image with a kit lens or a sharp prime, whether wide open or stopped down, whether in JPEG or RAW, with the E-420 you'll find it difficult to achieve the same levels of sharpness that we've seen on other cameras in its class.
Although partly due to a fairly conservative level of in-camera sharpening, examination of the raw output leads us to conclude that Olympus has increased the strength of the anti-alias filter on the sensor since the E-410, something we also noted when reviewing the E-3. While this gives images a clean, artifact-free look, it comes at the expense of the very finest detail. The E-420's JPEG output is actually very similar to its predecessor's. However, on the E-410 the softness was caused by in-camera processing (heavy-handed noise reduction) rather than a piece of hardware. So, while on the E-410 you can reduce or disable noise reduction and get visibly more detailed images, on the E-420 you obviously cannot remove the AA filter. Of course at normal viewing sizes this is not a major issue but if you tend to crop or enlarge your images a lot it could be important.
At higher sensitivities the sensor's inherent softness is further exacerbated by fairly strong noise reduction algorithms. However, while disabling noise reduction at base ISO makes virtually no difference to your image, at higher sensitivities it will result in an increased level of detail. Of course there will be some visible noise too.
Another issue to have in mind is the E-420's comparatively limited highlight dynamic range (between approximately 0.7 and 1.0 EV less than other cameras in its class). Whilst it's an improvement on the E-410, even with careful exposure there's still a danger of clipping highlights. When shooting in demanding conditions you're likely to find a washed out sky or blown skin highlights pretty regularly. And while the E-420 offers some RAW headroom it is usually not enough to recover as much detail as you'd like to.
On the plus side Olympus cameras are famed for their rendition of colors and the E-420 is no exception. The attractive blues of the sky and foliage greens you get when shooting an outdoor scene on a nice day are very pleasing to the eye. Of course there is also a number of in-camera parameters that allow for fine-tuning of the JPEG output (although the range of those is limited to fairly subtle variations either side of the default setting).