Review: Olympus E-620 DSLR

Camera costs are falling faster than a bowling ball in a black hole. Case in point: The Olympus E-620, an inexpensive digital single-lens reflex camera that won’t weigh your shoulder down, is easy to use and takes fine pictures in a wide variety of conditions.

Costing a mere seven hundred bucks, including a 14-42mm, f3.5-5.6 zoom lens, the E-620 combines a decent sensor, a fast shutter, reasonable optics and the aforementioned pint-sized price tag. It’s a good starter camera for someone who just graduated from point-and-click school and wants to get into DSLR University.

The camera’s heart is a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 17.3mm x 13mm. That’s about half the size of a 35mm film frame, but is many times larger than the sensors in most point-and-shoots, which translates into greater low-light sensitivity and less noise in the resulting images.

Unfortunately, while the E-620 delivers great images in most circumstances, it falls flat in low light compared with other SLRs. It struggles to focus and to capture images when the lighting is dim, and dialing the ISO above 1,000 introduces a lot of grainy noise into the photos.

The second major reason to shoot with an SLR is speed and control, and the E-620 doesn’t disappoint. Except in the darkest conditions it focused quickly and fired the shutter instantaneously, or nearly so. It made intelligent exposure and white-balance settings in automatic mode and in the easy-to-use scene modes, and was simple to control in its manual modes as well.

The included kit lens, the equivalent of a 28-84mm zoom lens on a 35mm film camera, is not particularly fast, and its lightweight plastic construction feels a little on the flimsy side, but it’s still a versatile and serviceable piece of optics. The E-620 has a Four Thirds System lens mount to accept other compatible lenses, too.

Olympus touts the E-620’s “art filters,” which let you add effects to your images in the camera, but these will have limited interest to more experienced photographers, who will prefer to crop and white-balance in Photoshop.

One cool feature that isn’t just a gimmick, though, is the foldout, swiveling 2.7-inch LCD on the back. Like other recent SLRs, the E-620 has a Live View mode that lets you compose shots using the LCD instead of the through-the-lens optical viewfinder, and a swiveling screen lets you get those overhead or near-the-ground shots much more easily.

Other nice touches include in-body image stabilization (mechanical, not digital), a dust-reduction system, 11-point autofocus and face recognition. And the camera is compact, with smaller dimensions than almost any other SLR except the Olympus E-420. It weighs just 1.6 pounds with the kit lens (1.2 pounds without it).

You get what you pay for: The E-620’s middling-to-poor low-light performance and less-than-bulletproof plastic body will draw scorn from serious shooters. But its rapid firing, ease of use, light weight and low price make it a good intro to SLR photography for the budget minded.

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