Price When Reviewed: 280 . 323
Pros: Excellent handling and build; ultra-compact dimensions; excellent Shadow Adjustment Technology; affordable price; impressive range of pro-spec lenses.
Cons: Increased noise at ISO 800 and ISO 1600, using the Shadow Adjustment Technology; no anti-shake option.
Looking like one of the maker’s OM models from the 1980s, Olympus’ latest Four Thirds camera, the tiny E-420, replaces the E-410 as the world’s smallest digital SLR. Although it has the same ten-megapixel resolution Live-MOS sensor, the addition of the maker’s Shadow Adjustment Technology (first seen in the semi-pro E-3) and some tweaks to the image-processing pipeline have resulted in very different output to the E-410.
Placed side-by-side, the effects are visible in Live View on the two models’ LCDs: the new model benefits from a larger, more colour-accurate 2.7-inch screen.
Areas of deep shadow on the E-410’s screen are displayed distinctly lighter and with much more detail on the E-420’s. It’s not a miracle cure for the slightly lower dynamic range of the small Four Thirds sensor, but the optimized exposure makes for very consistent-looking batches of snaps. Although it’s confusing to select – it’s accessed via the Auto Gradation mode from the menu, or as a shortcut from the data panel on the rear – it’s far more effective than the E-3’s option.
As well some cosmetic changes, there are other advances over the E-410. A new white-balance algorithm makes for vibrant but not unrealistic-looking colours in direct sunlight, and helps lift them under shade too. Indoors, there are the same yellow colour casts as before, but a new Preview mode in Live View allows you to select the most pleasing look from a series of thumbnails – not unlike the Variations option in Photoshop Elements. You can do the same with exposure – handy if you’re a novice, but you wouldn’t want your colleagues to see you.
The Live View mode is well implemented, and a new contrast-detection option using data from the Live-MOS sensor opens up other possibilities. These include the gimmicky face-detection option, but also genuinely useful wide-area targeting and user-selectable focus points for off-centre subjects. As in its rivals, auto-focusing is tardy using this mode, but it can be useful for close-ups, still-lives and some forms of portraiture.