There's nothing like a bit of friendly competition to send camera companies scurrying back to the drawing board, but when that competition comes from within their own range, that's a completely different ball game altogether.
In this case, the showdown comes from Olympus' new E-620, which borrows most of the features that we only saw a few months back on the E-30. So, for a smaller body and a cheaper price, why wouldn't you choose the E-620? Read on for our full answer.
The E-620 comes as body only for AU$1299, in a single lens kit with a 14-42mm for AU$1399, or a double zoom kit with a 14-42mm and a 40-150mm for AU$1599.
When it comes to the design of Olympus dSLRs, it really comes down to the old saying of "if you've seen one, you've seen them all". Nothing deviates much from the standard look and feel of other Olympus cameras. You get the same textured black plastics, and just like the E-30 (which we reviewed a little while ago), an articulating LCD screen at the back.
There is one nice new touch which will come in handy for those night owls though, and that's the illuminated buttons at the back of the camera. Far from being a novelty, they are actually quite useful, making shooting in dim situations much easier.
The control wheel, situated next to the main mode dial, is nice and intuitive to use and has a responsive feel. On the right side of the camera is the card slot housing a compact flash slot and an xD slot, whereas the battery is loaded from the base of the camera. The new viewfinder covers 95 per cent of the field of view, and is relatively bright.
The E-620 (right) is now king of the pack amongst the E-420 (left) and E-520 (middle).
Just like the E-30, the E-620 has a 12-megapixel sensor and a 2.7-inch free-angle LCD screen. It also borrows a lot of the other features like multiple exposure mode, variable aspect ratios, a quick 4 frames per second burst speed, and a 7-point autofocus.
In plain specifications alone, the E-30 has slightly better odds on all of them; it can shoot 5 frames per second instead of 4, has an 11-point autofocus system and can expose 4 frames rather than 2 in multiple exposure mode, but for the most part these cameras are remarkably similar — apart from their size, of course.
Speaking of that footprint, Olympus is touting the lightness in weight to the E-620, claiming it's the lightest dSLR on the market at 475g (with image stabilisation). They probably weren't banking on the recent announcement of the Sony Alpha A230, which weighs in at 450g and now holds the aforementioned title. In the Olympus range, technically the E-420 is the lightest at 380 grams but it doesn't have image stabilisation in the camera body.
The E-620 is not as diminutive as something like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, but it's not far off, and we have to remember that the G1 is not technically an SLR either. There's also no video mode, something which is sorely lacking on the Olympus range. The 230,000-dot LCD screen is nowhere near as good as what we've (almost) become accustomed to on slightly-better-than-entry-level dSLRs like Canon's 500D and Nikon's D5000.
As for the Art Filter functionality, there's not much more to add that hasn't already been said in our review of the E-30, and it's a shame that there aren't any additional settings (it's a direct port across from the older camera).
Performance and image quality
Even though we've gone on about how the E-620 feels much like an E-30 lite, the smaller camera does have some extra tricks up its sleeve. In everyday use it's a lot more nimble, starting up in just 0.9 seconds. It also feels more responsive in live view, with autofocus being better as well — as you may remember one of our gripes with the other camera was the sluggish response in live view mode.
Image quality is relatively consistent with what we saw on the previous version, though we did test the E-30 with a different lens. The E-620 renders colours beautifully, with punchy life-like quality and good tonality. In terms of noise, the camera copes really well up to about ISO 800 with some very smooth images even in low light. ISO 3200 delivers a perfectly acceptable shot for small prints and is a marked improvement on earlier Olympus dSLRs.
One issue that presented a problem was the write time to xD cards, particularly when using art filters. Using compact flash instead does alleviate some of the write time, and we'd suggest steering clear of the proprietary format for most uses.
As much as we like the E-30, we can't help feeling that the E-620 is the one to get for most applications, unless you value the feel of a bigger camera. If you want most of the goodness of the E-30 for a lower price, definitely get the E-620.