Olympus E500 versus E620 (part 1)

It was pure coincidence that I ended up with Olympus at the beginning. After the ‘kiddy stuff’ of an Agfa Click I, some sort of an instamatic with real flash bulbs (was it Kodak?), a bit more seriously(?) a Praktika, an OM2 crossed my second-hand road and felt like I finally had a camera… it seemed like the sensible thing, too… not as expensive as Nikon, not as big either but still loads of quality… It gave me a lot of pleasure, accompanying me through the photography classes in the Arts Academy in Antwerp and a lot of events and travels in my most active years.  But there was one thing the little OM2 did not have… the endurance of a professional Nikon. I have seen a friend photographer drop his Nikon on the cobblestones, pick it up and go on taking pictures. And it still worked fine. My Olympus would not have survived that. And in the end it was not a fall but too much dust that ended its fruitful life. A short friendship with an OM4, second-hand as well, was less lucky and ended after a few months.




In the meantime I had moved, did not have a dark room any more nor a camera and my photographic life seemed at a dead-end. Other activities took its place.

By 2006 I was into computers a lot. They had even become part of my professional life. It seemed the inevitable next step to have a look at Photoshop, get a negative scanner and see what I could do with the 20 or so rolls of film still waiting to be printed. My first trials only tought me that Photoshop was not the average software to play around with. So, the next logical step was an intensive PS class and though I had enjoyed the discovery trip on my own, what I learned there shortened my working hours at least by 80% after a while and opened up lovely possibilities. We were nearing the end of 2006 by the time I got through my negatives. Istanbul1993 is part of that effort. Of course even Photoshop cannot really undo what an off the rack scanner does to negatives or photos…

I sure enjoyed the learning process. But the bonus of not having to lock myself up in the dark, missing so many sunny days and coming out of there with the smell of the products all over me  could not be disregarded either. A digital camera should complete the evolution. And though I looked at several cameras, it was again Olympus calling out to me… an addiction, I guess…

The E500 had just entered the market and the reviews I read looked good. I did not realize it then but of course I was in for a shock. As I had been when scanning the negatives and finding none of the greys my paper used to produce. Nice addition, colors. By and by I remembered things I had learned half a lifetime ago, like white balance and stuff. But it took me almost 2 years to finally produce the colors I really felt good about (Schoonselhof) It was like starting all over again.

Soon after the purchase of the camera the kit lens was replaced by a ‘pro’ version. I don’t like using flash and need all the light I can get (or rather, afford financially… there’s still ‘top pro’, of course… 😀 ). The camera itself was just the good size for my hands, not too heavy but together with the zoom lens, it was still more than I was used to.  And that was the first irritation… unsharp pictures due to camera movement. First dive into the past to grab that old rule of  ‘speed must be at least as much as your focus distance’ or something… It helped till I got used to the machine. Second irritation was the ‘noise’.  I had been happy that I could go up to 1600 ISO till I tried it. From 800 on the noise was rather noisy. I had no rules for that to dive for but learned by experience that I could control it a bit by fiddling with the lighting. And of course I downloaded a noise remover to my computer to find out that it was also a sharpness remover. Even working with computers it is not always obvious to find the bridge between analogue, old-fashioned photography and what pixels in a camera do 🙂 When shooting in color, the third irritation arrived. White balance… We older folks were used to buying a film for daylight or lamplight and that was that. If you used the daylight film at a party in the evening, you got red, if you used the lamp light film in daylight, you got blue…Again I had to jump back to my studying days, this time to recover Kelvin and his family. There was an ‘auto’ setting for the WB, of course. But that setting did not seem to have heard of the ‘ecological’ lamps (mostly around 2700 K) and my first shoot inside was covered in yellow.





The picture left is what the E500 saw, the picture on the right more or less what my eyes thought they saw… It was again learning time.

Then came the endless discussions if you should always take color pictures and convert them to black and white or use the ‘monotone’ setting for that purpose.

Black and white was my first choice and it still is, even in a digitalized world, though I do enjoy my trips to color land more and more. It may be that I am prejudiced about the conversion as in the dark room it is asking for trouble. It just does not work. And as far as I can see, it does exactly the same thing in Photoshop or any other conversion medium. Nothing of the greys or the contrast seems to be right. The difference may be that in Photoshop you do have more possibilities to correct all that. But why make it hard on myself when I can take bw pictures with the monotone setting and hardly have to do anything afterwards?…

So, me an my E500, we got used to each other and I learned to counter its weak points. But I would not be human if  I did not look at newer cameras with other possibilities. And one impulsive day I came home with an E620. Of course, another Olympus…

This time I was surprised in a most positive way when I took my first color pictures and started comparing it with the E500. The colors are definitely much better balanced, no more fluo green, no more jumping red and orange unless it is the real color that my eyes see too. WB in ‘auto’ setting seems to have wizened up too though I still have to experiment a bit more with that to be sure. In comparing the 2 cameras I used  the same settings on both as much as possible and in the color department the E620 was a definite winner. Now I could take a picture and hardly need to dance it through Photoshop. That was quite a difference to the good old 500.


Comparing the two cameras



showing accurately a lot more shades of  color without or with only minimal use of  corrections like only a very slight touch of added contrast.





Another improvement is of course the step up from 8 mega pixels to 12 mega pixels. It is said that as long as you don’t want to print big posters, that should not make so much difference. But it does… at least to my eye. And each time I use the good old ‘poor-man’s-zoom’ trick, blowing up a detail of a photo, I am still surprised how much further I can go with barely any visible loss of quality on the screen…

Barely a week after unpacking my new purchase I was asked to take some photos at a concert and so had the chance to test the limits of the E620. Luckily I could also attend the general rehearsal with the lighting mostly in place and have my own general rehearsal. And a good thing that was. Both cameras, the 500 and the 620 use the same light metering pattern (ESP). And still there are differences as it turned out. The 620 really wants to balance out background and all, much more than I have experienced with the 500. In the concert circumstances that made it impossible to work as I usually do, with aperture preference. With the dark background also balanced out I ended up with speeds up to a second and had to try some manual metering. That together with center accentuated metering mode did the trick and gave me some room to improvise.

And while I was at it, I tried the extra bonus of 3200 ISO as well but the noise was a bit too overpowering. 1600 has improved greatly, though, as you may see above.

So far the color part. In the second part there will be some of my experiences with black and white.

Nederlandse versie





8 thoughts on “Olympus E500 versus E620 (part 1)

  1. I’m obsessing about the possible purchase of a DSLR and like you, I’ve an Olympus user. I lie the look of the E520 but someone suggested the E620 which is how I found your post.
    Do you, by any chance, have any advice on how the e520 compares with the 500?

    • Hi Isobel,

      Sorry but I have no experience with the E520 and cannot help you there. The 620 is the newer version and I assume that it will have the latest tricks they have developed. It is a good camera that wouldn’t even shame a professional photographer and I am quite happy with it, especially now that I have switched to RAW. That’s all I can say about it.

      Grts Nil

    • Het is de bedoeling dat-ie er komt zoals gewoonlijk maar vermits het wat meer tekst is als anders, wacht ik op een grijze regenachtige middag om dat te doen… nog eventjes geduld 🙂

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