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Olympus EVOLT E-420 Digital SLR - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 14/06/2008
Rating: Highly Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 5th of March 2008, the Olympus EVOLT E-420 is Olympus' latest compact 10 megapixel Digital SLR - an update to the E-410 - it features a new live view auto focus mode, face detection focus, a new 2.7" screen, and is the world's most compact Digital SLR, especially when used with the new f2.8 25mm pancake lens. The Olympus EVOLT E-420 is available for £404 with kit lens (as tested here), £485 with twin kit lens, or £500 with 25mm/50mm pancake lens, which makes it great value for money. The camera measures approx. 129.5 x 91 x 53 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs 380 g (body only).

Olympus have this to say about the camera:

"The latest addition to the Olympus E-System, the E-420, represents a winning formula for both seasoned photographers and entrants to the D-SLR domain alike. Users benefit from the remarkable quality only D-SLR photography can deliver, yet also enjoy the ease of use usually only associated with a compact camera. This includes Live View depictions on the LCD, which can significantly simplify image composition. In addition, as one of the world’s smallest and lightest D-SLRs, mobility is hardly an issue. The E-420 will fit just about anywhere – from a small daypack to a lady’s handbag. This makes it a perfect companion for journalists, travellers or other adventurers who appreciate the one-of-a-kind portability, performance and value for money it delivers. The easy-to-use 10.0 Megapixel E-420 features 28 shooting modes to suit a multitude of photographic situations and is ready to use straight out of the box."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Canon Powershot SX100 IS)

Front view - infra-red reciever, new more protruding hand-grip.

Front view - lens release.

Front - lens off.

Top - popup flash.

Top - flash, shooting mode, flash hot shoe, mode dial, shutter release, exposure compensation, on/off, scroll wheel.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 10 Megapixels 4/3 LiveMOS Sensor
  • 3x optical zoom kit lens (~28-84mm), ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6
  • 2.7" HyperCrystal II LCD, 230,000 pixels, with 100% field of view via LCD
  • Autofocus Live View mode
  • Face Detection
  • Shadow Adjustment Technology
  • Excellent dust reduction system
  • Digital Image Stabilisation (Scene mode)
  • Built-In flash and wireless flash control
  • Auto ISO 100 - 1600, Manual ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
  • Dual format compatible (XD and Compact Flash)
  • 3.5fps with up to 8 images in RAW buffer, 3.5 fps / Up to card capacity in Large Normal mode
  • AF / AE lock functionality
  • Depth of field preview
  • Anti-shock (Mirror lock) function
  • Scenes: 18 - Portrait, Landscape, Landscape with Portrait, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Children, Sports, High key, Low key, Image Stabilisation Mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents, Beach and Snow, Panorama
  • Histogram: Yes - available in Live view mode, and in playback.
  • Optical viewfinder: Yes - the optical viewfinder is clear and quite accurate, showing 95% of the frame.
  • Manual WB: Yes - One Touch WB set using the Fn button.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6
  • BC-1 (Body Cap)
  • BLS-1 (Li-Ion Battery for E-400 series)
  • BCS-1 (Battery Charger for BLS-1)
  • EP-4 (Eyepiece Shutter for E-400 series and E-500 series)
  • Shoulder Strap
  • CB-USB6 (USB Cable)
  • CB-VC2 (Video Cable CB-VC2 for E-330, E-400 series and E-500 series)
  • OLYMPUS Master 2 (Software CD-ROM)
  • OLYMPUS Studio 2 Trial (Software Download)
  • 147 page Printed manual
  • Training DVD
  • Advanced Manual (CD)
  • 2 year Warranty Card

Slightly better than average box contents - a large memory card would be nice. It's good to see a 2 year warranty, and the training DVD is very good, however a decent case, and a large memory card is highly recommended.

Menu system: The menu system can seem a litttle overwhelming at times, especially when you get to setup section 1 - this has so many options that the sub menus range from A through to H with each letter representing another menu! However, saying this, the camera does provide quick access to the most commonly used options on the screen without having to delve into the full menu system. For beginners the camera provides a number of scene modes that are very easy to access. The playback menu has some useful editing options, such as Shadow adjustment, redeye fix, cropping, resizing etc.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size (10mp to VGA), image compression (RAW, JPEG Super Fine, Fine, Normal, Basic), but unfortunately not the aspect ratio. Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options.

Battery usage: The battery rating is 7.2v 1150mAh. I'm not sure what the official figures are for battery life, but I was able to take around 335 shots before the batteries went flat, using live view roughly 25% of the time, which is about average for a Digital SLR. Better battery life should be possible by avoiding the live view mode.

Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended. If you intend to take Fine JPEG images I would recommend, at a bare minimum, a 1gb memory card and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger especially if you intend to take RAW images. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use Compact Flash, Micro drive and xD picture cards (you can keep 1 Compact Flash card, and 1 XD memory card in the camera at the same time and switch between them whenever you feel like it, for example, if one is full). As the Olympus supports FAT32, it is compatible with the Hitachi 4gb Micro Drive. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus E-420:

Find the latest prices for XD memory cards at Amazon UK: 1gb (1024mb): £7, 2gb (2048mb): £13.
Find the latest prices for CF (Compact Flash) memory cards at Amazon UK:
1gb (1024mb): £9, 2gb (2048mb): £14, 4gb (4096mb): £18, 8gb (8192mb): £52.
Need more help deciding what size memory card to buy? Click here to read my article called "What Size Memory Card Should I Buy?"

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 1.8 seconds. Focusing seemed quick, except in very low light - this takes a little longer to focus especially when using the telephoto end of the lens. The playback mode is very quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was very quick, with a delay of around 0.6 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was very quick allowing a shot to be taken every 0.7 seconds. Using continuous shooting mode with flash the performance was similar with a delay of 0.6 - 0.8 seconds between shots. The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is excellent offering 3.5 fps for 8 frames at the highest resolution (RAW) until the buffer is full, or unlimited shooting at 3.5fps when set to Large JPEG Normal.

Back - play, delete, menu, info, 2.7" screen, optical viewfinder (with diopter correction), AEL/AFL button, live-view button, 4-way controller, with middle OK button, and left function button. USB / AV out.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and has a number of scene modes that helps get good shots. There is a simple built in guide that explains some of the options and settings, however, it would be good for beginners if this was expanded. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward, and it's easy to switch modes using the clear mode dial. The menus are clear and responsive and are fairly easy to use although reference to the manual is recommended. The modes are fairly easy to access, mainly thanks to the large screen, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's also easy to see when photos are in focus. In live view mode the screen can be used in bright sunlight, and the camera provides a preview of exposure compensation and white balance changes. The live view mode has a useful 7 or 10x magnification mode for manual focus, which is especially useful for still life or macro photography. The live view mode is much improved compared to previous versions, and shows you the subject at all times, with the screen only going blank while the photo is taken. The camera is provided with a DVD training video - this provides an excellent introduction and also provides useful information on how to get the best from the camera.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be a lot of buttons but this allows easy access to the essential functions and features while you're composing your shot. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is good. The scroll wheel has been improved / redesigned, and has multiple functions for example: in play mode it's used to zoom in on your picture so you compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is in focus. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, and is now easier to hold with one hand thanks to the improved handgrip at the front (the hand grip extends further than the previous E-400, and E-410). The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus EVOLT E-420 Sample Photo Gallery!


Heather and Flower (ISO100) Flash photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a good flash, and copes well with group photos, and there is no red-eye in group photos. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept low. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time in low-light, although struggled in very dark situations when using the telephoto end. There is an auto-focus flash - illuminator that can be used to help focus, however, this can be overly bright, and thankfully can be switched off. Using the vivid mode images are brighter with stronger saturation and colour.

ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO100 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 10 megapixel Nikon D40x, and 10 megapixel Canon EOS 400D. The Olympus E-420 was left on default settings (Noise Filter: Normal).

Nikon D40x (10mp) Olympus E-420 (10mp) Canon EOS 400D (10mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Nikon D40x on the left, Olympus E-420 in the middle, Canon EOS 400D on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Nikon D40x (10mp, Auto WB) Olympus E-420 (10mp, Auto WB) Canon EOS 400D (10mp, Auto WB)
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels ISO3200 - N/A ISO3200 - N/A

Noise results: The Olympus EVOLT E-420 appears to have better results compared to the E-400, and E-510, with slightly less noise, whilst still maintaining very good detail. The camera has very useable images upto ISO800 - however when viewing ISO1600 images - noise is noticable and higher than expected for a Digital SLR. When compared to the Canon 400D and Nikon D40x, at ISO1600, the Olympus has more noise, and this is possibly one of the main drawbacks of choosing an Olympus DSLR. With the Canon and Nikon DSLR camera's you can happily use the full range of ISO settings (upto ISO1600) without fear of getting an un-useable image, with the Olympus it's a bit more risky. When testing the Olympus in very dark lighting, ISO1600 images had some colour banding, and I had to switch to ISO800 to get acceptable results - examples of this can be seen in the gallery. However, saying this, the Olympus gives extensive control over noise reduction, sharpening, and noise filter settings, so it is possible to choose optimum settings for different shooting settings, for example, outdoors in bright sunlight the noise filter can be set to low to ensure maximum detail.

Image Stabilisation: The Olympus lacks built in image stabilisation, so to avoid image blur you will need to increase the ISO setting, or use the digital image stabilisation (scene) mode, which automatically increases the ISO setting for you.

Shadow Adjustment Technology: "Shadow Adjustment Technology all but eradicates the problem of shadowy images." This feature brightens darker / shadow areas on an image to give an improved dynamic range, so that images are exposed correctly even when there is a wide range of brightness levels. Examples showing this switched off and on can be seen below.

Shadow Adjustment Off Shadow Adjustment On
Actual Pixels Actual Pixels

As you can see - with this switched on, the second image is brighter, with darker areas being noticably brighter and has made the left building much brighter bringing out some additional detail and colour. This can be used in playback mode to brighten dark images. There is some additional noise noticable in the image. (You may need to adjust your screen brightness if both images appear dark).


Liverpool shops (ISO100) People blowing bubbles (ISO100)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours (more so when set to Vivid mode), and exposure and auto white balance was very good. There was good detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast and very little or no chromatic aberations or purple fringing. In general jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting. My only complaint is that images are slightly soft, and could do with sharpening, or alternatively setting the Noise filter to low produced sharper images.

Zoom: The standard kit lens provides a wide angle 3x optical zoom starting at 28mm equivalent which is great for 'normal' everyday photography, zooming to 84mm allowing photos of distant objects. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. Digital zoom is not available on this camera.

Wide-angle 3x Optical Zoom Detail (rollover for sharpened version)

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation (however it wasn't necessary in this instance). Images weren't as soft as some DSLR's, however, sharpness can be increased by setting the noise filter to low, or alternatively sharpening the image in Photoshop or similar photo editing program (an example of this is shown above - simply rollover the image with your mouse).

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise, only making some noise while focusing. The lens gives you a potentially unlimited amount of steps between wide and telephoto due to the manual zoom ring - this gives very good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was very rarely seen, and when it was seen, levels were very low.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO200)

Using the lens set to telephoto zoom, you are able to get a better macro photo - colour and detail is good, and there appears to be fairly low noise at ISO200. The lens / autofocus allows you to get roughly ~10cm away from the subject to the front of the lens using the 14-42mm kit lens. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results, and even better results will be possible with a dedicated macro lens.

Video mode: This camera, along with every other DSLR currently available, does not feature a video mode.


Image Quality: Image quality is very good to excellent: auto white balance and exposure is very good and the images have excellent colour, with good saturation, contrast and detail, with low noise except for high ISO images. Dynamic range seemed to be good - and can be improved using the Shadow Adjustment Technology. Images were slightly soft straight from the camera on default settings but can be improved by setting the Noise Filter to Low. For maximum detail and colour control RAW images should be taken, although JPEG images straight from the camera were still very impressive. Purple fringing was very low, as was red-eye. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the flash assist. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options (including RAW). The camera gives very good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows you to change the colour mode (Vivid, Natural etc), saturation, contrast and sharpness. (9/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a black body with black rubber hand grip, and is currently the smallest digital SLR available. The camera has a very good 2.7" screen that works well even in bright sunlight. The camera feels very well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is fairly easy to use (most of the time) and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera giving quick access to the most commonly used options and features (rather than hidden in menus), and the most commonly used features are quickly accessible using the OK button and back screen. The camera speed is very good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, excellent flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and excellent 3.5fps continuous shooting (with or without flash). The camera has a huge range of features, such as live view, anti-dust / supersonic wave filter, one-touch custom white balance, shadow adjustment technology, face detection focus, exposure bracketing, etc. The camera offers a great deal of options to customise your images, and the camera is available with an excellent range of Zuiko Digital ED lenses. In fact, the only thing the camera is missing is optical image stabilisation. (9.5/10)

Value for Money: The Olympus EVOLT E-420 is available for £404 with kit lens, £485 with twin kit lens, or £500 with 25mm/50mm pancake lens, this makes it very competitively priced compared to the competition, especially as the Olympus E-420 feels like a fully featured Digital SLR. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: If you want to move into the world of Digital SLRs and don't know where to start then the Olympus EVOLT E-420 is probably one of the best cameras to choose - despite being Olympus' "budget" digital SLR - it is not overly limited in any way like some of the other budget Digital SLRs. The camera is available with many excellent Zuiko Digital kit lenses, one's that don't need replacing at the first possible opportunity. The camera has a large 2.7" sceen that works well in bright sunlight, anti-dust sensor, new live view auto focus mode with face detection and an extremely useful manual focus mode, one touch white balance, shadow adjustment technology, and an impressive 3.5fps continuous shooting mode until the card is full (when on the right setting). On top of all of this the camera delivers great images with great colour, saturation, detail, and better than average auto white balance (for a Digital SLR) - the only problem occurs when you need to use ISO1600 - where noise is more obvious than other SLRs. The camera is quick to use, and easy to use providing numerous scene modes. Given the excellent value for money this camera provides, and the extensive features, I'd highly recommend this camera!

Olympus EVOLT E-420 Rating: Highly Recommended (9.2/10)
Available for £404 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Excellent image quality - excellent auto white balance, accurate colour, good dynamic range
  • Excellent 2.7" screen - works well in bright sunlight
  • World's most compact DSLR - available with pancake ~50mm lens
  • Excellent Zuiko Digital kit lens - excellent detail, sharpness etc
  • 3.5fps continuous shooting (upto 8 shots in RAW, unlimited in JPEG Normal)
  • Improved Live View mode (quicker, easier to use, with exposure and WB preview)
  • Live view allows 7x, or 10x magnification for manual focus
  • Face Detection Focus
  • Numerous, options and features (dpi setting)
  • Exposure bracketing, Exposure compensation +/- 5.0
  • Numerous noise reduction / filter options
  • Shadow adjustment technology
  • Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation settings
  • Good value for money
  • Very quick performance (although slightly sluggish switch on time)
  • One-touch Manual White Balance (using function button)
  • Low noise levels on default settings (upto ISO800)
  • Very little red-eye in photos
  • Very low purple fringing
  • DVD Video guide

What I don't like:

  • Real optical image stabilisation would be nice (see the E-510 / E-520)
  • Somewhat complicated menus (partly due to the vast wealth of options)
  • Some banding in ISO1600 photos in low light
  • ISO1600 results worse than other DSLRs

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Olympus EVOLT E-420 Sample Photo Gallery.

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