Price When Reviewed: £1,275 plus VAT
The Camedia E-20P is an upgraded version of the popular E-10 – a curious offspring of SLR and conventional, compact digital-camera. Both models feature a true SLR-style through-lens optical viewfinder, but the lens isn’t interchangeable. You can, however, screw on adaptors for wide-angle and telephoto work. The system works well, but makes the overall package bulky. The E-20P uses the same 4x-zoom lens as the E-10 – equivalent to a 35-140mm focal range on 35mm camera – but replaces its 4.1 megapixel CCD with a 5mp unit that offers a maximum resolution of 2,560-x-1,920. This sums up the E-20P – the same basic design as the E-10 with better electronics. Through-the-lens viewing tops this camera’s extensive list of features. Unlike the tiny, straight-through optical viewfinders on most digital cameras, the E-20P’s is big, bright, and more precise – especially for macro shooting. Another advantage of the E-20P, is that aperture and shutter-speed settings are viewable in the viewfinder. This rare capability makes using aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual-exposure modes truly practical. Another seldom-seen feature is multiple-media support. The E-20 comes with a modest 32MB SmartMedia card – 64MB would be more appropriate for a 5mp camera – but it can also use Compact Flash media and IBM’s Microdrives, both of which have capacities of up to 1GB. Its heavy aluminium body gives the E-20P a rugged, durable feel, and it operates smoothly and quietly. The unit’s lens moves relatively quickly throughout its zoom range. Most digital cameras lose two or three full f-stops as you zoom to their maximum telephoto range – the E-20P drops from f2 to f2.4. Multiple buttons let you speedily adjust the more commonly used controls, including two dedicated white-balance buttons – one for one-touch instant calibration, which helps with recording accurate colours, and the other for switching between white-balance modes. All of the controls are well placed, maximizing their functionality under a variety of shooting conditions. This isn’t a camera you can drop into a pocket or small bag. It’s big and heavy, even compared to a typical 35mm SLR. The E-20P measures seven inches from the back of its massive body to the end of its longish zoom lens, and it weighs over 2.5lbs. It doesn’t offer digital zoom, or audio or video recording – a disadvantage for some amateur shooters, though few pros will miss them. Shoot out Olympus’ E-20P earned a good overall image-quality score in our standardized tests. Enlargements made from the Olympus’ shots weren’t quite as sharp as those produced by Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-F707 and Nikon’s Coolpix 5000 – though they were still pleasing overall. The E-20P impressed us least in colour balance. Outdoor shots tended to have a blue cast – which we’ve noted in other Olympus models – and in our test-pattern shots, whites took on a light cream tone. Images of our model taken with flash had fine colour shading, but the powerful flash tended to overexpose our model’s skin tone. You can compensate for most of these problems by working with the camera’s settings. Using the menus, for example, you can lower the exposure value for the flash. Similarly, adjusting the white-balance calibration button significantly improved the accuracy of blues and whites in outdoor shots. One of the more interesting changes Olympus made in upgrading the E-10 to the E-20P was to add a progressive-scan mode. This menu selection allows you to shoot at shutter speeds up to an incredible 1/18,000 of a second. That remarkable speed does not come without cost, however: it cuts the camera’s vertical resolution by half. We shot images in both the standard-interlaced and progressive-scan modes; viewed at 100 per cent of image size on-screen, the latter were significantly less sharp. The E-20P has exceptional battery life. Using two 3V, disposable lithium-ion batteries, we took over 600 shots. For users embarked on long photo shoots, Olympus offers a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery pack that attaches to the bottom of the camera. Other options include various telephoto and wide-angle lenses. If you plan to do a lot of macro photography, you’ll want to purchase the optional macro extension lens. Without it, the smallest area the E-20P can shoot is about three inches across. For shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, the E-20P comes with a large plastic sunshade that clips onto the front of the lens. When you stuff the E-20P into your camera bag, the shade is designed so you can turn it around and slide it over the lens barrel. The E-20P connects to Macs and Windows PCs using USB – or you can use a reader for the SmartMedia card. As is the fashion, the E-20P also includes a video output port, allowing you to show off your photos via a TV – which smacks more of showing off to Auntie Marge than to clients. The camera ships with two pieces of software: CamedaMaster for capturing, organizing and managing your shots, and Photoshop Elements for anyone who doesn’t own the full version. A worthy upgrade to the well-regarded E-10, the E-20P adds extra imaging power to an already versatile camera.