Written by Gordon Laing
The Olympus E-420 is an unusually small and light 10 Megapixel DSLR aimed at point and shoot owners looking to upgrade, along with enthusiasts who want a camera they can use in situations where a traditional DSLR would be too cumbersome.
Announced in March 2008, the E-420 is the successor to the E-410 and shares virtually the same body and retro styling. This makes it the World’s smallest DSLR, and the simultaneous launch of a new slim pancake-style 25mm f2.8 lens (50mm equivalent) makes for a very compact combination.
Like many new DSLRs these days, the E-420 involves a number of small but useful updates inside and out. Externally, the screen has been slightly enlarged to a 2.7in model with superior colour and tonal reproduction, and the grip made a tad deeper for a more comfortable hold. Olympus has also changed the labelling on the camera body itself to a blue colour that’s more easily visible by those with colour blindness.
Most of the changes however take place internally although sadly there’s still no built-in anti-shake facilities. The resolution also remains 10 Megapixels, although the E-420 features a new sensor with improved dynamic range. Continuous shooting has also been slightly increased from 3 to 3.5fps.
The big new feature is contrast-based auto-focusing in Live View, which allows the E-420 to focus without interrupting the view – or making a racket as the mirror flips down and up again. Contrast-based AF also allows the E-420 to offer an 11-area system along with Face Detection in Live View.
Like the Panasonic L10 before it, the E-420’s contrast-based AF requires lenses which support the feature. At the time of writing, the Olympus models consisted of the 14-42mm and 40-150mm kit zooms, along with the new 25mm ‘pancake’ lens. A free firmware update can be downloaded from the Olympus homepage to enable this feature for lenses that were purchased previously. For all other lenses, the E-420 falls back on a slower hybrid mode, or a traditional phase-change auto-focus, which involves temporarily dropping the mirror; both options operate with three AF points.
The E-420’s Perfect Shot Preview allows you to preview the effect of exposure compensation and white balance settings during Live View on-screen, along with a depth of field preview. It will also preview the effect of Shadow Adjustment Technology, SAT, another new feature for the E-420 which adjusts the tonal range to preserve detail in dark areas. Indeed the image processing is now handled by the new TruePic III engine, with the E-420 following the same processing as the E-3. And speaking of the E-3, the E-420 also features many of its detailed custom functions.
The other major new feature of the E-420 is support for wireless flash control. Finally it goes without saying the E-420 also employs the legendary SSWF anti-dust system which in our tests has proven the most effective in the market.
So with the addition of contrast-based AF and the other new features, the world’s smallest and lightest DSLR has just got better – in theory anyway. In our full review we’ll put the new features to the test, try out the pancake lens and of course compare the image quality and capabilities against its best-selling rivals. As always you can also see a demonstration of the camera’s highlights in our Olympus E-420 Video tour, which of course includes how the new contrast-based AF works in practice.
Note: where features are identical to the E-410, we’ve reused some sections of our E-410 review.