With the E20N, Olympus has simultaneously upgraded its top-of-the-line digital SLR, the E10, and introduced its first 5-megapixel camera. While the camera’s sturdy build, excellent feel, high-quality optics, and $2,000 price tag put it near the pro end of the market, its painfully slow performance makes it feel like a low-end prosumer camera.
For the most part, the E20 is the same camera as the 4-megapixel E10, but with a 5-megapixel sensor. Olympus has added a few features such as a unique Progressive Scan mode and a new noise-reduction filter.
The E20 has the same all-metal body, sturdy build and pro-camera heft as the E10, and the same nonremovable, 9mm to 16mm (equivalent to 35mm to 140mm) f-2.0 to f-2.4 lens. The camera’s manual-zoom ring provides quick, accurate zoom control, while the focus ring provides a manual focus such as that on film cameras. Though the lack of interchangeable lenses may seem a bit dubious at this price point, it’s hard to complain about the quality or feel of the E20’s lens, and the new camera is fully compatible with Olympus’s previous lens-extension offerings.
The E10 and E20 are unique among digital SLRs in that they allow you to use the LCD screen as a viewfinder in addition to the normal TTL optical viewfinder. What’s more, the LCD can tilt out and away from the camera’s body, ideal for waist-level shooting.
The E20’s controls are located on the top, back, and left side of the camera, and most critical functions have a dedicated control. You access most controls by holding down the appropriate button while rotating the camera’s control wheel, which pretty much precludes one-handed operation and sometimes forces you into an awkward grip.
Featurewise, the E20 packs most of the features a serious digital photographer needs. Particularly impressive is the camera’s ability to define custom resolution and compression combinations. But disappointingly, it lacks any kind of flexible auto-exposure control for cycling through reciprocal exposure settings. And for a semipro camera, we found the lack of a depth of field preview to be conspicuous.
The E20’s built-in flash is strong and well suited to most snapshot situations. For more serious flash work, Olympus provides a hot shoe and an external sync for compatibility with all of its flashes.
The E20 has a maximum resolution of 2,560 by 1,920, meaning it’s really a 4.9-megapixel camera. Overall image quality is very impressive, offering excellent detail and vivid though not oversaturated color with minimal artifacts–the extra resolution over the E10 is certainly welcome.
The E20 offers ISOs of 80, 160, and 320, and Olympus has added an effective noise-reduction filter for long-exposure images. Overall, noise levels on the E20 are a little higher than we’d like, but perfectly acceptable.
Shooting with the E20 is relatively pleasant and comfortable thanks to the camera’s ergonomic design. The camera offers four different shooting modes: full auto, full manual, and either aperture or shutter priority. The E20’s new progressive-scan mode delivers images with only half the resolution, but allows for shutter speeds up to 1/18,000 of a second (normally the camera maxes out at 1/640). This could be a handy feature for sports and nature photographers, except that the camera performance is too slow for this type of work–which brings us to our main complaint.
In addition to having slow boot times (roughly 6 seconds to boot or wake up from sleep), the camera is excruciatingly slow at saving images. In super high-quality mode, the E20 routinely took 10 to 15 seconds to save. If you’re using the optical viewfinder, you can start shooting again right away, but if you’re using the LCD as a viewfinder, you’ll need to wait until the camera is done recording. Also, the image buffer is not big enough to hold more than four or five images at full resolution. Simply put, for a camera at this price point, the E20 is way too slow.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The E20 is a nice improvement over the E10, and there’s no doubt that the camera’s design gives it a professional feel. Until Olympus improves its performance, though, we can only view the E20 as a luxurious, expensive prosumer camera.