Pros: Fun to use; excellent low-light performance; excellent Live View mode; compact size; intuitive menu system.
Cons: Slow high-quality burst mode; will overheat if Live View is used for hours on end.
Creatives who want to make the move from a compact camera to a digital SLR but are worried about the learning curve and the bulkier size of SLRs should check out the 12.3-megapixel Olympus E-620. It has been designed to be easy to use and it features a body size that's petite when compared to most digital SLRs on the market.
The Olympus E-620 is a traditional Four Thirds digital SLR-based camera, so it still has a mirror box and you can hear (it’s loud!) and feel the flip of the mirror every time you take a shot. Despite this, it has very small dimensions: it’s 12.9cm wide, 9.5cm high and 7.3cm thick. In this respect it’s similar to the Olympus E-420, which is another small digital SLR camera.
It also incorporates technology from the Olympus E-520 (its image stabilisation) and the Olympus E-30 (its art modes). So even though it’s so small, it offers everything you would expect from a digital SLR camera: sensor-based image stabilisation; a built-in sensor cleaning system; you can change lenses to suit your scene; you can change aperture, shutter and ISO speed on the fly; you can attach your own flash; and you can capture images in RAW mode.
It also has a very useful Live View mode and a flip-out, swivelling screen so that you can take easier self-portraits and low- or high-angled shots. In fact, the Live View mode on the Olympus E-620 is the best implementation we’ve seen of the technology and it allows you to use the LCD screen to frame your shots just as you would with a compact camera.
The screen is crystal clear, so you can easily see if a subject is in focus, and focus adjustments show up in real time on the screen. Not only that, but you don’t have to press a separate button to focus while in Live View mode (unlike the Canon EOS 500D, for example). It’s also a bright screen that can be viewed outdoors on sunny days.
If you use Live View continuously (we’re talking hours here) then it will overheat. When it overheats, a little icon appears on the screen to inform you, and you have to shut down the camera and let it cool. For this reason, it’s best to get accustomed to using the optical viewfinder and leave the Live View mode for when you want to take shots from funky angles.
The Olympus E-620 has a 12.3-megapixel sensor with a native 4:3 aspect ratio and it does a good job of capturing vibrant colours. It’s also a stellar performer in the dark. You can take shots at ISO 800 without noticing a hint of noise, even when you crop in nice and close.