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The Olympus e-420: World’s smallest and lightest DSLR

Olympus e-420 with Zuiko 14-42mm ED Kit Lens

Olympus Philippines was kind enough to lend me one of the latest model from Olympus DSLR line for testing and review, the Olympus e-420. The Olympus e-420 is currently the world’s smallest and lightest DSLR in the market. I was really attracted to this little wonder and wanted to really test out the unit before actually jumping into buying one. Olympus was famous for creating the OM-system cameras in the 70’s and 80’s which was also known for being small and light yet still manages to bring out the excellent quality images. A lot were excited with the release of the e-420 as it brought back the retro style cameras and also introduced the highly anticipated Zuiko 25mm 2.8 pancacke lens. I have been using a production unit for more than a week now and here are my initial impressions.

Olympus e-420 with Zuiko 14-42mm ED Kit Lens

Olympus e-420 with Zuiko 14-42mm ED Kit Lens

Update December 18, 2008: Olympus E-420 with 25mm Pancake Lens Field Review here

Olympus Philippines was kind enough to lend me one of the latest model from Olympus DSLR line for testing and review, the Olympus e-420. The Olympus e-420 is currently the world’s smallest and lightest DSLR in the market. I was really attracted to this little wonder and wanted to really test out the unit before actually jumping into buying one. Olympus was famous for creating the OM-system cameras in the 70’s and 80’s which was also known for being small and light yet still manages to bring out the excellent quality images. A lot were excited with the release of the e-420 as it brought back the retro style cameras and also introduced the highly anticipated Zuiko 25mm 2.8 pancake lens. I have been using a production unit for more than a week now and here are my initial impressions.

Olympus e-420 2 Lens Kit

Olympus e-420 2 Lens Kit

I will be doing a few series of entries for this review as it comes along. I won’t be too technical and will leave the pixel peeping to the lab experts to test. What I will give is an impression on what is really important – the actual real world use and application. I have been using the Olympus e-500, which was a 2005 model, for some time now. It’s Kodak sensor have been outputting excellent images so I haven’t jumped to last year’s Olympus e-x10 upgrades. I thought the 1st generation Panasonic (Matsuhita) Sensor was not that big an upgrade on Image Quality for me. Though it has improved on Noise Control, it’s dynamic range and control of highlights was not in par with the old Kodak Sensor on my e-500, so I decided to wait for a while. When this year’s E-x20 line was introduced with an improved sensor, I checked out the sample images first and was excited to see some improvements on the highlights and also shadow details.

Zuiko Kit Lens 14-42mm and 14-45mm Comparison

Zuiko Kit Lens new 14-42mm (left) and old 14-45mm (right)Comparison

So here are the improvements coming from my E-500:

  • 10 effective megapixel sensor (11.8 total pixels) by Panasonic Matsuhita
  • Larger 2.7″ LCD screen with improved contrast and color gamut to make it more viewable in varying angles
  • Live View with contrast detect autofocus (with supported lenses) and face detection (all lenses)
  • 3.5 fps continues shooting
  • Shadow Adjustment Technology
  • Live View’s Perfect Shot Preview
  • Wireless Flash Control (controls up to 3 flashes)
  • More Compact Kit Lenses with ED glasses

Zuiko Kit Lens 40-150mm Comparison

Zuiko Kit Lens 40-150mm new (left) and old (right) Comparison

Handling and Build: Taking the unit out of the box, I was amazed on how small the body was. It was getting close to compact camera territory already. There were the usual buttons I am familiar with but also a couple of buttons moved places. The build is quite good, it doesn’t feel cheap and as plasticky with the its textured finishing. There’s a rubber portion on the back and where you would likely place your thumb for a finer grip. Speaking of grip, it only has a slight protruding curve at the front which I had to get used to for some time. It may be a problem with bigger hands but the trick here is holding the barrel of the lens as well.

Compact Kit Lenses: Another surprise for me are the new 14-42mm 3.5-5.6 (28-84mm) and 40-150mm 4-5.6 (80-300mm) Kit Lenses. I know they started these the e-x10 line last year but I only got to use and compare them now. My older kit lenses have quite a size compared to these small ones. Also the new kit lenses have ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glasses which helps reduce chromatic abberations, color fringing and ghosting. I particularly had some problems with ghosting on my old 40-150 when shooting at full zoom and am glad to know they have them now here. Olympus Zuiko Kit Lenses are also high quality glasses unlike other brand’s kit lenses which you just throw out to replace with a better lens. Even the 14-42mm kit lens was a surprise since it was sharper than the old one. Many reviews can attest to the quality of Zuiko glasses which are sharp from corner to corner.

Olympus e-420 new Live view

Olympus e-420 new Live view

Live View: Olympus pioneered the idea of Live View on a digital SLR. Some people wasn’t really ecstatic at the idea at first but eventually followed implementing their own versions. I was able to sample 1st generation live view on E-3/e-x10 line and thought it was a bit quirky on operation since you have to push some buttons another button aside from the shutter to focus. But with the new generation live view, you only have to half-press the shutter to focus just like any other compact cameras. The caveat here is that it isn’t as fast. It takes like a couple of seconds to lock on focus. I found the use of live view more beneficial on still subjects like Macro work and food shots since you can magnify focus 7x and 10x, studio shots as well as landscapes. I actually found the live view very useful when shooting fireworks at the recent World Pyro Olympics here and here. I no longer have to look at the view finder to compose my shots and shoot. What’s better, I can enjoy the display in full view as well instead of the viewfinder.

There is a lot more on the live view feature to delve on like the Perfect Shot Preview where you can preview White Balance and EV settings on screen before actually taking the shot, Live Histogram and Grid, the 11-point Auto focus on Live view and face detection. I will post a separate entry in the future highlighting each feature.

Image Quality and Noise Control: This is just an initial impression and have yet to fully test the camera on harsh conditions. But so far I like the images coming out from the camera. One noticeable improvement is the White Balance. The e-500 had trouble in multiple lighting conditions but the e-420 seem to get it right this time even on Auto mode. The traditional film-like colors of Olympus is still there. Noise has improved as well from my e-500. ISO is usable up to 800 on e420 and the noise patterns are fine grains unlike blotches of chroma noise in my older model. I also like the option of being able to set the noise filter to Off, low, standard and high depending on the conditions.

There’s still a lot to test on the camera. I found the Olympus e-420 as an ideal Travel camera due to its compactness and portability. I can even bring it everyday in my small bag. It’s a true “go anywhere, take anywhere” camera and I can’t wait to take it on my next travel destinations this weekend and next week.

The Olympus e-420 is already available at camera shops like Camerahause. SRP is Php 32,999 for a single lens kit with the 14-42mm kit lens. Add an additional Php 5000 for the 40-150mm telephoto kit lens which will give you a range of 14-150mm (28-300mm). If you are interested you can drop me a line here as well.

Update December 18, 2008: Olympus E-420 with 25mm Pancake Lens Field Review here

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