Olympus E-20, a review from the reader Radozhiva

A review of the Olympus E-20 SLR camera specially for Radozhiva was prepared by Sergey Ovchinnikov (blog on Yandex-Zen; photo hosting Flickr).

Olympus E-20 - fixed lens reflex camera

Olympus E-20 - fixed lens reflex camera

On September 13, 2021, the Olympus E-20 - a non-interchangeable lens SLR - celebrated its 20th anniversary. The E-20 is the successor to the E-10 and is the latest 2/3 ”CCD SLR compact camera manufactured by the company. The E-10 and E-20 are some of the first DSLR cameras to feature a fully functional LiveView mode. This became possible thanks to prisms that divide the light flux between the matrix and the optical viewfinder.

Olympus E-20 Quick Reference

Lens: 35-140 mm (equiv.); F2.0-2.4 (max F11)
Matrix: CCD, 2/3 ″ (8.8 × 6.6 mm), manufactured by Sony, 4: 3
Maximum photo resolution: 2560 × 1920 dots (4,9MP)
Shutter speed: 1/640 sec. - 60 sec., Bulb (max 8 min.)
Light sensitivity: auto, ISO80, ISO160, ISO320.
Shooting modes: automatic, P, A, S, M.
Viewfinder: Optical, SLR, 95%.
LiveView: yes.
Monochrome LCD display: yes, with green backlight.
Color monitor: 1.8 ″, 118.000 dots.
Image formats: RAW, JPEG, TIFF.
Memory cards: SmartMedia; CompactFlash.
Flash connector: yes
Power supply: AA alkaline or rechargeable batteries (4 pieces).
Full curb weight: 1200 grams.

Peers from my collection: Olympus E-20 and the first Lumix - Panasonic LC-5

Peers from my collection: Olympus E-20 and the first Lumix - Panasonic LC-5

The Olympus E-20 in the 2001 Camera Market

The trend in 2001 is the increase in the number of megapixels - 5MP matrices appear. In the professional segment, more emphasis is placed on image quality at high ISOs and convenient full manual control of all shooting settings. Let's see in what "environment" the Olympus E-20 appears on the market and how much it "fits" into this market with its starting price of $ 1900.

Prosumer 2001 - 5-megapixel models of compact cameras in the order of their appearance in 2001 (the price is given at the start of sales):

  • February - Minolta DiMAGE 7 - $ 1500
  • August - Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 - $ 1000
  • September (13th) - Olympus E-20 - $ 1900
  • September (18th) - Nikon Coolpix 5.000 - $ 1099

The troublemaker is the Sony DSC-F707 with a $ 1000 MSRP. Considering the innovative design of the camera, excellent optics, using all the capabilities of its own matrix, the Sony F707 was a great option for the money in 2001. In 2002, a similar, revised and supplemented model appeared - F717, which I gladly purchased for my collection.

Compare the dimensions of two "compact" cameras: Sony F717 and Olympus E-20

Compare the dimensions of two "compact" cameras: Sony F717 and Olympus E-20

Please note that in 2001, there were no alternatives to the cameras listed above. Digital SLRs have cost a lot of money. This is why people continued to use film system cameras alongside digital compact cameras (point-and-shoot or prosumer).

Let's take a look at the 2001 professional DSLRs and their starting price (price per carcass only):

  • February - Nikon D1X (5MP) - $ 5500
  • February - Nikon D1H (3MP) - $ 4500
  • March - Kodak DCS760 (6MP) - $ 8000
  • June - Kodak DCS720x (2MP) - I couldn't find the exact price
  • September - Canon EOS-1D (4MP) - $ 5500

It can be concluded that the happiness of a professional in 2001 is not in megapixels. Prices whisper that the digital system camera segment is not "scared" yet. The thousand-dollar Canon EOS 300D has yet to be released, which has blown up the DSLR market - this will only happen in 2003.

To start using a DSLR camera with sufficient image density, in 2001 it was necessary to shell out at least $ 5000. In 2021, adjusted for inflation, this amount is equivalent to $ 7500. Let the lenses you have - crop factor early digital SLR cameras will drink a lot of your blood!

The most "affordable" DSLR in 2001 remains Canon EOS D30, sales of which started back in 2000 from the $ 3000 mark. In 2001, the camera already costs less, there are offers on the secondary market. The EOS-D30 is equipped with a 3-megapixel APS-format CMOS sensor developed by Canon.

Now you can imagine in what technological and price conditions our hero - Olympus E-20 is entering the market at a recommended price of $ 1900. In 2021, this amount, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to $ 2800. In 2021, I buy an Olympus E-20 at a price of 2300 rubles. For about 1% of its original cost.

So, "only" about $ 2000 for the Olympus E-20 - for the professional control options and a very good built-in lens. At the same time - "impressive" $ 2000 for a small noisy matrix and unacceptably slow operation of the system as a whole. All this is Olympus E-20.

Olympus E-20: Flash up, lens hood in transport position

Olympus E-20: Flash up, lens hood in transport position

Unique camera

It is quite correct to call Olympus E-20 a DSLR camera, because on the lens-matrix axis there is a system of beam-splitting prisms with a semitransparent mirror layer. With no movement, noise or vibration, prisms provide LiveView in the E-10 and E-20 cameras as early as 2000-2001! At the same time, the camera is focused in the traditional way for compacts.

The appearance on the market in 2001 of the Pentax EI-2000 (or its clone HP Photosmart 912), a compact digital camera with a reflex viewfinder, became a kind of experiment. That. in 2001, there are two models of compact digital cameras on the market with an optical viewfinder (translucent fixed mirror) working through the lens.

After the Olympus E-10 / E-20, the company will release the Olympus E-1 with a conventional mirror, abandoning the expensive prism idea; then, for the sake of LiveView, a tricky system of primary and secondary matrices will be developed in the Olympus E-330; then the block of mirrors will be abandoned altogether. The prism-based system will disappear into oblivion, and the translucent mirror system will undergo significant development (the Sony A35 will be the first translucent mirror system camera). Although both there and there we lose part of the luminous flux. Both systems will give way to the mirrorless models of professional cameras of our time.

The Olympus E-20 is a unique camera. If not for the quality of the images, then for its construction, professional design and outstanding brakes at work.

Olympus E-20: top view

Olympus E-20: top view

Design Features

Let's be clear here and now - the design of the Olympus E-10 / E-20 can be called secondary. The progenitor of the "genre" should be considered the Sony DSC-D700 - a digital compact camera with a TTL viewfinder and a 1,5MP half-inch matrix, released in 1998.

Thus, our hero is the successor of the glorious traditions of Sony D 700. If the E-20 (or its successor) received a replaceable lens, it would be an interesting turn in the development of digital photography. The E-20 could have evolved into the first system camera with a small sensor (2/3 inch). The development within the company of the Four Thirds format killed the idea in the bud. The branch became a dead end, and the E-20 became the last of its kind "compact".

It was only in 2011 that Pentax developed the idea of ​​a system camera on an even smaller 1 / 2.3 ”(6.17 × 4.55 mm) matrix - the Pentax Q. The camera did not impress the market and now it is nothing more than a funny curiosity.

With older digital cameras like the Olympus E-20, I especially like the build quality of the bodies and the materials used. Yes, many of the cameras I deal with are top-of-the-line compacts of their time. But among modern non-systemic photoflags, we no longer see such pedantry in the choice of materials. They have become lighter, thinner, faster, and fit into a jacket pocket. But the assembled modern cameras are worse. Their maintainability is questionable due to excessive compaction of parts, the use of flimsy materials of loops and fasteners. There is less glass and metal. More plastic.

Today, in my "collection" there are two remarkably assembled cameras: Panasonic LC5 and the hero of our review - Olympus E-20. This is the quality of materials and workmanship that every photo maker should strive for.

Olympus E-20: back view.

Olympus E-20: back view.

The design of the chamber is in die-cast aluminum with a small amount of durable plastic. The camera has a good balance and feels great in the hand. The camera is heavier than Canon EOS 300D, but due to better ergonomics and pleasant to the touch cold metal, it feels completely different. Absolutely different! You experience aesthetic pleasure holding the camera in your hands.

Nobody pays attention to the Canon Pro1 or even the frivolously silver Sony F717. Everyone is indifferent to the Canon EOS 300D. But everyone catches the eye of the Olympus E-20. The camera makes you visible, which may not be very convenient in some shooting situations.

The problem of all, without exception, the Olympus E-20 is the condition of the rubber parts. The rubber on the grip and on the focusing ring necessarily turns into a sticky smearing plasticine substance over time. At the same time, the rubber on the zoom ring is of a different quality and retains perfectly.

All rubber residues from the Olympus E-20 grip must be cleaned. The E-20 grip will be similar to the Canon 300D grip (plastic base). In principle, it does not strike the eye, does not cause disgust, does not affect ergonomics. It is not at all necessary to glue it over.

As for the manual focus ring, here I decided, without removing the old rubber, which has become unpleasantly sticky, to stretch the new one over. The rubber was donated by an old and now unused kit "screwdriver" Sony 18-70 mm lens. The rubber from it just fits well with the E20. This required a strip 1,5 cm wide.

Olympus E-20: Rubber from a Sony lens is stretched over the sticky manual focus ring.

Olympus E-20: Rubber from a Sony lens is stretched over the sticky manual focus ring.

In an article on the Panasonic LC5, I admired the laconic half-empty shooting mode dial. It's the same minimalism here. PASM modes only. There is no video mode. And great! In 2001, the cameras filmed a very mediocre video. Leadership in this direction was held by miniDV-camcorders. However, and they did not cope well with compressed formats. Sometimes it seems to me that the only fundamental difference between modern digital cameras is only one thing: the ability to shoot HD video. And yet - powerful software processing of the image, which became possible with the increase in the power of processors and their reduction in cost.

Many people find camera control almost perfect. The Olympus E-20 is the first retro camera in my collection where I can “blindly” identify each button. All thanks to their different shape and size.

The design of the Olympus E-20 follows one simple principle: to change any setting, press the corresponding button and then rotate any of the command dials until the desired setting is displayed on the top of the LCD panel. The Olympus E-20P has two control dials: the main one for the index finger, the secondary one for the thumb. The main control disk is horizontal, which is unusual.

Olympus E-20P controls

Olympus E-20P controls

The Olympus E-20 has two independent CF and SM card slots. Both types of cards can be used simultaneously, with the ability to switch on the go. You can copy information from card to card.

Inside the Olympus E-20 viewfinder there are good optics, coated lenses. There is a correct diopter adjustment. You can wear glasses without scratching them. As with other SLR cameras, the E-20's optical viewfinder provides basic shooting parameters.

It turns out that the Olympus E-20 is an "instagram" camera. Shine different colored lights through the eyepiece and get shots with unthinkable "flares". Competitors will fizzle out in search of those "filters" that you used. The fact is that through a system of prisms, light can be supplied to the matrix not only through the lens, but also through the eyepiece.

A viewfinder shutter is provided to prevent backlighting. There is a red dot shutter lever next to the viewfinder. Something reminded me of the safety lock in a firearm. It's not entirely clear why closing the viewfinder shutter does not automatically activate the camera in LiveView. It would be logical.

Viewfinder Olympus E-20P. Viewfinder shutter closed.

Viewfinder Olympus E-20P. Viewfinder shutter closed.

View through the Olympus E-20P viewfinder

View through the Olympus E-20P viewfinder

There are many other niceties about the Olympus E-20 design. The shutter button is very soft, deep, pressing it practically does not result in camera shake. Latching card compartment door with lock. There is a lever switch for focusing modes.

The plugs for the ports for connecting the flash and the wired remote control are screwed on, but if you really use these connectors, you will lose the plugs.

The platform for the tripod socket is exemplary. Naturally, the tripod socket is located exactly along the optical axis of the lens.

The exemplary Olympus E-20P tripod socket.

The exemplary Olympus E-20P tripod socket.

There are two buttons to control the white balance. Preset selection button to the right of the main control dial. In addition, there is a separate button for customization. white balance on a white background with one click - in front of the lens. Those who like to experiment with white balance should be in awe. They were given two whole buttons. Value icons are displayed only when using the LiveVeiw function. In fact, when shooting with the E-20, it's worth playing with white balance or shooting in RAW without bothering with it.

There is a monitor for displaying a detailed menu, viewing pictures and pictures in LiveView mode. Don't count on a lot from LiveView - it's just a help in framing from the most awkward positions. Monitor on a low-resolution camera - about 118000 pixels. Noteworthy is the Olympus E-20 monitor mount. By pressing the button that fixes the monitor, you can tilt it slightly down and almost 90 degrees up. That allows you to shoot in LiveView mode from the belt or near the ground. The bad news is that the center focus point is not indicated in LiveView.

Olympus E-20 LiveView

Olympus E-20 LiveView

The built-in flash is relatively powerful, pops up only at the press of a button, and is quite high. There will be fewer problems with "red eyes". Penetrates about five meters, thanks to the design of the shutter, it is synchronized up to excerpts 1/640 second and can be operated in conjunction with an Olympus external flash. The best choice among external flash units is the Olympus FL-36, with which the camera is fully compatible.

Camera control is built around a viewfinder, buttons and dials, and an LCD, so you rarely need to use a color monitor. You can set the date and time, check basic settings and forget about the monitor for a long time. After all, there is a monochrome LCD display.

Olympus E-20 Monochrome LCD

Olympus E-20 Monochrome LCD

In normal mode, the shutter speed is maximum 1/640 sec. Of course, this is very, very little. As in the case of the Panasonic LC5 - we are looking for an ND filter if we want to shoot with an open aperture in bright sunlight. It's great that the filter can be screwed directly onto the lens - no adapters are required.

The camera uses a mechanical shutter. All high-end digital cameras used mechanical shutters at the time. There is an assumption that the shutter is located behind the beam-splitting prisms. The limitation of the mechanical shutter speed to 1/640 of a second can be caused by the use in the construction of: 1) Leaf shutters, which rarely reach speeds higher than 1/500 s, and at higher ones, they suffer significant loss of light; 2) CCD-matrices with interlaced scanning mode.
The fact that the E-20 is a "brake" - is written in all reviews of its time, this fact did not come as a surprise to me. You just have to take this moment into account when filming.

It is a pity that Olympus engineers gave the camera, which marketers called "professional", with so little fast buffer memory and such a slow write speed on removable media.

In short, the Olympus E-20P design is the best. Very close to ideal! But this does not mean that you will be satisfied with the speed of the camera and will be amazed at the quality of the photos taken from it - everything here is typical for 2001.

The body design of Olympus E-20 is the best and I wondered for a long time what to find fault with. Please:

  • small angle of the monitor downward deflection - it is inconvenient to shoot with the camera over your head;
  • the lens cap cannot be put on or removed with the hood in the working position;
  • the battery compartment latch is not securely fixed, it can slip out of the case, while the unit itself is made of usually flimsy plastic.

Every camera designer should have an Olympus E-20 close at hand to remember that the camera is a tool for the seasoned photographer today. And its design must be appropriate. There's a smartphone for everything else.

Olympus E-20 Lens

Olympus E-20 Lens


The camera is equipped with a fixed lens Olympus Lens AF zoom 35-140mm 1: 2.0-2.4. There are 14 elements in 11 groups. A purebred Japanese lens has two aspherical elements and one very low dispersion element. The lens uses an inverted telephoto lens (retrofocus lens) scheme, which is associated with the need to place beam-splitting prisms. Filter diameter 62 mm. When the filter is installed, there is no noticeable vignetting.

The lens is obscenely large. This is due to the design of the lens, as well as the fact that the lens was designed with optical attachments on the front end in mind. This feature makes the camera somewhat "systemic".

The $ 1900 camera's built-in lens was the subject of much debate in 2001-2002. Olympus gives three main reasons for this decision:

  1.  The design with a non-replaceable lens allows you to isolate the optical sensor from dust and moisture (no doubt, if the case is assembled efficiently and dust does not get inside in other ways).
  2. The small size of the sensor could create problems related to the accuracy and wear of interchangeable lenses (debate; it is possible to improve wear resistance using high quality materials, which of course would affect the price of lenses).
  3. The light sensitivity of a CCD matrix is ​​highly dependent on the angle of the incident light, so the use of lenses that are not specifically designed for this camera can lead to a significant drop in image quality (debatable; the use of lenses from other systems always entails certain inconveniences).

Olympus failed to convince power users that a fixed lens for the huge E-10 / E-20 was the only solution. Nevertheless, we have before us an "honest" Olympus, not compact camera lenses camouflaged as Leica, Zeiss, Schneider Kreuznach.

There is no button on the camera to view the depth of field. The diaphragm has 7 blades (which is not very many). The maximum aperture on the Olympus E-20 lens can be closed up to F11, and not to F8, as was the case with most prosumer cameras of that time. What can be interesting for macro photography.

On the other hand, due to the smaller physical size of the aperture, when it is closed significantly, the effects of diffraction can cause degradation of the image quality. For this reason, you should not use apertures smaller than F5,6, especially in wide-angle mode, except for macro photography.

The Olympus E-20 lens does not change dimensions when the focal length is changed - the lens unit moves inside the lens barrel (as in Sony F717 or Panasonic LC1). Yes, it's mechanics. Direct contact with the lens group inside the lens. As on the lenses of DSLRs. There is no rotation of the front element or any change in the overall length of the lens.

The inconvenience is that the focal length markings on the lens are not given in 35mm equivalent. Still, 35 mm is already a recognized equivalent.

Aperture the lens decreases very smoothly with increasing focal length. F2.0 is provided in the range of 9-16mm, F2.2 - in the range of 16-30mm (approximately). And only in the area of ​​maximum 36 mm aperture "Falls" to the value of F2.4. The lens is expensive, it was possible to reduce its cost by tightly screwing it to the camera and releasing it in a significant circulation (with the E-10 / E-20 models).

Olympus E-20 with huge fixed lens

Olympus E-20 with huge fixed lens

The manual focus ring works "by wire". The imitation of the mechanics is very believable. The motor is completely inaudible. When the focal length is changed, the camera maintains focus on the subject.

There is only one focus point - the central one. Focusing is not carried out in the same way as in conventional DSLRs, but in two stages:

  1. use of an infrared beam (on the front of the camera there is a large window of the emitter and receiver)
  2. contrast focusing, usual for non-system compact cameras.

When the camera is set to macro mode, only a passive focusing system is used - contrast, which is due to the inability of the infrared active system to work at close range. In most cases, however, focusing is very fast: almost as fast as the Canon EOS 300D! Moreover, if a "dark" lens is installed on Canon, the E-20P can focus faster at twilight. The infrared system can also work in absolute darkness.

Sadly, the camera uses a single centrally located AF sensor that reacts primarily to vertical lines.
In the reviews on the camera, users write about problems with autofocus. On my copy, there are no problems with autofocus - it focuses quickly and accurately. If you buy, check the autofocus operation.

The camera has a macro mode - set by pressing a separate button and turning the main command dial. You can get close enough to your subject. In macro mode, you can shoot at maximum focal length.

Remember to use the included excellent lens hood when shooting on a sunny day. The hood will help you from fingers in the lens, branches, cobwebs, bumps.
The Olympus E-20 lens makes a very good impression: it is a high-end mechanism.

As optional accessories Olympus produced (in order of practical importance):

  1. wide-angle attachment WCON-08B, F2.0, equiv. 28mm;
  2. 1,45x telescopic attachment TCON-14B, f2.4, eq. 200 mm;
  3. Macro attachment MCON-35, f2.0-2.4, allowing to shoot an area of ​​49x37mm;
  4. 3x telescopic attachment with support console TCON-300, f2.8, eq. 420 mm.

At one time, all these attachments cost a lot of money. With the first two attachments, we achieve a comfortable zoom range of 28-200mm.

With this TCON-300 (Japanese photo sniper) attachment, the E-20 can be turned into a 5MP analog of the Panasonic FZ. F2,8 by 420mm! Another thing is that it is quite difficult to manage this cumbersome system. The TCON-300 can be paired with the TCON-14B through an adapter ring, delivering an impressive 600mm at F2.8. There is a loss of sharpness associated with the TCON-300.

However, the Panasonic FZ record of those years was broken! It's hard to believe that with so much extra glass and adapters, the system maintains a high aperture... At the same time, of course, there is no stabilization.

Separately, I would like to note the fisheye lens, which is ideal for the E-20, works at all focal lengths and can be installed without adapters - Raynox DCR-FE180PRO.

Thus, with these "glasses" we cover all ranges of focal lengths required by the most demanding amateur photographer. This "project" weighing several kilograms may well cost an additional 25000-30000 rubles to the cost of the camera.

You will have something to carry with you in your photo backpack. With the Olympus E-20, you won't have to miss the weight and volume of your photography equipment. The camera has room for improvement! And I'm already afraid to say that the Olympus E-20 is a non-system camera ...

Two DSLRs: Olympus E-20 with 8.8x6.6 mm sensor and Canon EOS 300D with 22.7x15.1 mm sensor

Two DSLRs: Olympus E-20 with 8.8 × 6.6 mm matrix and Canon EOS 300D with 22.7 × 15.1 mm matrix


The Olympus E-20 is equipped with a 5 megapixel 2/3 inch sensor, as in many pro-shots of the early 2000s. A tiny matrix in a huge body. However, the massive aluminum body provides not only the overall rigidity of the structure (the E-20 is like a Kalashnikov assault rifle, only a camera), but also acts as a heat sink, reducing noise on the sensor.

In the case of the E-20, it is widely believed that it uses the same CCD (manufactured by Sony) as the Nikon CoolPix 5.000 and Sony F707 cameras.

The maximum frame resolution is 2560x1920 pixels, which is about 4,9MP. With this image density, you shouldn't rely on active cropping in post-processing. It is sad that in 2001 there was simply no matrix with a higher pixel density in the size of 2/3 inches. the E-20P lens is clearly capable of more!

The use of a small matrix leads in 2001 to the limitation of the working values ​​of the sensitivity in ISO80, ISO160, ISO320. Of course, this does not compare with the capabilities of cropped matrices of DSLRs, which already at that time gave a relatively clear image at ISO800.

The light sensitivity values ​​that are not standard for digital cameras can be easily explained: the division of the luminous flux in the prism system leads to a loss of the amount of light falling on the image sensor. This results in a decrease in the effective equivalent ISO sensitivity. This may be the reason that the E-20's CCD is rated at ISO80 rather than ISO100 like most other cameras (like the Sony F707 with a similar sensor).

The instructions recommend using the ISO80 or Auto settings. In the automatic mode of setting the photosensitivity, the camera stubbornly maintains the ISO80 value almost always. Therefore, set ISO manually: by turning the main control dial while holding down the "OK" button.

In the evening, the quality of photos from the camera can be frustrating. Required with you: monopod or tripod, external flash... The timer for 2 seconds is catastrophically missing!

You can fire bursts to prevent smudging. The last or the penultimate frame can turn out. But remember that in the case of the E-20P, you will wait an unbearably long time between queues - 48 seconds before the buffer is completely flushed!

Evening shots taken at 320ISO are, in principle, pleasing to the eye. You just need to follow shutter speed and use a tripod. Yes, there is no Image Stabilizer in the $ 1900 camera.

Recorded image formats: ORF - raw information from the sensor, losslessly compressed (slightly less than 8 MB per image); TIFF - up to 15 MB per image; JPEG in various compression rates (about 3MB). Better to shoot in ORF (RAW). ACDSee supports .ORF display. Adobe Photoshop opens .ORF without problems, prompting you to edit it. You will have no problem with raw files.

The matrix can work in three modes: IS mode, PS mode and NoiseReduct.

In normal mode (IS mode), the camera can offer the fastest shutter speed of 1/640 sec, which is bad, because the engineers did not integrate an ND filter into the system. In bright scenes, you will not be able to use the widest aperture. You need to buy an ND filter with a diameter of 62mm.

Olympus is desperately trying to expand the camera's applications in sports photography. It uses an interlaced CCD where the even and odd rows of pixels are out of phase by about 1 / 1000th of a second. In line skip mode, time exposure can be reduced to 1/18000 sec. But the image quality suffers greatly. Images are getting worse than a 2MP camera with good optics! This “sport” mode is called PS mode (can be set when shooting with priority excerpts or in master mode). Thanks for the PS mode, of course, but I would have liked a faster shutter or built-in ND filter.

The maximum number of shots that can be taken in PS mode is increased to 7. In normal IS mode - only 4, in RAW - 3. Three shots in RAW and a 48-second wait for a complete buffer clearing for a new series ... Andrzej Vrotnyak suggests that the buffer capacity Olympus E-20 is about 64 MB, which is very small and leads to "brakes" in work. The biggest issue is the write speed to memory cards. She's unrealistically low. The camera recorded a series of shots in SHQ quality (4 shots of almost clear sky) with a volume of 13,5MB on a CF card for 48 seconds! When saved to an SM card, exactly the same result.

The rate of fire of the Olympus E-20 can be described as follows: 4 frames of JPEG quickly, then 3 more frames as the buffer becomes free. Maximum 7 frames per minute! This is very, very small.

About the NoiseReduct mode (matrix noise reduction mode) in the full-text instructions it is written simply: "This function may not work with some conditions or subjects." It is also indicated that the function is turned on only when shutter speed less than 1/2 second or in mode excerpts by hand (Bulb). Those. the camera may display the NoiseReduct mode, but in fact it does not apply ...

In the setup / link menu there is a program called "pixel map", when launched, the map of non-working pixels will be updated. The shutter of the viewfinder must be closed.
rice. 017 - Olympus E-20 is very demanding on batteries. It "eats" four AA alkaline batteries in 24 frames. Use rechargeable batteries.

Limitations of Photography with the Olympus E-20

The E-20 really wants to look like a digital SLR, but, unlike its noble brothers, in addition to a small sensor, it has a contrast focus and a central shutter with all the corresponding restrictions (minimal excerpt in 1/640 sec. and slow focus without infrared support). Those. The E-20 remains essentially a compact camera with an excellent DSLR viewfinder.

Two "compacts": Canon Pro1 (left) and Olympus E-20 (right)

Two "compacts": Canon Pro1 (left) and Olympus E-20 (right)

The huge size and weight makes the camera easier to hold and allows you to effectively remove heat from the matrix. This makes the maximum ISO320 really quiet. But ISO320 is still not enough for comfortable and effective shooting in low light conditions. Like other compacts from the early 2000s, this camera loves light.

The E-20's rate of fire will be a significant issue. The camera will quickly shoot a series of 3-4 frames and freeze for 48 seconds to completely clear the buffer. Using the capabilities of the freed buffer, you can shoot up to 7 frames per minute. This is very, very little! I think that equipping a great design camera with a small buffer memory and a low speed card reader is a crime on the part of Olympus. Take for a camera at the start of sales not $ 1900, but $ 2200, but ensure the high speed of the system!

Olympus E-20

Olympus E-20

Can Olympus E-20 be used today?

5MP is enough for most tasks in amateur photography. Keep in mind that these are "honest" 5MP - shooting in RAW, you will get per-pixel sharpness, which cannot be said about many modern cameras, where marketing dominates common sense. Where, on a 16MP matrix, you can get per-pixel sharpness only in 8MP mode, for example.

If you plan to use the E-20 today, you only need to shoot in RAW and then “develop” on a computer. JPEG may sound good on camera, but it doesn't really reveal the capabilities of the sensor and lens. JPEG images are low-contrast, “washed out” compared to processed RAW (albeit in automatic mode).

Note that the E-20 has one significant advantage over its competitors from the early 2000s (such as the Sony F707) - its large metal body. I'm not talking about the convenience of holding the camera right now. I mean the efficient removal of heat from the matrix. The E-20 is one of the few CCD compacts that is quiet at the highest ISOs. Compared Sony F717 and Olympus E-20, which are equipped with similar Sony sensors. At ISO400 and ISO320, respectively, the E-20 sensor produces significantly less color noise, the image remains pleasing.

You can and should take pictures with the Olympus E-20 - the camera is equipped with a real SLR viewfinder, has a folding monitor and LiveView function. You will get aesthetic pleasure from the materials and design of the case when working with the E-20.

The Olympus E-20 is one of the few cameras that can be controlled “blindly”. You will quickly learn the buttons on the case, because they are different in size, shape and very well placed. There are two control dials (for example, for aperture and shutter speed in mode M) and a separate button for quickly changing ISO.

Olympus E-20 on Lake Elovoe (near the town of Chebarkul)

Olympus E-20 on Lake Elovoe (near the town of Chebarkul)


In the early 2000s, there were only two compact cameras that were perfect in terms of body design and controls. These are Olympus Camedia E-20 (2001) and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 (2004). Both cameras are equipped with almost identical 5MP CCD sensors from Sony.

The Olympus E-20 can be found in the secondary market for relatively little money (for the price of a filter). The Panasonic LC1 is clearly overpriced. That being said, the E-20 offers you better control, a true DSLR viewfinder and a flip-down monitor.

I enjoy taking pictures with the Olympus E-20. Great design, consistently great shots and a very pleasant tactile feel.

Gallery with examples of images from the camera

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Comments: 29, on the topic: Olympus E-20, a review from the reader Radozhiva

  • Alex

    a perfectly written retro review!
    many thanks to the author!

  • Aleksey68

    I don't even know which is better, the camera itself or its review :)
    If such a thing catches my eye, I’ll probably buy it, as a museum exhibit will be very useful.

  • Victor

    The review is of course fire, the author feels the soul came up, but a collector will buy such a camera in 2021))) Even in spite of high-quality optics, which nevertheless does not pull out a picture.

  • Andrei

    What the capitalists do not come up with to rip off a couple of thousand dollars from honest breaks (c).

  • Michael

    I looked at this miracle ... I took my old Sony R1 out of the box ... I stroked it gently ... This unique tube sound ... Vintazhzhzhzhzhzhzh ... ..
    Thank you for the excursion to RETRO! :)

    • sovch

      R1 is going to buy in the collection on occasion. At one time, he abandoned it in favor of the A100, which he regretted a little) but with all due respect to the R1, its electronic viewfinder cannot compete with the optical one in the E20

  • Ivan

    And here is the author:

    • Ivan

      Does not attach.

  • TSerg

    Interesting and detailed review. Thanks to the author for the work done.
    At one time, if memory serves, in 2006, when choosing the first digital camera, I fluctuated between the Olympus Camedia E-20 and the Sony Cyber-shot R1. 10 megapixels and a CARL ZEISS T * lens on board decided the choice in favor of Sonya. Subsequently, he did not regret a single gram, he used it for a very long time, until the batteries became unusable.
    Sonya suffered from the same disease of peeling off the rubber bands on the body. Then plastic was not the same as it is now. I solved the problem simply - instead of an elastic band, which stretched out and peeled off, I glued nubuck, cut out according to a stencil, which is kept on it to this day.

    • Aleksey68

      the calamulator can be replaced, but it's not a problem.

      • TSerg

        If you poke your finger, de їkh sell, I will be a velma. I їkh shukav і don’t know new ones, if not b / w (and tse kitska at mіshku). May at uvazi NP-FM50. The look of a summous analogue of FM500H in fewer two burned out.

  • someone RH

    from you: Where on a 16MP matrix you can get per-pixel sharpness only in 8MP mode, for example.

    how is this possible - after all, the transition to 8MP is done by software, not hardware - by pairwise combining pixels ...

    • Victor

      Frankly speaking - this device with XNUMX megapixels is also far from pixel-sharp)) Which, as it were, is not surprising - a buyer is a buyer

  • BB

    Thank you for the review!
    As for the design and ergonomics: buttons, as for me, are not enough.
    If you look at the Sony DSC-D700, then for my taste, this Sony is quite ugly, with asymmetrical protruding parts. However, Sony's experiments with design are not uncommon, especially in the early 2000s. This Olympus has a more 'classic' design, but the huge size is still incomprehensible, does a translucent mirror (or prism), the size of a miniature matrix, increase the depth of the case so much?
    Well, I would not buy a really ancient camera with a small and noisy matrix for photography, only as a museum exhibit, because now you can buy a decent DSLR 10 ... 12 years ago for ridiculous money.

    • BB

      And yet, as for me, there is not enough elastic band in the back, under the thumb of the right hand (or was it?).

      The horizontal control wheels are similar to Nikon (though my old man from Panasonic has the same wheels as Nikon), so I don't see any oddities here, only the front wheel is above the shutter button, not under it.

      • sovch

        Yes, I bought it for a penny in the collection that I began to collect. And for the experiment) And I really liked to hold it in my hands and take a picture of it. There has never been an elastic band for the thumb - the shape of the body and the protrusion are ideal for holding, I like to wear it right in my hand, I do not even fasten the belt)))

  • Yuriy75

    On the forestry farm I found one and then not working for 2500 gr. I did not see anything special in the pictures, I see no reason to buy such junk. If you want a retro, there are a bunch of Fujifilm X10 and Canon G **, Nikon P ***, Olympus XZ1 (2), Panasonic LX *. Quite normal cameras with good photo quality and reasonable price.

    • Victor

      Suitable for a collection and for a fairly symbolic value, the author can be understood, it's like finding Nikon d1 somewhere or the first kodaks. It is difficult to hope for a sane picture (with an eye to 2021), but for the sake of touching the top cameras of the beginning of the decade, it is quite suitable.

      • Victor

        * the beginning of the millennium, of course.

      • sovch

        Absolutely) The money is symbolic. As for the quality of the photo, even the E-20 suits me well as an amateur. And cameras are quite suitable for training)

  • Ledogor

    Many thanks to the author for the review. A couple of years ago I bought such a unit, try what it is. The price was like a box of good cigarettes. I also paid the same price for branded RCR-V3 batteries and a charger for them. For this dinosaur managed to gobble up ordinary "finger" batteries in ten to one and a half shots, after which he closed the diaphragm and sadly blinked the discharge indicator - "That's it, the food is over, do something!"

    • sovch

      Modern disposable alkaline duracells are stable enough for 22-24 shots))) Chinese batteries with a declared capacity of 2500 pull 150-200 shots. But wherever there are batteries, you will be able to take a few more shots;)

      • Victor

        It's great, almost like loading a film, a certain sense of authenticity :)

  • Amateur

    Beautiful necrophilia.

  • Paul

    “Olympus E-20 can be found on the secondary market for relatively little money.”
    I went to OLX - there are very few offers, and those that are are not cheap, and are also faulty to varying degrees. A real rarity!

    • Ledogor

      Bought on Avito. Now I'm not interested anymore, but ads for sale pop up regularly. For the most part, people shoot on smartphones, and a person with a SLR, and even with such a unit that is incomprehensible to young people, is a great curiosity. And this Olympus in terms of brutality is immediately after monsters like Nikon D2x or Canon - “one”. This unit is made by engineers, not marketers!

  • Gennady

    I can sell this device, which causes my respect. Also pleasing is the fact that modern CROPS with whale lenses are losing to the old Olympus. You take it in your hands and you feel what you are holding - THING! F :-)

  • Basil

    Bought today. Solid piece of metal. :) I washed off the gum on the body, but left it on the lens for now. Charging batteries for tomorrow. If the weather is good, I'll go shoot. Thank you for the review and for the “willingness to try”. I have not yet found how to set RAW, but I found TIFF.

  • Daniel

    Thanks for doing this very detailed review of a great camera from the past!

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