For quite some time now I, and many like-minded folks, have been hoping for the killer app for digital photography. For most of us that means a compact digi-cam with the heart and soul of a DSLR. Something like a D3 that fits in our pockets. Meanwhile, camera manufacturers have been inching towards such a dream machine with offerings like the Canon PowerShot G9, the Ricoh GR Digital II and the Sigma DP1. All good efforts, but each has serious drawbacks. So we wait.
I suspect that most people, myself included, always visualized the ultimate solution as some sort of suped-up compact or dumb-downed i.e. cheaper M8 rangefinder. After owning an M8 for nearly a year and finally giving up on it, I was not so excited about the rangefinder solution. I happen to like auto focus and accurate metering and rangefinders can be hard to use. On the other hand, after a brief tryout, I also rejected the Canon G9. I found it hard to hold and I need a decent viewfinder.
Now, along comes the Olympus E-420. In engineering this gem, Olympus has taken a completely different approach and, I think, the correct one. The E-420 is a DSLR with the skin and bones of a compact digi-cam. With its new Zuiko 25 mm f/2.8 Pancake lens it weighs in at just 16.75 oz. which compares favorably with the G9 at 13.1 and the DP1 at 9.5. I have always preferred cameras with some heft to them. The folks at Olympus have packed a full featured DSLR into a very small package. The E-420 measures 5.1 in. x 3.6 in. x 2.1 in. Both the G9 and the DP1 are only about an inch smaller all the way around. Finally, the E-420 is favorably priced at $700 with its pancake lens, compared to the G9 at $500 and the DP1 at $800.
The E-420 uses a 10 megapixel 4:3 sensor and 4:3 mount. I assume this means it can use lenses from Leica and Sigma as well as from Olympus. Best of all, the E-420 stores all those images on compact flash cards. The E-420 boasts a host of other desirable features, including a 2.7 in. LCD, OIS and Live View. No wonder DP Review is referring to the E-420 as a “little wonder”.
Olympus has the E-420 website up and running here, so you can check out all this little giant has to offer. Of course, the proof is always in the pictures. I expect sample images will start showing up soon. After that, reviews are certain to follow. The camera will be available in May for a hands on testing.
This year is starting to look better and better. And photokina isn’t until October.