The new Olympus E-420 DSLR and 25mm pancake lens examined

The E-410 has just evolved

In what has to be regarded as one of the better kept DSLR launch secrets in a while, Olympus has unveiled the E-420, which is a significantly enhanced version of the year-old E-410, plus an ultra-compact 'pancake' 25mm f/2.8 Digital Zuiko prime standard lens. The two make an interesting combination with lightweight and compactness, plus the promise of super-sharp results, at the top of the list of attributes. The E-420 is also to be sold as body-only, with the 14-42 standard kit lens and as a twin lens kit with the 40-150 f/4-5.6.

E-410 updated

Unmistakably based on the E-410 body, which continues to be the smallest and DSLR body currently available, the E-420 has some subtle and fundamental differences compared to its predecessor. On the outside the minimalist grip has been re-profiled to afford more secure handling. The printed legends on the outside of the body have new colours to help the 7% of the population who are colour blind use the camera more easily.

There is also a new 2.7 inch LCD screen, slightly larger in area than the E-410 screen and said to be more contrasty, with a wider viewing angle and exhibiting a wider display gamut in order to make the use of the screen for exposure, colour and focus/depth of field evaluation a better experience. Resolution remains the same and the screen stays fixed too.

Continuous live view AF

Under the skin the E-420's most significant change is the implementation of AF without needing to interrupt live view. Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, the E-420 uses off-the-sensor contrast detection autofocus, though this only works with the new 25mm lens and the 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses. Customers purchasing a body-only who already have one or both kit lenses can download a firmware update to make them fully compatible with the continuous live view contrast detect AF.

There are two contrast detect live view AF modes: AF-1 - press the shutter release half way and focus is found during live view but once pressing the shutter elease home, final AF measured with the mirror down using the normal phase-detect mode. AF-2 only uses contrast detection, so a mirror action cycle is avoided. We haven't yet tried the E-420, but our guess is that the AF-1 mode may be faster than AF-2 in some circumstances, despite the additional mirror action.

  E-410 E-420 Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10
Sensor 10MP LiveMOS 10MP LiveMOS* 10MP LiveMOS*
Image processor TruePic III TruePic III Venus Engine III
Shadow Adjustment Technology No Yes No
Face detection No Yes Yes
Live view AF modes Phase detect Phase detect plus contrast detect** Phase detect plus contrast detect**
LCD screen size/resolution 2.5in/230K pixels 2.7in/230K pixels 2.5in/230K pixels
Articulating screen No No Yes
Wireless remote flash support No Yes No
Max continuous shooting rate 3fps (8 RAW frames) 3.5fps (? RAW frames) 3fps (3 RAW frames)
Image stabilisation Only with IS lens Only with IS lens Only with IS lens***

*Improved sensor dynamic range

**Enables AF in continuous live view

***IS featured with bundled kit lens

Face detection

Hardware driven face detection capability works hand-in-hand with the contrast detection live view AF mode, ensuring that AF priority is given to faces in the frame, so avoiding incorrect focus on background detail.

Updated sensor and exposure system

It looks like the E-420 has the Mark 2 10MP LiveMOS sensor that has already seen action in the Panasonic DMC-L10 and Olympus E-3. This means a modest improvement in dynamic range and a small increase in continuous shooting rate compared to the E-410, up from 3fps to 3.5fps.

Shadow Adjustment Technology (SAT), already seen on the E-3, is also featured on the E-420. This is an automatic evaluative metering mode linked to the TruePic III image processor that can optimise shadow detail while avoiding blown highlights.

E-3 style menus and nomenclature

Like the E-3, the E-420 continues Olympus' revised image size and JPEG compression nomenclature, like Large Fine (low compression, maximum resolution) instead of SHQ (Super High Quality). E-420 menu structure appears to owe a lot to the E-3, too.

Wireless flash

As expected, the E-420 supports the new R-series wireless remote FL flash system, so multiple flash units and groups can be wirelessly controlled using the camera's pop-up flash, in much the same way as the E-3.

The pancake lens

Olympus has afforded the new low profile Digital Zuiko 25mm f/2.8 prime lens its Tatsuno quality mark, indicating it is the result of the design work of the designers at Olympus' prestigious Tatsuno lens facility. The lens is less than one inch thick and is comprised of 5 elements in 4 groups, including a dual-aspheric element. Closest focus is 20cm and the aperture diaphragm incorporates 7 blades to deliver a circular aperture.

Minimum aperture is f/22. Unusually, the 25mm f/2.8 comes with a 43mm screw-on aluminium lens cap. Olympus say the lens has very good edge to edge sharpness and can be used for high quality defocused bokeh effects. It promises to be an attractive all-round lens in the tradition of the old 50mm standard lens from film days.


UK list prices are as follows:

  • Olympus E-420 body only - 339.99
  • Olympus E-420 Lens Kit - 379.99
    (E-420 body with ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens)
  • Olympus E-420 Double Zoom Kit - 479.99
    (E-420 body with ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 and ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm 1:4.0-5.6 lenses)
  • Olympus E-420 25mm Lens Kit - 449.99
    (E-420 body with ZUIKO DIGITAL 25mm 1:2.8 lens)
  • ZUIKO DIGITAL 25mm 1:2.8 lens - 189.99

So what is your reaction? Tell us what you think via the FTU forum.


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