All pictures displayed below were taken on location at Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Safari Lodge, a 2.5 hour drive from Cape Town. All photos were taken with the image stabiliser active and no tripods or other forms of support were used.

Olympus E-620The most striking feature of the E-620 is the intelligence with which the camera was designed to promote usability. Changing any setting is intuitive, fast and accessible, a characteristic rarely available on mid-entry level cameras, possibly as a result of manufacturers wanting to introduce more differentiation between entry, mid and top range cameras. An easy button layout for all frequently used adjustments such as shutter speed, aperture, stabilizer, and ISO is duly available. These same functions and others such as flash settings, focus settings and shot modes can also be easily selected by using the rocker button to find the appropriate setting you would like to adjust on the camera settings display on the LCD. In fact, only basic setup settings such as picture quality and format need to be set using the actual menu. Although a small and lightweight camera, it does improve on the ergonomics of its predecessor, the E-420. Having large hands I was skeptical about working with a camera of this nature, especially after an experience with the E-420, which I thought must have been designed for the dainty hands of manicured ladies, but the E-620 was comfortable and felt solid. Also impressive is the design of the vari-angle LCD.

I was also very impressed with the ISO expansion on the camera. Although settings are commonly available up to 3200ISO across a wide range of current cameras, it’s seldom useful to venture anywhere above ISO400 if you want to maintain image quality. This camera exhibits the same tendency, but the grain produced from the sensor is very fine and still looks quite good at ISO 800. In fact if you limit your print size to 5×7 inch, it will be practically imperceptible.

Picture filters like Vivid actually produced good clean natural results and took the need out of making contrast and colour adjustments in Photoshop. From a colour perspective, I found the colours to be extremely faithful particularly in its reproduction of green and red. Although the camera body is stabilized, anything slower than 1/500th of a second at full telephoto will reduce sharpness at full enlargement. Acceptable shots at small print sizes can be taken at 1/250 of a second.

Now for the drawbacks… The biggest drawback to using this camera as a serious enthusiast is the fact that the Olympus RAW format (ORF) is only recognised in Photoshop CS4 and there is no way to open these files up in CS3, meaning that you have to do your RAW adjustments in the Olympus Master Software before exporting TIFF or JPEG files to Photoshop.

Olympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm lens

Olympus 70-300mm f4/5.6 lensThis lens has a perfect telephoto range, with a 35mm equivalent perspective from 140mm to 600mm. In wildlife applications, 600mm is a minimum requirement, as one still needs to be within about 50m of the animal to get close enough at this range. Really impressive is the crisp sharpness of the lens throughout most of the focal length range, softening only slightly at 300mm. Edge-to-edge sharpness is great and as can be expected there is no corner shading. Overall image quality is excellent especially when considering the cost of the lens. Against competing formats this is where Olympus finds a true niche as lenses that extend into this power telephoto range have a minimum starting price of over R10 000. Size and weight also become major issues at this end of the focal length range, but this lens delivers a magic bullet solution for travelers and enthusiasts by retaining a compact size at just 127mm in length and a weight of just 620g.

On the downside, the lens does not have a supersonic wave drive and while focusing is reasonably fast in general, it does tend to hunt for focus sometimes when at full telephoto. This is solved by zooming out temporarily for focus and then re-focusing at full zoom.

Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure:ISO 200; f5.6; 1/500th sec; focal length: 125mm

A demonstration really of the sharpness of the 70-300mm lens, used here at a mid-focal length of 125mm. The rhino is crisply in focus. Rather than crowd the composition by framing the head of the rhino up against the left hand edge of the frame, I chose to offer some head space in the direction of the rhino’s path. As it turns out this also places the rhino’s head roughly 1/3rd of the way from the left frame – following the rule of thirds guideline of composition. The trick here is to find what is of interest – the drinkin rhino and ignore the other distraction (the other rhino) which effectively adds interest to the picture by becoming a background scenic element.

Photograph of rhino

100% crop of rhino photo

Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure (top): ISO 250; f5.2; 1/500th sec; focal length: 226mm

Exposure (below): ISO 250; f5.2; 1/500th sec; focal length: 300mm

APS-C vs Four Thirds: The top two pictures illustrate the difference in equivalent focal length between an APS-C 300mm lens and a Four Thirds 300mm lens. Both these pictures were shot on the Four Thirds system and in no way suggest that there is picture quality difference. The point is to demonstrate the telephoto reach one is able to achieve at a 35mm equivalent of 450mm vs a 35mm equivalent of 600mm. The top photo requires significant cropping to get the same composition as the photo below.

The bottom two photographs are 100% crops of the pictures of the buck above. The 100% crop shows what the picture quality is at full enlargement. The top 100% crop is of the top picture taken at a focal length of 226mm and the 100% crop below is of the picture taken at 300mm. These pictures demonstrate the very slight softening of the 70-300mm lens when at the 300mm end. All zoom lenses experience varying degrees of softness throughout their focal length range and it does not mean that a 35mm equivalent focal length of 450mm on another lens will deliver the same results.

Buck shot at 450mm equivalent
Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure (top): ISO 400; f5.6; 1/1000th sec; focal length: 226mm

Exposure (2nd from top): ISO 800; f8; 1/1000th sec; focal length: 226mm

Exposure (3rd from top): ISO 1600; f11; 1/1000th sec; focal length: 226mm

Exposure (4th from top): ISO 3200; f16; 1/1000th sec; focal length: 226mm

Exposure:shot at 11mm, and comprising 4 shots stitched together 15 degrees in rotation apart; ISO 100; f8; 1/10th sec

The ISO expansion test: The top four cheetah photos are taken in sequence from ISO 400 to ISO 3200 – the high sensitivity range available on the E-620. The aperture was stopped down to maintain the same exposure.

Below the series of full frame cheetah pics are a series of 100% crops taken from the full frames, running from ISO400 at the top to ISO 3200 at the bottom. One can clearly see the degradation in edge sharpness and pixellation after ISO 400, although the ISO 800 sample is still quite good and will a good quality print at 5×7 inch or smaller.

cheetah shot at 400ISO

cheetah shot at 800ISO

cheetah shot at 1600ISO

shot of cheetah at 3200ISO

100% crop

100% crop of cheetah at 800ISO

100% crop of cheetah at 1600ISO

100% crop of cheetah at 3200ISO

Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure:ISO 200; f5.6; 1/250 sec; focal length: 300mm

The necessity of a 35mm equivalent 600mm lens is illustrated in this shot where the composition would have had to have been far wider. The Zuiko 70-300mm lens has a maximum aperture of 5.6 at this focal length, but this is sufficient to get a shallow enough depth of field to separate the giraffe from the background and foreground quite nicely. This image was also shot on the Vivid picture setting, which brought out the contrast and colour of the animal well while still looking very natural.

Giraffe at shallow DOF
Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure:ISO 200; f5.6; 1/1000th sec; focal length: 78mm

What really makes this shot is the contrast in the posture of the two giraffes – one standing up and one looking down. The one on the right is more dominant and is composed more within the right third of the frame. The one to the left is really the second point of interest, so it works well to have it closer to the edge of the frame. Shot at the wide end of this lens, it is purposefully scenic in nature, capturing the rolling mountains in the distance. Although the f-stop used is the same as the picture above shot at 300mm, it is important to remember that focal length also play a part in depth of field, so f5.6 produces a greater depth of field at 78mm than at 300mm. To narrow the depth of field, the aperture could have been set lower to f4, but narrow depths of field seldom make sense in wide scenic shots.

Scenic shot of giraffes
Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure:ISO 400; f5.6; 1/1000 sec; focal length: 104mm

This picture reminds me of cowboys riding off into the sun set. I like the way the each giraffe has a different body angle – it creates movement through the picture which is re-inforced by the line made by the path. This picture would have been better with less head room and more of the dirt path in the foreground in the frame where their tracks may have been preserved in the mud.

Giraffe's on the run
Equipment:Olympus E-620 withOlympus Zuiko ED 70-300mm f4/5.6 lens

Exposure:ISO 400; f5.6; 1/2000 sec; focal length: 277mm

This picture was cropped down from the original. It takes some self-confidence or experience to photography a cheetah running at top speed at full zoom. In retrospect I’d have taken the chance and used an even faster shutter speed of 1/4000th sec to try and capture the dust puffs as this animal hits the ground. For quality reasons I wouldn’t up the ISO, but shoot on RAW and you’ll be able to compensate the exposure in post without any problems.

Sossusvlei Dunes - 18-200mm