Conclusion - Pros
- Superb image quality
- Good tonal response and dynamic range (at ISO 200 and above)
- Good high ISO performance
- Built-in Image Stabilization
- Generally fast and responsive in use
- Twist and swivel screen useful for certain shooting types
- JPEG engine makes the most of the sensor's output
- Useful in-camera RAW processing option (though lacks any preview, which is limiting)
- Excellent degree of customization
- Class-leading level of external controls for quick shooting (once you've acclimatized)
- Dependable autofocus (and five cross-type AF points)
- Reliable metering that will tend towards underexposure if caught-out
- Programmable FUNC button with a range of options (though it's the only way to set manual WB)
- Control over high sensitivity noise reduction
- Wireless flash control for external flashguns
- Art Filters can be quite fun
- AF fine-tuning (if you're convinced you can get it right)
Conclusion - Cons
- Contrast detect AF pretty slow in live view (which is often the case on DSLRs)
- Moderate LCD screen resolution (and too reflective in bright light)
- Slightly lower absolute resolution than rest of class
- Complicated menu system not that easy to navigate (though it offers a great degree of user customization)
- Viewfinder noticeably smaller than its APS-C peers
- Short battery life (especially if you use the Art Filters)
The Four Thirds range has tended to lag a fraction behind the best contemporary APS-C sensor-size DSLRs in terms of absolute performance but make up some of the difference with excellent lenses, feature-packed specifications, and lower sticker prices. This isn't the case with the E-620 - however you look at it, it's up there with the best of them. It doesn't offer the video recording capabilities of some of its contemporaries, but as a dedicated stills camera, it's a pretty compelling package. Built-in Image Stabilization gives it an edge over its rivals if you're buying additional lenses.
Don't let any talk of the lack of a large grip put you off - the E-620 is a well thought-out and laid-out camera that sits comfortably in the hand. The interface has also been well designed - it's not quite as stripped-down and unthreatening as those of some of its peers but this means it's quicker to use and easier to access all the camera's capabilities once you've learned how to use it (and the Super Control Panel, interactive display means that shouldn't take long).
We still have a few gripes about the settings menus but you rarely have to use them and they can be hidden once you've tailored the camera to work exactly the way you want it to. If you've used a DSLR before, then you'll be impressed by the level of control you get for so little money.
The E-620 is pretty small in DSLR terms (it's hyped as 'The World's smallest image stabilized DSLR') but that still leaves it about the same size as the majority of manual focus film SLRs - so it's not tiny. Unfortunately the viewfinder is also smaller than the competition - it's about the same height but not as wide, because of the squarer image format.
While the E-620's operation may seem surprisingly sophisticated for an entry-level model, its ability to deliver great images, straight out of the camera hits the spot precisely. From a technical perspective, the image quality is on a par with its peers in just about every respect, at least up as far as ISO 800 (even at the levels of scrutiny we subject cameras to). Our only concern about the E-620 would be that it seems to have inherited the rather strong anti-aliasing filter that has arguably held-back recent E-system cameras. This means it's not able to render the really fine detail that its rivals can (a shame given how good Four Thirds lenses can be). But, just as importantly, from an aesthetic point-of-view, the output is all that you'd want from a camera at this level - bright, punchy and consistent.
The JPEG engine makes the most of everything that the camera is capturing, in terms of both resolution and dynamic range, significantly reducing the need to shoot RAW or post process (unless you're particularly inclined to). There's a little more chroma noise in the shadows - particularly with Gradation set to Auto - but it's something you tend to have to go looking for.
The final word
When we reviewed the Olympus E-30, we said it was the best Four Thirds DSLR yet - it didn't hold on to that crown for long. The E-620 crams most of the E-30's feature set into a much smaller, much less expensive package that competes more convincingly with its peers than any Four Thirds camera we've yet seen.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Anyone wanting a small, but capable all-rounder
Not so good for
Low light, indoor or action/sports/wildlife photography
The best Four Thirds camera yet closes the gap and competes convincingly with its APS-C competitors. More importantly though, it's small, produces excellent 'out of the box' image quality and is jam-packed with useful - and a few novel - features. If you can live without movies it's an easy pick.
Original Rating (July 2009): Highly Recommended
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