Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

The Gadget: Olympus E-420, billed as the world's smallest and lightest DSLR

The Price: $500 for the body, $600 if you want the 14mm to 42mm starter lens too

The Verdict:

There's a lot packed into this little package. People who don't know much about photography but are dying to learn will love certain features, such as the "Perfect Shot" preview, which shows you four white balance alternatives at the same time, so you can pick the most realistic option; it does the same live previewing for exposure settings too. Olympus added face detection to the camera this time around, a popular point-and-shoot option making its way into the DSLRs. People who are afraid of too much data might shirk at all the live shooting options, but the alternative on some DSLRs, including the otherwise awesome new Nikon D60, is no live preview at all. The E-420 has a hell of a lot of tech packed into its relatively small package.

Live Preview options:

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

I say "relatively small" because saying "world's smallest DSLR" is like saying "world's lightest heavyweight." Truth is, this camera runs the risk of being confused as a point-and-shoot, in both good and bad ways. Fortunately, many pictures turn out great. High ISO shots, up to 1600, look fantastic, without any noticeable noise. In the stillest settings, I could take the same shots with a Nikon D60 that I could with the E-420:

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

But in the end, the E-420 is not going to cut the mustard when facing off against the other DSLRs, although they do tend to list for $200 more. Its biggest weaknesses are focus speed and low-light shooting. In the standard Sensor AF mode, the lens has to back up and focus in every time; the Nikon D60, faster to begin with, doesn't work as hard refocusing on the same object a second time. In decent medium indoor light, the automatic shutter settings are just too slow. On top of that, there's no optical image stabilizer or vibration reduction, so you end up with a lot of frustrating shots like this one:

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Or this one:

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

Then again, I was able to take some pretty nice pictures too, like this one:

Lightning Review: Olympus E-420, the World's Smallest, Lightest, Cheapest DSLRS

In the end, the E-420 may be the smallest, the lightest, the cheapest and even the highest-tech, but it's not the fastest, and in this competition, speed matters one hell of a lot. [Olympus America]