Olympus unveils E-420, new compact DSLR

by Reads (115)

In a midnight announcement, Olympus pulled back the wraps from its latest entry into the DSLR market: the compact E-420.

Olympus E-420

Successor to the small and light E-410, the 10 megapixel E-420 offers several improvements to its predecessor’s key features. Most notably, the new Olympus adds a contrast detection auto focus system, which allows the E-420 to perform more like a point-and-shoot compact camera when using Olympus’s hallmark Live View mode. Press the shutter button halfway with the camera in contrast detection AF mode and the camera focuses on-screen in real time: no more time-consuming up-and-down mirror motion to use the AF system with Live View.

Olympus E-420

At a claimed 13.4 ounces, the E-420 weighs in at a full three ounces less than its closest competitor, the 16.6 ounce Nikon D40. And with Olympus’s simultaneously announced Zuiko 25mm f/2.8 "pancake" prime lens (equivalent to a 50mm field of view with the Olympus Four Thirds system’s 2x crop factor), the setup is nearly pocket sized, according to the manufacturer.

Olympus E-420

Other features and improvements that skew toward users moving up from a compact camera include Face Detection and Shadow Adjustment Technologies, as well as 18 scene mode presets. TruePic III image processing, a 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II wide viewing angle LCD, improved automatic white balance, an active dust reduction system, and wireless flash compatibility should give the camera some appeal with more advanced shooters as well.

Stylistically, the E-420 is very similar to its predecessor, with a slightly more rectangular shape and a less pronounced grip than many current DSLRs. Olympus has answered user issues with the the E-410’s lack of a defined grip, however, providing a slightly more pronounced and sculpted finger wrap-around area. After a brief closed-door preview of the new model at PMA, we can confirm that ergonomics are indeed slightly better on the E-420.

As noted, the Live View system adds a point-and-shoot style contrast detection AF system for compact-camera shooting simplicity. Users looking for the precision of traditional TTL AF still have this option with the E-420, even with Live View enabled. (As with the E-410, two mirror cycles are required from press to capture in this phase-difference detection AF mode, resulting in a bit more lag than with Live View deactivated.) A third, "Hybrid" AF option uses the contrast detection system for initial focusing, and the more precise phase-difference detection system to lock final focus just before capture. For those interested in the three systems’ focusing process differences, Olympus has provided some useful diagrams.

Olympus E-420
Phase Difference Detection AF
(view large image)

Olympus E-420
Contrast Detection AF
(view large image)

Olympus E-420
Hybrid AF
(view large image)

Overall, the specs look promising, with the E-420’s user-friendly features giving it the potential to be one of the best transition cameras for point-and-shooters looking to move up to a DSLR. In a specs sheet analysis, the only thing else we might have hoped for from this announcement (besides, perhaps, an even larger grip) is in-body image stabilization.

Look for the E-420 to hit stores in May in three configurations: body only ($499) and in kit form with either the Zuiko ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ($599) or the aforementioned Zuiko ED 25mm f/2.8 ultra-thin prime ($699).

Olympus E-420 Specifications:

Sensor 10 megapixel Live MOS, Four Thirds format (17.3×13.0mm)
Lens/Zoom Four Thirds system mount, 2x crop factor
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-pixel HyperCrystal II TFT LCD; optical viewfinder
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600
Shutter Speed 60-1/4000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Apeture Priority, Shutter Priority,Manual, Movie, Scene Program, Scene Select
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Landscape+Portrait, Night Scene, Night+Portrait, Children, Sports, High Key, Low Key, Digital Image Stabilization, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Fireworks, Documents
White Balance Settings Lamp, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade
Metering Modes Digital ESP, Center-Weighted Average, Spot
Focus Modes 3-point TTL phase-difference detection system, 11-point contrast detection AF; Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual Focus, S-AF+MF, C-AF+MF
Drive Modes Single Frame, Sequential
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, First Curtain Slow Sync, Second Curtain Slow Sync, Fill, Manual, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
Not Specified
Memory Formats CompactFlash Type I/II, Microdrive, xD-Picture Card
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, RAW
Max. Image Size 3648×2736
Max. Video Size
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Lithium ion rechargeable
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Face Detection, Shadow Adjustment Technology, Perfect Shot Preview, Live View, TruePic III image processor
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