The Quest for Perfection with an Old Olympus

Gregory Gymnasium, University of Texas - Austin, Texas

Gregory Gymnasium, University of Texas – Austin, Texas

Back in the summer, I went down to the University of Texas with my friend Sadu. We were there for some casual photography, and to check out the campus. Sadu had graduated from UT years ago and was marveling at the improvements. I was also there to test two relatively new cameras. Today’s featured camera is one that I’ve never mentioned on the blog, though I already talked about it on my newsletter. I had purchased it a few weeks before this summer outing.

It’s an ancient Olympus. How old? So old that it came out before mirrorless cameras. Yes, it’s a DSLR back from 2008. Part of the 4/3 format, the predecessor to micro 4/3. I’ve been buying interesting and notable cameras as I see good deals. This one is an Olympus E-420 sporting a 10MP sensor.

Why did I buy it? At the time of introduction, it was the smallest DSLR ever made. Coupled with my Olympus 25mm f2.8 pancake lens, I think it’s still the smallest DSLR system in existence. Of course, it’s rather primitive by today’s standards, but I wanted to see what it could do.

And, as you can see, it makes some darn good images. The Gregory Gym and its symmetrical architecture cried out for a perfectly centered image. I did the best I could, hand-held, and with some post-processing. This brick masterpiece deserves it.

Gregory Gymnasium, University of Texas - Austin, Texas

Gregory Gymnasium, University of Texas – Austin, Texas

I made a similar photograph in portrait orientation. Though only 10MP, both images are beautifully tack sharp and detailed. This camera is pre-image stabilization. Luckily the light was good, and I had a 1/400 shutter speed.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II vs. Olympus E-420

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II vs. Olympus E-420

How small is the E-420? Here’s how it compares next to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, a flagship mirrorless camera, courtesy of the excellent Camera Size website. Not bad for a DSLR, right?

I don’t know how often I’ll actually use the E-420, but for $60 in excellent plus condition, I thought it would make a worthwhile collector’s item. After all, DSLRs are a fading technology, and having the world’s smallest makes it interesting.

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5 thoughts on “The Quest for Perfection with an Old Olympus

  1. I started my digital photography journey with Olympus and the E-300. It had its issues to be sure, and it had an “only” 8MP sensor, but it was decent enough, and the two-lens kit I purchased via NewEgg in 2006 lasted me at least three years until I finally got enough cash to get a 10MP E-3 with a 12-60mm and 50-200mm in December 2009. The E-420 may be using the same sensor that was released in the E-3, as the E-3 came first. DXOMark shows that their performance is identical, so there’s that. The E-3 with those zooms was a great kit until it was stolen some three years later.

    Looking at what you’ve done with the E-420 reminds me of a lot of good photos I took with that E-3. I did a lot of great work with that setup, and when I go back and review those images, I really do miss that E-3 camera system. If I’d not had that kit stolen, I might be using it still, having let the micro four thirds equipment mostly pass me by.

    It also underscores a pet peeve I have with the general Instagram-erati, and that’s the second coming of the all-consuming megapixel madness. It pretty much killed the point-and-shoot generation of cameras the first time around (and not just the smartphones as some have impugned). Now it looks to overwhelm excellent systems (Olympus, Fuji) with unaffordable cameras that produce digital stills and video requiring more unaffordable hardware to post-process and view.

    1. I actually bought the E-300 too, when it was old and highly discounted. The 8MP Kodak CCD sensor is terrific. I prefer the CCD in the E-300 to the CMOS in the E-420 but I like the 420’s form factor.

      Yeh, the size, megapixels and cost of these new cameras area getting crazy. No thanks. Good quality and small beats big and crazy expensive.

      If you are really still interested in these cameras, you might consider picking them up really inexpensively. Before they totally become unavailable. Also, there’s still used old point and shoots available. You know I like the Olympus XZ-1.

  2. Say, that looks like about all the detail anyone could reasonably need for most purposes.

    I found much the same in acquiring a Nikon D80 10 megapixel camera at about the time your Olympus was released. Had I diligently stuck with it until today, I might now be a better photographer than my iPhone. Unfortunately, various forms of gear madness led me down the path of dilettantism.

    1. I do find it satisfying to make good images with a modest old camera. There isn’t much sport in making pictures with today’s totally do everything cameras. Bust out that old D80 and have fun.

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