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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Olympus E-420 DSLR


   

Olympus E-420 Review

Review Date: May 15, 2008

Category: Family DSLR, Beginner to Serious

Olympus E-420

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2008 - Compact DSLR
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2008 - Compact DSLR

HANDLING & FEEL

The Olympus E-420 is for those who love things compact, light and fun to use. As far as DSLRs go, the E-420 comes closer to the ideal that the original OM-1 represented. And going from a prosumer ultrazoom to the E-420 is an easy step with Live View that works similar to the experience you're used to on a consumer digicam.

The E-420 is a DSLR with all the advantages that this entails: fast and precise Phase-Detection AF, fast performance and response times, an optical viewfinder that, even though it does not quite match the brightness and size of the top of the line DSLRs, nevertheless is better than anything you can get in the P&S models and is more than adequate for a DSLR. I find that it is easy to see the whole view with my thick glasses. Image quality is excellent up to ISO 400 with low noise and detail kept.

It is easy to fall in love with the E-420 because it is so compact and so light. Attach the 25mm Pancake lens on and you have a DSLR that is very compact and can easily pass unnoticed in a crowd. With the 14-42mm lens attached, it is barely bigger than an ultra zoom.

Despite what the marketing material says, the E-420 is however not compact enough to be comfortably carried in a purse or jacket pocket, especially with the 14-42mm lens attached. An E-system travel bag for the E-420 may be your best bet to comfortably carry the E-420 plus up to two lenses.

It is interesting to note that the E-420 (and the E-400 and E-410 before it) is the only Olympus DSLR that fufills the "small is better" Four Thirds System dream. All other 4/3 System DSLRs are quite large, even larger than their competitors which use a larger APS-sized image sensor.

Here's how the E-420 measures up to its competitors, without lens attached and without battery and card. I've also included an ultra zoom and ultra compact, all for comparison purposes for those thinking of upgrading to a DSLR:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Pentax K200D DSLR 133.5 95 74 630
Sony A-350 DSLR 130.8 98.5 74.7 582
Canon XSi / 450D DSLR 128.8 97.5 61.9 475
Nikon D60 DSLR 126 94 64 495
Olympus E-520 DSLR 136 91.5 68 475
Olympus E-420 DSLR 129.5 91 53 380
Olympus SP-570 Ultra Zoom 118.5 84 87.5 445
Olympus Stylus 1030 Ultra Compact 93.6 60.9 21.3 170

At 129.5W x 91H x 53D mm (5.09W x 3.58H x 2.08D in.), the Olympus E-420 is much less deep that the other competing DSLRs. It even weighs less than the SP-570 Ultra Zoom, but remember the latter already sports a whopping 26–520 mm (equiv.) 20x optical zoom lens!

The closest competitor to the E-420 as far as dimensions are concerned is the Nikon D60, which has a much larger grip. By the way, the diminutive grip on the E-420 is surprisingly quite effective in providing a sure grip.

The Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens adds in a further 190g.

The Olympus E-420 has 2 memory card compartments: one for an xD-Picture Card and a second one for a CompactFlash (CF) card or Microdrive. A 1GB CF card can hold about 186 Large Fine images, 59 RAW images or 44 RAW+Large Fine JPEG images. The following table gives an approximation of the number of 10MP images you can save on a 1GB CF card in the different image quality/compression setting:

Record Mode
# Images
RAW
59
LF
186
LN
406
MN
812
SN
2977
RAW+LF
44
RAW+LN
51
RAW+MN
55
RAW+SN
58

As the above chart shows, at Large Fine image quality, only 186 images can be saved in a 1GB CF card. We recomend that you purchase either a 2GB or 4GB CF card, depending on the number of images you normally shoot in one session. It takes only about 2 sec. to write a RAW file to memory card.

STYLE
- Colours: black body with white letterings
- Looks: beautifully compact
   
FEEL
- Ergonomic
- Controls & menu are intuitive enough to use but could be improved
- Strap eyelets need to be redesigned to be inset
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Compact and lightweight
- Dimensions: 129.5W x 91H x 53D mm /
5.09W x 3.58H x 2.08D in.
- Weight: 380 g / 13.4 oz
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery PS-BLS1 7.2V 1150mAh
   

SPEED OF OPERATION

- Startup and LCD turning on in about 1 sec.
- Shot to shot time less than 1 sec. (14 shots in 10 sec.)
- Burst: @ 3.5 fps (17 shots in 5 sec.)
- No practical shutter lag when using viewfinder
- Overall, great performance
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery BLS-1 that can take about 500 shots using the viewfinder (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery Charger BCS-1 (with power cord) that will recharge a new battery in a long 3 hrs.

Ther is a latch to prevent the battery from falling when the door of the battery compartment is opened.

The USB is now 2.0 High Speed which is fast. The USB/Video Out connector is protected by a rubber flap that can be opened up wide, but it does not stay in place so you have to kind of fight it as you try to plug the USB cable in. It would have been nice if that flap swivelled out of the way.

Olympus E-420 Top View

Olympus E-420 Top View
with 25mm Pancake Lens

The built-in flash needs to be manually raised to work [the way we prefer it] and there's a button on the top left side to do that. Press the button and the flash loudly "thunks" open. In AUTO mode, you can set the flash to pop up automatically in the Menu (Menu - Custom Menu 1 - Flash Custom - Auto Pop Up - On).

From this top view, you can see the dimunitive handgrip, redesigned from the E-410 to allow a better grip. You are basically using the bottom 3 fingers to grip the camera.

To the right of the shutter release button is the [+/-] exposure compensation button. You can either press the button and let go or press and hold down. Then rotate the Control Dial to dial in a value. I like how the value is displayed prominently in the viewfinder as well as on the "Super Control Panel" (aka the LCD monitor). If you prefer to be able to dial in a value without pressing the [+/-] button, then you can set it in the menu (Menu - Custom Menu 1 - Button/Dial - Dial Function - P/A/S - [+/-]). Not a good idea in my opinion because it is then too easy to rotate the Control Dial and inadvertently dial in a value, plus you lose the ability to do Program Shift in P mode and change the shutter speed/aperture quickly in Shutter-priority and Aperture-priority mode, respectively, by simply rotating the Control Dial; to do these, you would then need to press the [+/-] button first.

The Power Switch is around the Mode Dial facing the rear of the camera. In its Off position, it is set a bit too close to the Control Dial. It also loudly clacks into position; I would have preferred a quiet and soft switch. Everytime you turn on the camera, the SSWF indicator lights up to indicate that the Super Sonic Wave Filter is activated to ensure a dust-free sensor.

On the far left are the Flash button and the Remote Control/Self-timer/Sequential Shooting button.

Olympus E-420

The E-420 has a large 2.7-in. LCD with 230,000 dots resolution for a bright and clear view. The LCD has wide-angle viewing.

It bears repeating that Live View first appeared on a DSLR in the Olympus E-330. On the E-420, engaging Live View is as easy as pressing the Live View button besides the LCD screen. What could be easier?

There are 3 Live View AF modes to choose from (Menu - Custom Menu 1 - AF/MF - Live View AF Mode) and it pays to understand how each works:

  • Imager AF. This mode is the factory default setting and uses Contrast-Detect AF with 11 AF targets. To lock focus, either press shutter release button half-way or the AEL/AFL button. It works quite well and is fast enough in good light and with contrasty subjects. (Note that this mode is compatible with only certain Olympus lenses.) This is your typical digicam Live View mode that those migrating from a point-and-shoot digital camera will probably feel most comfortable using.
  • AF Sensor. This mode uses the standard DSLR Phase-Detection AF with 3 AF targets. Press the AEL/AFL button to lock focus, then depress the shutter release button fully to take the picture. Or, simply depress the shutter release button fully to lock focus and take the picture in one swoop. (AF is not activated when you press the shutter release button only half-way in this mode.) Olympus has smartly implemented this so that it seems that there is no mirror slap. Of course, there is because the mirror has to be lowered to permit Phase-Detection AF, but the LCD screen does not blank out. Instead the image is frozen and so gives the impression that it is always there.
  • Hybrid AF. My favourite is this Hybrid AF mode. If you half-press the shutter release button, Imager AF mode activates and uses Contrast-Detect AF to approximate focus. If you press the AEL/AFL button, AF Sensor mode activates and uses Phase-Detection AF to approximate focus. Both modes uses only 3 AF targets here. If you have set the AF Mode to S-AF-MF, then you can hold the shutter release button half-way to approximate focus, then rotate the lens Manual Focus Ring to fine tune the focus. When you fully depress the shutter release button to take the picture, AF Sensor mode activates and uses Phase-Detection AF to lock focus before taking the picture (apparently taking a shorter time to lock focus since focus is already approximated).

In Live View, repeatedly pressing the Info button will allow you to display Framing Guide, a Live Histogram, check the effect of exposure compensation or WB on a 4-split screen, and enlarge the display by up to 10x.

Those of you who intend to mostly use the camera in Live View will be glad to know that if you are in Live View Mode and powers the camera off, you will still be in Live View Mode when you power the camera back on. I would have preferred an option in the Menu as to whether Live View is reset or not on power off.

You use the Control Dial to quickly set exposure values.

In Manual mode, the Control Dial allows you to control the shutter speed. Press [+/-] and rotate the Control Dial to change the aperture.

In Shutter-Priority mode, use the Control Dial to change shutter speed.

In Aperture-priority mode, use the Control Dial to change aperture.

In Programmed Auto [P] mode, rotating the Control Dial switches you into Program Shift [Ps] mode and allows you to select different combinations of shutter speed and aperture while keeping the same exposure.

The LEFT ARROW Key does double duty as a FUNCTION [Fn] button that you can customize in the Menu to be One-Touch WB, DOF Preview on Live View, Test Picture (without saving), Face Detect, DOF Preview.

Underneath the camera, as expected, the metal tripod mount is located in line with the center of the lens and the imaging focal plane. You may or may not be able to change the battery with the camera mounted on a tripod (at least on my tripod, it's possible, but it'll depend on your tripod head).

Olympus has gone to great lengths to rationalize its control buttons and menus, and the E-420 handles and operates in a more conventional and intuitive way than past Olympus DSLRs.

Quietly missing in the E-420 is any kind of image stabilization, either the in-camera sensor-shift type or optical IS in the kit lens. Because of the relatively short focal length, you don't miss its absence using the kit lens but it's something to bear in mind if you number among those who especially have difficulty holding a camera steady.

As you would expect, there are tons of customizable settings to choose from, more than we can reproduce here (unless we reproduce the whole manual).

CAMERA MENU1 1 of 2

- Card Setup
- Custom Reset
- Picture Mode
- Gradation
- Record Mode
- WB

CAMERA MENU1 2 of 2

- ISO
- Noise Reduction
- Noise Filter

CARD SETUP

- All Erase
- Format

CUSTOM RESET

- Reset
- Reset1
- Reset2

PICTURE MODE

- Vivid
- Natural
- Muted
- Portrait
- Monotone

PICTURE MODE SETUP

- Contrast
- Sharpness
- Saturation

GRADATION

- Auto
- Normal
- High Key
- Low Key

RECORD MODE 1 of 2

- RAW
- LF - Large Fine
- LN - Large Normal
- MN - Medium Normal
- SN - Small Normal

RECORD MODE 2 of 2

- RAW + LF
- RAW + LN
- RAW + MN
- RAW + SN

WB 1 of 3

- Auto
- Sunny 5300K
- Shade 7500K
- Cloudy 6000K
- Tungsten 3000K

WB 2 of 3

- White Fluorescent 4000K
- Neutral White Fluorescent 4500K
- Daylight Fluorescent 6600K
- Flash 5500K
- One-Touch WB

WB 3 of 3

- CWB 5400K (can be set from 2000K to 14000K)

ISO 1 of 2

- Auto
- 100
- 200
- 400
- 800

ISO 2 of 2

- 1600

NOISE REDUCTION

- Off
- On
- Auto

NOISE FILTER

- Off
- Low
- Standard
- High

 

CAMERA MENU2 1 of 2

- Metering
- Flash RC Mode (wireless RC flash system)
- Flash Intensity
- AF Mode
- AF Area
- Anti-Shock

CAMERA MENU2 2 of 2

- AE Bracketing

METERING

- Digital ESP
- Center-weighted Average
- Spot
- HI Spot - Spot for highlight control
- SH Spot - Spot for shadow control
- Anti-Shock

METERING - DIGITAL ESP

- ESP
- ESP + AF (meters where AF target is placed on screen)

AF MODE

- S-AF = Single AF
- C-AF = Continuos AF
- MF = Manual Focus
- S-AF + MF
- C-AF + MF

AF AREA

- Left AF Target
- Centre AF Target
- Right AF Target
- All 3 AF Targets

AF TARGET SELECTION 1 of 2

- This is only available in Live View Imager AF mode
- While in Live View, press OK button to superimpose a semi-transparent Super Control Panel
- Use ARROW Keys and Control Dial to select AF Area, then press OK

AF TARGET SELECTION 2 of 2

- Use the Control Dial to select AF Target for camera to lock focus on

 

PLAYBACK

- Slide Show
- Rotating Images
- Edit
- Print Reservation (DPOF)
- Copy All
- Reset Protect

SLIDE SHOW 1 of 2

- 1-frame display
- 4-frame display
- 9-frame display
- 16-frame display
- 25-frame display

SLIDE SHOW 2 of 2

- 49-frame display
- 100-frame display

PLAYBACK INFO - FIle Name

PLAYBACK INFO - RGB Histograms

PLAYBACK INFO - Histogram

PLAYBACK INFO - Shadow/Highlight

PLAYBACK INFO - No Info

 

CUSTOM MENU1 1 of 2

- AF/MF
- Button/Dial
- Disp/Beep/PC
- Exposure/Metering/ISO
- Flash Custom
- Color space/WB

CUSTOM MENU1 2 of 2

- Record/Erase
- Utility

AF/MF

- AF Illuminator
- Focus Ring
- Reset Lens
- Bulb Focusing
- Live View AF Mode

LIVE VIEW AF MODE

- AF Sensor (Phase-Detection AF)
- Hybrid AF
- Imager AF (Contrast-Detect AF)

 

CUSTOM MENU2 1 of 2

- Clock
- CF/xD
- LCD Brightness
- Language
- Video Out
- Rec View

CUSTOM MENU2 2 of 2

- Firmware

LCD BRIGHTNESS

LANGUAGE

- English
- French
- Spanish
- Portugese

FIRMWARE

 

SCENE MODE 1 of 3

- Portrait
- Landscape
- Landscape + Portrait
- Night Scene
- Night + Portrait
- Children

SCENE MODE 2 of 3

- Sport
- High Key (exposes for highlights)
- Low Key (exposes for shadows)
- Digital IS
- Macro
- Nature Macro (Super Macro)

SCENE MODE 3 of 3

- Candle
- Sunset
- Fireworks
- Documents
- Panorama (Olympus xD-Picture Card required)
- Beach & Snow

SCENE MODE HELP

Live View on the Olympus E-420 is enjoyable to use and similar to what you'd expect if upgrading from a point-and-shoot digital camera. The E-420 is also compact and light enough that you won't get shell-shocked lugging a heavy DSLR. In fact, you won't get tired carrying the E-420 around all day. Yet it is full featured and allows more customization than most beginner and serious photographers may ever need. Performance is fast as you'd expect from a DSLR. The addition of Auto and Scene modes allow entry-level users to seamlessly move up to a DSLR and continue using it as they did their trusty P&S until they are ready to learn more about the manual modes. And when they do, the E-420 has all the features and functionality to allow them to grow as a photographer. Minor foibles aside, this is a trusty and wonderful little camera you will simply love using.

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