- MSRP: $599.99 (body only), $699.99 (with 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Lens)
- Manufacturer Claimed Weight: 1.04 lb (body only)
- BPL Measured Weight: 1.05 lb (body only)
- BPL Measured Weight: 1.15 lb (0.52 kg) (body, memory card, battery)
The Olympus E-620 is the lightest DSLR with:
- Mid-size format sensor (i.e. smaller than full 35mm, includes 4/3, APS-C, and Sigma DP1/DP2
- True optical, through the lens, viewfinder
- Many high quality lightweight, compact lenses
- In-camera image stabilization
- Articulated view screen
- Backlit controls
Put another way, the E-620 is the lightest mid-sized or "crop sensor" format DSLR with all the functionality and image quality for serious backcountry still photography – even in difficult situations like handheld shots in low morning and evening light. In addition, there are a large number of lightweight Olympus 4/3 lenses with excellent image quality available for the camera. And with 4/3 lens cross-company compatibility, the E-620 can use 4/3 lenses from other manufacturers as well.
- Cameras in roughly the same class as the E-620 (e.g. Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i, Nikon D5000) are larger, heavier and more expensive. They lack the depth of the lightweight high quality lens selection available for the E-620 and do not have in-camera image stabilization or the industry-leading Olympus dust-reduction system, a serious disadvantage if you change lenses in the field.
- While as recently as a year ago, well-intended photographers tended to dismiss 4/3 format cameras as lagging in image quality with the best APS-C cameras (lacking dynamic range, resolution, and ISO performance) the 4/3 format image quality is now acknowledged to be on par with the best small DSLRs from Canon and Nikon.
- The new µ4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic use a similar image sensor (the Olympus E-P1 uses the same sensor). They are 10-20% lighter and smaller than the E-620, but µ4/3 cameras lack true optical viewfinders (by design spec), which can introduce significant problems for composing photographs in the field and holding the camera steady. At the time of writing, µ4/3 lens offerings are limited, and only a few lenses are of decent optical quality. It will be hard to take the µ4/3 format seriously until a wide range of excellent lenses, both zoom and primes, are available. It is also not clear at this point how well the new µ4/3 cameras like the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic DMC-GF1 will do at producing high quality images in the backcountry.
- Smaller and lighter "compact" mid-sized sensor cameras, for example the Sigma DP1 and DP2, lack interchangeable lenses or zoom lenses, are slower to use, have fewer features and lack image stabilization.
- The smaller sensors of compact point-and-shoot cameras (about 1/6 to 1/10 the area of a midsize sensor), even very good "enthusiast oriented" ones, like the Panasonic Lumix LX3 and Canon G-10, cannot match the image quality of the E-620.
- In the end the Canon Rebel T1i, which has similar image quality, probably provides the stiffest competition for E-620. It shoots HD video, has a higher resolution LCD display, and has a larger viewfinder. But the Canon Rebel T1i is also heavier, does not have in-camera image stabilization, and does not have the broad selection of lightweight, high quality lenses that are crucial to first-rate backcountry photography. It is the Olympus 4/3 lenses that give a significant nod to the E-620 as the lightest camera for serious lightweight backcountry still photography (e.g. the 281-g, Olympus E 9-18-mm f/4.0-5.6 Zuiko lens – perfect for lightweight landscape photography), especially when considering the E-620’s in-body image stabilization. Finally, the E-620 costs a lot less than the Rebel T1i.
|Comparison of Mid-size Sensor Digital Cameras|
|Midsize Sensor||Olympus E-620, 25mm f/2.8 ED Zuiko "pancake" lens||615||21.7|
|Olympus E-620, 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko ED Zoom||710||25.0|
|Canon EOS Rebel T1i, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS||730||25.7|
|Nikon D5000, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR AF-S DX||895||31.6|
|µ4/3||Olympus E-P1 with 14-42 lens||560||19.8|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens||630||22.2|
|Compact||Sigma DP1 with fixed 16.6mm lens||285||10.1|
One of the best assets of the Olympus 4/3 system is the depth of high quality lightweight lenses that are a perfect fit for backcountry photography. My favorite lens is the new Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6. Only 9.7 oz, it takes excellent panoramic shots. FL 9mm, ISO 200, 1/320 sec, f/9
Controls and Operation
I found the E-620 quick and easy to use. Almost every function/adjustment is one or two button presses away. Many direct access external controls (buttons, control knob, and Super Control Panel) give zippy access to all commonly used functions. There is little need to get buried deep in the complex menus that sometime plague sophisticated DSLRs, though the camera is also extremely customizable if you want. The camera controls are so intuitive that my wife, who rarely uses a DSLR, came rapidly up to speed using the E-620. She mastered its basic adjustments and was taking good pictures after just a few hours in the field.
I was off scouting a route when my wife took this picture of an approaching storm over a skulled cairn. FL 15mm, ISO 200, 1/320 sec, f/10, Zuiko Digital ED 9-18 mm F4.0-5.6 [Photo: Alison Simon]
The E-620 has fast, effective, multi-point autofocus, and I found the exposure quite accurate. When it was off, the E-620 tended to underexpose and preserve highlights, which is what you want the camera to do.
Between the direct access buttons on the top and back of the camera and the Super Control Panel (left on the swivel LCD screen), almost every commonly used function or adjustment is just one or two button presses away.
The Super Control Panel is my favorite operational feature on the E-620. It is so fast and easy to use that I end up making far more adjustments for individual shots than I would if I had to dig deep in the menus of other DSLRs. This yields higher quality photos with only slightly more effort than just leaving the camera in its standard settings.
The rear camera controls: The flip LCD display can rotate so that the LCD faces inward and is completely protected. The "Fn" button in the upper right below the control knob is programmable for any camera feature you want to assign to it. While most functions are already readily accessible by dedicated buttons or the Super Control Panel, the "Fn" button gives you rapid access to a function like white balance. A number of the buttons are backlit for ease of use in low light.
Top of the camera showing the mode control knob, the single function adjustment knob, exposure control button, and the self-timer/remote button on the far left (which I use often in the field).
An optical viewfinder allows you to focus and compose your image in a way that an LCD display cannot match, especially in low light or bright daylight. LCD displays are lower resolution; it is difficult to see fine detail for precise shot composition or sharp focus (especially for P&S and compact cameras without optical viewfinders). LCD displays are also quite hard to see in bright daylight and, in low light, are grainy with skewed colors. Finally, they often have slow refresh rates and difficulty tracking and focusing on moving subjects. These cons are often also true for LCD-driven viewfinders (EVFs) like on the µ4/3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 (although the viewfinder version of the LCD display does solve daylight readability issues). Finally, it is easier to hold a camera steady when it is pressed against your face with an optical viewfinder. LCD-screen-only cameras, usually held out at arms’ length, introduce more camera shake.
In an improvement over the E-520, the E-620 has the largest and brightest viewfinder for a small Olympus DSLR (excluding the E-3 and E-30). While a bit smaller than some other manufacturers’ mid-size DSLR viewfinders, I found the E-620’s viewfinder more than adequate to focus and compose shots, even in the low light of early morning or late evening.
The E-620 has made a significant improvement in dynamic range over its predecessors, especially in the ability to capture highlights. In fact, at ISO 200, it has one of the largest dynamic ranges of a lightweight DSLR. A high dynamic range, or the ability to capture both shadow and highlight detail in high contrast scenes, is one of my most important criteria for a backcountry camera. It can make the difference between a superb photograph and a throwaway.
This picture did not happen as anticipated. The sun was supposed to come up from the east and shed a glorious morning light onto the carpet of wildflowers in front of our tent. Instead, a blanket of low eastern horizon clouds blocked the most direct sunlight and kept the flowers lightly shaded, making the sky above the ridgeline much brighter in comparison. I was quite pleased that the sky exposed mostly blue (not white) and that there was definition in the clouds. FL 14mm, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/6.3, Zuiko Digital ED 9-18 mm F4.0-5.6
This is the worst time of day to take a picture with the highest contrast – deep shadows underneath an overhang on the dark side of the canyon and brightly lit upward facing surfaces on the sunny side of the canyon. The E-620 handles the contrast with detail in both, and beautifully conveys the sense of being in the hot canyon with a blazing desert sun. Bonus for the budding archaeologists: there is a small ruin in the picture, if you can find it. ISO 200, 1/320 sec, f/10, Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6
Shadow Adjustment Technology
Morning after thunderstorms: Alison is not only shadowed by the sun rising behind her, but also by the tent wall. Yet, her face and the inside of the tent have reasonable detail, and there is nice sky detail without blown highlights. This is due in part to the E-620’s excellent dynamic range and in part to the camera’s Shadow Adjustment Technology which "adjusts the exposure in the shadows while retaining all the detail in the bright areas." The price you pay for the increased shadow detail is a bit more noise with the detail. I like the effect in this picture and many others. I can usually live with a bit of shadow noise for the increased dynamic range to handle high contrast situation, so I tend to leave this function enabled. If I don’t like the result, I can revert to the RAW image, in which the effect is not applied. FL 14mm, ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, Zuiko Digital ED 9-18 mm F4.0-5.6
I am not quite as happy with the Shadow Adjustment in this photograph. The noise in my face is a bit much for my taste, while the native cutthroat suits me right down to the ground. I’d guess that, backlit and with shade from the hat, my face would probably be dark and missing detail if not for Shadow Adjust. FL 30mm, ISO 200, 1/250 sec, f/9, Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 [Photo: Alison Simon]
High Quality JPEG Images
The excellent JPEG output from the E-620 is time- and hassle-saving. In the past, I would usually only process the RAW images from my DSLRs. The JPEG output was so disappointing that it was usually faster to go to the source (RAW) and reprocess the photo from there. While giving me excellent final photographs, shooting RAW had a couple of disadvantages:
- Large RAW files ate up memory cards and filled up my computer hard drive at an alarming rate – a significant expense and inconvenience.
- All that processing of RAW files takes time, which slows throughput. This is a major disincentive to get started on the project at all. For me, photographs are much less likely to end up posted to the web or printed out and hung on the wall if I have to process RAW.
After shooting for almost three months with the E-620, I have learned to trust and appreciate its JPEG output to the point that I usually do not shoot RAW except for artificial light situations (or a few special circumstances outdoors). The JPEG files have a dynamic range large enough that I do not have to go back to RAW files to try and recover blown highlights (the E-620’s excellent exposure helps as well). Shooting JPEG only, my memory cards last a long time. And with only light processing of the JPEG files required, my actual output of pictures to the web or photographic prints has increased. And really, isn’t that the point of taking photos in the first place?
Low Light, High ISO Performance / Image Stabilization
To be truthful, with a base ISO of 200 and in-camera image stabilization and seldom shooting at focal lengths longer than 25mm (50mm; 35mm equivalent), I rarely find it necessary to go to a higher ISO for my field shots – even handheld at dawn or dusk. The Zuiko lenses are usually quite sharp at larger apertures, which also helps. That being said, the Olympus E-620 does quite well up to ISO 800, with little noise or loss in detail. I would not shoot higher than ISO 800 unless there was absolutely no other way to get a photo.
This is a fairly typical early morning photo that poses little problem for a sharp handheld photo. There was no need to go to a higher ISO or use a tripod. FL 21mm ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/5.6, Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6
The only time I recently needed to move to an ISO higher than 200 was at the SPOT Press Conference at the OR Summer Market. The indoor light did not support shooting at longer focal lengths, and I needed to shoot from a distance. Combined with the E-620’s in-camera image stabilization, I was able to get reasonably sharp images without a lot of ambient light.
Astronaut and adventurer Scott Parazynski introducing SPOT Gen 2 at a press conference at ORSM 2009: It took both pushing the ISO to 800 and the in-camera image stabilization to get a reasonably sharp image shooting indoors without a flash. FL 40mm, ISO 800, 1/30 sec, f/5.5, Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6
Available (High Quality) Lightweight Lenses
One of the best assets of the Olympus 4/3 system is the depth of high quality lightweight lenses that are a perfect fit for backcountry photography. Obviously, these lenses contribute to overall image quality, but because they are smaller and lighter than many competing manufacturers’ lenses, they lighten your total weight of camera gear .
My favorite lens is the new Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6. Only 275 g (9.7 oz), it takes excellent panoramic shots. I don’t think anybody else sells an ultra wide angle zoom at anywhere near the 9-18’s weight/pricepoint. The environmentally sealed Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD, while heavier than the 9-18, is regarded as one of the best digital zoom lenses on the market. Another highly regarded lens is the exceptionally sharp Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro.
Note: 4/3 format has a 2x crop factor, meaning that the 35mm format equivalent focal length is twice the 4/3 format focal length listed above. Thus, the 9-18 mm Olympus 4/3 lens is the equivalent of a 18-36mm lens in 35mm format.
Here I was able to capture most of a lake, shooting at 11 mm using the very light 9.7 oz Zuiko 9-18mm F4.0-5.6. The photo is quite sharp with little noticeable distortion. FL 11mm, ISO 200, 1/200 sec, f/11, Zuiko Digital ED 9-18 mm F4.0-5.6
A detail of the lake, showing good detail and sharpness.
Small Infrared Remote
The E-620 works with a small 11-gram (0.4-oz) RM-1 infrared remote unit that came with one of my Olympus P/S cameras about five years ago. It is great for self-portraits and as a "cable release." I love that Olympus has retained compatibility for this small and light remote, especially after I ended up paying $80 for a heavier cable release for a Nikon D300.
Carrying the E-620 in the Backcountry
The E-620 with stock 14-42 lens or 9-18 fits into a 170-g (6-oz) Lowepro Mini-Zoom case, which is easily carried with the strap over my shoulder and the camera resting on my chest. The whole setup, case included, weighs less than most mid-size sensor DSLRs.
Compact for a DSLR: The 6-oz Lowepro Mini-Zoom case easily accommodates the E-620 and Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens (left) versus the 24-oz Lowepro Toploader Zoom used by many to hold larger DSLRs (right).
My first thought at carrying a DSLR, even a small one like the E-620, on my chest while backpacking was "Not gonna happen, no way, nuh-uh." Still, tempted by the image quality improvements of the larger camera, I decided to give it a try. I was surprised how little it impacted my backpacking. Carrying the camera on trail is a cinch, but it usually stays on my chest for much of my time canyoneering and during cross-country mountain travel. At around Class III climbing, the camera goes into the top of my pack. Even so, I end up taking the camera out of the pack for more photos than I thought I would. The results are so good, I’m inspired to keep taking more pictures.
The anticipation is that this huge bulky thing bouncing around on your chest will drive you crazy, significantly impacting your hiking ability and marring your wilderness experience. In reality, the camera sits quietly on my chest, and much of the time I hardly notice it’s there. Obviously, the small size and weight of the E-620 tucked into a (comparatively) small case helps a lot. And when a photo opportunity arises, the camera is conveniently there and ready to go. [Photo: Richard Dixon, Nikon D40]
- First-rate out-of-camera JPEGs (a significant increase in highlight capture vs. the E-520). Little incentive to shoot or process RAW files for much of your photography. A big savings in time and hassle, plus far more images on each storage card and better burst speed response.
- Excellent dynamic range at ISO 200 – Set it there. Leave it there!
- Many superb, lightweight Olympus 4/3 lenses available. In particular for backpacking use:
- Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD, environmentally sealed (regarded as one of the best digital zooms)
- Zuiko Digital ED14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II
- Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6
- Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro
- Zuiko 76.5g (2.7 oz) 25mm pancake lens (only decent optics, but extremely light)
- Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. (stock, kit lens; solid, if not superb, optical performance, light – only 6.7 oz – and compact)
- Zuiko 40-150 kit zoom (honorable mention)
- Zuiko 35mm macro (cheapo but amazing)
- Zuiko EC14 teleconverter (honorable mention)
- Effective in-camera image stabilization. Works for any 4/3 lens, regardless of manufacturer, also works for legacy manual-focus prime lenses.
- Good multi-sensor auto focus.
- Consistent metering system.
- Good performance in low light (viewfinder, focus, image stabilization and ISO performance).
- Extremely fast and easy to use. Many direct access external controls: buttons, control knob, and Super Control Panel to quickly access all commonly used functions, plus customizable controls.
- Large, bright, swivel LCD display.
- Shadow Adjustment Technology works to capture shadow detail in high contrast situations.
- Compact enough to fit into the smallest Lowepro-Zoom case.
What’s Not So Good
- No video recording capability.
- Viewfinder is a bit tunnel like compared to heavier APS-C cameras (although it’s an improvement over the E-520, and perfectly usable in the field). It is far superior to LCD-only cameras, and even EVF (electronic viewfinder) cameras.
- LCD display not as high resolution as some of the heavier APS-C cameras.
- Not quite the high ISO performance as the best (but heavier) APS-C cameras. The E-620 is solidly competitive to ISO 800/1600, and with in-body image stabilization, I have yet to go higher than ISO 400 in the field.
- Adopting the smaller capacity and lighter battery from the E-4xx series rather than the larger battery used in most Olympus DSLRs yields decent, but not the longest, battery life. My battery life is in the range of five to seven days in the field. (Extra batteries are small and light. It’s easy to carry one or two more.)
In the end it is a matter of personal choice where you draw the line on image quality versus weight and bulk. Some are happy taking pictures with a cell phone; others will never part with their 3.5-pound, full-frame Canon 5d mk II. I’ve even run into view camera photographers lugging ten to twenty pounds of camera gear deep in the canyons of southern Utah.
For me the E-620 hits the sweet spot of weight to performance for a backpacking camera. It comes very close to image quality of the best DSLRs at a fraction of the weight, bulk, and cost. It is light enough that it does not impact my hiking or wilderness experience. Thus, I take the camera on more trips and produce more high quality photographs. At the sizes I print, the E-620 yields large, sharp photographic prints, with excellent color and dynamic range – photographs that I am proud to have hanging on my wall. In summary, carrying the E-620 has reignited my enthusiasm and love for serious backcountry photography.
My only regret is that Olympus did not see fit to add HD video to the camera. With 1080p, 24 fps HD video with a decent codec and a jack for an external stereo microphone, this would be close to the perfect lightweight tool for professional quality still photography, and near professional quality backcountry videography. I can only hope the E-630 will add this feature. (If they do, I would expect a significant increase in price.)
|$599.99 (body only)|
$699.99 (with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Lens)
Dimensions (W x H x D):
|5.11 x 3.7 x 2.36 inches (excluding protrusions)|
|Manufacturer Claimed Weight: 1.04 lb (body only)|
BPL Measured Weight: 1.05 lb (body only)
BPL Measured Weight: 1.15 lb .52 kg (body, memory card, battery)
|CompactFlash Type III (UDMA), Microdrive, xD-Picture Card|
|17.3 mm (H) x 13.0 mm (V)|
|Four Thirds Mount|
|12.3 effective (maximum available is 13.1 at 4:3 aspect ratio)|
|Hypercrystal LCD, 2.7 inches diagonal, 230K dots|
|Auto: ISO 200 – 3200 (customizable, default is 200 – 800)|
Manual ISO 100 – 3200, 1/3 or 1 EV steps
|Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE, Manual, Scene Program AE, Scene Select AE|
|Metering:||EV 1-20, digital ESP, center weighted average, spot|
|Focusing:||Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus|
|File format:||RAW (12-bit lossless compression), JPEG, RAW+JPEG|
Recording image size:
|RAW 4032 x 3024 pixels|
JPEG 4032 x 3024 pixels – 640 x 480 pixels
Image Stabilizer System:
|Built in (Imager shift image stabilizer)|
|Single-frame shooting, Sequential shooting H, Sequential shooting L, Self-timer, Remote control|
|Flash:||Pop-up, plus hot shoe|
|Eye-level single-lens reflex viewfinder|
|Supersonic Wave Filter (dust reduction system for image sensor)|
|P(Ps), S, A, M mode- 60, 14000 sec.|
Anti shock mode:
|Available (1 to 30 sec. selectable)|
|USB 2.0 High Speed for storage and camera control (MTP mode is available)|
USB/Video connector: –
|Dedicated multi-connector (Video NTSCPAL selectable, Optional Remote cable RM-UC1 is available)|
|BLS-1 Li-ion battery (included)|
|Camera Body, Li-ion battery BLS-1, Li-ion battery charger BCS-1, USB/Video Multi cable, Eye piece cover EPC-1, Shoulder strap, OLYMPUS Master CD-ROM, Instruction manual, Warranty card|